Mary Louisa Bruce.

Anna Swanwick ; a memoir and recollections, 1813-1899 .. online

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to spend the winter at Bangor, in North
Wales, accompanied by her sister Catherine,
who was always willing to agree to any plan
that was for her good. Here she quietly re-
sumed her work and finished the translation
of " The Persians," " Seven Against Thebes,"
" The Suppliants," and " Prometheus Bound,"
which were published later.

It was impossible for her brain to remain
long inactive ; idleness was not rest for her,
and the work of translation, carried on with-
out other distractions in the quiet of the
country, afforded her pleasurable occupation
and interest.

It was in the early part of this year that a


terrible blow fell upon the family in the death oi-
lier nephew, Alexander Bruce, the brilliantly
gifted son of her beloved sister. After gain-
ing all the honours possible at University
College and the University of London, he
had entered the profession of surgeon with
every prospect of rising to distinction, when
he was struck down by typhus fever, caught
in the discharge of his hospital duties, and
died at the age of twenty-seven. This great
grief was shared by all who knew him, and
his sorrowing mother had at least the con-
solation of knowing that he was beloved far
and wide, by old and young, by rich and poor,
at home and abroad.


In the autumn of the year 1869 Anna
Swanwick and her sister Catherine arranged
to travel for a year. The energy which she
had thrown into all that she undertook was
now devoted to making this Wander jahr as


full of interest as possible, and the programme
was a very varied one. They first visited the
Engadine, where they remained until driven
away by intense cold in September, and then
drove over the Bernina Pass through mag-
nificent scenery. Extract from letter : —

" The mountains, covered with the purest
snow, rise in picturesque variety, crowned by
the lofty summit of the Bernina, the snow
contrasting strikingly with the magnificent
pine trees, which here have somewhat the
character of the cedar. . . . The road on the
Italian side of the Pass descended in a suc-
cession of zigzags, and looked like a huge
serpent gliding down the mountain-side. I
have noticed that each Pass has some peculiar
feature, and certainly the Bernina is remark-
able for the wild grandeur of its rocks, which
are wonderfully picturesque."

The first resting-place was at Le Presa, a
charming place 3,000 feet above sea-level,
where the air was delightfully fresh and in-

Continuing their journey, a beautiful drive


over the Stelvio Pass brought them to Meran,
which is thus described : —

" We had a splendid drive over the Stelvio
Pass, which is the highest in Europe, the
summit being upwards of 8,000 feet above
the level of the sea. The scenery during the
ascent is wild and desolate ; on gaining the
summit, however, the view of the Ortler
Spitz and of the neighbouring glaciers is
magnificent, and amply repays the trouble of
the ascent. ... As we approached Meran
the road was enlivened by groups of peasants,
driving before them the pretty cows of the
country. Their steeple-shaped hats adorned
with a feather or flower, their coloured waist-
coats, white sleeves, ornamented braces, and
embroidered girdles fastened by large metal
buckles, together with their bright-coloured
jackets hanging over one shoulder, called up
before my mental vision various pictures by
Carl Haag, and enabled me to realise that we
were actually in the Tyrol.

" In travelling through the Tyrol we con-
stantly came across little roadside chapels and


crosses, all bearing witness to the religious
character of the Tyrolese. I had an interest-
ing example of this at Botzen, where we
stayed for a night en route for Innsbruck. On
going out early in the morning I entered one
of the principal churches, which I found
crowded with peasants, both men and women,
who, before entering on their daily toil, had
come here to pray, carrying their implements
with them. This, I learnt, was their usual
custom, and I was much touched by the sight
of their devotion."

Crossing the Brenner Pass they reached
Innsbruck just as the sun was setting.
Another extract from her letter : —
11 The situation of the town is magnificent,
being surrounded by lofty peaks and preci-
pices, while through its streets flows the
broad river Inn. Here we stayed a few days,
and were much interested in visiting the
museum, in which are numerous relics of the
Tyrolese patriots, and here occurred the in-
cident which has led me to dwell upon the
natural features of the Tyrol. The custodian



on showing us over the museum, not having
previously manifested any enthusiasm, sud-
denly, to my extreme surprise, repeated with
a foreign accent the following verse from
Longfellow's * Psalm of Life ' : —

" ' In the world's broad field of battle,
Jn the bivouac of life,
Be not like dumb driven cattle,
Be a hero in the strife.'

