« PreviousContinue »
Petrarch and Dante, some homage was done by Mr. Rosè to Berni, in a compendious prose translation of his Innamorato ; * a work necessary to the understanding of the Furioso, which (we scarcely need observe) is a continuation of Berni's poem; and hence his version of this seems only to have been undertaken as a prologue to that of Ariosto. He has, however, interspersed his abridgment with some extracts in the stanza of the original, as specimens of Berni's style, and has discussed his literary character and his works at considerable length in the Introduction. The translation of Ariosto, of which this was the forerunner, has already been examined in our Journal,t and we pass to the new versions of Tasso, which have been recently published, or which are now in the progress of publication.
The Gerusalemme seems to be a greater favourite with the English public than the Furioso; for it has been twice translated within these few years. Hoole's translation, in the new influx of verses from the Italian, was succeeded by one from the pen
of Mr. J. H. Hunt, which has already been noticed by us at some length. His bark was victualled for a longer voyage than that of Mr. Hoole, and much better navigated withal; but (as we intimated in our review of it) in steering the same course, it split upon the same rock. Hr. Hunt unluckily adopted the couplet. Mr. Wiffen, the author of the yet more recent work now under consideration, has chosen the Spenserian stanza, a happier metre than that of his immediate predecessor, and has as much excelled him, as he surpassed Mr. Hoole. We are not, however, quite satisfied even with the Spenserian stanza. This consists of nine lines, the last of which is an Alexandrine, whereas Tasso's consists but of eight hendecasyllabic lines, as the Italians term them. Now every one who has attempted translation from the Italian, must be aware that this beautiful language is so much less concise than the English, that the man,
"Che in questo di Procruste orrido letto
Si sforza à giacer,' has to stretch, instead of contracting, himself. Whoever, therefore, lengthens his bed, increases his tortures. Hence most of Mr. Wiffen's violations of Tasso are additions, and these (as is a natural risk of such a license) are often widely at variance with the tone of the author. There is another reason why the translator of Tasso should have conformed as nearly as possible to the metre of his original. We recollect once hearing an English scholar.
* Rose's Orlando Innamorato, &c. Edinburgh. - 1823.
of no common accomplishments, observe, that he thought he should know a stanza of this poet anywhere, by its structure; and with the exception of some of Poliziano's, who served Tasso as a model, we entirely subscribe to his opinion. Surely then features of such marked peculiarity should (as we have in another case remarked) be most studiously preserved. Perhaps the most exact equivalent for the Italian ottava rima would be the English eight-lined stanza terminated with an Alexandrine. This would, in some degree, give it the majestic close which the Italian stanza possesses in the winding up of its doubly-rhymed couplet; and, ideed, we have seen, in manuscript, the translation of a canto of Ariosto, by an accomplished statesman, distinguished for his cultivation of southern literature, in which this effect is most happily produced. That, however, which is pleasing in one canto, may be wearisome in forty-six, and there are also serious objections even to the eight-lined stanza, terminated by the Alexandrine. We have already observed, that it is necessary, from English packing much more closely than Italian, even for the translator who conforms to the metre of his original, to fill up
voids, as sailors do the vacant spaces between their ballast with what they call dunnage. The use, therefore, of the eight-lined stanza closed by a twelve-syllable verse, would be liable, though in an infinitely less degree, to the same objections which attach to the Spenserian metre; as compelling the translator to more dilation. Add, that while the constant employment of the Alexandrine would, as in the other case, give a drawling tone to a long narrative, so a partial use of it would disappoint the ear by the uncertainty of its occurrence; an exception which Johnson has, we think, justly taken to the occasional introduction of this and the triplet in English heroic verse.
Having made these objections to the sort of stanza which Mr. Wiffen has chosen for his verse, it is fit that the reader should have the means of judging how he manages it; and as we think that in matters of mere taste, the reader is more likely to form his opinion upon the specimens presented to him, according to his own feeling than ours, we shall abstain from all criticism, except in the points where the merit or demerit of our extract
be put to a certain test; to wit, by a comparison with the original, and with other translations, and by a very short trial of its English. As the fairest sample for Mr. Wiffen, we select a part of that which he himself published by way of a specimen, in a prospectus of his intended work; but in the corrected form (and it is much improved) in which the passage appears in his completed task, It is taken from the commencement of the fourth canto.
