29 January 2018

A Lazy Task for Second-Rate Minds

Sir Thomas Herbert Warren, "The Art of Translation," Essays of Poets and Poetry (London: John Murray, 1909), pp. 85-133 (at p. 89):
There is a common view of translation which regards it as naturally and necessarily a task for inferior minds, capable of being performed adequately by them and unworthy of any great or good ability, a fit employment for those who are essaying or those who have failed in literature. Much translation doubtless is produced by hacks, and it is obviously poor enough. But such production is in reality only like the other hack or journeyman work which fringes true and living literature. Translation worthy of the name has its proper place, and that no mean one, in the hierarchy of letters. Nay, rather what is noteworthy is not that so much translation is done by inferior writers for gain and as a trade, but that so much is done by men of ability for love and for little hire.
Ibid., p. 101:
So far from translation being a lazy task for second-rate minds, it is a task which tries the best powers of the best. It is only the best ages of literature, and the best writers, that can produce really excellent translations. The reason why they do not oftener give themselves to the task is partly that they are naturally preoccupied with their own creative effort, partly the difficulty, the insuperable difficulty, of the task; and therefore its inherently unsatisfactory character.
This is an interesting essay. I'll quote more from it later.