Genius Can’t Be Translated

John Snelling Popkin, Lectures on Liberal Education:

“It seems evident, at first sight, that a person who is publicly and liberally educated, for the highest intellectual purposes of the community, ought to be introduced into all these departments of knowledge, that he may be made acquainted with the elements and principles of them, and may be prepared to use them, or to proceed further in them, as he may find occasion and opportunity. The well-known observation of Cicero on the connection of the arts or sciences is, I believe, proved by long successive time and experience. Natural and intellectual philosophy are connected; intellectual and moral; moral and political; and language with all of them. The philosophy of language is particularly and intimately connected with the philosophy of the mind. The operations of the mind scarcely have a form or a name but by the instrumentality, or rather the investment, of language; and certainly without it they have little or no expression or communication.

A knowledge of several languages greatly enlarges these intellectual stores and materials, and facilitates the use of them. We see in them the different modes of thought in different places, and thence may enrich our own literature. The knowledge of the ancient languages, which are commonly studied, is peculiarly conducive to this intellectual and literary instruction. They are rich in thought and expression, in moral sentiment, in historical and political information; and in eloquence and in poetry they are still the great masters. They cannot be translated. Matter of fact, or of reason, may be translated or transmitted; but a work of genius, or the genius of a work, cannot be translated. It is, as before observed, intimately combined with the language; it is meditated and produced in that language. Change it, and something of the substance  may remain; but the texture and the color and the beauty are gone. Something of art or of genius may be substituted, but the original genius cannot be replaced.”

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