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The Earl of Roscommon's “ Essay on Translated Verse,” a work which abounds with much excellent criticism, expressed in correct, succinct, and manly language, was first published in 4to, in 1680: a second edition, corrected and enlarged, appeared in 1684. To both editions are prefixed the following copy of verses by our author; and to the second there is also one in Latin by his son Charles Dryden, afterwards translated by Mr Needler.
The high applause which our author has here and elsewhere* bestowed on the “ Essay on Translated Verse,” is censured by Dr Johnson, as unmerited and exaggerated. But while something is allowed for the partiality of a friend, and the zeal of a panegyrist, it must also be remembered, that the rules of criticism, now so well known as to be even trite and hackneyed, were then almost new to the literary world, and that translation was but then beginning to be emancipated from the fetters of verbal and literal
versions. But Johnson elsewhere does Roscommon more justice, where he acknowledges, that“ he improved taste, if he did not enlarge knowledge, and may be numbered among the benefactors of English literature."
Dryden has testified, in several places of his works, that he loved and honoured Roscommon; particularly by inscribing and applying to him his version of the Third Ode of the First Book of Horace. t Roscommon repaid these favours by a copy of verses ad. dressed to Dryden on the “ Religio Laici.” 1
Whether the fruitful Nile, or Tyrian shore,
The seeds of arts and infant science bore,
'Tis sure the noble plant, translated first,
Advanced its head in Grecian gardens nurst.
The Grecians added verse; their tuneful tongue
Made nature first, and nature's God their song.
Nor stopt translation here; for conquering Rome,
With Grecian spoils, brought Grecian numbers home;
Enriched by those Athenian muses more,
Than all the vanquished world could yield before.
Till barbarous nations, and more barbarous times,
Debased the majesty of verse to rhymes;
Those rude at first; a kind of hobbling prose,
That limped along, and tinkled in the close.
But Italy, reviving from the trance
Of Vandal, Goth, and Monkish ignorance,
With pauses, cadence, and well-voweld words,
And all the graces a good ear affords,
Made rhyme an art, and Dante's polished page
Restored a silver, not a golden age.
Then Petrarch followed, and in hini we see,
What rhyme improved in all its height can be;
At best-a pleasing sound, and fair barbarity.
The French pursued their steps; and Britain, last,
In manly sweetness all the rest surpassed.
The wit of Greece, the gravity of Rome,
Appear exalted in the British loom:
The Muses' empire is restored again,
In Charles his reign, and by Roscommon's
Yet modestly he does his work survey,
And calls a finished poem an essay;
For all the needful rules are scattered here;
Truth smoothly told, and pleasantly severe;
So well is art disguised, for nature to appear.
Nor need those rules to give translation light;
His own example is a flame so bright,
That he, who but arrives to copy well,
Unguided will advance, unknowing will excel.
Scarce his own Horace could such rules ordain,
Or his own Virgil sing a nobler strain.
How much in him may rising Ireland boast,
How much in gaining him has Britain lost!
Their island in revenge has ours reclaimed ;
The more instructed we, the more we still are shamed.
'Tis well for us his generous blood did flow,
Derived from British channels long ago,
That here his conquering ancestors were nurst,
And Ireland but translated England first :
By this reprizal we regain our right,
Esse must the two contending nations fight;
A nobler quarrel for his native earth,
Than what divided Greece for Homer's birth.
To what perfection will our tongue arrive,
How will invention and translation thrive,
When authors nobly born will bear their part,
And not disdain the inglorious praise of art!
Great generals thus, descending from command,
With their own toil provoke the soldier's hand.
* Roscommon, it must be remembered, was born in Ireland, where his property also was situated. But the Dillons were of English extraction.
How will sweet Ovid's ghost be pleased to hear
His fame augmented by an English peer;
How he embellishes his Helen's loves,
Outdoes his softness, and his sense improves ?
When these translate, and teach translators too,
Nor firstling kid, nor any vulgar vow,
Should at Apollo's grateful altar stand:
Roscommon writes; to that auspicious hand,
Muse, feed the bull that spurns the yellow sand.
Roscommon, whom both court and camps commend,
True to his prince, and faithful to his friend ;
Roscommon, first in fields of honour known,
First in the peaceful triumphs of the gown;
Who both Minervas justly makes his own.
Now let the few beloved by Jove, and they
Whom infused Titan formed of better clay,
On equal terms with ancient wit engage,
Nor mighty Homer fear, nor sacred Virgil's page :
Our English palace opens wide in state,
And without stooping they may pass the gate.