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THE version of Poetry is one of the most difficult branches in the Translator's department. Many of the beauties of original versification escape, and many of its graces evaporate, in the attempt to transfuse them into another language, especially when they are to be conveyed in “ rhyme enfetter'd verse.” Besides, it seems necessary that some parity of genius, at least some similar degree of enthusiasm, should exist in the minds of the original writer and the translator, to enable the latter to do justice to the conceptions of the former; nor is it unreasonable to infer, that those who undertake to translate poetry, should not only be linguists, but poets also.—Disunite these qualifications, and what is the consequence ?You will have either an inert body, or an unsubstantial phantom of the work. It is worthy of remark, that the best English translations extant have been executed by persons who have demonstrated distinguished original talents for composition: it is sufficient to mention the translations of Pope, the Æneid of Dryden, and the Pharsalia of Rowe, in support of this opinion.
In founding an English poem upon the Orlando Innamorato, it has been my wish to adhere as closely both to the spirit and the letter of the original, as the nature of my plan would admit. The great merits of Bojardo are, his lively invention, and strength of fancy. His story is therefore retained perfect and unaltered ; and the few enlargements which were requisite, are carefully adapted to the turn of his ideas, and rendered consistent with the characters and the context of his work. They merely consist of some sentimental and descriptive additions. It is the opinion of the best judges, that no literal translation can do justice to an original of merit; but it is a mistaken opinion to suppose, that a too free version is not a fault as necessary to be guarded against, as a servile adherence to the diction and versification of the original. I have endeavoured to steer between those two extremes, and I now, with great deference, submit
my essay to the reader.
Bojardo has delivered his tale in a plain, unvarnished manner, in the usual style of those productions which were suited to the taste of the age in which he wrote. At all periods, epic poetry labours under a disadvantage, from which didactic and lyrical compositions are exempt. The Ode, for instance, admits of a perpetual succession of elevated ideas and brilliant images; while, in several parts of an epic poem, elaborate ornament, or high-wrought delineation, would diverge into that species of bombast su admirably ridiculed by Pope in his Treatise on the Bathos. Appropriate language is necessary throughout; and if the subject be of the ordinary kind, it will not admit of sublime expression. On the contrary, the use of laboured or figurative terms on such occasions, is a gross violation of the rules of good taste; and springing from an inflated or affected genius, reminds us of what Longinus quotes from Sophocles, of one who gaped enormously wide, to blow a little flagelet. Readers conversant with the great father of epic composition, Homer, will recollect that he sometimes seems to sink and languish ; but they will also acknowledge, that those temporary inequalities are overpaid by the vigour with which, when occasion calls, he resumes those powers that astonish judgment and delight taste.
The translations of the Orlando Innamorato are
various. It was twice translated into the French lan
guage-first by the Sieur Rosset, and afterwards by Mons. Le Sage; nor was Spain ignorant of the work, as we learn from Cervantes, who mentions it as a performance of merit. It appears singular, that no modern translation of a work so universally noted, has been given in the English language. Mr. Ritson, in his Biblog. Poetica, printed in London, 1802, p. 362, mentions the very rare and obsolete version made in 1598 by Robert Tofts, who also translated two satires from Ariosto, and other Italian stanzas and proverbs; but these inadequate attempts having fallen into oblivion, is no proof of want of merit in the original writers. The fame of Ariosto's work is well established by Mr. Hoole's translation, who, avoiding all the faults conspicuous in Sir John Har, rington's version, has done ample justice to the author; and the various editions of the Orlando Innamorato, published at Scandiano, Milan, Venice, and else,