Слике страница
PDF
ePub

people, and under whose subtle touch of healing the broken links of tradition are re-forged. Yet very much must lie in that subjectivity with which Virgil has so often been reproached, in that tenderness which, still more than his picturesqueness, makes him "the first of the moderns."* Of the three elements which critical analysis can detect in the Æneid, the Homeric, the national, and the personal, the last was the most fascinating then as now. The voice of exquisite sensibility which falters over the description of a work of art,

“Bis patriæ cecidere manus,” will always find audience. The people applaud him who makes them laugh ; the finer tribute of their love is reserved for him who teaches manhood to weep the delicious tears of which it is not ashamed. It is the want of sensibility which causes Dryden, the greatest rhetorician among our poets, to be so inadequate a translator of Virgil. “I fear,” says Johnson, of Dryden, that he would have given us but a coarse draft of Eloisa's passion.” He has given us but a coarse draft of the grief of Orpheus in the episode which closes the fourth Georgic, and in many other passages which might be quoted. Augustine, the writer of the tenderest book that the world has ever seen, was a predestined enthusiast for Virgil. No tribute has ever been paid to the poet's genius, comparable to the sweet and burning tears shed by the imaginative boy, and for which the Christian

* M. Villemain.

Bishop so bitterly reproaches himself. “Tantillus puer, et tantus peccator.”

No human conscience, not even that of a Saint, is perfectly consistent. Had the conscience of St. Augustine been so, he might have reproached himself in reference to Virgil, at later periods of his life. During the months at Cassiciacum, when he was preparing for baptism, Virgil is constantly mentioned in those dialogues which, with all their profound dissimilarity, remind us of Cicero and Plato. Upon the quiet Alpine slopes, in a land of lakes and hills overlooking the plains of Lombardy; in the meadowlawn during those summer days, which seem to give lucidity to the intellect as well as to the eye ;* during the soft winter sunshine, in the baths near the villa; the cadence of Virgil's lines, sometimes declaimed by the poet Licentius, sometimes half-playfully repeated by Augustine, still mingles with the household cares of the little company, with Monica's gentle work, the voices of the vine-dressers, and the

* Et fortè dies ita serenus effulsit, ut nulli prorsus rei magis quam serenandis animis nostris congruere videretur ... paullulum cum rusticis egimus, quod tempus urgebat. --Contra Acad. ii. 426.- Disputare cessavere ... diesque poenė totus, cum in rebus rusticis ordinandis, tum in recensione prim libri Virgilii peractus ruit. Ibid. i. 418.— Exorto sole clarissimo invitavit coeli nitor, et quantum in illis locis hyeme poterat blanda temperies, in pratum descendere. -De Ordin. Lib. ii.---Tertius autem dies matutinas nubes quæ nos coegerant in balneos dissipavit tempusque pomeridianum candidissimum reddidit.-De Beta Vitd.---Septem ferè diebus, cum tres tantum Virgilii libros post primum recenseremus. --Contr. Acad. ii. 428.

lowings of the kine. Let us not condemn them. It is but the pleasant morning holiday. Before evening comes they always lift their eyes to those problems which tower before us all, in the nineteenth century as in the fourth, like the eternal hills. The retreat at Cassiciacum will soon be over. From the day of his baptism at Milan, to the day when he lies down to die in the little chamber at Hippo, with his eyes fixed upon the Psalms of David not upon the songs of Virgil, his Æneid is closed.

Yet the genius of a great poet asserts its prerogative over us, long after we cease to read him. At times the tenderest and most musical strains which Augustine has ever heard upon earth, mingle unconsciously with his recollections, even when he is listening to catch the strains that come to him from the City of God.*

With regard to the measure which I have chosen. · So far as I know, three measures have been used by the translators of Virgil.

1. Professor Conngton's recent work must make us give the first place to the octo-syllabic measure. That work stands too high in the estimation of

* In the De Civ. Dei there is a curious and unconscious Virgilian reminiscence :-“Sine ardoris illecebris et stimulo infunderetur gremio maritus uxoris.” xiv. 26.-Cf. “Conjugis infusus gremio,” Æn. viii. 406.

See also his Epistle to Jerome, (tom. ii. 69,) with its reference to Dares and Entellus.

scholars to need praise worth so little as my own. It is sufficient to say that, while those who know "small Latin and less Greek,” can read it with real pleasure, the microscopic and usually malignant industry of critical scholars can scarcely detect a flaw.

Yet I am obliged to confess that the choice of the octo-syllabic measure seems to me to be an unhappy one, and to postulate its own failure. It suits exactly the genius of him who wrote :

When civil dudgeon first grew high,

And folk fell out, they knew not why : It gives point to the antitheses of the witty Dean, who made a well-known bequest to Dublin :

To show by one satiric touch,

No nation needed it so much. But it can scarcely be so modulated as to give our ears an equivalent for the varied and long-drawn music of Virgil. I admit that Scott can do wonders with the octo-syllabic line, when the trumpet of battle is in his ears, or when his spirit gallops with the hunter in the storm of chase along the hills. I admit that Byron has at times breathed into it the tempest of his passion, and Wordsworth the chastened wisdom of his meditative morality. But I maintain that there are incurable defects in the measure for a long and serious poem. It cannot be sustained at a high pitch. Its fatal facility is a perpetual temptation. It reminds one too often of the dignity of a man extremely short and extremely fat,

who aims at impressiveness with a jerking hobble and an asthmatic grunt.

The two other measures which have been essayed by the translators of Virgil, are, the rhymed heroic couplet, as by Dryden and Pitt, and blank verse as by Dr. Henry and Mr. Sewell. Of these the former seems to me preferable, if the end of the translation be not to produce a semi-barbarous literality, but to give the general reader an impression of his original.

My chief desire in this attempt, which I made some years ago, was to stimulate some one with sufficient scholarship and poetical spirit to the task of rendering the Æneid in that stanza, into which Virgil seems to me most capable of being successfully moulded. The exigencies of the stanza, no doubt, impose peculiar difficulties upon the translator. But it may be made to answer every mood of the poet, majesty or tenderness, pregnant pathos, or flowing description, while it is peculiarly tolerant of that archaic colouring in which the genius of Virgil delights.

I have chosen the Sixth Book, simply because I have always felt a peculiar interest in the descent of Æneas into the infernal regions; in the picture of the Sybil with the fever upon her cheeks and the foam upon her lips; in the charming description of the golden branch; in the exquisite lines that close the book. The critics may find fault with “demonstrable inconsistencies or confusions.” But when I am pointed to such inconsistencies, as the

« ПретходнаНастави »