Then, turning to me, he said, c I should like
to know your views of translation. In trans-
lating the works of a foreign poet, ought you
thoroughly to grasp his meaning and then
endeavour to reproduce it in your own
language, or ought you to adhere as closely
as possible to the language of the original ? '
' In my judgment/ I replied, l the translator
ought to do both. He must, of course,
thoroughly realise the meaning of the original.
At the same time the poet's words are gene-
rally so admirably chosen that the translator
cannot do better than endeavour to find their
equivalents in his own language. But,' I
continued, ' as poetry ought always to be


beautiful, the charm of the original must
never be sacrificed to the endeavour to be
literal.' After a little further talk upon the
subject, I added, ' From your asking me the
above question, I feel sure that you are your-
self a translator.' To which he made answer,
' Longfellow has been here, and we are all
much in love with him, and I am endeavour-
ing to translate his poems. I should much
like to know,' he continued, ' what you think
of my translations.' I expressed my regret
that, as it was then late, and I had arranged
to leave Innsbruck early the next morning, I
should not have time to gratify him. That
evening, however, at the hotel, I received a
packet containing a few of his translations,
with which I could honestly say that I was
much pleased."

After a few days' rest in this interesting
town they continued their journey to Rosen-
heim and Saltzburg, and on to Vienna, Gratz,
and Trieste. During the latter part of the
journey the air was darkened by a fall of
snow, which added to the romantic beauty of
the scenery.


The weather continued unsettled ; thunder
and lightning, storm blasts and whirling snow
obliged them to give up their plan of visiting
Venice, and after a short stay at Trieste they
hastened on to Bologna, Florence, and Rome.
This was a very cold season. On their
arrival in Rome she wrote : —

" The weather continues intensely cold ;
the long icicles hanging from the fountains
look like beautiful stalactites, and we hear
bitter complaints from people who have come
to Italy in search of a warm climate."
Extract from letter, January, 1870 : —
" The sun being warm and pleasant, we
determined to visit the Coliseum. Familiar
as I was with the aspect of this venerable ruin
from photos and engravings, I was not pre-
pared for the impression of majestic grandeur
produced upon the mind by its actual con-
templation. After traversing the arena I
climbed to the summit, the view from which
is very wonderful and impressive. One feels
that such a colossal edifice could only have
been conceived by a mighty people, and that
when first reared it must have seemed calcu-


lated to bid defiance to Time itself ; and when
from that height I contemplated the vast
area, and realised the bloodthirsty multitudes
gazing with eager excitement upon the deadly
struggles in the arena, I felt that the civilisa-
tion, however outwardly magnificent, which
could tolerate such hideous cruelty must have
been rotten at the core, and consequently,
sooner or later, doomed to destruction. The
wreck of Babylon itself seems hardly more
complete than that of Ancient Rome ! . . .

From another letter —

" The chief object of interest in this
church I is the Moses of Michael Angelo,
with which, through photos and casts, we are
all familiar. No reproduction can, however,
convey the effect of the original, which seems
actually to quiver with emotion, which is
only controlled by the almost superhuman
will by which it is accompanied. A high
authority speaks of this figure as frowning
with the terrific eyebrows of Olympian Jove.
I confess the great lawgiver interested me
rather as an intensely sensitive human being,
1 S, Pietro di Vincoli,


impressed almost painfully with the awful
weight of his responsibility, yet elevated to
majestic grandeur by the consciousness of his
divine mission. It is the union of these two
sentiments which, in my judgment, renders
the Moses of Michael Angelo one of the
most wonderful creations of genius. . . .

" We have just returned from visiting
another most interesting and beautiful church
— St. Maria degli Angeli — which occupies the
great hall of the Thermae of Diocletian,
which was converted to its present use by
Michael Angelo.

