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To the Editor of the Eclectic Review.
IN your literary Journal for the months of, July and August, I see some oba servations on the Book of Job, as translated by Miss Smith ; and I wish, through the same medium of communication, to convey a few short remarks to the learned author of them. In vindication of my own opinions, I feel no inclination to urge any thing; and to the article of criticism, as far as it relates to them, beg leave only to answer, what I have wrillen, I have written. But in behalf of the amiable, and accomplished translator, it would be unjust to be silent; and if I have excited the astonishment of the learned critic, by, what he is pleased to call, an injudicious, and even contradictory partiality; I shall increase it still more, I fear, by an explicit avowal, that all that he has advanced in proof of it, by confirming more strongly her claims to superior excellence, tend to justify that partiality to its greatest
Most of the errors, which the erudition and ingenuity of the reviewer have discovered, (and much of both is certainly displayed in the critical dissection) are only, what the acute examiner, with candour,supposes them to be, maculæ quas incuria fudit; or such as the fair writer intended to have corrected upon a subsequent revision of her text. This is a just statement of the case : and had any sort of revision taken place; or had she, for a moment, imagined, that this her religious exercise, would ever have been submitted to the public eye, it is equally just to suppose, that the able translator would (and almost currente calamo) have spared the reviewer the greatest part of his animadversions. With all its faults and blemishes, however, the simple yet splendid diction, the bright thoughts, the original conceptions, the spirit, the genius, the style, and character of the version remain the same; and even in the amended passage, which is purposely brought forward to correct Miss Smith's mistakes, Taste and Judgment might perhaps be tempted to exclaim : Cum håc errare mallem, quam cum illo recte sentire. But be this as it may; in Hebrew literature (supposing however no innovation to be made upon the text, and no unwarranted meaning to be affixed to the words of it) every new conception of a pas.. sage, and every hazarded conjecture, is, but at best, a proposal of improvement; and a difference of version, of which the book of Job bears ample testimony, leaves only the choice of opinion, without placing the meaning beyond the reach of controversy, or settling it by any final or absolute decision.
It must be confessed, however, that this skill of interpretation, judiciously employed, has rescued many a holy verse from obscurity, and thrown abundance of light on various parts of the sacred writings: and the chief object of these remarks 's, to restore to Miss Smith, or rather to maintain her possession of, that share of skill, of which the learned reviewer has attempted to deprive her. If Miss Smith be the mere copyist she is represented to be, the standard of her excellence, as a translator, will be reduced to a measure of very easy, if not ordinary, attainment; VOL VII.
and if, after consulting Parkhurst's Lexicon, which she professesto have been her only guide, she had found the means, or the opportunity, of improving upon his directions, by the aid of other commentators, I see no merit that can justly be ascribed to her version, beyond that of industrious research and judicious selection. And this being admitted, the confidence with which I speak of her having seen no other version but that of the Bible, must also be admitted to be a vain boast of talents she did not possess, and far exceeding the bounds of the utmost partiality.
But in order to bring the question fairly before the reader, I must first have recourse to my own statement. It stands thus: “Through the whole of her (Miss " Smith's) remarks and alterations, she never alludes to, and I am confident never
saw, any other version but that of our Bible; and although, in her occasional de" viations from it, there is, in many passages, a similarity of construction with that " of some, or other, of our best commentators, there is also a certain dissimilarity " in the turn of thought, or in the mode of expression, that peculiarly marks it to « be her own; and removes any suspicion of her having borrowed from them, or " of having been biassed by any preconceived opinions."
In direct opposition to this statement, and after quoting (and so far honourably) the whole of it, the reviewer observes :— On what this confidence is founded, we know not; but if it simply refer to her never alluding to any authority she has copied, he (Dr. R.) might as well have said, that she had never seen Mr. Parkhurst's Lexicon ; for although half (perhaps more than half) the proposed alterations are derived, verbatim, from this volume, there is no note of allusion in any place. We believe she was in possession of Stock's version from various synonimous renderings."
To establish this belief, the reviewer then proceeds to adduce, and compare, many of these renderings; and on one passage in particular, ch. 41. 22, And fainting dances before him, which I had noticed as a very bold and singular expression, he makes the following, I cannot call it critical, observation, nor do I choose to give it another name. • We agree with the learned editor, that the above is a singular ex pression ; so singular, that it appears to us almost impossible that any two interpreters, unacquainted with each other, could have employed it to have expressed 'the meaning of the original : yet in Dr, Stock the passage is rendered thus ; And before him danceth swooning.'
