Hopkins Lectures 2008

































































































John Henry Newman and Translation

Angelo Bottone University College Dublin

John Henry Newman deals with the question of translation in two of the essays from 'The Idea of a University' and in some introductions to his own translations. In The Idea of University , Newman gathers a series of conferences and studies connected with his foundation and guidance, as Rector, of the Catholic University of Ireland. Rich from his Oxford experience, as a student and as a tutor, he presented his educational ideal depicting what the University he was founding had to be. Therefore we are not surprised that The Idea of a University contains two long passages to reflections on translation, even if scholars never considered them worthy of attention.

One occasion in which his views on translation are presented is given in the refutation of a sermon in which Lawrence Sterne had attacked classical authors because, compared to the Bible, they "lose most of their graces whenever we find them literally translated" (1). Newman maintains that to be capable of easy translation is no test of the excellence of a composition, otherwise the multiplication table would be 'the most gifted of all conceivable compositions'. (2) No language is like another, every one has different "ideas, turns of thought, delicacies of expression, figures, associations, abstractions, points of

(3) These ideas are further developed by Newman in his essay Elementary Studies , published in the second part of The Idea of a University , when he discusses the Latin and Greek entrance exams to the Catholic University. In this essay Newman presents his own method through the use of dialogue and letters, analysing and criticising educational theories of his time.

As a young student Newman, had been educated in Classics scholarship, spending hours translating from Greek and Latin. For prospective students of the Catholic University of Ireland, and as mentioned in a previous section, admission exams included a brief oral translation from Greek and Latin. Newman, in his essay, shows how behind even a brief text an extremely rich cultural world lies, and translation can be the occasion to deepen the knowledge of the examinee. "[.] one word, even by itself, affords matter for a sufficient examination of a youth in grammar, history, and geography." (4)

In the first part of the essay Newman presents two dialogues between two students and their examiners. In the first dialogue the Greek word anabasis is examined. The interlocutors begin with the etymology of the word and progress until they reach the history and geography that it implies. The student is presented as a negative model however, because even if he knows the words he is unable to go beyond their mere meanings. He possesses a shallow scholarship, something closer to curiosity than to knowledge. The second dialogue instead presents an exam about Cicero's Letters Ad Familiares .

The student in this case shows greater possession of his scholarship. The two situations are later discussed through an exchange of letters between the first student and his father, between the father and the examiner, and between the father and one of his friends.

Newman makes use of the two examples to illustrate his theory on translating. The examiner in the dialogue, through the test of translation, has to ascertain if the student knows: [.]Etymology and Syntax, the two principal departments of the science of language,-whether he understands how the separate portions of a sentence hang together, how they form a whole, how each has its own place in the government of it, what are the peculiarities of construction or the idiomatic expressions in it proper to the language in which it is written, what is the precise meaning of its terms, and what the history of their formation. (5)

Here the idea emerges, which is typical in Newman's philosophy, that knowledge is holistic, to know is to give form, to put particulars inside a whole, and therefore to know a text means to be able to give a place to every element of it. To translate an English sentence into Latin is to frame a sentence, and is the best test whether or not a student knows the difference of Latin from English construction; to construe and parse is to analyse a sentence, and is an evidence of the easier attainment of knowing what Latin construction is in itself. [And this is the sense of the word "Grammar" which our inaccurate student detests, and this is the sense of the word that every sensible tutor will maintain. His maxim is, "a little, but well;" that is, really know what you say you know: know what you know and what you do not know;] get one thing well before you go on to a second; try to ascertain what your words mean; when you read a sentence, picture it before your mind as a whole, take in the truth or information contained in it, express it in your own words, and, if it be important, commit it to the faithful memory.

Again, compare one idea with another; adjust truths and facts; form them into one whole, or notice the obstacles which occur in doing so. This is the way to make progress; this is the way to arrive at results; not to swallow knowledge, but (according to the figure sometimes used) to masticate and digest it. (6) Newman himself had many times, especially as a young student, taken part in Latin composition competitions. He was not only fluent in Latin, but he thought it to be the best language to convey philosophical and scientific arguments. In a letter written in 1853, during his Dublin period, he states: "I think Latin is the concomitant of scientific proof - and it has struck me that, if I ever turned my 'Development' or 'University Education' into syllogism, I should write in Latin."

After his conversion to Catholicism he was asked by English bishops to lead a new complete translation of the Bible into English, a task that he accepted enthusiastically but that he could never perform. Newman's educational interest in the benefit of foreign languages and cultures was not limited to ancient times; from the beginning, we can find French, pish and Italian among the subjects taught at the Catholic University of Ireland . This is particularly significant if we take into account that the same college, on its opening day, contained only fifteen teachers and seventeen students. Interesting reflections about translation may also be found in some introductions Newman wrote for his own works. In the Advertisement that precedes The Church of the Fathers, a collection of articles about patristic theology, many of which had already appeared on the British Magazine in 1833, Newman writes: As to the translations, he [the translator] is very sensible what constant and unflagging attention is requisite in all translation to catch the sense of the original, and what discrimination in the choice of English to do justice to it; and what certainty there is of shortcomings, after all. And further, over and above actual faults, variety of tastes and fluctuation of moods among readers, make it impossible so to translate as to please everyone; and, if a translator be conscious to himself, as he may well be, of viewing either his original or his version differently, according to the season or the feeling in which he takes it up, and finds that he never shall have done with correcting and altering except by an act of self-control, the more easy will it be for him to resign himself to such differences of judgment about his work as he experiences in others. (7)

The first consideration that needs to be highlighted regards the always-unsatisfying character of translating. Facing a potentially infinite task, which can never fulfill the expectations of the public or of the translator, an act of will is needed and also, somehow, an act of resignation to the finite human condition. This is linked to the aporetic nature of translation, which is a problem by definition: It should be considered, too, that translation in itself is, after all, but a problem; how, two languages being given, the nearest approximation may be made in the second to the expression of ideas already conveyed through the medium of the first.

The problem almost starts with the assumption that something must be sacrificed; and the chief question is, what is the least sacrifice? In a balance of difficulties, one translator will aim at being critically correct, and will become obscure, cumbrous, and foreign; another will aim at being English, and will appear deficient in scholarship. While grammatical particles are followed out, the spirit evaporates; and, while an easy flow of language is secured, new ideas are intruded, or the point of the original is lost, or the drift of the context impaired. Under these circumstances, perhaps, it is fair to lay down that, while every care must be taken against the introduction of new, or the omission of existing ideas, in translating the original text, yet, in a book intended for general reading, faithfulness may be considered simply to consist in expressing in English the sense of the original; the actual words of the latter being viewed mainly as directions into its sense, and scholarship being necessary in order to gain the full insight into that sense which they afford; and next, that, where something must be sacrificed, precision or intelligibility, it is better in a popular work to be understood by those who are not critics, than to be applauded by those who are. (8)

Newman is coping here with well-known problems, and also proposing a common criterion: faithfulness consists in expressing the sense of the original . It should be remembered that The Church of the Fathers treats theological problems and therefore translation is here meant as an expression of ideas, ideas already conveyed through another language. Newman in all his reflection has always given constant attention to ideas and particularly to what they express, according to the division between notional and real which he went on to deeply develop in the Grammar of Assent in 1870.

His main care in his work as a translator regards ideas; this care consists of avoiding their omission or the introduction of new ones. Precision, a key term in all debates about translation, is here interpreted as direction into sense while it is up to the translator to readapt the impact of the different words. A difference between translations is inevitable, even if they are from the same author. The target of the work, a popular public, justifies the inevitable sacrifice of precision over intelligibility. Understanding and intelligibility, for him, come before applause and precision, if we want to perform a translation that, with contemporary terms, we could call "target language oriented". A translator's conduct is never innocent; in domesticating a foreign text, in making it intelligible and familiar to the new reader, he enriches it with new elements. Newman is not only well aware of this, but he also explicitly theorizes the translator visibility. He published many translations but, what is more interesting is that, he produced in 40 years, two different versions of the Select Treatises of St. Athanasius in Controversy with Arians.

The first version appeared in the Oxford 'Library of the Fathers' edited by Edward Pusey, in a period of strong theological struggle. Newman in the Advertisement to the third edition written in 1881 explains the criteria that had inspired the two versions. At the time of the translation, in 1841-1844, to be literal in the English used in the work was a foremost duty. Those who at that date took part in Dr. Pusey's great undertaking were regarded with much suspicion, both by Catholics and Protestants, as if they were introducing the Fathers to the English public with a covert view of recommending thereby certain religious theories of their own. (9)

A ny departure from grammatical and literal accuracy in their renderings would have been held against them as a controversial artifice. After forty years, instead, the situation had changed and there were no difficulties in being what Newman calls "free translators", on condition that it was plain and sufficiently justified. In fact he observes: Not as if a translator had any leave to introduce ideas, sentiments, or arguments which are foreign to his original, or may dispense with a watchful caution lest he should be taking liberties with his author; but that it was possible, as I thought, to make a volume unexceptionable in itself, and sufficiently distinct from the one published in Dr. Pusey's series, and with a usefulness of its own, though I did not follow Athanasius's text sentence by sentence, allowing myself in abbreviation where he was diffuse, and in paraphrase where he was obscure. (10) To translate implies a complex process of rewriting deeply influenced by historical conditions of which Newman's work on Athanasius is an emblematic example.

Pressing ideological needs were limiting the intervention of the translator, urging him to present a text that had to be neutral to the greatest extent, otherwise it would have appeared contaminated and surreptiatially guided by apologetic or polemical aims. After forty years, when he is at last free from conditionings, Newman could allow himself his own version; he not only reduces it but also writes it again with the purpose of making it clearer. Every rewriting undertaken implies a critical discussion of the original and this process of reconfiguring is particularly delicate in 'truth discourses' where a different expression of a concept can lead to a reformulation, if not the refutation, of an existing doctrine, whether it be philosophical or theological.

The more pivotal a text is in a culture, the more it will be carefully examined in all its possible consequences, not only in literature. In the case of Newman, after forty years the cultural context in which he was working had changed, and so also his personal position. He was in fact outside of the Oxford theological debates and he had abandoned his peculiar role inside the Tractatian Movement. His new condition allowed him a freedom of expression that took form in a completely new translation. Notes1. Newman J. H. The Idea of a University (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 271. [Here after Idea ] . 2. Idea , p. 287. 3. Idea , p. 286. 4. Idea , p. 336. 5. Idea , p. 335. 6.Idea, pp. 335-336. 7.

John Henry Newman, Church of the Fathers , in Historical Sketches , vol. II (London: Basil Montagu Pickering, 1873), p. x. 8. John Henry Newman, Church of the Fathers , in Historical Sketches , vol. II. (London: Basil Montagu Pickering, 1873), pp. x-xi. 9. John Henry Newman, Treatises of St. Athanasius , vol. 1, p. vi. 10. John Henry Newman, Treatises of St. Athanasius , vol. 1, p. vii.

Links to 2008 Hopkins Festival Lectures

|| Editing Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins || Fancy in Hopkins Poetics || Hopeful Hopkins || Dolben and Hopkins || Dancer Isadora Duncan and Hopkins Poetry || Hopkins and Water Imagery || The Dark Sonnets || Hopkins Interpretation || A Scottish Reading of Hopkins Poetry || John Henry Newman and Translation ||