Wednesday, September 05, 2012


Literal Translation

D'Arcy W. Thompson (1829–1902), Day Dreams of a Schoolmaster (1864; rpt. Boston: D.C. Heath & Co., 1898), pp. 42-43:
A vile system of literal translation of Greek and Latin idioms so corrupts the well of English undefiled, that a boy often loses as much English in his Latin room, as he will pick up for the day in his English one. No one, after once the sentences have been analyzed, would ever dream of translating literally Comment vous portez vous? or, Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça? but pedantry will insist upon boys rendering, year after year, Greek particles by the most unEnglish equivalents, and Latin redundancies by English wind. The whole system, and the elementary part most of all, is bookish, unpractical. It is many years—nay, very often it does not happen at all,—it is many years, at all events, before a lad suspects that Latin and Greek are instruments of thought precisely similar to his own everyday language. In the earlier years of his apprenticehood, he would almost scout the idea as profane, that men could under any circumstances exchange chit-chat; write love-letters; deliver after-dinner speeches; tell Joe Millers; make bad puns in such solemn and stiff-jointed forms of speech.
Id. p. 50:
In fact, I should treat Latin and Greek as though I were not in the least afraid of them; as though there were no special linguistic secrets wrapped within their mantles; as though they were simple, honest, straight-forward languages, like the one spoken without conscious effort by our own street ragamuffins.
Id., pp. 51-52:
Cornelius Nepos and Sallust are two special bugbears. Caesar is not wholly blameless. I can well imagine a scholarlike soldier or historian reading the latter with pleasure and profit. But, apart from the difficulty of frequently-recurring indirect speeches, his narrative, with all its soldierlike simplicity and directness, is too extended for boys who can only read it in detachments. We ourselves could enjoy no landscape, however beautiful, that we saw only in separate rounds through a paper tube. But who will stand bail for those other notoriously old offenders? What grown man, though reeking with Latin, would give an evening hour to the twaddle of the one, or the pedantry of the other? And what versatility of human wit could render either interesting to children in miserable, daily pittances of eight lines? which eight lines would have first to be tortured into villanous English; then parsed, word by word; the nouns all declined; the verbs all conjugated:—a ruminative process;—then, after pausing to take breath, we should begin again at the end, and reverse the order of proceeding; running backwards through the verbs, and backwards through the nouns. And so on, ad nauseam. O dura pueror' ilia!
For a different view of Sallust, cf. Norman Douglas (1868-1952), Fountains in the Sand (1912; rpt. London: Martin Secker, 1921), p. 34:
But what interests me most is the style of Sallust himself. How ultra-modern this historian reads! His outlook upon life, his choice of words, are the note of to-morrow; and when I compare with him certain writers of the Victorian epoch, I seem to be unrolling a papyrus from Pharaoh's tomb, or spelling out the elucubrations of some maudlin scribe of Prester John.

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