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ception and vivacity of intellectual sensation, for which Frenchmen have always been distinguished, stamped upon it a crystalline transparency, which the mystifications of Madame de Staël, and the dark abominations of her successors of the Romantic, Satanic, Victor Hugo, and George Sand schools, have not been able materially to lesson or dim. Even German metaphysics has tried its power upon the French language in vain. We can never misunderstand the French writers, even of the new philosophical schools ; we always see through them, and understand perfectly their meaning, when they have any, and their no-meaning, when they have none. It is a desperate undertaking for a Frenchman to set up for obscure, mysterious, and transcendental ; the words of his language will not lend their aid, and, like a flock of turkeys, refuse to travel after dark. The best qualities of this language were fully brought out in the brilliant age of Louis the Fourteenth, who bad drawn around his court an assemblage of men, the like of whom France has never seen since. We may complain, that the French literature of that time is inferior in passionate earnestness to the productions thrown upon ibe world in the present revolutionary age. But what French tragedian can the romantic school set up against Racine, in whose works all the charms of the most polished style are found in their highest perfection ? What comedian,
we do not say of the present age, but of all modern times,
in wit, and the most felicitous drawing of human character, and the most pungent satire of the follies and vices of his times, approaches Molière ? It may well be doubted, whether the late French literature, in prose or in poetry, can compare, in any of the highest excellences of thought and style, with the literature of the Augustan Age of Louis the Fourteenth; and then, as to decency and decorum and grace, the writers of that time were angels of light compared to the Paul de Kocks and the George Sands of the present.
In the midst of that extraordinary age flourished the fabulist, La Fontaine. As a man of genius, he was one of its brightest ornaments ; in originality, we think he stood at the head of his great contemporaries. As a master of all the delicacies of the French language, he was at least equal to any writer of his day. His fables are more read probably than any other work, excepting the comedies of Molière ; more read by English readers than any similar works of English writers. They possess an indescribable fascination, not only
for children, but for men, the “ children of a larger growth.” His thoughts are always fresh and natural ; his little pictures of human life are perfectly drawn ; the short stories in wbich human actors are introduced, are conceived in the same spirit as the fables of animals, and the moral is worked out with a clearness, distinctness, and force, that make an indelible impression on the mind. His style is marked by the best qualities of the best writers of his age. It is familiar yet elegant ; idiomatic but classic; pithy and pointed, without any apparently studied attempts at conciseness; and the versification is happily varied, and adapted to the various characters and trains of thought which it is the poet's object to set forth. The exquisite turns of expression, which so frequently occur in the Fables of La Fontaine, mark the peculiar character of the French language, and give a better idea of its idiomatic richness than the writings of any other author, always excepting the immortal comedies of Molière. His humor is abundant, without degenerating into coarseness; his satire is keen, but never cynical. The faults, errors,
and weaknesses of men are open to his searching gaze, but he is never misanthropical, never out of humor wiih his fellow-beings. That such a writer should be universally popular, is not at all surprising ; his works have gone through more editions than we shall undertake to count. Not long since a new illustrated edition was published, in the most magnificent style of Parisian typography, the illustrations by J. J. Grandville. The reader of this edition will be at a loss which most to admire, the exuberant wit of the poet, or the extraordinary felicity with which the artist bas told the poet's story in his illustrations. Taken as a whole, the book is one of the most tasteful specimens of the union of typographic and artistic skill and genius, that have been produced for the delight of the present age.
It must be obvious, if the preceding remarks are correct, that the translation of La Fontaine's Fables is a work of peculiar difficulty and delicacy. Whoever undertakes the task must have something of the author's peculiar genius ; something of his happy talent for observing the ways of animals, and their strong resemblances to the ways of man, and not a little power over the resources of the English language in humorous and idiomatic expression. We are not among those, who think a paraphrase is a translation. We do not think it the translator's duty to give us what he supposes his author would have written, had he written in English, for this is precisely what the translator can never know. It is his plain duty, as we conceive, to let us know what his author has actually written, as a German, or a Frenchman, or whatever the case may be ; not violating, of course, the genius of the language into which he translates, while doing so. We do not admit, that the English language is incompetent to this task. It is rich enough to cope with the difficulties of any foreign author, who has a fund of solid thought sufficient to sustain a faithful translation. Taking the whole range of the English language and literature, from the racy primeval expressions of Chaucer to the affluent harmonies of Spenser,
- the all-embracing, all-describing, all-expressive forms of Shakspeare, - the majestic music of Milton, which made his mother tongue search her coffers round and round, to say nothing of the thousand-fold varieties of later prose-writers and poets, we have no doubt that all the phases of human thought, from the broadest farce up to the sublimest conceptions of genius, may be furnished with suitable expression from the store-houses of our mother-English speech.
