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Jeremiah Curtin

Jeremiah Curtin

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Jeremiah Curtin was an American translator and folklorist.

Life


Born in Detroit, Michigan
Michigan
Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....

, Curtin spent his early life in Milwaukee County and later graduated from Harvard College
Harvard College
Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of two schools within Harvard University granting undergraduate degrees...

 in 1863. In 1864 he went to Russia, where he worked as both a translator and for the U.S. legation. He left Russia in 1877, stayed a year in London, and returned to the United States, where he worked for the Bureau of Ethnology
Bureau of American Ethnology
The Bureau of American Ethnology was established in 1879 by an act of Congress for the purpose of transferring archives, records and materials relating to the Indians of North America from the Interior Department to the Smithsonian Institution...

.

His specialties were his work with American Indian languages and Slavic languages
Slavic languages
The Slavic languages , a group of closely related languages of the Slavic peoples and a subgroup of Indo-European languages, have speakers in most of Eastern Europe, in much of the Balkans, in parts of Central Europe, and in the northern part of Asia.-Branches:Scholars traditionally divide Slavic...

.

In addition to publishing collections of fairy tale
Fairy tale
A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features such folkloric characters, such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments. However, only a small number of the stories refer to fairies...

s and folklore
Folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

 and writings about his travels, Curtin translated a number of volumes by Henryk Sienkiewicz
Henryk Sienkiewicz
Henryk Adam Aleksander Pius Sienkiewicz was a Polish journalist and Nobel Prize-winning novelist. A Polish szlachcic of the Oszyk coat of arms, he was one of the most popular Polish writers at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905 for his...

, including his Trilogy
The Trilogy
In modern culture, The Trilogy may also refer to George Lucas' The Trilogy. For the general use of the term "trilogy", see Trilogy.The Trilogy is a series of three novels written by the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz. The series follows dramatized versions of famous events in Polish history,...

set in the 17th-century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

, a couple of volumes on contemporary Poland, and, most famously and profitably, Quo Vadis
Quo Vadis (novel)
Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero, commonly known as Quo Vadis, is a historical novel written by Henryk Sienkiewicz in Polish. Quo vadis is Latin for "Where are you going?" and alludes to the apocryphal Acts of Peter, in which Peter flees Rome but on his way meets Jesus and asks him why he...

(1897). He also published an English version of Bolesław Prus' only historical novel
Historical novel
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, a historical novel is-Development:An early example of historical prose fiction is Luó Guànzhōng's 14th century Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which covers one of the most important periods of Chinese history and left a lasting impact on Chinese culture.The...

, Pharaoh
Pharaoh (novel)
Pharaoh is the fourth and last major novel by the Polish writer Bolesław Prus . Composed over a year's time in 1894–95, it was the sole historical novel by an author who had earlier disapproved of historical novels on the ground that they inevitably distort history.Pharaoh has been described...

, under the title The Pharaoh and the Priest (1902).

Translations from Polish


According to the epitaph
Epitaph
An epitaph is a short text honoring a deceased person, strictly speaking that is inscribed on their tombstone or plaque, but also used figuratively. Some are specified by the dead person beforehand, others chosen by those responsible for the burial...

 placed over Curtin's grave in Bristol, Vermont
Bristol, Vermont
Bristol is a town in Addison County, Vermont, United States. The town was founded June 26, 1762. The population was 3,788 at the 2000 census. Main Street is home to most of the businesses of the town...

, by his erstwhile employer, the Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

, and written by his friend Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States . He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity...

, Polish was but one of seventy (sic!) languages that "Jeremiah Curtin [in his] travel[s] over the wide world... learn[ed] to speak." Curtin apparently knew little or no Polish before he began translating Henryk Sienkiewicz
Henryk Sienkiewicz
Henryk Adam Aleksander Pius Sienkiewicz was a Polish journalist and Nobel Prize-winning novelist. A Polish szlachcic of the Oszyk coat of arms, he was one of the most popular Polish writers at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905 for his...

