LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoir of Francis Hodgson
Chapter III. 1807-1808.

Vol. 1 Contents
Chapter I.
Chapter II. 1794-1807.
‣ Chapter III. 1807-1808.
Chapter IV. 1808.
Chapter V. 1808-1809.
Chapter VI. 1810.
Chapter VII. 1811.
Chapter VIII. 1811.
Chapter IX. 1811.
Chapter X. 1811-12.
Chapter XI. 1812.
Chapter XII. 1812-13.
Chapter XIII. 1813-14.
Vol. 2 Contents
Chapter XIV. 1815-16.
Chapter XV. 1816-18.
Chapter XVI. 1815-22.
Chapter XVII. 1820.
Chapter XVIII. 1824-27.
Chapter XIX. 1827-1830
Chapter XX. 1830-36.
Chapter XXI. 1837-40.
Chapter XXII. 1840-47.
Chapter XXIII. 1840-52.
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH

The translation of Juvenal, to which reference has already been made, appears to have been undertaken partly from admiration of the force and grandeur of the poetry, partly from a desire to make the great satirist more accessible to the majority of English readers, and thereby to apply his vigorous teaching to the vices and follies of the age.

It must be admitted that there never was a time when English morals more required the strong scourge of satire than the first two decades of the present century. The shameless intrigues of the Prince Regent were but a type of the prevailing immorality, and might well be compared to the excesses of those Roman emperors whose examples were polluting the Imperial city at the time when Juvenal wrote. London at the beginning of the nineteenth century of
the Christian era was not much better than Rome in the first. The comparison must often have suggested itself to classical scholars.

The design and scope of this translation will most readily be understood by an epitome of the Introduction written by its author.

It is with the utmost diffidence (he writes) that I offer to the notice of the public a new translation of Juvenal. After the very spirited, although irregular, performance of Dryden and his coadjutors in the way of freer versions, and after the uncommonly faithful and meritorious work of Mr. Gifford, I am certainly called upon to say a few words in explanation of my own plan; and to state in what particulars my judgment has, perhaps erroneously, led me to believe that an improvement might be made upon the plan of my predecessors. That it is possible I still think, but am far from fancying that the design is here carried into execution.

After a few preliminary remarks upon the widely different construction of the Latin and English languages, especially in what relates to their poetical idiom, he goes on to say:—

It is a good fundamental maxim, that a translation
should be a complete and accurate copy of the original; that no addition or subtraction should be made; no image suppressed; no sentiment altered; that the very turn of particular phrases, if possible, but at any rate the style of thinking and expression, should be most faithfully preserved. There are three sets of readers: those who are unacquainted with the Latin; those who have when young read and enjoyed it, but have now an imperfect recollection; and those who will be at the pains of comparing original and translated poems. Every translator must wish (‘speret idem, sudet multum frustraque laboret’) the first class to rise from the perusal with a tolerably correct idea of the manner of the original; the second to have all their impressions brought fully to their minds, and often the very passages; the third to be quite astonished at finding that an imitation could be made at once so close and so spirited. But let me ask, has this fancied excellence been ever attained? has not one of the two contrary effects invariably prevailed? has not fidelity been sacrificed to versification, or poetry been excluded by a servile adherence to correctness?
Pope and Cowper, in their respective translations of Homer, sufficiently answer the questions. But surely one must say,
‘Mallem cum illo errare, quam cum hoc recte sentire.’ An English poem in rhyme, whether translated or original, will never please, unless the verse be flowing, sweet, and simple, varied only by modifications of harmony, by dissimilar pauses, and a composed or hurried rhythm. But how are we to reconcile the sudden turns, the strong points, and striking contrasts of Juvenal with an equable, dignified, melodious cadence? Must we not lean more to another peculiarity of his character, that sweeping grandeur of declamation, that exalted style of poetical oratory, which are the chief properties of this sonorous writer? The English language compels diffuseness; a literal version is impossible; the Latin verse is nearly a fifth longer than our own; and the very nature of rhyme, forbidding one line to run into another, often obliges us to stretch phrases (for to contract them is seldom possible) very capriciously, for the benefit of the couplet. Then come the great curses of Gothicism, crowds of auxiliary verbs, and the the’s, my’s, thy’s, em’s, us’s; which make our barbarous jargons, with their inharmonious monosyllables, bear the same resemblance to the ancient languages that a modern-built church, dotted with windows, bears to the graceful and commanding
simplicity of a Grecian temple supported by pillars. Ad summam. The uniform imitation of language or style is, I hold, impossible; i.e. to write well in English, a translator of Juvenal must be defective in closeness of version, except where the author himself is easy and flowing in his manner. This, I contend, he generally is; but to reconcile his occasional abruptness with English rhyme (the only species of our verse which can give effect to satire) is, it appears to me, a problem which can never be solved. The average of syllables in Latin hexameters is perhaps about fifteen; as many as three dactyls usually occurring in a verse.1 So that a person who attempted to translate Latin hexameters line for line into English heroic poetry, would have five extra syllables to cram into every verse; which particular difficulty would be no slight one, not to mention the general conciseness of the Latin language (from the inflections of its nouns and verbs and various others causes), compared with the ‘wild plenty’ of the English. But the critic will here say ‘Quorsum hæc?’ Nobody expects a literal translation of a Latin poet. It would be the attempt of a Procrustes; fitting long and short alike to one inconvenient receptacle.

