Page images
PDF
EPUB

Selections from French Poets of the past and present century, rendered into English verse, by R. F. Hodgson, B. C. S. Calcutta. W. Thacker and Co. 1850.

THIS handsome little volume has been for some time lying on our table, and we have had ample leisure to judge of its merits. These, so far as concerns the execution of the task, which the author has assigned to himself, are considerable. His verses are not only smooth and elegant, but sometimes rise to the level of genuine poetry, and always give abundant indication of a well-informed and highly cultivated mind.

But it was an unhappy thought to confine his selections within the narrow limits of French poetry, and to narrow these still further by restricting himself to the last two centuries. In the wild legends. of Bretagne, in the spirit-stirring lays of the Troubadours, and in the more thoroughly French poems of the olden time, with much of the ruggedness of Nature, there is also much of Nature's freshness and vigour. The old poetry is very deficient in brilliancy and point, and would make an altogether wretched vehicle for declamation ; but in revenge, it contrives to enchain the interest and stir the blood, and is never stilted, vapid, or affected, like too much of modern French poetry.

The true poetical genius of France, during the 18th century, found voice in the noble tragedies of Racene and Corneille, and the eloquent and passionate prose of Jean Jacques Rousseau. The claims of Voltaire to high poetical standing are at the best equivocal; and the much vaunted odes of J. B. Rousseau seldom rise above mediocrity. In that galaxy of genius, which shone on her Augustan age, we have dramatists, satirists, and fabulists; we have Moliere and Beaumarchais, Boileau, Delille, and La Fontaine-but not one solitary lyrical poem, that has become world renowned, or, indeed, that is worth reading or remembering. Mr. Hodgson appears to have felt this; for he has selected very sparingly from the poets of the 18th century—and, to say sooth, had all that he has selected been left out, his book would have been so much the better.

Lyrical poetry is more worthily represented in modern France; and we, in more youthful days, have lingered with pleasure over the dreamy and sentimental pages of Lamartine, the more than American nationalities of De Vigny, and the graceful and elegant verses of Delphine Gay, Amable Tastu, and Madame Desbordes-Valmore. To our more mature judgment, however, but two names stand out prominently from the mass. They are those of Victor Hugo and P. J. De Beranger. Hugo is a man of genius, and has written a few fine lyrics; but his fame will rest, rather upon his "Notre Dame," than upon his dramas, or minor poems. But Beranger is a national poet. His name alone, of all living French poets, is sure of immortality. He has been called the Burns of France, but except in the gift of genius, and in their intense nationality, these two great men are

utterly dissimilar. Unfortunately Beranger's happiest efforts are untranslateable, and, therefore, we suppose, Mr. Hodgson has not attempted any of these, although he has selected largely from Beranger. His selection, altogether, indeed, appears to have been made upon the principle, not of what was best, but of what was easiest; and we cannot accept it as a fair representative of what is highest in modern French poetry.

But it is not only with his choice of specimens that we find fault : his canon of translation appears to us altogether heterodox and unsustainable. We give it in his own words :

For whereas Prose may be defined as consisting of words and their meaning, so must Poetry be described. as words, and their meaning, and something more.

It is that something more which makes poetry; it is the idea of the poet, which hangs, like odour round a rose, about his work; and this being lost,-if it were in any sort possible to dissever it from the words he has sung, they must pass out of their high class in literature into some other, and rank either as bad prose, or pure nonsense.

Now there is only one way, in which that disseverance can be effected, and that is by putting those words literally into another language: the experiment is easily tried, and let those therefore who doubt, satisfy themselves. This I need hardly say, I have in my rendering necessarily endeavoured to avoid. Wherever the genius of the two languages permitted corresponding words to convey, with the charm of rhythm and diction, analogous ideas in poetry, I have been strictly literal; at other times I have paraphrased with greater or less freedom for the preservation of the poetic "estro" of the original; I have not scrupled to mask expressions, nor even to give the equivalent for thoughts, which might stand out in discordance with English notions of good taste; and I have allowed myself in all this to be guided by my instinct, as an ardent admirer of poetry, and, I trust, a capable appreciator of the genius of those whose works I have clothed in "our dames' tongue."