's historical novel With Fire and Sword
With Fire and Sword
With Fire and Sword is a historical novel by the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz, published in 1884. It is the first volume of a series known to Poles as the Trilogy, followed by The Deluge and Fire in the Steppe , also translated as Colonel Wolodyjowski...

in 1888 at age fifty. Subsequently he rendered the other two volumes of the author's Trilogy
The Trilogy
In modern culture, The Trilogy may also refer to George Lucas' The Trilogy. For the general use of the term "trilogy", see Trilogy.The Trilogy is a series of three novels written by the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz. The series follows dramatized versions of famous events in Polish history,...

, other works by Sienkiewicz, and in 1897 his Quo Vadis
Quo Vadis (novel)
Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero, commonly known as Quo Vadis, is a historical novel written by Henryk Sienkiewicz in Polish. Quo vadis is Latin for "Where are you going?" and alludes to the apocryphal Acts of Peter, in which Peter flees Rome but on his way meets Jesus and asks him why he...

, "[t]he handsome income [...] from [whose] sale... gave him [...] financial independence [...]" and set the publisher, Little, Brown and Company
Little, Brown and Company
Little, Brown and Company is a publishing house established by Charles Coffin Little and his partner, James Brown. Since 2006 it has been a constituent unit of Hachette Book Group USA.-19th century:...

, on its feet. Sienkiewicz himself appears to have been short-changed in his part of the profits from the translation of the best-selling Quo Vadis.

Later in 1897, Curtin's first meeting with Sienkiewicz, like his earlier first contact with the latter's writings, came about by sheer chance, in a hotel dining room at the Swiss
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 resort of Ragatz
Ragatz
Ragatz, also known as "Old Baths Pfäfers" or "Old Baths of Pfäfersin" in the 19th century and earlier, was a famous watering-place in the Swiss canton of St. Gall, situated on the left bank of the Rhine, and by rail 22 km north of Coire or 98 km S.E. of Zurich...

. For the next nine years, until Curtin's death in 1906, the two men would be in continual contact through correspondence and personal meetings.

Also in 1897, during a Warsaw
Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

 visit, Curtin learned from Wolff, of Gebethner and Wolff, Sienkiewicz's Polish publishers, that the Polish journalist and novelist Bolesław Prus, an acquaintance of Sienkiewicz, was as good a writer, and that none of Sienkiewicz's works excelled Prus' novel Pharaoh
Pharaoh (novel)
Pharaoh is the fourth and last major novel by the Polish writer Bolesław Prus . Composed over a year's time in 1894–95, it was the sole historical novel by an author who had earlier disapproved of historical novels on the ground that they inevitably distort history.Pharaoh has been described...

. Curtin read Pharaoh, enjoyed it and decided to translate it in the future.

Having both Polish and Russian interests, Curtin scrupulously avoided publicly favoring either people in their historic neighbors' quarrels (particularly since the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 had been in occupation of a third of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

, including Warsaw, since the latter part of the 18th century).

During an 1898 Warsaw visit, Curtin began translating Prus' Pharaoh. Polish friends had urged him to translate it, and he had himself found it "a powerful novel, well conceived and skillfully executed"; he declared its author a "deep and independent thinker." In September 1899, again in Warsaw—where, as often happened, Sienkiewicz was away—Curtin went ahead with his translation of Prus' historical novel
Historical novel
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, a historical novel is-Development:An early example of historical prose fiction is Luó Guànzhōng's 14th century Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which covers one of the most important periods of Chinese history and left a lasting impact on Chinese culture.The...

. Wolff urged him to continue with Prus, calling him profounder than Sienkiewicz. During another Warsaw visit, in early 1900, while again waiting for Sienkiewicz to return from abroad, Curtin called on Prus.

