Edward Fairfax translated Tasso with his Spenser open before him. For various reasons, "Godfrey" was regarded by generations of later critics as a landmark poem in the milepost in English verse — Dryden regarded it as the foundation of regular versification, William Collins in the Superstitions Ode as the quintessence of romance; the romantics themselves liked its Elizabethan style, preferring it to all modern translations.
James Beattie to Robert Arbuthnot: "Tasso possesses an exuberant and sublime imagination, though in exuberance it seems, in my opinion, inferior to our Spencer, and in sublimity to Milton. Were I to compare Milton's genius with Tasso's, I would say, that the sublime of the latter is flashy and fluctuating, while that of the former diffuses an uniform, steady, and vigorous blaze: Milton is more majestic, Tasso more dazzling" 12 December 1763; in William Forbes, Life of Beattie (1806) 1:67-68.
Universal Magazine: "His grand work, the work indeed upon which his reputation wholly depends, the translation of Tasso's 'Jerusalem Delivered,' was performed by him in very early life, and was published in queen Elisabeth's reign, to whom it was dedicated. It undoubtedly stands at the head of the poetical versions of that era. Though Fairfax confined himself too literally to the task of following his original line by line, he still rose above this disadvantage, and far above the roughness and pedantry of his contemporaries. This translation in general is particularly distinguished by the harmony of its versification, in which respect he ranks nearly, if not entirely, upon a level with Spenser. Waller acknowledged that he learned his numbers from Fairfax" "Knowledge, Learning, and Taste during the Reign of Elisabeth" 90 (September 1793) 166.
Nathan Drake: "An entire, and in every respect a far superior translation [than Richard Carew's], appeared four years after, from the pen of Fairfax, and which, in fact, forms an era in the annals of English versification; for Waller has declared that he owed the music of his numbers to the study of this version of Tasso. It is, indeed, if not the very best, yet a very noble specimen of metrical harmony for the period in which it was produced; and displays, likewise, in consequence of the numerous liberties which Fairfax has taken with his text, many indications of great original powers" "On the English Translations of Tasso" Winter Evenings (1820) 2:105-06.
Henry Neele: "Fairfax's Tasso, which was so long and so strangely neglected, is now recovering its popularity. Of all the strange caprices of the public taste, there is none more strange, than the preference which was given to the rhyme-tagged prose of Hoole, over this spirited and truly poetical production of Fairfax" Russell Institution Lectures on English Poetry, 1827; in Remains (1829) 48.
Charles Lamb to Henry Francis Cary: "Fairfax's Tasso is no translation at all. It is better in some places, but it merely observes the number of stanzas; as for images, similes, &c., he finds 'em himself, and never 'troubles Peter for the matter'" 9 September 1833; in Thomas Noon Talfourd, Literary Sketches and Letters ... of Charles Lamb (1849) 189-90.
Robert Southey: "'SPENSER (SIR EGERTON BRYDGES says) gave rise to no school of imitators, — unless we attribute to his example the translations of Ariosto and Tasso by Harrington and Fairfax.' His peculiar language was the probable cause. But no poet has produced more effect in kindling others" Common-Place Book (1849-51) 4:311.
Leigh Hunt: "Harrington, the gay 'godson' of Queen Elizabeth, is not always unlike Ariosto; but when not in good spirits he becomes as dull as if her majesty had frowned on him. Rose was a man of wit, and a scholar; yet he has undoubtedly turned the ease and animation of his original into inversion and insipidity. And Wiffen, though elegant and even poetical, did an unfortunate thing for Tasso, when he gave an additional line and a number of paraphrastic thoughts to a stanza already tending to the superfluous. Fairfax himself, who upon the whole, and with regard to a work of any length, is the best metrical translator our language has seen, and, like Chapman, a genuine poet, strangely aggravated the sines of prettiness and conceit in his original, and added to them a love of tautology amounting to that of a lawyer. As to Hoole, he is below criticism; and other versions I have not happened to see" Preface to Italian Poets (1846) in Works (1854) 4:x-xi.
W. J. Courthope: "Edward Fairfax was the son — some say the natural son — of Sir Thomas Fairfax of Denton in Yorkshire, and was therefore great-uncle to the famous general of the Parliament in the civil wars. The date of his birth is unknown, nor is much recorded of him beyond the fact that he lived in scholastic seclusion at Newhall, in the parish of Fulston, Yorkshire, where he helped his brother, the first Lord Fairfax, in the education of his children. Besides the translation of Jerusalem Delivered, he wrote twelve eclogues, only one of which has been preserved, and (in 1621) A Discourse of Witchcraft, which was occasioned by the belief that two of his daughters had been bewitched. He died in 1635 at Fulston, where he was buried" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 3:81-82.
