Having thus anticipated a possible misapprehension it will be worth our while to devote some little attention to the history of the attempts at translation in this line. The first English writer to venture upon the task of turning the choice music of Tasso into his native language was the eccentric satellite of the Sidneyan circle, Abraham Fraunce, fellow of St. John’s College in Cambridge. It so happened that he was at the time pursuing that elusive phantasm, the application of the laws of classical versification to English poetry. The resuit was at least unique, in English, at any rate, namely a drama in hexameter verse. It also occurred to him that Watson’s Lamentations of Amyntas, a translation of which he had himself published in 1587, might be made to serve as an appendix to Tasso’s play. With this object in view he changed the name of the heroine from Silvia to Phillis. This appears to have been the exact extent to which he ‘altered S. Tassoes Italian’ in order to connect it with ’M. Watsons Latine Amyntas’ and ’to make them both one English.’ Certain other changes were, however, introduced upon other considerations. Various unessential points were omitted, notably in connexion with Tirsi, whose topical character disappears; the name Nerina is altered to Fulvia; frequent allusions are introduced to the nymph Pembrokiana, to whom among other things is ascribed the rescue of the heroine from the bear which takes the place of the wolf in Tasso. Lastly, we have the addition of a whole scene immediately before the final chorus. Phillis and Amyntas reappear and carry on a conversation, not unamiably, in a sort of hexametrical stichomythia. The maiden modestly seeks to restrain the amorous impatience of her lover, and the scene ends with a song between the two composed in ’Asclepiades.’ Of this literary curiosity Amyntas’ opening stave may be quoted:
Sweete face, why be the hev’ns
soe to the bountifull,
Making that radiant bewty of all the starrs
Bright-burning, to be fayre Phillis her ornament?
And yet seeme to be soe spytefuly partial,
As not for to aford Argus his eyes to mee,
Eyes too feawe to behould Phillis her ornament?
It is, perhaps, not a little strange that the pedant who made the preposterous experiment of turning the Aminta into English hexameters should nevertheless have been capable of clearly perceiving, however incapable he was of adequately rectifying, the hopelessly undramatic character of the last act of Tasso’s play. As an example of the style of the translation we may take the following rendering of the delicate Chi crederia, with which the original prologue opens: