Pope's Letter to Mr Bridges
From The Life Of Pope by Samuel Johnson

The following letter, of which the original is in the hands of Lord Hardwicke, was communicated to me by the kindness of Mr. Jodrell:-

"To MR. BRIDGES, at the Bishop of London's, at Fulham.
"SIR, — The favour of your letter, with your remarks, can never be enough acknowledged, and the speed with which you discharged so troublesome a task doubles the obligation.
"I must own you have pleased me very much by the commendations so ill bestowed upon me; but I assure you, much more by the frankness of your censure, which I ought to take the more kindly of the two, as it is more advantage to a scribbler to be improved in his judgment than to be smoothed in his vanity. The greater part of those deviations from the Greek which you have observed I was led into by Chapman and Hobbes; who are, it seems, as much celebrated for their knowledge of the original as they are decried for the badness of their translations. Chapman pretends to have restored the genuine sense of the author from the mistakes of all former explainers in several hundred places; and the Cambridge editors of the large Homer, in Greek and Latin, attributed so much to Hobbes, that they confess they have corrected the old Latin interpretation very often by his version. For my part, I generally took the author's meaning to be as you have explained it; yet their authority, joined to the knowledge of my own imperfectness in the language, overruled me. However, sir, you may be confident, I think you in the right, because you happen to be of my opinion; for men (let them say what they will) never approve any other's sense but as it squares with their own. But you have made me much more proud of and positive in my judgment, since it is strengthened by yours. I think your criticisms which regard the expression very just, and shall make my profit of them; to give you some proof that I am in earnest, I will alter three verses on your bare objection, though I have Mr. Dryden's example for each of them. And this, I hope, you will account no small piece of obedience, from one who values the authority of one true poet above that of twenty critics or commentators. But, though I speak thus of commentators, I will continue to read carefully all I can procure, to make up that way for my own want of critical understanding in the original beauties of Homer. Though the greatest of them are certainly those of invention and design, which are not at all confined to the language; for the distinguishing excellences of Homer are (by the consent of the best critics of all nations), first in the manners (which include all the speeches, as being no other than the representations of each person's manners by his words): and then in that rapture and fire, which carries you away with him, with that wonderful force, that no man who has a true poetical spirit is master of himself while he reads him. Homer makes you interested and concerned before you are aware, all at once, where Virgil does it by soft degrees. This, I believe, is what a translator of Homer ought principally to imitate; and it is very hard for any translator to come up to it, because the chief reason why all translations fall short of their originals is, that the very constraint they are obliged to renders them heavy and dispirited.
"The great beauty of Homer's language, as I take it, consists in that noble simplicity which runs through all his works (and yet his diction, contrary to what one would imagine consistent with simplicity, is at the same time very copious). I don't know how I have run into this pedantry in a letter, but I find I have said too much, as well as spoken too inconsiderately; what farther thoughts I have upon this subject I shall be glad to communicate to you (for my own improvement) when we meet, which is a happiness I very earnestly desire, as I do likewise some opportunity of proving how much I think myself obliged to your friendship, and how truly I am, sir,
"Your most faithful humble servant,
"A. POPE."
« NEXT » « Life of Pope » « Johnson's Works » « Library » « Home »