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I have heard many a time learned and sensible people complain of the want of a book for teaching, as an art, the youth of this country the higher, as well as the intermediate, kind of French composition. I thought, too, that a work, containing extracts from those authors whose names stand highest in English literature, to be turned into French, could not fail to be eminently useful, if properly executed.
Such a selection I have undertaken, and now offer to the public.
Many conditions were required to make a work of this sort one of thoroughly practical utility.
In the first place, some help was required to enable young persons to translate too difficult passages. In the help given, in the shape of renderings, I felt that the French ought to be, not only genuine and good, but at least as pure and elegant, in a literary point of view, as the English to which it was to correspond. To that end, and to make the work still more worthy of the confidence of the public, I secured the valuable services of several of the most celebrated French writers, whose assistance I cannot but acknowledge in the highest terms—in other words, I consulted the best modern French translations, whenever an English work, from which I had taken extracts, had been translated. These literary celebrities, from whom I have thus obtained so serviceable a co-operation, are :—the late M. Charles Nodier, MM. Villemain and Aignan (of the Institute of France), MM. Léon de Wailly, Benjamin Laroche, Defauconpret, Amédée Pichot, and others.
I may add, however, and, I hope, without incurring the reproach of vanity, that I have had occasionally to alter some of the renderings of these gentlemen,-not to amend the style, as will be readily supposed, but to make the translation fit the text, in cases where they had obviously mistaken the meaning of the English. .
In the second place, not satisfied with presenting, as has been done hitherto, a mere rendering of difficulties at the foot of each page, in a routine-like way, and just as if pupils should not even be supposed to think, I have addressed myself to the understanding of the student, and given a number of notes raisonnées, explanatory, suggestive, grammatical, critical, and literary. My chief aim in this has been, to stimulate his intelligence, exercise his reasoning faculties, and improve his taste,—to teach him, in short, practically, the art of writing, so far as French is concerned.
In the third place, in order to show to the student what liberty may and must be allowed in translating, and also what variety of expression the French language admits of, I have, in many instances, given several renderings of the same phrase or expression. This is the plan which was adopted by the late M. Tarver, French master at Eton College, in his Phraseological Dictionary of the English and French Languages, and I think it not only
an excellent plan, but the only one by which people can learn any language properly,—that is, if they wish to get a fair insight into its idioms and genius.
In the fourth place, I have followed, throughout the book, a system of copious references to former notes,—a feature which I deem as important as it is novel in a work of this kind. The great advantage, in an educational point of view, of giving merely a hint instead of a translation, where a hint only is required, is obvious. Besides this, nothing enables us to understand the various acceptations of a word and uses of a phrase, better than seeing the same word in different sentences, and the same phrase in different combinations.
With regard to the amount of help, in the shape of renderings, it will be perceived that the notes are copious in the first part of the book, and gradually decrease in number towards the end. This has been done with the double view, of placing the work within the reach of every class of students, and of making it progressive.
As to the grammatical points, it could not be expected that I should notice them all. Something has necessarily been left for the teacher to explain : I have confined myself to the more important features.
And now, with reference to the extracts selected for translation.
That a book composed of extracts on various subjects and from various writers, and consequently offering great diversity of styles, facts, and words, is beyond comparison preferable, for the purpose of translation, as well as of general information, to a book all along in the same strain, (whether a collection of letters, or a connected story, &c., as most of the works now in use,) and by the same author, is a position too self-evident to require particular proof.1 Were it only for the reason that the student, as I have invariably found, becomes quite disgusted with his monotonous work before he has gone through many pages, the inducement thus held out to adopt a plan different from that of such tedious and uncouth kinds of so-called educational works, would of itself be sufficient.
In the present selection, most of the extracts are short, they are all lively and interesting, written with spirit, taken from standard works, and consist chiefly of narrations, good examples of conversational English, familiar letters, &c. I have, in fact, endeavoured to adapt this work to the wants of our age—to make a thoroughly modern book. Looking at the purpose for which people, generally, learn French, I have not limited the selection to such authors as would be called English classics. I have thought it desirable to keep in view, likewise, the class of students who now submit themselves to examinations for the civil and military services. I have selected copiously from writers of the day; it being, in my opinion, an essential point to have modern English to translate into modern French, I have chosen, especially for those students destined to naval life, the piece headed “A Sea-Fog and Wreck," by Capt. Basil Hall ; to such as are destined to undergo military examinations and to lead a military life, I would strongly recommend the Battles at the end of the work. These also have been selected with peculiar care. They are five remarkable contests, belonging to different epochs of history, and calculated to afford most accurate and im
1 “Il faut traduire sur toutes sortes de matières et d'après tous les auteurs, sans quoi la connaissance de la langue restera toujours imparfaite.”-DIDEROT.