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ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Virgils Eclogues: To the Worthy Reader.

Virgils Eclogues translated into English: By W. L. Gent.

William Lisle


In the course of his rambling and humorous preface, William Lisle (b. 1569) speculates that Virgil's Eclogues had not been previously translated in the expectation that Edmund Spenser, who had Englished Virgil's Gnat, would translate the rest of his works.

George Dyer: "William L'Isle, fellow, was editor of a useful work, as an Introduction to the Saxon Language, Abbot Aelfric's Saxon Treatise on the Old and New Testament, with the Lord's Prayer, Creed, Ten Commandments, &c. in Saxon and English. He died in 1637" History of the University and Colleges of Cambridge (1814) 2:196.




Amongst other things, wherewith the learned Satyre taxeth the times wherein hee liv'd, this was one, that they were desperately farr spent with a sickness which hee calls the Scribendi Cacoethes, or the scribling disease: The Infection whereof (as may seeme) was then so strong, that the contagion of it, hath runn all along in a veine, (like the knotty Farcye in a horses side) from Age to Age, to this very Age wherein wee breath; seeing (as then) so now, tenet insanabile multos, Scribendi Cacoethes; many Crow-Poets, and Pye-Poetesses, Rhimers, and poor versers, (quales ego, vel Cluvienus,) such as I, and bauld Cluvienus, as well as those true witts indeed, who can deserve that of Virgil to Varus, (Sola Sophocleo tua Carmina digna Cothurno,) even all sorts, learned and unlearned, (like the cleane, and uncleane Beasts, posting to the Ark, and (with the Ape) doating on the whelpes of their own Brayne, and breeding, doe, (even to the oppressing therof,) daily throng to the Press, (every one gasping greedily after the sweet ayre of popular praise: whereof some are so ambitious, that (rather then lose it) (with the Dutchess of Burgundy in Hen. 7. time,) having no children of their own, to serve their turn) they will set forth a Child of an others begetting: and (with the Cuckoe, sucking up the Eggs of an other Birds laying,) set themselves down in the Nest, and there lay their own name, (in steed of an Egg) at the foot of the dedication; which beeing thus hatcht, and flying abroad, gulls the credulous world, as if the whole Nest had been of their own stuff, and building; and in steed of beeing an honest Steward to the right Author, (against all true practise of piety,) (with Ziba,) make themselves Heyres to an other mans paynes and praise: Others also the world hath heard of, who (being no less ambitious of this vulgar applause, though quite banckerupt of all ability, to deserve it,) are also so envious, that (with Richard the third,) they will smother the Royall and learned labours of other men.

