The connection between the different branches of art of each kind, is further and very forcibly exhibited by the effect which is produced on any work in them, by translating or transposing it into another language, or into a branch or department of art different from that in which it was originally brought forth.
A translation is a reproduction of the same ideas by a different medium. A cast of a statue is not a translation, but a copy, as it is intended to imitate the original. An engraving, on the other hand, which is not a complete but only a partial copy of a painting, although meant to excite the same ideas, is a translation. Thus a copy differs from a translation, being a reproduction of the same ideas, and of the whole of them, by the same medium. A translation, on the other hand, forms a vehicle for calling forth the same or corresponding ideas with those excited by the original work, or a portion of them, although by a totally different means. For this purpose it is occasionally necessary to deviate widely and even essentially from the original order of the description or representation, inasmuch as the attempt to effect an inadequate copy of it, which must for the reasons alleged be in many cases necessarily incorrect, would fail to afford a proper notion of the object itself; just as in depicting nature we often depart widely from servile imitation in order to complete the re-presentation by supplying those ideas which are essential for this purpose, but which would, nevertheless, be wanting in a more imitation of natural objects; while, on the other hand, many ideas are omitted which the original served to suggest. Indeed, it may be laid down that translations in general are to originals, just what artistical descriptions of nature are to nature herself. In both cases, the leading and most lively ideas, and those only, are sought to be reproduced, not by mere repetition, but by the recasting as it were the elements of representation. In many respects, indeed, art in general might be said to be a translation from nature, so far as it reflects in a particular form and in a different medium, as though in a mirror, the impressions caused by the appearance of nature.
A translation is, as it were, the shadow of the original work; and as some shadows reflect the outline only of the object, others its various hues and colours as well, so some translations convey ideas merely of the general character of the original, while others reproduce it almost entirely, so perfect may be the transposition of ideas from the original to the translation. A work of art, whether in painting or poetry, is however, only a reflection or translation of the actually existing being itself. Indeed, all language does but reflect or translate the ideas which it embodies. Spiritual beings only perceive immediately, without such a medium, the ideas or objects themselves.
The general capacity and adaptation of any particular art for translation, depends in part on the nature of the material of the art itself, and in part on the particular style of the individual performance to be translated. As regards the former, the suitableness of it for translation depends mainly upon whether there is any imitative element of a corresponding nature wherein the translation may be formed, in which respect different arts vary considerably. Thus, as regards both poetry and eloquence, language, which is the sustaining medium of both, affords a material for the translation. Paint ing, which has no sustaining medium, is translated by en-graving, which is a process partially imitative of this art, the effect of light and shade, without that of colour, being here copied or imitated. The translation of works in sculpture is also accomplished by engraving them, which consists in a re-presentation of the same objects through a different medium. The other arts appear incapable of strict translation, except so far as performances in them admit of imitation, more or less partial, in some other material, or through some other vehicle. It seems, however, difficult, if not impossible, to effect this strictly in the case of either music, architecture, dramatic acting, costume, or gardening. Each art may be said to be capable of ideal, although not of strict, literal, or real translation, though each in a different mode. But each of the arts are in exactly the same way affected by translations when they are made.
The precise effect produced by translation varies, however, in each of the arts according to the style of the particular work of art so to be translated, which indeed further serves very forcibly to evince the closeness of this connection.
Efforts in the Epic or grand style suffer less by translation than do those in any of the others. The reason of this is, that in works of that style their vigour and merit are derived from the greatness and sublimity and exalted nature of the ideas they are capable of exciting, which have reference to certain external objects. These ideas may be produced in another language, or by other means of representing a transaction, or referring to these subjects, with almost equal force as by the original work ; but in a composition, the effect and merit of which are mainly owing to the beauty of the colouring, or the harmonious disposition and musical intonation of the syllables, it is obvious that when the poem is translated into a different language, or the picture is represented in an engraving with-out colour, little of the beauty and excellence of the original will be retained.
