It is a mistake to believe that "anything realy good" will cross frontiers and find its due place. Such countries as Portugal, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland and other parts of Slavic Europe cherish classics that are still confined t home ground....Why is fame so capricious a godess? In any country its favor depends on attention by one group of critics rather than another, or again by the fanatical devotion that goes to the right man at the right time. Some element in the work must chime in with some concern of the moment.
And for literary works the right translator must be there. The loss of Latin made the 16th Century a great age of vernacular translations, but what is or is not translated depends on casual preferences. Some masterpieces fail to be exported and are thus not read in the five leading languages. And then, like certain wines, there are books that do not travel well. In effect, Goethe's conception of "world literature," like the label Great Books or "the canon," is an ideal only part-fulfilled. When our century keeps urging a global view that would enlarge the list of classics by adding the contributions of the Far East and the Third World, it is worth remembering that Europe itself has not yet discovered all that it has produced.
- Jacques Barzun, "From Dawn to Decadence".
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