On Translating Homer/Last Words

WHOEVER loves Homer will like these little books. Mr. Arnold is a man of large and liberal intelligence, well up with his time ; he is critically inspired, yet himself a poet; his thinking, while ample, is singularly definite ; he has an admirable faculty of minding his own business, doing what he can do, and speaking where he has a right to speak ; his style, while precise and vigorous, has a charm of composure and naturalness; and he exhibits such a combination of two-edged critical truth and intrepidity with perfect temper as is rarely seen. In his first volume he had been Rhadamanthine upon the translation of Mr. Newman. The latter replied with asperity. In “ Last Words ” Mr. Arnold responds in a tone so pure, so manly and gentle, that the volume should be memorable for this alone, were there nothing else to recommend it. Let us all hasten to bless the banns between steel-edged truth and perfect amenity.
Mr. Arnold characterizes Homer as rapid, as plain, direct, and natural in language, as the same in his thought, and finally as noble, having the grand manner. A translation must reproduce these features, whatever it fail to do. Passing existing translations in review, he finds Cowper slow, Pope artificial, Chapman fanciful, Newman, through the vice of his theory, ignoble. Some one having pronounced Tennyson eminently Homeric, Mr. Arnold discusses the relation of the English idyllic to the Ionian epic poet, and finds him at the opposite pole in respect of simplicity.
As to a vehicle for the translation of Homer, he gives his voice decidedly in favor of English hexameter, and tries his own hand at that measure. His success strikes us as respectable, but not eminent. Blank verse he thinks too slow in movement, and too much opposed in character. Mr. Tennyson answers this last by translating a passage from Homer into blank verse, and shows at least that he can make it run like a race-horse, and that, too, without sacrifice of fineness or of melody.
Right or wrong on these matters, and notwithstanding we confess to certain sympathies with Mr. Newman, we find in Mr. Arnold’s books some of the pleasantest reading we have seen this many a day, and wish that for every leisure hour of life a companion so intelligent and liberal, so cultivated and genuine, so manly and mannerly, might await us.