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- Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace - 3/26 -

English been a practical question. Stanihurst has had many successors in the hexameter; probably he has not had more than one or two in the Asclepiad. The Sapphic, indeed, has been tried repeatedly; but it is an exception which is no exception, the metre thus intruded into our language not being really the Latin Sapphic, but a metre of a different kind, founded on a mistake in the manner of reading the Latin, into which Englishmen naturally fall, and in which, for convenience' sake, they as naturally persist. The late Mr. Clough, whose efforts in literature were essentially tentative, in form as well as in spirit, and whose loss for that very reason is perhaps of more serious import to English poetry than if, with equal genius, he had possessed a more conservative habit of mind, once attempted reproductions of nearly all the different varieties of Horatian metres. They may he found in a paper which he contributed to the fourth volume of the "Classical Museum;" and a perusal of them will, I think, be likely to convince the reader that the task is one in which even great rhythmical power and mastery of language would be far from certain of succeeding. Even the Alcaic fragment which he has inserted in his "Amours de Voyage"--

"Eager for battle here Stood Vulcan, here matronal Juno, And with the bow to his shoulder faithful He who with pure dew laveth of Castaly His flowing locks, who holdeth of Lycia The oak forest and the wood that bore him, Delos' and Patara's own Apollo,"--

admirably finished as it is, and highly pleasing as a fragment, scarcely persuades us that twenty stanzas of the same workmanship would be read with adequate pleasure, still less that the same satisfaction would be felt through six-and-thirty Odes. After all, however, a sober critic will be disposed rather to pass judgment on the past than to predict the future, knowing, as he must, how easily the "solvitur ambulando" of an artist like Mr. Tennyson may disturb a whole chain of ingenious reasoning on the possibilities of things.

The question of the language into which Horace should be translated is not less important than that of the metre; but it involves far less discussion of points of detail, and may, in fact, be very soon dismissed. I believe that the chief danger which a translator has to avoid is that of subjection to the influences of his own period. Whether or no Mr. Merivale is right in supposing that an analogy exists between the literature of the present day and that of post-Augustan Rome, it will not, I think, be disputed that between our period and the Augustan period the resemblances are very few, perhaps not more than must necessarily exist between two periods of high cultivation. It is the fashion to say that the characteristic of the literature of the last century was shallow clearness, the expression of obvious thoughts in obvious, though highly finished language; it is the fashion to retort upon our own generation that its tendency is to over-thinking and over-expression, a constant search for thoughts which shall not he ohvious and words which shall be above the level of received conventionality. Accepting these as descriptions, however imperfect, of two different types of literature, we can have no doubt to which division to refer the literary remains of Augustan Rome. The Odes of Horace, in particular, will, I think, strike a reader who comes back to them after reading other books, as distinguished by a simplicity, monotony, and almost poverty of sentiment, and as depending for the charm of their external form not so much on novel and ingenious images as on musical words aptly chosen and aptly combined. We are always hearing of wine-jars and Thracian convivialities, of parsley wreaths and Syrian nard; the graver topics, which it is the poet's wisdom to forget, are constantly typified by the terrors of quivered Medes and painted Gelonians; there is the perpetual antithesis between youth and age, there is the ever-recurring image of green and withered trees, and it is only the attractiveness of the Latin, half real, half perhaps arising from association and the romance of a language not one's own, that makes us feel this "lyrical commonplace" more supportable than common-place is usually found to be. It is this, indeed, which constitutes the grand difficulty of the translator, who may well despair when he undertakes to reproduce beautics depending on expression by a process in which expression is sure to be sacrificed. But it would, I think, be a mistake to attempt to get rid of this monotony by calling in the aid of that variety of images and forms of language which modern poetry presents. Here, as in the case of metres, it seems to me that to exceed the bounds of what may be called classical parsimony would be to abandon the one chance, faint as it may be, of producing on the reader's mind something like the impression produced by Horace. I do not say that I have always been as abstinent as I think a translator ought to be; here, as in all matters connected with this most difficult work, weakness may claim a licence of which strength would disdain to avail itself; I only say that I have not surrendered myself to the temptation habitually and without a struggle. As a general rule, while not unfrequently compelled to vary the precise image Horace has chosen, I have substituted one which he has used elsewhere; where he has talked of triumphs, meaning no more than victories, I have talked of bays; where he gives the picture of the luxuriant harvests of Sardinia, I have spoken of the wheat on the threshing-floors. On the whole I have tried, so far as my powers would allow me, to give my translation something of the colour of our eighteenth-century poetry, believing the poetry of that time to be the nearest analogue of the poetry of Augustus' court that England has produced, and feeling quite sure that a writer will bear traces enough of the language and manner of his own time to redeem him from the charge of having forgotten what is after all his native tongue. As one instance out of many, I may mention the use of compound epithets as a temptation to which the translator of Horace is sure to be exposed, and which, in my judgment, he ought in general to resist. Their power of condensation naturally recommends them to a writer who has to deal with inconvenient clauses, threatening to swallow up the greater part of a line; but there is no doubt that in the Augustan poets, as compared with the poets of the republic, they are chiefly conspicuous for their absence, and it is equally certain, I think, that a translator of an Augustan poet ought not to suffer them to be a prominent feature of his style. I have, perhaps, indulged in them too often myself to note them as a defect in others; but it seems to me that they contribute, along with the Tennysonian metre, to diminish the pleasure with which we read such a version as that of which I have already spoken by "C. S. C." of "Justum et tenacem." I may add, too, that I have occasionally allowed the desire of brevity to lead me into an omission of the definite article, which, though perhaps in keeping with the style of Milton, is certainly out of keeping with that of the eighteenth century. It is one of a translator's many refuges, and has been conceded so long that it can hardly he denied him with justice, however it may remind the reader of a bald verbal rendering.

