Critical Introduction to Philemon Holland’s Preface
The historie of the world
Article mis en ligne le 28 juillet 2014 par Chantal Schutz
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By Sophie Chiari (LERMA, Aix-Marseille Université)

Philemon Holland was born at Chelmsford, Essex, in 1552. His father, John Holland, was a fierce supporter of the English Church. Under the reign of Mary Tudor, as Philemon was only a few years old, John left the country to live in exile on the Continent before he could return to England in 1559 shortly after Elizabeth’s accession. His son then attended the Chelmsford grammar school and, from 1568 onwards, he studied at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1579, he married Anne Bott (1555-1627) who gave him no less than ten children. [1]

After graduating from Oxford and Cambridge, he started working as a physician in 1597 while teaching at Coventry’s free school. Just before the turn of the century, he embarked on an ambitious enterprise, namely the unabridged translation of Livy’s History of Rome. The book appeared in 1600, when Holland was already 48., He presumably worked quite hard and at a sustained pace as, one year later, he managed to translate the thirty-seven volumes of Pliny the Elder’s seminal Naturalis Historia, an encyclopedia which is replete with scientific observations themselves interwoven with legendary narratives. Having access to the source-text was relatively easy as Pliny’s editions flourished at the time. Holland may have used Delacampius’s, but this, unfortunately, is impossible to verify.

Philemon was a man of his time—he accumulates synonyms and keeps improving and rewriting his sources—but his works are sufficiently accurate to be considered as landmarks in the history of translation. As a consequence, one had to wait 250 years before another translation of Pliny’s writings was published. [2] The two folios of The historie of the world Commonly called, the natural historie of C. Plinius Secundus was regarded as a major achievement in Holland’s lifetime. A second edition came out the same year, and two more editions were issued in 1634 and 1635, which testifies to the enduring success of Holland’s enterprise. This can be explained not only by the attention which most early modern readers paid to the encyclopedic culture of the Ancients, but also by the most convenient Index compiled by Holland which, as a matter of fact, contributed to make the translation easily searchable and, as such, quite accessible. [3]

Nothing seemed to resist him. After Livy and Pliny, he set out to translate Plutarch’s Moralia directly from the Greek in 1603. With untiring zeal, he then proceeded with Suetonius’s Historie of Twelve Caesars (1605), Ammianus Marcellinus’s Roman History (1609) and William Camden’s Britannia (1610). He even translated John Speed’s The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine into Latin under the title Theatrum imperii Magnae Britanniae (1616). Five years later, he worked on Xenophon and published his Life of Cyrus. He never stopped until his death and his translation of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (1632) was to be one of his last major achievements. Holland died in Coventry, on February 9th, 1637, but his translations survived, as they were used and quoted as references by many great men of letters well into the 18th century. [4]

His preface to The historie of the world Commonly called, the natural historie of C. Plinius Secundus shows us the level of thinking and analysis which characterized one of the first quasi-professional English translators. At a time when most writers tried to make both ends meet by practicing translation as a complementary activity—thereby taking advantage of a commercial market where editors like John Wolfe specialized in the circulation of translated literature [5]—Holland, as to him, gave precedence to translating over writing and never cared to publish any ‘original’ work of his own.

Interestingly enough, he saw the translative act as an hermeneutical practice in the wake of the Protestant scholar Laurence Humphrey who, in his Interpretatio linguarum (1559), [6] had explained that the word interpretatio (i.e. hermēneia in Greek) was much more preferable to that of translatio, given that for him, translating consisted first and foremost in elucidating the sense of a given text. [7] Holland’s thoughts were thus influenced by those of his predecessors, and they go along with a strong political sense, as the translator never lost an opportunity to pay a tribute to the Queen, “a peerelesse Princesse” to whom he had previously dedicated his Romane Historie, as well as to her “prudent, politique, and learned Counsell”, even though this implied slight distortions of the truth. For instance, at the beginning of his preface, Holland refers to Elizabeth’s peaceful reign [8], whereas by the end of the 16th century, England had to cope both with the Spanish and the English threats. But in dedicating his Pliny to Robert Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief advisor, he had no other choice than flatter the powers that be.

