Early Romanian Translation of English Literature

Early Romanian Translation of English Literature


Even though the Romanian translation of English literature is of recent origin, they have had a noticeable influence on the works of some of the greatest Romanian writers. During the early part of the 19th Century, many Romanians traveled and studied in the countries of Western Europe, but very few went as far as England, and even fewer to America. The first written account of any Romanian visiting England was in 1831, when Petrache Poenaru went there to observe the English educational system. On the other hand, we find a number of Englishmen visiting Romania at this time. The distance between the two countries was a barrier to a closer relationship between them, however. For this reason, there was very little interest shown in Romania in learning the English language, and much less in its literature.

The lack of knowledge of English was evidenced by an incident which occurred in 1837, when a note sent to Romania by the British Foreign Office had to be returned with the request that be sent in French since there was no one in Bucharest capable of translating the original version. This condition prevailed until the end of the 19th Century when the late Queen Marie, grand-daughter of Queen Victoria of England, came to Romania. From then on Romanians showed a greater interest in England and the United States, and especially in the latter, to witch so many had emigrated and returned with a deep understanding of America and its people.

After World War I, the English language and its literature where taught at Universities of Cluj, Cernauti and Iasi; and more recently at the University of Bucharest; and were gradually introduced into the curricula of most of the country's secondary schools. The American Institute and the Anglo-Romanian Society were also actively engaged in spreading knowledge of the English language and literature in Romania.

Early Translations

The first translation of English literature into Romanian were not made directly from the originals, but rather from the French, German, Greek, or Russian versions. Translation from English are few and of relatively recent date. The first direct translation was of Byron's "Manfred" by C. A. Rosetti, in 1843. A short time later, P. P. Carp and the Ghica brothers translated some of Shakespeare's works directly from  English; but even before these attempts, we have translations of religious works of English authors. Samuel Micu Clain translated Beveridge from Latin in 1789; but it was never published, and the original manuscript is to be found in the Romanian Academy Library. Stefan Beldiman gave us W. Coxe's "Travels" in 1824; and in 1826, an anonymous writer, believed by P. V. Hanes to be Constantin Folescu, translated and published in Budapest Thomas Thoronton's work "The Geographical and Political Status of Wallachia and Moldavia," which was originally printed in Paris in 1812. The first poets to become known to any extent in Romania and to influence its literature where Young, Ossian and Byron. Young's "Nights" became a sort of prototype in the first half of the 19th Century, because its melancholy outlook appealed to the Romanian temperament. Alecu Beldiman speaks of this own "Jalnica Tragedie," saying that he cannot express his thoughts as well as Young does.  The first translation of Young's "Nights" was made in 1819 by Lazar Asachi at Iasi, from French, but his version was never published.  Simeon Marcovici translated and published it in 1831 in the "Curierul Romanesc,"and it has been reprinted three times since then.  Even though it is not a very literal translation, it was used by the students of the St. Sava College, which school was attended by Cesar Boliac and Grigore Alexandrescu, whose own works were undoubtedly influenced by it. The last translation of it was Andrei Muresan's parts of which were published in 1864 in the Brasov "Foaia Pentru Minte."  The translation from French of Young's work was published together with Thomas Gray's " Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," and the translator, George Asachi, was the first Romanian poet to render an adaptation of an English poem. His volume of poems written between 1812 and 1827 included "Elegia Scrisa pe Tintirimea unui Sat," an adaptation of Gray's work.  Since the Romanian literary language was not as yet in its definite form, the work was only fair; however, it has many beautiful passages in the language of the time.  Gray's "Elegy" was translated in prose by G. Grandea and was published in 1875 in "Albina Pindului," but it is rather poor.  Another poet who was translated into Romanian during this period was Alexander Pope.  Costache Gonachi translated his philosophical poem, "Essay on Man," and the lyrical poem, "Scrisoarea Eloizei Catre Abelard."  These translations were naïve and parts even produced a comic effect.

