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§ 1. As each word has its peculiar import, a careful writer must be supposed not to select without a reason one word in preference to another for the embodiment of the thought which he desires to convey. It is, therefore, the true meaning and value of the expression which must be studied, in order to reproduce it with the greatest exactness. If we are content to take the first equivalent which presents itself to the mind, or is found in the dictionary, we incur the risk of misrepresenting the figure by saying more or less than the author has wished to convey. Take, for example, the following passage of Addison :-“ The king, smiling at the mistake of the Dervise, asked him how he could possibly be so dull as not to distinguish a palace from a caravansary.” If we were to translate it—“ Le roi, souriant de L'ERREUR du Dervis, lui demanda comment il pouvait être assez STUPIDE pour ne pas distinguer un palais d'un caravansérail,” we should make two mistakes. First, erreur, in the ordinary acceptation, expresses false opinion, false doctrine; and it is only by straining its meaning that it conveys the act of taking one thing for another. For this sense we have the word méprise, which, literally translated, means mistake, and is the correct expression. Secondly, dull signifies, it is true, stupide, lourd, obtus, hébété, niais; but none of these words is correct in this place. All imply the idea of insulting reproach and ill-feeling, which Addison certainly did not intend to attribute to the king, since he makes him smile when speaking. The expression must here be softened as much as possible to render it correct, and we have the adjective simple, which gives the exact sense.
We thus see that the dictionary does not always give the required expression ; and this is by no means surprising. A dictionary presents first the primitive meaning of a word ; then the sense ordinarily derived from it; but it cannot anticipate all the accidental significations which this word may acquire under various circumstances. In such cases it devolves on the translator to find
the appropriate expression. This he will generally do without much difficulty, if he takes the trouble to examine the sentence attentively, weighs the words, and even reads over again the passage immediately preceding, and looks at that which follows, in order to grasp the general sense. The required expression then rarely fails to present itself.
§ 2. It often happens that the same word has different acceptations. We need not observe that we must never, like some careless students, be too hasty in adopting the first word that occurs to us, without proving that it bears on the general sense. This would expose us to the possibility of writing phrases such as these :
1. Bring me my horse.
Apportez-moi mon cheval,-instead of
2. She has light hair.
Elle a des cheveux légers,-instead of
3. Where do you live?
Où vivez-vous ? instead of
4. I know that lady.
Je sais cette dame, instead of
5. Take that child to school,
Prenez cet enfant à l'école, instead of
6. Take this letter to the post.
Prenez cette lettre à la poste,-instead of
7. His purse is well lined.
Sa bourse est bien doublée,- instead of
§ 3. One English word may often externally be identical with another French word, without presenting in the least the same signification. If the translator allows himself to be deceived by such resemblance, which occurs most frequently in words derived from the Latin, he will fall into the grossest errors, and connect incompatible words conveying no meaning in French.
For example, do not translate, He DETERMINED to go, by Il DÉTERMINA d’ALLER ; nor, I HEARD of that GENTLEMAN, by J'ENTENDIS de ce GENTILHOMME ; but say, Il RÉSOLUT de s’EN ALLER, and J'ENTENDIS PARLER de ce MONSIEUR.
As these faults occur very frequently, we shall point out some of them :
1. They will return from the country, must not be translated thus, -Ils retourneront de la cintrée ; but, Ils reviendront de la campagne.
2. My old father is now very altered, must not be translated,-Mon vieux père est maintenant très-altéré; but, Mon vieux père est maintenant très-changé.
3. Have you paid a visit to his brother? must not be translated,-Avez-vous payé une visite à son frère ? but, Avez-vous rendu une visite à son frère ?
4. My grandson is industrious, must not be translated,- Mon grand fils est industrieux; but, Mon petit fils est laborieux.
5. The history of Joseph continued, must not be translated, -L'histoire de Joseph continuée; but, Suite de l'histoire de Joseph.
6. I was born in Paris, must not be translated, J'étais né à Paris ; but, Je suis né à Paris.
7. He has married my sister, must not be translated, -Il a marié ma sæur ; but Il a épousé ma soeur.
8. We employed twenty labourers, must not be translated, - Nous avons employé vingt laboureurs; but, Nous avons employé vingt journaliers.
9. She supported her parents, must not be translated, -Elle supporta ses parents; but, Elle soutint son père et sa mère.
10. Tell me the time, must not be translated, -Dites-moi le temps; but, Dites-moi l'heure.
11. She deserves your confidence ; must not be translated,-Elle mérite votre confidence: but, Elle mérite votre confiance.
12. I will subscribe to that paper, must not be translated,- Je souscrirai à ce papier ; but, Je m'ab innerai à ce journal.
13. I must make apologies to your grandmother, must not be translated,--Je dois faire des apologies à votre grand’mère ; but, Je dois faire des excuses à votre grand'mère.
14. We heard the bells in the distance, must not be translated, -Nous entendimes les cloches dans la distance; but, Nous entendîmes les cloches dans le lointain.
15. He used my pen, must not be translated, -Il usa ma plume ; but, Il se servit de ma plume.
16. The traveller was obliged to retrace his steps, must not be translated, -Le voyageur fut obligé de retracer ses pas; but, Le voyageur fut obligé de revenir sur ses pas.
17. Do you know the latest intelligencc ? must not be translated, -Connaissez-vous la dernière intelligence? but, Connaissez-vous les dernières nouvelles ?
18. I bought two beautiful copies of Milton, must not be translated, -J'ai acheté deux belles copies de Milton; but, J'ai acheté deux beaux exemplaires de Milton.
19. A large stone, must not be translated, -Une large pierre ; but, Une grande pierre.
20. Trouble, must not be translated,-Trouble; but, Peine.
§ 4. We call construction the order in which the words composing a sentence are arranged. This order, which is determined by the desire to place a certain idea before another, and more especially to present the cause before the effect, gives to each phrase a form which corresponds with the thought of the writer, and represents it with fidelity. To change the construction would always disturb the sentence, and often alter its character so completely as to render its true meaning unintelligible. In fact, words mutually modify each other by the manner in which they are associated together, so that, without losing their inherent force, they inclose in their combination an idea or sentiment which has no direct and palpable expression. If, therefore, an author has put forth his ideas in a certain order, thus attributing to some greater importance than to others, and the translator alters that order indiscriminately, he evidently changes the form of the writer's conception, and falsifies it by altering the point of view adopted in the original.
For example, if you have to render into French the following phrase :—“They had inhabited one of the neatest cottages, and by various rural occupations and the assistance of a small garden, had led a happy and blameless life,” and were to translate it thus—“Ils avaient habité une des chaumières les mieux tenues et avaient mené une vie heureuse et irréprochable, au moyen de diverses occupations champêtres, et à l'aide d'un petit jardin,” the displacing of “by various rural occupations and the assistance of a small garden," sadly modifies the thought of the writer, who intended to show first what were the modest means of subsistence of these people, so as to render their merit more prominent in leading with so little a happy and blameless life. In other words, you place the effect before the cause, while the author has given the cause before the effect.
The phrase must, therefore, be translated thus—« Ils avaient habité une des chaumières les mieux tenues et, au moyen de diverses occupations champêtres, et à l'aide d'un petit jardin, ils avaient mené une vie heureuse et irréprochable.”
Here are two more examples :1st. Samuel Rogers writes :
" Around my ivyed porch shall spring
Each fragrant flower that drinks the dew.” Here he certainly wished to describe the nature of the housedoor before speaking of the flowers which should subsequently adorn it. He considered Around my ivyed porch as the principal image ; Each fragrant flower that drinks the dew shall spring, as the secondary idea ; and for this reason he has inverted the direct order, and has made the second thought precede the first.
It would, therefore, be a great mistake to translate—“Toutes les fleurs odorantes qui boivent la rosée, pousseront autour de mon porche garni de lierre.”
We must render, “ Autour de mon porche garni de lierre, pousseront toutes les fleurs odorantes qui boivent la rosée.”
2d. Goldsmith, in speaking of the youth of Catherine I. of Russia, introduces her to us employed in the humblest occupations, for the support of her mother, and he adds : “While Catherine spun, the old woman would sit by and read some book of devotion.”
If we translate—“ La vieille femme s'asseyait près d'elle et lisait quelque livre de dévotion, pendant que Catherine filait,” we change Goldsmith's idea, who is writing the history of Catherine and not that of her mother. He wishes, therefore, to speak of her occupations in the first place, and if he adds those of the old mother, it is only to fill up the picture.
We must, therefore, translate—“Pendant que Catherine filait, la vieille femme était assise près d'elle et lisait quelque livre de dévotion."
These instances will show the necessity of preserving the construction, that is to say, the order of words adopted by a writer, if we would avoid falling into commonplace phraseology. It is a point which involves great difficulty ; but it gives to style the most unexpected and elegant turns, and endows translation with the flavour of a foreign fruit. We must only cease to preserve the