It should thus come as no surprise that Holland regarded his work as the “fruit” [9] of the Queen’s efforts to promote culture and literature. And the fact is that translation entered a kind of golden age in the 1580s. Gradually, great Roman writers became accessible in the vernacular language, and Holland simply had to follow in the steps of the Oxford scholar Henry Savile—to whom he pays an implicit homage in his preface—who completed his translation of Tacitus’s Annals in 1591. Translation was an activity encouraged by the authorities because it was likely to fulfill a political function, and Holland knew it well. Today, he appears to us as a patriotic translator who does not merely work, as he writes in his preface, to improve his education [10] and make Pliny more widely accessible [11] (those are relatively common features in early modern translators’ prefaces), but also to defend and enhance the vernacular. Indeed, Holland firmly believed that the English language was particularly apt to convey the richness of the Latin : “[…] the tongue in an English mans head is framed so flexible and obsequent, that it can pronounce naturally any other language [ …].” His stroke of genius thus consists in incorporating the subtleties of the Latin tongue into the target-text while sticking to an easily readable style. In his first great translation, that of Livy, he already observed : “I framed my pen, not to any affected phrase, but a mean and popular stile […] let it be attributed to the love of my country language.” [12] Devoid of pedantry and affectation, Holland’s writing also turns out to be very rhythmical. As a result, his translations are pleasant to read, easy to grasp and above all, they can be quickly memorized. Unsurprisingly, his English version of Pliny’s compendium of knowledge became an endless source of inspiration for Shakespeare’s contemporaries, be they playwrights, poets, naturalists or, more broadly speaking, “natural philosophers.” [13]

If Holland’s preface is remarkable for its rhetorical qualities, but we should also note the various anxieties reflected in the text which are specifically linked to the early modern conception of translation. Neil Rhodes summarizes them as follows :

[Anxieties about rank and status] may have a straightforwardly social dimension […], but in the course of the sixteenth century these anxieties also cover textual degradation, the unwelcome popularization of professional ‘secrets’, the vulgarization or simplification of learning (‘dumbing down’) and the lowly role of the translator himself […] in relation to the original invention of the author [14].

Significantly, the main bones of contention mentioned by Rhodes are present in Holland’s preface. The English translator insists on the importance of avoiding the adulteration of classical texts in the process and he tries hard to comment on his translative practice without revealing his professional secrets. He wants to reach a vast number of readers without betraying the nobility of the original and, last but not least, he implicitly confesses the difficulty and the tediousness of his task, thereby focusing on his “lowly role.” Indeed, one finds repeated allusions to the ongoing efforts he must make to translate Pliny (“A painfull and tedious travaile I confesse it is”).

Paradoxically, he also suggests that the translator’s task is far more eminent than it appears at first sight since it serves his country’s interests. Even more importantly, as Holland defends himself against his hypothetical opponents, he comes to deal with one of the major anxieties of his time, caused by the increased circulation and vulgarization of scientific treatises : “And yet some there be so grosse as to give out, That these and such like books ought not to be published in the vulgar tongue. It is a shame (quoth one) that Livie speaketh English as hee doth : Latinists onely are to bee acquainted with him.” For the followers of the Catholic faith, knowledge should not be divulged to the lower classes of society and by implicitly positioning himself against them, Holland skillfully affirms himself as a Protestant translator. Firmly denying any elitism in his enterprise, he thus works according to the principles promoted by the English Church and regards translation as a panacea of sorts allowing all readers to discover and understand essential truths. In other words, translating, for Holland, is no more, no less, than an act of Christian charity.

Besides this powerful association with the religious habits of his time, one of Holland’s main strengths is to ignore the common practices of early modern translators who often translated classical works through an intermediary translation in French or in Italian. Refusing to write his own versions through the proxy of French renderings, like Thomas North, Holland is sufficiently educated to go straight to his source. Equally admirable is his refusal of omission or summary. In the letter closing his preface, he thus puts in the mouth of one of his faithful supporters, “one grave and learned preacher,” the following remark : “Yea, though some of them (as namely Plinie) have spoken dishonourably of the only true God and of his providence, because they knew him not ; which speeches (if it might stand with the laws of Translation) I could wish were utterly omitted […].” Here, what is in between parentheses proves highly significant. Utterly critical of the translative practices of his contemporaries, Holland stands as a precursor displaying a certain sense of ethics (as later developed by the Antoine Berman). [15] For his part, he refuses to remove any original passage likely to intrigue his readers and he justifies his position by alluding to the “laws” of translation, which were actually nonexistent at the time but which certainly corresponded to personal codes of conduct that the translator seeks to impose right from the beginning of his Historie of the world. However, hard as he tries to preserve all the elements of the original text in his translation, he is not totally blameless. Indeed, if nothing is deleted, much is added, and Holland piles up words and phrases without providing any explanation in his preface. Following the exegetic tradition of the Protestants, he not only feels free to intervene and gloss the passages he regards as obscure while also creating glossaries to explain technical terms and peppering his text with extensive marginal notes. But to do him justice, it should be noted that the amplificatio technique was rather frequently resorted to by Elizabethan translators. So, while Holland can in some respects be qualified as an innovative translator, he nonetheless remains traditional regarding the early modern use of emphasis, repetition and copia. [16]

