DUTCH POETRY AND ENGLISH
at work (the difference being one of method, not of kind). In the main it is the general against the particular: "Fingal" we must take in bulk, the ballads in their peculiar incidence. This is probably to begin the collected "Zangen" with a tremendous advantage; yet, it is not, I feel, an unfair one, but one which it sustains and justifies out to the end. Comparing the ballad work of Bilderdijk with the originals in Percy or (strange juxtaposition) Goldsmith, Professor Kalff finds that it falls very far short in almost every way — "in zin en eenvoud, in beeldende kennis en verhaaltrant". 1 Of "Ossiaan", on the other hand, he has nothing to say. Indeed, it amazes me that the accepted critics have so little to say about this, to me, wholly admirable performance
— by far the finest single feat in the whole catalogue of the poet's achievements. The usually conservative Ten Brink for once comes almost best out of the list. He even comes near, I think, to accounting for the fundamental reason behind this striking success when he writes: "Dat Bilderdijk op zoo meesterlijke wijze vertaalde, spreekt luide voor zijne gadelooze bedrevenheid in de techniek der poëzie. Daar hij bij vertalingen zich liet leiden door den gedachtengang van een ander kunstenaar, kwam de dichter Bilderdijk alleen op den voorgrond en bleef de menscb Bilderdijk geheel in de schaduw. Juist hierdoor werden zijne vertalingen meesterstukken." 2 There is more to it than that, of course; and, personally, I doubt if it has so much to commend it technically, as it has spiritually. The fact that it is in rhyme serves to draw attention certainly and is not in itself to be interpreted as a weakness — did not Coleridge give an imitation of "Ossian" in ballad-metre, and did not Macpherson himself seriously think at first of using the heroic couplet? Not here can it truthfully be said — as it has often been said — that the long, free-flowing Dutch Alexandrines are not in keeping with the dynamic prose-
1 "Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Letterkunde," Vol. VI, p. 391.
- Op. cit., p. 581.