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Art. V. - Homer's Iliad ; translated by William Mun
Boston: Little & Brown. 1846. 2 vols. 8vo.
The appearance of these volumes is an interesting literary event. A translation of the Iliad coming from Virginia does more honor to that ancient commonwealth than her political dissertations, endless as they are, or even, if it be not too heretical to say so, than the Democratic creed embraced in the Resolutions of 1798. We have so long been accustomed to political talk from old Virginia, that a purely literary work, having no possible connection with “the party,” strikes us as something unexpected, strange, and surprising. A translation of the Iliad coming out from Richmond, in the same year that Mr. Pleasants was barbarously murdered there on the “ field of honor,” suggests incongruous and contrasted ideas. But so it is. *
It is a coincidence, not without interest in literary bistory, that a translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses was made in Virginia about two centuries before Mr. Munford's Iliad was completed, by George Sandys, the treasurer of the colony. We give, in a note below, the facts connected with this passage in the literary annals of the Ancient Dominion, as they probably are not generally known.f Before proceeding
* What Mr. Munford thought of duelling may be seen in the following characteristic note on the sharp censure which Sarpedon gives to Hector, in the fifth book. Sarpedon's character is conspicuous for magnanimity and independ
Great as Hector was, he rebukes him without fear or ceremony, and with extraordinary energy. Hector, too, though stung at heart, takes the reproof with exemplary patience, nobly resolving, as Diomed did on a , similar occasion, to let his actions answer for him. According to the modern code of false honor, Diomed ought to have challenged Agamempon, and Hector, Sarpedon, to give satisfaction' by a duel in a gentlemanly manner! But in those times of true heroism, such absurdities were un. known.” Vol. 1., p. 181.
George Sandys, the celebrated traveller and poet, was born in 1577, and died in 1643. The entry in the parish register styles him “ Poetarum Anglorum sui sæculi facile Princeps.' His travels commenced in 1610, the year in which Henry the Fourth of France was assassinated; and the account of them which he published passed through many editions. In 1621, he was appointed treasurer of the company in Virginia; a fact mentioned neither by Cibber, Chalmers, nor Ellis, nor in the Biographie Universelle, and only alluded to by Whalley in a note to Wood's Athena O.conienses. He occupied the leisure he could command from official labors and the dis. turbances of Indian warfare with the translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses,
to notice Mr. Munford's version, we will lay before our readers a brief sketch of his life.
William Munford was born in the county of Mecklenburg, Virginia, on the 15th of August, 1775. His ancestors were
which was published in 1632, under the title of “Ovid's Metamorphoses Englished, mythologized, and represented in Figures,” Oxford, folio. A copy of this version, with the title-page and introduction torn out, is in the Boston Atheneum. Langbaine remarks, -"He will be allowed an excellent artist in it by learned judges; and he has followed Horace's advice of avoid. ing a servile translation, — Nec verbum verbo curabis reddere, fidus interpres,' - so he comes so near the sense of his author that nothing is lost; no spirits evaporate, in the decanting of it into English ; and if there be any sediment, it is left behind."
Fuller (Worthies of England) says, – “He most elegantly translated Ovid's Metamorphoses into English verse; so that, as the soul of Aristotle was said to have transmigrated into Thomas Aquinas (because rendering his sense so naturally), Ovid's genius may seem to have passed into Master Sandys. He was a servant but no slave to his subject; well knowing that a translator is a person in free custody; custody, being bound to give the true sense of the author he translated ; free, left at liberty to clothe it in his own expression."
Warton (Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope) says, that, when Sandys's Ovid fell into the hands of Pope, in his eighth or ninth year,
The raptures which these translations gave him were so strong, that he spoke of them with pleasure to the period of his life." Sandys enjoyed the intimate friendship of Lord Falkland, who addressed several poems to him. Old Michael Drayton, the author of the Polyolbion, in an Elegy
“ To George Sandys, Treasurer of the English Colony in Virginia," says:
“ And, worthy George, by industry and use
Let's see what lines Virginia can produce;
Entreat them gently, train them to that air."
“ But in the midst of these tumults and alarms, the Muses were not silent. For at this time, Mr. George Sandys, the Company's Treasurer of Virginia, made his translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, a very laudable performance for the times. In his dedication of that piece to King Charles the First, he tells him that it was limned by that imperfect light which was snatched from the hours of night and repose. For the day was not his own, but dedicated to the service of his father and himself: and had that service proved as fortunate as it was faithful in him, as well as others more worthy, they had hoped, before the revolution of many years, to have presented his Majesty with a rich and well peopled kingdom. But as things had turned, he had only been able to bring from thence himself and that composition, which needed more than a single denization. For it was doubly a stranger, being sprung from an ancient Roman stock, and bred up in the new world, of the rudeness whereof it could not but participate ; especially as it was produced among wars and tumults, instead of under the kindly and peaceful influences of the Muses.”