Granted, Holland says nothing in his preface of the liberties he is about to take in his rewriting of Pliny as he simply emphasizes his humble faithfulness. Nevertheless, he is keen to highlight the importance of borrowings from the Latin in order to improve his native language, as can be shown in the following rhetorical question : “[ …] [I]s our language so barbarous, that it will not admit in proper tearms a forrein phrase ?” The necessity of borrowing, a trope which George Puttenham called soraismus (and which he translated into English by “mingle mangle”), was a vexed issue in the early modern period. [17] Some scholars were indeed fiercely against the use of borrowings on the ground that it disfigured the English tongue. The humanist John Cheke, in particular, wrote in his preface to Thomas Hoby’s translation of Il Cortegiano (1561) :

I am of this opinion that our own tung shold be written cleane and pure, unmixed and unmangled with borrowing of other tunges, wherein if we take not heed bi tijm, ever borrowing and never paying, she shall be fain to keep her house as bankrupt. [18]

Of course, Cheke’s opinion was not shared by all his contemporaries and everyone did not see borrowing as a cause of bankruptcy. In pleading for the presence of borrowings in translated literature, Holland aimed at stretching the capacities of the English tongue rather than at preserving its so-called purity and, as such, he relied on the arguments used by Philip Sidney [19] and George Chapman [20] before him. These writers were indeed both convinced of the importance of renewing their native tongue thanks to the translation of the classics.

Now, why choose Pliny, of all men, when so many authors then remained to be translated ? For one thing, Pliny was regarded as less difficult to translate than a writer like Tacitus. [21] This, however, is not entirely satisfactory an answer if one realizes how voluminous Pliny’s encyclopedia is. This question regarding the choice of Pliny is all the more relevant as Holland, raised in the Protestant fait, never missed an opportunity to picture himself as a good Christian. Now, at a time when translators often tried to anglicize authors they could either easily cannibalize and identify with or vehemently combat and transform in translation, Holland neither fights against nor totally merges with his Latin model—God being irremediably absent from the Natural History (“Plinie seemeth to derogat from the almightie God”). So, even though the English lavishly praises his model in the biographical part of his preface (“As for the Historie of Nature now in hand, which sheweth him to be an excellent Philosopher and a man accomplished in all kind of literature”), he is forced to acknowledge that Pliny worshiped pagan gods. Nonetheless, because such an embarrassing defect was common to all classical writers, the English translator only needs to call his readers’ attention to the religious error of his Latin author in order to be immediately forgiven. This attitude is not particularly surprising as contemporary translators reacted just the same. The pagan heresies of the Antiquity were simply not deemed incompatible with Christianity, whose power precisely consisted in easily turning flexible pagan narratives into Christian readings.

Holland was a Protestant at heart but not in the strictest sense of the term, and this is suggested by the theatrical metaphor he willingly extends in his preface. Surely, no Puritan would have dared to mention the “priviledge and the curtesie of the theatre.” It is therefore not as a dogmatic supporter, but as an ardent promoter of the English Church, that he imagines all the blames which might be put on him for his translation in order to defend his work through the persuasive use of free indirect discourse. Once he has drawn up his list of hypothetical accusations, he skilfully reasserts his own ethical position : “Farre be it from me, that I should publish any thing to corrupt mens manners, and much lesse to prejudice Christian religion.” He then goes one step further by identifying his supporters among the most respectable men of the Church of England and, as another protective shield, he eventually quotes extensively a (probably fake) letter written by one of them, only known as H. F.

