Графични страници
PDF файл

wc bear a drama with rhyme, or the French one without CHAP, it? Suppose the 'Rape of the Lock,' « Windsor Forest,' CLXL 'L'Allegro,' «II Penseroso,' and many other little poems which please, stripped of the rhyme, which might easily be done, would they please as well? It would be unfair to treat rondeaus, ballads, and odes in the same manner, because rhyme makes in some sort a part of the conceit. It was this way of thinking which made me suppose that habitual prejudice would miss the rhyme, and that neither Dryden nor Pope would have dared to give their great authors in blank verse.

"It is impossible to obtain the same sense from a dead language and an ancient author, which those of his own time and country conceived; words and phrases contract from time and use such strong shades of difference from their original import. In a living language, with the familiarity of a whole life, it is not easy to conceive truly the actual sense of current expressions, much less of older authors. No two languages furnish equipollent words; their phrases differ, their syntax and their idioms still more widely. But a translation, strictly so called, requires an exact conformity in all those particulars, and also in numbers; therefore it is impossible. I really think at present, notwithstanding the opinion expressed in your preface, that a translator asks himself a good question, —' How would my author have expressed the sentence I am turning into English?' for every idea conveyed in the original should be expressed in English as literally and fully as the genius and use and character of the language will admit of. You must not translate literally: —

■ Old daddy Phrcnix, a God-send for us to maintain.'

"I will end by giving you the strictest translation I can invent of the speech of Achilles to Phoenix, leaving you the double task of bringing it closer, and of polishing it into the style of poetry: —

"Ah! Phoenix, aged father, guest of Jove!
I relish no such honours; for my hope

CHAP. Is to be honour'd by Jove's fated will,

CLX1. Which keeps me close beside these sable ships,

Long as the breath shall in my bosom stay,

Or as my precious knees retain their spring.
Further I say; and cast it in your mind!
Melt not my spirit down by weeping thus,
And wailing only for that great man's sake,
Atrides: neither ought you love that man,

, Lest I should hate the friend I love so well.

With me united, 'tis your nobler part
To gall his spirit, who has galled mine.
With me reign equal, half my honours share.
These will report; stay you here and repose
On a soft bed; and with the beaming morn
Consult we, whether to go home, or stay."

Cowper replied: — " We are of one mind as to the effect of rhyme or euphony in the lighter kinds of poetry. The pieces which your Lordship mentions, would certainly be spoiled by the loss of it, and so would all such. The Alma would lose all its neatness and smartness, and Hudibras all its humour. But in grave poems of extreme length, I apprehend that the case is different. I agree with your Lordship that a translation perfectly close is impossible, because time has sunk the original strict import of a thousand phrases, and we have no means of recovering it. But if we cannot be unimpeachably faithful, that is no reason why we should not be as faithful as we can; and if blank verse affords the fairest chance, then it claims the preference."

Thurlow, probably not convinced, sent the following goodhumoured reply: — "I have read your letter on my journey through London, and as the chaise waits, I shall be short. I did not mean it as a sign of any proscription that you have attempted what neither Dryden nor Pope would have dared, but merely as a proof of their addiction to rhyme; for I am clearly convinced that Homer may be better translated than into rhyme, and that you have succeeded in the places I have looked into. But I have fancied that it might have been still more literal, preserving the ease of genuine English and melody, and some degree of that elevation which Homer derives from simplicity."

The soothed bard closed the correspondence with the following epistle, the last that ever passed between these remarkable men, who had known each other half a cen- CHAP.


tury : "—

"My Lord,

"I haunt you with letters, but will trouble you now with a short line only, to tell your Lordship how happy I am that any part of my work has pleased you. I have a comfortable consciousness that the whole has been executed with equal industry and attention, and am, my Lord, with many thanks to you for snatching such a busy moment to write to me, "Your Lordship's obliged and affectionate "humble Servant,

"William Cowpek." *

Thurlow's generous anxiety to assist Dr. Johnson, proves ThurWs to us that he was capable of appreciating real excel- ^rt°t"°as" lence, and should make us view his own failings with some Dr. forbearance. It is well known that the great lexicographer, shortly before his death, felt a strong desire, for the benefit of his health, to travel into Italy, and that to enable him to do so, his friends wished to obtain for him an augmentation of his pension from government. The bustling Boswell having applied on the subject to the Chancellor, received an answer containing these kind-hearted expressions : —"I am much obliged to you for the suggestion; and I will adopt and press it as far as I can. The best argument, I am sure, and I hope it is not likely to fail, is Dr. Johnson's merit. But it will be necessary, if I should be so unfortunate as to miss seeing you, to converse with Sir Joshua on the sum it will be proper to ask — in short, upon the means of setting him out. It will be a reflection on us all if such a man should


