« PreviousContinue »
sense and experience of life, one of the writers we make a friend of. If this Plutarch be of Amyot's creating, so much the better for Amyot and so much the better for Plutarch."
Plutarch enjoys, says M. de Barante, "an almost popular glory;" "his first translator into French has contributed to give him, in our country, a charm that has come to be confounded with the merit of the original." The naïveté of Amyot, adds the Baron, has passed off for that of Plutarch, and forthwith people began to talk of "le bon Plutarque, le vieux Plutarque." But Plutarch lived at an epoch of no very naïf character; an epoch of rhetoricians, sophists, declaimers, bondsmen, unbelievers, when life was withdrawing day by day from polytheism and civil society, and was becoming the exclusive attribute of Christianity and religious society. Plutarch is not, therefore, whatever may be said of him, a man of the good old times: he was an honest pagan, who, justly disgusted with the age he lived in, turned his taste and imagination towards the past, and did his best to transport himself into that bygone period.†
So M. Villemain: "La naïveté de Plutarque est du fait d'Amyot."‡ So, too, with extra emphasis, M. Saint-Marc de Girardin: "Look at Plutarch, and see the reputation he has in the world for naïveté ! People say 'le bon Plutarque,' just as they say, 'le bon La Fontaine;' and yet, at bottom, nothing can be less naïf than Plutarch. Plutarch is a brilliant and ingenious rhetorician, a sophist, and in the tone of his opinions, a cross-grained innovator.-Well! this refining rhetorician, this systematised pagan, this pious interpreter of a civilisation repentant of its endeavours and their success,—of him Amyot, in his Gaulish diction, makes a naïf and simple bonhomme. The French language, at that time still feeble and quite in its infancy, was neither supple enough nor strong enough to adapt itself to diverse kinds of style." Hence it is that all the authors of antiquity, be their style majestic, or spirituel, or whatever else you will, appear uniformly naïf and simple when rendered into Amyot's old French.§ On this point there are some sensible remarks in M. Sainte-Beuve's essay on the subject of our sketch. The modern reader, he reminds us, himself lends (prête lui-même) more bonhomie to Amyot's style than it really possesses. The effect of every style that has grown old is to appear naïf and childlike; in his own age, and when his work was new to the world, Amyot did not seem by any means the same writer as now. "Let the learned allow me," says M. Sainte-Beuve, "to submit another consideration to them. It is noway more just to call Plutarch a sophist, than to call Saint Augustine one. Plutarch, like Saint Augustine, has the faults of his time; but this does not disprove his originality and generous nature. Never let us forget that Montaigne called him the most judicious writer in the world.' On the one side, Plutarch has been charged, in our days, with more rhetoric, perhaps, and artifice than he naturally possessed; and, on the other, to Amyot has been attributed a greater degree of naïveté and bonhomie than belonged
* S. de Sacy, Variétés littéraires, morales et historiques, t. i.
† Barante, Etudes historiques, t. ii.
Cours de Litt. Fr., t. iv. 8me Leçon.
St. M. de Girardin, Mélanges de Litt.: "La Tragédie Grecque et Française ” (Essais, t. ii.)
to him and in this way the discrepancy between the two has been exaggerated.
"Moreover, the excellent translator's slight and indeed happy unfaithfulness has tended not a little to the charm and glory of his version. People have continually been confounding Plutarch with Amyot, and, despite all efforts to the contrary of some critics, it has been found impossible to break up this association. Henri IV. wrote of Plutarch: "Whoever loves him, loves me.' And it was through Amyot that he loved him. The same with almost every reader. Amyot's Plutarch— a Plutarch rather more natural, maybe, than the other one, and more debonair (so much the better!), has for ever secured his place in the memory and gratitude of men, comme un seul et même trésor d'antique prud'homie et de vertu.
The same kind of remarks will hold good of his translations from Longus and Heliodorus. Warton, by the way, expresses "pleasant surprise" at the supposed difference of fortune between the latter author, whose "Theagenes and Chariclea" lost him a bishopric, and Amyot, who was rewarded with an abbey for translating it, and himself afterwards became a bishop.† It would be unjust to infer anything against Amyot's morals, which were always pure, from his translations, early in life, of works of this more or less free character, by which he "felt his way," as it were, to compositions of more importance. High praise is accorded him for the simplicité and delicatesse which are said to distinguish his version of the "Loves of Daphnis and Chloe"-for which pastoral the Regent Orleans had a depraved affection, its "naïve licence" tickling his blasée imagination prodigiously-and that of Heliodorus's Ethiopian romance, a far chaster work than Longus's (proh pudor) pastoral, and which was destined to give birth to a "Zaïde" and a "Princesse de Cleves," and so to captivate the young fancy of Racine, in the austere seclusion of Port-Royal, as to set him on planning a tragedy with a plot from this histoire éthiopique.
