Wright, Ichabod Charles
- Thomas Seccombe
- , revised by Alison Milbank
Wright, Ichabod Charles (1795–1871), translator, was born on 11 April 1795 at Mapperley Hall, Nottinghamshire, the eldest of the three sons and ten daughters of Ichabod Wright (1767–1862), banker and freeman of Nottingham, and Harriet Maria (d. 1843), daughter of Benjamin Day of Yarmouth and Norwich. His grandfather Ichabod Wright (1700–1777) was originally an ironmonger of Nottingham, but in 1761 founded the bank in Long Row there.
Wright was educated at Eton College (1808–14) and at Christ Church, Oxford, matriculating on 22 April 1814. He graduated BA (with second-class honours) in 1817 and MA in 1820, and held an open fellowship at Magdalen from 1819 to 1825. On 21 December 1825 he married Theodosia (1806–1895), daughter of Thomas Denman, first Lord Denman. That same year he became joint manager of the bank at Nottingham and devoted his best energies to his business and to the theory of banking, about which he published a number of pamphlets.
Between 1830 and 1840, however, Wright gave his leisure to the study of Italian literature, producing a metrical translation of the Divina commedia. It was published originally in three instalments, dedicated respectively to Lord Brougham, Archbishop Howley, and Lord Denman, 'all ardent admirers of Dante' (the translator further acknowledged special encouragement and help from Panizzi and from Count Marioni). The first instalment, The Inferno of Dante Translated into English Rhyme: with an Introduction and Notes (1833 and 1841), was commended by The Athenaeum for its exactitude and The Edinburgh entreated Wright to proceed; but the rival Quarterly, 'with every disposition to encourage any gentleman in an elegant pursuit', conceived it to be its duty to ask 'how far (Cary's volumes being in every collection) it was worth Mr. Wright's while to undertake a new version of Dante'. What little advantage, the reviewer concluded, Wright might have gained as to manner was counterbalanced by losses on the side of matter (QR, July 1833, 449). The Purgatorio, Translated into English Rhyme (1836 and 1840) was, however, generally thought to have increased Wright's reputation, and it was followed in 1840 by The Paradise.
The three portions were published together in 1845 as The Vision and Life of Dante, and reissued in Bohn's Illustrated Library (1854 and 1861), with thirty-four illustrations on steel after Flaxman. Wright's version, which derived much benefit from the commentary (1826) of Gabriele Rossetti, is generally admitted to be accurate and scholarly, although he adopts the six-line stanza in preference to the terza rima of the original.
After an interval of nineteen years Wright issued the first part of his The Iliad of Homer, Translated into English Blank Verse (1859, 1864). The blank verse was good without being striking, and Matthew Arnold wrote in his lectures On Translating Homer (1861) that Wright's version, repeating in the main the merits and defects of Cowper's version, as Sotheby's repeated those of Pope's version, lacked, 'I must be forgiven for saying so, any proper reason for existing' (Arnold, Homer, 42). This drew from the translator A letter to the dean of Canterbury on the Homeric lectures of Matthew Arnold, esq., professor of poetry in the University of Oxford (1864). Wright poked fun, not unsuccessfully, at the professor of poetry's ex cathedra English hexameters, and this reflection on the chair of poetry at the ancient university elicited from Arnold (in the preface to Essays in Criticism, vi–xv) his notable apostrophe to Oxford, 'adorable dreamer', and his appeal to Wright to pardon a vivacity doomed to be silenced in the imminent future by the 'magnificent roaring of the young lions of the 'Daily Telegraph''.
In addition to his versions of Dante and Homer, by which alone he is remembered, Wright published A Selection of Psalms in Verse (1867), Thoughts on the Currency (1841), The Evils of the Currency (1847, 6th edn 1855), an exposition of Sir Robert Peel's Bank Charter Act of 1844, and The War and our Resources (1855). His poems were printed privately in 1873.
While Wright's two-rhyme version of Dante's terza rima was little read after the end of the nineteenth century, in his own time his translation of the Commedia was undoubtedly influential. It led to a number of later attempts to render Dante's triple rhyme in English, and it helped to establish the principle of literality in translation practice.
Ichabod Charles Wright died on 14 October 1871 at Heathfield Hall, Burwash, Sussex, the residence of his eldest son.
- M. Arnold, Essays in criticism (1865)
- M. Arnold, On translating Homer: three lectures given at Oxford, new edn (1905)
- G. F. Cunningham, The divine comedy in English: a critical bibliography, 1 (1965)
- QR, 49 (1833)
- V. J. de Sua, Dante into English (1964)
- I. C. Wright, Dante, translated into English verse, rev. edn (1866)
- The Times (18 Oct 1871)
- The Times (23 Oct 1871)
- Burke, Gen. GB (1965)
- Walford, County families (1871)
- National union catalog, Library of Congress
- P. Toynbee, Dante in English literature, 2 (1909)
- J. P. Briscoe, A Nottingham translator of Dante and Homer (1901)
- Foster, Alum. Oxon., 1715–1886
- d. cert.
- U. Leeds, Brotherton L., corresp.
- C. Turner, mezzotint (after E. U. Eddis), BM, NPG
- ink drawing, Castle Art Gallery, Nottingham
Wealth at Death
under £20,000: probate, 23 Nov 1871, CGPLA Eng. & Wales