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You remember the story of the young physician who was so modest of his own powers that he determined to begin by practising on an infant. Something of the same feeling prompts many authors to flesh their maiden pens on translation. Now, a genuine translation, a translation that does not play traitor to the original, is one of the most difficult of literary feats. The really good versions of foreign authors that enrich English literature may be counted upon one's fingers. Among these, of course, the King James Bible stands out pre-eminent. Thomas Urquhart's translation of Rabelais is another marvellous bit of work that belongs to the same era. Had Rabelais written in English, not French, he could not have been more spontaneous and Rabelaisian than Urquhart. Some of Swinburne's versions of Villon are excellent, and Swinburne himself has recorded his admiration of Rossetti's translation of the same poet's “ Ballade of Dead Ladies," --refusing, indeed, to enter into competition with the elder translator by producing a rival version. Carlyle’s renditions of German authors are all good, though too uniformly Carlylese to be thoroughly representative of the originals. Bayard Taylor's “Faust” comes very near being a great work, but Goethe is too mighty an artist not to elude the grasp of the most patient art, the most fruitful scholarship, unless animated by a similar genius. Longfellow is our best American translator, yet his Dante is not quite a success : he has earned his pre-eminence by such exquisite tours de force as his “The Castle by the Sea" from Uhland, and “The Silent Land” from Salis. Charles T. Brooks and Charles G. Leland are entitled to respect for many of their renditions of German authors: the latter's Heine should be contrasted with the barbarisms of Sir Edgar Bowring's and Sir Theodore Martin's. Any one who makes the acquaintance of Heine through the atrocities perpetrated by those ruthless knights must find himself face to face with an enigma in literary reputation.
Translating has been aptly called pouring from a gold into a silver chalice. If the silver be sound and pure we thankfully accept the substitute. Yet in rare instances translators have done even better : they have poured from gold into gold, they have even poured out of the silver into the gold, they have improved upon their originals. Fitzgerald is one of these; still another was the forgotten James Clarence Mangan, whom some of us fret to see forgotten. Not, indeed, the Mangan who vulgarized a few of Goethe's and Schiller's best poems, but the Mangan (strange it should be another, yet the same !) who gave us golden substitutes for the silver of Rückert, Freiligrath, and Zedlitz in “ The Ride across the Parapet,” “Grabbe," and "The Midnight Review.” Mangan's “Lenore,” considered simply as an English poem, is one of the finest ballads of the weird and the supernatural in the language. It is a finer poem than William Taylor's paraphrase, which Sir Walter Scott admired and imitated, and it is more literal; it is far superior to Brooks's version,—the only other one, out of a hundred different attempts, which can be mentioned in the same breath.
Of the relative merits of Fitzgerald and Omar Khayyam most of us can speak only by hearsay,-Persian is not a common accomplishment,-though we may credit hearsay the more when we find its report strengthened by corroborative evidence. We are told that not Omar Khayyam but Saadi and Hafiz are the great names of Oriental poetry. Now, to us Saadi and Hafiz are names and little more; their subtler beauties have been mastered by no interpreter among the several who have essayed the task. Omar Khayyam has had some half
dozen translations (here comes the clever Mr. Justin H. McCarthy with one, and here also is another which hails from Chicago), and they all, with the exception of Fitzgerald's, claim at least the merit of being literal. Now, these literal versions lose not only the nameless aroma of Fitzgerald's verse, which may, indeed, exist in the Persian and need a poet's touch to reproduce, but also some of the most striking thoughts, metaphors, and epigrams which certainly should not fail to reappear, roughly at least, in a literal translation.
In the preface to the translation which he and a collaborator have made of & number of French short stories or contes—“The Dead Leman, and Other Tales" (Scribners)—Mr. Andrew Lang makes a contemptuous allusion to an American version of the titular story " in which Romuald does not go to bed, but retires, and in which nothing begins but everything commences.” The version to which he alludes is evidently Lefcadio Hearn's. The Reviewer must acknowledge that only in a half-hearted way can he join in the crusade against the word “commence.” As a rule,“ begin" is the better word, just as “tweedledee" is on the whole a homelier, simpler, and less affected locution than “ tweedledum,” with its suspiciously Latin termination. Nathless a man is not ostracized from respectable literary society because he chooses to make his hero commence rather than begin. And as to the Americanism“ to retire," — that might well sound gauche and mock-modest to unaccustomed ears. But, on the other hand, is not going to bed a humdrum and prosaic vocation? Perhaps Cæsar and Alexander did not retire; neither did they go to bed,-or not without a loss of personal dignity. Dropping mere verbal criticism, however, it must be said that, though Lang is more natural, gayer, more debonair, Hearn has succeeded better in reproducing the languorous and sensuous effect, “the faint archaism, the perfume, the poetry, of Gautier's prose.” With Mérimée, About, and the others who are included in this little volume Mr. Lang succeeds better. The stories are admirable examples of a form of literature in which Frenchmen have always excelled.
