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OU desire my opinion as to the late dispute in France concerning HOMER:
And I think it excusable (at an age alas of not much pleasure) to amuse my self. a little in taking notice of a controversy, than which nothing is at present more remarkable (even in a nation who value themselves so much upon the Belles Lettres) both on account of the illustrious subject of it, and of the two persons ingaged in the quarrel.
The one, is extraordinary in all the Lysick-kind of Poetry, even in the opinion of his very adversary. The other, a Lady (and
of more value for being so) not only of great Learning, but with a Genius admirably turn'd to that sort of it which most becomes her Sex, for softness, genteelness, and promoting of vertue: and such as (one would think) is not so liable as other parts of scholarship, to rough disputes, or violent animosity.
Yet it has so happen'd that no writers, even about Divinity. it felf, have been more outrageous or uncharitable than these two polite authors; by suffering their judgments to be a little warped (if I may use that expression) by the heat of their eager inclinations, to attack or defend so great an Author under debate : I wish, for the sake of the publick, which is now so well entertain'd by their quarrel, it may not end at last in their agreeing to blame equally a third man, who is so presumptuous as to censure both, if they should chance to hear of it.
To begin with matter of fact. M. D'ACIER has well judg’d, that the best of all Poets certainly deserv'd a better translation, at least into French prose, because to see it done in verse was despair'd of: I believe indeed from a defect in that language, incapable of mounting to any degree of excellence fuit. able to so very great an undertaking.
She has not only perform'd this task as well as profe can do it, (which is indeed but as the wrong side of tapestry is able to represent the right) she has added to it also many learned and useful annotations. With all which she moft obligingly delighted not only her own sex, but most of ours, ignorant of the Greek, and consequently her adversary himself, who frankly acknowledges that ignorance.
'Tis no wonder therefore if in doing this, she is grown so enamour'd of that unspeakably-charming Author, as to have a kind of horror at the least mention of a man bold enough to blame him,
Now as to M. DE LA MOTTE, he being already deservedly famous for all sorts of Lyrick poetry, was so far introduc'd by her into those beauties of the Epick kind, (though but in that way of translation) as not to resist the pleasure and hope of reputation by attempting that in verse, which had been applauded so much for the difficulty of doing even in prose; knowing how this, well executed, must extřemely transcend the other.
BUT, as great Poets are a little apt to think they have an ancienț right of being
excus'd for vanity on all occasions; he was not content to out-do M. D'ACIER, but endeavour'd to out-do HOMER himself, and all that ever in any age or nation went before him in the same enterprize; by leaving out, altering, or adding whatever he thought best.
AGAINST this presumptuous attempt, Ho- . MER has been in all times so well defended, as not to need my small assistance ; yet I must needs say, his excellencies are such, that for their sakes, he deserves a much gentler touch for his few seeming errors. These, if M. DE LA MOTTE had translated as well as the rest, with an apology for having retain'd 'em only out of meer veneration; his judgment in my opinion would have appear'd much greater than by the best of his alterations, though I admit them to be written very finely.
I join with M. DE LA MOTTE in wondering at some odd things in HOMER, but 'tis chiefly because of his sublime ones, I was about to say his divine ones, which almost surprize me at finding him any where in the fallible condition of human nature.
And now we are wond'ring, I am in a difficulty to guess, what can be the reason of all these exceptions against HOMER, from one who has himself translated him, con
trary to the general custom of translators. Is there not a little of that in it: I mean the desire to be singular in getting above the title of a translator, though sufficiently honourable in this case. For such an ambition no body has less occasion, than one who is so fine a poet in other kinds; and who must have too much wit to believe, any alterations of another can intitle him to the denomination of an Epick Poet himself: though no man in this age seems more capable of being a good one, if the French tongue would bear it. Yet in his translation he has done too well, to leave any doubt (with all his faults) that her’s can be ever parallelld with it.
BESIDES, he could not be ignorant, that finding faults is the most easy and vulgar part of a critick ; whereas nothing shews so much skill and taste both, as the being throughly sensible of the sublimest excellencies.
WHAT can we say in excuse of all this, but Humanum est errare? Since as good a Poet as I believe the French language is capable of, and as sharp a Critick as any nation can produce, has by too much censuring HOMER, subjected a translation to censure, that would have otherwise stood the test of the severest adversary,