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HAT would not any one of the great nations of the present
day give if it could claim Homer as its native poet? What would France, or Germany, or Russia, which have no epic worthy of the name, not exchange for such a possession forever? And would Italy hesitate to give Dante, Tasso and Ariosto, all three, for Homer; Spain, Cervantes, Lope de Vega and Calderon ; Portugal, Camöens, and whatever else she may possess? And England ? Chaucer, Shakspeare and Milton would be hard to resign ; but if the decision were left to her present Minister, backed by the majority of her educated men, we tremble to think that the author of Juventus Mundi, with the almost unanimous approval of his learned constituents, would be tempted to decide as Omar did in an analogous case. 'The mass of the people would not be likely to miss either of the three, even in the speeches of their orators in or out of Parliament, since these would never think of quoting one of their own poets lest they should stand convicted of the want of an academical education and a due familiarity with Virgil and Horace. The theatre would never notice the absence of the great dramatist as long as it had Tom Taylor and Reade's dramatised novels and Boucicault's translations from the French. The only danger would be a small riot among the editors, commentators and correctors of the myriad-minded, who would be thrown out of employment and reduced to great distress, and under the lead of some desperate International might be stirred up to such a pitch of ignorant rage and vandalism as to throw down prostrate and tear up the whole of Juventus Mundi, and set hostile fire to its pages:
ει κατά πρηνές Βαλέειν Πριάμοιο μέλαθρον
αιθαλόεν, πρήσαι δε πυρός δημιο θύρετρα.”-[II. II., 414-415. The Premier is, however, a statesman of infinite resource and great plausibility of speech, and would doubtless be fully capable of meeting such a crisis. He would invite the attention of the more quarrelsome and dogmatic to the Wolfian theory, and the boundless field of controversy which it opens without the least danger of ever being decided. The more earnest, plodding and obstinate, to whom an uiter dearth of facts is the greatest stimulus to research and the liveliest encouragement to success in the discovery of truth, he would with his usual sophistry point to the discredit thrown upon the story of the destruction of the Alexandrian library by that eminently wise bistorian Gibbon (who by the way devoted the last years of his life to the study of Homeric questions), as a strong ground for presuming that it was never destroyed at all, and that the library and all its contents, including that precious copy of Homer made under the supervision of Aristarchus, with notes, comments and conjectures in his own hand in the margin, still exists, buried under the sands of twelve centuries thrown up by the Mediterranean; and that it is perhaps reserved for them, the said commentators, etc., with the aid of a small government appropriation which he will procure for them, and transportation free to this rich field of exploration, to bring to light not only Homer in all his integrity, but the lost books of Livy, the plays of Menander, and the complete odes of Sappho. And so he would send them off to thaw their frozen brains under the genial sun of Africa, and with their departure all opposition would sink down and disappear; Chaucer, Shakspeare, and Milton, sacked and shotted and without a friend to mourn them, would be dropped into the sea of oblivion, and Homer's monument and bust, with a suitable inscription in Greek, would replace theirs in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. And would filial America protest against this action of the dear old mother-country? How could she, with wise Ulysses in name who is also Achilles in fame, on the throne? Would he not send a cable-despatch as copious and eloquent as any of his speeches, approving the swop, and never know but what it was a horse-trade?
But this is all idle speculation upon an impossible hypothesis, for Homer, whether one man or several, is all Greek as far as language is concerned ; and this circumstance would make the English or any other claim even more doubtful than an American genealogy. Leaving the seven Greek cities of Asia Minor and the Ægean Archipelago then to contend for the honor of his birth, all that other nations can do is to edit and translate him. In the first of these tasks perhaps little remains to be done, and nothing need be said regarding it; the latter has never been satisfactorily accomplished, and a few suggestions may be therefore admissible. Of the two, translation so-called is by far the easiest, since to edit Homer even as well as Owens one must be able to construe the original, while to translate him it is not necessary to know the Greek alphabet ; for if there is any obscurity in the literal prose version so accessible in these days, the poetical translator can write anything and call it a free translation. If any should presume to prefer the meaning of the original
. to his original fancies, it is easy enough to affect a gentlemanly superiority to such slavish drudges and narrow-minded word-catchers. Such poor grubs, he might argue, wedded to the dry literal meaning, could not be expected to appreciate or even understand a translation which aimed to catch and transfuse the spirit of the original and did not concern itself about mere barren words. Finally he might challenge his critics (this is a favorite resource of poets) to produce a translation without the fault of his which should not have a greater fault - default of readers. Let us suppose such a challenge thrown out, and that one of these grubs accepted it, and actually had the hardihood to undertake a translation upon his own principles, viz. of rendering the exact sense with some faint echo of the sound, or what he is pleased to call the music of the original, with the view of giving the merely English reader such, or something like such, an impression as that derived from the perusal of the poet in his own language : what measure or style of verse would he be likely to adopt to accomplish this effect? We may presume without hesitation, in the first place, that he would set aside rhymed iambics as wholly unsuited to any purpose of representing Homer, as being in fact the very antipodes of every form of ancient classic verse, and at war with every true effect of poetry in any language. How, he would ask, could the ever-changing flow and ever-varying effects of the hexameter find the slightest echo in the absolute monotony of iambic verse, with no other effect, or in which every other effect is swallowed up and drowned but a coincidence of sound at the end of each couplet, and that not rising above the rank of a pun, forever repeated and forever expected, till the ear tinkles with a din of empty echoes and the fancy is drugged into a hopeless stupor? With such a contempt for the childish trick of