Page images


ART. VII.--Godfrey of Bulloigne ; or the recovery of Jerusa

lem. By Edward Fairfax. Windsor, 1817. This work was first published, as we are informed in a life of the author prefixed to the edition before us, A. D. 1600, and was so popular at that moment, that it was immediately incorporated with the works of the most celebrated British poets, in a compilation, called England's Parnassus. It must soon have ceased however to be generally admired, for it passed through only three more editions from that time to the year 1817, and in all these is said to have been materially disfigured, by unwarrantable alterations; a liberty, which had it been taken with a work of high and extensive popularity, could not have so long remained unnoticed. Indeed, the biographer to whom we have already referred, and who exhibits no little degree of the enthusiastic attachment generally felt by editors for their authors, has been able to collect no testimony of any weight in favor of Fairfax, except a few remarks from Dryden, a single sentence from Hume, and a stanza from Collins. Dryden merely calls Fairfax the poetical father of Waller, a compliment of far less value at present, than at the time when it was paid ; and Hume contents himself with a short and guarded encomium on his elegance and exactness. For the opinion of the learnedly beautiful Collins, as the editor styles him, we refer our readers to the ode on highland superstitions. We are informed indeed, that king James preferred Fairfax to any other poet, and that king Charles II amused himself, while in prison, by reading his Tasso; but it is not very probable that these stories, if correct, would be unsupported by any other respectable authority, than that of Brian Fairfax, one of the poet's descendants, who might naturally and excusably believe them on the slightest evidence. There is every reason, in short, to conclude, that however highly the work before us may have been appreciated by a few distinguished scholars, it was as little known to most readers of English poetry during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as Jonson's Horace or Sandy's Ovid.

This long neglect may have been altogether the effect of accident, but can be partly explained by another obvious rea

With a few exceptions, those poetical translators who flourished in the infancy of English literature, were distinguished by a servile adherence to the letter of their originals,


which could render their productions acceptable, only to a few minute and pedantic critics. It was their first, if not their exclusive aim to be faithful, and this object they thought was best secured by being literal. They seem to have been wholly ignorant of those maxims which have been so often and so well explained by their abler successors, that in translation, as in law, extreme right is often extreme wrong, that nothing is more unfaithful than a punctilious fidelity, that a good interpreter can sometimes best preserve the spirit of the original by sacrificing the letter. They construed, rather than translated. Their versions of the finest authors of antiquity were mean and spiritless explanations, and resembled a modern copy of the Apollo Belvedere, where the size and figure of all parts of the original are preserved with mathematical exactness, but that which far excels any thing else, that which cannot be measured by rule, nor defined by lines, that wherein lies the unparalleled value of this 'cunningest pattern of excelling art, that which genius can never hope to equal, and may glory in imitating, the breathing expression, which is the very life of the marble, is utterly lost. It is no wonder that such productions should be despised and neglected, or preserved for no nobler and more useful purpose, than, as Johnson observes of Trapp, to be the clandestine refuge of school boys. Poetry was then far less generally read and criticised than now, and that Fairfax should share in the general fate of that class of writers, to which he had the misfortune to belong, however unjust, was evidently not very unnatural.

About the year 1763 a second version of the Jerusalem Delivered was published, as is well known, by Hoole, who thought proper to insert in his preface a formal attack on the merits of his predecessor. He tells us, if we understand his meaning, - for his expressions are obscure and ungrammatical, —that · Fairfax's stanza, which is that of Tasso himself, is not only unpleasant, but irksome, that it is altogether unharmonious to an English ear, and that his version was written at a period [that is to say, in the age of Spenser and Shakspeare] when our verse, if not our language, was in its rudiments. We shall présently see how far Hoole is warranted in these modest and elegant remarks, and may find better reasons than he has avowed, for his manifest solicitude to divert the public attention from a work, which, according to his own representations,

neither has been nor can be read. Yet whatever we may think of his pretensions to superiority in any respect over Fairfax, we do not mean to assert that his production is utterly contemptible. He is evidently, to the best of his abilities, a faithful interpreter, and exhibits no instance of wanton deviation. His verses are polished with the nicest care, and in unexceptionable, or, to speak in the dialect of Mr Bowles, unpardonable harmony of numbers, he is scarcely outdone by Pope. But of the power of uniting smoothness with conciseness, of preserving at once the sound and the sense, for which that illustrious poet was so distinguished, he seems to have had no conception. This defect alone must render his version an erroneous representation of the Jerusalem Delivered. The distinguishing characteristic of Tasso's style, as a foreign student soon finds to his cost, is majestic brevity. We do not mean that he is what is generally called a concise writer. His is a closeness of phraseology, and not of thought; there is an ample expansion of ideas, but no redundancy of expressions. Of this elegant succinctness not the slightest trace is visible in the translation. Hoole appears to have viewed words in the light of musical notes, as mere symbols of sounds, and not of sentiments, and to have supposed that he had little more to do than to arrange them into harmonious couplets. We accordingly find his lines crowded with superfluous and common place epithets, and rounded off with unmeaning phrases. The following passage from the fourth book will illustrate and confirm these remarks. It is scarcely necessary to observe, that its striking tautology is imputable in no degree to Tasso :