The German has commonly been supposed to be the best language for translation ; and so, in some respects, it undoubtedly is. Its astonishing rhythmical flexibility enables it to imitate ancient as well as modern measures ; and the facility of forming new and expressive compounds supplies it often with exact equivalents for the compounds of other languages, which in English would have to be weakened by periphrasis. But the greatest advantage, after all, lies in the conscientious care and fidelity of the German translators themselves ; first, in mastering the meaning of the author to be translated, with all the collateral and subsidiary learning ; and, secondly, in presenting an exact representation of him,
not a mere outline resemblance, but a likeness carried through all the traits of his literary character, small as well as great. German literature by this means has gradually accumulated in its own treasure-bouse the literary wealth of all ages and nations ; so that the literary man would be justified in expending the time necessary to learn the German language, for its translations alone. But when we turn to the English, the picture is sadly changed. Pope's Homer, the most popular translation in the English language, has scarcely a single point of resemblance, except in ihe outlines of the story, to the original. Cowper's is better, but bears no comparison with Voss's German version. Sotheby is stiff
and grotesque ; an ancient statue in bag-wig, breeches, and knee-buckles. And so of the great mass of English translations, whether of ancient or modern literature ; because the men who have executed them have failed to perceive the true aim of translation, and of course have not translated, but only done into English.
Now, as we have intimated above, we hold that all this is unnecessary. We believe the English language fully capable of giving a faithful representation of any foreign author who is worth representing at all ; not only of what that author would have said, had he been an Englishman, but of what he did say, being what he was. We should not have to go far to prove
the truth of this assertion. The numerous translations, by Longfellow, from German, Danish, and Swedish; as well as from most of the modern languages derived from the Latin, prove that only three requisites are wanting to make a perfect translator, — requisites, which we hope we shall not be thought unreasonable for insisting upon, namely, genius, learning, and industry. Where these are found, be sure the English language will do its part towards making your translation a good one.
We have, in a former Number, given a brief opinion of Mr. Wright's merits as a translator, judging from a small specimen which we then had the pleasure of examining. We have now read the entire work, and are prepared to award it high praise. The translator has evidently a touch of the same spirit with his author. He is kith and kin with La Fontaine. He has the same good-humored way of looking upon the world and the doings of man, and something of the same humorous turn of expression. He has entered very fully into the genius of the French author, and reproduced, in most respects, a spirited and faithful likeness. The general character of his English style is pure, racy, and lively. His expressions are often exceedingly happy, considered by themselves, or viewed as equivalents for the French. His versification is generally a good representation of the original, and skilfully diversified to suit the exigencies of the subject; and the book, taken as a whole, we cannot doubt will prove a most acceptable addition to the amusing and instructive reading, to which our young people have access.
But, as impartial critics, we are bound to state the objec
tions we have to make to some of the minor details of its execution. We cannot say, that it comes up to the standard of translation which we would establish. Spirited as it is, on the whole, it does not preserve the perfect elegance of the original. La Fontaine never forgets the most delicate and fastidious proprieties of speech for an instant; but his translator sometimes allows a coarse or slang expression to mar the beauty of his page. The flow of the Frenchman's verse is always easy as the flow of polished conversation; and his rhymes are so perfect, that we feel as if he could have used no other word, had be been writing in prose; but his American representative sometimes misrepresents him by putting his felicitous verse into lame, harshlyinverted, hobbling lines, which neither gods nor men, nor columos, can permit ; and not unfrequently, we are sorry to say it, the rhymes are very unaccommodating neighbours, being forced into a proximity for which they were never intended by nature. Sometiines, too, he fails to apprehend precisely the force of an idiom, and sometimes misapprehends it altogether. These are serious blemishes, and as such to be regretted in a book likely to have an extended circulation, and fairly entitled by its numerous merits to very great success; and we have felt it our duty to indicate their character in general terms, hoping that they may be removed in some future edition.
We take a few, without searching far, or looking out the most marked, merely to show what we mean. In Fable VII. he translates the lines, “ Êtes-vous satisfait ? Moi, dit-il; pourquoi non ?
N'ai-je pas quatre pieds aussi bien que les autres ? " “ Are you well satisfied ? And wherefore not ?
Said Jock. Haven't I four trollers with the rest ?" Now we submit, that, in the presence of Jupiter, even Jock would not have ventured upon such a piece of levity, as to call his feet trotters. It should have been literal,
Are you contented ? Me! says he, why not?
Have I not four feet, just like all the rest ? As a specimen of bad rhyming take from the same fable : “ The elephant, though famed as beast judicious,
While on his own account he had no wishes,