Vitruvius was not a great literary personage, ambitious as he was to appear in that character. As Professor Morgan has aptly said, "he has all the marks of one unused to composition, to whom writing is a painful task." In his hand the measuring-rod was a far mightier implement than the pen. His turgid and pompous rhetoric displays itself in the introductions to the different books, where his exaggerated effort to introduce some semblance of style into his commonplace lectures on the noble principles which should govern the conduct of the architect, or into the prosaic lists of architects and writers on architecture, is everywhere apparent. Even in the more technical portions of his work, a like conscious effort may be detected, and, at the same time, a lack of confidence in his ability to express himself in unmistakable language. He avoids periodic sentences, uses only the simpler subjunctive constructions, repeats the antecedent in relative clauses, and, not infrequently, adopts a formal language closely akin to that of specifications and contracts, the style with which he was, naturally, most familiar. He ends each book with a brief summary, almost a formula, somewhat like a sigh of relief, in which the reader unconsciously shares. At times his meaning is ambiguous, not because of grammatical faults, which are comparatively few and unimportant, but because, when he does attempt a periodic sentence, he becomes involved, and finds it difficult to extricate himself.
Some of these peculiarities and crudities of expression Professor Morgan purposely imitated, because of his conviction that a translation should not merely reproduce the substance of a book, but should also give as clear a picture as possible of the original, of its author, and of the working of his mind. The translation is intended, then, to be faithful and exact, but it deliberately avoids any attempt to treat the language of Vitruvius as though it were Ciceronian, or to give a false impression of conspicuous literary merit in a work which is destitute of that quality. The translator had, however, the utmost confidence in the sincerity of Vitruvius and in the serious purpose of his treatise on architecture.
To those who have liberally given their advice and suggestions in response to requests from Professor Morgan, it is impossible for me to make adequate acknowledgment. Their number is so great, and my knowledge of the indebtedness in individual cases is so small, that each must be content with the thought of the full and generous acknowledgment which he would have received had Professor Morgan himself written this preface.
Personally I am under the greatest obligations to Professor H. L. Warren, who has freely given both assistance and criticism; to Professor G. L. Kittredge, who has read with me most of the proof; to the Syndics of the Harvard University Press, who have made possible the publication of the work; and to the members of the Visiting Committee of the Department of the Classics and the classmates of Professor Morgan, who have generously supplied the necessary funds for the illustrations.
ALBERT A. HOWARD.