On translating the hasty writing of encyclopedia articles

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Translating French and Spanish encyclopedia articles from the Enlightenment into English is not easy. There are, of course, the typical problems that one encounters when doing any translation, such as negotiating between surface meanings and deep meanings, dealing with false cognates, contending with idiomatic expressions, and deciding whether to go with a literal or an idiomatic translation. However, when dealing with encyclopedia articles that were written at a furious pace for the gargantuan compilations that were the Encyclopédie méthodique and its Spanish translation, the Encyclopedia metódica, there emerges the problem of translating hurried and at times careless writing that was possibly never proof-read, and certainly never corrected. Knowing that eighteenth-century encyclopedists worked under stringent publication deadlines, the vexed but somewhat amused translator could hardly blame them for suffering the all-too-common professional flaw of careless writing.

A Scholar in His Study (‘Faust’) Artist: Rembrandt

A Scholar in His Study (‘Faust’) (Rembrandt, ca. 1652; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

This is what my co-translator, Clorinda Donato, and I encountered when preparing our volume, Enlightenment Spain and the ‘Encyclopédie méthodique’, for which we translated and annotated the articles ‘Espagne’ (from the Méthodique) and ‘España’ (from the Metódica). Although the articles are generally well written, there are nevertheless moments when authors Nicolas Masson de Morvilliers and Julián de Velasco felt the urgency of their task and careened their way through long, convoluted sentences without ever looking back. That a pronoun lost track of its referent, or that a verb strayed so far from its subject that it forgot whether it should be singular or plural mattered little when the encyclopedia mill had to keep grinding. Reading these articles I also find passages where the zeal to badmouth Spain’s backwardness or defend its misunderstood Enlightenment overrode any respect for the conventions of grammar. The passions aroused by Enlightenment debate were just too strong to obey the strictures of the Académie Française and the Real Academia. Indeed, these are the moments when Masson and Velasco are most fun to read.

Annotating these translations also revealed an interesting consequence of such hasty writing. While citing, copying, and paraphrasing was a regular practice among eighteenth-century scholars, the verification of information was not. If a scholar cites a source that is based on a citation that is based on another citation that is based on another citation and so on, that scholar will likely have in his hands a cumulative error, a product of distortions and embellishments. This is what we find in Masson’s negative portrayal of Spain and the Inquisition. Where he cites sources that have been embellished, he enters the fray by adding yet another layer of gleeful embellishment. Indeed, it would not be entirely wrong to say that the polemic emerging out of Masson’s infamous question ‘What does Europe owe Spain?’ is in large measure the result of an Enlightenment version of the game of telephone (or Chinese whispers).

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A Scene in a Library (photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot, ca.1844; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

But if haphazard writing and cumulative error are endemic to encyclopedia culture, then how can Enlightenment discourse ever safeguard itself from the vagaries and flighty opinions of scholars such as Masson? This is precisely the question that our volume seeks to answer. By translating and juxtaposing Masson’s and Velasco’s articles on Spain, we see how the Spaniards object to being the butt of the joke running down the telephone chain of French philosophie, and how they insist that the discourse of Enlightenment return to its more noble purpose of advancing civility and rational exchange.

– Ricardo López

Enlightenment Spain and the ‘Encyclopédie méthodique’, edited by Clorinda Donato and Ricardo López. Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, November 2015, ISBN 978-0-7294-1170-7, 336 pages, 2 ills

 

Greg Brown, new General Editor of Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment

Un éditeur ‘est un homme de lettres qui veut bien prendre le soin de publier les ouvrages d’un autre’ [1]

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Denis Diderot, in the Encyclopédie, defined the role of the editor in terms of the values of Enlightenment. It is, first, an act of care; an editor brings forth the works of others. At the same time, it is an act of humility and toleration; an editor must neither take the place of the authors by revising texts to reflect his own opinions nor distort authors’ distinct styles and ideas in pursuit of uniformity. Finally, it is an act of community; the editor must ensure consistency in different authors’ usage and placement of terms and must ensure that authors engage with other writers on the topic. Above all, for Diderot, the editor’s role is to put the best material possible before readers.

