The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.
§ 5. The Diall of Princes
There remains Spain, united to England in the bonds of enmity, and then, as now, the land of curiosity and romance. Her influence, widely felt, was deepest in the realms of discovery and mysticism, of manners and chivalry. The great masterpieces, Cervantes’s Don Quixote and Exemplary Novels and the Celestina of Fernando de Rojas, came to England, when the Stewarts sat upon the throne. But the sixteenth century knew no more popular book, no more potent influence than The Diall of Princes, translated from Guevara by Thomas North (1557), in which may be detected the first seeds of euphuism. Vives taught philosophy, rhetoric and civil law orally at Oxford, and, by his translated works, to England. The “spiritual and heavenly exercises” of Granada brought comfort and inspiration to the devout; it was through Spain that Amadis and Palmerin came to England; and many of the bravest adventures, chronicled in Hakluyt’s treasury of voyages, were sought and found in the peninsula. The earliest example of the picaresque novel, Lazarillo de Tormes, was “drawen out of Spanish” by David Rowland (1576), and, among many others, Bartholomew Young, already mentioned as a scholar in Italian, translated from its native Spanish the Diana of George Montemayor.
Thus it will be seen that the translators into prose of Elizabeth’s reign were impartial, as they were courageous, in their choice. They were appalled neither by the difficulty of strange tongues nor by the freedom of foreign tales. And, various as was their excuse, their style is uniform. As I have said, they made no attempt to represent the niceties of the original in their own tongue. They cut and clipped French and Roman, Spanish and Greek, to the same form and shape. Some were simpler than others; some were less cunning in the search after strange words. William Adlington, for instance, who might have found in Apuleius an opportunity for all the resources of Elizabethan vigour and Elizabethan slang, treated his author with a certain reserve. But, for the most part, the colour of the translations is the colour of the translator’s time and country, and if we study the method of one or two chosen examples, we shall get an insight into the method of them all.