Now, while we allow that a literal translation of the words would in many cases be absurd, we hold that a literal translation of the meaning is the essential element of every good or true translation, If we take any great poet, such as Homer, or Dante, or Shakespeare, who, we may ask, will presume to paraphrase any thing of theirs by instinct?" Or, taking them singly, what other individual in the world can pretend to the possession of their peculiar "estro?" Translations conducted on Mr. Hodgson's principle, have two great disadvantages; they have neither the merit of a faithful rendering of the original, nor the freedom of a good imitation. That Mr. Hodgson can produce at once good English verses, and a nearly literal rendering of the original, his version of the following litile poem by V. Hugo will evince:

L'ETANG ET L'AME.

Comme dans les étangs assoupis sous les bois,

Dans plus d'une âme on voit deux choses à la fois;

Le ciel, qui teint les eaux à peine remués
Avec tous ses rayons et toutes see unées,
Et le vasc,-fond morne, affreux, sombre
et dormant,

Où des reptiles noirs fourmillent vague

ment.

In his translation of Boranger's

THE TANK AND THE SOUL.
As in some stagnant tank by forest's side,
In human souls two things are oft des-
cried;

The sky, which tints the surface of the
pool

With all its rays, and all its shadows cool:
The basin next,-where gloomy, dark, and
deep,
Through slime and mud unnumbered rep-
tiles creep.

"Le chant du Cosaque," he has

caught something of the true estro.' We extract it, as a fair spe cimen of the book:

THE SONG OF THE COSSACK.

O my courser, best friend of the Cossack, come forth
At the sound of the trumpet that calls from the North;
So intrepid in foray, so dauntless in fight,
May the dark death of hundreds thy prowess requite;
Though at present thy housings with gold do not shine,
All the booty I reap in the battle is thine ;
Then neigh in thy triumph my old trusty steed,
And trample down people and kings in thy speed!

There's a farewell to peace, so that onward's the cry !
Of old Europe the ramparts all ruinous lie ;

Come repose in yon mansions, where art is enshrined,
And my greedy hands fill with the treasures we find ;
And again drink those waters, where twice thou did'st lave
Thy limbs, all ensanguined, in Seine's turbid wave;
Then neigh in thy triumph, my old trusty steed,
And trample down people and kings in thy speed!
Pent up and beleaguered, king, noble, and priest,
By a people, through wrongs, from allegiance released,
From the Cossack supinely assistance implore,

In the hope they will rivet their shackles once more;
So I've levelled my lance, and will ne'er lay it down,
Till I've humbled before me the cross and the crown.
Then neigh in thy triumph, my old trusty steed,
And trample down people and kings in thy speed!

By the tremulous light of the Bivouac fire
Did a phantom colossal gaze on us in ire;
And he thundered, "Behold of new conquests the day,"
And his battle-axe, westward, denoted the way.
Of the king of the Huns 'twas the terrible shade;
And by Attila's sons must his law be obeyed.
Then neigh in thy triumph, my old trusty steed,
And trample down people and kings in thy speed !

All the glory and pomp that old Europe can show,

All her knowledge, that shields not her breast from the foe,
Shall be lost in the waves of the dust-rolling cloud,
That our coursers around us shall raise as a shroud!
So in this fresh invasion blot out and efface

Every vestige of laws, and religion, and race.
Then neigh in thy triumph, my old trusty steed,
And trample down people and kings in thy speed!

Yet even in this spirited poem we must protest against the first four lines of the 3rd stanza, as a tame and incorrect dilution of the original, which we subjoin:

Comme en un fort, princes, nobles, et prêtres,
Tous assiégés par des sujets souffrants,

Nous ont crić; Venez ! soyez nos mâitres :
Nous serons serfs, pour demeurer tyrans.

Our next extract shall be his version of Arnault's famous little

poem 'La Feuille,' which is sometimes wrongly attributed to Madame de Stael:

[ocr errors]

THE LEAF-AN ALLEGORY.

Detach'd from thy protecting bough,

Say! withered leaf, where wand'rest thou ?

