Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Horse nonsense: Dante in Leicestershire

For all the recent research into translators' habitus, sociological approaches to translation and the like, I feel we have neglected a crucial area of the field (pre-emptive apologies are in order for a really awful pun). This was a bit of an epiphany, caused by reading a review in the Leicestershire Advertiser of 1 April 1854 of Ichabod C. Wright's translation of Dante, published by Henry Bohn. The review captivated me from line one:
We have often thought it strange that an acquaintance with Italian literature, either in the original or in translation, should be so extremely limited in Leicestershire.
The reviewer goes on to wonder at the neglect of Dante in the native county of the great (though unsung) translator I.C.Wright and attempts to remedy this by a deeply appreciative review of 'his exquisite translation' through which 'we first arrived at a full estimate of the force, and truth, and beauty of the Divina Comedia [sic]:
Mr. Wright has placed Dante in an English dress that is worthy of Italy's best and brightest bard. Rightly discarding that verbum pro verbo translation which Byron attempted in Pulci, Mr. Wright confines himself to a faithful transfusion of his author's spirit into his production; yet, so accurately is this accomplished, that we do not believe the whole volume contains a single passage in which violence is done to the sense of the original.
It is not until the footnotes of the review that we gain valuable insight into the translation context within which Wright elaborated his 'harmonious and consistent versification'. Here we are told that
the amiable and excellent translator of Dante is in the habit occasionally of recreating from his literary toils by joining the sports of the field. We well remember, shortly after the first appearance of his translation, in a run with the Quorn Hounds, he was for a time impounded in a quagmire, or ravine, when some wit - it might have been the late Lord Alvanley but we think it was Mr. Bruce C___pb_ll - perpetrated a triple pun on the subject:
There's Dante writin' Purgatorio!
There's Dante, right in Purgatorio!
There's 'Dante Wright' in Purgatorio!

The translator is further said to have a strong personal resemblance to the picture of the great Italian bard.
Perhaps it is worth thinking more deeply about the implications of the recent hunting ban for translation in the United Kingdom? 

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