The following sketches, which, with two or three exceptions, have appeared in the British Magazine during 1833 and the -following years, do not, as the author is very conscious, warrant a title of such high pretension, as that which was there prefixed to them, and is here preserved. But that title will at least show the object with which they were written, viz. to illustrate, as far as they go, the tone and modes of thought, the habits and manners of the early times of the Church.
The author is aware how much a work is open to imperfection, and therefore to criticism, which is made up, in so great measure, of minute historical details and of translations; nor would he subject himself either to the one or the other, did he not think that the chance of bringing out or recommending one or two of the characteristics of primitive Christianity was worth the risk of mistakes, which, after all, would hut affect himself, and not his readers.
As to the translations, he is very sensible what constant and unflagging attention is requisite to catch the sense of the original, and what discrimination in the choice of English to do justice to it. And further, over and above actual faults, variety of tastes and fluctuation of moods among readers, make it impossible so to translate as to please every one; and if a translator be conscious to himself, as he may well be, of viewing either original or version differently, according to the time or feeling with which he takes it up, much more will he resign himself to such differences of judgment in the case of other minds. It should be considered, too, that translation in itself is, after all, but a problem, how, two languages being given, the nearest approximation may be made in the second to the expression of ideas already conveyed through the medium of the first. The problem almost starts with the assumption that something must be sacrificed, and the chief question is, what is the least sacrifice? In a balance of difficulties, one translator will aim at being critically correct, and will become obscure, cumbrous, and foreign; another will aim at being English, and will appear deficient in scholarship. While grammatical particles are followed out, the spirit evaporates; and while ease is secured, new ideas are intruded, or the point of the original is lost, or the drift of the context broken.
Under these circumstances, perhaps, it is fair to lay down that, while every care must be taken against the introduction of new, or the omission of existing ideas in the original text, yet in a book intended for general reading, faithfulness may be considered simply to consist in expressing in English the sense of the original, the actual words of the latter being viewed mainly as directions into its meaning, and scholarship being necessary in order to gain the full insight which they afford; and next, that, where something must be sacrificed, precision or intelligibility, it is better in a popular work to be understood by those who are not critics, than to be applauded by those who are.
In the present translations this principle has been taken to justify the omission of passages, and now and then the condensation of sentences, when the extract otherwise would have been too long; a studious endeavour being all along made to preserve the sense from injury.
As to the other class of imperfections, inaccuracies in historical fact, though much pains has been taken to avoid them, the reader is requested to correct the following, which has been detected while the sheets were passing through the press :—At page 143, it is said that no acts of intercourse are known to have passed between St. Basil and St. Gregory, after the appointment of the latter to the see of Sasima. An important and very interesting exception to this remark ought to have been mentioned ;—Basil went to see Gregory at Nazianzus, in A. D. 374, on the death of Gregory's father.—Vide Greg. Orat. 19.
February 21, 1840.