On Equal Terms with Ancient Wit Engaging
O pierlesse Poesye, where is then thy
If nor in Princes pallace thou doe sitt:
(And yet is Princes pallace the most fitt)
Ne brest of baser birth doth thee embrace.
Then make thee winges of thine aspyring wit.
And, whence thou camst, flye backe to heauen apace.
—Spenser, The Shepheardes Calender
In 1724 and 1725, Dryden’s Georgics II and I respectively were reprinted alongside the Latin texts and translations by William Benson. Both editions were prefaced by Benson’s essays on “Virgil’s Husbandry” and made complete by the addition of “Notes Critical, and Rustick.” Their declared purpose was to vindicate the “Injustice” done the Roman poet by Dryden “in every respect possible,” and to repair some of the damage resulting from his “perfect Ignorance of the Subject which Virgil treats of.”1 Nor was Benson the first to express outrage that a man who had probably never owned so much as a pair of pruning shears should undertake to translate what Dryden himself described as “the best Poem of the best Poet” (5:137).
In his Notes on Dryden’s Virgil, 1698, Luke Milbourne quotes and angrily affirms the confession made in Dryden’s dedication of his Georgics; “I have too much injur’d my great Author, I would have Translated him, but fear, according to the literal French and Italian Phrased I have traduced him.” This “Acknowledgement is true,” Milbourne declares, “for never was Poet so abus’d, nor Mankind so impos’d on, by a Name before.”2 He goes on to assert that “this Virgil is far the worst of all, a Poem neither tolerable when Read alone, nor when compar’d with what he calls, or few would believe, was the Original” As Benson was to do later, Milbourne includes in his volume his own translation of Georgics I as he attempts to