" Among the other works of art we were
particularly struck with a statue of St. Bruno,
of which Clement XIV. is reported to have
said, ' It would speak, if the rules of his
order did not prescribe silence.' Among
the paintings the most interesting is the St.
Sebastian, by Domenichino, a truly magnifi-
cent picture, 22 feet in height. The coun-
tenance of the martyr, who has just been
bound to the stem of a tree, expresses
resignation and trust. Below, on one side, a
soldier is preparing his arrows for the execu-


tion, and on the other a group of Christians
assembled to sympathise with the martyr are
being driven away by a mounted soldier with
his uplifted truncheon. Grand, however, as
is this picture, it is surpassed by the Com-
munion of St. Jerome, by the same artist in
the Vatican — a truly marvellous creation,
and a worthy companion to the Trans-
figuration, the last and greatest work of
Raphael. But I should weary you were I to
dwell at length upon even the most notable
of the art treasures by which we are
surrounded. . . ."

Extract from a letter to Dr. Martineau : —
" After visiting the Coliseum, with its
terrible memories of Christian martyrdom,
Vivia Perpetua tossed by an infuriated bull,
and others cast to the lions in the arena, it
was deeply interesting to enter the Cata-
combs, and to observe the peaceful and even
joyous air which pervaded these gloomy
regions. Jesus was most frequently repre-
sented as the Good Shepherd ; ornaments
were for the most part birds and flowers with
symbols of the resurrection, and scenes from


the Old Testament regarded as typical of
that event. All seemed the work of those
who recognised with heartfelt joy that in
exchanging paganism for Christianity they had
passed from death into life, and I never before
so vividly realised the new element which
Christianity had introduced into the world."

After leaving Rome, Naples was visited,
and then the two sisters turned their steps
towards home. The outbreak of the
Franco-German war in the summer of the
year 1870 obliged them to alter their route,
as it was not considered safe for two ladies
travelling alone to cross the German frontier
nor to travel through France. They there-
fore visited the Italian lakes and went for a
second time to the Engadine.

On reaching the Engadine they found
congenial society, and as the weather was
pleasant they remained for some weeks
waiting for the war to be over. At length,
in the late autumn of the year 1870, they
returned home, and were eagerly welcomed by
family and friends who were watching for



Soon after her return from abroad Anna
Swanwick revised her translation of the
Trilogy, and completed that of the re-
maining dramas of iEschylus, and in 1873
all the dramas were published, illustrated by
Flaxman's drawings. The revised edition
appeared in a smaller volume in the course of
the year, and this reached a fourth edition in
1884, an d was the one she wished to be
recognised as her completed work.

Amongst the letters of congratulation
which she received we take the following
extracts : —

Professor Paley wrote : —



" Your truly magnificent volume has just
reached me, and I need not assure you how
much I shall value it. Of the merits of the
translation, its ease, naturalness, and fidelity,
you are aware that I already had a high
opinion, and the Flaxman designs I have ad-
mired ever since I began to admire art at all."

Robert Browning wrote : —

" Yours has been a wonderful undertaking,
and, from the few glances I could manage
to indulge myself with, a decided success."

From Professor H. Morley : —

cc There is no other translation of
iEschylus so close to the original, and your
sound faith in your author enables you to
reproduce his simple force of thought as
none of those translators do who smooth
him to accordance with their own notions of
diction. You bring grace and strength of
your own to your work, but your charm is
that you use your power only to express in
its own character the power of your author."

Professor F. W. Newman wrote thus : —

" I have not quite finished the study of


your new version. I will write a running
commentary on it. Hitherto I think you
succeed better in the lyric parts than in the
dialogue. The latter, I think, I could some-
times have done better ; the lyric pieces I
feel I could not have done at all ! "

The following appreciation of the transla-
tion is kindly contributed by Sir Richard
Jebb :—

" To her translation of iEschylus, a truly
arduous task, Miss A. Swanwick brought
many gifts : a genuine sympathy with the
original ; much poetic feeling ; disciplined
command of expression ; and fine literary
tact. The rendering of ^Eschylus into
English verse is an undertaking in which
success must necessarily be a relative term.
Of Miss Swanwick's version it may be said
that it maintains a creditable level of fidelity,
not only to the letter of the text which she
followed, but to the poet's spirit. The
merit of the work as a whole is well sus-
tained, some passages are excellent ; and
there are many which attain to a high


degree of literary grace. It is a work
of quiet distinction and of sterling value,
such as could have been accomplished
only by one who united a literary faculty
of no common kind with the instinct and the
loyal patience of a scholar. These are
qualities which entitle it to live."

