Archives de catégorie : 18th century

WILLIAM MASON, « PREFACE TO THE ART OF PAINTING » (1783)

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William Mason (1725-1797) is one of the many 18th century clergymen who were also men of letters. He was interested in music and in the aesthetics of landscape painting. As a poet he wrote his most famous text on the art of gardens: The English Garden (4 volumes, 1772-1781), a didactic poem inspired by the Georgics. Mason learned Latin at the Hull Grammar School and painted as an amateur, a practice which probably led him to translate Charles-Alphonse Dufresnoy’s Latin poem, De Arte Graphica. Dufresnoy’s ideas are not original in that they mostly repeat the theories on art developed during the Italian Renaissance. His poem however achieved posterity through its different translations, both in French and English. Among its English translators feature most notably John Dryden and Charles Jervas in collaboration with Alexander Pope.

Mason’s preface offers insights both on translation and on the translator’s task. The necessity of undertaking the translation of Dufresnoy’s poem is based on the usefulness of his text which works as compendium on the essential principles of the art of painting, a sort of manual for the painter and amateur. The difficulty of the translator’s task is emphasized through allusion to the painstaking line-by-line translation. Mason also mentions the time span between the beginning and the end of his work as a way of underlining the merits of letting the text lie. By mentioning previous translations, he also poses the question of the choice of verse or prose in the translation of poetry. Finally he maintains that translation is the business of men of letters and professionals of language but that it cannot be done without the contribution of an expert on the subject (Reynold in his case) for the footnotes.

 

The poem of M. Du Fresnoy, when considered as a Treatise on Painting, may unquestionably claim the merit of giving the leading Principles of the Art with more precision, conciseness, and accuracy, than any work of the kind that has either preceded or followed it; yet as it was published about the middle of the last century, many of the precepts it contains have been to frequently repeated by later writers, that they have lost the air of novelty, and will, consequently, now be held common; some of them too may, perhaps, not be so generally true as to claim the authority of absolute rules. Yet the reader of taste will always be pleased to see a Frenchman holding out to his countrymen the Study of Nature, and the chaste Models of Antiquity, when (if we except Le Sueur and Nicolo Poussin, who were Fresnoy’s contemporaries) so few Painters of that nation have regarded either of these architypes. The modern Artist also will be proud to emulate that simplicity of style, which this work has for more than a century recommended, and which, having only very lately got the better of fluttering drapery and theatrical attitude, is become one of the principal tests of Picturesque excellence.

But if the Text may have lost somewhat of its original merit, the Notes of Mr. Du Piles, which have hitherto accompanied it, have lost much more. Indeed it may be doubted whether they ever had merit in any considerable degree. Certain it is that they contain such a parade of common-place quotation, with so small a degree of illustrative science, that I have thought proper to expel them from this edition, in order to make room for their betters.

As to the poetical powers of my Author, I do not suppose that these alone would ever have given him a place in the numerous libraries which he now holds; and I have, therefore, often wondered that Mr. De Voltaire, when he gave an account of the authors who appeared in the age of Louis XIV should dismiss Fresnoy, with saying, in his decisive manner, that “his Poem has succeeded with such persons as could bear to read Latin Verse, not of the Augustan Age1. This is the criticism of a mere Poet. No body, I should suppose, ever read Fresnoy to admire, or even criticise his versification, but either to be instructed by him as a Painter, or improve as a Virtuoso.

It was this latter motive only, I confess, that led me to attempt the following translation; which was begun in very early youth; with the double view of implanting in my own memory the principles of a favourite art, and of acquiring a habit of versification, for which purpose the close and condensed stile of the original seemed peculiarly calculated, especially when considered as a sort of school exercise. However the task proved difficult, that when I had gone through a part of it I remitted of my diligence, and proceeded at such separate intervals, that I had passed many posterior productions thro’ the press before this was brought to any conclusion in manuscript; and, after it was so, it lay long neglected, and would certainly have never been made public, had not Sir Joshua Reynolds requested a sight of it, and made an obliging offer of illustrating it by a series of his own notes. This prompted me to revise it with all possible accuracy; and as I had preserved the strictures which my late excellent friend Mr. Gray had made many years before on the version, as it then stood, I attended to each of them in their order with that deference which every criticism of his must demand. Besides this, as much more time was now elapsed since I had myself perused the copy, my own eye was become more open to its defects. I found the rule which my Author had given to his Painter full of useful to a Writer,

            (Ast ubi consilium deerit sapientis amici

            Id tempus dabit, atque mora intermissa labori.)

