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EPISTLE THE SIXTH.
EARL OF ROSCOMMON,
ON HIS EXCELLENT
ESSAY ON TRANSLATED VERSE.
The Earl of Roscommon's “ Essay on 'Translated Verse," a work which abounds with much excellent criticism, expressed in correct, succinct, and manly language, was first published in 4to, in 1680: a second edition, corrected and enlarged, appeared in 1684. To both editions are prefixed the following copy of verses by our author; and to the second there is also one in Latin by his son Charles Dryden, afterwards translated by Mr Needler.
The high applause which our author has here and elsewhere* bestowed on the “ Essay on Translated Verse,” is censured by Dr Johnson, as unmerited and exaggerated. But while something is allowed for the partiality of a friend, and the zeal of a panegyrist, it must also be remembered, that the rules of criticism, now so well known as to be even trite and hackneyed, were then almost new to the literary world, and that translation was but then beginning to be emancipated from the fetters of verbal and literal
* See Vol. XII. p. 264.
versions. But Johnson elsewhere does Roscommon more justice, where he acknowledges, that“ he improved taste, if he did not enlarge knowledge, and may be numbered among the benefactors of English literature."
Dryden has testified, in several places of his works, that he loved and honoured Roscommon; particularly by inscribing and applying to him his version of the Third Ode of the First Book of Horace. † Roscommon repaid these favours by a copy of verses ade dressed to Dryden on the “ Religio Laici.” I
EPISTLE THE SIXTH.
WHETHER the fruitful Nile, or Tyrian shore,
The Muses' empire is restored again, In Charles his reign, and by Roscommon's pen. Yet modestly he does his work survey, And calls a finished poem an essay; For all the needful rules are scattered here; Truth smoothly told, and pleasantly severe ; So well is art disguised, for nature to appear. Nor need those rules to give translation light: His own example is a flame so bright, That he, who but arrives to copy well, Unguided will advance, unknowing will excel. Scarce his own Horace could such rules ordain. Or his own Virgil sing a nobler strain. How much in him may rising Ireland boast, How much in gaining him has Britain lost! Their island in revenge has ours reclaimed ; The more instructed we, the more we still are shamed. 'Tis well for us his generous blood did flow, Derived from British channels long ago, * That here his conquering ancestors were nurst, And Ireland but translated England first : By this reprizal we regain our right, Else must the two contending nations fight; A nobler quarrel for his native earth, Than what divided Greece for Homer's birth. To what perfection will our tongue arrive, How will invention and translation thrive, When authors nobly born will bear their part, And not disdain the inglorious praise of art! Great generals thus, descending from command, With their own toil provoke the soldier's hand.
* Roscommon, it must be remembered, was born in Ireland, where his property also was situated. But the Dillons were of English extraction.
How will sweet Ovid's ghost be pleased to hear
* In this verse, which savours of the bathos, our author passes from Roscommon to Mulgrave; another“ author nobly born,” who about this time had engaged with Dryden and others in the version of Ovid's Epistles, published in 1680. The Epistle of Helen to Paris, alluded to in the lines which follow, was jointly translated by Mulgrave and Dryden, although the poet politely ascribes the whole merit to his noble co-adjutor. See Vol. XII. p. 26.