1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Fairfax

John Payne Collier, "Godfrey of Bulloigne" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 2:1-4.



This is the earliest translation of the whole of Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata into English, although Richard Carew published a version of the first five Cantos in 1594, (see CAREW, RICHARD, Vol. I. p. 132.) Fairefax accomplished his undertaking with more spirit and elegance than fidelity, for he was too much in the habit of adding thoughts and lines of his own, though generally consistent with the tone of the original. Thus in the sixth book we read the following stanza:—

That kept she secret: if Clorinda hard
Her make complaints, or secretly lament,
To other cause her sorrow she refard:
Matter enough she had of discontent.
Like as the bird that, having close imbard
Her tender young ones in the springing bent,
To draw the searcher further from her neast,
Cries and complaines most where she needeth least.

The last four lines, which are of course an allusion to the habits of the lapwing, so often employed in our poetry about that time, are not found in Tasso. It is known that Spenser imitated Tasso, especially in the two exquisite stanzas in Book II. Canto 12, of The Fairy Queen, commencing, — "The joyous birds shrouded in cheerful shade." Fairefax availed himself of Spenser, as will be evident from the subsequent quotation from the sixteenth book:—

The joyous birds, hid under greenewood shade,
Sung merrie notes on every branch and bow;
The winds (that in the leaves and waters plaid)
With murmur sweets, now sung, and whistled now;
Ceased the birds, the winds loud answere made,
And while they sung it rumbled soft and low:
Thus, were it happe or cunning, chance or art,
The winds in this strange musicke bore his part.

Chaucer, however, had preceded them both in some beautiful stanzas in his Assemble of Foules, beginning,—

On every bough the byrdes herde I synge
With voyce of aungel in her ermony:

and afterwards,—

Therwith a wynde, unneth it myght be lesse,
Made in the leves grene a noyse softe,
Accordant to the foules songe on lofte.

As a specimen of Fairefax's peculiar felicity, which in many places makes his translation read like an original poem, we may quote his first stanza of the 19th Canto:—

Now death, or feare, or care to save their lives
From their forsaken walles the Pagans chace:
Yet neither force, nor feare, nor wisdome drives
The constant knight, Argantes, from his place:
Alone against ten thousand foes he strives,
Yet dreedlesse, doubtlesse, carelssse seem'd his face.
Not death, not danger, but disgrace he feares,
And still unconquer'd, though oreset, appeares.

He is sometimes guilty, especially towards the close of his undertaking, of tautology, where he wished to eke out a line. Thus in one place (Canto 20) he says that the armor of the warriors "Gainst the sunne beanies smild, flamed, sparkled, shone." In another stanza of the same Canto, likening the rapid motion of Rinaldo's sword to the tongue of a serpent,—

To moove three toongs as a fierce serpent showes,
Which rolles the one she hath swift, speedie, quicke.

A third instance occurs in the same division of the work, where Tasso is adverting to the alteration in Soliman from courage to feare, — "But so doth heaven mens harts turne, alter, change."

Fairefax was certainly a very fastidious and dissatisfied translator, and copies of his version exist by which it is found that the first stanza was three times "turned, altered, changed": it not unfrequently happens that what Fairefax considered the improved rendering is pasted over the one which he first adopted. It may be worth while to insert all three, for the purpose of comparison. In the copy before us, the first stanza is given as originally printed, thus:

The sacred armies and the godly knight,
That the great sepulcher of Christ did free
I sing: much wrought his valour and foresight,
And in that glorious war much suffred hee.
In vaine gainst him did Hell oppose her might;
In vaine the Turks and Morians armed bee:
His soldiers wilde (to braules and mutines prest)
Reduced he to peace, so heav'n him blest.

The slip sometimes found pasted over the above stanza contains the following alterations:—

I sing the warre made in the Holy land,
And the great Chiefs that Christs great tombe did free.
Much wrought he with his wit, much with his hand,
Much in that brave atchievement suffred hee.
In vaine doth hell that man of God withstand,
In vaine the worlds great Princes armed bee;
For heav'n him favour'd, and he brought againe
Under one standard all his scatt'red traine.

It should seem, however, that Fairefax was so little content with either of these experiments, that he had the first two pages reprinted, (only one copy with the reprinted leaf seems at present known, and is now before us,) and then he altered not only the first stanza but "the Argument" which precedes it. They there run as follows:—

THE ARGUMENT.
God sends his angell to Tortosa downe:
Godfrey to counsell cals the Christian Peeres,
Where all the Lords and Princes of renowne
Chuse him their General: he straight appeeres
Mustring his royall beast, and in that stowne
Sends them to Sion, and their harts upcheeres.
The aged tyrant, Judaies land that guides,
In feare and trouble to resist provides.

I sing the sacred armies and the knight
That Christs great tombe enfranchis'd and set free.
Much wrought he by his witte, much by his might,
Much in that glorious conquest suffred hee:
Hell hindred him in vaine; in vaine to fight
Asias and Aifricks people armed bee;
Heav'n favourd him: his lords and knights misgone
Under his Ensigne he reduc'd in one.

It may perhaps be thought that Fairefax did not improve as he proceeded: his fourth line is verbatim from Carew, and in others the resemblance is very close. The whole work is dedicated "To her High Majesty," in four six-line stanzas, to which is added an explanation of "The Allegorie of the Poem."