Contrasting pagan and Christian visions of Nature [22] by juxtaposing quotes from the Scriptures, the contents of H. F.’s missive prove largely stereotypical. However, the process of the forged message is in itself rather original in a preface and, even more importantly, it allows the translator to protect himself from criticism. Highlighted by eight short marginal notes referring the reader to precise Biblical passages, the religious allusions [23] weaving the web of H. F.’s letter must have been immediately understood by most of the readers who, at the time, were also regular church-goers. The sermons they heard every day included the passages hinted at by H. F., and Holland himself was particularly well positioned to quote the Bible as his father, an eminent clergyman, had been the rector of Dunmow Magna (Great Dunmow), Essex.

H.F. concludes his letter, whose words imitate those of a preaching, with the following sentence : “Proceed then my beloved friend to bring unto the birth your second labour.” Here, Holland turns himself into a ventriloquist and, with the alleged blessing of the Church, he manages to give himself all the legitimacy he needs in order to deliver his second work. As odd as the birth metaphor [24] may seem today, it was a literary topos commonly used by male translators who did not hesitate to endow themselves with female reproductive capacities so as insist on the arduousness of their job. Such a blurring of genders was neither infrequent nor shocking, and if anything, it shows that the position of the translator was still vaguely or incoherently defined. On the one hand, translating was thought of as a feminine task, as it implied second-hand writing as well as a certain amount of subservience. On the other, the translators themselves attempted to turn this weakness into something more virile and positive by using abundantly the lexical field of war and conquest. Holland is no exception. While he seems to focus, from time to time, on translation as a menial task, he also gives pride of place to the military qualities of his author—as though translation, for him, were some process of metempsychosis thanks to which Pliny’s remarkable virtu would naturally be transmitted to his translator.

Portrayed as a “philosopher” by Holland, Pliny is an obvious choice for several reasons. First, his encyclopedia is a monument recognized as such by Elizabethan translators, poets and playwrights. He is a classic, and Holland, who gives precedence to Greek and Latin writers over contemporary ones, stresses in his preface the positive action of time on great literature : “but surely it is antiquitie that hath given grace, vigor, & strength to writings ; even as age commendeth the most generous and best wines.” An old Latin text would therefore slowly mature like good wine. Holland, himself a moderate drinker according to his grandson, [25] actually relies on this somewhat hackneyed metaphor to defuse the threat of possibly “hard censours,” who cannot remain impervious to such argument. Moreover, in the forged letter reproduced in his preface, Holland has his champion refer to the “Song of Songs” in which Salomon asserts that “little foxes […] ruin the vineyards” (Song of Solomon 2:15). [26] With the benefit of hindsight, one realizes that this quote functions as a distorted echo of Holland’s observation on literature and wine a few lines earlier.

Besides, Pliny is unavoidable because, Holland tells us, he is an author contributing to the greater good of humanity. Endowing the translated writer with an impressive number of moral virtues obviously meets the tacit norms at work in all the translators’ prefaces of the period. Holland had only published one translation before Pliny’s Natural History, but he quickly became past master at writing prefaces.

The fact that Pliny himself targeted a relatively wide readership in his own time, and that he vulgarized knowledge and ideas to reach as many people as possible, is another argument in favour of the Latin writer. [27] Yet, even though Holland shared his objectives, a limited number of early modern readers could actually afford to buy his folios. Writing or translating encyclopedias for the “basest clowne” (i.e for the most humble part of the population) then turned out to be a wishful thinking. [28]

More reasons to translate Pliny emerge in Holland’s preface to the reader. For an educated man like Holland, the Englishing of such a dense Latin text was comparable to travelling, while he probably never left England and was deeply committed to Coventry. Presumably, for the not so young Philemon, rewriting amounts to setting off on the high seas, and it is surely no coincidence that the sailing metaphor occurs twice in his text (“other motives there were that made saile and set me forward” and “making saile with a fervent desire and resolution to see an end”). Having Pliny speak English was moreover a real challenge for an Elizabethan translator as others, before Holland, had proved interested in translating the Latin writer, then an Elizabethan classroom favourite. The translator proudly observes : “I saw how divers men before me had dealt with this authour, whiles some laboured to reforme whatsoever by injurie of time was growne out of frame : others did their best to translate him into their own tongue, and namely, the Italian and French.” In Italy, the humanist poet and writer Cristoforo Landino had indeed published his translation in the vernacular as early as 1476. It was reprinted six times before 1543. In France, Pierre du Changy’s highly successful Les sommaires des singularités de Pline was more recent as it went into print in 1542, but it turned out to be a mere summary rather than a translation proper. In fact, one had to wait Antoine Du Pinet’s 1562 translation to read the whole of Pliny’s influential treatise in French. In England, Holland clearly had to make up for a lack of translations. What he does not say, however, is that before him, I.A. (John Alday ?) produced a twelve-page translation of Pliny’s Natural History in 1565. But Alday translated from Pierre du Changy’s French compact edition, which means that the ‘true’ Pliny was virtually left behind. [29]