Longus, in his "Daphnis and Chloe," is only naïf, M. Villemain contends, when translated by Amyot. "Longus is, of himself, a sophist, who artificially works out a happy and natural idea. He is a rhetorician, made up of symmetrical, antithetical phrases, the harmony and cadence of which he has duly calculated. In the style of Amyot he becomes simple, ingenuous, almost negligent. All the finesse of Greek thought in the fourth century are here simplified, without losing their primitive grace. The author's art is changed into a sort of delicate sprightliness which keeps the imagination amused.
* Ste.-Beuve, Essai sur Amyot, 1851.
"We may add, as a pleasant coincidence, that it was one of Amyot's pupils and benefactors,-Henry the Second,-who gave a bishopric to the lively Italian novelist, Bandello. Books were books in those days, not batches, by the baker's dozen, turned out every morning; and the gayest of writers were held in serious estimation accordingly."-LEIGH HUNT: Bookbinding and Heliodorus.
"A pious bishop and a good tutor, whatever might be his predilection for books, he left no one duty unperformed. His temper was obliging, though he retained from his original want of education a certain rudesse in his manners; his pleasures were of the simplest kind (he loved music, and readily took his part in part-singing); his life perfectly regular," &c.-LÉON FEUGÈRE: Caractères et Por
"Accordingly, Bernard de Saint-Pierre called Amyot one of the most durable writers in the language, and studied Greece by his means, and from him derived that mixture of antique elegance and vieille naïveté which forms one of the greatest charms in the style of the Etudes de la Nature."*
It was this "Daphnis and Chloe" of Amyot's that Paul Louis Courier undertook to restore, correct, revise, and augment,—a feat he is said to have succeeded in à merveille-making the book more agreeable to read, more naïf, and, if possible, still more French. "The naïveté of this pretty romance, as is well known, is every bit of it Amyot's, who threw his own simple turns, his rather long-drawn but graceful phrases, over the methodical descriptions and elegant subtilties of the Greek romancer. Courier finished this good work, translating in the same style the fragment he had discovered, and revising throughout Amyot's version, often inaccurate, faulty, and altered by the editors."+ Thus writes M. Villemain in his essay on Herodotus and the Manner of Translating him; and elsewhere again, in his Essay on Greek Romances, he says: "Some pages of Daphnis and Chloe are marked by a felicitous impress, which Amyot's style renders yet more lively and yet more true. His translation is a monument of the French language. A learned and spirituel Hellenist, and clever imitator of our old French [meaning Courier], has completed and embellished this translation, by adding to it his version of a fragment which no edition of Longus had contained, and which he discovered in a library at Florence." Courier's restoration en gothique made quite a sensation among native scholars who still affected what we may term, not in the Scotch meaning of it, the garb of old Gaul.
Besides the foregoing works-of Plutarch, Longus, and HeliodorusAmyot translated, in his younger days, some portion of Diodorus Siculus. In which "thankless struggle" with a characterless and colourless original, he is said, by the most elaborate of his modern eulogists, § to have shown-and it was about all he could show "a well-sustained, correct, precise diction,-in a word, those modest but difficult qualities of a temperate style, which seem to be reserved for languages already mature and well regulated." He also translated into French rhymes several of the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides-which performances are lost, and no very great loss either, to judge by the couplets scattered here and there through his extant traductions, and by the recorded opinion of his else admiring contemporaries. Charles IX., for instance, who flirted with the Muses, and knew something about them, condemned his old master on this one point, declaring him "hard and coarse in his versification”— and Amyot's Latin elegy, composed on the decease of Charles, quite serves to ratify the royal judgment.
In none of his original writings is the good bishop seen to advantage. He could not walk alone. He must have some antique classic to lead
* Villemain, Tableau du XVIII Siècle, t. iv.
† Villemain, Etudes de Litt. ancienne et étrangère, p. 4. Ibid., p. 176.
The late Auguste de Blignières, whose Essai sur Amyot et les traducteurs Français au XVIe Siècle, and his Eloge d'Amyot, 1851, entitle him to this description. The best and completest Life of Amyot, however, is believed to be that written by l'Abbé Lebeuf.
him by the hand. Plutarch must give him the cue, or Longus must ply him with topics, or Heliodorus must mark him out a path to walk in. His system was not self-supporting. He could walk with ease-nay, with grace-only in a leaning posture: take away his original, and he collapsed, and lost all spirit, and became as another man. Not even M. de Blignière's "filial sympathy" can disprove this inferiority. But then, as another critic asks-hardly less appreciative-is it not glory enough for Amyot to have believed, and with much reason, "that no task was at that time more opportune than the giving us in our own tongue what antiquity had considered of surpassing excellence," and to have perfectly succeeded in that task? For by his success he acquired a near place to the two great prosateurs of the sixteenth century, Rabelais and Montaigne. "And certes, if these twain rank far superior in the order of ideas to the bon Amyot (so posterity styles him; his own age said, the grand Amyot), we have seen that he was noway their inferior in the share he took in the formation of our language, and the culture of the national genius. Hence the privilege he has retained, in the most flourishing seasons of our literature, of being invoked as an authority and imitated as a model."* The attention directed of late years to philological inquiries has been an occasion of redoubled interest in his productions, which have found eloquent panegyrists and word-weighing scrutineers, in journal after journal, and year after year.