rhyme, it is not likely he would be captivated by the droning procession and turgid eloquence of the Spenserian stanza, while he would certainly reject and spurn with scorn the ballad-measure affected by some. We at least would rather hear a dry wheel grate on an axle than one of these same metre ballad-mongers. Having thus summarily disposed of rhymed measures, the question would be reduced to a choice between our heroic blank verse and some form of dactylic metre. Seeing that the former, since Milton, has rarely attained to anything better than high-flown prose, and as rarely attempted or even seemed conscious of those admirable effects in which he so successfully imitated his great prototypes Homer and Virgil, while the attempts to render Homer in that measure have not achieved any very brilliant success, and instead of shaking the empire of Pope's bombastic rhymes have rather tended to confirm it, he would dread to follow where so many had fallen, and would choose any path, however rugged, that had some promise of novelty rather than this beaten road of tame simplicity; and so taking a final leave of iambics, rhymed and rhymeless, he would come at last to consider the possibility of some form of dactylic verse as being the measure of the original, and consequently the best calculated upon every sound principle of translation to reflect the real spirit, by rendering not only the sense but the very tone and movement of the original. The question with him would then be, what form of dactylic verse is possible in English? The hexameter would have to be rejected ; not for the very shallow reasons alleged by Lord Derby in the preface to his Iliad, a translation as little resembling Homer as his speeches were like Demosthenes', that it is repugnant to the genius of our language, that it violates every rule of prosody, and that it was ridiculed by Canning. He whose highest conception of verse was a rhymed couplet, and whose highest achievement was to echo a passage in Goldsmith's Deserted Village, ought not to be an infallible authority upon versification. As to its violating every rule of prosody, we would ask, what prosody? English? We would like to hear what rule of English prosody it violates. Greek and Latin? What one of our verses, trochaic, iambic, anapaestic, does not do the same? It is not repugnant to the genius of our language, for we have any quantity of English dactylic verse which no one ever thought of discarding and few would be willing to lose. No, the hexameter does not suit our language for the same reason that the iambic trimeter or Alexandrine does not: because the verse is too long for a monosyllabic language like ours. When we consider that it takes from twelve to eighteen words in English to make a hexameter, while from five to nine suffice in Greek, and that as much thought can be comprised in one
line in English as in one and a half and sometimes two in Greek, we are led to conclude a priori that this excessive length tends greatly to promote one of the besetting sins of our language, that of wordiness and redundancy — or if this fault be avoided, to break up and arrest the flow of the verse with sudden transitions. And experience abundantly proves the truth of this conclusion, English hexameters being as a rule abrupt and disjointed in sense, or diffused in paraphrase and pestered with intolerable verbiage. Length then being the head and front of the hexameter's offending, our supposed translator would naturally ask, why not shorten the verse, diminish the number of feet, and reduce it to, say a pentameter? — a suggestion sanctioned by the example of all our other measures, every one of which has been curtailed one or more poetic feet in transferring it to our language from the ancient. The iambic pentameter is itself an instance, being derived from the iambic trimeter of the classic drama, of which an English sample exists in the Alexandrine, used as an appendage in the Spenserian stanza and heroic rhyme; and Chapman's Homer is a specimen of its employment consecutively. Convinced of the feasibility of the suggestion by this analogy, our translator tries the experiment of the dactylic pentameter; and at once carried away and transported out of himself by the brilliancy of his discovery, he rushes forth from his garret or the public bath, whichever you choose, partly like Archimedes and partly like Petronius Arbiter's Eumolpus, shouting Eureka! and chanting in rhapsodical strain the first verses of the Iliad :
“Sing, O goddess, the wrath of Achilles Pelides
Direful, the cause of a myriad woes to th' Achaéans,
Ruler of mén Atrides and great Achilles." At the threshold he is met by Ellis doctus, the translator of Catullus, who is greatly shocked at the licentious violation of all his cherished rules for dactylic and other classic metres. Your first verse,” he will say, "contains at least three capital faults: the last syllable of goddess is long by position, and the last syllable of Achilles and first of Pelides are long by nature, and you have made them all short.” “Very true,” answers Eumolpus ; " but you must first show that such a thing as quantity is known to English prosody, and is recognised in other kinds of English verse, before your objection can be admitted as valid in the case of dactylic verse.' Having silenced the learned with this argument, Eumolpus proceeds to rhapsodise the mob:
“To him, praying thus, hearkened Phoebus Apollo ;
And here Eumolpus stops to explain and set forth the merits of his translation. “Observe," says he," how I have rendered the effects of the original, and even surpassed it, in this passage, particularly that beauty so much admired and cultivated by the ancients — the echo of the sound to the sense. Do you not hear the rattle of the arrows, together with the jarring sound of the quiver upon his shoulders as he moves, in
• Clánged then his árrows his shoulders upón?? 'Clanged then' are the arrows; ‘upon,' with the accent strong and sharp on the last syllable, is the jarring concussion of the quiver upon the shoulders of the god. And do you not also catch the whizz of the arrow in 'sent' at the beginning of the line?” At this point in his discourse a stone whistled by the ear of Eumolpus; many others followed and rattled about the portico. He took the hint, and cowering, fled down the street with all the speed that his feet would carry him, pursued by the shouts and missiles of his offended auditors. In the hurry of his flight a few stray leaves of his voluminous manuscript escaped from his bosom and fell to the ground. I picked them up, and will conclude this article with his rendering of the combat of the gods in the twentieth book of the Iliad :
“Só these both arousing the blést gods committed
And with themselves broke forth in dire contention !
R. D. WINDES.
A GROUP OF POETS.
HEN the beauty of a sonnet extorted from Sainte-Beuve the
inquiry why its author had not written it in Greek and let it be placed among the Erotica of the Anthology, it is fair to think the