There are three objectives in translation of works of this character: to give a faithful, literal trans−lation of the author' s statements; to give these in a manner which will interest the reader; and to preserve, so far as is possible, the style of the original text. The task has been doubly difficult in this work because, in using Latin, the author availed himself of a medium which had ceased to expand a thousand years before his subject had in many particulars come into being; in consequence he was in difficulties with a large number of ideas for which there were no corresponding words in the vocabulary at his command, and instead of adopting into the text his native German terms, he coined several hundred Latin expressions to answer his needs. It is upon this rock that most former attempts at translation have been wrecked. Except for a very small number, we believe we have been able to discover the intended meaning of such expressions from a study of the context, assisted by a very incomplete glossary prepared by the author himself, and by an exhaustive investigation
into the literature of these subjects during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. That discovery in this particular has been only gradual and obtained after much labour, may be indicated by the fact that the entire text has been re−typewritten three times since the original, and some parts more often; and further, that the printer' s proof has been thrice revised.
We have found some English equivalent, more or less satisfactory, for practically all such terms, except those of weights, the varieties of veins, and a few minerals. In the matter of weights we have introduced the original Latin, because it is impossible to give true equivalents and avoid the fractions of reduction; and further, as explained in the Appendix on Weights it is impossible to say in many cases what scale the Author had in mind. The English nomenclature to be adopted has given great difficulty, for various reasons; among them, that many methods and processes described have never been practised in English−speaking mining communities, and so had no representatives in our vocabulary, and we considered the introduction of German terms undesirable; other methods and processes have become obsolete and their descriptive terms with them, yet we wished to avoid the introduction of obsolete or unusual English; but of the greatest importance of all has been the necessity to avoid rigorously such modern technical terms as would imply a greater scientific understanding than the period possessed.
Agricola' s Latin, while mostly free from mediæval corruption, is some−what tainted with German construction. Moreover some portions have not the continuous flow of sustained thought which others display, but the fact that the writing of the work extended over a period of twenty years, sufficiently explains the considerable variation in style. The technical descriptions in the later books often take the form of House−that−Jack−built sentences which have had to be at least partially broken up and the subject occasionally re−introduced. Ambiguities were also sometimes found which it was necessary to carry on into the translation. Despite these criticisms we must, however, emphasize that Agricola was infinitely clearer in his style than his contemporaries upon such subjects, or for that matter than his
successors in almost any language for a couple of centuries. All of the illustrations and display letters of the original have been reproduced and the type as closely approximates to the original as the printers have been able to find in a modern font. There are no footnotes in the original text, and Mr. Hoover is responsible for them all. He has attempted in them to give not only such comment as would tend to clarify the text, but also such information as we have been able to discover with regard to the previous history of the subjects
mentioned. We have confined the historical notes to the time prior to Agricola, because to have carried them down to date in the briefest manner would have demanded very much more space than could be allowed. In the examination of such technical and historical material one is appalled at the flood of mis−information with regard to ancient arts and sciences which has been let loose upon the world by the hands of non−technical translators and commentators. At an early stage we considered that we must justify any divergence of view from such authorities, but to limit the already alarming volume of this work, we later felt compelled to eliminate most of such dis−cussion. When the half−dozen most important of the ancient works bearing upon science have been translated by those of some scientific experience,
such questions will, no doubt, be properly settled.
We need make no apologies for De Re Metallíca. During 180 years it was not superseded as the text−book and guide to miners and metallurgists, for until Schlüter' s great work on metallurgy in 1738 it had no equal. That it passed through some ten editions in three languages at a period when the printing of such a volume was no ordinary undertaking, is in itself sufficient evidence of the importance in which it was held, and is a record that no other volume upon the same subjects has equalled since. A large proportion of the
technical data given by Agricola was either entirely new, or had not been given previously with sufficient detail and explanation to have enabled a worker in these arts himself to perform the operations without further guid−ance. Practically the whole of it must have been given from personal ex−perience and observation, for the scant library at his service can be appreci−ated from his own Preface. Considering the part which the metallic arts have played in human history, the paucity of their literature down to Agricola' s time is amazing. No doubt the arts were jealously guarded by their practitioners as a sort of stock−in−trade, and it is also probable that those who had knowledge were not usually of a literary turn of mind; and, on the other hand, the small army of writers prior to his time were not much interested in the description of industrial pursuits. Moreover, in those thousands of years prior to printing, the tedious and expensive transcription of manuscripts by hand was mostly applied to matters of more general interest, and therefore many writings may have been lost in consequence. In fact, such was the fate of the works of Theophrastus and Strato on these subjects.
We have prepared a short sketch of Agricola' s life and times, not only to give some indication of his learning and character, but also of his considerable position in the community in which he lived. As no appreciation of Agricola' s stature among the founders of science can be gained without consideration of the advance which his works display over those of his predecessors, we therefore devote some attention to the state of knowledge of these subjects at the time by giving in the Appendix a short review of the literature then extant and a summary of Agricola' s other writings. To serve the bibliophile we present such data as we have been able to collect it with regard to the various editions of his works. The full titles of the works quoted in the footnotes under simply authors' names will be found in this Appendix.
We feel that it is scarcely doing Agricola justice to publish De Re Metallíca only. While it is of the most general interest of all of his works, yet, from the point of view of pure science, De Natura Fossílíum and De Ortu et Causís are works which deserve an equally important place. It is unfortunate that Agricola' s own countrymen have not given to the world competent translations into German, as his work has too often been judged by the German translations, the infidelity of which appears in nearly every paragraph.
We do not present De Re Metallíca as a work of "practical" value.
The methods and processes have long since been superseded; yet surely such a milestone on the road of development of one of the two most basic of human industrial activities is more worthy of preservation than the thousands of volumes devoted to records of human destruction. To those interested in the history of their own profession we need make no apologies, except for the long delay in publication. For this we put forward the necessity of active endeavour in many directions; as this book could be but a labour of love, it has had to find the moments for its execution in night hours, week−ends, and holidays, in all extending over a period of about five years. If the work serves to strengthen the traditions of one of the most important and least recognized of the world' s professions we shall be amply repaid.
It is our pleasure to acknowledge our obligations to Professor H. R. Fairclough, of Stanford University, for perusal of and suggestions upon the first chapter; and to those whom we have engaged from time to time for one service or another, chiefly bibliographical work and collateral translation. We are also sensibly obligated to the printers, Messrs. Frost & Sons, for their patience and interest, and for their willingness to bend some of the canons of modern printing, to meet the demands of the 16th Century.
The Red House, Hornton Street, London, July 1, 1912.