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  Philologica 4 (1997)  


(Batiushkov and Tasso)


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Torquato Tasso occupies a special place amongst Batiushkov’s Italian interests. Batiushkov translated fragments of Tasso’s epic, and he wrote the very first Russian poem devoted to Tasso; he was the first in Russia to write an original essay on this Italian poet, and he composed the celebrated elegy, which strongly influenced the development of Russian romantic tassiana. One might be surprised that a problem as substantial as Batiushkov’s attitude to Tasso has attracted so little attention. The only article on this subject (1969) is, in fact, a digest of the discoveries made by Leonid Majkov in the 1880s. The aim of the present publication is to bring forward a new historical and philological interpretation of Batiushkov’s tassiana of 1808—1817.

The first three sections of the article are devoted to Batiushkov’s epistle To Tasso (Dramaticheskij vestnik, 1808, pt. VI). Scholars have detected in this poem the influence of the radishchevcy, of Compagnoni, and even Sismondi (whose book appeared five years after the publication of Batiushkov’s epistle). However, To Tasso is an imitation of Jean-François de La Harpe’s Épître au Tasse (1775); although this work was already known to Majkov, students of comparative literature have yet to place the French epistle alongside the Russian poem of the same title. Batiushkov’s use of Épître au Tasse organically conforms to the general picture of his literary tastes and predilections of the late 1800s and early 1810s (the article ascertains the facts of the influence of La Harpe’s poetry on Batiushkov’s work of this period). The epistle To Tasso is analysed against the broad background of European literary development from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. At the same time, special attention is paid to the poem itself: its textual history is traced, and a number of inaccuracies corrected, which have passed unhindered through all the critical editions (1887—1989).

In translated texts of the first two decades of the nineteenth century, two opposite tendencies often coexisted: calques of European poetic phraseology, and borrowing of “ready-made” formulae found in Russian contemporaries and forerunners. The consideration of the genesis of To Tasso reveals some characteristic features of Batiushkov’s translation technique. The poem freely combines elements which go back to various sources — French (La Harpe), Latin (Virgil), Italian (Tasso) and Russian (Derzhavin). Also, the degree of faithfulness of the translated passages changes at will from one passage to another. Similar conclusions can be drawn on the basis of observation of Batiushkov’s poetic translations from Tasso, to which the fourth section of the article is devoted; they are considered against the background of French and Russian eighteenth-century traditions of translation. This section develops further the methods of analysis of “intermediary versions”.

Batiushkov worked on a poetic version of Jerusalem Delivered from 1808 to 1810. He published his first “attempt at a translation of some octaves from Tasso’s immortal poem” (Gerusalemme liberata I, xxxii—xli) in the same issue of Dramaticheskij vestnik as his epistle To Tasso. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Russia had only one complete translation of Tasso’s epic — the version in prose made by Mixail Popov (1772) from the French version by Jean-Baptiste Mirabaud (1724). Two years after the publication of the Russian Jerusalem, the best prose version of the poem saw the light of day in France, produced by Charles-François Le Brun (1774). We should also mention the poetic translation undertaken, in the last years of his life, by La Harpe, who transposed the first eight cantos of Jerusalem into French (they were published in full in 1806). The comparison of Batiushkov’s fragment of Canto I with preceding versions reveals its dependence on the works of La Harpe and Popov. In 1809 Batiushkov published another verse fragment from Jerusalem Delivered (XVIII, xii, 1 — xxxviii, 1). From the point of view of its genesis, this fragment differs considerably from its predecessor. Popov’s version is used much less; also, for Canto XVIII, Batiushkov could not use La Harpe. Le Brun’s prose translation served as a second intermediary: it influenced the vocabulary and phraseology of the Russian imitation, but it could not affect its melodics. The analysis of the second fragment is complemented by a comparison with Batiushkov’s juvenile poem God (1804) which elaborates motifs from Gerusalemme liberata XVIII, xiii, 3—4 and is thus the earliest evidence of the poet’s acquaintance with Gerusalemme liberata (or at least, with the episode of the enchanted forest in a Russian version).

The fifth and final section of this article is devoted to Batiushkov’s prose tassiana. His first published prose translations from Italian were included in his critical essays, Ariosto and Tasso and Petrarch (published in 1816). Having abandoned imitations in verse, Batiushkov chose a new translation strategy; the article offers some observations on the distinctive features of his later translation practice. The theme of prose versions concludes with a discussion of textological problems in Batiushkov’s last translation from Tasso, the episode of Olindo and Sofronia (1817). An analysis of Batiushkov’s assesment (in Ariosto and Tasso) about the specificity of the Italian language and Tasso’s famous octave Chiama gli abitator... forms a separate topic. It was earlier proposed that, in this passage, Batiushkov expressed his original point of view and polemicized with the opinions of M-me de Staël and Simonde de Sismondi. The present article demonstrates that Batiushkov, only partially demolishing de Staël, and not touching Sismondi at all, repeats Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s polemical arguments from his Lettre sur la musique française, and that he found additional support for his views in Antonio Scoppa and Pierre-Louis Ginguené. To substantiate the latter statement it was necessary, in particular, to re-transcribe afresh Batiushkov’s marginalia on his own copy of Gerusalemme liberata (Rossijskaia nacional’naia biblioteka, f. 50, op. 1, ed. xr. 20), which have been known until now only in Bessonov’s inaccurate transcription.

Another traditional error of academic batiushkoviana is also connected with the names of Ginguene and Sismondi. In his day, Majkov suggested that Batiushkov used the books of these authors when compiling an extensive prose note to the elegy, The Dying Tasso (1817). Majkov’s assumption was accepted by all subsequent commentators. However, a comparison of Batiushkov’s note with Italian and French biographies of Tasso confirms that he read only one biographer, Ginguene, and did not consult the others. As regards Sismondi’s study (De la Littérature du midi de l’Europe), Batiushkov used it for preparatory work on an outline of the history of Italian literature, which was to form part of his projected Pantheon of Italian Letters which never saw fruition. Extracts from Sismondi have been preserved in Batiushkov’s notebook, The Other’s Things — my Treasure (summer 1817), which was published as early as Majkov’s collection. The content of these notes enables us to maintain that, for Batiushkov, Sismondi was a historian, rather than an aesthetician. Therefore, the traditional conception of Batiushkov’s “Sismondianism” has no factual basis.

A number of problems closely related to the proposed subject have been left out of this article. Firstly, there are questions which I have discussed elsewhere: the comparison of Batiushkov’s notes to his epistle of 1808 with La Harpe’s notes to his Épître au Tasse, as well as an analysis of quotations from Gerusalemme liberata in Batiushkov’s artistic, critical and epistolary prose. Also, the central text of Batiushkov’s tassiana, The Dying Tasso, merits a separate discussion. The observations in the present publication should serve as a basis for the further study of the celebrated elegy.


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