MR. JAMES PAYN has recently compared the translator’s functions to those of the typewriter, and in many respects the comparison holds good. Both are expected, like little boys in the nursery code of etiquette, to be “seen and not heard”; that is to say, each is expected to reproduce, in his own medium, what is laid before him in another, and say nothing about it. However, the present translator, with some diffidence, craves leave for a moment to depart from this rule. One fault leads to another, and having on a few occasions in the body of the work ventured, as the merest outsider, to append an illustration drawn from his own reading or experience, in confirmation or otherwise of Professor Ratzel’s views and statements, he is almost compelled to make himself “heard” once more, if only to deprecate reproof for what, now that he looks back on it, seems to have been an impudent intrusion into other people’s domain. It appears to be held in many quarters at the present day that a man cannot know anything about a subject unless he knows nothing about any other; and the “expert” is perhaps justly intolerant of Margites.
On one other point a word of apologia must be said. A fashion has sprung up among the learned of spelling barbarous names according to a system of their own, made it would seem in Germany, but so far as can be judged from the present work, intended chiefly for English use. In this matter a distinction has to be made. In names “transliterated ” from a language with old-established written symbols differing from our symbols, it may be necessary on philological grounds to adopt a conventional system of equating letter with letter, even at the risk of suggesting to the English reader a sound quite unlike that of the original word, or of breaking through an old tradition. It may be all right, for instance, to spell the name of a well-known cricketer so as at once to make the ordinary newspaper-reader pronounce his first syllable as if it rhymed to “man,” and disguise the fact that he is namesake to the Lion of the Punjab. But in the case of names which till Europeans heard them never had occasion to be spelt, surely in a popular work it is best, whenever possible without great violation of custom, to give the form which most nearly conveys the sound from an English eye to an English ear. It would be pleasant indeed to write Otaheite and Owhyhee, stamped as they are with the seal of literature; but here we have surrendered to France, and it is hopeless to revive the old forms. In some cases, however, we are still at liberty to consider our own countrymen. Why, for instance, write Tunguses, which nine Englishmen out of ten will rhyme to “funguses”; when by following our fathers and writing Tungooses we at least give some approximation to the right sound? Again, why write Shilluks for the people whom Gordon reasonably called Shillooks? Other nations would not hesitate. A German writes Schilluk; a Frenchman doubtless Chilouques; an Italian, Scilucchi; a Spaniard, if he ever needs to mention them, Xiluques. Why are Englishmen alone not to keep within their own “sphere of influence” in this matter? Forms like tapu and tatu may be all very well in scientific periodicals, but taboo and tattoo are the English words, and should be used in English books.
In conclusion, the translator has to express his best thanks to two experts, who have very kindly revised the proofs. Mr. Henry Balfour performed this most necessary office for the first two or three parts, and when he was incapacitated by illness for continuing the work, Mr. H. Ling Roth was good enough to come to the rescue. Thanks to his careful superintendence, it may be hoped that few errors remain in the text. He is not responsible for the spelling of names, nor for mistakes in the descriptions of the cuts – about some of which Professor Ratzel appears to have been misinformed. These will mostly be found corrected in the index.