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I believe the proper and correct preface to a translation of Faust is a most ferocious onslaught upon all who have preceded the translator in the rugged path that leads from language to language, a practice apparently somewhat analogous to that of a gallant Irish regiment whose custom it was to prelude every dash with the bayonet with the characteristic war-cry of "Fagh a bealach!" (clear the way!) Believing, however, that there is room enough for us all on the above-mentioned road, I shall take leave to present my version of this drama to the public without the customary overture which seems to me somewhat discordant.
The difficulty of rendering Faust into English has been so fully acknowledged that the attempt has come to be looked upon as a sort of practical impudencerequiring some apology from the adventurous translator. I think the best apology is a confession of faith in the power of the English language; but I must
also admit some personal motives of my own, namely, that many years ago, during a residence at Weimar, it was my good fortune that some effusions of mine, printed for private circulation in an ephemeral publication called Chaos," attracted the notice of Goethe, who did me the honour of having my portrait taken for his private collection, and I trust that a not unnatural anxiety to justify this preference may be considered a sufficient apology for the present attempt.
I may venture to say for myself, that I have spared neither time nor labour in this task, which I have looked upon more in the light of the transposing of a beautiful piece of music from one key to another, than as a mere affair of arranging words and syllables. I can safely affirm that I have slurred nothing; and whilst I have, as far as possible, avoided any circuitous paraphrase, I have in no case availed myself of the inglorious expedient of rendering a passage literally but unintelligibly, and then sheltering myself behind the dictionary. I have endeavoured to convey the sense of each passage as closely, as tersely, and as clearly as possible, and have freely employed notes to illustrate the text, in the hope that the extracts from
Milton, Bacon, and Shelley, will not be unacceptable either to the English or German reader, as shewing the identity of thought between great minds of the two nations.
If this attempt of mine should add a link, however imperfect, to the intellectual chain that connects the two great families of the Gothic race, I shall feel that, even though the effort should not be as successful as I could have wished, still I shall not have laboured altogether in vain.
St. James' Place,
CHARLES H. KNOX.