1 Dryden rates the number as less; Johnson rates it as above.

Well, but it was the attempt of
Barten Holyday, that most learned of all the commentators upon Juvenal. The consequence of Holyday’s passion for literal translation was, that he neither wrote sense nor poetry. As Dryden says, Holyday obtained his pedantic end; namely, that of rendering his original line for line. Yet although such a plan as that of Holyday is evidently absurd, and both he, and the comparatively smooth Stapylton,1 are obsolete as poetical translators of Juvenal, yet at the same time there is an opposite extreme of too great freedom in translation, of which, I own, I think Dryden and his associates have been guilty. It is perhaps needless to mention that Dryden himself only translated five out of the sixteen satires in the work that bears his name; which were the first, third, sixth, tenth, and sixteenth. His assistants were numerous. . . . Charles Dryden, the poet’s son, himself a poet, rendered the seventh. He had very good abilities; but I think he betrays

1 Johnson calls Stapylton smoother than Holyday. Take one of Stapylton’s smooth lines:—
O’ th’ sides, indorsed too, and not finish’d yet.’ (Sat. i.)
But Stapylton is, upon the whole, very smooth indeed for the time in which he wrote. He is very nervous too; and, I am sorry to say,
Dryden owes many good lines to him, which he has not acknowledged.

his father’s helping hand.
Harvey, who I really think is the best of the band next to Dryden and Congreve, paraphrased the ninth very poetically. No one can doubt that Congreve would do anything well which he undertook. The Eleventh Satire was fortunate enough to engage his attention. His translation, faulty as it is in point of rhymes, surely does more than ‘deserve forgiveness’ as Johnson says of it. Mr. Power has done his utmost to annihilate every shadow of merit in the twelfth. Creech chose the thirteenth; and performed his task like himself, unequally, but upon the whole with vigour. Johnson says, but he says it with a perhaps, ‘that Creech is the only one of these translators who has not lost sight of the dignity of Juvenal; although they all, more or less, have preserved his point.’ This was a prudent ‘perhaps.’ John Dryden, jun. translated the Fourteenth Satire very creditably. But I fancy I see the father here again.
Children like tender osiers take the bow,
And as they first are fashion’d always grow.
I have given this general account of Dryden’s coadjutors, because I did not think the real merit of some of them had ever been sufficiently appreciated. They abound in beauties, although they have many faults.


Further on, Hodgson states what he considers to have been the object of his original.

An object, which I consider a very noble one, namely, that of exposing vice in its true colours and natural deformity.

With reference to his style he quotes Johnson.

Juvenal’s peculiarity is a mixture of stateliness and gaiety, of pointed sentences and declamatory grandeur.

And Gifford.

When the dignity of Juvenal is wanting, his wit will be imperfectly preserved. Wit, indeed, he possesses in an eminent degree; but it is tinctured with his peculiarities: ‘Rarò jocos, sæpius acerbos sales miscet.’1 Dignity is the predominant quality of his mind; he can and does relax with grace, but he never forgets himself; he smiles indeed, but his smile is more terrible than his frown, for it is never excited but when his indignation is mingled with contempt. ‘Ridet et odit.’

Mr. Gifford, in another part of his very interesting essay on the Roman satirists, observes that there is a slovenliness in some of Juvenal’s verses, for which he

1 Lipsius.

has been justly blamed, as it would have cost him so little pains to improve them. But, generally speaking (as Mr. Gifford, by the slight exception he has made, I suppose allows), the poetry of Juvenal has a remarkably equable and harmonious flow. To my ears, I confess, there is hardly among the Latin poets one whose versification sounds more musically, or seems to have run with less labour from the author. Surely, then, such a writer should appear in English with as few discontinued and broken lines as possible. Indeed, however allowable these interruptions may be in Latin hexameters, in English rhymes they certainly are not, when the disjointed verse recurs frequently. This may be a natural defect in the constitution of rhyme, but so it is.
Pope’s regular couplets, in which one complete part, at least, of the sense of a passage is almost always expressed, have been censured; but are Dryden’s verses so uniformly good when considered as couplets? and whom besides Dryden, as a writer of rhyme, shall we venture to oppose to Pope? In the general effect of harmony, indeed, Dryden is much superior. But of that elsewhere. Goldsmith has been singularly accurate in the terminations of his verses. They are almost without exception perfectly symphonious. Johnson, too, had a very correct ear. But they wrote little in
verse compared to Pope. And I question whether the English language (with all its unpruned luxuriance) affords a sufficient variety of teleutic music to prevent the occasional recurrence of a faulty rhyme in long compositions.
Spenser has done wonders in this way as well as in all others. Milton’s contempt for rhyme is well known. When Dryden called upon him one day to ask his permission to introduce some of his ‘Paradise Lost’ into a piece (in rhyme) which Dryden was preparing for the theatre, ‘Aye,’ said the old bard, ‘you may tag my verses if you will.’

With reference to the coarseness of many passages, the translator expresses his belief that the aim of Juvenal in writing so grossly was to lay open the native unsightliness of vice, to remove that fascinating cloak which hides its horrors, and thereby to render it an object too disgusting to be publicly espoused, a guest too dangerous to be privately admitted. The poet labours to awaken the conscience, and to put the prosperous villain to the blush by a daringly faithful picture of the corruptions of his country.

After a further exposition of the plan of his poem, and a grateful recognition of the great and unexpected patronage accorded to it, Hodgson pro-
ceeds to the Prologue, in which, after tracing the rise and growth of satire, and drawing a pointed comparison between
Juvenal and other satirists, he declares that if, by referring the picture of Rome’s depravity to the immorality then prevalent in England, he could ensure the reformation of one of his countrymen, the labours of his youthful muse would be amply rewarded.

Among the contemporary critiques of the translation, the most deserving of notice is that of the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ which had been inaugurated a few years before, under the auspices of Sydney Smith, Horner, Brougham, and last, but not least, that ‘literary anthropophagus,’ Jeffrey. That Hodgson’s talents as a scholar and a poet were now pretty generally appreciated is evident, not only from the many distinguished names which are found among the list of subscribers to his Juvenal, but also from the fact that ‘the young gentlemen’ of ‘the Edinburgh’ condescended to consider it worthy of their censorship, and bestowed upon it their accustomed meed of praise and blame; the latter, as was usual with this periodical in the early years of its existence, greatly exceeding the former in emphasis. The critique commences with a studied attempt to depreciate the genius of Juvenal himself, and, after a
sufficiently shallow criticism of his character and style, proceeds, with youthful wisdom, to lay down the law upon the subject of translations in general and translators in particular. Having expressed a preference for
Johnson’s imitations to any translation of Juvenal, however spirited or accurate, the review proceeds, after passing allusions to Holyday, Stapylton, and Dryden, to a comparison between the works of Gifford and Hodgson. Upon both is bestowed an almost equal share of censure and approbation.

Hodgson’s extraordinary facility for versifying was, doubtless, a snare to him, and led him sometimes into unnecessary diffuseness. His easy, well-turned couplets are unfavourably criticised, and the occasional roughnesses of Mr. Gifford’s translation are by the ‘Edinburgh’ considered to be more in the style of Juvenal, and therefore preferable to ‘the unbending stateliness of Mr. Hodgson’s versification.’ The fact was, that the translator thought the Latin and English languages so intrinsically different in structure as to render a close imitation of style as impracticable as it was undesirable.

The translator is also found guilty on a charge of giving too frequent expression to his own originality of thought. But this fault is partly condoned.

The sin that most easily besets a translator is that of
grafting his own sense on that of his original, and the temptation is the stronger the more he is a man of talent and imagination.
Mr. Hodgson transgresses in this respect oftener than his predecessor, but it is a liberty which, if used sparingly and neatly, we are not much disposed to censure, Juvenal not being, in our eyes, so perfect a poet that nothing can be added or taken away without injury. Instances which do no discredit to the original occur in Sat. xiv. 187, &c.

The ‘Review’ continues its comparison by noticing that the two translations are very seldom at variance in the meaning of Juvenal, and in one or two of the few passages when there is a difference, is ‘disposed to agree with Mr. Hodgson,’ who, in the lines which conclude the Fourth Satire, is pronounced to have surpassed all his predecessors.

The Eleventh and Fourteenth Satires are selected as the best in the translation, partly from their intrinsic excellence, and partly from superiority of execution. The Eighth and Tenth Satires would, the ‘Review’ thinks, have been better translated by Mr. Hodgson than by the friends (Merivale and Drury) to whom he assigned them; and it goes on to admit that he has great powers of easy and elegant versi-
fication, but thinks that he has directed his intellectual labours to a department that was already overstocked, and, although denying the right to interfere with any man in the application he chooses to make of his talents, yet expresses a regret that Mr. Hodgson’s had not been directed to a less hackneyed subject.

