What Virgil wrote in the vigour of his age (in plenty and at ease) I have undertaken to translate in my declining years; struggling with wants, oppressed by sickness, curbed in my genius, liable to be misconstrued in all I write; and my judges, if they are not very equitable, already prejudiced against me by the lying character which has been given them of my morals. Yet steady to my principles, and not dispirited with my afflictions, I have, by the blessing of God on my endeavours, overcome all difficulties; and, in some measure, acquitted myself of the debt which I owed the public when I undertook this work. In the first place, therefore, I thankfully acknowledge to the Almighty Power the assistance He has given me in the beginning, the prosecution, and conclusion of my present studies, which are more happily performed than I could have promised to myself when I laboured under such discouragements. For what I have done, imperfect as it is for want of health and leisure to correct it, will be judged in after-ages, and possibly in the present, to be no dishonour to my native country, whose language and poetry would be more esteemed abroad if they were better understood. Somewhat (give me leave to say) I have added to both of them in the choice of words and harmony of numbers, which were wanting, especially the last, in all our poets; even in those who being endued with genius yet have not cultivated their mother-tongue with sufficient care, or, relying on the beauty of their thoughts, have judged the ornament of words and sweetness of sound unnecessary. One is for raking in Chaucer (our English Ennius) for antiquated words, which are never to be revived but when sound or significancy is wanting in the present language. But many of his deserve not this redemption any more than the crowds of men who daily die, or are slain for sixpence in a battle, merit to be restored to life if a wish could revive them. Others have no ear for verse, nor choice of words, nor distinction of thoughts, but mingle farthings with their gold to make up the sum. Here is a field of satire opened to me, but since the Revolution I have wholly renounced that talent. For who would give physic to the great, when he is uncalled, to do his patient no good and endanger himself for his prescription? Neither am I ignorant but I may justly be condemned for many of these faults of which I have too liberally arraigned others:
"Cynthius aurem Vellit, et admonuit."
It is enough for me if the government will let me pass unquestioned. In the meantime I am obliged in gratitude to return my thanks to many of them, who have not only distinguished me from others of the same party by a particular exception of grace, but without considering the man have been bountiful to the poet, have encouraged Virgil to speak such English as I could teach him, and rewarded his interpreter for the pains he has taken in bringing him over into Britain by defraying the charges of his voyage. Even Cerberus, when he had received the sop, permitted AEneas to pass freely to Elysium. Had it been offered me and I had refused it, yet still some gratitude is due to such who were willing to oblige me. But how much more to those from whom I have received the favours which they have offered to one of a different persuasion; amongst whom I cannot omit naming the Earls of Derby and of Peterborough. To the first of these I have not the honour to be known, and therefore his liberality [was] as much unexpected as it was undeserved. The present Earl of Peterborough has been pleased long since to accept the tenders of my service: his favours are so frequent to me that I receive them almost by prescription. No difference of interests or opinion has been able to withdraw his protection from me, and I might justly be condemned for the most unthankful of mankind if I did not always preserve for him a most profound respect and inviolable gratitude. I must also add that if the last AEneid shine amongst its fellows, it is owing to the commands of Sir William Trumbull, one of the principal Secretaries of State, who recommended it, as his favourite, to my care; and for his sake particularly I have made it mine. For who would confess weariness when he enjoined a fresh labour? I could not but invoke the assistance of a muse for this last office:-
"Extremum hunc, Arethusa; . . . . . . neget quis carmina Gallo?"
Neither am I to forget the noble present which was made me by Gilbert Dolben, Esq., the worthy son of the late Archbishop of York, who (when I began this work) enriched me with all the several editions of Virgil and all the commentaries of those editions in Latin, amongst which I could not but prefer the Dauphin's as the last, the shortest, and the most judicious. Fabrini I had also sent me from Italy, but either he understands Virgil very imperfectly or I have no knowledge of my author.
Being invited by that worthy gentleman, Sir William Bowyer, to Denham Court, I translated the first Georgic at his house and the greatest part of the last AEneid. A more friendly entertainment no man ever found. No wonder, therefore, if both these versions surpass the rest; and own the satisfaction I received in his converse, with whom I had the honour to be bred in Cambridge, and in the same college. The seventh AEneid was made English at Burghley, the magnificent abode of the Earl of Exeter. In a village belonging to his family I was born, and under his roof I endeavoured to make that AEneid appear in English with as much lustre as I could, though my author has not given the finishing strokes either to it or to the eleventh, as I perhaps could prove in both if I durst presume to criticise my master.
By a letter from William Walsh, Esq., of Abberley (who has so long honoured me with his friendship, and who, without flattery, is the best critic of our nation), I have been informed that his Grace the Duke of Shrewsbury has procured a printed copy of the Pastorals, Georgics, and six first AEneids from my bookseller, and has read them in the country together with my friend. This noble person (having been pleased to give them a commendation which I presume not to insert) has made me vain enough to boast of so great a favour, and to think I have succeeded beyond my hopes; the character of his excellent judgment, the acuteness of his wit, and his general knowledge of good letters, being known as well to all the world as the sweetness of his disposition, his humanity, his easiness of access, and desire of obliging those who stand in need of his protection are known to all who have approached him, and to me in particular, who have formerly had the honour of his conversation. Whoever has given the world the translation of part of the third Georgic (which he calls "The Power of Love") has put me to sufficient pains to make my own not inferior to his; as my Lord Roscommon's "Silenus" had formerly given me the same trouble. The most ingenious Mr. Addison, of Oxford, has also been as troublesome to me as the other two, and on the same account; after his bees my latter swarm is scarcely worth the hiving. Mr. Cowley's praise of a country life is excellent, but it is rather an imitation of Virgil than a version. That I have recovered in some measure the health which I had lost by too much application to this work, is owing (next to God's mercy) to the skill and care of Dr. Guibbons and Dr. Hobbs (the two ornaments of their profession), whom I can only pay by this acknowledgment. The whole faculty has always been ready to oblige me, and the only one of them who endeavoured to defame me had it not in his power. I desire pardon from my readers for saying so much in relation to myself which concerns not them; and with my acknowledgments to all my subscribers, have only to add that the few notes which follow are par maniere d'acquit, because I had obliged myself by articles to do somewhat of that kind. These scattering observations are rather guesses at my author's meaning in some passages than proofs that so he meant. The unlearned may have recourse to any poetical dictionary in English for the names of persons, places, or fables, which the learned need not, but that little which I say is either new or necessary, and the first of these qualifications never fails to invite a reader, if not to please him.