The gaulois dialect that shocked Louis the Fourteenth, is the attraction for nineteenth-century philosophers. One day that the Grand Monarque was "indisposed," and consequently ennuyé, he called for Racine to read something to him-the tragic poet being (what not every, nor perhaps nearly every tragic poet is) a good, effective, impressive reader aloud. Courtly Jean would be honoured beyond expression. What would his majesty like him to read? Might Jean humbly suggest Plutarch's Lives, by Amyot? "Mais c'est du gaulois," objected the king. And Racine could only surmount such an objection by promising to substitute, as he went along, more modern words for the too old-fashioned ones in the text, and so avoid horrifying beyond endurance those superbly susceptible ears. No out-of-date word could be sanctioned in the Augustan age, no vieux mot could henceforth pass current in so polished a language. "Why use another language than that of one's age?" exclaimed Boileau, in his "severe good sense," deprecating the demi-gaulois tone La Fontaine adopted in his fable of the Woodcutter.† But the whirligig of time brings uppermost in its rotation an age wherein Villemain extols, to an eager audience, "cette grace inimitable du vieux français d'Amyot," while others regret the loss of a crowd of words which Amyot made use of, and for which there are no present equivalents in the language, oral or written. Thus, when he calls Scipio "le bienfaiteur et l'affranchisseur de la Grèce," and Pyrrhus a too great "mépriseur" of the people, and describes a valley as "emmurée dans les hautes montagnes," these phrases, and such as these, excite envious regrets in M. Chasles, § which he professes to share in common with La
* Léon Feugère.
† See Sainte-Beuve's "Poésie Fr. au XVIe Siècle," 490 sq.
Cours de Litt. Fr.
§ Etudes sur le Seizième Siècle.
Bruyère, La Fontaine, Fénelon, Rollin, D'Aguesseau, Diderot, Jean Jacques, and the severe Vaugelas himself-for ces vieilles richesses du langage, these expressions at once simple and strong, which, having nothing hard or barbaric about them, belong peculiarly (he alleges) to the mother-tongue, can only be replaced by circumlocutions, and only appear singular because fallen into disuse and forgotten.
Certainly, Amyot's has been on the whole an enviable renown. It is pleasant to go down to posterity with that perennial epithet, bon, attached to one's name. We have our "judicious" Hooker, and “rare” Ben Jonson, and "immortal" Shakspeare, and "ever memorable" John Hales, and "glorious John" Dryden. None of these implies the personal liking that is contained in Amyot's titular fee simple, le bon Amyot. His diction has done it all for him. As Sainte-Beuve remarks,* whenever a pretty piece of "gracieuse naïveté" is treated of in France, it is immediately defined by saying, C'est de la langue d'Amyot. This simple translator of Plutarch is honoured as an original genius, native and to the manner born. "It seems as if through his translations we could read his physiognomy, and that we love him just as if he had given us his own thoughts," and not another man's. A modern Italian poet, Leopardi, envying the glory of those happily-timed and fortunate Italian translators, who "chained" themselves to some illustrious classic of antiquity, never to be separated from that time forth, exclaims: "Who knows not that Caro will live as long as Virgil, Monti as Homer, Bellotti as Sophocles? Oh beautiful destiny, that of being incapable of dying any more, except with an immortal!" And such, rules the French critic, is Amyot's good fortune: he has contributed to render Plutarch popular, and Plutarch has returned the boon by making him immortal.
L'ENVOI TO "STEREOSCOPIC GLIMPSES."+
BY W. CHARLES KENT.
As a tear from the heart-fount stealing,
All the depths of a love revealing,
In a life of its grave-won goal:
So fall on thine ear, O dearest!
With the sound as of curfew chime
Love's own truth in each tone thou hearest
The last echo of my rhyme!
* Causeries du Lundi, t. iv.
† Our readers will be glad to learn that this charming series of poems, which for nearly two years has graced our pages, will shortly be published under the title of "DREAMLAND." Mr. Charles Kent is a true poet, and the volume he is about to put forth will increase the reputation he has acquired by his “ALETHEIA."-ED. N. M. M.