The following pieces, selections from a huge and undigested mass of translation, accumulated during several years devoted to philological pursuits, are with much diffidence offered to the public, the writer being fully aware that not unfrequently he has failed in giving his version that cast and turn, which constitute no slight part of the beauty of the original; a point the accomplishment of which the poetical Translator ought, in all instances, to bear particularly in view, but which he will invariably find the most difficult part of the task which he has undertaken; in comparison with which the rendering of the diction of his Author into tolerable verse is an easy achievement. Perhaps no person, amongst the many individuals who have distinguished themselves by skill in the targumannic art, has more successfully surmounted this difficulty than Fairfax, the Translator into English “octave rhyme” of “The Jerusalem,” the master-piece of the greatest poet of modern Italy and, with one exception, of modern time.
That the character of a nation is best distinguishable by the general tone of its poetry, has been frequently remarked, and is a truth which does not admit of controversy; the soft songs of the Persian, and the bold and warlike ditties of the Dane are emblems of the effeminacy of the one, and the reckless heroism of the other.—In most instances the writer in the selection of pieces for this little work has been guided by a desire of exhibiting what is most characteristic of the people to whose literature it belongs. At the same time, he has been careful that this desire should not lead him to the countenancing of any thing which could be considered as pregnant with injury to good taste and morals, and has in consequence been compelled to exclude from his anthology many a glorious flower, which he would gladly have woven therein, had he not been apprehensive that it was the offspring of a poisonous bulb. He cannot refrain from lamenting that in his literary researches he has too often found amongst the writings of those, most illustrious for their genius and imagination, the least of that which is calculated to meet the approbation of the Christian, or even of the mere Moralist; and in conclusion he will take the liberty of addressing to those who may feel within them the stirrings of a mind capable of mighty things, the sublime words, slightly modified, of an Arabian sage and poet: O man, though the years of thy worldly fame are destined to be equal in number to the doves of the heaven, they shall nevertheless have an end, but whatever thou shalt do or say, which is founded on the love of wisdom and of God, shall endure for ever.
Saint Petersburg. June 1, 1835.
From the Hebrew.