This is a form in which Germans, especially, are held to be deficient. Even their novels, it is complained, are long, cumbrous, awkward; they lack the artistic touch which gives a paragraph in a sentence, a sentence in a word. Yet the Germans have produced at least five writers of contes worthy to rank with the best in any literature,-Fouqué, Hoffmann, Tieck, Heyse, and Zschokke. Perhaps Goethe might be added as a sixth on the strength of his exquisite “New Melusina,” but he certainly would be ruled out if his adherents sought to press the claims of that chaotic Märchen which Germans ambitiously style The Tale. This tale of tales is a wondrous allegorical poem if you will, it is, properly speaking, no conte. As to the five authors already mentioned, the Reviewer owns himself a captive to their various charms, and there are moods when he would prefer the least of them, Zschokke himself, to his more famous rivals. “The Journal of a Poor Vicar,"—founded, it is said, on the same original as Goldsmith's “Vicar of Wakefield,”—“The Adventures of a New-Year's Night,” and “The Broken Pitcher,” are little masterpieces of their kind. He is glad to see that the Messrs. Putnam have republished in the favorite Knickerbocker Nuggets a selection from the translations of these and other tales which Mr. Parke Godwin gave to the public some forty years ago.
William S. Walsh.
Whatever the critics may say, or disdain to say (for their silence is more destructive than condemnation), of Mr. Gunter's tales, those imaginative works possess that most salient of merits which belonged to Tupper in the past, and to the razors in the ballad; they “ do sell.” In “That Frenchman” he frankly assaults and triumphantly carries the reader's curiosity with a method borrowed from Gaboriau and Du Boisgobey ; indeed, his treatment is more advanced, more Gallic, more eminently active, than theirs. Something remarkable happens on every page; events tread on each other's heels and tumble over one another to such an extent that it is difficult to remember them all; they sparkle and gleam and coruscate, till one is bewildered by the rockets and Roman candles incessantly shooting through the air, and the fire-crackers sputtering about one's heels. No wonder, when the characters are perpetually “ astounded” by their own performances. From the latter part of this book you get such a light on the intricate tanglements of Russian policemen and Nihilists as Stepniak and Mr. Kennan together are wholly unable to afford.
It is not easy to follow in the footsteps of an illustrious predecessor and at the same time maintain a character of one's own, but Dr. Lyman Abbott seems to be doing it at Plymouth Church. His "Signs of Promise" are worthy of the place, and of the time. A disciple of Mr. Beecher, with inevitably) less than his master's magnetism, expansiveness, and brilliancy, he is equally earnest and more logical. These sermons were reported, but there is about them nothing of the mental looseness so often characteristic of the extempore discourse; they read as if they had been carefully written. They are not lacking in frankness: the New England theology, we are told, “ made man an automaton and God a glacier;" the controversy which divided Presbyterianism into Old and New School “would have rent the Congregationalists into two denominations,-only you cannot rend a lot of separated threads.” As to formal doctrine, “man's character is not made by his creed: his creed is made by his character. Dogmas are creatures, not creators.” But Dr. Abbott is not merely destructive; he builds up valiantly, holding the theology of the past to be in no vital relation to the essential truths of Christianity, but merely a human accretion, a fungus which has grown upon the tree of life.
RECENT LIPPINCOTT PUBLICATIONS.
EXTRACTS from the Journal of Elizabeth Drinker. From 1759 to 1807 A.D. Edited by Henry D. Biddle.
To Philadelphians, and especially to Philadelphians with Philadelphia grandfathers, this journal has a particular interest on account of the great number of old names which are mentioned in it. But the book has a much wider interest than a merely genealogical one, and has for the general reader a peculiar historical value: a glance at the dates between which the Journal was kept shows that events fraught with the greatest importance occurred while the Journal was being written, events which even the quiet Quaker author could not allow to escape without comment, nor keep from disturbing the peaceful current of her life. Elizabeth Drinker was the daughter of William Sandwith, a native of Ireland, who early in life emigrated to America and became a prominent mer. chant in Philadelphia. Elizabeth was married to Henry Drinker, a shipper and importer, in 1761: hence her diary commences a few years previous to her mar.
riage. The general reader must not be discouraged by the first few pages, which chronicle oply small happenings, and especially such a number of tea-drinkings that we cannot but feel the appropriateness of the name which the young Quakeress took to herself in marriage. As the Journal progresses it increases rapidly in interest, and suddenly the storm of the Revolution breaks in upon it without previous warning, almost the first indication being given in this quaint and Quakerly way :
“A part of Washington's army has been routed, and have been seen coming into Town in great numbers; ye particulars of the Battle I have not attended to; ye slain is said to be very numerous. Hundreds of their muskets laying in ye road—which those that made off have thrown down.
"I was a little fluttered by hearing a Drum stop at our door, and a hard knocking succeed; it proved to be men with orders for H. D. to appear, or find a substitute. There has been a meeting this afternoon at ye State House, on what account I know not. 'Tis supposed that G. Washington is in Town this evening."
We are apt to imagine that during the occurrence of such great events as the American Revolution, all the people who are not actually taking part are kept in a continual state of agitation and suspense, and have scarce a thought for anything save the great struggle ; but in this Journal we are given glimpses of quiet peace-loving people who cared little for the war or its results, save only when the tide of battle set immediately in their direction and forced itself upon their observation. This is the way in which the surrender of Cornwallis is noted :
“Ye 17th of this month, October, Gen'l Cornwallis was taken, for which we greviously suffered on ye 24th, by way of rejoicing. A mob assembled about 7 o'clock, or before, and continued their insults until near 10, to those whose Houses were not illuminated. Scarcely one Friend's House escaped. We had nearly 70 panes of glass broken; ye sash lights and two panels of the front Parlor broke in pieces—ye Door cracked and violently burst open ; when they threw stones into ye House for some time, but did not enter.”
Diaries such as Mrs. Drinker's form valuable supplements to history, for they give accurate accounts of the every-day life of the people, or of certain portions of the people, while history devotes itself to the leading political events.
After notes of the Revolution have quietly slipped out of the entries in the diary, the next important event noted is the yellow fever scourge which first visited Philadelphia in 1793. Such entries as the following show that in our times we certainly have improved in methods of caring for the sick and of suppressing contagious diseases :
"The poor sick man who has lain two nights in ye fields, was found this morning by the 7th milestone vomitting-he had now got among the inhabitants. J. Perot and others raised 4 dollars, for which sum a man took him away in a cart."
Many other events of an historical nature are touched upon: the administrations of Washington and Adams, the French Revolution, the killing of Hamilton by Burr, and other important occurrences. The diary gives frequent glimpses of the life in the quiet Quaker circles of old Philadelphia which are very interesting. The editor, Mr. Henry D. Biddle, has done his work carefully and well, and has added many valuable foot-notes.
UNDER the taking title of “Gold that did not Glitter" the clever anthor of "The Story of Don Miff” issues a new novel. Virginius Dabney has & peculiar and whimsical style which gives a decided stamp of originality to his stories. “Gold that did not Glitter" is full of bright and clever things, and the story skips along at so lively a rate that the reader hardly stops to take breath before he has finished it. The scene opens in New York, where we catch glimpses of a New York boarding house and of a Bohemian restaurant, and then is shifted to Virginia, where the author treads his native heath. The bero, an Englishman, is a kind of Lord of Burleigh, who makes a penniless Virginia girl very happy by winning her love as a poor man, and then showering his wealth upon her.
Whex Mrs. Josephine W. Bates published her "A Blind Lead,” about a year ago, she showed herself to be a novelist of considerable ability and power. Her last novel, “A Nameless Wrestler,” cannot fail to add greatly to her reputation. The plot is an exceptionally strong one, and is very skilfully wrought out; the problem of evil enters into it, and the manner in which retribution dogs the path of the ill-doer is very powerfully portrayed. There are capital descriptions of Western life, the scenes being laid in Portland, Oregon, during its transition-stage from a trading-post to a flourishing town, and among the Rocky Mountains during the gold-hunting period. The rough characters of the miners are described with a realistic pen, and there is a very exciting account of a raid upon a mining-camp by Nez Percé Indians, and a subsequent rescue. But the book does not rely upon mere excitement of scene to give it interest, for the author has a grasp upon life and its problems that lends to her book its real charm and power.
A VERY clever novel in “Lippincott's Series of Select Novela” is “ Jalian Karslake's Secret,” by Mrs. John Hodder Needell. Julian Karslake, the hero, is a fine-strung, high-minded character, with perhaps a too quixotic sense of the responsibilities of a promise made in boyhood to his dying mother. The promise made was to shield a younger brother from harm at whatever ex. pense to himself. The younger brother turns out badly, and becomes a roué and a forger. To keep his promise and screen his younger brother becomes the paramount object of Julian Karslake's life. The sins of the guilty brother are for a time visited upon the head of the innocent, who bears his trials bravely. The younger brother is believed to be dead, and Julian Karslake feels that he cannot reveal the secret of his existence, for by so doing he will bring him to the criminal dock, while, on the other hand, as a consequence of keeping this fact & gecret, public disgrace awaits himself, as well as separation from a lovely and loving wife. All this he is prepared to accept, when luckily an old friend appears on the scene, who knows Julian Karslake's secret, and reveals it, so that the innocent may not suffer for the crimes of the guilty brother. The book is full of strong scenes, and never allows the reader's interest to flag for an instant.