First and foremost a patriot, Holland must have immensely enjoyed being the first real translator of Pliny in his country. Yet, in his preface, he wants to keep a low profile as he places himself in the “third ranke” of writers whose virtues he extols. [30] Of course, this stance of humility is a mere rhetorical device which allows him to safeguard his reputation and to enhance his qualities at the same time.

To alert readers, this apparent demureness hardly conceals Holland’s truculence, betrayed by the war allusions permeating his preface. [31] This seems like a cliché shared by almost all of Holland’s contemporaries translating literary texts. Early modern prefaces belong to a specific genre using the same images again and again. For instance, one finds in them a number of clothing metaphors (very much appreciated by Holland himself but curiously absent from his preface to Pliny’s Natural History), [32] of comparisons between painting and translating (translators generally sought to literalize the well-known metaphor ut pictura poesis), [33] and of allusions to harvesting, [34] birth or hospitality. In parallel, these prefaces describe the translative act in much ruder terms, foregrounding the lexical field of mutilation (Margaret Tyler), cannibalism (John Florio), or conquest.

Holland is a case in point. While he first praises the peacefulness of Elizabeth’s reign, a few lines later, he exhorts his readers to avenge themselves on the powerful Romans who conquered dominated their country in a faraway past. Holland’s sharp pen is thus quickly turned into a spear aimed at erasing the triumph of Roman culture and literature. If one is to believe the English translator, it is now time “to triumph now over the Romans in subduing their literature under the dent of the English pen, in requitall of the conquest sometime over this Island, atchieved by the edge of their sword.” Holland is a literary warrior, conquering England with the edge of his pen.

In spite of such gendered metaphors emphasizing the translator’s virility, purely sexual images are absent from the preface, if one excepts the hint at birth and delivery already commented upon. It is too isolated to make translation a feminine practice, all the more so as Holland alludes to a sort of literary paternity (authorship, by opposition to translation, was then regarded as a male activity) which he pretends to dismiss (“without fathering any thing of mine owne”). But this is just another denial in a preface full of refutations of all sorts and, as such, this should be taken at face value.

All in all, Holland’s text is deeply representative of the stance of the early modern translator, often more focused on the target-tongue than on the source-tongue, and forced to negotiate between paradoxical approaches. Claiming one’s pride, as a translator, while seeming humble and obedient, was therefore a characteristic posture. According to Massimiliano Morini, the typical translator of the era, influenced by humanist theories, can be portrayed as not bold enough to modify the inventio or the elocutio of the original text, but ready to alter its elocutio, or its style, in order to fit the taste of his contemporaries. [35] Holland corresponds to this description, and while the preface to his translation cultivates denial (of competence, of vanity, and of blasphemy), it testifies to Holland’s manipulative skills which make him of the very first professionals of his era.

He was indeed neither a poet nor a playwright, even less a writer : he was first and foremost a schoolmaster-physician. [36] So, if he cannot be seen as an accomplished ‘professional’ in the modern sense of the word, it is because translating never was his main activity. Incidentally, as though he desperately needed formal credentials, he puts forward his quality of “Doctor in Physicke” on the frontispiece of his Historie of the world Commonly called, the natural historie of C. Plinius Secundus. He, moreover, makes it a point of honour to write that he does not translate for money (“and some opportunities of privat lucre overslipt and lost, to win profit unto all”), but in order to serve the commonwealth. Yet, we are now aware that Holland’s assertions are never to be taken literally. In fact, as the the father of a large family he was far from making enough money as a teacher. [37] He had probably secretly hoped that his literary activities would make his financial situation more comfortable. Given that he kept translating books until the end of his life, this must have been the case, even though translation alone could not help him build a solid financial future for himself and his wife and many children. By way of comparison, he was much less remunerated for a translation, however long and fastidious it may have been, than a playwright for a successful play. [38] So, while it would be naïve to think of Holland’s commitment to translation as totally disinterested, the man is probably sincere when he claims to work for the improvement of his countrymen., Like Thomas Elyot before him, he was a true and competent “public servant.” [39]

