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-On sait assez quelle est l'ambition.
“One knows what ambition is : theladder of grandeurs presents itself to her ; in going up
she hides her face from the spectators; when she is at the top, then she shews herself; then raising her view to the heavens, with a scornful look her vanity disdains the steps of the ladder that made her greatness. This it is that Cæsar may do.”
In the original, lowliness is young
ambi. tion's ladder: the man who by feigned humility and courtesy, has attained the power to which he aspired, turns his back on those humble means by which he ascended to it; the metaphor agreeing both to the man, who has gained the top of the ladder, or to him O 2
who has risen to the summit of power. In the translation, ambition ascends by steps of grandeurs, hiding her face from the
spectators; when she is at the top, with a look or glance of her eye her vanity disdains the first steps she took; which steps, observe, were grandeurs; so the allegory is vanity and ambition disdaining grandeur; and, the image presented is a woman climbing up a ladder, which is not a very common object, but more so than vanity's disdaining grandeurs.
I am sorry the translator had not a better English dictionary, for on that, not on his own knowledge of our tongue, it is plain he depended. In another instance it misleads him. After Portia had importuned Brutus to communicate to her the secret cause of his perturbation, he
says to her;
Portia, go in a while,
All the charactery of my sad brows.
The dictionary was consulted for the word construe; and thus, according to the usual form, one may suppose it to have stood: To construe, to interpret. This not serving the purpose, to interpret was next sought; there he finds, to interpret or to explain ; again, with indefatigable industry, excited by a desire to excel all translators and translations, he has recourse to the article to explain ; under this head he finds, to unfold or clear up; so away goes the translator to clear
up the countenance of Brutus:
Va, mes sourcils froncés prennent un air plus doux.
“Go ;” says he ;“ my frowning brow shall take a softer air."
There are so many gross blunders in this work, that it would be tedious to point them out; but it is to be hoped, they will deter other beaux esprits from attempting to hurt works of genius, by the masked battery of
an unfair translation. Mr. Voltaire desires, that by his translation all Europe will compare the thoughts, the style, and the judgment of Shakspeare, with the thoughts, the style, and the judgment of Corneille. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to make the graces of style pass from one language to another; and our blank-verse cannot be equalled by French blank-verse. The thoughts might in some measure have been given, if the translator had understood the words, in which Shakspeare hath expressed them. Upon the judgment of both the authors in the choice of the story, in the conduct of it, in exciting the sympathies belonging to it, in the fashioning of the characters, in the nobleness of sentiment, and the representation of Roman manners, we shall upon
close examination of the Cinna and Julius Cæsar be able to pronounce.
As the subject of the drama is built on a conspiracy, which every one knows had not any effect, and as the author has so conducted it as to render the pardon Augustus gives the conspirators, an act of political
prudence prudence rather than of generous clemency, there is not any thing to interest us, but the characters of Cinna, Emilia, and Maximus. Let us examine how far they are worthy to do so, as set forth in this piece ; for we have no historical acquaintance with them. Emilia is the daughter of Toranius, the tutor of Augustus, who was proscribed by him in his triumvirate. As we have not any knowledge of this Toranius, we are no more concerned about any cruelty committed upon him, than upon any other man; so that we are not prepared to enter into the outrageous resentment of Emilia ; especially as we see her, in the court of Augustus, under the sacred relation of his adopted daughter, enjoying all the privileges of that distinguished situation, and treated with the tenderness of paternal love. Nothing so much deforms the feminine character, as ferocity of sentiment. Nothing so deeply stains the human character, as ingratitude.