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Firm is its base, its summit seeks the skies,
We shall now conclude, with the hope that we may succeed in calling some degree of attention to the poetry of this long neglected language; and our conviction, that all who have devoted themselves to its study will fully agree in our opinion of its high merit.
Art. XII.-The Thirteen Bookes of Aeneidos. The first twelve
being the worke of the Divine Poet Virgil Maro; and the thirteenth the Supplement of Maphaus Vegius. Translated into English Verse, to the first third part of the tenth Booke, by Thomas Phaer, Esquire : and the residue finished, and now newly set forh, for the delight of such as are studious in Poetry, by Thomas Twyne, Doctor in Physike. London, printed by Bernard Alsop, by the Assignement of Clement Knight. 4to. 1620.
An English translation of the Æneid, which, for at least half a century, maintained its rank as the most popular version of one of the greatest productions of the epic muse, cannot but be an object of some interest to the lover of poetry; since, though it has Leen repeatedly superseded by the labours of more polished bards during the last two hundred years, it must at least afford amusement to trace the circumstances which gave to the production of Phaer and Twyne that degree of favour with the public, which may be inferred from the repeated impressions it underwent.
Phaer, who was in every respect the principal partner in this literary concern, has been erroneously stiled the first Enlish translator of Virgil.* This is a title to which he is far from having a claim. For, besides Caxton's work in prose, intitled The Book of Ænæidos, compiled from Virgil, there were no less than two partial attempts to make the English reader acquainted with the Roman epic, and one complete version of the poem, not only written, but actually printed before Phaer entered on his task. Gawen Douglas, who finished his metrical translation of the Æneid in 1515, must certainly be allowed the
* See Chalmers's edition of the General Biographical Dictionary.Art. Phaer.
honour of having been the earliest British translator of Virgil ; for the work of Čaxton, just alluded to, is merely a garbled and imperfect compendium of the Roman poet's narrative ; derived, not from the original, but from a French version. Douglas's work is in heroic verse; and is said, by Warton, to be executed with equal spirit and fidelity. It comprises the addition to the Æneid, by Maphæus, usually termed the thirteenth book. The first edition was printed by W. Copland, London, 1553, 4to. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who fell a victim to the cruel jealousy of his sovereign, in 1547, was probably the next poet who employed himself in giving an English garb to the heroic muse of Virgil. He translated into blank verse the second and fourth books of the Æneid, and is considered as the first English poet who employed that species of metre since immortalized by the productions of Milton. Sir Thomas Wyat, the contemporary and friend of Surrey, also exercised his abilities in transfusing the beauties of Virgil into his native language. His labours were confined to the song of Jopas, towards the conclusion of the first book of the Æneid, which he rendered into Alexandrian verse.
After these adventurers came Phaer; of whom, with reference to his rank, as a classical translator, it can only be said, that he was the first native of South Britain, who appears to have projected an entire version of the Æneid, which death probably prevented him from finishing, as he was occupied in the undertaking at the time of his decease. To this production Phaer chiefly owes the preservation of his name in the records of literature, though he seems to have possessed considerable versatility of talent; and, besides some publications of original poetry, he presented the world with treatises on law and medicine, in the study of which sciences he had, at different periods of his life, been professionally engaged. He was a native of Pembrokeshire, and received his education at Oxford, whence he is supposed, by Wood, to have to Lincoln's-inn and engaged in the study of municipal jurisprudence. On that subject he wrote two treatises. After which it seems he renounced his legal pursuits ; and, returning to Oxford, studied physic, and took his degree of Doctor of Medicine. His medical works were esteemed by his contemporaries; but he made no discoveries in that science, nor does he possess any claim to notice as an original writer. He appears to have practised physic in London till towards the latter part of his life, when he retired to Kilgerran, in South Wales.' In the title page of the first edition of his translation of Virgil, Phaer stiles himself Solicitor to the King and Queen's Majesties, attending on their
honourable council in the Marches of Wales, an office which seems to imply that he resumed his first profession. He died at Kilgerran in 1560.
Phaer wrote some original poetry, but it deserves no particular notice. The piece which is best known, relates to the misfortunes of Owen Glendower, and forms a part of the Mirror for Magistrates, in the first and two subsequent editions of that collection of Poetical Narratives. A specimen of Phaer's composition is given by Mr. Bliss, in his recent publication of Wood's Athena Oronienses.
The first seven books of the Æneid were published during the life of the translator, in 1558, with a dedication to Queen Mary; in which he informs us, that he was brought up under the patronage of William Marquis of Winchester. He continued his undertaking; and before his death, in 1560, had proceeded as far as the middle of the tenth book. In 1562, the first nine books, with part of the tenth, were published from the manuscripts of Phaer, by his friend, William Wightman, with a dedication to Sir Nich. Bacon, Knight, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. The first edition, as perfected by Twyne, was published in 1573, and the last was that, the title of which is given at the head of this article.
It is probable, that the encomiums bestowed on Phaer's translation of the Æneid by his contemporaries, were heightened by their esteem for his personal character; for they are so lavish, as to do no credit to the taste of these critical panegyrists. Puttenham says of him, that he was well learned above any other, that his translations are clear and faithful, and that his verse is learned and well corrected.* This eulogy is the more deserving of notice, as coming from the author of a critical work, who may be considered as a professed critic, and as probably speaking the sentiments of the literati of that time. 'In a letter prefixed to Greene's Menaphon, is the following notice of our author. “M. Phaer, likewise, is not to be forgot in regard of his famous Virgil, whose heavenly verse, had it not been blemished by his hawtie thoughts, England might have long insulted his wit, and corrigat qui potest have been subscribed to his work.” This is rather strangely expressed, but it seems intended for praise. Nearly the same remark will apply to the observations of Arthur Hall, in the dedication of his ten books of Homer's Iliades, to Sir Thomas Cecill, in the year 1581.
* Art of Englishe Poesie.
Richard Stanyhurst, who, in 1513, published a whimsical version of the first four books of the Æneid, in English hexameters, must have considered Phaer as a rival; and he accordingly criticises some particular passages of his predecessor's work; but in the dedication to his brother, or rather brother-inlaw, Lord Dunsany, he says, “ The gentleman (Phaer] hath translated Virgil into Englishe rythme with such surpassing excellencie, as a very few (in my conceit) for pickte and loftie words can bourd him ; none, I am well assured, overgoe him.”
But the most extraordinary, and, on several accounts, most curious, specimen of the opinions which the contemporaries of Phaer entertained, relative to his merit as a poetical translator, is to be found in the following “ Epytaph of Maister Thomas Phayre,” from a very scarce book, entitled, “ Eglogs, Epytaphes, and Sonettes. Newly written by Barnabe. Googe, 1563, 15 Marche. Imprynted at London by Thomas Colwell, for Raffe Newbery, dwelying in Flete-strete, a little above the Conduit, in the late shop of Thomas Bartelet.”
“ The hawtye verse y Maro wrote
made Rome to wonder muche,
and weightynes was suche,
had clefte her selfe in twayne,
from out Minervaie's brayne.
when Phayre did forysh late,
reduced to such estate :
in forrayne foote obtaynde,
eche other poets staynde.
that raught eternall fame
of Virgil's worke in frame,
and Douglas wan the ball,
had made an ende of all.
I dare presume to wryte
As muche as doth Apolloe's beames
the dymmest starre in lyght.
had great disdayne to se,
so fyne a wyt as he:
dyd force him hence to wende,
that never man shall ende." These testimonies will derive little accession of strength from the sentence of Pits; who tells us, that Phaer translated the Æneid, magna gravitate.
Fuller, who records this expression,* adds an observation on it, which shews, that, in his time, a better taste in poetry was becoming prevalent. He says, “ Some modern wits will render magna gravitate, great dulness, and avouch, that Phaer, instead of a Latin Virgil, has presented us with an English Ennius, such is the rudeness of his verse. But who knoweth not that English poetry is improved fifty in the hundred, in this last century of years.
The opinion which Phaer himself expresses of his version is much less favourable than those of his contemporaries; and, if he was sincere, it must be concluded, that he possessed more poetical taste than genius. In his concluding address to his readers, he says; “ You may therefore accept these translations as things roughly begun, rather than polished, and where you shall understand a fault, I desire you, with silence, patiently pass it, and, upon knowledge given to me, I shall in the next setting forth endeavour to reform it.”
Though Phaer had been preceded in his undertaking by Lord Surrey and Douglas, it is not probable, that he derived any assistance from their labours. It may rather be inferred, that his interpretation is founded almost exclusively on the original text, both from the absence of any acknowledgement, and from the short time he allowed himself in going through each book : by the inscriptions placed at the end of which, it appears, that the seventh was translated in twelve days, and the first in rather less time; the eighth, which engaged his attention longest, took up forty days, and the others from fifteen to thirty.
Phaer's translation is executed in the same kind of verse with that used in Chapman's version of the fliad, which con
Worthies, 4to ed. vol. ij. Pembrokeshire.'