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been already shewn) to the ear of those times, is by no means so to ours: but one may wait for opportunities of placing them, where they derive an additional beauty from the occasions on which they are employed; and in doing this properly, a translator may at once shew his fancy and his judgment.
As for Homer's Repetitions, we may divide them into three sorts of whole narrations and speeches, of single sentences, and of one verse or hemistich. I hope it is not impossible to have such a regard to these, as neither to lose so known a mark of the author on the one hand, nor offend the reader too much on the other. The repetition is not ungraceful in those speeches where the dignity of the speaker renders it a sort of insolence to alter his words; as in the messages from Gods to men, or from higher powers to inferiors in concerns of state, or where the ceremonial of religion seems to require it, in the solemn forms of prayers, oaths, or the like. In other cases, I believe the best rule is to be guided by the nearness, or distance, at which the repetitions
2 Which are absurdly censured by Rapin; to whom Clarke answers; "At vero erant hæc omnino simplicissime et sine ornatu dicenda, ut raptim, ac velut in transitu legendi, percurrerentur." I recollect only one note in Clarke but what contains sense and judgment; and that is a note in the taste of those of Warburton, which we have ventured so often to censure. It is on the 49th line of Book I, on the sound of Apollo's Bow-string, "Pestis scilicet ingruentis, primus rumor terribilis.". This sort of interpretation resembles what has been observed by another learned divine, an admirer of Warburton, namely, that the transaction of our Saviour's washing his Disciples' feet, was not only giving them an example of humility and condescension, but chiefly signified the efficacy of his own precious blood, by which their sins were to be washed away for ever. Hurd's Sermons, vol. 2.
are placed in the original: when they follow too close, one may vary the expression, but it is a question whether a professed translator be authorized to omit any: if they be tedious, the author is to answer for it.
It only remains to speak of the Versification. Homer (as has been said) is perpetually applying the sound to the sense, and varying it on every new subject. This is indeed one of the most exquisite beauties of poetry, and attainable by very few: I know only of Homer eminent for it in the Greek, and Virgil in Latin. I am sensible it is what may sometimes happen by chance, when a writer is warm, and fully possessed of his image: however, it may be reasonably believed they designed this, in whose verse it so manifestly appears in a superior degree to all others. Few readers have the ear to be judges of it; but those who have, will see I have endeavoured at this beauty.
Upon the whole, I must confess myself utterly incapable of doing justice to Homer. I attempt him in no other hope, but that which one may entertain without much vanity, of giving a more tolerable copy of him than any entire translation in verse has yet done. We have only those of Chapman, Hobbes, and Ogilby. Chapman has taken3 the advantage of
In the History of English Poetry, vol. 3. p. 441, an account is given of Chapman's Homer; from which our Author condescended to borrow, and to read with attention, as appears from my copy of this Work, which once belonged to Pope, and in which he has noted many of Chapman's improper interpolations, extending sometimes to ten and twelve lines. But there was a Translation of Homer, little known, by an Arthur Hall, 1581,
an immeasurable length of verse, notwithstanding which, there is scarce any paraphrase more loose and rambling than his. He has frequent interpolations of four or six lines, and I remember one in the thirteenth Book of the Odyssey, ver. 312, where he has spun twenty verses out of two. He is often mistaken in so bold a manner, that one might think he deviated on purpose, if he did not in other places of his notes insist so much upon verbal trifles. He appears to have had a strong affectation of extracting new meanings out of his Author, insomuch as to promise in his rhyming preface, a poem of the mysteries he has revealed in Homer: and perhaps he endeavoured to strain the obvious sense to this end. His expression is involved in fustian, a fault for which he was remarkable in his original writings, as in the tragedy of Bussy d'Amboise, etc. In a word, the nature of the man may account for his whole performance; for he appears from his preface which Hall copied from a French Translation of Hugue's Sald, Abbé of St. Cheron, 1555. This Sald had eventually the power of misleading Pope. For in Book 3. v. 386, it is said, Γρηῒ δέ μιν εἰκυῖα,
which Sald translates,
C'est de Grea la bonne chambriere,
mistaking Grea for a proper name; which Hall follows, p. 57, In Grea's forme, the good handmaid ;
followed again by Chapman,
She tooke on her the shape
Of beldam Grea;
after whom comes Pope in his first Edition, 1715, v. 476, In Græa's form
Grea her favourite maid,
I owe this remark to that accurate researcher Mr. Steevens.
and remarks to have been one of an arrogant turn, and an enthusiast in poetry. His own boast of having finished half the Iliad in less than fifteen weeks, shews with what negligence his version was performed. But that which is to be allowed him, and which very much contributed to cover his defects, is a daring fiery spirit that animates his translation, which is something like what one might imagine Homer himself would have writ before he arrived at years of discretion.
Hobbes has given us a correct explanation of the sense in general, but for particulars and circumstances he continually lops them, and often omits the most beautiful. As for its being esteemed a close translation, I doubt not many have been led into that error by the shortness of it, which proceeds not from his following the original line by line, but from the contractions above-mentioned. He sometimes omits whole similes and sentences, and is now and then guilty of mistakes, into which no writer of his learning could have fallen, but through carelessness. His poetry, as well as Ogilby's, is too mean for criticism.
'Though this translation of Hobbes, made in the eighty-seventh year of his age, be so contemptible and tedious, yet his prose, for precision, terseness, and elegance, is some of the best in our language. And when we read his fine critical Letter to Davenant, on his Gondibert, we are surprised at his bad verses. With his principles, religious or political, I have nothing to do at present. A very curious Letter of Waller to Hobbes, highly commending the Leviathan, is published in the entertaining Anecdotes of distinguished Persons, vol. ii. p. 94. We know how highly he was celebrated by Ralph Bathurst and Cowley; and even by Lord Clarendon, in his answer to the Leviathan.
It is a great loss to the poetical world, that Mr. Dryden did not live to translate the Iliad. He has left us only the first book, and a small part of the sixth; in which if he has in some places not truly interpreted the sense, or preserved the antiquities, it ought to be excused on account of the haste he was obliged to write in. He seems to have had too much regard to Chapman, whose words he sometimes copies, and has unhappily followed him in passages where he wanders from the original. However, had he translated the whole work, I would no more have attempted Homer after him than Virgil, his Version of whom (notwithstanding some human errors) is the most noble and spirited translation I know in any language. But the fate of great geniuses is like that of great ministers; though they are confessedly the first in the commonwealth of letters, they must be envied and calumniated only for being at the head of it.
That which in my opinion ought to be the endeavour of any one who translates Homer, is above all things to keep alive that spirit and fire which makes his chief character: in particular places, where the sense can bear any doubt, to follow the strongest and most poetical, as most agreeing with that character; to copy him in all the variations of his style, and the different modulations of his numbers; to preserve, in the more active or descriptive parts, a warmth and elevation; in the more sedate or narrative, a plainness and solemnity; in the speeches, a fulness and perspicuity; in the sentences, a shortness and gravity: not to neglect even the little figures