Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Samuel Johnson, from the Life of Pope, on why it took Pope five years to translate Homer:
When we find him translating fifty lines a day, it is natural to suppose that he would have brought his work to a more speedy conclusion. The Iliad, containing less than sixteen thousand verses, might have been despatched in less than three hundred and twenty days by fifty verses in a day. The notes, compiled with the assistance of his mercenaries, could not be supposed to require more time than the text. According to this calculation, the progress of Pope may seem to have been slow; but the distance is commonly very great between actual performance and speculative possibility. It is natural to suppose, that as much as has been done to-day may be done to-morrow – but on the morrow some difficulty emerges, or some external impediment obstructs. Indolence, interruption, business, and pleasure, all take their turns of retardation; and every long work is lengthened by a thousand causes that can, and ten thousand that cannot, be recounted. Perhaps no extensive and multifarious performance was ever effected within the term originally fixed in the undertaker’s mind. He that runs against Time, has an antagonist not subject to casualties.


  1. Oh, that's wonderful, Jenny. Thanks for sharing it. How grim and perfect that last line--"he that runs against time"--is!

  2. Thanks--I am a slow writer and sometimes I feel the likes of Joyce Carol Oates breathing down my neck while I sit staring at my monitor plunk-plunking away at the rate of a word every minute. . . or two. . .

    Not that I'm Pope, but at least I know I'm in good company.