I have ventured to translate some passages of the most celebrated English poets, and shall now give you one from Shakspeare. Pardon the blemishes of the translation for the sake of the original; and remember always that when you see a version, you see merely a faint print of a beautiful picture. I have made choice of part of the celebrated soliloquy in Hamlet, which you may remember is as follows:-
"To be, or not to be? that is the question! Whether 't is nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing, end them? To die! to sleep! No more! and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to! 'Tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished. To die! to sleep! To sleep; perchance to dream! O, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause. There's the respect That makes calamity of so long life: For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor's wrong, the poor man's contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin. Who would fardels bear To groan and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death, The undiscovered country, from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will, And makes us rather bear those ills we have, Than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought: And enterprises of great weight and moment With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action--"
My version of it runs thus:-
"Demeure, il faut choisir et passer a l'instant De la vie, a la mort, ou de l'etre au neant. Dieux cruels, s'il en est, eclairez mon courage. Faut-il vieillir courbe sous la main qui m'outrage, Supporter, ou finir mon malheur et mon sort? Qui suis je? Qui m'arrete! et qu'est-ce que la mort? C'est la fin de nos maux, c'est mon unique asile Apres de longs transports, c'est un sommeil tranquile. On s'endort, et tout meurt, mais un affreux reveil Doit succeder peut etre aux douceurs du sommeil! On nous menace, on dit que cette courte vie, De tourmens eternels est aussi-tot suivie. O mort! moment fatal! affreuse eternite! Tout coeur a ton seul nom se glace epouvante. Eh! qui pourroit sans toi supporter cette vie, De nos pretres menteurs benir l'hypocrisie: D'une indigne maitresse encenser les erreurs, Ramper sous un ministre, adorer ses hauteurs; Et montrer les langueurs de son ame abattue, A des amis ingrats qui detournent la vue? La mort seroit trop douce en ces extremitez, Mais le scrupule parle, et nous crie, arretez; Il defend a nos mains cet heureux homicide Et d'un heros guerrier, fait un Chretien timide," &c.
Do not imagine that I have translated Shakspeare in a servile manner. Woe to the writer who gives a literal version; who by rendering every word of his original, by that very means enervates the sense, and extinguishes all the fire of it. It is on such an occasion one may justly affirm, that the letter kills, but the Spirit quickens.
Here follows another passage copied from a celebrated tragic writer among the English. It is Dryden, a poet in the reign of Charles II.--a writer whose genius was too exuberant, and not accompanied with judgment enough. Had he written only a tenth part of the works he left behind him, his character would have been conspicuous in every part; but his great fault is his having endeavoured to be universal.
The passage in question is as follows:-
"When I consider life, 't is all a cheat, Yet fooled by hope, men favour the deceit; Trust on and think, to-morrow will repay; To-morrow's falser than the former day; Lies more; and whilst it says we shall be blest With some new joy, cuts off what we possessed; Strange cozenage! none would live past years again, Yet all hope pleasure in what yet remain, And from the dregs of life think to receive What the first sprightly running could not give. I'm tired with waiting for this chymic gold, Which fools us young, and beggars us when old."
I shall now give you my translation:-
"De desseins en regrets et d'erreurs en desirs Les mortals insenses promenent leur folie. Dans des malheurs presents, dans l'espoir des plaisirs Nous ne vivons jamais, nous attendons la vie. Demain, demain, dit-on, va combler tous nos voeux. Demain vient, et nous laisse encore plus malheureux. Quelle est l'erreur, helas! du soin qui nous devore, Nul de nous ne voudroit recommencer son cours. De nos premiers momens nous maudissons l'aurore, Et de la nuit qui vient nous attendons encore, Ce qu'ont en vain promis les plus beaux de nos jours," &c.
It is in these detached passages that the English have hitherto excelled. Their dramatic pieces, most of which are barbarous and without decorum, order, or verisimilitude, dart such resplendent flashes through this gleam, as amaze and astonish. The style is too much inflated, too unnatural, too closely copied from the Hebrew writers, who abound so much with the Asiatic fustian. But then it must be also confessed that the stilts of the figurative style, on which the English tongue is lifted up, raises the genius at the same time very far aloft, though with an irregular pace. The first English writer who composed a regular tragedy, and infused a spirit of elegance through every part of it, was the illustrious Mr. Addison. His "Cato" is a masterpiece, both with regard to the diction and to the beauty and harmony of the numbers. The character of Cato is, in my opinion, vastly superior to that of Cornelia in the "Pompey" of Corneille, for Cato is great without anything like fustian, and Cornelia, who besides is not a necessary character, tends sometimes to bombast. Mr. Addison's Cato appears to me the greatest character that was ever brought upon any stage, but then the rest of them do not correspond to the dignity of it, and this dramatic piece, so excellently well writ, is disfigured by a dull love plot, which spreads a certain languor over the whole, that quite murders it.
The custom of introducing love at random and at any rate in the drama passed from Paris to London about 1660, with our ribbons and our perruques. The ladies who adorn the theatrical circle there, in like manner as in this city, will suffer love only to be the theme of every conversation. The judicious Mr. Addison had the effeminate complaisance to soften the severity of his dramatic character, so as to adapt it to the manners of the age, and, from an endeavour to please, quite ruined a masterpiece in its kind. Since his time the drama is become more regular, the audience more difficult to be pleased, and writers more correct and less bold. I have seen some new pieces that were written with great regularity, but which, at the same time, were very flat and insipid. One would think that the English had been hitherto formed to produce irregular beauties only. The shining monsters of Shakspeare give infinite more delight than the judicious images of the moderns. Hitherto the poetical genius of the English resembles a tufted tree planted by the hand of Nature, that throws out a thousand branches at random, and spreads unequally, but with great vigour. It dies if you attempt to force its nature, and to lop and dress it in the same manner as the trees of the Garden of Marli.