The fact is that he imposed himself with a vivid style, finely crafted words, and still other significant assets linked to his personal situation. Indeed, when he started translating, Holland the physician was already well-versed in scientific knowledge and familiar with the Greek and Latin tongues. [40] On top of that, he was an experienced pedagogue and a mature man for whom translation was a reflective practice, not just a training exercise. A hard-working scholar, Holland embodies for us a blessed era of English translation, and in spite of its numerous topoi steeped in early modern culture, the preface to The historie of the world Commonly called, the natural historie of C. Plinius Secundus is still very much worth reading today because it reminds us of our debt to Renaissance translators. If one had to summarize Holland’s legacy, one could say that he paved the way for fluent and inventive translations, accurate without being servile. The seeds of what Lawrence Venuti calls the “translator’s invisibility” were therefore already to be found in early 17th century translations, at a time when translators sought as much to create as to reproduce, even though they ultimately thwarted the original to please their readers.

Today, more and more readers are aware that they are actually used to reading novels, essays or treatises in translation (even though this is quickly forgotten after the first two pages). In the 16th and 17th centuries, readers tended to confuse the writer and his or her translator. As a consequence, early modern readers did not really have the impression to rediscover Pliny : they simply read Holland’s Pliny as an original work. As a result, Holland was not a mere translator ; he was also a penman who even had his portrait reproduced in his 1632 version of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia.

One could always argue that Holland’s pecuniary interests, implicitly present in his preface, unfortunately foreshadow the commercial practices which have nowadays corrupted the translative ethics and practice, and which encourage the deliberate betrayal of the source-text. Be that as it may, the Elizabethan translator specialized in prose has left an indelible mark in the world of literary translation. If he never wrote any original work himself, his translations testify to his unbound creativity. Proof of this is Holland’s place among the most often quoted authors in the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary. He stands in a prominent eighth position, just behind Shakespeare, Scott, Milton, Wyclif, Chaucer, Caxton and Dryden [41], which amounts to a real posthumous triumph.

Bibliography

Andersen, Jennifer, and Elizabeth Sauer (eds.). Books and Readers in Early Modern England : Material Studies, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

Aydelotte, Laura. “Holland, Philemon” in The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature, Volume 2, eds. Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr., Alan Stewart, Rebecca Lemon, Nicholas McDowell, Jennifer Richards, Chichester, John Wiley & Sons, 2012, pp. 504-05.

Berman, Antoine. L’Épreuve de l’étranger. Culture et traduction dans lAllemagne romantique, Paris, Gallimard, Coll. Les Essais, 1984.

Bistué, Belén. “The Task(s) of the Translator(s) : Multiplicity as Problem in Renaissance European Thought”, Comparative Literature Studies, 48.2, 2011, pp. 139-64.

Broughall, M. S. “Philemon Holland, Translator and Schoolmaster”, Greece & Rome, Vol. 2, No. 5 (février 1933), pp. 89-96.

Castiglione, Baldessare. The Courtyer, trans. Thomas Hoby, Londres, William Serres, 1561.

Considine, John. “Holland, Philemon (1552–1637)” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/artic..., Date accessed : 24 August 2013].

France, Peter (ed.). The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation, Oxford, Oxford University Press, (2000), 2001.

Gillespie, Stuart. Shakespeare’s Books : A Dictionary of Shakespeare Sources, London, Continuum, 2004.

Hadfield, Andrew. The Oxford Handbook of English Prose 1500-1640, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.

Humphrey, Laurence. Interpretatio linguarum, Basle, Hier. Frobenius & Nic. Episcopius, 1559.

Mann, Jenny C. Outlaw Rhetoric : Figuring Vernacular Eloquence in Shakespeare’s England, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2012.

Morini, Massimiliano. Tudor Translation in Theory and Practice, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2006.

