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Vengeance thy complicated guilt attends,
And begg'd she would the cruel cause declare. Our readers will easily perceive by this short specimen, how very unequal Mr Massey is to a translation of Ovid. In many places he has deviated entirely from the sense, and in every part fallen infinitely below the strength, elegance, and spirit of the original. We must beg leave, therefore, to remind him of the old Italian* proverb, and hope he will never for the future traduce and injure any of those poor ancients who never injured him, by thus pestering the world with such translations as even his own school-boys ought to be whipped for.
* Il Tradattores Tradatore.
Quid, victor, gaudes ? hæc te victoria perdet :
Heu quanto regnis nox stetit una tuis!
erat orta dies : passis sedet illa capillis ;
Evocat ; et posita venit uterque mora.
Cui paret exsequias, quove sit icta malo.
Ora: fluunt lacrymæ more perennis aquæ.
Indicet : et cæco flentque parentque metu
The praise which is every day lavished upon Virgil, Horace, or Ovid, is often no more than an indirect method the critic takes to compliment his own discernment. Their works have long been considered as models of beauty ; to praise them now is only to shew the conformity of our taste to theirs : it tends not to advance their reputation, but to promote our own. Let us then dismiss, for the present, the pedantry of panegyric ; Ovid needs it not, and we are not disposed to turn encomiasts on ourselves.
It will be sufficient to observe, that the multitude of translators which have attempted this poet, serves evince the number of his admirers; and their indifferent success, the difficulty of equalling his elegance or his ease.
Dryden, ever poor, and ever willing to be obliged, solicited the assistance of his friends for a translation of these epistles. It was not the first time bis miseries obliged him to call in happier bards to his aid ; and to permit such to quarter their fleeting performances on the lasting merit of his name. This eleemosynary translation, as might well be expected, was extremely unequal, frequently unjust to the poet's meaning, almost always so to his fame. It was published without notes ; for it was not at that time customary to swell every performance of this nature with comment and scholia. The reader did not then choose to have the current of his passions interrupted, his attention every moment called off from pleasure, only to be informed why he was so pleased. It was not then thought necessary to lessen surprise by anticipation, and like some spectators we have met at the play-house, to take off our attention from the performance, by telling in our ear, what will follow next.
Since this united effort, Ovid, as if born to misfortune, has undergone successive metamorphoses, being sometimes transposed by schoolmasters unacquainted with English, and sometimes transversed by ladies who knew no Latin: thus he has alternately worn the dress of a pedant or a rake ; either crawling in humble prose, or having his hints explained into unbashful meaning. Schoolmasters, who knew all that was in him, except his graces, give the names of places and towns at full length, and he moves along stiffly in their literal versions as the man who, as we are told in the Philosophical Transactions, was afflicted with a universal anchylosis. His female imitators, on the other hand, regard the dear creature only as a lover ; express the delicacy of his passion by the ardour of their own ; and if now and then he is found to grow a little too warm, and perhaps to express himself a little indelicately, it must be imputed to the more poignant sensations of his fair admirers. In a word, we have seen him stripped of all his beauties in the versions of Stirling and Clark, and talk like a debauchee in that of Mrs - : but the sex should ever be sacred from criticism ; perhaps the ladies have a right to describe raptures, which none but themselves can bestow.
A poet, like Oyid, whose greatest beauty lies rather in expression than sentiment, must be necessarily difficult to translate. A fine sentiment may be conveyed several
without impairing its vigour ; but a sentence delicately expressed, will scarcely admit the least variation without losing beauty. The performance before us will serve to convince the public, that Ovid is more easily admired than imitated. The translator, in his notes, shews an ardent zeal for the reputation of his poet. It is possible, too, he may have felt his beauties ; however, he does not
sessed of the happy art of giving his feelings expression. If a kindred spirit, as we have often been told,
must animate the translator, we fear the claims of Mr Barrett will never receive a sanction in the heraldry of Parnassus.
His intentions, even envy must own, are laudable ; nothing less than to instruct boys, schoolmasters, grown gentlemen, the public, in the principles of taste (to use his own expression,) both by precept and by example. His manner it seems is, “ to read a course of poetical lectures to his pupils one night in the week ; which, beginning with this author, running through select pieces of our own, as well as the Latin and Greek writers, and ending with Longinus, contributes no little towards forming their taste.” No little, reader, observe that ; from a person so perfectly master of the force of his own language, what may not be expected from his comments on the beauties of another ?
But, in order to shew in what manner he has executed these intentions, it is proper he should first march in review as a poet. We shall select the first epistle that offers, which is that from Penelope to Ulysses, observing beforehand, that the whole translation is a most convincing instance, that English words may be placed in Latin order, without being wholly unintelligible. Such forced transpositions serve at once to give an idea of the translator's learning, and of the difficulties surmounted.
PENELOPE TO ULYSSES. *
This, still your wife, my ling'ring lord! I send :
These lines seem happily imitated from Taylor, the water poet, who has it thus :
To thee, dear Ursula, these lines I send :
Not with my hand, but with my heart, they're penn'd. But not to make a pause in the reader's pleasure, we proceed :
* The reader will not be displeased to have an opportunity of comparing this version with the original, which we accordingly subjoin. - B.
1 Hanc tua Penelope lento tibi mittit, Ulysse :
Nil mihi rescribas attamen ; ipse veni
Sunk now is Troy, the curse of Grecian dames !
Here seems some obscurity in the translation : we are at a loss to know what is meant by the mad profound. It can certainly mean neither Bedlam nor Fleet-Ditch ; for though the epithet mad might agree with one, or profound with the other, yet when united they seem incompatible with either. The profound has frequently been used to signify bad verses ; and poets are sometimes said to be mad: who knows but Penelope wishes that Paris might have died in the very act of rhyming : and as he was a shepherd, it is not improbable to suppose but that he was a poet also.
Cold in a widow'd bed I ne'er had lay,
Lay for lain, sy 'he figure ginglimus. Our translator makes frequent use of this figure.
Nor the protracted nuptials to avoid,
Ovid makes Penelope shudder at the name of Hector. Our translator, with geat propriety, transfers the fright from Penelope to Ulysses himself: it is he who grows pale at the name
Hector ; and well indeed he might ; for Hector is represented by Ovid, somewhere else, as a terrible fellow, and Ulysses as little better than a poltron.
2 Troja jacet certe, Danais invisa puellis :
Vix Priamus tanti, totaque Troja, fuit. O utinam tunc, cum Lacedæmona classe petebat,
Obrutus insanis esset adulter aquis !
3 Non ego deserto jacuissem frigida lecto,
Nec quererer tardos ire relicta dies :
4 Nec mihi, quærenti spatiosam fallere noctem,
Lassaret viduas pendula tela manus. Quando ego non timui graviora pericula veris ?
Res est solliciti plena timoris amor. In te fingebam violentos Troas ituros :
Nomine in Hectoreo pallida semper eram.