Wednesday, January 17, 2007

New Coleridge Translation Discovered

James McKusick, dean of the University of Montana's Davidson Honors College, believes he's found a previously unknown work by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "a substantial partial verse translation of Goethe's landmark tragic play, Faust, written in 1808." The Montana Forum reports that Coleridge's translation appears to have been made around 1820, and was published anonymously.

McKusick says of his find "Faust is generally agreed to be the greatest dramatic work of its time in any language, and the fact that it is translated in English by one of the leading poets and German translators is intrinsically important because it means this work came into English culture at an important point in the retelling of this legend clothed in the most beautiful language imagined."

The linked article goes into great detail about how McKusick and others have worked for decades to prove that the translation is that of Coleridge. Apparently the "smoking gun" came through the use of "stylometric analysis," in which texts are analysed for word count, use frequency and other stylistic devices that are unique to any author. Seems an interesting little story in and of itself; I'll be surprised if we don't see a book someday about the process.

McKusick's findings will be presented at a conference in California this March, and an edition of the translation (the first attributed) will be printed in September by Oxford University Press. It will be accompanied by "findings and supporting documentation" by McKusick and his research partner, Frederick Burwick.