Many others might have been found more interesting to the world, and better suited to his own powers. The charm of his versification is chiefly perceptible in the descriptive parts, where the poet dwells on natural scenery, or the primitive simplicity of ancient manners. Hence the superiority we ascribed to the Eleventh Satire, and the pleasure we derive from such lines as the following:—
And Auster, resting in his silent cave,
Shakes from his wing the moisture of the wave.

Now, there are several poets of antiquity that would have opened a wider field for the display of this peculiar excellence of our author; a field where he would have been less elbowed and jostled by competitors. From the works of Statius, of whom he speaks more than once in the highest terms, and to whose merits no English translation has yet done full justice; and of Ovid, whom he denominates ‘the most beautiful of all descriptive poets,’ Mr. Hodg-
son, we are confident, could make a selection that would delight a much more extended circle of readers than he can expect to peruse the present volume. Our confidence is grounded on some exquisite morsels he has given in the notes, as well from the poets above mentioned, as from
Catullus, Claudian, Martial, &c. As we look upon these translations to be not the least valuable part of the book, we shall subjoin one or two. The beautiful address to Sleep, in the ‘Sylvæ’ of Statius (v. 4), which is translated at page 460, commences thus:—
How have I wrong’d thee, Sleep, thou gentlest power
Of heav’n! that I alone, at night’s dread hour,
Still from thy soft embraces am repress’d,
Nor drink oblivion on thy balmy breast?
Now every field and every flock is thine,
And seeming slumbers bend the mountain pine;
Hush’d is the tempest’s howl, the torrent’s roar,
And the smooth wave lies pillow’d on the shore.
A humorous description of a parasite from Martial follows, and then that fine passage in
Lucretius (v. 1217).

The Review closes with a scathing criticism of the notes, which it condemns in the most indiscriminate manner as most unnecessarily diffuse and disconnected. It must be admitted that censure on this point was to a certain degree justifiable. Hodgson’s
reading had been very extensive, and his memory was marvellously retentive. To this latter quality
Byron bears testimony, in that passage of his journal where he refutes the assertions of his mother, Madame de Stael, and the ‘Edinburgh,’ that his character bore a resemblance to that of Rousseau: ‘He (Rousseau) had a bad memory; I had, at least, an excellent one (ask Hodgson, the poet—a good judge, for he has an astonishing one).’ This enviable faculty betrayed its possessor into excessive copiousness of illustration, but not to such an extent as to justify the unmitigated censure bestowed upon it with the utmost virulence by the ‘Scotch Review.’ Hodgson at twenty-seven was not a man to rest tamely under an attack which he felt to be unduly harsh. The depreciation of the great Satirist himself, and the slighting allusion to his friends and coadjutors, combined to excite his utmost indignation; and he immediately replied to the ‘Review’ in a spirited satire, written in the same vigorous style which, a year later, astonished the literary world in the ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.’ His old and warm-hearted friend, William Gifford, had published an edition of Massinger, which had been ‘damned with faint praise’ in the same number of the ‘Edinburgh’ as that which contained the above-mentioned critique. Byron, whose
acquaintance he had lately made, and for whose genius he had, from the first, entertained the warmest admiration, had been cruelly maltreated in his first attempt. The criticisms of several other periodicals were equally ill-judging and unjust. Hodgson felt irresistibly impelled to
write, and he wrote, perhaps with more justice than discretion, as far at least as his own literary reputation was concerned.

The satirist begins by apostrophising the whole chorus of ‘irresponsible, indolent reviewers’ who pass hasty judgments upon youthful talent.
But chiefly those anonymously wise,
Who skulk in darkness from Detection’s eyes,
And high on Learning’s chair affect to sit,
The self-raised arbiters of sense and wit.
And having illustrated his statements by several recent instances which are introduced with mingled humour and severity, he proceeds to give an allegorical description of the birth, growth, and decline of the Writer’s art, founded partly on the account of the Birth of Criticism in the ‘
Rambler,’ partly on Fielding’s essay on the same subject. The concluding lines are devoted to that magazine which Byron denominates My Grandmother’s Review, the ‘British,’ and a certain book called the ‘Eclectic Review,’ of the existence of which the satirist informs his readers that he has
heard on very credible authority, although he has never had the privilege of reading it. But as he is told that it speaks charitably of his
Juvenal as a whole, and believes that its censure, if known, would rather increase than diminish his reputation, he is not disposed to resent its well-meant attempts at discriminating criticism.