In 1900 Curtin translated The Teutonic Knights
The Teutonic Knights (novel)
The Knights of the Cross or The Teutonic Knights is a 1900 historical novel written by the eminent Polish Modernist writer and the 1905 Nobel laureate, Henryk Sienkiewicz...

 by Sienkiewicz, the author's major historic novel about the Battle of Grunwald
Battle of Grunwald
The Battle of Grunwald or 1st Battle of Tannenberg was fought on 15 July 1410, during the Polish–Lithuanian–Teutonic War. The alliance of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, led respectively by King Jogaila and Grand Duke Vytautas , decisively defeated the Teutonic Knights, led...

 and its background.

Sienkiewicz



Harold B. Segel writes about Curtin's translations of works by Henryk Sienkiewicz
Henryk Sienkiewicz
Henryk Adam Aleksander Pius Sienkiewicz was a Polish journalist and Nobel Prize-winning novelist. A Polish szlachcic of the Oszyk coat of arms, he was one of the most popular Polish writers at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905 for his...

:
[...] Curtin was an indefatigable, diligent, and reasonably accurate translator, but he lacked any real feeling for language. Despite occasional lapses, the translations are acceptably faithful to the original, yet much of the time they are stilted and pedestrian. This results, at times, as [the American translator Nathan Haskell] Dole
Nathan Haskell Dole
Nathan Haskell Dole was an American editor, translator, and author. He attended Phillips Academy, Andover, and graduated from Harvard University in 1874. He was a writer and journalist in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston...

 had remarked [in 1895], from the location of the adverb in final position (even when this is not the Polish word order).[...] The "inelasticity" [that the Briton, Sir Edmund William] Gosse spoke of [in 1897] is perhaps nowhere so clearly evident in Curtin's translations as in his insistence on rendering koniecznie as "absolutely" in all circumstances.

The "odd foreign tone" mentioned by Dole can most often be attributed to Curtin's too literal translation
Literal translation
Literal translation, or direct translation, is the rendering of text from one language to another "word-for-word" rather than conveying the sense of the original...

 and inept handling of idiom
Idiom
Idiom is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made...

s.[...]

The [London] Athenaeum review of [Sienkiewicz]'s Children of the Soil [i.e., Rodzina Połanieckich—The Połaniecki Family] in 1896 suggested, furthermore, that Curtin's use of "thou" and "thee" in the addresses of friends and relatives contributed to the stiffness of the translations. Second person singular verbal and pronominal forms are, with rare exceptions, handled by Curtin in the archaic English fashion. In Sienkiewicz's Trilogy
The Trilogy
In modern culture, The Trilogy may also refer to George Lucas' The Trilogy. For the general use of the term "trilogy", see Trilogy.The Trilogy is a series of three novels written by the Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz. The series follows dramatized versions of famous events in Polish history,...

, set in seventeenth-century Poland, or in Quo Vadis
Quo Vadis (novel)
Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero, commonly known as Quo Vadis, is a historical novel written by Henryk Sienkiewicz in Polish. Quo vadis is Latin for "Where are you going?" and alludes to the apocryphal Acts of Peter, in which Peter flees Rome but on his way meets Jesus and asks him why he...

with its ancient Roman setting, this is less objectionable. The translator has, by this means, attempted to introduce an appropriate antique flavor. In Sienkiewicz's contemporary works, however, the results are less fortunate.


Segel cites a series of mistranslations perpetrated by Curtin due to his carelessness, uncritical reliance on dictionaries
Dictionary
A dictionary is a collection of words in one or more specific languages, often listed alphabetically, with usage information, definitions, etymologies, phonetics, pronunciations, and other information; or a book of words in one language with their equivalents in another, also known as a lexicon...

, and ignorance of Polish idiom
Idiom
Idiom is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made...

, culture, history and language
Polish language
Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

. Among the more striking is the rendering, in The Deluge, of "Czołem" ("Greetings!"—a greeting still used by Poles) "literally
Literal translation
Literal translation, or direct translation, is the rendering of text from one language to another "word-for-word" rather than conveying the sense of the original...