• Now was the night in starry lustre seen,
And not a cloud obscured the blue serene,
Her silver beams the rising moon displayed,
And decked with pearly dew the dusky glade,
With anxious soul the enamoured virgin strays
From thought to thought in Love's perplexing maze,
And vents her tender plaints and breathes her sighs

To all the silent fields and conscious skies.
We subjoin Fairfax's version of the same stanza:

Invested in her starry veil the night
In her kind arms embraced all this round,
The silver moon from sea up rising bright,

Spread frosty pearl upon the candied ground,
New Series, No. 9.


[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

And Cynthia like for beauties' glorious light,
The love-sick nymph threw glist’ring beams around,
And counsellors of her old love she made,

Those vallies dumb, that silence and that shade.'
It cannot be denied, however, that the smoothness of num-
bers, of which we have already spoken, enables us to glide
over many of Hoole's pleonasms with little annoyance; and
this work, notwithstanding its numerous and manifest defects

, was so popular, that in fifty years it has passed through more than twice as many editions as have ever been printed of Fairfax. The celebrity of the translation was indeed not a little promoted by that of the original itself. The Jerusalem Delivered is considered by many critics as the best poem in the most musical of languages; and Voltaire and Dryden have pronounced it the first epic of modern times. In one merit, and that certainly none of the meanest, Tasso has outdone every other heroic poet, that of sustaining throughout the interest of the story. He has combined an unbroken unity of design with an abundant variety of incident. We find in the Jerusalem no long, prelude to the main narrative, as in the Odyssey ; no fatiguing chronicles of successive combats with little intermission or variety, as in the Iliad; no falling off toward the conclusion, as in the Æneid, and in Paradise Lost. In a word, it is perhaps the only heroic poem which can be repeatedly read through in course without weariness. Much of this excellence must be retained in the most ordinary version, and that of Hoole was strangely believed on his own assertion to be the only one, which a modern reader could tolerate, His envious misrepresentations of his predecessor's merits, which for half a century were but too successful, are fortunately now detected and exposed. Fairfax has at last emerged from oblivion

Escaped the Stygian pool, though long detained

In that obscure sojourn'and has risen by the undivided suffrages of the best English critics to a far higher rank, as a poet, than he had ever enjoyed in the days of his former glory. His fame as an author is indeed almost the only vestige of his existence. Of his private life we have no ampler history than that which we have previously mentioned, which, to say nothing of its extreme scantiness, rests only on incomplete and contradictory evidence.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

We are told, that he was the son of sir Thomas Fairfax, who lived in the reign of queen Elizabeth; and that the legitimacy of his birth is an undecided, and, at the present day an inscrutable question. It is added that he passed his time in that undisturbed literary seclusion, of which all poets have dreamed, and many sung, but which scarcely one has enjoyed, and that his life was in a word serene, happy, and useful. Its usefulness it would not be fair to question, but we may safely presume that its serenity and happiness were disturbed on more than one occasion, for we find that our poet was deeply involved in religious controversy, and that he wrote a treatise on demonology, which he entitled a · Discourse on Witchcraft, as it was acted in the family of Mr Edward Fairfax.' The time of his death is uncertain, but is supposed to have been in 1632.

He published nothing but his Godfrey of Bulloigne, but left behind him several manuscripts, none of which appear to have been ever printed, except a few religious eclogues. Of these, one is prefixed to his Jerusalem in the volume before us, and called by the editor a masterly allegory of the corruption of sin and the redemption of christianity ; but though it contains several beautiful passages, it is on the whole nothing better than a heap of splendid absurdities. With his contemporaries his fame rested, as it must with all posterity, principally on his Jerusalem. On the general merits of this work, as a mere English poem, we shall make no comments, as on this head we shall presently allow it to speak largely for itself. It is rather our purpose to consider it as a mere translation, and we now proceed to answer the first inquiry, which such a view of it must naturally suggest in the reader's mind,-does it present (under all reasonable allowances) an accurate representation of the original ? This question we have carefully examined by minute comparisons between various passages in the two authors, and believe that those of our readers, who are willing to submit to the same drudgery, must give an unqualified answer in the affirmative. That Fairfax has absolutely omitted or added nothing, that every thing of the original is retained but the mere phraseology, or that not a shade of sentiment is his own, are assertions which we do not intend to make, and which, if true, would be unimportant. "Whoever,' says De Lille, undertakes a translation, contracts a debt which he must discharge, not with the same money, but with the same sum,' and few critics of the present day will seriously deny,


« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »