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Letters Concerning Poetical Translations And Virgil's and Milton's Arts of Verse, &c online

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Poetical Translations,



ARTS of VERSE, &c.

Printed for J. ROBERTS, near the _Oxford-Arms_
in _Warwick-Lane_. MDCCXXXIX.



I am now going to obey your Commands; but you must let me do it in my
own way, that is, write as much, or as little at a time as I may have
an Inclination to, and just as things offer themselves. After this
manner you may receive in a few Letters, all that I have said to you
about poetical Translations, and the resemblance there is between
_Virgil's_ and _Milton's_ Versification, and some other Matters of the
same nature.

To begin with the Business of Translation.

Whoever sits down to translate a Poet, ought in the first place to
consider his Author's peculiar _Stile_; for without this, tho' the
Translation may be very good in all other respects, it will hardly
deserve the Name of a Translation.

The two great Men amongst the Antients differ from each other as much
in this particular as in the Subjects they treat of. The Stile of
_Homer_, who sings the Anger or Rage of _Achilles_, is _rapid_. The
Stile of _Virgil_, who celebrates the Piety of _Æneas_, is
_majestick_. But it may be proper to explain in what this Difference

The Stile is _rapid_, when several Relatives, each at the head of a
separate Sentence, are governed by one Antecedent, or several Verbs by
one Nominative Case, to the close of the Period.

Thus in _Homer_:

"Goddess, sing the pernicious Anger of _Achilles_, which brought
infinite Woes to the _Grecians_, and sent many valiant Souls of
Heroes to Hell, and gave their Bodies to the Dogs, and to the Fowls
of the Air."

Here you see it is the Anger of _Achilles_, that does all that is
mentioned in three or four Lines. Now if the Translator does not
nicely observe _Homer's_ Stile in this Passage, all the Fire of
_Homer_ will be lost. For Example: "O Heavenly Goddess, sing the Wrath
of the Son of _Peleus_, the fatal Source of all the Woes of the
_Grecians_, that Wrath which sent the Souls of many Heroes to
_Pluto's_ gloomy Empire, while their Bodies lay upon the Shore, and
were torn by devouring Dogs, and hungry Vultures."

Here you see the Spirit of _Homer_ evaporates; and in what immediately
follows, if the Stile of _Homer_ is not nicely attended to, if any
great matter is added or left out, _Homer_ will be fought for in vain
in the Translation. He always hurries on as fast as possible, as
_Horace_ justly observes, _semper ad eventum festinat_; and that is
the reason why he introduces his first Speech without any Connection,
by a sudden Transition; and why he so often brings in his [Greek: ton
d' apameibomenos]: He has not patience to stay to work his Speeches
artfully into the Subject.

Here you see what is a _rapid_ Stile. I will now shew you what is
quite the contrary, that is, a _majestic one_. To instance in
_Virgil_: "Arms and the Man I sing; the first who from the Shores of
_Troy_ (the Fugitive of Heav'n) came to _Italy_ and the _Lavinian_
Coast." Here you perceive the Subject-matter is retarded by the
_Inversion of the Phrase_, and by that _Parenthesis_, the _Fugitive of
Heaven_ all which occasions _Delay_; and _Delay_ (as a learned Writer
upon a Passage of this nature in _Tasso_ observes) is the Property of
Majesty: For which Reason when _Virgil_ represents _Dido_ in her
greatest Pomp, it is,

- _Reginam_ cunctantem _ad limina primi_
_Poenorum expectant_. -

For the same Reason he introduces the most solemn and most important
Speech in the _Æneid_, with three Monosyllables, which causes great
Delay in the Speaker, and gives great Majesty to the Speech.

- _O Qui Res_ Hominumq; Deumq; -

These three Syllables occasion three short Pauses. _O - Qui - Res_ - How
slow and how stately is this Passage!

But it happens that I can set the Beginning of the _Æneid_ in a clear
Light for my purpose, by two Translations of that Passage, both by the
same Hand; one of which is exactly in the manner of _Virgil_, the
other in the manner of _Homer_: The two Translations are made by the
Reverend Mr. _Pitt_. He published the first among some Miscellany
Poems several Years since, the latter in his four Books of the _Æneid_
about two Years ago.


"Arms and the Man I sing; the first who driv'n
From _Trojan_ Shores, the Fugitive of Heav'n,
Came to th' _Italian_ and _Lavinian_ Coast; -


"Arms and the Man I sing, the first who bore
His Course to _Latium_ from the _Trojan_ Shore. -

The first Translation is exact in every respect: You have in it the
Suspence and Majesty of _Virgil_. The second is a good Translation,
though not at all like _Virgil_, but exactly like _Homer_: There is no
Hesitation, but the Verse and the Matter hurry on together as fast as

I have now shown you what is a _rapid_, and what is a _majestick
Stile_. But a few more Lines of the Beginning both of the _Iliad_ and
of the _Æneid_ will make it still more plain.


"The Anger of _Achilles_, Goddess, sing;
Which to the _Greeks_ did endless Sorrows bring;
And sent untimely, to the Realms of Night,
The Souls of many Chiefs, renown'd in Fight:
And gave their Bodies for the Dogs to tear,
And every hungry Fowl that wings the Air.
And thus accomplish'd was the Will of _Jove_,
Since first _Atrides_ and _Achilles_ strove.
What God the fatal Enmity begun?
_Latonâ_'s, and great _Jove_'s immortal Son.
He through the Camp a dire Contagion spread,
The Prince offended, and the People bled:
With publick Scorn, _Atrides_ had disgrac'd
The Reverend _Chryses_, _Phoebus'_ chosen Priest.
He to redeem his Daughter, sought the Shore,
Where lay the _Greeks_, and mighty Presents bore:
Deckt with the Ensigns of his God, he stands,
The Crown, the golden Sceptre in his Hands;
To all he su'd, but to the Princes most,
Great _Atreus_'s Sons, the Leaders of the Host:
Princes! and _Grecian_ Warriors! may the Gods
(The Pow'rs that dwell in Heav'ns sublime Abodes)
Give you to level _Priam_'s haughty Tow'rs,
And safely to regain your native Shores.
But my dear Daughter to her Sire restore,
These Gifts accept, and dread _Apollo_'s Pow'r;
The Son of _Jove_; he bears a mighty Bow,
And from afar his Arrows gall the Foe.


Arms and the Man I sing, the first who driv'n
From _Trojan_ Shores, the Fugitive of Heav'n,
Came to th' _Italian_ and _Lavinian_ Coast;
Much o'er the Earth was He, and Ocean tost,
By Heavenly Powers, and _Juno_'s lasting Rage;
Much too He bore, long Wars compell'd to wage;
E'er He the Town could raise, and of his Gods,
In _Latium_ settle the secure Abodes;
Whence in a long Descent the _Latins_ come,
The _Albine_ Fathers, and the Tow'rs of _Rome_.

Sept. 6. 1736.

_I am_, SIR, _&c._

* * * * *


I Should not part with the Passage in _Homer_ above-mentioned without
observing that the Speech of _Apollo_'s Priest is wonderfully
Peinturesque, and in Character. We plainly see the Priest holding up
his Hands, and pointing with his Crown and Sceptre to Heaven.

"Princes! and _Grecian_ Warriors! may the Gods
(The Pow'rs that dwell in Heav'ns sublime Abodes)

It is a Priest that speaks, and his Audience is composed of Soldiers
who had liv'd ten Years in a Camp. He does not only put them in mind
of the _Gods_, but likewise of the _Place_ where they dwelt, and at
the same time points up to it. Neither is the Conclusion of the Speech
less remarkable than the Beginning of it: The Priest of _Apollo_ does
not end in an humble supplicant manner like a common Suitor; but he
frankly offers his Presents, and threatens the Generals and Princes he
addresses himself to, with the Vengeance of his God if they refuse his
Request: And he very artfully lets them know that his God is not a
Deity of inferior Rank, but the Son of _Jove_; and that his Arrows
reach from a great Distance. The next Line to those last mentioned I
cannot omit taking notice of, because it contains, in my Opinion, one
of the most beautiful Expressions in all the poetical Language. _To
give to do a thing._

"Princes! and _Grecian_ Warriors! may the Gods
(The Pow'rs that dwell in Heav'ns sublime Abodes)
_Give you to level Priam_'s haughty Tow'rs,
And safely to regain your native Shores.

_Virgil_ was so sensible of this charming Expression, that he has used
it in the three following Passages, and I believe in one or two others
in the very first _Æneid_.

" - _Tibi Divum paler atque hominum rex
Et mulcere_ dedit _fluctus & tollere vento_. -

" - _Tu_ das _epulis accumbere Divûm_. -

"_O regina, novam cui condere Jupiter urbem
Justitiaque_ dedit _gentes frænare superbas_: -

_Salvini_ in his _Italian_ Translation in 1723, dedicated to his late
Majesty, is attentive to all the Beauties of the Passage in _Homer_
last mentioned.

" - _A voi gl' Iddii,
Che l'Olimpie magioni abitan_, dieno
_Espugnar ilio e a casa far ritorno_."



I Should now go upon the Comparison of _Virgil_'s and _Milton_'s
Versification, in which you will meet with that Paradox, as you
thought it at first, namely, that the principal Advantage _Virgil_ has
over _Milton_ is _Virgil_'s Rhyme. But I beg leave to postpone that
matter at present, because I have a mind to make some Remarks upon the
second Line in the Translation of the beginning of the _Iliad_
mentioned in my former Letter, in which the auxiliary Verb _did_ (as
our Grammarians call it) is made use of. The Line runs thus.

"Which to the _Greeks did_ endless Sorrows bring.

It is commonly apprehended from a Passage in Mr. _Pope_'s _Essay on
Criticism_, that all auxiliary Verbs are mere _Expletives_.

"While Expletives their feeble Aid _do_ join,
And ten low Words oft creep in one dull Line.

But this I believe Mr. _Pope_ never intended to advance. _Milton_ has
used them in many Places, where he could have avoided it if he had
pleased. I will produce one.

- "Him the most High
Wrapt in a balmy Cloud with fiery Steeds
_Did_, as thou saw'st, receive. -

_Milton_ might have said,

"Receiv'd, as thou hast seen. -

But he thought the auxiliary Verb added Strength to the Expression, as
indeed it does. I own where the auxiliary Verb is brought close to its
principal, and _that_ a thin monosyllable, as in the Line just now
referred to, the Verse is very rude and disagreeable. But to prove
that the auxiliary Verb may be employed properly, I will produce an
Instance in rhym'd Verse, as strong as that of _Milton_ just

"Then _did_ the roaring Waves their Rage compose,
When the great Father of the Flood arose.

_Pit's_ 1st Æneid.

I believe it will not be disputed, but that this Line is as full, as
sonorous, and majestick as if the auxiliary Verb had been left out,
and the Author had used _compos'd_ instead of _did compose_. The
Expression is certainly more beautiful and more poetical; and the
reason of it is, that it occasions suspence, which raises the
attention; or in other Words the auxiliary Verb gives notice of
something coming, before the principal thing itself appears, which is
another Property of Majesty. Mr. _Dryden_'s authority might likewise
be added on this occasion; even in his celebrated Lines on _Milton_ it
is to be met with.

"_Greece_, _Italy_, and _England did_ adorn.

In his Translation of the _Æneid_ there are many Instances of the same
nature, one of which I will mention;

"The Queen of Heav'n _did_ thus her fury vent.

The Metre of this Line, as the Words are here rang'd, is not bad, as
the Ear can judge; but it would have been extremely so, if he had writ
it thus,

"The Queen of Heaven her Fury thus _did_ vent.[A]

[Footnote A:
His Heart, his Mistress and his Friends _did_ share.
_Pope_, on _Voiture_.]

From whence it appears that the auxiliary Verb is not to be rejected
at all times; besides, it is a particular Idiom of the _English_
Language: and has a Majesty in it superior to the _Latin_ or _Greek_
Tongue, and I believe to any other Language whatsoever.

Many Instances might be brought to support this Assertion from Great
Authorities. I shall produce one from _Shakespear_.

- _This to me
In dreadful Secrecy impart they_ did.

The Auxiliary Verb is here very properly made use of; and it would be
a great loss to _English_ Poetry, if it were to be wholly laid aside.
In Translations from the _Greek_ and _Latin_, I believe it wou'd
sometimes be impossible to do justice to an Author without this Help:
I think the Passage in _Homer_ before us, I mean the two first Lines
of the _Iliad_, are an Instance of this kind. They have been
translated by many Persons of late, _Dryden_, _Manwaring_, Mr.
_Tickel_, and by Mr. _Pope_ twice, and not by any one of 'em, as I
apprehend, in the Spirit of _Homer_. As to Mr. _Pope_'s two
Translations, I don't understand why the latter ought to be preferr'd
to the former. Mr. _Pope_'s first Translation stood thus.

The Wrath of _Peleus'_ Son, the direful Spring
Of all the _Grecian_ Woes, _O_ Goddess sing.

Mr. _Pope_ had reason to be dissatisfy'd with the _O_ in the second
Line, and to reject it; for _Homer_ has nothing of it. But now let us
see how the Vacancy is supplied in Mr. _Pope_'s new Translation.

_Achilles'_ Wrath, to _Greece_ the direful Spring
Of Woes un-number'd, _Heav'nly_ Goddess, sing.

Is not _Heav'nly_ as much an Expletive as _O_, and can either of these
Couplets deserve to be plac'd in the Front of the Iliad? I could wish
Mr. _Pope_ would return these two Lines once more to the Anvil, and
dismiss all Expletives here at least. But enough of Expletives.

I shall now say something of _Monosyllables_, which seem to be
absolutely condemn'd in the second Line of the two Verses just
mention'd from Mr. _Pope's Essay on Criticism_.

And ten low Words oft creep in one dull Line.

Mr. _Dryden_ indeed has said in several Places, that the vast Number
of _Monosyllables_ in our Language makes it barbarous and rough, and
unfit for Poetry. I am apt to think Mr. _Pope_ gave into Mr.
_Dryden_'s Sentiment a little too hastily. I own _ten low Words_ too
frequently _creep on in one dull line_, in a Poet's Works, whom Mr.
_Pope_ has formerly celebrated with no mean Encomiums.

The following Lines afford an Example in this respect.

At the beginning of the third Book of the _Davideis_, this is the
Description of _Goliah_'s Sword.

"A Sword so great, that _it_ was only _fit_
To take off his great Head, who came with _it_.

Here are ten _dull_ Words most certainly in one _dull_ Line.

"To take off his great Head, who came with _it_.

And miserable is the Metre in which they creep on. But hundreds of
_monosyllable_ Lines are to be found in _Milton_ that are as sublime,
as beautiful, and as harmonious as can possibly be written. Look only
into the Morning Hymn in the fifth Book.

"Speak ye who best can tell, ye Sons of Light.


"Thou Sun! of this great World both Eye and Soul.


"And when high Noon hast gain'd, and when thou fall'st.


"With the fixt Stars, fixt in their Orb that flies.


"Breathe soft or loud; and wave your Tops, ye Pines.


"Bear on your Wings and in your Notes his Praise.

Can it be said that ten dull Words creep on dully in any one of these
Lines? But Examples may likewise be given in rhym'd Verse, of the
Harmony of _Monosyllables_. Harmony consists in mixing rough and
smooth, soft and harsh Sounds. What Words can be rougher than such as
these, _Rides_, _Rapt_, _Throws_, _Storms_; or smoother than these,
_Wheel_, _Hush_, _Lull_?

"Then mounted on his radiant Carr he _rides_,
And _wheels_ along the level of the Tides.
_Pit_'s 1st Æneid.

How rough is the first Line, how soft the latter! As soft as the
Original, which is a Masterpiece.

"_Rapt_ by his Steeds he flies in open Day,
_Throws_ up the Reins, and skims the watry Way.

"Has given to thee great _Æolus_ to raise
_Storms_ at thy sov'reign Will, and _smooth_ the Seas.

"He spake, and speaking chas'd the Clouds away,
_Hush'd_ the loud Billows, and restor'd the Day.

"Mean time the Goddess on _Ascanius_ throws,
A balmy Slumber and a sweet Repose.
_Lull'd_ in her Lap to Rest, the Queen of Love,
Convey'd him to the soft _Idalian_ Grove.
_Pit_'s 1st Æneid.

Where can a smoother Line than this be found in our Language?

"_Lull'd_ in her Lap to Rest, the Queen of Love.

And it may be observed that this Line is all Monosyllables.

_Monosyllables_ are likewise of great consequence on another account.
The Strength of the _English_ Language is greatly owing to them: For
to them it is principally obliged for its Conciseness; and Conciseness
is Strength. Now Conciseness is not only to express ourselves in as
few Words as we can, but the Excellency of the Language shews itself,
if those few Words are composed of few Syllables. And herein upon
Examination, the Strength of the _English_ Tongue will be found to
lye; and for this reason it may be said to be more concise than the
_Latin_; which will appear if _Virgil_ is turned into _English_, I
mean even _English_ Verse. For Example:

" - _Ubi tot Simois correpta sub undas
Scuta virum, Galeasq; & fortia Corpora volvit._

"Where _Simois_ Streams incumber'd with the slain,
Roll'd Shields, and Helms, and Heroes to the Main.
_Pit_'s 1st Æneid.

To discover which of these two Passages is the most concise, it is not
sufficient to shew, that there are two whole _English_ Lines, and but
one Line and three Parts of another in the _Latin_. _Latin_ and
_English_ Lines cannot be compared together, because in a _Latin_ Line
there are six Feet, and in an _English_ Line but five. Again, in
_Latin_ Verse there must be in every Line one Foot of three Syllables,
often three or four, or even five Feet of three Syllables, and
sometimes four or five Syllables in one Foot. Whereas in an _English_
Line, there is hardly ever more than two Syllables in a foot. So that
an _English_ Verse cannot be compared with the _Latin_ by the Line, or
by the Foot, but only by the Syllables of which the Words are
composed, which make the Feet in both the Languages. The Business then
is to enquire whether we write or pronounce more Syllables in the
_Latin_ or _English_ Verses here quoted: Upon Enquiry it appears that
there are twenty nine Syllables in the _Latin_, and but twenty one in
the _English_; so that the _English_ is almost one third part less
than the _Latin_; which certainly shews the former to be much more
concise than the latter, there being nothing left out in the
_English_, but the whole Thought is rather more fully expressed: And
this we see is owing to _Monosyllables_ both Verbs and Nouns,
_Streams_, _Slain_, _Shields_, _Roll'd_, _Helms_, _Main_. In short the
whole Passage is equal to the Original in Majesty and Harmony, and
superior in Conciseness.

To give another Example or two of the same nature.

"_Urbs antiqua fuit, Tyrii tenuere Coloni,
Carthago, Italiam contra, Tyberinaque longe
Ostia, dives opum, studiisque Asperrima Belli._

"Against the _Italian_ Coast, of ancient Fame
A City rose, and _Carthage_ was the Name;
A _Tyrian_ Colony, from _Tyber_ far,
Rich, rough, and brave, and exercis'd in war.
Mr. _Pit_'s Æneid.

" - _Facti de Nomine Byrsam,
Sed vos, qui tandem, quibus aut venistis ab oris,
Quove tenetis iter?_ -

"Hence _Byrsa_ nam'd. - But now ye Strangers, say,
Who, whence you are, and whither lies your Way?

I have chosen here three Passages of three very different kinds, and
in all of them the _English_ appears to be much more concise than the
_Latin_; neither is there any thing wanting in the Fulness of the
Sense, or in Majesty, or in Harmony of Numbers, any more in the two
last Passages than in the former. Another Instance of this kind might
be produced out of _Virgil_'s most perfect Work, the _Georgick_,
although it wants the Advantage of being translated by such a Hand as
Mr. _Pit_'s.

"_Si vero Viciamq; seres vitemq; Faselum,
Nec Pelusiacoe curam aspernabere lentis._

"But if the Vetch you sow, or meaner Tare,
Nor shall disdain th' _Ægyptian_ Lentil's Care.

In the _Latin_ there are thirty Syllables in the two Lines, in the
_English_ but twenty one. So that the _English_ is almost one third
more concise than the _Latin_; and at the same time _Virgil_'s Sense
fully expressed.

I will conclude this Letter with the Opinion of a Foreigner concerning
our Monosyllables: A Person not at all prepossessed in favour of our

"The _English_ Language, besides the most significant Words borrowed
from the _Latin_, _Greek_, &c. and often shortned, hath a vast Stock
of its own, and being for the most part Monosyllables, no Speech is
capable of expressing Thought in Sounds so few as the _English_ does:
This is easily observed by the Translations of the _English_ into
Foreign Languages.

"The Strength and Conciseness that Monosyllables (especially in
Verbs) produce, are of wonderful Use in Lyrick Poetry, because they
Enter into any Foot or Measure of Verses, by different
Transpositions; so that I dare venture to assert, there is no
_Italian_ or Foreign Song, which _English_ Words will not suit; the
Variety of Feet and Metres producing equal Variety of Mode and
Movements in Composition. The want of this is what makes the
_French_ vocal Musick so confined and uniform; for I cannot
recollect above two of their Verbs in use in the infinitive Mood,
that are Monosyllables, and not one exact Dactile in all their
_Röner_'s Preface to his _Melopeïa Sacra_.

Sept. 13. 1736.

_I am_, SIR, _&c._



In comparing _Virgil_'s and _Milton_'s Versification, I shall begin
with _Virgil_; and shew some of the principal Beauties of his Poetry
in this respect: And here I must own myself not a little indebted to
_La-Cerda_, _Pontanus_ and _Pierius_, but above all to the most
excellent _Erythræus_, who has not only considered every Paragraph,
every Line, every Foot, every Word, and every Syllable, but even every
Letter in _Virgil_; and it is not easy to conceive how much may depend
on a single Letter, very often the whole Harmony of a Line; and on
this Account we have vast Obligations to _Pierius_; to him we owe this
fine Verse, and many others.

"_Atq; rotis summas levibus_ pellabitur _undas_. -

All the common Editions read _perlabitur_; which is horrid to the ear.
But to go on with the Matter in hand. The principal Excellencies of
_Virgil_'s Versification consist of the several following Particulars.

1st, The continual varying of the Pause.

2d, The Inversion of the Phrase.

3d, The adapting of the Sound to the Sense.

4th, The mixing of the singular and plural Numbers.

5th, The giving Majesty and Strength to his Verse with the connecting
Particles _Que_ and _Et_.

6th, The _Collocatio Verborum_, or artful way of placing Words.

7th, The changing the common Pronunciation of Words.

8th, Verses contrary to the common Measure.

9th, 10th, and 11th, His _Alliteratio_, _Allusio Verborum_, and
_Assonantia Syllabarum_.

As these three last Articles arise from Observations perfectly new at
the time they were written by _Erythræus_, namely, about 200 Years
ago; and as new at this time, having been almost quite lost by I know
not what Accident to the World; I must follow my Master, and use his
Terms for his Discoveries, except where I differ a little from him.

1st, To begin with the first Article mentioned in this Letter, _The
Varying of the Pause_. This Subject I have met with in several Books,
but not fully explained in any one of them to my Capacity; for I must
confess I should never have thoroughly apprehended the Varying of the

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