Puttenham, George. The Art of English Poesy (1589), Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2007.

Rhodes, Neil, Gordon Kendal and Louise Wilson. English Renaissance Translation Theory, London, The Modern Humanities Research Association, 2013.

Sheavyn, Phoebe. The Literary Profession in the Elizabethan Age, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1967.

Wood, Anthony. Fasti in Athenae Oxonienses … to which are added the Fasti, 2 vols. (1691-92), ed. P. Bliss, 4 vols. (1813-20) ; repr. 1969.

Notes :

[1] There were three daughters and seven sons, among whom the poet Abraham Holland, the writer and editor Henry Holland, and the printer and editor Compton Holland.

[2] John Bostock (1773-1846) published a translation of Pliny into English in 1855.

[3] On the importance of the Index, see Jennifer Andersen and Elizabeth Sauer (eds.), Books and Readers in Early Modern England : Material Studies, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002, p. 287.

[4] Pope, for instance, mentions Holland in The Dunciad, I, 154 : “And here the groaning shelves Philemon bends.”

[5] On this, see Phoebe Sheavyn, The Literary Profession in the Elizabethan Age, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1967, p. 103.

[6] This Latin treatise published in Basle was the only purely theoretical work on translation written by an Anglish before the Restoration period. Unfortunately, its circulation remained limited.

[7] On this, see Neil Rhodes, Gordon Kendal and Louise Wilson, English Renaissance Translation Theory, London, The Modern Humanities Research Association, 2013, p. 38.

[8] “[…] under the most gratious and happie government of a peerelesse Princesse, assisted with so prudent, politique, and learned Counsell […].”

[9] “[…] and withall delivered unto posteritie so many fruits of wit and learning.”

[10] “[…] yet needs I must confesse, that even my selfe have not only gained therby increase of the Latine tongue (wherein these works were written) but also growne to farther knowledge of the matter and argument therein contained.”

[11] “[…] not appropriat to the learned only, but accommodat to the rude paisant of the countrey ; fitted for the painefull artizan in town and citie ; pertinent to the bodily health of man, woman, and child ; and in one woord, suiting with all sorts of people living in a societie and commonweale.” 

[12] Quoted by Laura Aydelotte, “Holland, Philemon” in The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature, Volume 2, eds. Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr., Alan Stewart, Rebecca Lemon, Nicholas McDowell, Jennifer Richards, Chichester, John Wiley & Sons, 2012, p. 504.

[13] Pliny was one of Francis Bacon’s most influent models, and Bacon regarded himself as a “natural philosopher.”

[14] Neil Rhodes, Gordon Kendal and Louise Wilson, English Renaissance Translation Theory, ed. cit., p. 32.

[15] On the translator’s ethics, see Antoine Berman, L’Épreuve de l’étranger. Culture et traduction dans l’Allemagne romantique, Paris, Gallimard, Coll. Les Essais, 1984.

[16] On Holland’s unfaithfulness and on his use of amplification, see Massimiliano Morini, Tudor Translation in Theory and Practice, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2006, p. 90-94.

[17] George Puttenham, The Art of English Poesy (1589), Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2007, p. 338.

[18] Baldessare Castiglione, The Courtyer, trans. Thomas Hoby, London, William Serres, 1561.

[19] Philip Sidney observed : “I know some will say it is a mingled language. And why not so much the better, taking the best of both the other ?” Quoted in Jenny C. Mann, Outlaw Rhetoric : Figuring Vernacular Eloquence in Shakespeare’s England, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2012, p. 178.

[20] In his preface to his 1598 translation of Homer, Chapman wrote : “All tongues have inricht themselves from their originall […] with good neighbourly borrowing, and as with infusion of fresh ayre and nourishment of newe blood in their still growing bodies, and why may not ours ?” Quoted by Jenny C. Mann, ibid.

[21] The difficult reading of Tacitus is emphasized in the preface to Henry Savile’s1591 translation : “But he is hard. Difficulia quae pulchra.” Quoted by Stuart Gillespie, Shakespeare’s Books : A Dictionary of Shakespeare Sources, London, Continuum, 2004, p. 477.

