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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
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 withhold 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 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 suggest, that, however shocked the reader may be at first meeting the audacious dialogue, it is not impossible that, on a question of his own art, the great artist may after all be in the right; and that in no other way could he hope so perfectly to exhibit the character of that spirit, to which even in the Highest Presence neither humility nor elevation is possible.
It is too late to inquire whether the Fallen Angel is a fitting subject for poetry. The conception has been a hundred times embodied in the literature of every country of Europe, and to decide the question (supposing it still an open one) as the criticism which condemns Goethe would require, is in fact to demand that Poetry should cease to deal with the haunting mysteries of our nature and our condition ; should confine itself to the task of exhibiting surface manners - to the arts of deceiving and amusing the imagination, — by expressing in metaphors, borrowed from the language of strong passion, states of mind in which such passion not only does not exist, but is impossible, - by clothing in one euphuistic robe or other (for the fashion will vary soon) forms of feeling so habitual as to be of little more moment than those of ordinary courtesy. - Do I think these things unworthy of the poet's occupation ? Assuredly not ;--- it is no light service
- his pur
to render life more happy. It is no light service to create a security for generosity of conduct and feeling, by making the very forms of language in some degree utter calm reproach to him who would wilfully offend even against the lighter charities of life. But all this — and descriptive and didactic poetry, and all that requires from the poet less than the devotion of the whole man poses and powers — is comparatively as nothing. The unresisted demand which Milton, and which in our own day Wordsworth, makes upon his reader's highest and best powers,
the sympathy intense is it, that we ourselves seem to share with the poet in the act of creation has it not its birth in our conviction of their perfect fair dealing with their own minds and with ours - in the earnest sincerity with which they appeal to our own experience, and thus continually recall the shapeless past, and create anew moments of our former being --- rendering visible, as it were, a thing before felt, but which, to be seen, required this new and diviner light ? And can we regard as excluded from his proper province — without at the same time destroying that faith in the poet, which renders possible the miracles of his artthe intimations more or less vaguely given us of our future destiny and our present relation with Spirits ?