|Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916.|
Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
|His Old Age|
|By John Dryden (16311700)|
WHAT Virgil wrote in the vigour of his age, in plenty and its ease, I have undertaken to translate in my declining years; struggling with wants, oppressed with sickness, curbed in my genius, liable to be misconstrued in all I write; and my judges, if they are not very equitable, already prejudiced 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 in my endeavours, overcome all difficulties, and in some measure acquitted myself of the debt which I owed 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 performed than I could have promised to myself, when I laboured under such discouragements. For what I have done, imperfect as it is for want of health and leisure to correct it, will be judged in after ages, and possibly in the present, to be no dishonour to my native country, whose language and poetry would be more esteemed 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 judged 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 revived but when sound or significancy is wanting in the present language. But many of his crowds of men who daily die, or are slain for sixpence in a battle, merit to be restored to life if a wish could restore 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 to me; but since the Revolution I have wholly renounced that talent; for who would give physic to the great, when he is uncalledto do his patient no good, and endanger himself for his prescription? Neither am I ignorant but I may justly be condemned for many of those faults, of which I have too liberally arraigned others.
It is enough for me, if the government will let me pass unquestioned. In the meantime I am obliged in gratitude to return my thanks to many of them, who have not only distinguished 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 encouraged 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.
|Vellit et admonuit
|Note 1. Cynthius aurem, etc. Apollo has plucked me by the ear, and given me a word of warning. [back]|