2ESCHYLUS'S CHORUSES AND ENGLISH RHYME. [To THE EDITOR OF THE
"SPECTATOR."] SIR,—The reviewer of my translation of Eschylus in the Spectator alludes to what he considers "the characteristic and unavoidable faultiness of rhymed verse" as the medium for re- producing the more mighty utterances of the /Eschylean odes, and in corroboration of his opinion quotes two passages from my translation. As the question involved is one of general interest, irrespective of the merit of my version, I hope you will allow me to correct a misrepresentation which is calculated to mislead readers unacquainted with the original.
The first quotation is from the second choral ode (line 402), ((Urge aptipsyczy Mint) a passage notoriously corrupt, and in reference to which Professor Paley says, "to discuss the many corrections and interpretations that have been proposed would occupy a very considerable space." In my version I have adopted the reading considered by that eminent critic as affording the most plausible sense. It is therefore unjust to state, as the reviewer has done, that "to suit the thought perfectly to the lyric form Miss Swanwiek is obliged to drop out the interrupting ironic comment on the easiness of Menelaus's nature," &c.
Had I seen reason to adopt the interpretation suggested by the reviewer, instead of that sanctioned by Professor Paley (not by Mr. Newman, as is erroneously stated), there could have beeen no special difficulty in embodying the proposed reading in a lyrical form. The second quotation is from the first choral ode (line 66), where the reviewer follows Al tiller in thinking that a pause is needed at the words dialay Auyezoieriv, while I, following Profes- sor Paley and other scholars, have connected them with the fol- lowing words. Should the reading proposed by Muller be correct, it will not be difficulut to modify the translation accordingly ; the question is one of taste and scholarship, and has no connection with the suitability or unsuitability of rhymed verse as a medium for rendering the choral odes ; if my translation is appealed to with reference to this question, passages ought surely to be selected unembarrassed by ambiguity of interpretation.
After commenting upon the above passage, the reviewer proceeds, "The thought then slides back again into a mood suitable enough for rhyme," thus treating rhyme as a meretricious ornament, adapted merely to embellish the lighter utterances of the muse. He Barely has not considered that rhymed verse is the medium adopted by all the great poets of modern times, from Chaucer to Tennyson, and through which they have given expression to the grandest conceptions and the profoundest experiences of humanity. The form which has embodied the awful visions of Dante, the passionate yearnings of Faust, the solemn ques- tionings of In Memoriam and the Intimations of Immortality cannot be an unsuitable medium for reproducing the grand utterances of the Athenian bard, whose odes, while charac- terized by profound pathos and massiveness of thought, are no less remarkable for elaborate perfection of metrical form. We must suppose some inherent connection between the music of rhyme and the deeper stirrings of the poetic mind to account for their almost invariable association ; it is not unreason-
able to conclude that the same principle obtains when the poetic thought, instead of springing up from the depths within, is de- rived from a foreign source, and consequently rhymed verse as a medium for translation ought not to be discarded, unless proved by experience to be inadequate. I will only add that the conclud- ing chorus of Samson Agonistes, in which Milton, in a few grand and pithy utterances, after the manner of /Eschylus, brings out the inner teaching of his magnificent drama, is couched in rhymed verse ; a form consecrated by such association ought not surely to be contemptuously characterized as "the artistic tinkle of the silver bells of rhyme."—I am, faithfully yours,
[The illustrations we gave of the defectiveness of rhymed verse as a medium for translating the choruses of IEschylus may not have been the best. They were certainly taken at random, not selected with any sort of care, simply to illustrate what we believe we could show in some passages of nearly every chorus in 2Esellylus, —a certain weight, and ruggedness, and almost granite formation of thought, which is in danger of being polished off or sweetened away by rhyme, especially by the very musical and perfect rhyme of most of Miss Swanwick's translations. We do not doubt that a writer so accomplished could have thrown into verse, and noble verse, either of the readings to which we alluded as the closest to the text and supported by the best authority. The question is whether, if she had done so, the rhyme would not have dissi- pated the peculiar harshness, or abruptness, or massiveness of structure which we tried to indicate. Miss Swan wick refers us to the last chorus in the Samson Agonistes. The last Chorus itself does not strike us as representing the element which we regard as inconsistent with rhyme. It is modern not classical. But let her look at the final semichoruses much nearer as it seems to us to the mark at which we are aiming. Milton has there made his rhymes very imperfect, very few, very little marked, his rhythm exceedingly irregular, and the whole of each semi- chorus much nearer to the ruggedness of prose than to that per- fect sweetness of verse of which he was so great a master,— and he did this, we imagine, with the very view of expressing the kind of 2Eschylean ruggedness of which we spoke. We doubt if these semichoruses would strike any hearer as being rhyme at all. Some parts of lEschylus's choruses, indeed, seem to us to have more of the weighty apophthegmatic wisdom of one of Bacon's essays, than of the melody of lyrical verse. How- ever right Miss Swanwick may be—and we said we thought he right on the whole—in adopting rhymed verse for a great part of the choruses of JEschylus, few readers with a true feeling for the Greek will deny that it has great defects as well as excellencee for this purpose.—En. Spectator.]