And I may say, with truth, that having become from this circumstance, as impartial, if not as fastidious, to my own work, as any other critique could possibly have been, I hardly left a single line in it without giving it, what I thought, an emendation. It is not, therefore, as a juvenile work that I now present it to the public, but as one which I have improved to the utmost of my mature abilities, in order to make it more worthy its Annotator.

In the preceding Epistle I have obviated, I hope, every suspicion of arrogance in attempting this work after Mr. Dryden. The single consideration that his Version was in Prose were in itself sufficient; because, as Mr. Pope has justly observed, Verse and even Rhyme is the best mode of conveying preceptive truths, “as in this way they are more shortly expressed, and more easily retained2.” Still less need I make an apology for undertaking it after Mr. Wills, who, in the year 1754, published a Translation of it in Metre without Rhyme3

.

This Gentleman, a Painter by profession, assumed for his motto,

Tractant Fabrilia Fabri;

but however adroit he might be in handling the tools of his own art, candour must own that the tools of a Poet and a Translator were beyond his management; attempting also a talk absolutely impossible, that of expressing the sense of his Author in an equal number of lines, he produced a version which (if it was ever read through by any person except myself) is now totally forgotten. Nevertheless I must do him the justice to own that he understood the original text; that he detected some errors in Mr. Dryden’s Translation, which had escaped Mr. Jervas (afflicted, as it is said, by his friend Mr. pope) in that corrected Edition which Mr. Graham inscribed to the Earl of Burlington; and that I have myself sometimes profited by his labours. It is also from his Edition that I reprint the following Life of the Author, which was drawn up from Felibien and other Biographers by the late Dr. Birch, who, with his usual industry, has collected all they have said on Fresnoy’s subject.

 

  1. Du Frenoi (Charles) né à Paris 1611, peintre & poète. Son poème de la peinture a réussi auprès de ceux qui peuvent lire d’autres vers latins que ceux du siècle d’Auguste. Siècle de Louis XIV. Tom. I. []
  2. See his Advertisement before the Essay on Man. []
  3. I call it so rather that Blank Verse, because it was devoid of all harmony of numbers. The beginning. Which I shall here insert, is a sufficient proof of the truth of this assertion.

    As Painting, Poesy, so similar

    To Poesy be Painting; emulous

    Alike, each to her sister doth refer,

    Alternate change the office and the name;

    Mute verse is this, that speaking picture call’d.

    From this little specimen the reader will easily form a judgement of the whole. []

WILLIAM KENRICK, « PREFACE TO ELOISA BY J.J. ROUSSEAU » (1761)

ELOISA : BY J.J. ROUSSEAU, PREFACE By the Translator [William Kenrick], 4 vols. London : Griffiths, Becket and De Hondt, 1761.

 

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William Kenrick (1729/30-1779) was a typical eighteenth-century hackwriter. He is the author of verse satires and plays (some of which were successful), he was a contributor to and editor of several periodicals, he gave public lectures on Shakespeare, he is the author of a dictionary of the English language. His translations are probably his most significant work. He was both very energetic and learned but liked controversy too much and fell out with many people he worked with. He even tried to pick a quarrel with Samuel Johnson over the latter’s edition of the works of Shakespeare. His arrogance and self-confidence come across in the preface to his translation of La Nouvelle Héloïse, which also shows him to be a thoughtful translator from French, a language which he had a very good command of, having spent some time in France in the 1750s.

Preface

It is by no means my design to swell the volume, or detain the reader from the pleasure he may reasonably expect in the perusal of this work: I say reasonably, because the author is a writer of great reputation. My whole intention is to give a concise account of my conduct in the execution of this arduous task; and to anticipate such accusations as may naturally be expected from some readers: I mean those who are but imperfectly acquainted with the French language, or who happen to entertain improper ideas of translation in general.

