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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

§ 9. Versions of Petronius

By the preferences of these writers we come to know the taste of the booksellers and of the town. They were not animated by the spirit of adventure or by the ambition of instructing kings and nobles in high policy, which moved the Elizabethans. Their sole object was to profit themselves by pleasing the public. Petronius, to whom they owed a special allegiance, was easily taught to speak their dialect. The first version we owe to William Burnaby and another hand. In the second, Tom Brown, captain Ayloffe and others are said to have given their aid, though it is not clear what they contributed, and a comparison of the two by no means justifies the bookseller’s claim that the second is “wholly new.” Though much of Petronius is lost in the process of translation, the work is done with a sympathy and an energy which we expect from the authentic descendants of Ascyltus and Eumolpus. Here is no dwelling on the words of the author. The book may be read from beginning to end, as though it were an independent and original romance. The version of Lucian by several eminent hands displays precisely the same qualities. Deprived of its atmosphere, it wears the aspect of an English work. The “eminent hands”—Tom Brown, John Phillips, Walter Moyle and the rest—handled the English tongue with ease and familiarity, and, if they owed more to the French of d’Ablancourt than to the Greek of Lucian, they have had no difficulty in transposing their author into the guise of their own place and time. The work, done under Dryden’s eye, was journey-work, if you will, and defaced by a tone of commonness. But it has a character which removes it by many leagues from the crib, and Dryden, no doubt, speaks truth when he places the translators among “the finer spirits of the age.” Walter Moyle and Sir Henry Sheeres deserve whatever praise he could give them, but let it not be forgotten that it is the facetious Tom Brown, whom Dryden could not mention with honour, that bore the brunt of the work.