prominent in the early history of the colony, and in the war of the Revolution. His father, Colonel Robert Munford, a distinguished patriot, died when William was only eight years old ; the boy was therefore left in charge of his mother, an amiable and accomplished lady, who added to strong natural powers the best culture of the times, and a familiarity with the most polished society. The influence of this excellent person upon the character of her son was deep and lasting. Although her income was narrow, owing to the embarrassed circumstances in which the estate of her husband was left at his death, she resolved that her son should enjoy all the advantages of a liberal and classical education. Having completed his preparatory studies, under the care of the Rev. Mr. Cameron, at the Petersburg academy, he entered William and Mary's college, in Williamsburg. He displayed, very early in life, while yet at the academy, the same love of letters, and the same amiable qualities of character, which went with him through life. He was graduated at the college with high honors, and immediately commenced the study of the law, to which he had been destined, under Mr. Wythe, afterward the celebrated Chancellor, to whom he had become known during his residence in Williamsburg. The letters of young Munford show the cordial and intimate relations which existed between him and his venerable teacher, and which continued until the death of the latter, in 1806. In 1792, Mr. Munford removed to Richmond, Mr. Wythe having transferred his residence thither, on his appointment as Chancellor of the State ; but he returned afterwards to William and Mary, to attend the law lectures of Mr. St. George Tucker. Having completed his studies, he returned to his native county, and was called to the bar in the twentieth
age, his diligence, character, and ability soon secured a large practice. In 1797, he was elected a representative from the county of Mecklenburg to the House of Delegates, which place he continued to hold until 1802, when he was appointed a senator from the district in which he resided. In 1806, he was chosen by the legislature a member of the Privy Council of State, in which he continued until 1811, when he was elected clerk of the House of Delegates. * This office
and by he held until his death. In addition to his numerous other labors, both professional and political, he was for several years the reporter of the decisions of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia ; at first alone, and afterwards in connection with W. W. Henry. Six volumes of these reports were the fruit of his own labor, and four were prepared by him and Mr. Henry in conjunction. He resided in the city of Richmond during the last nineteen years of his life.
* On the death of Mr. Munford, the House of Delegates, by a large
y, appointed his eldest son to the office, and he has held it since.
Mr. Munford acquired the respect of the community in which he lived, and of the State, of which he was one of the brightest ornaments, to a remarkable degree. The industry, integrity, and ability which he manifested as a professional man and as a legislator, the virtues that adorned his character in private life, the loveliness of his conduct in the domestic circle, caused him to be regarded with a peculiar warmth of affection by all who had the happiness to know himn ; and after his death the bright example of his life became a precious legacy to his bereaved family, and a treasure of spotless reputation to the public which had for so many years benefited by his labors, his writings, his deeds of mercy and charity.
From his early childhood, Mr. Munford cherished an ardent love of literature. Through all the stages of public and professional life, amidst the cares of the family circle and the interests of philanthropy, the dignity of learning was never forgotten ; the graces which the Muse imparts to the common routine of toil and care were never by him neglected. Ancient literature was dear to him from early association and the cultivated tastes of maturer years ; and the best works of several modern languages occupied many of his leisure hours. But his favorite pursuit was the study of the Greek. The originality and splendor of Hellenic genius, the variety, beauty, and expressive power of the Greek language, the exquisite movements of its poetical rhythms, fascinated his mind, and excited an ardor of enthusiasm in his breast, which encouraged him to labor as few men have labored in its acquisition. But above all did he delight in the “ Tale of Troy divine"; that wondrous monument, standing unequalled in grandeur, as it stands solitary in the remotest age of history ; the creation of a genius never approached but once in the annals of literature. At an early period, he formed the design of translating the Iliad. He had always been fond of poetical
composition, and showed in youth considerable facility and elegance in versification. No translation with which he was familiar came up to his idea of what a translation of the Iliad ought to be ; and he determined to try his hand upon the often attempted, but as yet unexecuted task, of making a version which should at once be faithful and poetical, which should be both a fair representative of the incomparable original and an interesting English poem.
This was the great literary labor of Mr. Munford's life. It was completed, and the manuscript was prepared for the press, a short time before his death, which took place at his residence in Richmond, July 21st, 1825. This event, felt to be a heavy calamity to the commonwealth, to whose name his character and career are an honor, put a stop to the arrangements for publication, which had already been partially made. The manuscript remained in the state in which its author left it, until the present time. Mr. Munford's family, feeling a just pride in the good name of their deceased relative, have now paid the debt due to his memory,
in a manner befitting the sentiment of reverence which they can never cease to entertain; they have published his translation of the Iliad in a style of typographical beauty which its literary merit deserves. It is a work which will do honor not only to the name of its author, but to the literary reputation of the country; and we feel it not only a duty, but a pleasure, to welcome its appearance at this time, by giving it whatever advantage it may derive from being heralded to the learned public in the pages of this Journal.
There are several considerations which should not be lost sight of in the examination of this work. It had not the advantage of being carried through the press by the author. Every person, accustomed to writing for the press, will at once feel how much a work of this extent loses for want of the finishing touches which the writer could have given to it, as it passed, sentence by sentence, under his critical eye, when every fault would be brought out into bold relief by the distinciness of type:
In the next place, it should be remembered, that, during the twenty years that have elapsed since the translation was completed, the literature of Homer has been completely remodelled. A variety of questions, important to the exact appreciation of the poetic spirit and genius of the Homeric poetry, have been discussed with a keenness of