The 19th century was the period of Romanticism,anattitude or intellectual orientation that was typical of many works of art and that can be seen as a rejection of the precepts of order, calm, harmony, balance, idealization, and rationality that typified Classicism. With this rejection of rationalism came a stress on the individual poet’s world vision. With the affirmation of individualism came the notion of the freedom of the creative force.78 Romanticism was characterized by an obsessive interest in folk culture, national and ethnic cultural origins, and the medieval era; as well as a predilection for the exotic, the remote and the mysterious.79 The basic feature of romantic translation was preserving the national coloring and style of the source text.
That was not an easy job, but, as August Wilhelm Schlegel, a German critic, translator and historian of literature, put it, the aim of translation was very noble: “to combine the merits of all different nations, to think with them and feel with them, and so to create a cosmopolitan center for mankind.”80 Schlegel is believed to be one of the most eminent Shakespeare translators into German.
The great German poets of the time were interested in questions of translation. Thus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) left us his ideas of the relation between national culture and translation:
“There are three kinds of translation. The first acquaints us with foreign countries on our own terms.” It surprises us “with foreign excellence in the midst of our national homeliness, our everyday existence.” “A second epoch follows in which the translator really only tries to appropriate foreign content and reproduce it in his own sense, even though he tries to transport himself into foreign situations.” (“Just as the French adapt foreign words to their own pronunciation, so do they treat feelings, thoughts, and even objects. For every foreign fruit they demand a counterfeit in their own soil.”) “We have lived through the third epoch, which could be called the highest and final one in which the aim is to make the original identical with the translation, so that one should be valued not instead of the other, but in the other’s stead.”81
The first tendency, mentioned by Goethe, is known today as the foreignizing strategy of translation. It often means a close adherence to the foreign text, a literalism that results in the importation of foreign culture and language, and, because of deviating from native literary canons, this translation seems obscure and unreadable to the contemporaries.
The second tendency is now called the domesticating strategy. It can be exemplified by Latin translators, who not only deleted culturally specific markers but also replaced the name of the Greek poet with their own, passing the translation off as a text originally written in Latin.82 Translators of later periods modernized texts in domesticating them.
The similar idea of the naturalizing and alienated methods of translation was also advocated by Friedrich Schleiermacherwho had a great effect on further translators.
In the 19th century two conflicting tendencies can be distinguished. The first considers the translator as a creative genius in his own right, enriching the literature and language into which he is translating. The second describes translation in terms of the more mechanical function of making known a text or author.83
Toward the end of the 19th century translations began to be pragmatically valued. It was required that the translation have the same effect on the receptor as the source text had in its time and on its nation. Ulrich von Willamowitz-Moellendorff, a German philologist and translator, expressed the idea most vividly:
“It is important to spurn the letter and follow the spirit, to translate not words or sentences, but to take in thoughts and feelings and to express them. The dress must become new; what is in it must be kept. All good translation is travesty. To put it in more cutting terms: the soul remains but it changes bodies – true translation is metempsychosis.”84
The British translation tradition, however, based on the idea of adhering to the style of the original, attempted to keep all specific features of the source text (the foreignizing trend). The more peculiar the source text was, the more necessary it was to preserve this peculiarity. This resulted in the tendency towards literal, overfaithful translation. Thus, Robert Browning, a famous English poet, required the translation to be absolutely literal, with the exact translation of words and their order.85
The same attitude was expressed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-81), who tried to make Dante’s poem “as literal as a prose translation”, for “the business of a translator is to report what the author says, not to explain what he means; that is the work of a commentator. What the author says and how he says it, that is the problem of the translator.”86
Percy Bisshe Shelley developed the idea of the untranslatability of poetry, and the vanity of translation:
“it were as wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover the formal principles of its colour and odour, as seek to transfuse from one language into another the creations of a poet. The plant must spring again from its seed or it will bear no flower – and this is the burthen and the curse of Babel.” 87