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  • Translation - Theory and Practice: A Historical Reader, and: An Anthology of Chinese Discourse on Translation.Vol. 1: From the Earliest Times to the Buddhist Project
  • Matthew Reynolds
Translation – Theory and Practice: A Historical Reader . Edited by Daniel Weissbort and Astradur Eysteinsson. Pp. 672. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Hb. £65.DOI: 10.3366/E0968136108000083
An Anthology of Chinese Discourse on Translation . Edited by Martha P. Y. Cheung. Vol. : From the Earliest Times to the Buddhist Project . Pp. 300. Manchester: St Jerome Publishing, 2006. Hb. £45.DOI: 10.3366/E0968136108000083

Both these anthologies fence in new territory for thoughts about translation to roam. Volume 1 of Martha Cheung's Anthology of Chinese Discourse on Translation– compiled with the help of a large advisory board of Chinese scholars – ranges from Laozi in the sixth century BC to the mid Song dynasty in the twelfth century. Almost all this material is brought into English for the first time. Daniel Weissbort and Astradur Eysteinsson's Historical Reader, again edited with the help of other experts, reaches out to include snippets of ethnography and life-writing alongside the familiar core of St Jerome, Dryden, Pound, Benjamin, et al. Though focused on translation into English, it gives space to German romantic arguments and to French views from the Renaissance and eighteenth century. And, though most concerned with the translation of literature, especially poetry, it also samples the counterpoint tradition of Bible translation, into German as well as English. Best of all, it is truly – as its title announces – an anthology of both Theory and Practice. Many translations (and some of their source texts) are included, in recognition of the obvious but neglected fact that translations themselves often resist or elude the statements criticism and theory make about them; that they are themselves instances of thinking through translation, not just raw material to be thought about. It is a magnificently compendious volume.

The usefulness of anthologies lies not only in the ground they cover, but in the pathways of influence and antagonism which they help us to trace. In the Weissbort and Eysteinsson Reader, one of the most visible and interesting of these leads up to and on from Dryden's famous statement of ambition to 'make Virgil speak such English, as he would himself have spoken, if he had been born in England, and in this present age' (I have corrected the editors' slight mistranscription [End Page 85]of this comment and will return to the matter of the book's errors later on). Dryden's immediate debt to Virgil's French translator Jean Regnault de Segrais goes strangely unrecorded; but still it is instructive to find this remark, not in the splendid isolation in which it is usually anthologized, but layered together with the similar comments by Sir John Denham in the preface to his Destruction of Troy(1656), and by Katherine Phillips, who, in a letter to Sir Charles Cottrell (the date and source text are not given) describes her aim, in her translation of Corneille's La Mort de Pompée, 1662, 'to write to Corneille's sence, as it is to be supposed Corneille would have done, if he had been an Englishman, not confind [sic] to his lines, nor his numbers (unless we can doe it happily) but always to his meaning'. What is thought-provoking here is the tightness with which national identity is wedded to poetic form ('lines', 'numbers'). Coming at Dryden after this, one is alerted to his own concern with the demands of 'our heroic verse', so much so that the famous words seem, not only to vaunt a liberty, but to admit a constraint, perhaps regretfully: born in England, and in this present age – and therefore bound to write in couplets.

In line with the usual workings of tradition, later writers extract Dryden's statement from its intertexts, thereby shearing it of nuance, and use it as a flag to fight under, or perhaps more often – as in the case of Cowper, or J. S. Blackie – against. One of the most interesting instances is Friedrich Schleiermacher, who in 1813 used an echo and a reformulation of Dryden to define his two 'Different Methods of...


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Archived 2009
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