In this scribling itching Age, wherein for a Man to doe, as the most doe, is to bee least noted, (with him in the Lottery,) content to bee a Foole for Company, En ego Musarum rudis, et pauperculus hospes, I, that am not worthy (gentle Reader) to hould a Trencher to the Muses, have (with bouldness inough) thrust my hand into the dish amongst them, and doe heere present thee with some of the dainties which I found at their Table: Take them as the pastime of my pastimes, and the Recreations and Interims, which in my younger time, I reserved from sports and pleasure, (especially that bewitching Inticement of Hawkes, and hawking, which have flowne away with so much of my most pretious time; and wherein the greatest and the best part of the young Nobility and Gentry of this Land, (by an ill received, and worse continued custome) doe ravl'e out a great part of their goulden dayes, as if the terminus ad quem, the end of all their carefull and chargeable education, at home and abroad, were onely to make them ripe and fit for the slavish service of Hawkes and Hounds, and other poorer sports and pleasures, (whose rare and seldome use is indeed their greatest commendation.) Long have these trifles of my paynes lyne imprisoned by mee, and some of them, above treble the time that Horace injoynes, (ut nonu premantur in Annum:) yet now at last I have granted them an exeatis into the world: I will not deny, that they had long since adventured abroad, but that I still looked, and as much desired, that some good able Poet would have taken this taske in hand, much wondring, that many of the other Latin Authours, both in prose and poetry, had found so much curtesie amongst sundry of our ingenious Countrimen, to bee taught to expresse their mynds very happily in our English tongue, and that this Author, (so much honoured in all times, as the Prince and parragon of all Latin poesie, should yet stand still as a noli me tangere, whom no man, either durst or would undertake: onely Master Spencer long since translated the Gnat, (a little fragment of Virgil's excellence,) giving the world peradventure to conceive, that hee would at one time or other have gone through the rest of this Poets workes: and it is not improbable, that this very cause was it, that made every man els very nice to meddle with any part of the Building which hee had begun, for feare to come short with disgrace, of the pattern which hee had set before them: as none would adventure (for the same reason,) to finish the pourtraict of Venus, which Apelles left behind him unperfect, at his death: Wherefore I make no doubt, but this which I doe, wilbee addomed against mee for a bould, and a daring deed: but Epistola non erubescit: and now they are out of my hands, I hope they will quickly learne so much Impudence of the world, into which they are crowding, that a little blushing wil serve their turn: some Readers I make no doubt they wil meet with in these dainty mouth'd times, that will taxe them, for not comming resolved word for word, and line for line with the Author: To whom (if any such chance to bee) I onely say: That this small Indeavour of mine beeing at first undertaken onely for my own private delight, my homely Muse drest the whole feast, according as shee knew it would best please my own tast and dyet, (Coquus enim Domini debet habere gulam:) and I used the freedome of a Translator, not tying my selfe to the tyranny of a Grammaticall Construction, but breaking the shell into many peeces, was onely carefull to preserve the kernall safe and whole, from the violence of a wrong, or wrested Interpretation; for as wee cannot chide him for an ill tasker, that beates the Corne clean out of the straw, though yet hee thresh it not Eare by Eare, or sheafe by sheafe, in the same order, as it first grew in the Field, neither are wee wont to discommend those Hounds, who spending their mouths merrily together, trayl the Hare home to her forme, though they hunt not all the while so close within the compass of a sheet, nor hitt every head, or every double in the very direct track, that the Hare prickt it out before them: and as wee doe not condemn that Greyhound to run fowle, that (with good footmanship courseth the Deer straight without coasting, though his strayns bee more or fewer, shorter or longer then the Deeres, and his turns not all so nimble and round, in the same narrow compass together with the Hare: Nor doe wee hould that Falcon any bad Hawk, who (working her selfe into a good Kill-ducks place, and flying jump and round) stoops frankly, strikes sure, and comes home close to the very blank water, through yet shee come not so close, as to ineau, or goe to plunge together with the Fowle: no more do I conceive heeein my course to be faulty, though I do not affect to follow my Authour so close, as to tread upon his heeles; if yet I can keep at a neerer distance unto him, then Creusa to her husband, in their going out of Troy, so as neither to loose my self, nor my Guide, in so difficult and dark a journy; houdling my selfe for a passable Travayler, to have held my Author all the way by the hand (as Ascanius) did Aeneas, in the darke night of their trudging out of the massacre) howsoever my short-legd Muse, (not able to take so long strydes) have walked with him (as that young stripling with his Father) non passibus aequis. Every line of this Poet, in his own language, deserves the acceptance of the very best Reader: but the language which I have taught him; (not daring to stand upon justification by merit, and therefore needing rather pardon then acceptance,) appeales unto your curtesies with that limitation wherewith the good Theodosius bespake the Romans, on his death-bed, in the behalf of his two young sonns (si promerebuntur:) or (if I should use any other insinuation) it should bee that which Shemi, as bad a Man, as I can bee a Poet, used to K. David, because I am the first, that have met my Countrymnnen with these dainty Aeclogues, in our English tongue: which (beeing like Riddles, wrapt up in a Mask, and under a clowd of reserved sense, and a double Meaning,) I have sent abroad with a Gloss borrow'd from divers learned Authors, as strangers with a guide to direct them in an unknown way: not doubting, but some can be very well content to delight their tasts with the pleasant juice, as their eye with the outward rhind of these goulden Pastoralls.

To tender either the Text or the Gloss, the Garment, or the Imbroydery, (as they are mine,) to the learned sort, were to offer to light up a Taper before the Sunn, or to bring Farthings (though a currant Coyne) in payment unto the exchequer: but amongst those of my own growth, and last, of knowledge and understanding, perhaps (for my Authors sake) the one may bee acceptable, and the other welcome, (as a hand to draw aside the Curtaynes from delicate Pictures) that so they may discover the face at least, though not the whole body of the Poets meaning. But least I may draw an imputation of having my wings broader then my nest, or my porch larger then my house, with equall respect to all according to the rank and quality of every severall Reader. I rest.

W. L.


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