In assuming the general editorship of Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, I am inspired and humbled to take on the challenge set forth by Diderot and incarnated for the past 60 years by the high editorial standards of the series long known as the Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century / SVEC. I aspire to retain and build upon those high standards, even as I am excited to guide forward its editorial evolution. I understand my role then as a duty to the authors, readers and editors of the series – past, current and future.

The Studies is a world-renowned series of rigorously peer-reviewed monographs, themed volumes, and collections of edited documents – published in both English and French. It is known as well for its breadth – ecumenical in spirit, cosmopolitan in make-up, and transdisciplinary in coverage. It presents the Enlightenment with French literature and thought at its heart but not its limit. It engages an Enlightenment not defined by any particular theme, nation, or subject but as an ongoing dialogue about culture. As General Editor, I look forward to working with an editorial board whose members span six nations on three continents and represent seven distinct academic disciplines. I intend to draw upon the breadth of this board to maintain this aspect of its identity; for the same reason, I intend to continue and deepen its close relationship with the International Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies and ISECS’s constituent national societies.

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Jean Huber, Un dîner de philosophes (1772/1773)

While I will be the first American to serve as General Editor and moreover the first not to be in residence in Great Britain since the establishment of the Foundation in 1976, I am no stranger to the British and European academic worlds. I will be the first historian but I am deeply engaged with and committed to study of littérature in all senses of the term. I have engaged across the past 20 years in many interdisciplinary and collaborative scholarly endeavors, and I am committed to being responsive, to board members, staff, authors, and readers, whether I am working from Las Vegas, Oxford or Paris.

Taking on the editorship of the Studies at this time represents a civic duty to advance the broader set of Enlightenment values. The horrific attacks of November 13, on the city of Paris including the boulevard Voltaire make clear that the values of Enlightenment and the work of Voltaire and his kindred spirits retain an undiminished urgency. While these events remind us that there is indeed evil in the world, and that optimism alone is an insufficient response, we also know that the “infamy” we seek to crush is not any particular doctrine, belief or creed; it is indifference and non-comprehension. We who devote ourselves to the scholarly study of the Enlightenment must maintain and continually renew our enterprise to better understand the full range of human experience, thought and belief.

– Gregory S. Brown

[1] Encyclopédie, article ‘Editeur’ (vol.5, p.396).

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The Empire strikes back: Spain vs. France in the eighteenth-century encyclopedia

As a scholar of the ‘other’ enlightenments, i.e. those that were not located in England or France, but rather in Spain and Italy, I have been struck by the extent to which the eighteenth-century French rhetorical style controlled the reader’s view of the world. And as a scholar of eighteenth-century encyclopedias, most of which were written in French, I have been equally surprised by how the geographical articles written in these French-language compilations helped shape national identities, as seen not only from within, but also from without. Words are powerful weapons. Who can forget Metternich describing Italy in the nineteenth century as merely “a geographical expression”? Never had there been a more effective rallying cry for national unity.

A new map of Spain and Portugal, from the latest observations [Geography anatomiz’d, or, The geographical grammar: being a short and exact analysis of the whole body of modern geography...: collected from the best authors, and illustrated with divers maps], Gordon, Patrick, fl. 1700, engraving, 1722.

A new map of Spain and Portugal, from the latest observations [Geography anatomiz’d, or, The geographical grammar: being a short and exact analysis of the whole body of modern geography…: collected from the best authors, and illustrated with divers maps], Gordon, Patrick, fl. 1700, engraving, 1722.

When armchair geographer Masson de Morvilliers penned, in 1783, the equally powerful judgment of the Spanish Empire in the form of the rhetorical question, ‘What do we owe Spain?’, its derogatory impact and dissemination dealt a painful blow to the Spanish intellectual class, which rallied against it en masse. But the reception of the insult hardly stopped there. Allies in Italy and Germany, who had also experienced the negative repercussions of the French whip of words in encyclopedic representations, joined forces with Spain. Virtually overnight, writers, journalists, reformers, and men of science and letters took up the call to verbal arms and composed their responses.