" as "With the forehead!"

Contemporary critics were dismayed at Curtin's gratuitous, outlandish modifications of the spellings of Polish proper names and other terms, and at his failure to provide adequate annotations.

According to Segel, the greatest weakness of Curtin's translations is their literalness
Literal translation
Literal translation, or direct translation, is the rendering of text from one language to another "word-for-word" rather than conveying the sense of the original...

. "Despite the fact that the translator himself possessed no impressive literary talent, greater attention to matters of style would have eliminated many of the infelicities and made for less stilted translation. But Curtin worked hastily... [C]ritics... could only surmise that, in his fidelity to the letter of the original rather than to its spirit, Curtin presented a duller, less colorful Sienkiewicz."

Prus



Christopher Kasparek
Christopher Kasparek
Christopher Kasparek is a Scottish-born writer of Polish descent who has translated works by Ignacy Krasicki, Bolesław Prus, Florian Znaniecki, Władysław Tatarkiewicz, Marian Rejewski and Władysław Kozaczuk, as well as the Polish-Lithuanian Constitution of May 3, 1791.He has published papers on...

 has demonstrated that, if anything, Curtin did still worse by Sienkiewicz's "profounder" compatriot, Bolesław Prus.

Prus' historical novel
Historical novel
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, a historical novel is-Development:An early example of historical prose fiction is Luó Guànzhōng's 14th century Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which covers one of the most important periods of Chinese history and left a lasting impact on Chinese culture.The...

 Pharaoh
Pharaoh (novel)
Pharaoh is the fourth and last major novel by the Polish writer Bolesław Prus . Composed over a year's time in 1894–95, it was the sole historical novel by an author who had earlier disapproved of historical novels on the ground that they inevitably distort history.Pharaoh has been described...

appears, in Curtin's version, as The Pharaoh and the Priest by "Alexander Glovatski." Why the author's pen name
Pen name
A pen name, nom de plume, or literary double, is a pseudonym adopted by an author. A pen name may be used to make the author's name more distinctive, to disguise his or her gender, to distance an author from some or all of his or her works, to protect the author from retribution for his or her...

 was dropped in favor of a transliterated
Transliteration
Transliteration is a subset of the science of hermeneutics. It is a form of translation, and is the practice of converting a text from one script into another...

 and distorted version of his private name, is not explained. Concerning the change of title, Curtin states laconically, at the end (p. viii) of his "Prefatory Remarks" (plagiarized from Prus' "Introduction", which also appears in the book), that "The title of this volume has been changed from 'The Pharaoh' to 'The Pharaoh and the Priest,' at the wish of the author." Curtin's English version of the novel is incomplete, lacking the striking Epilog that closes the novel's sixty-seven chapters.

If in Sienkiewicz's Rodzina Połanieckich Curtin mindlessly rendered "Monachium" (Polish
Polish language
Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

 for "Munich
Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

") as "Monachium" (which is meaningless in English), in Prus' Pharaoh (chapter 1) he renders "Zatoka Sebenicka" ("Bay of Sebennytos
Sebennytos
Sebennytos or Sebennytus or Egyptian: Tjebnutjer Arabic: سمنود Samannud was an ancient city of Lower Egypt, located on the Damietta branch of the Nile in the delta...

") equally mindlessly as "Bay of Sebenico."

The pattern of using "thee's" and "thou's" continues unabated, and in this context is not so much evocative of antiquity, as simply irritating.

Curtin's translation
Translation
Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. Whereas interpreting undoubtedly antedates writing, translation began only after the appearance of written literature; there exist partial translations of the Sumerian Epic of...

 style may be gauged by comparing a 2001 rendering of a passage from chapter 49 with, secondly, Curtin's version published a century earlier (1902). In this passage the protagonist, Prince Ramses, reproves the priest Pentuer, a scion of peasants:
In Curtin's version:
The Curtin version certainly illustrates the gratuitous "thee"–"thou" archaism
Archaism
In language, an archaism is the use of a form of speech or writing that is no longer current. This can either be done deliberately or as part of a specific jargon or formula...

s discussed earlier. It also shows pure mistranslations: "peasants" ("fellahin") as "laborers" or "toilers"; "murdered" as "killed"; "drew the Nile mud" as "dipped up muddy water from the Nile"; "cows" as "milch cows"; and most strikingly, "the lice-ridden of this world" (literally, in the original, "those whom lice bite") as "he... who bites lice."

