Translators: The Saddest Pack of Rogues in the World

Alexander Pope, Letter to the Earl of Burlington (1716)

“Pray, Mr. Lintot (said I), now you talk of translators, what is your method of managing them? ‘Sir (replied he), they are the saddest pack of rogues in the world: in a hungry fit, they’ll swear they understand all the languages in the universe. I have known one of them take down a Greek book upon my counter, Oh, this is Hebrew, I must read it from the latter end. By G—d, I can never be sure of these fellows, for I neither understand Greek, Latin, French, nor Italian myself. But this is my way; I agree with them for ten shillings a sheet, with a proviso, that I will have their writings corrected by whom I please; so by one or other they are led at last to the true sense of an author; my judgment giving the negative to all my translators.’ But how are you secure those correctors may not all impose upon you? ‘Why, I get any civil gentleman (especially any Scotchman) that comes into my shop, to read the original to me in English; by this I know whether my first translator be deficient, and whether my corrector merits his money or not.

‘I’ll tell you what happened to me last month. I bargained with S. for a new version of Lucretius to publish against Tonson’s, agreeing to pay the author so many shillings on his producing so many lines. He made a great progress in a very short time, and I gave it to the corrector to compare with the Latin; but he went directly to Creech’s translation and found it the same word for word, all but the first page. Now, what do you think I did? I arrested the translator for a cheat; nay, and I stopped the corrector’s pay too, upon this proof that he had made use of Creech instead of the original.’”

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