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poetic translation of Homer. To rely on the precariousness of public sale might have soon disheartened the poet: he chose the more secure way of subscription ;—a way unusual then, for it had been scarcely tried but with · Dryden's Virgil and the Tatler;' and unusual now; but sufficiently justified by the magnitude of the work to be undertaken, its remoteness from general use, and the patronage openly professed in that age by the higher orders.
All the circumstances, however minute, of a labor so important to the honor of English literature, are worth recording. When the first volume was in the printer's hands, the principal booksellers rivalled each other in their proposals for the copyright: but Lintot, by offering two hundred guineas a volume, and complying with the stipulations for the subscribers, became the publisher. The first volume was published in June, 1715: the Iliad finally appeared in six volumes : 654 copies were delivered to the subscribers; the author thus clearing £5320. 4s. The subscribers' copies were in quarto; but Lintot struck off 250 copies in royal folio, at two guineas a volume; and a much greater number on a smaller folio, and with paper much thinner. Johnson's statement varies slightly from this, and seems to charge the publisher with something not far from knavery. Of the quartos, it was, I believe, stipulated, that none should be printed but for the author, that the subscription might not be depreciated; but Lintot impressed the same pages on a small folio, and paper perhaps a little thinner, and sold exactly at half the price, for half a guinea each volume ;-books so little inferior to the quartos, that, by a fraud of trade, those folios being afterwards shortened by cutting away the top and bottom, were sold as copies intended for the subscribers : of this size he printed 1750 of the first volume, but reduced the succeeding volumes to 1000. After this, he rather inconsistently laments that Lintot should have been in some degree defrauded of his profit by “a very unjust and illegal action;' yet one very like his own. As Lintot's folios had undoubtedly been turned into the means of contravening his own agreement that the quartos should be assigned exclusively to the subscribers, (and it is difficult to conceive, that with this man's knowlege of his business, the circumstance could occur without his collusion) a repetition of the contrivance was tried by the Dutch, then in the habit of pirating the works of all nations: the Iliad was printed in duodecimo, and smuggled into England. Lintot's folios now became comparatively useless to him, and he was obliged to counteract the Dutch by a rival duodecimo. To expel the smuggled publication by filling the market was the obvious policy, and he accordingly printed 2500, with 5000 shortly afterward. • There is nothing new under the sun.' The reduction of folios and quartos to the smallest size, for the sake of an increase of sale, has been boasted of as the invention of our day of pitiful dexterity: we see that dexterity equally pitiful deprived us of the honors of originality a hundred years ago.
The progress of this great performance was like that of all others dependent at once on the individual and the public: the author had no sooner issued his proposals, and thus completely bound himself to his task, than he began to tremble at his obligations. Anxious to surpass himself, he conceived that he fell short of his usual skill. He might well have been discontented with the sweetness of his versification, when it came to clothe the bold and vivid images of Homer. The feebleness of his frame added to the embarrassment of his mind: he felt a continual fever on him by day; he was haunted with terrors during the night; he dreamed of banishment, and travelling long and dreary journeys; and in this nervous and nightmarish state, often wished that somebody would hang him. “The Iliad,' he tells Spence, took me up six years; and during that time, and par
ticularly during the first part of it, I was in great pain and apprehension : though I conquered the thoughts of it during the day, they would frighten me in the night: I sometimes still even dream of being engaged in that translation, and having got about half through it, and being embarrassed, and under dread of never completing it.
But this anxiety gradually diminished by practice and conscious ease. “When I fell into the method of translating thirty or forty verses before I got up, and puddled with it the rest of the morning, it went on easy enough; and when I was thoroughly got into the way of it, I did the rest with pleasure.' His advances, at last, smoothed by habit, and cheered by the sight of the consummation, became scarcely a matter of effort. In another of his conversations, he says, “I wrote most of the Iliad fast; a great deal of it on journeys, from the little pocket Homer on the shelf there; and often forty or fifty verses in a morning in bed. In translating both the Iliad and the Odyssey, my usual method was, to take advantage of the first heat, and then to correct each book; first by the original text, then by other translations; and, lastly, to give it a reading for the versification only.'
If such were the author's misgivings, who can doubt that the public were equally mistrustful ? Lukewarm friends and malicious enemies belonged to Pope, as to all other men battling their way to distinction: it was asserted by the one, and received by the other, that Pope was ignorant of Greek; that he was incapable of feeling the grandeur of Homer; that his talent was not Homeric, but Ovidian; and that he was a plagiary. They who were determined to accumulate shame on his head pronounced, that by his religion he was a tory, and by his connexions a whig: others, sinking him still deeper, declared that he was neither, but a cunning neutral, with the vices of both. But variety of accusation is usually inconsistent, and violence of accusation defeats itself: the world grew weary of listening to angry improbabilities, forgot the accusers, and read the poem.
The charge of deficient scholarship was true, yet not in reference to the translation of Homer : it is refuted by the fact, that the translation is remarkably accurate where its purpose is to be close; and sins only by redundancy. Homer is the least perplexing of all poets, because the most natural : he describes the manners of an age but little obscured by artificial forms, and still less by artificial feelings: the vehemence of his passions does not repel us by bombast, nor the vigor of his descriptions by affected ornament: his heroes, prompt, bold, and decisive, speak as heroes have