Had the reviewer, Sir, been acquainted with the character of my much valued friend, he would not have risked such a surmise, in the face of her own positive assertion. And although he might have questioned the attainments of her intellect, he never would have doubted her regard to truth. He would have been per suaded, that it was impossible for a being, who shrunk from worldly applause, and dreaded, above all things, the being known to possess any learning, should seek to shine, and that too, before her dearest friends, in borrowed plumes; or wish to assume any credit that did not properly belong to her. The modesty, and unassuming simplicity of her character, led her always to retire from notice; and if the reviewer would only read her private reflections in the first volume of the Fragments, p. 131, and then turn to the letter he himself has quoted, written to her enquiring friend, In 1805, and wherein she tells her,
I never read Peters on Job, nor any thing about the Hebrew language, except the book of Dr. Kennicolt, which you lent me, and Lowth's Prelections. Parkhurst has been my only guide, but I fancy he is a very good one
He would then cease, I think, to be astonished al my confident assertion, because he would then be satisfied, that such a mind was incapable of the meanness of deceit, or of borrowing from others a fame she so justly despised. Here she fully acknowledges her obligations to Mr. Parkhurst ; and the inference is most fair, that, had she felt them, she would, with equal pleasure and justice, have recorded the different aids she had received from others. If I had therefore nothing but inference to weigh against inference, and the balance was held by an impartial hand, on whose side would the argument preponderate? On the one, that the reviewer says, is loaded with partiality; or the one, that, I am constrained to say, is loaded with prejudice.
I could have wished, Sir, that the criticism of the reviewer (for it is that of an accomplished scholar) had not been blended with these unfounded suspicions; and thus exhibited an incongruous mixture, of admiration and censure; of greatness of understanding, with littleness of mind; of exlensive, and (as he allows) almost unrivalled talents, with a limited, and narrowed exertion of them. The reviewer perhaps will wish so too, when I plainly tell him, that Miss Smith neither did, or could profit by the version of Dr. Stock, which did not appear, and, according to the Bishop's own account, was not even in contemplation till a considerable time after her translation was completed. In January, 1804, (for I must now refer to dates) Miss Smith came to Bath, and brought with her the version she had made of the Book of Job, which she read (for their amusement) to her two female friends, Mrs. Bowdler and Miss Hunt. When I undertook the pleasing, though melancholy, task of editing it, the same MSS. copy was put into my possession, on which was inscribed, in her own hand, 1803. The work also was so closely written, that little could be added, even as a note, after that time; and the only correction made in the text was in ch. 13, v.3, where the proposed alteration is interlined. So much for the supposed plagiarism from Dr. Stock: and unless the incredulous critic will now reverse his argument, and contend, that, this being the case, the Bishop must have seen the MSS. of Miss Smith, he will allow his own insinuations to have been more incautious than the assertions of her too confident and too partial friend.
But let me do justice to the learned reviewer. Strong and stubborn as he finds appearances to be, against the fair translator, from a similarity of reudering with many passages of Dr. Stock, (and which, he says also, might be multiplied to a very considerable number,) he does admit that such coincidences, singular as they
do not amount to full proofs ; but his admission goes no farther than to the Bishop's version, for although he acknowledges, that he cannot speak, upon this subject with positive decision, still he is satisfied, that he may do so, with respect to the assistance borrowed from the translations of Scott and Grey.
I cannot out this charge with the same evidence that I have done the foregoing, because it certainly was possible, for Miss Smith to reap the fruits of their
labours. But I can affirm, that her own mental stores were not increased by them, during the progress of her work; unless we can suppose her memory, from a previous acquaintance with their notes and emendations, to have laid by for use,
and future distribution, the choicest parts of their intellectual treasure. During her two years residence at Conistou, (1802-3,) in which time she prosecuted, and completed her work, she had no comments to peruse; no writers of eminence to consult ; nor, in that sequestered spot, a possibility of procuring any, had she wished for, or wanted their assistance; and both Scott and Grey were, in fact, as much out of her reach, as Junius and Tremellius, Schultens and Castalio, St. Jerome and Diodati. Her stock of Hebrew books was confined to the small list she herself has given of them ; nor till her return from Bath, in 1804, (consequently long after her translation was finished,) was her library increased by any bought or borrowed book that had the smallest reference to Hebrew literature. Her mother also, (and whose testimony is the strongest that can be had upon this occasion,) under whose roof she prosecuted her studies, and who must hare known, externally at least, and as far as the names of books were concerned, the nature and direction of them, never saw, and never fuund in her possession, any of these aiding commentators; and after the most cautious, and strict examination, thus concludes a Jetter now lying before me. “ From my perfect knowledge of her character, and “ of the events of her short life, I have no hesitation in declaring, 1 believe the “ the translation of Job (whether good or bad) to be entirely her own."
With this declaration I now close my remarks, and am truly grieved to find myself thus publicly called upon to make them. When, as editor of Miss Smith's work, I prefaced it with a few obs ions, not, as I expressed myself, to stand up in her defence, (for of that she had no need) but to offer a tribute of affection to her memory, I spoke, as it appears, unadvisedly with my lips; for I never counted upon this mode of attack. But it has been made; and the defence she now does stand in need of, will, at least, by your insertion of this letter, go along with the accusation.
I may have been too warm in my observations ; I may have supported alterations, which others might think objectionable; and I may have passed by errors, that less partial, or more severe examiners, might judiciously notice. This lay within the province of criticism ; and had not the reviewer travelled beyond the limits of it, in search of blemishes, none that he might have discovered, would, or could have been cause of complaint.
But the question now is, not about Miss Smith's genius, but her sincerity; not respecting her taleuts, but her truth; and if, in the face of her reply to her friend, Mrs. B. (and who, be it observed, had been making enquiries concerning her Hebrew studies,) she could explicitly declare, that she had never read Peters upon Job, nor any thing about the Hebrew language, except in the few books she distinctly specifies, the reviewer charges her with a consciousness of having borrowed from a variety of commentators, I can only say, that, however highly the reviewer may appreciate her endowments, the imputation degrades with a worse than puerile va. nity, a mind, whose dignity was a renunciation of praise, and whose grandeur was humility.
Whether such an imputation be well founded, the reader may now determine; and if, for the reasons I have stated, I am not disposed to agree with the learned reviewer, let him be assured that I differ from him with respect; that I greatly value his learning, and thank him also for the many polite expressions towards me, where our opinions have not been in unison.
I remain, Sir,
We have given this letter at length, though with some inconvenience to ourselves, as well from a desire to evince a general spirit of impartiality, as from a real respect for the character of its excellent writer ; a respect which is not even now diminished upon any essential point, notwithstanding the unnecessary irritability which ferments in a few passages. It only remains for us, now that the whole of the evidence is before us, to submit a short statement of the entire case.
Upon the death of Miss Smith, which took place the 7th of August, 1806, she left a manuscript translation of the Book of Job, which was edited by her friend, Dr. Randolph, in 1810; and contains a few passages, in themselves extremely singular, and unobvious, certainly not offering the direct, and, in our humble opinion, not the real meaning of the original, which are likewise found either in Scott's or in Bishop Stock's version, with a very slight variation, in the very same words: the arrangement of the work, moreover, which is equally singular, being precisely that of Mr. Grey. It was hence a part of common logic and of common sense, to suppose that Miss Smith had availed herself of these valuable translations, two of which have been before the public for about fifty years; and the other (Dr. Stock's) for nearly seven, and consequently two years before Miss Smith's decease. And we were therefore not a little surprized at the observation of her learned editor “ through the whole of her BEMAMS and ALTERATIONS, she never alludes to, and I am confident, never saw any other version but that of our Bible.” Pref. p. xiii, Upon which we observed as follows: “On what this confidence is founded we knowo not; if it simply refer to her never alluding to any authority she has copied, he might as well have said that she had never seen Mr. Parkhurst's Lexicon; for although nearly half (perhaps more than half) the proposed alterations are derived verbatim from this volume, there is no note of allusion in any place." We added, that “we believe she was in possession of Stock's version :-we do not however say that such coincidences (those then quoted) are full proofs ; but they at least render it highly probable. But though we cannot speak with full decison upon this subject, in regard to Dr. Stock's translation, we submit to our readers that we may do so with respect to both Scott's and Grey's ;" and we closed our observations with saying; “ it is impossible not to invert the incautious assertion of her too partial friend, and to affirm that we are confident she has seen other versions than that of the Bible; and we have no doubt that had her active and aluable life been spared till she had finished the work before us, she would openly have admitted the different aids to which she had been indebted."