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I must prevent thee, Cimber!
These crouchings and these lowly curtesies
With that which melteth fools; I mean, sweet words,
If thou dost bend, and pray, and fawn for him,
spurn thee like a cur out of my way!
Know, Cæsar doth not wrong nor without cause
Cimber, je t'avertis que ces prosternemens, m
Ces génuflexions, ces basses flateries,
Peuvent sur un cœur foible avoir quelque pouvoir,
Les prières, les cris, les vaines simagrées,
Les airs d'un chien couchant peuvent toucher un sot;
Par un juste décret ton frère est exilé.
Flate, prie à genoux, & léche moi les pieds;
Ben Jonson, by a faulty transcript of this speech, or the blunder of a player, had been led into the mistake of charging Shakspeare with the absurdity of making Cæsar say, he never did wrong without just cause: and Mr. Voltaire has seized on this false accusation. It is perfectly apparent to any person who understands English, that Cæsar by pre-ordinance and first decree means that ordinance and first decree which he had before past for Cimber's banishment. And he says, I will not be prevailed upon, by these prostrations and prayers of yours, to turn my decrees into such momentary laws as children make. If there had been any doubt of his meaning, the latter part would have cleared it.
I was constant, Cimber should be banish'd;
It is surprizing, that some friend did not prevent the critic from falling into so strange a blunder,
a blunder, about changing the eternal order in the minds of children. Many of his countrymen understand our language very well, and could easily have explained to him the signification of the preposition into, and that to change into always signifies to convert from one thing to another. Sweet words, crooked curtsies, and base fawnings, he translates, the airs of a setting dog. Lecher les pieds is not a proper translation of to fawn, Fawning courtiers would be strangely rendered by feet-licking courtiers; a fawning style, afawning address, are common expressions; but did any one everthink of a feet-licking style? a feet-licking address? Nor is Je te rosserai a juster translation of I will spurn thee: the first being a very low phrase; and to spurn is in our language a very noble one, and not unfit for the highest poetry or eloquence; indeed is oftener so used than in ordinary discourse.
Mr. Rowe, in the Fair Penitent, makes Horatio say to Lothario,
1 hold thee base enough
To break through law, and spurn at sacred order.
If Mr. Voltaire should translate these words, he would triumph much that one of our most elegant poets talked of drubbing sacred order. The translator seems not even to know the English prosodia; for in translating Porcia's words,
If it be no more,
Porcia is Brutus' harlot, not his wife,
he puts in a note upon harlot, to assure us that the word in the original is w; which, if he understood our blank-verse, he would know could not make up the
Mr. Voltaire formerly understood the English language tolerably well. His translation of part of Antony's speech to the people, in his own play of the death of Julius Cæsar, though får inferior to the original, is pretty good; and in his tragedy of Junius Brutus he has improved upon the Brutus of our old poet Lee: he has followed the English poet in making the daughter of Tarquin seduce the son of Junius Brutus
into a scheme for the restoration of her father; but with great judgment has imitated only what was worthy of imitation; and by the strength of his own genius, has rendered his piece much more excellent than that of Mr. Lee.
It must be allowed that Mr. Voltaire, in his translation of Shakspeare, has nobly emulated those interpreters of Homer, who, Mr. Pope tells us, misunderstand the text, and then triumph in the awkwardness of their own translations. To shew he decides with the same judgment and candour with which he translates, it will be necessary to present the sentence he has pronounced upon the genius of our great Poet. Speaking of Corneille he says, he was unequal like Shakspeare, and like him full of genius; mais le genie de Corneille était à celui de Shakespear, ce qu'un seigneur est à l'egard d'un homme au peuple né avec le même esprit que lui. I have given his own words, because they do not carry any determinate sense. I conjecture they may be thus translated; "The genius of Corneille is to that of ShakS 2 speare,