Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
Letter to Bartholomew Clerke 1571
Dedication in Latin to Bartholomew Clerke's Translation of The Courtier (1571/1572)
[translated by B. M. Ward]
Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England, Viscount Bulbeck and Baron Scales and Badlesmere to the Reader -- Greeting.
A frequent and earnest consideration of the translation of Castiglione's Italian work, which has now for a long time been undertaken and finally carried out by my friend Clerke, has caused me to waver between two opinions: debating in my mind whether I should preface it by some writing and letter of my own, or whether I should do no more than study it with a mind full of gratitude. The first course seemed to demand greater skill and art than I can lay claim to, the second to be a work of no less good-will and application. To do both, however, seemed to combine a task of delightful industry with an indication of special good-will.
I have therefore undertaken the work, and I do so the more willingly in order that I may lay a laurel wreath of my own on the translation in which I have studied this book, and also to ensure that neither my good-will (which is very great) should remain unexpressed, nor that my skill (which is small) should seem to fear to face the light and the eyes of men.
It is no more than its due that praises of every kind should be rendered to this work descriptive of a Courtier. It is indeed every way right, and one may say almost inevitable, that with the highest and greatest praises I should address both the author and the translator, and even more the great patroness of so great a work, whose name alone on the title-page gives it a right majestic and honorable introduction.
For what more difficult, more noble, or more magnificent task has anyone ever undertaken than our author Castiglione, who has drawn for us the figure and model of a courtier, a work to which nothing can be added, in which there is no redundant word, a portrait which we shall recognize as that of a highest and most perfect type of man. And so, although nature herself has made nothing perfect in every detail, yet the manners of men exceed in dignity that with which nature has endowed them; and he who surpasses others has here surpassed himself and has even out-done nature, which by no one has ever been surpassed. Nay more: however elaborate the ceremonial, whatever the magnificence of the court, the splendor of the courtiers, and the multitude of spectators, he has been able to lay down principles for the guidance of the very Monarch himself.
Again, Castiglione has vividly depicted more and even greater things than these. For who has spoken of princes with greater gravity? Who has discoursed of illustrious women with a more ample dignity? No one has written of military affairs more eloquently, more aptly about horse-racing, and more clearly and admirably about encounters under arms on the field of battle. I will say nothing of the fitness and the excellence with which he has depicted the beauty of chivalry in the noblest persons. Nor will I refer to his delineations in the case of those persons who cannot be courtiers, when he alludes to some notable defect or to some ridiculous character, or to some deformity of appearance. Whatever is heard in the mouths of men in casual talk and in society, whether apt and candid or villainous and shameful, that he has set down in so natural a manner that it seems to be acted before our very eyes.
Again, to the credit of the translator of so great a work, a writer too who is no mean orator, must be added a new glory of language. For although Latin has come down to us from the ancient city of Rome, a city in which the study of eloquence flourished exceedingly, it has now given back its features for use in modern courts as a polished language of an excellent temper, fitted out with royal pomp and possessing admirable dignity. All this my good friend Clerke has done, combining exceptional genius with wonderful eloquence. For he has resuscitated that dormant quality of fluent discourse. He has recalled those ornaments and lights which he had laid aside, for use in connection with subjects most worthy of them. For this reason he deserves all the more honor, because that to great subjects -- and they are indeed great -- he has applied the greatest lights and ornaments.
For who is clearer in his use of words? Or richer in the dignity of his sentences? Or who can conform to the variety of circumstances with greater art? If weighty matters are under consideration, he unfolds his theme in a solemn and majestic rhythm; if the subject is familiar and facetious, he makes use of words that are witty and amusing. When therefore he writes with precise and well-chosen words, with skillfully constructed and crystal-clear sentences, and with every art of dignified rhetoric, it cannot be but that some noble quality should be felt to proceed from his work. To me indeed it seems, when I read this courtly Latin, that I am listening to Crassus, Antonius and Hortensius, discoursing on this very theme.
And, great as all these qualities are, our translator has wisely added one single surpassing title of distinction to recommend his work. For indeed, what more effective action could he have taken to make his work fruitful of good results than to dedicate his Courtier to our most illustrious and noble Queen, in whom all courtly qualities are personified, together with those diviner and truly celestial virtues? For there is no pen so skillful or powerful, no kind of speech so clear, that is not left behind by her own surpassing virtue. It was therefore an excellent display of wisdom on the part of our translator to seek out as a patroness of his work one who was of surpassing virtue, of wisest mind, of soundest religion, and cultivated in the highest degree in learning and literary studies.
Lastly, if the noblest attributes of the wisest princes, the safest protection of a flourishing commonwealth, the greatest qualities of the best citizens, by her own merit and in the opinion of all, continually encompass her around; surely to obtain the protection of that authority, to strengthen it with gifts, and to mark it with the superscription of her name, is a work which, while worthy of all monarchs, is most worthy of our own Queen, to whom alone is due all the praise of all the muses and all the glory of literature.
Given at the Royal Court on the 5th of January 1571.
Fowler, William P. Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Letters, pp. 45 ff. Portsmouth, N.H. Peter E. Randall. (contact Ruth Loyd Miller, ed. Jennings, La.: Minos Pub. Co., or on the web at http://www.ruthmiller.com
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