Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

"From these previous observations on the poetry and age of Homer," he proceeds thus

critics. We know very well that poetical effusions of untutored genius are not uncommon even in that stage of political imperfection, which school-taught pride has too rudely stigmatized with the name of savage life; and that poetry is at least the invariable concomitant of increasing civilization and refining manners. Is it not morally certain then that a numerous race of bards must have exercised their genius in so polished a language, as that of Greece was undoubtedly become in the days of Homer, for several generations before the birth of their immortal successor; of which indeed that language itself thus methodized and attuned, is of itself a silent, but irrefragable proof? The histories of Orpheus, Amphion, and many others, are blended, doubtless, with a copious infusion of traditionary fiction; and the merit of these poetical theologians is seen enlarged through the misty medium of mythological obscurity: but the tuneful predecessors of the Homeric age [Eust. Il. 3.], amounting to no less than seventy in number according to Fabricius [Bib. Græc. Init.], must have made, with some abatements from this catalogue (though many certainly existed unknown to written records now in being) such improvements in their art, as must contribute greatly to the perfection of all their followers. But as in a building, the foundation, which is the more important part, is concealed under ground, while the superstructure, supported by it, alone is seen, and engrosses our admiration; so Homer has concentrated in himself that blaze of glory, which the irradiations of former ages must have essentially contributed to form: and as honey, though collected from every variety of plants and flowers, abundantly diversified in the quality of their sweets, becomes one luscious mass, in which no individual flavour is now perceptible; so the poetry of Homer compounds

to characterize his "sublime and elegant translator."

"Of the qualifications requisite for such an arduous undertaking, both from its nature and extent, it cannot be disputed that Pope was endowed with sympathetic genius, with a delicate perception of poetic beauty, a trembling sensibility, prepared to vibrate at every impulse of sentimental passion, an ear finely tuned, by the hand of nature and the key of art, to the voice of melody; with a comprehensive dominion over all the poetical versatilities of language, and all the harmonious capacities of English verse. But another endowment, eminently advantageous to a faithful execution of such a project, the competency of his learning,

and absorbs the separate excellencies of all the musical fraternity that preceded him. Nor am I unpersuaded, that the standing epithets of his gods and heroes, with other appropriate forms of speech, were already provided to his hands, and become sanctified by long prescription to invariable use. Whether any other assistances might be derived by Homer, who probably makes but few excursions in the main facts beyond the high road of authentic history, from the remains of older bards, in the general plan and structure of his wonderful performance the eye of criticism cannot possibly descry, from her low elevation on the wreck of literature, through the palpable darkness and wide waste of such remote antiquity."

WAKEFIELD'S Pope's Homer vii. Gen. Obs. p.liy—lviii,

I mean, may be the subject of reasonable controversy.

"I shall engage in a circumstantial discussion of this point, and lay at once my collection of evidences before the public, without fear and without reserve: conscious as I am, that my supreme admiration of the poetical powers of this extraordinary man, which has bordered on enthusiasm from my very infancy, will amply secure, with the dispassionate and candid, my exertions on this argument, without an appeal to general character, from every suspicion of petulant singularity, pedantic affectation or barbarous malignity."*

Johnson in his life of Pope observes that "to those who censured his politics were added enemies yet more dangerous, who called in question his knowledge of Greek, and his qualifications for a translator of Homer. To these he made no public opposition; but in one of his letters escapes from them as well as he can. At an age like his, for he was not more than twenty-five, with an irregular education, and a course of life of which much seems to have passed in conversation, it is not very likely that he overflowed with Greek. But when he felt himself deficient he sought

"Gen. Obs." p.lx.

assistance; and what man of learning would refuse to help him ?"

y

Pope's acute biographer presently adds, "he had the French Homers of La Valterie and Dacier, and the English of Chapman, Hobbs, and Ogylby. With Chapman he had very frequent consultations, and perhaps never translated any passage till he had read his version, which indeed he has been sometimes suspected of using instead of the original."

Johnson has also preserved a letter from Pope to a literary friend, in which the translator confesses his "own imperfectness in the language" of Homer, and acknowledges the deference he paid to that sense of the original given him by Hobbs and Chapman.*

Upon such high authority were doubts entertained as to that classical knowledge which some of Pope's admirers had so boldly claimed for him. But the present undertaking engaged his editor in a more critical enquiry into this subject than could be fairly demanded

[ocr errors]

y" Johnson's Works,” xi. 79.

z Ibid. 80. This account of Pope's obligations to Chapman, Mr. W. calls an "indistinct and apparently conjectural statement."

"WAKEFIELD's Pope's Homer," i. Pref. lxi, Note.

a "Johnson's Works," xi. 197. See part of this Letter quoted with remarks in Wakefield's Gen. Obs. lxviii.

in a general biography of English Poets, and he expresses the result of this investigation with no small confidence in the conclusions to which it had conducted him.

“It is my persuasion then that our poet, far from apprehending with suitable promptitude the original language of the author, whom he undertook to exhibit in an English dress, was not so familiarly acquainted even with the Latin tongue, as to form an instantaneous conception of a passage by reading Homer in the Latin interpretation of him, that accompanies the school editions: by which expressions I understand such a ready conception of a sentence, as would enable a reader to give an adequate translation of it with a fidelity that superseded a repeated and laborious perusal; a perusal altogether incompatible, it is evident, with a timely execution of so long a work. In proof of this assertion, I can decisively pronounce, after an experimental examination of his whole performance, that he appears uniformly to have collected the general purport of every passage from some of his predecessors, Dryden, Dacier, Chapman, or Ogilby: a process, not to be supposed, for a moment invariably pursued by any man, capable of forming a distinct, and, generally speaking, a true delineation of his author from the verbal metaphrase of a Latin version. The truth of this declaration will admit of no controversy after a practical examination shall be instituted by a specific comparison of our poet's version with those of the translators here mentioned: a truth sufficiently corroborated by our ability to refer all his misrepresentations, which are frequent and in many cases singular and gross, with all his alterations and additions, which are innumerable, to one or other of his predecessors; except in very few instances, which analogy will set to the account of my incompetency, from reading not sufficiently extensive and imperfect information, to trace all

« PredošláPokračovať »