Alas! the oak from which I sprung
By raging storms was prostrate flung,
And ever since that fatal hour,
The sport of elemental power,
I'm whirled unceasing o'er the land,
By cutting blasts, or Zephyrs bland;
Where the inconstant breezes blow,
Without complaint or fear I go.
From forest depths to arid plain,
O'er hill and valley back again :
For time doth not the rose leaf save,
Nor laurel bays that crown the brave.
For all on earth must pass away,
And Nature's changeless laws obey.

The following version of these stanzas was made many years ago, and is, at least, somewhat nearer the measure and ineaning of the original than Mr. Hodgson's :

Sever'd from thy parent bough,
Withered leaf, where goest thou?
Nothing know I; on the oak,
Which sustained me, fell the stroke

Of the rushing hurricane :
Ever since I wander; still
At the wind's inconstant will;
Over forest, over plain,
Down the valley, up the hill,

Onwards, without fear or pain,

Sweep I, with the breeze that blows,

There, where all things lay them down,

With the leaf from beauty's Rose,
And the laurel crown.

We close our extracts with the following beautiful little poem of Victor Hugo's, which Mr Hodgson has 'paraphrased' in his happiest

manner :

THE TOMB AND THE ROSE.
With those bright tears of limpid dew,
Which on thy leaves each morn I view,
What dost thou, flower of beauty, do ?
One day demands a tomb.

The Rose replies; In stilly night.
With those sweet tears of pearly white,
Are fed my flowers of rich delight,
That all around perfume!

And what awaits, demands the Rose,
Those, at the eve of life's last close,
Who with their weight of sins and woes,
Are cast in thine abyss ?

All pass my portals, Death replies,
For every mortal being dies.
But from my womb they all arise
Angels of love and bliss!

We have scarcely done justice to Mr. Hodgson in our selection ; for some of his longer translations, especially those from Lamartine, are really admirable. But the crowded state of our pages warns us to conclude.

Observations on the Indian Post Office, and suggestions for its Improvement; with a Map of the Post Office Routes, and an Appendix of the present Postal rates and regulations. By Captain N. Staples, Bengal Artillery. London. 1850.

"(

THIS is a seasonable pamphlet on a subject of great moment, and we trust it will do no little good in England. In these days of ours, little good is effected without agitation:" and no little experience has taught us, that it is by agitation in England that good is generally effected in India. It would seem, indeed, that things are now ripe for Post Office reform in India; and we trust that ere long an effective measure will be adopted.

*.

We remember to have heard long ago of a great drought, that grievously afflicted the people of a certain district. Whether it was merely local, or whether it extended over an extensive region, our memory is not charged withal; but at all events, there was a certain parish, whose inhabitants were very clamorous, and who saw nothing in prospect, but famine for themselves and their cattle, unless rain should speedily fall. In this emergency, as in all others, they had recourse to their minister. The worthy man assured those who applied to him, that he would certainly pray for rain, and that prayer would as certainly be heard, and the request as certainly granted, provided that one condition were fulfilled. That condition was, that all the parishioners should be unanimous in their desires for it. Of this the applicants thought that there could not be the shadow of a doubt. The whole parish had been crying out for weeks nothing but " Rain, rain;" and there was not a man, woman, or child in it who would not purchase the precious fluid at the price of half their substance. But the reverend man was not quite so sure as to the unanimity of his flock. "Call a meeting of the whole parish (said he) the day after to-morrow; then we will hear what every one has got to say; and if ye be, as ye say, all of one mind on the matter, then we will unite in prayer, and I doubt not but we shall receive the boon that we crave." The meeting was called; the parish assembled; one or two of the grave seniors stated the alarming prospect; and it seemed that there could be no difference of opinion on the subject. Well, (said the worthy pastor) ye seem to be all of one mind on the matter; so now we will proceed to offer up our united supplications."

Wait a wee," said an elderly matron,-(the parish, we should perhaps have said, was to the northward of the Cheviots) "wait a weejust till the day after the morn-I've a muckle washing to dry.”

[ocr errors]

The application is all too easy. The newspapers have conflicting interests; and they, who are the recognized organs of public opinion, have their own "washings to dry." One has a large town circulation, and cannot bear that a stamp should be put upon papers, which are not to be carried by the Post Office at all, or upon those that are to be carried only a little way; but argues strenuously for a uniform postage, by which those, who now pay nothing, should still be required to pay nothing, and those, who now pay much, should

« PreviousContinue »