And bellowing, like a wounded bull enraged,
Hurled him of yore down-down to Tartarus and night.' The two last lines of the first stanza are wrong, and those of the second are not only for the most part an addition, but an addition in a spirit foreign to that of the original words. There is no repetition in Tasso's verses.
Stolto che al ciel si agguagliu, e in obblio pone
Come di Dio la destra irata tuone'! We proceed to the third, which is the famous stanza beginning with
* Chiama gli abitator' de l'ombre'eterne
Il rauco suon de la Tartarea tromba." This (which it is mere justice to say is inimitable) he renders thus :
Its hoarse alarm the Stygian trumpet sounded,
Nor ever in such motion rocked the ground,
When in its quivering heart conflicting fires were bound.' How far Mr. Wiffen has been successful in echoing the ' taratantara' of Tasso, we leave to the reader's unassisted judgment; but we must again observe that the last line is utterly unjustified by the original. Tasso has Quando vapori in sen' gravida serra,'
and we can assure Mr. Wiffen that no Italian poet would talk about fires being bound.*
On the whole, we cannot consider this work as a close version of
* That the reader may try the comparutive merits of Mr. Witfen's translation by a satisfactory test, we put the same passages, as rendered by Fairfax and Hoole, into the opposite scale. We have in another place (Vol. XXV. p. 426.) given a sufficient specimen of Mr. Hunt.
· While thus their work went on with lucky speed,
He choak’d his curses, to himself he spake;
Such stifled groaning wounded bullocks make.
Who on his foes doth thunder in his ire;
The dreary trumpet blew a dreadful blast,
Not half so loud the whistling winds do sing,
Broke from the earthen prison of their king. '- Fairfax.
• The trumpet now, withi hoarse-resounding breathi,
When vapours, 'pent within, contend for birth!'- Hoole.
Tasso : and Mr. Wiffen's composition, though respectable, has many deformities. Thus, we have scattered over both this volume and his translation of Garcilasso de la Vega, many instances of the false and vulgar style of rhyming exemplified in the first and third lines of the first stanza we have been transcribing. And we are still more frequently annoyed with bad and prominent alliteration-a vice by no means confined to the
the pages of the author under review, though we rather apprehend few of his rivals ever reached exactly the same ' bad eminence' which he has attained in lucid light' and other specimens that might be particularized.
We are not disposed to object generally to the use of alliteration. It was common in the early periods of Roman literature, and, even if so classical'a precedent for the practice were wanting, we should say it was justified both by the genius and ancient usage of language. Italian poetry derives one of its principal charms from a happy assortment of vowel sounds; and the English, which has few distinct vowel sounds, seeks a grace in the alliteration of its consonants. But having granted this, we assert that the meaning of the words, the choice of the letters with which we alliterate, and the mode in which we dispose them, must be judicious and well considered. We insist the more especially upon the caution to be observed in the use of this instrument; because its abuse has led to most of the nonsense and contradictions which are to be found in English, and to which habit alone could have reconciled us. Take, as examples, some of our most familiar proverbs, as, money makes the mare to go; something expressive of sympathy, between a fool and a fig; neck or nothing; which latter, if it means any thing, means neck or every thing; and several other similar sayings, to the full as silly, but much too filthy for citation. If such glaring absurdities do not occur in our alliterative poetical phraseology, still the inartificially conspicuous introduction of what when well managed is a grace, has often produced very bad effects even there.
Artis est celare artem, and we therefore conceive that, even - where there is a good choice of letters, which cannot be predicated of all Mr. Wiffen's combinations, and where there is no sacrifice of sense to sound, or other abuse, a too apparent use of alliteration is offensive; and an alliteration on other than initial syllables (especially where it can be placed upon accented ones) is generally to be preferred. Dryden, indeed, who is the least ostentatious in its management, may also be said to be the most judicious in the purpose to which he applies it, using it to unite different verses, by links that are almost imperceptible, and making the recurrence of the chosen letter or letters operate, as a key-note