Byron became known in Romania about the same time as Lamartine and influenced its young revolutionary poets to a great extent. Byron had fought in Greece and died at Missalonghi during the Greek War of Independence and since there were many Fanariots in Romania, he became a symbol for the liberty loving people. Grigorie Alexandrescu translated his "Adio" in 1832, and Eliade Radulescu published most of Byron's works during the period of 1833-1847, from the French translation by Pichot. Radulescu's first translations were in a pure Romanian, but his later ones were full of neologisms which were hitherto unknown in the country. For this reason, they have only an historical value. Costache Negruzzi also translated Byron's "Oscar D'Alva"; and the first Romanian to translate directly from English was C.A. Rosetti, who, in 1843, did Byron's "Manfred" in blank verse, which later was translated at least three more times. However, he was not too familiar with the English language and his work was only mediocre and very confused. In 1855, George Sion translated Byron's "Darkness," naming it "Visul," and there are at least six other translations of this poet in Romanian. During the 1848 Revolution, men such as Sihleanu and Creteanu were influenced by him. "Childe Harold" most decidedly influenced Bolintineau's "Conrad"; and Eminescu, himself, in an earlier unfinished poem, was influenced by Byron's "Manfred." During the second half of the 19th Century, the translation from Byron were not as numerous. Stefan Vargolici published a few in "Convorbiri Literare" between 1871 and 1879. Macedonski translated "Parisina" and "Lara" and did a better job than Vargolici, but it is not a literal translation. They were published in the "Liberatorul."

Th. Stoenescu translated Byron's "Manfred" and "Corsair" from French, and a beautiful translation of Byron's "Mazeppa" was done from German in 1884 by George Cosbuc while he was still a student at Cluj. Constantin Popescu put out an excellent translation of "Manfred" in 1903, and Prof. P. Grimm published "Cain" in Romanian on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of its author's death. There is no doubt, however, that the best translation of one of Byron's works into Romanian is Panait Cernea's "Catre Cain."

Translations from Other English Poets

Since Thomas Moore's "Irish Melodies" showed many characteristics of the Irish to be common among the Romanians, Costache Negruzzi translated it in 1838, but it was not until 1868 that a part of it was published in "Convorbiri Literare" by his son. The rest was not published until 1905. This translation was from French, but meticulously followed the original English version. Another romantic poet who appealed to the Romanian writers was Ossian, the Celtic Bard, known also as the Homer of the North, who was alleged to have lived in England before that country's conversion to Christianity. His works are commonly supposed to have been translated by Mac Pherson in the 19th Century, but the latter probably composed them himself, inspired by the old ballads. Eliade Radulescu announced in 1837 that he intended to publish some of these works in his "Colectia de Autori Clasici," but he published only "Fingal," in 1870, translated in free verse from the French. In 1847, Cesar Boliac, in his volume "Poesii Naua," included Ossian's "Oina," Curiously enough, Ossian became known to the Romanians mostly through Goethe's "Wertha" which included the poem "Selma." This novel was published in four different Romanian translations. Cacoveanu, too, did  a good job in translating Ossian, but his works were never published.

In 1915, Kostya Rovine published most of Ossian's poems in the "Minerva" series, but they were very poorly translated. Radulescu planned to publish the most important works of Young, Ossian, Byron, Moore, Milton, Shakespeare, Lytton, and Walter Scott, but he never got around to doing it. Nevertheless, he was greatly influenced by Milton's religious work, and this is especially noticed in his "Caderea Dracilor," published in 1840 in "Curierul de Ambe Sexe." The first Romanian translation of Milton was done from the Greek by Cerchez Ciomac in 1839, but was not published, and the first of Milton's works to be published, part of "Song III," was translated from the French text in 1851 by Geo. Sion. "Paradise Lost" was published in its entirety by B. Lazureanu in 1889 from the English text.