I was perusing TAN’s English translation of Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard’s Soul of The Apostolate this morning. It was translated into English in 1948 by “A Monk of Gethsemane” (the Trappist monastery in Kentucky). As I waded through it, the good English sense in JS Phillimore’s comments on sentimentality came to mind. From his preface to the sermons of St John Fisher on the penitential psalms:
As a book of devotion it certainly escapes the commonest fault in that kind, the sin of sweetishness or false unction. The reason why this so often defaces books of devotion is that they are taken from foreign originals with too little respect for idiom. Much sentiment is good and pleasant to the native palate in French or Italian, which, done into English, will estrange, offend and even scandalize an English reader. The literary charm, the raciness, the solidity and sincerity of Fisher’s English give a most engaging address to these printed missionaries. Reading and rereading these proofs I find him, in my own experience, extraordinarily satisfying and uncloying. Such sweetness without sentimentality, such mastery in tempering hope and fear together, rebuke and consolation; in a word, such a man, and such a Saint.
And that’s the problem with this English translation of Chautard. He can’t make a simple point without a Liberace show of piety. His over-the-top absolutes, retained in English, make me think Thomas Merton was the anonymous translator. Here and in his own writings, his English is marred by a sentimentality expressed in extravagant absolutes. He has little of that level-headed English gift of modest understatement that we’ve inherited in America.