Harington explained in his dedicatory epistle that this translation was originally written "for my sons better understandinge": it was "done fyrst for the benefyt of myne own chylde, and [is] now commented on and amplyfyed for the use of the Peerles Prince." Understandably, he does not mention that he had been revising the translation whilst imprisoned as the guarantor of a bad debt. The manuscript aimed to display not only Harington’s facility in translation but also, through the marginal glosses and supplementary essays, his scholarship and wisdom. A very similar strategy was followed by Ben Jonson in his presentation manuscript of his Masque of Queenes a text first commissioned by the Queen to which Jonson added marginal glosses for the edification of Prince Henry, to whom the manuscript was then presented.
Harington chose for translation Book VI of the Aeneid, with the Sybil's prophecies about Rome and Aeneas's descent into the Underworld, which allowed him to expatiate on religious and other themes. This he does partly in his running commentary on the text, but chiefly in a series of seven appendices. The last of these essays—in which, inter alia, Harington discusses love sonnets and recommends learning by heart passages savouring of wit and sharpness—is distinguished by remarks which reveal Harington's characteristically ambivalent attitude towards poetry, which he likens to "a concubyn that a man in his fancy, in wyne and myrth, and wonton company, embraces and calls the Joy of his lyfe, but retyred in his sober thowghts, and with his trew frends cold wysh they had been lesse acquaynted wth her and sooner left her."
Harington adopted for his translation the same ottava rima that he had used so successfully in his translation of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, his most celebrated literary achievement. He seems to have found Virgil harder going than Ariosto, however, and makes clear in his dedication that translating Virgil was "so hard and so harsh for owr Englysh verse" that he "never durst meddle with any more of yt." Nevertheless, his Ariosto is the work to which his Virgil bears the most comparison in style, purpose (his Ariosto had been produced for the pleasure of James's predecessor, Elizabeth), as well as attention to physical layout (compare his meticulous trial layout and printer's copy of the Orlando Furioso in the Bodleian, Folger Library and elsewhere). Harington shared the labour of transcription with a carefully supervised scribe, allowing the latter in this instance to write out the original Latin text on each recto in an extremely neat Italic hand which has understandably, but erroneously, been identified as Harington's own autograph italic (see R.H. Miller, "Sir John Harington's Manuscripts in Italic," Studies in Bibliography, 40, 1987, pages 11-106). Harington produced an overall translation which a recent critic has described as "a workmanlike performance, maintaining a bold narrative outline, rendering direct speech plainly and effectively, while passing over some of the intricacies of narrative and descriptive detail" (D.H. Craig, Sir John Harington (1985) p.58).
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