George Saintsbury: "The prosodic importance of this painful translator and father of witch-beset virgins is quite undeniable. It is, in fact, constituted irrefragably by the fact of Dryden's well-known assertion that Waller had been influenced by Fairfax. If, therefore, he was no poet's poet he was a reformer's reformer. And let nobody interject any doubt about Waller's actual part in a certain rather questionable 'reform of our numbers.' The people who followed that reform believed in his part in it for a century and a half, and that is the point of importance. We may make a new translation-application of 'possunt quia posse videntur,' and say that the influence which is acknowledged is evidently an influence which exists. It is not necessary to waste words on the illusory objection that Fairfax, writing in stanza, could hardly have much to do with the introduction of the couplet. He did write in stanza; but his stanza was the octave with the couplet close, and it is evident from the very first that he was inclined — and did not resist his inclination — to isolate this" History of English Prosody (1906-10) 2:275-76.
Herbert E. Cory: "Fairfax was an enthusiastic follower of Spenser, and frequently departed from his original to draw more near to The Faerie Queene. Spenser, for instance, had already translated and in many cases improved passages from Tasso in his sensuous account of the Bower of Bliss. As Fairfax turned his Italian into English, memories of Spenser often led him delightedly astray. He describes the two wantons, who would have lured Carlo and Ubaldo from their quest for Rinaldo, with an evident relish of Spenser's exquisite translation in his mind.' One siren loosed her long tresses so that they fell down and half hid her naked body. 'Withal she smiled and she blushed withal, | Her blush, her smilings, smiles her blushing graced. | Over her face her amber tresses fall, | Whereunder Love himself in ambush placed.' The play on words is ultimately Tasso's. But Spenser wrote: 'Withall she laughed, and she blusht withall | That blushing to her laughter gave more grace.' Fairfax was plainly captivated by the charming cadence of the repeated 'withal' and pillaged Spenser's first line. In his description of the amorous Armida (C. 16, St. 18), Fairfax adds to the conceits of Tasso with a phrase from Spenser. 'Her breasts were naked for the day was hot. Her locks unbound waved in the wanton wind; | Some deal she sweat tired with the game you wot. | Her sweat-drops bright, white, round, like pearls of Inde; | Her humid eyes a firey smile forthshot | That like sunbeams in silver fountains shined, | O'er him her looks she hung and her soft breast | The pillow was, where he and love took rest.' From Spenser's interpolation, 'pure Orient perles,' (2, 12, 78) Fairfax borrowed his simile, 'like pearls of Inde,' (for there is no trace in the original) to overweight a picture already langorous to the last degree. He constantly sought words as well as fancies from his master, making free use of Spenser's archaisms. In emulating the highly wrought technique of Spenser and Tasso the lesser man doubtless found himself forced into that more conscious attention to finish which caught the eye of Edmund Waller. At all events, Waller and Dryden considered Fairfax as one of their sacred authorities for the new couplet" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 107-08.
A. A. Jack: There "are curious instances of a translator imitating an imitation of his author, and the more to be remarked as Fairfax in the general run of his translation does not remind one of Spenser in the least.... For instance, at the end of his Second Book Spenser has: 'Withall she laughed, and she blusht withall, | That blushing to her laughter gave more grace | And laughter to her blushing.' Fairfax, at the end of his fifteenth: 'Withall she smiled, and she blushed withall: | Her blush her Smiling, Smiles her Blushing graced,' where, though the translation of Tasso is very exact, so is Fairfax's memory of the former translator" Chaucer and Spenser (1920) 302, 301.
Bernard Groom: "In translating Tasso into English verse, Fairfax uses the ottava rima of his Italian original, but his diction — though somewhat less archaic and dialectical — may be described, with some latitude of sense, simply as Spenser's.... To illustrate the archaic colouring of Fairfax's style it is enough to quote such words as gent, leasing, gan, eft, yclad, stowre, eath, emprise, semblant, ensample, mote, algates, ycleped, treen (plural) which all occur within a few hundred lines" Diction of Poetry (1955) 19-20.
These naked wantons, tender, faire and white,
Mooved so farre the warriours stubborne harts,
That on their shapes they gazed with delite;
The Nymphes applide their sweete alluring artes,
And one of them above the waters quite,
Lift up her head, her brests, and higher partes,
And all that might weake eies subdew and take,
Her lower beauties vailed the gentle lake.
As when the morning starre escapt and fled,
From greedie waves with dewie beames up flies,
Or as the Queene of love, new borne and bred
Of th' Oceans fruitfull froth, did first arise:
So vented she, her golden lockes foorth shed
Round pearles and cristall moist therein which lies:
But when her eies upon the knights she cast
She start, and fain'd her of their sight agast.
And her faire lockes, that on a knot were tide
High on her crowne, she gan at large unfold;
Which falling long and thicke, and spreading wide,
The ivorie soft and white, mantled in gold:
Thus her faire skin the dame would cloath and hide,
And that which hid it no lesse faire was hold;
Thus clad in waves and lockes, her eies divine
From them ashamed did she turne and twine.
With all she smiled, and she blusht withall,
Her blush, her smiling; smiles, her blushing graced:
Over her face her amber tresses fall,
Where under love himselfe in ambush placed:
At last she warbled forth a treble small,
And with sweet lookes, her sweet songs enterlaced;
O happie men! that have the grace (quoth shee)
This blisse, this heav'n, this paradise to see.
[pp. 278-79 (15:59-62)]