1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Chapman

Nathan Drake, in Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 295.



GEORGE CHAPMAN, who was born in 1557, and died in 1634, aged seventy-seven, is here introduced as the principal translator of his age; to him we are indebted for Homer, Musaeus, and part of Hesiod. His first published attempt on Homer appeared in 1592, under the title of Seaven Bookes of the Shades of Homer, Prince of Poets; and shortly after the accession of James the First, the entire Iliad was completed and entitled, The Iliads of Homer, Prince of Poets. Never before in any language truly translated. With a comment upon some of his chief places: done according to the Greeke.

This version, which was highly prized by his contemporaries, is executed in rhymed couplets, each line containing fourteen syllables; a species of versification singularly cumbrous and void of harmony; and, notwithstanding this protracted metre, fidelity is, by no means, the characteristic of Chapman. He is not only often very paraphrastic, but takes the liberty of omitting, without notice, what he could not comprehend. It has been asserted by Pope, that a daring fiery spirit, something like what we might imagine Homer himself to have written before he arrived to years of discretion, animates his translation, and covers his defects; an opinion which seems rather the result of partiality than unbiassed judgment; for though Chapman is certainly superior to his successor Hobbes, and occasionally exhibits some splendid passages, he must be considered by every critic of the present day as, in general, coarse, bombastic, and often disgusting; a violator, indeed, in almost every page, of the dignity and simplicity of his original.

The magnitude and novelty of the undertaking, however, deserved and met with encouragement, and Chapman was induced, in 1614, to present the world with a version of the Odyssey. This is in the pentameter couplet; inferior in vigour to his Iliad, but in diction and versification more chaste and natural. Of his Musaeus and his Georgics of Hesiod, we shall only remark that the former was printed in 1616, the latter in 1618, and that the first, which we have alone seen, does not much exceed the character of mediocrity. As an original writer, we shall have to notice Chapman under the dramatic department, and shall merely add now, that he was, in a moral light, a very estimable character, and the friend of Spenser, Shakspeare, Marlowe, Daniel, and Drayton.