Moreover, in the liberties that Curtin takes with the original Polish sentence structure (which is preserved in the first, 2001 version), he is actually paraphrasing
Paraphrase
Paraphrase is restatement of a text or passages, using other words. The term "paraphrase" derives via the Latin "paraphrasis" from the Greek , meaning "additional manner of expression". The act of paraphrasing is also called "paraphrasis."...

rather than metaphrasing (translating literally
Literal translation
Literal translation, or direct translation, is the rendering of text from one language to another "word-for-word" rather than conveying the sense of the original...

).

Qualities


As a translator of Polish literature
Polish literature
Polish literature is the literary tradition of Poland. Most Polish literature has been written in the Polish language, though other languages, used in Poland over the centuries, have also contributed to Polish literary traditions, including Yiddish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, German and...

 into English, Jeremiah Curtin shows serious deficits in all the attributes of a competent translator, which should include:
  • familiarity with the subject matter;
  • a very good knowledge of the language, written and spoken, from which he is translating (the source language);
  • an excellent command of the language into which he is translating (the target language
    Target language
    Target language may refer to:*Target language, in applied linguistics and language education, the language which a person is learning, also called second language*Target language, in translation, the language to which a source text is translated...

    );
  • a profound understanding of the etymological and idiomatic correlates between the two languages; and
  • a finely tuned sense of when to metaphrase
    Metaphrase
    Metaphrase is a translation term referring to literal translation, i.e., "word by word and line by line" translation. In everyday usage, metaphrase means literalism; however, metaphrase is also the translation of poetry into prose...

    ("translate literally
    Literal translation
    Literal translation, or direct translation, is the rendering of text from one language to another "word-for-word" rather than conveying the sense of the original...

    ") and when to paraphrase
    Paraphrase
    Paraphrase is restatement of a text or passages, using other words. The term "paraphrase" derives via the Latin "paraphrasis" from the Greek , meaning "additional manner of expression". The act of paraphrasing is also called "paraphrasis."...

    , so as to assure true rather than spurious equivalents between the source- and target-language texts.

Sources

  • H.B. Segel, "Sienkiewicz's First Translator, Jeremiah Curtin", The Slavic Review, vol. XXIV, no. 2 (June 1965), pp. 189–214.
  • Christopher Kasparek
    Christopher Kasparek
    Christopher Kasparek is a Scottish-born writer of Polish descent who has translated works by Ignacy Krasicki, Bolesław Prus, Florian Znaniecki, Władysław Tatarkiewicz, Marian Rejewski and Władysław Kozaczuk, as well as the Polish-Lithuanian Constitution of May 3, 1791.He has published papers on...

    , "Prus' Pharaoh and Curtin's Translation", The Polish Review
    The Polish Review
    The Polish Review is an English-language scholarly journal published quarterly in New York City by the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America.The Polish Review has been appearing since 1956.-Editors in Chief:*Stanisław Skrzypek...

    , vol. XXXI, nos. 2–3 (1986), pp. 127–35.
  • Bolesław Prus, Pharaoh
    Pharaoh (novel)
    Pharaoh is the fourth and last major novel by the Polish writer Bolesław Prus . Composed over a year's time in 1894–95, it was the sole historical novel by an author who had earlier disapproved of historical novels on the ground that they inevitably distort history.Pharaoh has been described...

    , translated from the Polish by Christopher Kasparek, Warsaw, Polestar Publications, and New York, Hippocrene Books, 2001.

External links

: