26 October 2012

Like Dishes of Meat Twice Drest

Samuel Butler (1613-1680), Characters and Passages from Note Books, ed. A. R. Waller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908), pp. 170-1:
A Translator
Dyes an Author, like an old Stuff, into a new Colour, but can never give it the Beauty and Lustre of the first Tincture; as Silks that are twice died lose their Glosses, and never receive a fair Colour. He is a small Factor, that imports Books of the Growth of one Language into another, but it seldom turns to Accompt; for the Commodity is perishable, and the finer it is the worse it endures Transportation; as the most delicate of Indian Fruits are by no Art to be brought over. Nevertheless he seldom fails of his Purpose, which is to please himself, and give the World notice that he understands one Language more than it was aware of; and that done he makes a saving Return. He is a Truch-Man that interprets between learned Writers and gentle Readers, and uses both how he pleases; for he commonly mistakes the one, and misinforms the other. If he does not perfectly understand the full Meaning of his Author as well as he did himself, he is but a Copier, and therefore never comes near the Mastery of the Original; and his Labours are like Dishes of Meat twice drest, that become insipid, and lose the pleasant Taste they had at first. He differs from an Author as a Fidler does from a Musician, that plays other Men's Compositions, but is not able to make any of his own. All his Studies tend to the Ruin of the Interests of Linguists; for by making those Books common, that were understood but by few in the Original, he endeavours to make the Rabble as wise as himself without taking Pains, and prevents others from studying Languages, to understand that which they may know as well without them. The Ancients, who never writ any Thing but what they stole and borrowed from others (and who was the first Inventor nobody knows) never used this Way; but what they found for their Purposes in other Authors they disguised, so that it past for their own: but to take whole Books and render them, as our Translators do, they always forbore, out of more or less Ingenuity is a Question; for they shewed more in making what they liked their own, and less in not acknowledging from whence they had it. And though the Romans by the Laws of War laid claim to all Things, both sacred and profane, of those Nations whom they conquered; yet they never extended that Privilege to their Wit, but made that their own by another Title of the same Kind, and over-came their Wit with Wit.