Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory

Watson's Preface
to the 1856 Translation

It was observed by Dr. Drake in his Literary Hours about fifty years ago that no version of Quintilian at all adequate to the merits of the original existed in English and that to translate him throughout with energy, spirit, and fidelity would prove a task of the most arduous and difficult kind, such is the beauty of his diction and such the peculiar propriety of his epithets.

The difficulties alleged by Dr. Drake are by no means exaggerated, and since his time no translator has applied himself to execute the task. The language of writers extremely nice in the choice of words and the collocation of phrases is always difficult to render satisfactorily. What is graceful in the original can but seldom be made graceful in a version. But the present translator, if he has not entirely succeeded, hopes that he has no great cause to deprecate censure. He will only request that should the student think some passages too freely rendered, he will bear in mind the necessity of endeavoring to satisfy the mere English reader, and that if the English reader finds some passages too stiff, he will consider the necessity for a certain degree of closeness to answer the wants of the student.

Of the two translations which have previously appeared in English, those of Guthrie and Patsall, neither is complete, whole chapters being omitted in each. In regard to fidelity, Patsall is, on the whole, rather to be preferred, but neither he nor Guthrie had the requisite scholarship to do justice to their author. When they could not ascertain the sense of a passage, they substituted some vague paraphrase or omitted it altogether.

In the following pages the whole of the original is translated and the utmost care has been taken to observe an exact adherence to the sense. On every obscure or corrupt passage, illustration is given in a note. The text which has been used is that of Spalding, from whose valuable commentary much useful matter has been adopted.

-- Rev. John Selby Watson

Lee Honeycutt (honeycuttlee@gmail.com) Last modified:1/15/07