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ness every opportunity of doing all they think will please us, that I held myself almost in duty bound to treat them with this stroke of my profession.
The small-pox has done, I believe, all that it has to do at Weston. Old folks, and even women with child, have been inoculated. We talk of our freedom, and some of us are free enough, but not the poor. Dependent as they are upon parish bounty, they are sometimes obliged to submit to impositions which, perhaps in France itself, could hardly be paralleled. Can man or woman be said to be free, who is commanded to take a distemper sometimes, at least, mortal, and in circumstances most likely to make it so ? No circumstance whatever was permitted to exempt the inhabitants of Weston. The old as well as the young, and the pregnant as well as they who had only themselves within them, have been inoculated. Were I asked who is the most arbitrary sovereign on earth, I should answer, neither the king of France, nor the grand signior, but an overseer of the
poor in England.*
That wish, on some fair future day,
Which fate shall brightly gild,
I wish it all fulfill'd.”
* The discovery of vaccination, since the above period, has entitled the name of Jenner to rank among the benefactors of mankind.
I am as heretofore occupied with Homer: my present occupation is the revisal of all I have done, viz. of the first fifteen books. I stand amazed at my own increasing dexterity in the business, being verily persuaded that, as far as I have gone, I have improved the work to double its value.
That you may begin the new year and end it in all health and happiness, and many more when the present shall have been long an old one, is the ardent wish of Mrs. Unwin and of yours, my dearest Coz. most cordially.
TO THE REV. WALTER BAGOT.
Weston, Jan, 5, 1788. My dear Friend—I thank you for your information concerning the author of the translation of those lines. Had a man of less note and ability. than Lord Bagot produced it, I should have been discouraged. As it is, I comfort myself with the thought that even he accounted it an achievement worthy of his powers, and that even he found it difficult. Though I never had the honour to be known to his lordship, I remember him well at Westminster, and the reputation in which he stood there. Since that time I have never seen him except once, many years ago,
in the House of Commons, when I heard him speak on the subject of a drainage bill better than any member there.
My first thirteen books have been criticised in London ; have been by me accommodated to those criticisms, returned to London in their improved state, and sent back to Weston with an imprimatur. This would satisfy some poets less anxious than myself about what they expose in public; but it has not satisfied me. I am now revising them again by the light of my own critical taper, and make more alterations than at first. But are they improvements ?
will ask. Is not the spirit of the work endangered by all this attention to correctness? I think and hope that it is not. Being well aware of the possibility of such a catastrophe, I guard particularly against it. Where I find that a servile adherence to the original would render the passage less animated than it would be, I still, as at the first, allow myself a liberty. On all other occasions I prune with an unsparing hand, determined that there shall not be found in the whole translation an idea that is not Homer's. My ambition is to produce the closest copy possible, and at the same time as harmonious as I know how to make it. This being my object, you will no longer think, if indeed you have thought it at all, that I am unnecessarily and over-much industrious. The original surpasses every thing; it is of an immense length, is composed in the best language ever used upon earth, and deserves, indeed demands, all the labour that any translator, be he who he may, can possibly bestow on it. Of this I am sure, and your brother, the good Bishop, is of the same mind, that at present mere English readers know no more of Homer in reality than if he had never been translated. That consideration indeed it was, which mainly induced me to the undertaking ; and if, after all, either through idleness or dotage upon what I have already done, I leave it chargeable with the same incorrectness as my predecessors, or indeed with any other that I may be able to amend, I had better have amused myself otherwise : and you, I know, are of my opinion. I send you the clerk's verses, of which I told
you. They are very clerk-like, as you will perceive. But plain truth in plain words seemed to me to be the ne plus ultra of composition on such an occasion. I might have attempted something very fine, but then the persons principally concerned, viz. my readers, would not have understood me. If it puts them in mind that they are mortal, its best end is answered. My dear Walter, adieu ! Yours faithfully,
TO LADY HESKETH.
The Lodge, Jan. 19, 1788. When I have prose enough to fill my paper, which is always the case when I write to you, I cannot find in my heart to give a third part of it to verse. Yet this I must do, or I must make my packets more costly than worshipful, by doubling the postage upon you, which I should hold to be unreasonable. See then the true reason why I did not send you that same scribblement * till you desired it. The thought which naturally presents itself to me on all such occasions is this :-Is not your cousin coming ? Why are you impatient ? Will it not be time enough to show her your fine things when she arrives?
* The verses on the new year.
Fine things indeed I have few. He who has Homer to transcribe may well be contented to do little else. As when an ass, being harnessed with ropes to a sand-cart, drags with hanging ears his heavy burden, neither filling the long-echoing streets with his harmonious bray, nor throwing up his heels behind, frolicsome and airy, as asses less engaged are wont to do; so I, satisfied to find myself indispensably obliged to render into the best possible English metre eight-and-forty Greek books, of which the two finest poems in the world consist, account it quite sufficient if I may at last achieve that labour, and seldom allow myself those pretty little vagaries in which I should otherwise delight, and of which, if I should live long enough, I intend hereafter to enjoy my fill. This is the reason, my dear Cousin, if I may
be permitted to call you so in the same breath with which I have uttered this truly heroic comparison; this is the reason why I produce at present but few occasional poems, and the preceding reason is that which may account satisfactorily enough for my withholding the very few that I do produce. A thought sometimes strikes me before I rise; if it runs readily into verse, and I can finish it before breakfast, it is well, otherwise it dies and is forgotten; for all the subsequent hours are devoted to Homer.