The Inshape of Inscape

By Cotter, James Finn | Victorian Poetry, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The Inshape of Inscape


Cotter, James Finn, Victorian Poetry


IN A LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT ON JUNE 10, 1955, V. de S. Pinto pointed out the use of the word "inshape" in the Sir Philip Sidney-Arthur Golding translation, The Trewnesse of the Christian Religion by Philippe de Momay. (1) He also noted that the OED quotes this work as the sole authority for "inshape." The word appears only in two passages, each with an apparently different meaning. Pinto quoted the first passage and observed that it is used in the context of Parmenides' philosophy and that Hopkins first employs "inscape" and "instress" in discussing Parmenides. He concluded that "Hopkins may have read the passage in A Woorke concerning the Trewnesse of the Christian Religion," and that "his coinage of the term 'inscape' is due to a conscious or unconscious reminiscence of Sidney-Golding's 'inshape'" (p. 317). Before we examine these two passages in detail, we must review the book in which they appear.

The translation of De la Verite de la Religion Chrestienne was first published in London in 1587 and went through three more editions and a reprint before 1617. The Trewnesse of the Christian Religion remained out of print until it was republished in a facsimile edition, with an introduction by F. J. Sypher, in 1976, by Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints. (2) In his preface, Sypher states that copies of earlier editions can be found in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and in the British Library. The first six chapters of the thirty-four also are reprinted in volume 3 of The Complete Works of Sir Philip Sidney, edited by Albert Feuillerat and published by Cambridge University Press in 1923. (3) Feuillerat believed that he could trace Sidney's prose style in the first six chapters, but that the rest of the translation is by the inferior hand of Golding. The problem of distinguishing between the two translators arises from the 1587 title page which declares: "Begunne to be translated into English by Sir Philip Sidney Knight, and at his request finished by Arthur Golding."

Subsequent scholars have not followed Feuillerat's division and attribution of the text. Some ascribe the entire translation to Golding or at least credit him with revising the whole. Others find it impossible to draw a distinction between Sidney's and Golding's hands. For example, in a 1969 article in the Harvard Library Bulletin, Forrest G. Robinson carefully compares the French original with the English version and deduces that "stylistic analysis, in this case at any rate, is wholly insufficient for the discrimination between authors." (4) After reviewing Elizabethan opinion, Sypher in his preface decides in favor of Sidney: "The preponderance of the evidence indicates that Sidney should be credited with an important share of the printed translation" (p. xv). Traditional opinion up through the Victorian period saw Sidney as the principal author with Golding, after Sidney's death, completing and putting the finishing touches on the translation.

Hopkins was interested in Elizabethan prose style, and may have discovered the Sidney-Golding translation during his Oxford undergraduate days. De Mornay was a Protestant writer, but in his De la Verite de la Religion Chrestienne, published in Antwerp in 1581 when he was just thirty, he avoided inter-Christian polemics in favor of a universal appeal through reason and authority to convince "Atheists, Epicures, Paynims, Iewes, Mahumetists, and other Infidels," as the title page calls them, to accept the one true Christian faith. The author's knowledge is encyclopedic, embracing classical literature and philosophy, biblical writers, rabbinic commentators, and church fathers. He has mastered Christian and Talmudic sources as well as contemporary science, particularly astronomy. He is fascinated by ancient and modern history and is knowledgeable about the non-Christian nations of the East and of Africa and America. His mind was trained in logic and argument through reasoning, and his rhetorical style, while remaining freshly imaginative, at times reaches heights of eloquence, as when, invoking one of his favorite metaphors, he writes that "in every man there is a certeyne Sunbeame of Reason whereby they conceyve things and debate upon them" (p. …

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