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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

X. Writers of Burlesque and Translators

§ 14. His Selection of Originals

In the selection of his originals, L’Estrange displayed a true catholicity. He turned easily from Bona’s Guide to Eternity to Tully’s Offices. He took a hand in the translation of Terence and Tacitus, and, by himself, was responsible for The Visions of Quevedo and The Spanish Decameron. Far better than these are his Select Colloquies out of Erasmus Roterodamus. The light touch and merry conceit of the author are qualities after L’Estrange’s own heart. The original, moreover, being of a gay irony, was perfectly suited to L’Estrange’s licentious method. Here, he could leave the word for the sense with a good heart; and, as Erasmus wrote for all time, looking through the foibles of his friends to the very nature of man, he wore, without difficulty, the garb of an English man of the world. By a hundred happy turns, such as “spoken like a true tarpaulin” for orationem vere nauticam, the translator produces the impression of a living book—not the best of living books, truly, for there is sometimes a flippancy of phrase in L’Estrange’s version, which is not merely irksome in itself, but wholly unwarranted by the text. However, L’Estrange was no verbal copier “encumbered with so many difficulties at once, that he could never disentangle himself from all.” He kept his freedom at the expense of propriety. Even so, he preserved a mean which eluded most of his contemporaries. To compare his Colloquies with those done into English by Tom Brown is to measure the distance between the scholar and the bookseller’s hack. When Brown put his hand to the Colloquies, he showed no respect for Erasmus, little for himself. He declares that he “keeps his Author still in sight”; but he has no scruple in making his version “palatable to the English reader.” So, he sprinkles the text with the expletives of the hour, deems no absurdity too bold, and hopes, for instance, to win readers by rendering nuptias Mortis, opinor, cum Marte, by “not that of death and the Cobbler, I hope, nor of Bully-Bloody-Bones and Mother Damnable.” Thus, he too has produced, not a translation, but a travesty, and is guilty of the same outrage which John Phillips committed upon Don Quixote. L’Estrange had many faults; he never sank to the depth of Brown’s ineptitude.