The most important of these rebuttals, the article ‘España’, has been reproduced in our volume Enlightenment Spain and the ‘Encyclopédie méthodique’, in Spanish (with English translation), together with Masson’s French provocation. Reading these articles side by side, I’m always struck by the measured energy of the Spanish translator-authors as they speak their own truth, in Spanish, to the hegemonic power of the French Enlightenment, which in the hands of Masson had branded the Empire as a site of ongoing black legend atrocities, inquisitional tyranny, and fanatical thinking. Against Masson’s defamation, the Spanish encyclopedists culled opposing examples from the virtually unknown cultural history of the Spanish Empire, and in doing so restored Spanish confidence.

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A Scholar in His Study (‘Faust’), ca. 1652, by Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn).

In a world in which Spain and Latin America are so well known to us, it is sometimes hard to remember that knowledge about these places was scant and hardly circulated in the vast eighteenth-century encyclopedia market. There were very few books of travel literature devoted to Spain, as the grand tour had taken place in Italy, attracting primarily British and French tourists who wrote extensively about their experiences, albeit it in English and French. I am reminded of a recent article in The Guardian that discusses language use on the web: “Rich countries largely get to define themselves and poor countries largely get defined by others… Inequality in information and representation in different languages online can also affect how we understand places and even how we act in them”. This information inequality, the article claims, has the potential to reinforce colonial-era patterns of information production and representation.

I can’t help but think that the situation of encyclopedias, language, and representation in the eighteenth century is the mirror image of our internet- and content-driven world. It might also not be too far-fetched to think that Masson, with his quarrelsome rhetoric and uninformed Spain-bashing, in some ways mirrors todays Internet troll, who weaponizes historical and cultural sensibilities in order to disrupt the course of knowledge production.

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Indeed, who would have thought that eighteenth-century encyclopedism would be so contemporary?

– Clorinda Donato

Enlightenment Spain and the ‘Encyclopédie méthodique’, edited by Clorinda Donato and Ricardo López. Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, November 2015, ISBN 978-0-7294-1170-7, 336 pages, 2 ills.

See also:

From ‘Encyclopédie’ to ‘Encyclopédie méthodique’: revision and expansionKathleen Hardesty Doig. SVEC 2013:11, ISBN 978-0-7294-1077-9, 328 pages, 6 ills.

The trouble with money: crashes, recoinage and war in the Enlightenment

The problem of money has never been far from people’s minds. In the Enlightenment the issue took on new importance as a result of a series of famous crises.
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The best known are two runaway moments of financial speculation that ended in disaster, the South Sea Bubble of 1720-21, and the spectacular collapse in 1720 of Mississippi Company stock. An earlier incident, the Recoinage Crisis of 1696-98, had even more impact in terms of the monetary principles formulated as a result of it. Under conditions of a severely deteriorated silver currency (caused by illegal clipping), England was obligated to recoin all of its circulating medium, no easy feat in the midst of the Nine Years’ War with France when England’s armies and allies abroad required a steady diet of remittances. The question was whether to devalue the currency during the recoinage or to maintain the existing standard, with John Locke and Isaac Newton taking opposing positions on the matter. All these episodes invited new reflection on different kinds of credit and financial instruments, the role of banks, and a consideration of how to sustain and expand the money supply.

As I and a team of contributors explore in the recently published Money and political economy in the Enlightenment, what makes this period so remarkable is the way it witnesses not only the evolution of a financial system but also the entrance of leading philosophers into the debate over how to understand this new political and economic reality. John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume and Adam Smith all made major contributions, but they were not alone in taking on the intellectual challenges posed by an era of innovation.

Folio broadside of 1720 about the South Sea Bubble and the collapse of financial speculation

Folio broadside of 1720 about the South Sea Bubble and the collapse of financial speculation

One area of contention has been whether republican thinkers were able to accommodate the new commercial reality, given their traditional attachment to land as the key determinant of political power. In fact, important figures such as John Toland and Robert Molesworth had plenty to say in favour of mercantile sources of wealth. They also engaged in risky investments of their own, including the South Sea Company, with predictably unfortunate results. Later in the century, the republican period in France presented a different philosophical dilemma – how to reconcile inequalities associated with commercial society with an egalitarian political premise.

