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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

§ 8. The New Art of Translation

It seems, indeed, as though the fashion of translation changed as rapidly as the fashion of hats and coats. Though the Plutarch of North and Holland, the Montaigne of Florio, the Seneca of Lodge were less than a century old, they appeared fantastic, if not unintelligible, to the contemporaries of Dryden. The “several hands,” the “persons of quality,” who presumed to do again the tasks valiantly performed by their grandsires, aimed less at a splendour of effect than at a uniform neatness. The one licence they permitted themselves, as we shall see, was an incorrigible licence of slang. They thought that their habit of speech was perfectly suited to the heroes and gods of antiquity. They clipped their words in translating the classics, as they clipped them in an insolent pamphlet. They possessed not the smallest sense of propriety, and believed that there was no writer, ancient or modern, whose meaning could not be adequately expressed in their vernacular. Thus, it mattered not who gazed in their mirror; it gave back always the same reflection. Their theory of translation was, of course, the theory of Dryden, who marshalled them for the fray. “The Qualification of a Translator worth reading,” said he, “must be a Mastery of the Language he translates out of, and that he translates into; but if a deficiencie be allowed in either, it is in the Original.” And it was in the original, were it Latin or Greek, that many of them were deficient. Like the Elizabethans, they, too, sought what help they could find in French versions of their author. Nor was it for them to disobey Dryden’s second injunction. “A Translator,” wrote the master, “that would write with any force or spirit of an Original, must never dwell on the words of an author.” So lightly did they dwell upon their authors’ words, that, in many specimens, it is not easy to distinguish between translation and burlesque.