* Cowper, referring to these letters, writes to the Rev. Walter Bagot: "In answer to your question,' if I have had a correspondence with the Chancellor?' I reply — Yes! We exchanged three or four letters on the subject of Homer, or rather on the subject of my Preface. He was doubtful whether or not my preference of blank verse, as affording opportunity for a closer version, was well founded. On this subject he wished to be convinced; defended rhyme with much learning and much shrewd reasoning, but at last allowed me the honour of victory, expressing himself in these words: / am clearly convinced tkat Homer may be best rendered in blank verse, and you have succeeded in the passayes that f have looked into."Hayley's Life of Cowper, iii. 28.

[ocr errors][merged small]

perish for want of the means to take care of his health." Mr. Pitt, who, though himself a scholar, and well grounded in political science, it must be confessed, never testified much respect for literary men, refused in the commencement of his administration to do any thing that might be construed into a job. "The Chancellor called on Sir Joshua Reynolds, and informed him that the application had not been successful; but after speaking highly of Dr. Johnson as a man who was an honour to his country, desired Sir Joshua to let him know that, on granting a mortgage of his pension, he should draw on his Lordship for five or six hundred pounds — explaining the meaning of the mortgage to be, that he wished the business to be conducted in such a manner that Dr. Johnson should appear to be under the least possible obligation."

The offer was declined, but called forth the following effusion of gratitude most honourable to both parties : — " My Lord, After a long and not inattentive observation of mankind, the generosity of your Lordship's offer raises in me not less wonder than gratitude. Bounty so liberally bestowed I should gladly receive, if my condition made it necessary; for to such a mind who would not be proud to owe his obligations ?, But it has pleased God to restore me to so great a measure of health, that, if I should now appropriate so much of a fortune destined to do good, I should not escape from myself the charge of advancing a false claim. My journey to the Continent, though I once thought it necessary, was never much encouraged by my physicians; and I was very desirous that your Lordship should be told of it by Sir Joshua Reynolds as an event very uncertain: for if I grew much better, I should not be willing; if much worse, not able to migrate. Your Lordship was first solicited without my knowledge; but, when I was told that you were pleased to honour me with your patronage, I did not expect to hear of a refusal; yet as I have had no long time to brood hope, and have not rioted on imaginary opulence, this cold reception has been scarce a disappointment; and from your Lordship's kindness I have received a benefit, which only men like you CHAP, are able to bestow. I shall now live, mi hi carior, with a'

higher opinion of my own merit." *

Johnson, writing at the same time confidentially to Sir Joshua Reynolds, said, "Many words, I hope, arc not necessary to convince you what gratitude is excited in my heart by the Chancellor's liberality, and your kind offices." t

Thurlow afterwards made a generous atonement for his Thurlow'a rough rejection of the claims of another man of genius. ^"c'rabLc. Crabbe, the poet, when he first came to London, being in a very destitute condition, wrote to the Lord Chancellor, inclosing him a copy of verses, and received for answer a note, in which his Lordship "regretted that his avocations did not leave him leisure to read verses." The indignant bard addressed to the professed contemner of poetry, some strong, but not disrespectful lines, intimating that, in former times, the encouragement of literature had been considered as a duty appertaining to the illustrious station which his Lordship held. Of this remonstrance no notice whatever was taken for a long time. But Burke and Sir Joshua Reynolds having mentioned in Thurlow's presence the genius and the destitution of the new aspirant, and that he was about to enter the Church, Crabbe, to hie great amazement, received a note from the Lord Chancellor, politely inviting him to breakfast the next morning. The reception was more than courteous, the Chancellor exclaiming in a frank and hearty tone: — " The first poem you sent me, sir, I ought to have noticed — and I heartily forgive the second." They breakfasted together, and at parting his Lordship put a scaled paper into the poet's hand, saying, "Accept this trifle, sir, in the meantime, and rely on my embracing an early opportunity to serve you more substantially, when I hear that you are in orders." Instead of a present of ten or twenty pounds as the donee expected, the paper contained a bank note for 100/., a supply which relieved him from all present difficulties. The promise of a living, I make no

* Iioswell's Life of Johnson, vol. iv. p. 3T2. f lb.

« ПредишнаНапред »