WHAT Virgil wrote in the vigor of his age, in plenty and at ease, I have undertaken to translate in my declining years; struggling with wants, oppress’d with sickness, curb’d in my genius, liable to be misconstrued in all I write; and my judges, if they are not very equitable, already prejudic’d against me, by the lying character which has been given them of my morals Yet, steady to my principles, and not dispirited with my afflictions, I have, by the blessing of God on my endeavors, overcome all difficulties, and, in some measure, acquitted myself of the debt which I ow’d the public when I undertook this work. In the first place, therefore, I thankfully acknowledge to the Almighty Power the assistance he has given me in the beginning, the prosecution, and conclusion of my present studies, which are more happily perform’d than I could have promis’d to myself, when I labor’d under such discouragements For what I have done, imperfect as it is for want of health and leisure to correct it, will be judg’d in after ages, and possibly in the present, to be no dishonor to my native country, whose language and poetry would be more esteem’d abroad, if they were better understood. Somewhat (give me leave to say) I have added to both of them in the choice of words, and harmony of numbers, which were wanting (especially the last) in all our poets, even in those who, being endued with genius, yet have not cultivated their mother tongue with sufficient care; or, relying on the beauty of their thoughts, have judg’d the ornament of words, and sweetness of sound, unnecessary. One is for raking in Chaucer (our English Ennius) for antiquated words, which are never to be reviv’d but when sound or significancy is wanting in the present language. But many of his deserve not this redemption, any more than the crowds of men who daily die, or are slain for sixpence in a battle, merit to be restor’d to life, if a wish could revive them. Others have no ear for verse, nor choice of words, nor distinction of thoughts; but mingle farthings with their gold, to make up the sum. Here is a field of satire open’d to me; but since the Revolution, I have wholly renounc’d that talent: for who would give physic to the great, when he is uncall’d—to do his patient no good, and indanger himself for his prescription? Neither am I ignorant, but I may justly be condemn’d for many of those faults of which I have too liberally arraign’d others:
Cynthius aurem vellit, et admonuit.
’T is enough for me, if the Government will let me pass unquestion’d. In the mean time, I am oblig’d, in gratitude, to return my thanks to many of them, who have not only distinguish’d me from others of the same party, by a particular exception of grace, but, without considering the man, have been bountiful to the poet; have encourag’d Virgil to speak such English as I could teach him, and rewarded his interpreter for the pains he has taken in bringing him over into Britain, by defraying the charges of his voyage. Even Cerberus, when he had receiv’d the sop, permitted Æneas to pass freely to Elysium. Had it been offer’d me, and I had refus’d it, yet still some gratitude is due to such who were willing to oblige me; but how much more to those from whom I have receiv’d the favors which they have offer’d to one of a different persuasion! Amongst whom I cannot omit naming the Earls of Darby and of Peterborough. To the first of these I have not the honor to be known; and therefore his liberality [was] as much unexpected as it was undeserv’d. The present Earl of Peterborough has been pleas’d long since to accept the tenders of my service: his favors are so frequent to me that I receive them almost by prescription. No difference of interests or opinion have been able to withdraw his protection from me, and I might justly be condemn’d for the most unthankful of mankind, if I did not always preserve for him a most profound respect and inviolable gratitude. I must also add, that, if the last Æneid shine amongst its fellows, ’t is owing to the commands of Sir William Trumball, one of the principal secretaries of state, who recommended it, as his favorite, to my care; and, for his sake particularly, I have made it mine; for who would confess weariness, when he enjoin’d a fresh labor? I could not but invoke the assistance of a Muse, for this last office:
Extremum hunc, Arethusa—
—Negat quis carmina Gallo?
Neither am I to forget the noble present which was made me by Gilbert Dolben, Esq, the worthy son of the late Archbishop of York, who, when I began this work, enrich’d me with all the several editions of Virgil, and all the commentaries of those editions in Latine; amongst which I could not but prefer the Dolphin’s, as the last, the shortest, and the most judicious Fabrini I had also sent me from Italy; but either he understands Virgil very imperfectly, or I have no knowledge of my author
Being invited by that worthy gentleman, Sir William Bowyer, to Denham Court, I translated the First Georgic at his house, and the greatest part of the last Æneid. A more friendly entertainment no man ever found No wonder, therefore, if both those versions surpass the rest, and own the satisfaction I receiv’d in his converse, with whom I had the honor to be bred in Cambridge, and in the same college. The Seventh Æneid was made English at Burleigh, the magnificent abode of the Earl of Exeter. In a village belonging to his family I was born; and under his roof I endeavor’d to make that Æneid appear in English with as much luster as I could; tho’ my author has not given the finishing strokes either to it, or to the Eleventh, as I perhaps could prove in both, if I durst presume to criticise my master.
By a letter from Will Walsh, of Abberley, Esq, (who has so long honor’d me with his friendship, and who, without flattery, is the best critic of our nation,) I have been inform’d that his Grace the Duke of Shrewsbury has procur’d a printed copy of the Pastorals, Georgics, and six first Æneids, from my bookseller, and has read them in the country, together with my friend. This noble person having been pleas’d to give them a commendation, which I presume not to insert, has made me vain enough to boast of so great a favor, and to think I have succeeded beyond my hopes; the character of his excellent judgment, the acuteness of his wit, and his general knowledge of good letters, being known as well to all the world, as the sweetness of his disposition, his humanity, his easiness of access, and desire of obliging those who stand in need of his protection, are known to all who have approach’d him, and to me in particular, who have formerly had the honor of his conversation Whoever has given the world the translation of part of the Third Georgic, which he calls The Power of Love, has put me to sufficient pains to make my own not inferior to his; as my Lord Roscommon’s Silenus had formerly given me the same trouble The most ingenious Mr. Addison of Oxford has also been as troublesome to me as the other two, and on the same account. After his Bees, my latter swarm is scarcely worth the living Mr Cowley’s Praise of a Country Life is excellent, but ’t is rather an imitation of Virgil than a version That I have recover’d, in some measure, the health which I had lost by too much application to this work, is owing, next to God’s mercy, to the skill and care of Dr. Gibbons and Dr. Hobbs, the two ornaments of their profession, whom I can only pay by this acknowledgment The whole faculty has always been ready to oblige me, and the only one of them who endeavor’d to defame me had it not in his power I desire pardon from my readers for saying so much in relation to myself, which concerns not them; and, with my acknowledgments to all my subscribers, have only to add, that the few Notes which follow are par manière d’acquit, because I had oblig’d myself by articles to do somewhat of that kind. These scattering observations are rather guesses at my author’s meaning in some passages than proofs that so he meant. The unlearn’d may have recourse to any poetical dictionary in English, for the names of persons, places, or fables, which the learned need not; but that little which I say is either new or necessary And the first of these qualifications never fails to invite a reader, if not to please him.