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TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE I: ABOUT THIS TRANSLATION


It was with considerable reluctance that I abandoned in favour of
the present undertaking what had long been a favourite project: that
of a new edition of Shelton's "Don Quixote," which has now become a
somewhat scarce book. There are some- and I confess myself to be
one- for whom Shelton's racy old version, with all its defects, has
a charm that no modern translation, however skilful or correct,
could possess. Shelton had the inestimable advantage of belonging to
the same generation as Cervantes; "Don Quixote" had to him a
vitality that only a contemporary could feel; it cost him no
dramatic effort to see things as Cervantes saw them; there is no
anachronism in his language; he put the Spanish of Cervantes into
the English of Shakespeare. Shakespeare himself most likely knew the
book; he may have carried it home with him in his saddle-bags to
Stratford on one of his last journeys, and under the mulberry tree
at New Place joined hands with a kindred genius in its pages.

But it was soon made plain to me that to hope for even a moderate
popularity for Shelton was vain. His fine old crusted English would,
no doubt, be relished by a minority, but it would be only by a
minority. His warmest admirers must admit that he is not a
satisfactory representative of Cervantes. His translation of the First
Part was very hastily made and was never revised by him. It has all
the freshness and vigour, but also a full measure of the faults, of
a hasty production. It is often very literal- barbarously literal
frequently- but just as often very loose. He had evidently a good
colloquial knowledge of Spanish, but apparently not much more. It
never seems to occur to him that the same translation of a word will
not suit in every case.

It is often said that we have no satisfactory translation of "Don
Quixote." To those who are familiar with the original, it savours of
truism or platitude to say so, for in truth there can be no thoroughly
satisfactory translation of "Don Quixote" into English or any other
language. It is not that the Spanish idioms are so utterly
unmanageable, or that the untranslatable words, numerous enough no
doubt, are so superabundant, but rather that the sententious terseness
to which the humour of the book owes its flavour is peculiar to
Spanish, and can at best be only distantly imitated in any other
tongue.

The history of our English translations of "Don Quixote" is
instructive. Shelton's, the first in any language, was made,
apparently, about 1608, but not published till 1612. This of course
was only the First Part. It has been asserted that the Second,
published in 1620, is not the work of Shelton, but there is nothing to
support the assertion save the fact that it has less spirit, less of
what we generally understand by "go," about it than the first, which
would be only natural if the first were the work of a young man
writing currente calamo, and the second that of a middle-aged man
writing for a bookseller. On the other hand, it is closer and more
literal, the style is the same, the very same translations, or
mistranslations, occur in it, and it is extremely unlikely that a
new translator would, by suppressing his name, have allowed Shelton to
carry off the credit.

In 1687 John Phillips, Milton's nephew, produced a "Don Quixote"
"made English," he says, "according to the humour of our modern
language." His "Quixote" is not so much a translation as a travesty,
and a travesty that for coarseness, vulgarity, and buffoonery is
almost unexampled even in the literature of that day.

Ned Ward's "Life and Notable Adventures of Don Quixote, merrily
translated into Hudibrastic Verse" (1700), can scarcely be reckoned
a translation, but it serves to show the light in which "Don
Quixote" was regarded at the time.

A further illustration may be found in the version published in 1712
by Peter Motteux, who had then recently combined tea-dealing with
literature. It is described as "translated from the original by
several hands," but if so all Spanish flavour has entirely
evaporated under the manipulation of the several hands. The flavour
that it has, on the other hand, is distinctly Franco-cockney. Anyone
who compares it carefully with the original will have little doubt
that it is a concoction from Shelton and the French of Filleau de
Saint Martin, eked out by borrowings from Phillips, whose mode of
treatment it adopts. It is, to be sure, more decent and decorous,
but it treats "Don Quixote" in the same fashion as a comic book that
cannot be made too comic.

To attempt to improve the humour of "Don Quixote" by an infusion
of cockney flippancy and facetiousness, as Motteux's operators did, is
not merely an impertinence like larding a sirloin of prize beef, but
an absolute falsification of the spirit of the book, and it is a proof
of the uncritical way in which "Don Quixote" is generally read that
this worse than worthless translation -worthless as failing to
represent, worse than worthless as misrepresenting- should have been
favoured as it has been.

It had the effect, however, of bringing out a translation undertaken
and executed in a very different spirit, that of Charles Jervas, the
portrait painter, and friend of Pope, Swift, Arbuthnot, and Gay.
Jervas has been allowed little credit for his work, indeed it may be
said none, for it is known to the world in general as Jarvis's. It was
not published until after his death, and the printers gave the name
according to the current pronunciation of the day. It has been the
most freely used and the most freely abused of all the translations.
It has seen far more editions than any other, it is admitted on all
hands to be by far the most faithful, and yet nobody seems to have a
good word to say for it or for its author. Jervas no doubt
prejudiced readers against himself in his preface, where among many
true words about Shelton, Stevens, and Motteux, he rashly and unjustly
charges Shelton with having translated not from the Spanish, but
from the Italian version of Franciosini, which did not appear until
ten years after Shelton's first volume. A suspicion of incompetence,
too, seems to have attached to him because he was by profession a
painter and a mediocre one (though he has given us the best portrait
we have of Swift), and this may have been strengthened by Pope's
remark that he "translated 'Don Quixote' without understanding
Spanish." He has been also charged with borrowing from Shelton, whom
he disparaged. It is true that in a few difficult or obscure
passages he has followed Shelton, and gone astray with him; but for
one case of this sort, there are fifty where he is right and Shelton
wrong. As for Pope's dictum, anyone who examines Jervas's version
carefully, side by side with the original, will see that he was a
sound Spanish scholar, incomparably a better one than Shelton,
except perhaps in mere colloquial Spanish. He was, in fact, an honest,
faithful, and painstaking translator, and he has left a version which,
whatever its shortcomings may be, is singularly free from errors and
mistranslations.

