Item of the Day: Gordon’s Sallust (1744)

Full Title:

The Works of Sallust, Translated into English. With Political Discourses upon that Author. To which is added, a Translation of Cicero’s Four Orations Against Catiline. [Trans. T. Gordon.] Printed in London for T. Woodward, and J. Peele, sold by J. Osborn at the Golden Bell in Pater-noster Row, 1744.

From the translator’s Introduction:

An able Writer not only gives, but enforces, his own Meaning: His Manner is as significant as his Words, and therefore becomes Part of his Sentiments. It is thus in Speaking as well as Writing: The liveliest Speech in the World, rehearsed by a heavy Man, will sound heavily. What moved, and fired, and charmed the Audience, out of one Mouth, would put them to Sleep out of another. An Oration of Demosthenes, repeated like a Lease by a Clerk; or one of Cicero‘s, pronounced by a Pedant; instead of Rage and Terror, would rouse Laughter and Impatience.

Who can discover the Ardour and Vivacity of Horace, in the Version of Monsieur D’Acier? Yet D’Acier knew, as well as any Man, the Meaning of every Word in Horace, with all his Figures, Allusions, and References.

Plutarch, the entertaining judicious Plutarch, is a dry Writer, as translated by the same D’Acier, though accurately translated: Plutarch, translated by Amyot, is an entertaining, a pleasing Author: Yet, in Amyot‘s Translation, there are numberless Mistakes: A French Critic, and a very learned Man, Monsieur Meziriac, reckons them at Two thousand, all very gross ones. D’Acier‘s is an exact Translation of Plutarch‘s Words: Amyot is a Copy of Plutarch himself; resembles his Author, and writes as well. Amyot is a Genius: D’Acier is a learned Man.

I am much concerned to see so learned and useful a Writer as Plutarch, make so ill a Figure in English: Most of his Lives are poorly Englished; nor is bad Language the worst Fault: They are full of egregious Blunders. Several of them are ill translated from Amyot, by such as understood not French. Many of the instructive Pieces, called his Morals, have fared as ill. A good Translation of all his Works would be a valuable Performance.

Who would not rather read a Discourse of Archbiship Tillotson‘s upon any ordinary Subject, though ever so full of Inaccuracies, than a learned Dissertation of the correct Mr. Thomas Hearn on the best Subject?

I doubt no Work of Genius can be well translated, but by an Author of Genius; and therefore, there can never be many tolerable Translations in the World. Cicero, in translating the noblest Greek Writers, has excelled them all: Cicero was a good Translator, because he was a great Genius.

Terence is only a Translator; but he had fine Taste, Politeness, and Parts, and a Genius for Comedy and genteel Conversation. This was his great Qualification: His Knowlege of the two Languages only helped him to shew it. He might have had great Skill in both, without success, or Fame, as a Comic Poet. Terence translated Comedy with Applause, becasue he had a fine Genius for Comedy. He himself is shamefully travestied by Sir Roger L’Estrange, and Dr. Echard, and much gross Ribaldry fathered upon so pure and polite a Writer.

Mr. Hobbes has translated the Historian Thucydides well; for Mr. Hobbes had equal Talents for History: But he has ill translated Homer, though he well understood Homer; for he had not equal Talents for Poetry. Mr. Dryden, with all his Faults, and many unwarrantable Freedoms, has mad a fine Translation of Virgil, because he was as great a Poet as Virgil; indeed, a great and various Poet: We have Poems of his, such as, I think, Virgil could not write; one Ode particularly, equal, if not superior, to any in Antiquity.

Many of the Speeches and brightest Passages in Lucan, are rendered by Mr. Row with an equal Force, in a Language so unequal, because he had a Genius as warm and poetical as Lucan; though Lucan, with infinite Sinkings, has infinite Elevation, and many glorious Lines.

I have often wished, that such a fine Genius as Dr. Burnet of the Charter-house, had translated Livy. He had grave and grand Conceptions, with harmonious flowing Periods, equal to those of the great Roman Historian. Sir Walter Raleigh would have still done it better, as he was a wonderful Master of such Subjects, and wonderfully qualified to represent them. Many Parts of his History of the World are hardly to be matched, never to be exceeded; particularly his Relation of the second Punic War; where he recounts the Conduct of the Roman and Carthaginian Commonwealths, and of their several Commanders, especially of Hannibal, with surprising Capacity, Clearness, and Force.

There occurs to me one Passage out of the English Livy, which will shew what Justice we have done that noble and elegant Writer. A great Officer says to a Roman General in the Field, (I think he calls him Sir, too) ‘Whilst you stand Shilly-shally here, as a Man may say, the Enemy will tread upon your Toes.’ Could a Groom of that General have used meaner Language to a Fellow Groom? I give the Passage upon Memory—-The Words are either Shilly-shally, or with your Hands in your Pockets, or both.

A Writer of Genius, translated by one who has none, or a mean one, will appear meanly. Even the Meaning of every Word may be conveyed, yet the Meaning of the Writer missed or mangled. It is in Translating, as in Painting: Where the Air, the Spirit, and Dignity of the Original are wanting, Resemblance is wanting. To be able to translate, a Man must be able to do something like what he translates.

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Filed under 1740's, Greek/Roman Translations, Oratory, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt, Roman Empire

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