Page images

An indifferent translation may be of some use, and a good one will be of a great deal. But I think that no tranflation ought to be the ground of criticism, because no man ought to be condemned upon another man's explanation of his meaning: could Homer have had the honour of explaining his, before that august tribunal where Monfieur de la Motte prefides, I make no doubt but he had escaped many of those fevere animadverfions with which fome French authors have loaded him, and from which even Madam Dacier's tranflation of the Iliad could not preferve him.

How unhappy was it for me, that the knowledge of our Inland tongue was as neceffary to Madam Dacier in my cafe, as the knowledge of Greek was to Monfieur de la Motte in that of our great Author; or to any of those whom she styles blind cenfurers, and blames for condemning what they did not underftand.

I may fay with modefty, that fhe knew less of my true sense from that faulty translation of part of my Preface, than thofe blind cenfurers might have known of Homer's even from the tranflation of La Valterie, which preceded her own.

It pleased me however to find, that her objections were not levelled at the general doctrine, or at any effentials of my Preface, but only at a few particular expreffions. She proposed little more than (to use her own phrase) to combate two or three fimiles; and I

hope that to combate a fimile is no more than to fight with a fhadow, fince a fimile is no better than the fhadow of an argument.

She lays much weight where I laid but little, and examines with more fcrupulofity than I writ, or than perhaps the matter requires.

Thefe unlucky fimiles taken by themselves may perhaps render my meaning equivocal to an ignorant translator; or there may have fallen from my pen fome expreffions, which, taken by themselves likewise, may to the fame perfon have the fame effect. But if the tranflator had been mafter of our tongue, the general tenor of my argument, that which precedes and that which follows the paffages objected to, would have fufficiently determined him as to the precife meaning of them and if Madam Dacier had taken up her pen a little more leifurely, or had employed it with more temper, the would not have answered paraphrases of her own, which even the translation will not justify, and which say more than once the very contrary to what I have faid in the paffages themfelves.

If any person has curiofity enough to read the whole paragraphs in my Preface, on fome mangled parts of which these reflections are made, he will eafily difcern that I am as orthodox as Madam Dacier herself, in those very articles on which fhe treats me like an heretic he will eafily fee that all the difference between

HH 2

between us confifts in this, that I offer opinions, and she delivers doctrines; that my imagination reprefents Homer as the greatest of human Poets, whereas in hers he was exalted above humanity; infallibility and impeccability were two of his attributes. There was therefore no need of defending Homer against me, who (if I mistake not) had carried my admiration of him as far as it can be carried without giving a real occafion of writing in his defence.

After answering my harmless fimiles, she proceeds to a matter which does not regard fo much the honour of Homer, as that of the times he lived in; and here I must confefs fhe does not wholly mistake my meaning, but I think she mistakes the state of the question. She had faid, the manners of those times were so much the better the lefs they were like ours: I thought this required a little qualification, I confest that in my own opinion the world was mended in fome points, fuch as the custom of putting whole nations to the fword, condemning kings and their families to perpetual flavery, and a few others. Madam Dacier judges otherwise in this; but as to the rest, particularly in preferring the fimplicity of the ancient world to the luxury of ours, which is the main point contended for, fhe owns we agree. This I thought was well, but I am fo unfortunate that this too is taken amifs, and called adopting or (if you will) ftealing her fentiment. The truth is, fhe might have

faid her words; for I ufed them on purpose, being then profeffedly citing from her: though I might have done the fame without intending that compliment, for they are alfo to be found in Euftathius, and the fentiment I believe is that of all mankind. I cannot really tell what to fay to this whole remark, only that in the first part of it Madam Dacier is dif pleased that I don't agree with her, and in the last that I do but this is a temper which every polite man should overlook in a Lady.

To punish my ingratitude, fhe resolves to expose my blunders, and felects two which I fuppofe are the moft flagrant, out of the many for which she could. have chastised me. It happens that the first of these is in part the tranflator's, and in part her own, without any share of mine: fhe quotes the end of a fentence, and he puts in French what I never wrote in English. "Homer (I faid) opened a new and bound"lefs walk for his imagination, and created a world "for himself in the invention of fable;" which he tranflates, Homere crea pour fon ufage un monde mouvant, en inventant la fable.

Madam Dacier justly wonders at this nonsense in me; and I, in the tranflator. As to what I meant by Homer's invention of fable, it is afterwards particularly diftinguifhed from that extenfive fenfe in which she took it, by these words: "If Homer was not the first who introduced the Deities (as "Herodotus

HH 3

"Herodotus imagines) into the religion of Greece, he "feems the first who brought them into a fyftem of ત machinery for poetry."

The other blunder fhe accufes me of is, the mistaking a paffage in Ariftotle, and fhe is pleased to fend me back to this Philofopher's Treatise of Poetry, and to her Preface on the Odyffey, for my better instruction. Now though I am faucy enough to think that one may fometimes differ from Aristotle without blundering, and though I am fure one may fometimes fall into an error by following him fervilely; yet I own that to quote any Author for what he never said, is a blunder (but by the way, to correct an Author for what he never faid, is somewhat worse than a blunder). My words were these: "As there is a greater variety of characters “in the Iliad than in any other Poem, fo there is "of fpeeches. Every thing in it has manners, as

Ariftotle expreffes it; that is, every thing is "acted or spoken: very little paffes in narration." She juftly fays, that "Every thing which is acted

or spoken, has not neceffarily manners merely "because it is acted or spoken." Agreed: but I would ask the question, whether any thing can have manners which is neither acted nor spoken? if not, then the whole Iliad being almost spent in speech and action, almost every thing in it has manners: fince Homer has been proved before in a long paragraph of


« PreviousContinue »