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Some extracts from this translation of Faustus were published in Blackwood's Magazine so long ago as the year 1820. I believe that no part of the poem had before appeared in an English translation.
At the time I printed the extracts, it was my intention to publish a translation of the entire drama. I am afraid to confess to my readers, that, having in the first instance translated the passages from which I had received most pleasure, I satisfied myself with the feeling that I might at any time complete my task. The work, thus postponed, as I thought, for a few days or months, was indolently delayed from year to year. Other pursuits and studies engaged my time and thoughts. I will not say that I had wholly given up the intention of throwing into order these papers, which, for the greater part, have been written for several
years ; on the contrary, the wish continually recurred to me, and was kept awake in my mind by the cir. cumstance, that the extracts published in Blackwood were every now and then referred to in different publications : such references were sometimes accompanied with the mention of my name ; so that, if I did not find time or inclination to complete the translation, or if I felt myself unequal to the task, I should have yet felt it desirable to have the article in the Magazine reprinted. I think it, however, likely that the sort of indolence, which, when we delay letter-writing too long, affects every one of us, and which our best friends have most often to forgive, would make difficulties, which at first seemed next to none, so grow upon me as to be insuperable.
I was in this state of mind when Mr. Hayward's mention of the extracts in Blackwood in the Preface to his translation recalled my attention to the subject. The result has been the completion of my task, and the publication of this volume.
I mention all this, that I may not be accused of rashly entering upon a field pre-occupied. The accusation is not, however, one that, under any circumstances, would seem of much moment. Had I read any one of the translations of Faust before I had read the original, it is highly probable that the thought of translating it would never have occurred to me: nor can I see the slightest reason to with
hold what I have written from publication, because others either have published translations or are engaged with the same subject. In many of the translations — in Lord Francis Egerton's particularly - I have read passages of great poetical beauty, with a pleasure certainly not diminished by my having been previously engaged in the same task. The passages in this, as in all poetry, which give me pleasure, can have no reference either to myself or my employments. If my task has had a tendency to create any peculiar feeling upon the subject, it would be this, — that I perhaps know the difficulties to be overcome, and therefore am likely to make the allowances which, above all other writers, a translator requires.
I wish I could imitate my author, and send forth this volume --- as he did the original — without preface or explanation of any kind ; but explanations not required by Germans, may yet be felt necessary here, when an attempt is made to introduce from their literature so very singular a work as Faust. There are peculiarities both in the conception and in the structure of the drama which seem to me to require a few words of notice. The easiest and least formal manner of discussing the subject is to state the difficulties with which those peculiarities embarrass a translator.
I have had great hesitation in translating some parts of the “ Prologue in Heaven." To omit it, however, nay, even to disguise or diminish its revolting effect by the colourings and shadings of language--would be to vary essentially the character of the whole drama. If the distinction between the foundations of Morals and true Taste were one which my own mind could acknowledge to be altogether just, I should content myself with saying, that, though the passage were truly felt to be an offence against the latter, yet, for all such offences, the author, and not the translator, is the person on whom such censure should fall. To judge by its effect upon my own mind, the presumptuous and scornful bearing of Mephistopheles in the Highest Presence cannot but violently shock and wound the feelings; but yet, does not this daring levity too remarkably characterize the scepticism, which Mephistopheles personifies, to have it omitted in any adequate exhibition of that scepticism ? And if it forms so necessary a part of the conception, that it could not but be found in any delineation of it even from the pulpit, then, surely, the objection to the same matter assuming the form of dialogue for the question is not of stage representation
is one which, whether well or ill founded, must be admitted to be exclusively one of Taste; and I would