Some Remarks on Baudelaire's Influence|
upon Modern Poetry and Thought, Page 11
by Guy Thorne (1915).
It is very rarely indeed that a master of English prose can find time to translate from the foreign. He is occupied entirely with his own creations. Translation, to him, would be a labour of love; the financial reward would be infinitesimal. This being so, the English public must depend upon inferior translations made by people who understand French, but are often incapable of literary appreciation, of reproducing the "atmosphere" of the authors they translate.
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If Oscar Wilde had translated the French verse of Baudelaire into English verse, for example, then Baudelaire would by now be a household word. If any well-known stylist and novelist of to-day would spend a year over translating Flaubert's "Salammbo," then that masterpiece would rank with "Esmond" or "The Cloister and the Hearth" in the minds of Englishmen.
But this is too much to expect. Great creative artists are busily engaged in doing their own work, and French classics must remain more or less hidden from those lovers of literature who are not intimately conversant with the language.
We are a commercial race. Successful writers do not care to explain writers of other countries to their own countrymen. English men of letters have a deep love for English letters, but very few of them carry their amourettes over the Channel. Yet if any one doubts my contention that foreign work can be translated almost flawlessly let me remind him of John Addington Symonds' "Life of Benvenuto Cellini"; the Count Stenbock's rendering of Balzac's "Shorter Stories"; Rossetti's "La Vita Nuova" of Dante, or the translations of Maeterlinck by Mr. Teixeira de Mattos.
Charles Baudelaire, when once he had found work that appealed to him enormously, proceeded to translate it into his own language. His renderings of Poe have not only introduced Poe to the public of France, but have even improved upon the work of the American.
And Baudelaire says of his master:
"Ce n'est pas, par ces miracles matériels, qui pourtant ont fait sa renommée, qu'il lui sera donné de conquérir l'admiration des gens qui pensent, c'est par son amour du beau, par sa connaissance des conditions harmoniques de la beauté, par sa poésie profonde et plaintive, ouvragée néanmoins, transparente et correcte comme un bijou de cristal,—par son admirable style, pur et bizarre,—serré comme les mailles d'une armure,—complaisant et minutieux,—et dont la plus légère intention sert à pousser doucement le lecteur vers un but voulu,—en enfin surtout par ce génie tout spécial, par ce tempérament unique qui lui a permis de peindre et d'expliquer, d'une manière impeccable, saisissante, terrible, l'exception dans l'ordre moral.—Diderot, pour prendre un example entre cent, est au auteur sanguin; Poe est l'écrivain des nerfs, et même de quelque chose de plus—et le meilleur que je connaisse."
This, of course, is only a paragraph taken from a considerable essay. But with what insight and esprit is it not said! There is all the breadth and generality which comes from a culture, minute, severe, constantly renewed, rectifying and concentrating his impressions in a few pregnant words.
It is as well, also, that Baudelaire's marvellous flair for translation should be illustrated in this book. I have had some difficulty in making choice of an example, in gathering a flower from a garden so rich in blooms. I think, however, that the following parallel excerpts from "Ligeia" exhibit Poe in his most characteristic style and Baudelaire at his best in translation. For purposes of comparison the English and the French are printed in parallel columns.
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