The translation of a painting or a poem into an engraving or a new language, corresponds in many respects with transplanting a tree into a new climate. Those only whose constitutions are vigorous will endure the change, so as to retain all their vitality and energy in their new situation. The English language is, indeed, in many respects, peculiarly adapted for translations, from its being so extensively mixed with, and so much made up of other tongues. A language, as a medium of conveying ideas, is of a twofold nature. 1. As serving to convey to the mind with precision the ideas intended. 2. As regards the power of it to give effect to this result through the musical structure and intonation of the sentences. According as any language succeeds or is deficient here, is its effect perfect, be it Greek or German, English or Latin.
One great error in translation appears to be the attempt to apply the idioms of one language to express the ideas of another, instead of using it for its own legitimate purpose. This is like trying to teach a land animal to fly, or a bird to swim.
Some languages appear almost unfitted for being the vehicles of grand ideas, and for the translation of works of a sublime nature. Others are not inadapted for this end, but are capable of attaining it only in their own way, and by terms and expressions quite different from those of other tongues. Even in the same language, the idioms and style made use of for dissertations on art and for those on science are totally different.
In a composition in the grand style, the excellence of which mainly consists in the dignity of design or vigour of expression, the leading ideas may therefore be fully retained, whether the poem is translated into another language, or the painting is translated into an engraving; as in neither case is the composition dependent for its excellence on those futile graces which fade at the first change of atmosphere which breathes on them, while their solid qualities are, from their very nature, capacitated to endure many variations without injury or mutation.
Thus, the following passage from the Holy Scriptures, in whatever language it be conveyed, will excite much the same feelings in the mind, as it owes its effect entirely to the greatness and sublimity of the images it contains, and the noble ideas it is calculated to raise in the mind :-
“And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars ; and on earth distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring, men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.”
It can be matter of small importance into what language the foregoing sublime passage from Divine lips be transposed, inasmuch as so long as the ideas conveyed by it are correctly preserved, the same noble and exalted thoughts must necessarily be raised, however feeble and unimpressive be the character of the language into which it is translated.
It appears to me, indeed, that it may be admitted as a settled axiom in art, that leading ideas either of grandeur or sublimity may be conveyed by translations of a work of art, almost as perfectly as by the originals themselves. Thus an outline of a grand mountain, an engraving of an epic painting, as of one of the cartoons of Raphael, or a correct drawing of the statue of the Laocoon, may serve to afford us tolerably adequate notions of a sentence, and to call forth the same ideas which they excited. But ideas which are suggested only by the structure of a sentence, or which are of such a fragile and ephemeral nature that they are dependent merely on the peculiar idiom of the original work, will not bear the effect of translations. Such are the more abstruse allusions in some of the most refined productions in poetry and in eloquence, which are quite lost or obscured when they reappear in a new language.
All or most of the important leading ideas are conveyed by the translation or engraving, but not those which are secondary. The general character and forms of the personages in the picture, and the main history of the transaction and an outline description of the individuals represented, may be preserved; but not the various hues and tints in the picture, or the exquisite turns of language in the poem or oration. Perhaps, indeed, a translation serves pretty adequately to excite ideas of subjects which are directly narrated or imitated in the original, but it fails to convey those which are only suggested. Thus any minute description, in either poetry or prose, of the delicate tints of a beautiful landscape, or the elegancies and graces of an exquisite female form, suffer much from being translated, and the effect of the original is greatly marred. Articles of so fine a texture but ill bear handling ; and plants with tender fibres will not live when transplanted to a northern clime.
Humorous pieces are generally considered to be the most difficult to translate, and especially those where the humour is very refined. This is mainly owing to the fact that the point consists in some idiom or special peculiarity in the language it-self, which does not admit of an exact translation. Wit, for instance, which for its pungency depends in many cases entirely on the peculiar relative position of the words in a sentence in any particular tongue, it is very hard, if not-almost impossible, efficiently to render. Few without under-standing the original would fully appreciate the point of the satire.