The Mississippi Copmpany share price, 1718-1722 (source: François R. Velde, 'Government equity and money: John Law's system in 1720 France', Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Working Paper No. 2003-31)

The Mississippi Company share price, 1718-1722 (source: François R. Velde, ‘Government equity and money: John Law’s system in 1720 France’, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Working Paper No. 2003-31)

Enlightenment authorities inherited and reshaped older assumptions but they did not arrive at an agreement on key issues surrounding money form, credit and the role of the state. Their views thus challenge the tendency to read the Enlightenment as a period of consensus, and for that matter how we periodise it.

When Charles Mackay reviewed the two great financial shocks of the eighteenth century – the crashes in value of the South Sea and Mississippi Companies – in his Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841), he traced the potential for events of this kind to human social psychology, but he also, implicitly, signalled our capacity to transcend them. Today, if we have learned nothing else from the crisis that began in 2008, we have recognised our own ability to invent economic calamities in new forms, around ongoing patterns of expanding credit and investment. The Enlightenment’s legacy was to comment on these issues at the highest level philosophically. Whether our own experience will emulate these contributions with intellectual monuments of our own remains to be seen.

–Daniel Carey, National University of Ireland, Galway

East meets west in the global eighteenth century

Adam Smith, one of the eighteenth century’s most perceptive minds, claimed in The Wealth of nations that the ‘discovery of America, and that of a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the two greatest and most important events in the history of mankind’. His observation illuminates one of the key issues affecting major European powers in the late eighteenth century: where to expand on the world stage?

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Britain, for example, was experiencing contrasting fortunes. Having defeated the French in the Seven Years War in what is often regarded as the first global conflict, the British were subsequently defeated in the American War of Independence. Attention was increasingly directed to opportunities offered by the east, as the celebrated voyages of Cook and Bougainville to the Pacific Ocean were opening up new territorial and cultural challenges.

It was, however, the Indian sub-continent with its promise of new commercial opportunities and wealth that proved most attractive to European powers. As history has proved, the Indian sub-continent became fertile ground for colonial expansion and the transformation of the global order.

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But the relations between east and west were more complicated and nuanced than a simple binary opposition would suggest, as contributors to India and Europe in the global eighteenth century uncover. European rivalries in India produced unanticipated repercussions back in the Old World, expansionist agendas were questioned and enhanced knowledge of ancient Indian civilisations and belief systems challenged the hegemony of Greco-Roman antiquity. India was, in a sense, expanding west and making a mark politically, commercially and culturally in Europe as an essential part of an increasingly interconnected global world.

–Simon Davies

See also Céline Spector’s blog on Civilisation et empire au siècle des Lumières (October 2013).

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Frontispiece and title-page of La Cabaña Indiana y El Café de Surate (Valencia, José Ferrer de Orga, 1811).

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Disparate de bestia, Goya.

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment – what’s in a name?

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Jean-François de Troy, ‘Reading from Molière’, c.1728, Collection Marchioness of Cholmondeley .

As it enters its sixtieth year, and approaches its 550th volume, SVEC is changing its name; from 2014 the series will be known as Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment.  

A change of name, yes, but not a change of direction. Over the last few years, the series has published leading research relating not only to France, but also to the UK, Germany and Spain, Russia and Greece, Africa and America; and it has encouraged work across a broad range of disciplines – economics and science, political and cultural history, music and the visual arts, literature and publishing -, as well as promoting new areas of research such as environmental studies.

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This editorial policy is quite consistent with the eighteenth century itself, which was constantly crossing boundaries of language, of nation and of discipline. Distinctions we might wish to make between, for instance, exception and rule, reason and emotion, functional and ornamental, laughter and tears, are all questioned in this period.  The Enlightenment is not about a single discipline, methodology, geographical terrain, intellectual position, or even about a defined period; it is an extensive process of exploration, exchange, and transgression.

The title Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment reflects those editorial principles and that intellectual practice.  The fact that the series is published by the Voltaire Foundation, a department of the University of Oxford and birthplace of the Electronic Enlightenment project, could not be more apt. Voltaire was one of the most interdisciplinary and international of writers, who thought beyond intellectual, cultural or even chronological boundaries.

It is in this spirit that the first book of the newly renamed series, India and Europe in the global eighteenth century, looks afresh at the relations between Europe and India using both eastern and western sources to explore the emergence of a new political and commercial order. From their home in Oxford University, Studies in the Enlightenment are well and truly global.

-JM