A very few words will serve to conclude this somewhat protracted Preface. I have not sought to interpret Horace with the minute accuracy which I should think necessary in writing a commentary; and in general I have been satisfied to consult two of the latest editions, those by Orelli and Ritter. In a few instances I have preferred the views of the latter; but his edition will not supersede that of the former, whose commentary is one of the most judicious ever produced, within a moderate compass, upon a classical author. In the few notes which I have added at the end of this volume, I have noticed chiefly the instances in which I have differed from him, in favour either of Hitter's interpretation, or of some view of my own. At the same time it must be said that my translation is not to be understood as always indicating the interpretation I prefer. Sometimes, where the general effect of two views of the construction of a passage has been the same, I have followed that which I believed to be less correct, for reasons of convenience. I have of course held myself free to deviate in a thousand instances from the exact form of the Latin sentence; and it did not seem reasonable to debar myself from a mode of expression which appeared generally consistent with the original, because it happened to be verbally consistent with a mistaken view of the Latin words. To take an example mentioned in my notes, it may be better in Book III. Ode 3, line 25, to make "adulterae" the genitive case after "hospes" than the dative after "splendet;" but for practical purposes the two come to the same thing, both being included in the full development of the thought; and a translation which represents either is substantially a true translation. I have omitted four Odes altogether, one in each Book, and some stanzas of a fifth; and in some other instances I have been studiously paraphrastic. Nor have I thought it worth while to extend my translation from the Odes to the Epodes. The Epodes were the production of Horace's youth, and probably would not have been much cared for by posterity if they had constituted his only title to fame. A few of them are beautiful, but some are revolting, and the rest, as pictures of a roving and sensual passion, remind us of the least attractive portion of the Odes. In the case of a writer like Horace it is not easy to draw an exact line; but though in the Odes our admiration of much that is graceful and tender and even true may balance our moral repugnance to many parts of the poet's philosophy of life, it does not seem equally desirable to dwell minutely on a class of compositions where the beauties are fewer and the deformities more numerous and more undisguised.

I should add that any coincidences that may be noticed between my version and those of my predecessors are, for the most part, merely coincidences. In some cases I may have knowingly borrowed a rhyme, but only where the rhyme was too common to have created a right of property.


I am very sensible of the favour which has carried this translation from a first edition into a second. The interval between the two has been too short to admit of my altering my judgment in any large number of instances; but I have been glad to employ the present opportunity in amending, as I hope, an occasional word or expression, and, in one or two cases, recasting a stanza. The notices which my book has received, and the opinions communicated by the kindness of friends, have been gratifying to me, both in themselves, and as showing the interest which is being felt in the subject of Horatian translation. It is not surprising that there should be considerable differences of opinion about the manner in which Horace is to be rendered, and also about the metre appropriate to particular Odes; but I need not say that it is through such discussion that questions like these advance towards settlement. It would indeed be a satisfaction to me to think that the question of translating Horace had been brought a step nearer to its solution by the experiment which I again venture to submit to the public.


The changes which I have made in this impression of my translation are somewhat more numerous than those which I was able to introduce into the last, as might be expected from the longer interval between the times of publication; but the work may still be spoken of as substantially unaltered.

Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace - 3/26

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