Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

mids, for midst. I shall only add, that when old words are of low origin, harsh sound, or difficult pronunciation, or when they appear too much like learned words, familiar terms, if equally apposite, are more eligible. For this reason, the nouns backslidings, shamefacedness, jeopardy, and concupiscence, may well be dispensed with.

Upon the whole, there is still some danger in retaining words which are become obsolete, though they continue to be intelligible. Words hardly sooner contract the appearance of antiquity, by being abandoned by good use, than they are picked up as lawful prize by writers in burlesque, who, by means of them, often add much poignancy to their writings. This prostitution, when frequent, produces an association in the minds of readers the reverse of that which originally accompanied them. Hence it is, that though nothing is better suited to the seriousness and importance of the subject of holy writ than solemnity of style; nothing is at the same time more hazardous, as no species of diction borders on the ludicrous oftener than the solemn. Let it suffice, therefore, if, without venturing far from the style of conversation in quest of a more dignified elocution, we can unite gravity with simplicity and purity, which commonly secure perspicuity. With these qualities, there can be no material defect in the expression. The sprightly, the animated, the nervous, would not, in such a work, be beauties, but blemishes. They would look too much like meretricious ornaments, when compared with the artless, the free, yet unassuming manner of the sacred writers.

8. But if it be of consequence to avoid antiquated words, it is not less so to avoid antiquated phrases, and an antiquated construction. No writing in our language, as far as I know, is less chargeable with idiomatical phrases, vulgarisms, or any peculiarities of expression, than the common translation of the Bible; and to this it is in a great measure imputable, that the diction remains still so perspicuous, and that it is universally accounted superior to that of any other English book of the same period. But, though remarkably pure in respect of style, we cannot suppose that no idiomatical phrases should have escaped the translators, especially when we consider the frequency of such phrases in the writings of their contemporaries. Yet, in all the four Gospels, I recollect only two or three which come under that denomination. These are, The goodman of the house, They laughed him to scorn, and They cast the same in his teeth; expressions for which the interpreters had not the apology that may be pleaded in defence of some idioms in the Old Testament history, that they are literal translations from the original.* That the English construction has undergone several alterations since the establishment of the Protestant religion in England, it would be easy to

Matt. xx. 11, οικοδέσποτου : ix. 24, κατάγελων αυτου: xxvii. 44, Το αυτό ωνείδιζον

αυτώ.

evince. Some verbs often then used impersonally, and some reciprocally, are hardly ever so used at present. It pitieth them,* would never be said now. It repented him† may possibly be found in modern language, but never he repented himself. There is a difference also in the use of the prepositions. In § was then sometimes used for upon, and unto instead of for. Of was frequently used before the cause or the instrument, where we now invariably use by:¶ of was also employed in certain cases, where present use requires off or from.** Like differences might be observed in the pronouns. One thing is certain, that the old usages in construction oftener occasioned ambiguity than the present, which is an additional reason for preferring the latter.

9. Finally, in regard to what may be called technical, or, in Simon's phrase, consecrated terms, our translators, though not entirely free from such, have been comparatively sparing of them. In this they have acted judiciously. A technical style is a learned style. That of the Scriptures, especially of the historical part, is the reverse; it is plain and familiar. If we except a few terms, such as angel, apostle, baptism, heresy, mystery, which, after the example of other western churches, the English have adopted from the Vulgate; and for adopting some of which, as has been observed, good reasons might be offered; the instances are but few wherein the common name has been rejected, in preference to a learned and peculiar term.

Nay, some learned terms, which have been admitted into the liturgy, at least into the rubric, the interpreters have not thought proper to introduce into the Scriptures: Thus the words, the nativity, for Christ's birth, advent, for his coming, epiphany, for his manifestation to the Magians by the star, do very well in the titles of the several divisions in the Book of Common Prayer, being there a sort of proper names for denoting the whole circumstantiated event, or rather the times destined for the celebration of the festivals, and are convenient, as they save circumlocution; but would by no means suit the simple and familiar phraseology of the sacred historians, who never affect uncommon, and especially learned words. Thus, in the titles of the books of Moses, the Greek names of the Septuagint, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, are not unfitly preserved in modern translations, and are become the proper names of the books. But where the Greek word genesis, which signifies generation, occurs in that ancient version of the book so named, it would have been very improper to transfer it into a modern translation, and to say, for example, "This is the genesis of the heavens and the earth," Gen. ii. 4. In like manner, exodus, which signifies departure, answers very well as a proper name of the second book, which begins with an account of the depar

* Psal. cii. 14. Common Prayer.

§ Matt. vi. 10.

|| John xv. 7.

+ Gen. vi. 6.
Matt, i. 18.

+ Matt. xxvii. 3. ** Matt. vii. 16.

ture of the Israelites out of Egypt; but it would be downright pedantry to introduce the term exodus, exody, or exod, (for in all these shapes some have affected to usher it into the language,) into the body of the history.

I remember but one passage in the New Testament, in which our translators have preferred a scholastic to the vulgar name, where both signified the same thing; so that there was no plea from necessity. The expression alluded to is, "To whom he showed himself alive after his passion," Acts i. 3. Passion, in ordinary speech, means solely a fit of anger, or any violent commotion of the mind. It is only in theological or learned use that it means the sufferings of Christ. The evangelist wrote to the people in their own dialect. Besides, as he wrote for the conviction of infidels, as well as for the instruction of believers, it is not natural to suppose that he would use words or phrases in a particular acceptation, which could be known only to the latter. His expression, Meta to wadeiv avrov, which is literally, after his sufferings, is plain and unambiguous, and might have been said of any man who had undergone the like fate. Such is constantly the way of the sacred writers; nor is any thing in language more repugnant to their manner than the use of what is called consecrated words. I admit at the same time, that post passionem suam, in the Vulgate, is unexceptionable, because it suits the common acceptation of the word passio in the Latin language. Just so, the expression accipiens calicem, in the Vulgate, Matt. xxvi. 27, is natural and proper. Calix is a common name for cup, and is so used in several places of that version: whereas, taking the chalice, as the Rhemish translators render it, presents us with a technical term not strictly proper, inasmuch as it suggests the previous consecration of the vessel to a special purpose by certain ceremonies, an idea not suggested by either the Greek Tornolov or the Latin calix. I do not mean, however, to controvert the propriety of adopting an unfamiliar word, when necessary for expressing what is of an unfamiliar, or perhaps singular nature. Thus, to denote the change produced on our Saviour's body, when on the mount with the three disciples, Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, a more apposite word than transfigured could not have been found. The English word transformed, which comes nearest, and is more familiar than the other, would have expressed too much.

10. To conclude, the reasons which appear sufficient to justify a change of the words and expressions of even the most respectable predecessors in the business of translating are, when there is ground to think that the meaning of the author can be either more exactly or more perspicuously rendered; and when his manner, that is, when the essential qualities of his style, not the sound or the etymology of his words, can be more adequately represented. For to one or other of these, all the above cases will be found reducible.

DISSERTATION XII.

AN ACCOUNT OF WHAT IS ATTEMPTED IN THE TRANSLATION OF THE GOSPELS, AND IN THE NOTES HERE OFFERED TO THE PUBLIC.

THE things which will be treated in this Dissertation may, for the sake of order, be classed under the five following heads :The first comprehends all that concerns the essential qualities of the version; the second, what relates to the readings (where there is a diversity of reading in the original) which are here preferred; the third contains a few remarks on the particular dialect of our language employed in this version; the fourth, what regards the outward form in which it is exhibited; and the fifth, some account of the notes with which it is accompanied.

PART I.

THE ESSENTIAL QUALITIES OF THE VERSION.

THE three principal objects to be attended to, by every translator, were explained in a former Dissertation.* It is perhaps unnecessary to say, that to them I have endeavoured to give a constant attention. It is not however to be dissembled, that even those principal objects themselves sometimes interfere. And though an order, in respect of importance, when they are compared together, has been also laid down, which will in many cases determine the preference, it will not always determine it. I may find a word, for example, which hits the sense of the author precisely, but which, not being in familiar use, is obscure. Though, therefore, in itself a just expression of the sentiment, it may not clearly convey the sentiment to many readers, because they are unacquainted with it. It is, therefore, but ill fitted to represent the plain and familiar manner of the sacred writers, or, indeed, to answer the great end of translation, to convey distinctly to the reader the meaning of the original. Yet there may be a hazard, on the other hand, that a term more perspicuous, but less apposite, may convey somewhat of a different meaning-an error more to be avoided than the other. Recourse to circumlocution is sometimes necessary; for the terms of no two languages can be always made to correspond; but frequent recourse to this mode of rendering effaces the native simplicity found in the original, and in some measure disfigures the work.

Diss. X. Part i

Though, therefore, in general, an obscure is preferable to an unfaithful translation, there is a degree of precision in the correspondence of the terms, which an interpreter ought to dispense with, rather than involve his version in such darkness as will render it useless to the generality of readers. This shows sufficiently, that no rule will universally answer the translator's purpose, but that he must often carefully balance the degrees of perspicuity on one hand against those of precision on the other, and determine, from the circumstances of the case, concerning their comparative importance. I acknowledge, that in several instances the counterpoise may be so equal, that the most judicious interpreters may be divided in opinion; nay, the same interpreter may hesitate long in forming a decision, or even account it a matter of indifference to which side he inclines.

2. I shall only say in general, that, however much a word may be adapted to express the sense, it is a strong objection against the use of it, that it is too fine a word, too learned, or too modern. For though, in the import of the term, there should be a suitableness to the principal idea intended to be conveyed, there is an unsuitableness in the associated or secondary ideas which never fail to accompany such terms. These tend to fix on the evangelists the imputation of affecting elegance, depth in literature or science, or, at least, a modish and flowery phraseology; than which nothing can be more repugnant to the genuine character of their style-a style eminently natural, simple, and familiar. The sentiment of Jaques le Fevre d'Estaples, which shows at once his good taste and knowledge of the subject, is here entirely apposite: "What many think elegance is, in God's account, inelegance and painted words."

3. On the other hand, a bad effect is also produced by words which are too low and vulgar. The danger here is not indeed so great, provided there be nothing ludicrous in the expression, which is sometimes the case with terms of this denomination. When things themselves are of a kind which gives few occasions of introducing the mention of them into the conversation of the higher ranks, and still fewer of naming them in books, their names are considered as partaking in the meanness of the use, and of the things signified. But this sort of vulgarity seems not to have been regarded by the inspired authors: When there was a just occasion to speak of the thing, they appear never to have been ashamed to employ the name by which it was commonly distinguished. They did not recur, as modern delicacy prompts us to do, to periphrasis, unusual or figurative expressions, but always adopted such terms as most readily suggested themselves. There is nothing more indelicate than an unseasonable display of deli

* An old French commentator, who published a version of the Gospels into French in 1523 His words are, "Ce que plusieurs estiment élégance, est inélégance et parole fardée devant Dieu."

« ÎnapoiContinuați »