These conventional, rigid, and egg-dancing arts

In reply to a gift of books, including the correspondent’s wellknown translation of Sophocles.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1314.]

To Lewis Campbell [Colvin 1911, 2, p. 238-239]

[Wensleydale, Bournemouth, October 1884]

My dear Campbell,

The books came duly to hand.

db_lewiscampbell23

Lewis Campbell (1830–1908), Scottish classical scholar, Professor of Greek at St Andrews 1863-92 [www.clerkmaxwellfoundation.org]

immagine

L. Campbell, ‘Sophocles: The Seven Plays in English Verse’, 1883 [https://ia800200.us.archive.org]

 

My wife has occupied the translation ever since, nor have I yet been able to dislodge her.

fanny_stevenson

Fanny Stevenson at Bournemouth, 1885 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

As for the primer, I have read it with a very strange result: that I find no fault.

immagine

Campbell’s ‘Sophocles’, a school primer in Macmillan’s Classical Writers series, 1879 [https://ia902205.us.archive.org]

If you knew how, dogmatic and pugnacious, I stand warden on the literary art, you would the more appreciate your success and my – well, I will own it – disappointment. For I love to put people right (or wrong) about the arts. But what you say of Tragedy and of Sophocles very amply satisfies me; it is well felt and well said; a little less technically than it is my weakness to desire to see it put, but clear and adequate.

an00309897_001_l

The Arundel Head, bronze head from a statue, perhaps of Sophocles, 2nd century BC [www.britishmuseum.org]

You are very right to express your admiration for the resource displayed in Oedipus King; it is a miracle.

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Campbell’s translation in English verse of Sophocles’s ‘King Oedipus’, 1883.

 

Would it not have been well to mention Voltaire’s interesting onslaught, a thing which gives the best lesson of the difference of neighbour arts? – since all his criticisms, which had been fatal to a narrative, do not amount among them to exhibit one flaw in this masterpiece of drama.

voltaire_oedipe_2e_c3a9dition_ribou_1719

Voltaire’s ‘Oedipe’, 1719 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

 

For the drama, it is perfect; though such a fable in a romance might make the reader crack his sides, so imperfect, so ethereally slight is the verisimilitude required of these conventional, rigid, and egg-dancing arts.

pieter_aertsen2c_the_egg_dance_28155229

Pieter Aertsen, The Egg Dance, 1557 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

I was sorry to see no more of you; but shall conclude by hoping for better luck next time. My wife begs to be remembered to both of you […]. – Yours sincerely,

Robert Louis Stevenson

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