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  • Christopher Smart as a Christian Translator: The Verse Horace of 1767
  • Leah Orr

Christopher Smart (1722-71) is well known as a religious poet, but most scholars have paid little or no attention to the translations of ancient authors that constitute fully a third of his literary production. These translations include the Psalms of David, the Fables of Phaedrus, and the complete works of Horace in verse. 1 Smart's religious zeal explains his desire to produce an English version of the Psalms, and the lack of any competent translation of Phaedrus accounts for his choice of the Fables-but why would he translate an author as frequently translated and easily available as Horace? A complete English Horace, compiled by Alexander Brome from the work of a number of translators, had been published as early as 1666. 2 Thomas Creech's 1684 translation was still being reprinted as late as 1753, and Philip Francis's 1742-46 version of Horace had gone into seven editions by 1765. 3 Smart [End Page 439] himself had published a prose translation of Horace in 1756 that had proved highly successful (and was to be reprinted regularly through the twentieth century). 4 Why then would Smart want to do yet another translation of the same text?

Critics seem to have assumed that because Smart calls his 1767 version a translation rather than an imitation or a paraphrase, he was attempting to render Horace's words exactly into English, putting them into verse instead of prose. Smart says, however, that his 1767 Horace is closer to the original by "affinity in the spirit," and that consequently his new translation is "not written in opposition to others" (5:4) but instead adds a dimension to Horace the other translations lack. What does he mean, and what makes the 1767 translation different from other English versions of the same text? The answer, I shall argue, is that Smart's verse translation, unlike his earlier prose version, significantly Christianizes the Latin text.

I. Smart as Translator

Despite Smart's modern reputation as a lyric poet, he actually produced a far greater volume of translation than lyric throughout most of his adult life. His biographer Chris Mounsey notes that among his earliest surviving work is a translation of a canto of Samuel Butler's Hudibras into Latin, done in 1739 during his freshman year at Cambridge. 5 Over the next thirty-two years Smart translated and imitated many short classical works, including poems by Martial and Vergil. His longest works were all translations: the prose Horace in 1756, translations of the Psalms of David and the Fables of Phaedrus almost a decade later (1765), and the Horace in 1767. Although Smart appears at first to have written translations solely out of financial necessity, the fact that he returned to Horace and replaced his earlier prose translation with a verse one suggests that a changing approach to translation drew him back to it. 6 These longer works demonstrate Smart's shifting views of translation, expressed both in prefaces and in the works themselves. [End Page 440]

Smart wrote translations for money, but he was no mere hack. He showed an unusual talent for writing poetry from a very young age. At Cambridge, he excelled in Latin and won the Craven scholarship for classical studies, using his poetic and linguistic skills to write verses in Latin. When he was casting about for a source of income after his release from the madhouse in 1763 he naturally tried to capitalize on his talents. 7 The 1767 publication of the verse Horace follows Smart's seven-year incarceration for religious fanaticism from 1756 to 1763, so the addition of religious rhetoric and Christian discourse is hardly surprising. Modern critics focus on his writings during his confinement, but in many ways, I shall argue, the 1767 Horace more fully exemplifies what Smart thought should make his literary reputation.

Smart's earliest large-scale translation, his prose Horace, is unassuming, practical, and clearly meant for students of Latin rather than lovers of literature and poetry. The title page declares it the "Works of Horace, Translated Literally into English Prose; For the Use of those who...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-0383
Print ISSN
0039-3738
Pages
pp. 439-467
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-02
Open Access
No
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