The translation has now achieved an
honourable position in the Universities.

On being asked to give his opinion Dr.
Butler wrote the following : —

" Trinity Lodge, Cambridge,

"November, 1902.

"It may be well to say, at the outset of
these remarks on Miss Swanwick's translation
of i^Eschylus, that they will be of a very in-
formal kind, having no pretension to be
a regular criticism. I do not propose to
compare her work with other translations, or
to notice her renderings of difficult passages,
or her adoption of particular readings.

" It was for the general reader that she
laboured rather than for professional scholars.


She was anxious that the noble dramas of the
age of Pericles should become, in their
thoughts if not in their language, familiar
to readers of all classes in England. She was
profoundly impressed with their high ethical
teaching as well as with their exquisite literary
charm. Most of the teaching and much of
the charm could, she was convinced, be
brought home to * minds truly initiated and
rightly taught,' even though they knew
nothing of the Greek language.

" Much, of course, must be lost in a trans-
lation, but it was far more important to
recognise the gain than to repeat for the
hundredth time the unfortunate truism of
the loss. She felt, I think, that our English
tongue, if employed as a vehicle of translation,
could never, so to speak, be more at home
than in reproducing a dramatic poem with its
two main elements of actors and chorus.
The language, which was acknowledged to
have triumphed over the difficulties of every
part of the Old Testament and every part of
the New, could never be pronounced unequal


to the task of giving the words of Greek actors
in the iambic metre of Shakespeare, or the
words of a Greek chorus in the varied metres
of Dryden and Gray, of Wordsworth and
Tennyson. With these convictions and these
aims, and having as she tells us in her preface
to the first volume, been c strongly urged ' to
the task * by the late Baron Bunsen,' she
addressed herself to the very arduous enter-
prise of translating the most sublime, and
probably the most difficult of the three great
Greek tragedians. She began with the three
plays constituting the Oresteian trilogy ;
these were published in 1865. In 1872,
seven years after, she completed her work by
publishing her version of the other four
plays, the * Persians/ c The Seven against
Thebes,' the ' Prometheus Bound,' and the
' Suppliants.'

" I have lately had the opportunity of
reading consecutively, within a few days, the
whole of these translations, and I can truly
say that my enjoyment has been great, and
my estimate of their value very high. The


level of merit is well sustained. It is seldom
indeed that you discern signs of languor or
impatience. Her treatment of the iambic
metre and of the very varied lyrical metres
which she adopts seems to me almost always
attractive, if not often masterly. Read by
a man or woman who knew Shakespeare and
Milton and our best lyrical poets, but were
not acquainted with Greek, Miss Swanwick's
verse must, I cannot doubt, give lively
pleasure, not without a feeling of surprise
that the treasures of ancient genius had so long
been unexplored by average English students.
" Perhaps I ought to add that, in my
judgment, the least satisfactory part of her
work is her treatment of the long trochaic
metre, but there is very little of this — not
much more than a hundred lines out of some
eight thousand — so that any detailed criticism
would be disproportionate. It is no fair
sample of the large amount of excellent
work of which it forms a quite inconsider-
able part. The work will be judged as it
ought to be, as a whole ; but its fame will


doubtless largely depend on the success with
which it is thought to have dealt with certain
picked passages. For example, any reader
of the c Agamemnon ' will at once turn to the
first Long Chorus and to the glorious three
hundred lines of the Cassandra episode. If
these parts of the work please him, he will
have a kindly feeling towards the whole.
Similarly, the Choric laments of Orestes and
the Chorus will probably be turned to as
specimens of the 'Chcephori,' and the two
great Choruses of the Furies as specimens of
the ' Eumenides.'

" The last hundred lines of the ' Prometheus/
as the storm falls on the defiant and dauntless
martyr, will test the powers of the translator
to the fullest. I venture to think that those
who take Miss Swanwick for their guide in
these especial passages will not be dis-
appointed. They will, I cannot doubt,
desire to read not Jess, but more. If they
have not known iEschylus before, they will
recognise, through the English veil, a spiritual
genius of the loftiest stature. They will


wonder that they have not earlier felt the
presence of so great a mind. They will
speak of him to their children and their
friends. So he will be gradually known, at
least ' in part ' — for I will not say * through
a glass darkly ' — by those to whom the
original Greek fountain has been and must
remain sealed. This is the success which Miss
Swanwick would have coveted. It is, I can-
not but believe, deserved at least, if not yet
fully attained.

" It remains to say a very few words of the
introductions to the two volumes as wholes and
to the several plays. They do not pretend to
be original. On the contrary they avow, with
perfect candour, the sources, German and
other, from which they are drawn. At the
same time they are admirably written, and
show on every page the true scholar, longing
to catch and to pass on to others the innermost
life of the ancient world. Miss Swanwick
was convinced, or rather felt in every fibre of
her being, that the poetry of a people was
the real clue to its religion, to its ideals, to



its working principles and maxims, and she
was never wearied of getting, so far as
possible, to the historical root of this poetry.
This study she pursued not so much in the
spirit of an antiquary as in that of a highly
strung and deeply religious woman, to whom
every authentic revelation of the human heart
was not precious only, but sacred. To this
all her work bears eloquent and touching



Having now completed the translation of
iEschylus, and being unwilling to leave any
of her work imperfect, she turned her atten-
tion to the first part of " Faust," and determined
to revise the translation of certain passages
which she felt to be below the standard of her
ideal. At the same time, having been asked
by her publishers (Bell and Daldy), to under-
take the translation of the second part, she
set to work on that most thankless and
difficult task. To quote the words of her
friend, Mr. Wicksteed, " She confessed to
finding the second part of ' Faust ' relatively
uninteresting, but her general powers, and


especially her command of metrical form, had
so matured in the nearly thirty years since the
appearance of her earlier work, that her trans-
lation of the second part of ' Faust ' may be
safely regarded as the more brilliant per-
formance, and even gives the feeling of
greater inspiration."

In 1879 the revised first part, together
with the second part, were published in one
volume, and in 1893 yet another edition
appeared with Retzsch's illustrations.

Professor Dowden writes (1901) : —

" The fidelity of the translation I think
most admirable. In meditative and reflective
passages very little is lost, in passages which
tend to the lyrical, or where, without being
lyrical, Goethe shows his power of wing
inevitably, the loss is somewhat greater. In
'Faust' I think there is more that cannot be
perfectly rendered than in some other of
Goethe's plays, such as 'Tasso' and 'Iphigenia.'

A letter from her friend, Sir Theodore
Martin, says : —

" Accept my best thanks for your 'Faust.'


I have been rapidly through the second part,
and congratulate you on the way you have
accomplished your most difficult task. I
may speak, for I know by ' hard adventure '
how difficult it is ! But its purely artistic
qualities must always confine the appreciation
of it to a comparatively narrow circle. "

After a spell of hard work nothing gave
her more pleasure than an interchange of
thoughts with one or other of her large
circle of friends and acquaintances. She was
eager to learn the note of progress in politics,
science, religion, and literature, in the Old
World and the New, to listen to an account
of any new theory or discovery (for she was
a good listener as well as a good talker),
and to sympathise with the interests of all
with whom she came in contact.

She spoke of conversation as a fine art,
and quoted Mrs. Jameson, who compared
it " to a lyre with seven strings, to play upon
which with pleasure and profit requires a
cultivated and well-stored mind." She never
allowed conversation to descend to triviali-


ties ; yet it was never dull or heavy in her
presence, but sparkling and bright, enriched
and enlivened by apt quotations, anecdotes,
and wit.

As chord after chord was struck, recollec-
tions rushed into her mind, and she would
sometimes rise from her chair when telling

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Online LibraryMary Louisa BruceAnna Swanwick ; a memoir and recollections, 1813-1899 .. → online text (page 5 of 12)