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nor can rhyme ever be safely spared, but where the subject is able to support itself.
Blank verse makes some approach to that which is called the lapidary style ; has neither the easiness of prose, nor the melody of numbers; and therefore tires by long continuance. Of the Italian writers without rhyme, whom Milton alleges as precedents, not one is popular. What reason could urge in its defence, has been confuted by the ear.”
Johnson however makes an exception, in the instance of Milton.
“ But, whatever be the advantages of rhyme," he adds, “ I cannot prevail on myself to wish that Milton had been a rhymer ; for I cannot wish his work to be other than it is; yet, like other heroes, he is to be admired rather than imitated. He that thinks himself capable of astonishing, may write blank verse ; but those that hope only to please must condescend to rhyme.”
In his critique on the “ Night Thoughts,” he makes a similar concession. “ This is one of the few poems in which blank verse could not be changed for rhyme but with disadvantage. The wild diffusion of the sentiments, and the digressive sallies of imagination, would have been compressed and restrained by confinement to rhyme.”*
Cowper, it will be remembered, questions the
Young's testimony in favour of blank verse is thus förcibly, though rather pompously, expressed :
“ Blank verse is verse unfallen, uncursed ; verse reclaimed. re-enthroned in the true language of the Gods.”
See Conjectures on Original Composition.
correctness of Johnson's taste on this subject, and vindicates the force and majesty of blank verse with much weight of argument. With respect, however, to the important question, how a translation of Homer might be best executed, his sentiments are delivered so much at large in the admirable preface to his version of the Iliad, that we shall lay a few extracts from it before the reader. “Whether a translation of Homer,” he remarks, “may be best executed in blank verse or in rhyme, is a question in the decision of which no man can find difficulty, who has ever duly considered what translation ought to be, or who is in any degree practically acquainted with those very different kinds of versification. I will venture to assert, that a just translation of any ancient poet in rhyme is impossible. No human ingenuity can be equal to the task of closing every couplet with sounds homotonous, expressing at the same time the full sense, and only the full sense, of his original. The translator's ingenuity, indeed, in this case becomes itself a snare; and the readier he is at invention and expedient, the more likely he is to be betrayed into the widest departures from the guide whom he professes to follow.” It was this acknowledged defect in Pope, that led Cowper to engage in his laborious undertaking of producing a new version. We admire the candour with which he appreciates the merits of Pope's translation, and yet we cannot refuse to admit the justness of his strictures.
“I have no contest,” he observes, “ with my predecessor. None is supposable between performers on different instruments. Mr. Pope has surmounted all difficulties in his version of Homer that it was possible to surmount in rhyme. But he was fettered, and his fetters were his choice." “ He has given us the Tale of Troy divine in smooth verse, generally in correct and elegant language, and in diction often highly poetical. But his deviations are so many, occasioned chiefly by the cause already mentioned, that, much as he has done, and valuable as his work is on some accounts, it was yet in the humble province of a translator, that I thought it possible even for me to follow him with some advantage."
What the reader may expect to discover in the two respective versions is thus described. matter found in me, whether he like it or not, is found also in Homer; and the matter not found in me, how much soever he may admire it, is found only in Mr. Pope. I have omitted nothing; I have invented nothing." · Fidelity is indeed of the very essence of translation, and the term itself implies it. For which reason, if we suppress the sense of our original, and force into its place our own, we may call our work an imitation, if we please, or perhaps a paraphrase, but it is no longer the same author only in a different dress, and therefore it is not translation.”
After dwelling upon the merits and defects of the free and the close translation, and observing that the former can hardly be true to the original
author's style and manner, and that the latter is apt to be servile, he thus declares his view of the subject. “On the whole, the translation which partakes equally of fidelity and liberality, that is close, but not so close as to be servile; free, but not so free as to be licentious, promises fairest; and my ambition will be sufficiently gratified, if such of my readers as are able and will take the pains to compare me in this respect with Homer, shall judge that I have in any measure attained a point so difficult.”
He concludes his excellent preface with these interesting words:
“And now I have only to regret, that my pleasant work is ended. To the illustrious Greek I owe the smooth and easy flight of many thousand hours. He has been my companion at home and abroad, in the study, in the garden, and in the field; and no measure of success, let my labours succeed as they may, will ever compensate to me the loss of the innocent luxury that I have enjoyed as a translator of Homer.”
Having thus endeavoured to do justice to the excellent preface of Cowper, we have reserved an interesting correspondence, which passed between Lord Thurlow and Cowper on this subject, and now introduce it to the notice of the reader. It is without date.
TO THE LORD THURLOW.
My Lord—A letter reached me yesterday from Henry Cowper, enclosing another from your lordship to himself; of which a passage in my work formed the subject. It gave me the greatest pleasure : your strictures are perfectly just, and here follows the speech of Achilles accommodated to them. + * # %
# # # # # * I did not expect to find your lordship on the side of rhyme, remembering well with how much energy and interest I have heard you repeat passages from the “Paradise Lost,” which you could not have recited as you did, unless you had been perfectly sensible of their music. It comforts me therefore to know that if you have an ear for rhyme, you have an ear for blank verse also.
It seems to me that I may justly complain of rhyme as an inconvenience in translation, even though I assert in the sequel that to me it has been easier to rhyme than to write without, because I always suppose a rhyming translator to ramble, and always obliged to do so. Yet I allow your lordship's version of this speech of Achilles to be very close, and closer much than mine. But I believe that, should either your lordship or I give them burnish or elevation, your lines would be found, in measure as they acquired stateliness, to have lost the merit of fidelity—in which case nothing more would be done than Pope has done already.
I cannot ask your lordship to proceed in your strictures, though I should be happy to receive more of them. Perhaps it is possible that when