            If I had chosen to preserve the original title, it would have stood thus: Julia, or the New Eloisa, in the general title-page; and in the particular one, Letters of two Lovers, inhabitants of a small village at the foot of the Alps, collected and published, &c. Whatever objection I might have to this title, upon the whole, my principal reason for preferring the name of Eloisa to that of Julia, was, because the public seemed unanimous in distinguishing the latter, and I was the more easily determined, as it was a matter of no importance to the reader.

            The English nobleman who acts a considerable part in this romance, is called in the original, Lord Bomston, which I suppose Mr. Rousseau thought to be an English name, or at least very like one. It may possibly sound well enough in the ears of a Frenchman; but I believe the English reader will not be offended with me for having substituted that of Lord B— in its room. It is amazing that the French novelists should be ignorant of our common names, and the titles of our nobility, as they are of our manners. They seldom mention our country, or attempt to introduce an English character, without exposing themselves to our ridicule. I have seen one of their celebrated romances, in which a British nobleman, called the Duke of Workinsheton, is a principal personage[1]; and another, in which the one identical lover of the heroine is sometimes a Duke, sometimes an Earl, and sometimes a simple Baronet; Catombridge[2] is, with them, an English city: and yet they endeavour to impose upon their readers by pretending that their novels are translations from the English.

            With regard to this Chef d’œuvre of Mr. Rousseau, it was received with uncommon avidity in France, Italy, Germany, Holland, and, in short, through every part of the Contiment where the French language is understood. In England, besides a very considerable number first imported, it has been already twice reprinted; but how much soever the world might be delighted with the original, I found it to be the general opinion of my countrymen, that it was one of those books which could not possibly be translated with any tolerable degree of justice to the author: and this general opinion, I own, was my chief motive for undertaking the work.

            There are, in this great city, a considerable number of industrious labourers, who maintain themselves, and perhaps a numerous family, by writing for the booksellers, by whom they are ranged in separate classes, according to their different abilities; and the very lowest class of all, is that of Translators. Now it cannot be supposed that such poor wretches as are deemed incapable of better employment, can be perfectly acquainted either with their own or with any other language: besides, were they ever so well qualified, it becomes their duty to execute as much work, in as little time, as possible; for, at all events, their children must have bread: therefore it were unreasonable to expect that they should spend their precious moments in poring over a difficult sentence in order to render their version the more elegant. This I take to be the true reason why our translations from the French are, in general, so extremely bad.

            I confess, the idioms of the two languages are very different, and therefore that it will, in some instances, be impossible to reach the sublime delicacy of expression in an elegant French writer; but in return, their language is frequently so vague and diffuse, that it must be entirely the fault of the English translator if he does not often improve upon his original: but this will never be the case; unless we sit down with a design to translate the ideas rather than the words of our author.

            Most of the translations which I have read, appear like a thin gause spread over the original: the French language appears, through every paragraph; but it is entirely owing to the want of bread, the want of attention, or want of ability in the translator. Mr. Pope, and some few others, have shewn the world, that not only the ideas of the most sublime writers may be accurately expressed in a translation, but that it is possible to improve and adorn them with beauties peculiar to the English language.

            If in the following pages, the reader expects to find a servile, literal, translation, he will be mistaken. I never could, and never will, copy the failings of my author, be his reputation ever so great, in those instances where they evidently proceed from want of attention. Mr. Rousseau writes with great ease and elegance, but he sometimes wants propriety of thought, and accuracy of expression.

            As to the real merit of this performance, the universal approbation it has met with is a stronger recommendation than any thing I could say in its praise.

 

[1] Workinscheton: Charlotte-Marie-Anne Charbonnier de La Guesnerie, Mémoires de miledi B… Par madame R… 4 vols. Amsterdam et Paris, 1760.

[2] The confusion over titles and the place name are to be found in Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni, Lettres de mistriss Fanni Butlerd à milord Charles Alfred de Caitombridge, comte de Plisinthe, duc de Raflingth, écrites en 1735 ; traduites de l’anglois en 1756, par Adélaïde de Varançai. Amsterdam, 1757.