1877 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Henry Francis Cary

Bryan Waller Procter, in Procter: An Autobiographical Fragment (1877) 207-09.



The translator of Dante (the Rev. Henry Francis Cary) was the mildest and most amiable of men. The extreme gentleness of his face almost hurt its intelligence; yet he spoke well and with sufficient readiness on such subjects as he chose to discuss. He had a large acquaintance with Greek and Italian, French and English books. His ostensible means of living consisted of an office in the British Museum, where he was, sub-librarian. His most important papers in the London Magazine were: notices of the early French poets, with translations of passages in their works. These comprised verses from Clement Marot, Thiebaut, King of Navarre, Ronsard, Alain Chartier, and other well-known writers, of the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries. Mr. Cary was, intimate chiefly with Charles Lamb (whom he sometimes entertained at dinner) and with George Darley, although he was kind and familiar with his other colleagues.

I am not competent to determine how far Mr. Cary's version of Dante affords an adequate view of the original Italian; but I believe that the meaning of the Divine Comedy is on the whole ably and faithfully rendered; as far, at least, as English blank verse, can accurately represent Italian rhyme. Certainly Mr. Cary's lines are generally good (somewhat Miltonic, perhaps), and in some instances, as in the Inferno, where the poem deals with Paolo, and Francesca, and in other pathetic portions, the verse is graceful and touching. The task of embalming seven or eight hundred foreign names in tolerable English verse must have presented great difficulties. Mr. Cary was a scholar of much learning and vast industry, and was without an atom of pretension. One could not help being surprised into a little admiration, when we saw this accomplished man, who had traversed the ghostly mysteries of Dante, and who had made that high poet, together with Anacreon and (I think) Pindar, familiar to his countrymen, subside into the simple under-librarian of the British Museum; satisfied with the back instead of the soul of books. He exchanged frequent little courtesies with the workers on the London Magazine on equal terms, and was as unassuming as one of the humble neophytes of literature.