[22] “And though Plinie and the rest were not able by natures light to search so far as to find out the God of Nature, who sitteth in the glorie of light which none attaineth, but contrariwise in the vanitie of their imagination bewrayed the ignorance of foolish hearts, some doting upon Nature her selfe, and others upon speciall creatures, as their God : yet feare we not that Christians, in so cleare light, should be so farre bewitched by such blind teachers, as to fall before those heathen idols.”

[23] Holland quotes from the Geneva Bible, then the most commonly used.

[24] This is found elsewhere in the preface (“and withall delivered unto posteritie so many fruits of wit and learning”).

[25] Anthony Wood, Fasti in Athenae Oxonienses … to which are added the Fasti, 2 vols. (1691-92), ed. P. Bliss, 4 vols. (1813-20) ; repr. 1969, p. 234.

[26] “These are the foxes by whom we feare t he spoile of the Lords vines when as the grapes first begin to cluster”.

[27] “To say nothing of the precedent given by the authour himselfe who endited the same, not with any affected phrase, but sorting well with the capacitie even of the meanest and most unlettered.”

[28] See Andrew Hadfield, The Oxford Handbook of English Prose 1500-1640, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 107. Hadfield explains that “Holland’s Pliny, unbound, went for 13s.” Holland’s translations were generally quite expensive as they were all “handsome folio volumes running sometimes over a thousand pages, prestige productions fetching a premium price, though not entirely beyond the means of sufficiently interested general readers.”

[29] See A summarie of the antiquities, and wonders of the worlde, abstracted out of the sixtene first bookes of the excellente historiographer Plinie, vvherein may be seene the wonderful workes of God in his creatures, translated oute of French into Englishe by I.A.

[30] “As for my selfe, since it is neither my hap nor hope to attaine to such perfection, as to bring foorth somewhat of mine owne which may quit the pains of a reader ; and much lesse to performe any action that might minister matter to a writer ; […] me thought I owed this dutie, to leave for my part also (after many others) some small memorial […]. Endeavoured I have therefore to stand in this third ranke […].”

[31] See for instance : “the souldiour were to have recourse unto the universitie for militarie skill and knowledge,” “to triumph now over the Romans in subduing their literature under the dent of the English pen,” or “a martiall man withall, and served often times as a leader and commaunder in the field.”

[32] See Andrew Hadfield, The Oxford Handbook of English Prose 1500-1640, ed. cit., p. 109.

[33] Holland is, of course, no exception : “Thus Nicophanes […] gave his mind wholly to antique pictures, partly to exemplifie and take out their patternes after that in long continuance of time they were decaied ; and in part to repaire and reforme the same, if haply by some injurious accident they were defaced.”

[34] This is the case in Holland’s preface, as can be seen in the following passage : “For this benefit wee reape by studying the books of such auncient authours.”

[35] Massimiliano Morini, Tudor Translation in Theory and Practice, ed. cit., p. 66.

[36] In this regard, he can be compared to his predecessor Richard Argentine (1510/11–1568), who also was a physician, a schoolmaster and a translator.

[37] In his “Holland” entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, John Considine writes that as an usher at what is now known as King Henry VIII School, Coventry, Holland earned “a salary of £10 a year and a house.” There is no information available on what his translations brought him. But towards the end of his life, he could rely on a regular financial support : “From 1632 to 1636 Holland received an annual pension of £3 6s. 8d. from the city of Coventry. In 1635 he was authorized to receive charity from the members of his old university.”

[38] On this, see Andrew Hadfield, The Oxford Handbook of English Prose 1500-1640, ed. cit., p. 107 : “There is record of his receiving £4 for his Ammianus and £5 for his Camden […]. Unsurprisingly, no one else made such a career out this kind of translating. But the books themselves appear to have sold ; they were frequently reprinted, and booksellers kept offering new ones.”

[39] See Neil Rhodes, English Renaissance Translation Theory, ed. cit., p. 35.

[40] This allowed him to translate directly from the source, as had already been noted, but Holland always kept an eye on what his predecessors had done before him. When he translated Plutarch’s Moralia, for instance, he “at least compared Amyot’s translation, and a Latin translation, with the original.” Quoted in John Considine, “Holland, Philemon (1552–1637).”

[41] See Laura Aydelotte, “Holland, Philemon” in The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature, ed. cit., p. 505, and Andrew Hadfield, The Oxford Handbook of English Prose 1500-1640, ed. cit., p. 107.

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