The charge against it is that it is stiff, dry- "wooden" in a word,-
and no one can deny that there is a foundation for it. But it may be
pleaded for Jervas that a good deal of this rigidity is due to his
abhorrence of the light, flippant, jocose style of his predecessors.
He was one of the few, very few, translators that have shown any
apprehension of the unsmiling gravity which is the essence of Quixotic
humour; it seemed to him a crime to bring Cervantes forward smirking
and grinning at his own good things, and to this may be attributed
in a great measure the ascetic abstinence from everything savouring of
liveliness which is the characteristic of his translation. In most
modern editions, it should be observed, his style has been smoothed
and smartened, but without any reference to the original Spanish, so
that if he has been made to read more agreeably he has also been
robbed of his chief merit of fidelity.

Smollett's version, published in 1755, may be almost counted as
one of these. At any rate it is plain that in its construction
Jervas's translation was very freely drawn upon, and very little or
probably no heed given to the original Spanish.

The later translations may be dismissed in a few words. George
Kelly's, which appeared in 1769, "printed for the Translator," was
an impudent imposture, being nothing more than Motteux's version
with a few of the words, here and there, artfully transposed;
Charles Wilmot's (1774) was only an abridgment like Florian's, but not
so skilfully executed; and the version published by Miss Smirke in
1818, to accompany her brother's plates, was merely a patchwork
production made out of former translations. On the latest, Mr. A. J.
Duffield's, it would be in every sense of the word impertinent in me
to offer an opinion here. I had not even seen it when the present
undertaking was proposed to me, and since then I may say vidi
tantum, having for obvious reasons resisted the temptation which Mr.
Duffield's reputation and comely volumes hold out to every lover of
Cervantes.

From the foregoing history of our translations of "Don Quixote,"
it will be seen that there are a good many people who, provided they
get the mere narrative with its full complement of facts, incidents,
and adventures served up to them in a form that amuses them, care very
little whether that form is the one in which Cervantes originally
shaped his ideas. On the other hand, it is clear that there are many
who desire to have not merely the story he tells, but the story as
he tells it, so far at least as differences of idiom and circumstances
permit, and who will give a preference to the conscientious
translator, even though he may have acquitted himself somewhat
awkwardly.

But after all there is no real antagonism between the two classes;
there is no reason why what pleases the one should not please the
other, or why a translator who makes it his aim to treat "Don Quixote"
with the respect due to a great classic, should not be as acceptable
even to the careless reader as the one who treats it as a famous old
jest-book. It is not a question of caviare to the general, or, if it
is, the fault rests with him who makes so. The method by which
Cervantes won the ear of the Spanish people ought, mutatis mutandis,
to be equally effective with the great majority of English readers. At
any rate, even if there are readers to whom it is a matter of
indifference, fidelity to the method is as much a part of the
translator's duty as fidelity to the matter. If he can please all
parties, so much the better; but his first duty is to those who look
to him for as faithful a representation of his author as it is in
his power to give them, faithful to the letter so long as fidelity
is practicable, faithful to the spirit so far as he can make it.

My purpose here is not to dogmatise on the rules of translation, but
to indicate those I have followed, or at least tried to the best of my
ability to follow, in the present instance. One which, it seems to me,
cannot be too rigidly followed in translating "Don Quixote," is to
avoid everything that savours of affectation. The book itself is,
indeed, in one sense a protest against it, and no man abhorred it more
than Cervantes. For this reason, I think, any temptation to use
antiquated or obsolete language should be resisted. It is after all an
affectation, and one for which there is no warrant or excuse.
Spanish has probably undergone less change since the seventeenth
century than any language in Europe, and by far the greater and
certainly the best part of "Don Quixote" differs but little in
language from the colloquial Spanish of the present day. Except in the
tales and Don Quixote's speeches, the translator who uses the simplest
and plainest everyday language will almost always be the one who
approaches nearest to the original.

Seeing that the story of "Don Quixote" and all its characters and
incidents have now been for more than two centuries and a half
familiar as household words in English mouths, it seems to me that the
old familiar names and phrases should not be changed without good
reason. Of course a translator who holds that "Don Quixote" should
receive the treatment a great classic deserves, will feel himself
bound by the injunction laid upon the Morisco in Chap. IX not to
omit or add anything.




Don Quixote by Migeul de Cervantes
Category:
Romance Literature - Spanish
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