|| Get the Book | Del.icio.us|
STORIES FROM THE ITALIAN POETS: WITH LIVES OF THE WRITERS.
BY LEIGH HUNT.
IN TWO VOLUMES. VOL. I.
TO SIR PERCY SHELLEY, BART.
MY DEAR SIR PERCY,
As I know no man who surpasses yourself either in combining a love of the most romantic fiction with the coolest good sense, or in passing from the driest metaphysical questions to the heartiest enjoyment of humour,--I trust that even a modesty so true as yours will not grudge me the satisfaction of inscribing these volumes with your name.
That you should possess such varieties of taste is no wonder, considering what an abundance of intellectual honours you inherit; nor might the world have been the better for it, had they been tastes, and nothing more. But that you should inherit also that zeal for justice to mankind, which has become so Christian a feature in the character of the age, and that you should include in that zeal a special regard for the welfare of your Father's Friend, are subjects of constant pleasurable reflection to
Your obliged and affectionate
The purpose of these volumes is, to add to the stock of tales from the Italian writers; to retain as much of the poetry of the originals as it is in the power of the writer's prose to compass; and to furnish careful biographical notices of the authors. There have been several collections of stories from the Novellists of Italy, but none from the Poets; and it struck me that prose versions from these, of the kind here offered to the public, might not be unwillingly received. The stories are selected from the five principal narrative poets, Dante, Pulci, Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso; they comprise the most popular of such as are fit for translation; are reduced into one continuous narrative, when diffused and interrupted, as in the instances of those of Angelica, and Armida; are accompanied with critical and explanatory notes; and, in the case of Dante, consist of an abstract of the poet's whole work. The volumes are, furthermore, interspersed with the most favourite _morceaux_ of the originals, followed sometimes with attempts to versify them; and in the Appendix, for the furtherance of the study of the Italian language, are given entire stories, also in the original, and occasionally rendered in like manner. The book is particularly intended for such students or other lovers of the language as are pleased with any fresh endeavours to recommend it; and, at the same time, for such purely English readers as wish to know something about Italian poetry, without having leisure to cultivate its acquaintance.
I did not intend in the first instance to depart from the plan of selection in the case of Dante; but when I considered what an extraordinary person he was,--how intense is every thing which he says,--how widely he has re-attracted of late the attention of the world,--how willingly perhaps his poem might be regarded by the reader as being itself one continued story (which, in fact, it is), related personally of the writer,--and lastly, what a combination of difficulties have prevented his best translators in verse from giving the public a just idea of his almost Scriptural simplicity,--I began to think that an abstract of his entire work might possibly be looked upon as supplying something of a desideratum. I am aware that nothing but verse can do perfect justice to verse; but besides the imperfections which are pardonable, because inevitable, in all such metrical endeavours, the desire to impress a grand and worshipful idea of Dante has been too apt to lead his translators into a tone and manner the reverse of his passionate, practical, and creative style--a style which may be said to write things instead of words; and thus to render every word that is put out of its place, or brought in for help and filling up, a misrepresentation. I do not mean to say, that he himself never does any thing of the sort, or does not occasionally assume too much of the oracle and the schoolmaster, in manner as well as matter; but passion, and the absence of the superfluous, are the chief characteristics of his poetry. Fortunately, this sincerity of purpose and utterance in Dante render him the least pervertible of poets in a sincere prose translation; and, since I ventured on attempting one, I have had the pleasure of meeting with an express recommendation of such a version in an early number of the _Edinburgh Review_.