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Ir the merit 'of a work may be estimated from the
universality of it's reception, Plutarch's Lives have a; glaim to the first honours of literature. No book'las been more generally sought after, or read with greater“avidity. It
was one of the first, which were brought out of the retreats of the learned, and translated into the modern languages. Amyot, abbt of Belložane, published a French translation of it in the reign of Henry the Second* ; and from
* This translation, M. Ricard informs us, was preceded by one in Italian from the
of Sansoveno; and was drily re-transe lated" (as Boileau severely remarks) in the following century by the abbé Tallemant. The version of Amyot, from it's deservedlyhigh character; has been frequeritly reprinted, ofthe two editions i of it recently given to the public, one had the honour of being superintended by MM. Brotier and Vauvilliers, of whose votes1 some, use is made in the present work; and is farther recommended VOL. I.
that work it was translated into English*, in the time of queen Elizabeth.
It is said by those, who are not willing to allow Shakspeare much learning, that he availed himself of the last-mentioned translation †; but they seem to forget that, in order to support their arguments of this kind, it is necessary for them to prove that
shall I say, or encumbered-by all the grandeur of modern typography.
This version however, though, as M. Ricard observes, it has in it's stile something of natural and simple elegance, has likewise (as might reasonably be expected from it's date, and the dearth at that time of critical and philological works) phrases frequently antique, and interpretations frequently erroneous. Such is the judgement of Meziriac, and with him Wyttenbach (in his correct and copious preface to the Morals, ed. Ox. 1795, &c. xvii. xcvii.) fully agrees. Neither is Dacier his successor, notwithstanding his great advantages, to be regarded as unexceptionable. The monotony of his diction, it must be owned, is ill-adapted to represent a writer, whose various page with admirable appropriateness accommodates itself to it's subject: and he is too uniformly triste in his expressions, as if he feared to venture upon those happy hazards, those adventurous splendors, which characterise his author. He is, besides, needlessly diffuse. From this charge, indeed, Plutarch himself is not everywhere exempt: and hence the translation becomes revoltingly tedious. Those, who labour to be brief, become sometimes obscure; but clearness is not a necessary consequence of prolixity. E. ...* By Thomas North, A.D. 1579. E.
of See Farmer's Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare, ed. Ist, p. 9–11. where two instances are adduced from Antony and Cleopatra, and a third from Julius Cæsar, in strong support of the assertion, E.
Plato too was translated into English at the same time; for the celebrated soliloquy, “ To be, or not " to be*,” is taken, almost verbatim, from that philosopher; yet we have never found, that Plato was translated in those times.
Amyot was a man of great industry, and considerable learning. He sought diligently in the libraries of Rome and Venice for those Lives of Plutarch, which are lost; and, though his search was unsuccessful, it had this good effect, that by meeting with a variety of manuscripts, and comparing them with the printed copies, he was enabled in many places to rectify the text. This was a very essential circumstance: for few ancient writers had suffered more than. Plutarch, from the carelessness of printers and transcribers; and, with all his merit, it was his fate for a long time to find no able restorer. The schoolmen despised his Greek, because it had not the purity of Xenophon, nor the Attic terseness of Aristophanes; and, on that account, very unreasonably bestowed their labours on those who wanted them less. Amyot's translation was published in the year 1558; but no reputable edition of the Greek text of Plutarch appeared, till that of Paris in 1624. The abovementioned translation however, though drawn from
* Whether this be copied from the Historie of Hamblet in black letter, or not (see Farmer ib., p. 20.) the editor is unable to state. But thence, it appears, and not from the untranslated Saxo Grammaticus, Shakspeare had the general plot of this justly-celebrated tragedy. E.