Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

XXV
A USE FOR LATIN AND GREEK (1849)

JOHN STUART BLACKIE the Latin Professor at Aberdeen was now a man of forty; but fifteen years ago he had put Faust into English verse, and he always talked and wrote as a disciple of Carlyle,--a "windy disciple," Carlyle once called him,--and now he was meditating a translation of the Greek Æschylus to which Carlyle gave his blessing, writing to him on 16.4.491:--'Æschylus beyond doubt is a good book to try. A Body of Greek Literature (small rigorously selected body), Body of Greek Dramatists first of all, is what the world now emphatically demands of the Scholar-Guild. . . . Not learned babblement about Greek Heroes and Myths, but wise speech . . . a kind of real Heathen Greek Bible (or set of small select books we can read) we do expect from our expensive Professors of Classicality,--terribly expensive if we compute all they have cost us!--and for this object I think they will never get a better model than the Divine Hebrew Bible,' plain prose, in short.

However, in the multitude of counsellors there is folly as well as wisdom, and Professor Aytoun persuaded Blackie to put the choruses into rhyme, which did not hinder Carlyle from helping him, later in the year, 'to find the right publisher for this canonical book of the "Heathen Bible."' He praised the blank verse and even the 'rhythmic matter . . . the grimmer is my protest against your having gone into song at all with the business.'

Carlyle's affection for our old Bible made it his lifelong opinion that it was the best model for any translator, and surely he is right. It seems to have been the model of the best of the later translators into English of the "Heathen Bible."

____________________
1
John Stuart Blachie, by A. M. Stoddart, I, pp. 245-6.

-85-

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