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Élie Catherine Fréron on a French translation of Peregrine Pickle

Élie Catherine Fréron on a French translation of Peregrine Pickle

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90 TOBIAS SMOLLETT



true that a Horse was required to set the machine in motion; which was not convenient

in a kitchen. A famous Naturalist then read a dissertation in which he described a sure

method of collecting fleas’ eggs, preserving them and making them hatch, even in the

depth of winter, by means of artificial heat.

The talent for writing Books could not preserve Williams from misfortune. His

Creditors had him put in prison, where he remained until luck had changed. Adversity

made him wiser. He married a young Lady whom he had always loved, although he had

often been unfaithful to her: for Williams Pickle was nothing more than a sentimental

lover.

I shall not review all the heroes who play a part in this novel. I shall content myself with

drawing attention to those whose characters have something remarkable about them; I

begin with Captain Trunnion. He is a Sailor, churlish, greatly given to swearing, who

holds garrison at his house as if he were at war, whose Castle is surrounded by moats,

and closed by a drawbridge. For fear of attack, he always has twenty rifles loaded and

aimed in readiness. He bores everyone with tales of his expeditions at sea, and thinks of

nothing but canons, bombs and swordthrusts. In all conversations he uses only nautical

terminology. Strangely for a former Military Man, he believes in Ghosts. He has an

insurmountable aversion of Attorneys and other officers of the Law. He is no fonder of

women, and does not like even his servants to sleep in the house. However he married

an old maid who would have inspired revulsion in the easiest-going libertine.

Moreover, this man is both liberal and charitable.

Cadwallader is an original character of whom I can only give an indication by

describing in detail his principal adventures. He was the youngest of a good family, and

inherited from his father only his immoderate behaviour. At the age of eighteen he was

recommended to a Peer who promised to advance Cadwallader, but failed to keep his

word. His Host, to whom he owed money, had him put in prison where he remained

for several months at the King’s expense. On leaving this resting-place, he killed his

creditor. His conduct often put him in a position to visit prisons again. In his youth no

Provost dared arrest him without being accompanied by a dozen soldiers, and the

Justices themselves trembled on their benches when Cadwallader was brought before

them. He fought with a Carter, who maimed him; a Butcher cut off a part of his hip; he

had an ear carried off by a pistol-shot. One day, having killed one of his enemies, he

crossed to France where he took it into his head to talk irreverently of the King. He

was put in the Bastille: he feigned madness in the hope that he would be set free; he

was in fact released, but only to be sent to the Hulks. He found a means of escape. He

made his way to Portugal, where he took it into his head to preach Protestantism; he

was sent before the Inquisition. When he had got out of this, he crossed to Spain;

arrived at Bologna, and there took up the profession of Doctor. Thus he traversed the

greater part of Europe, at one time as a Pilgrim, at another as a Priest, as a Soldier, as a

Labourer, as a Charlatan, etc.

After much suffering he came back to London, and lived in a garret there for some

time. He sold drugs in the streets, haranguing people in bad English, and trying to pass



THE CRITICAL HERITAGE 91



for a German Doctor; by a lucky chance one of his parents died, and left him a

considerable fortune. Cadwallader then reappeared in the world, not as a member of

society, but as a spectator who came to take pleasure in seeing men exposed to

ridicule. That he might better succeed in this object, he pretended to be deaf; by this

means he became the depositary of a thousand little secrets that he would never have

known but for his feigned deafness. He had access to the most glittering circles, and when

people wanted to talk they were no more embarrased in front of him than in front of

the household cat or dog. This old Misanthrope was informed of all the most

scandalous anecdotes, and did not waste time in making them public.

Williams Pickle had gained the confidence of Cadwallader; the latter said to him one

day:

[quotes Peregrine Pickle ch. LXXII, pp. 273–74. Reference is here given to the

appropriate chapter in the Shakespeare Head edition, and not to the French translation]

Our Misanthrope could not have had a better accomplice than William Pickle.

There is one more Original in this Novel who deserves recognition. It is a young

Doctor of Medicine, a great admirer of Antiquity, and a persistent critic of all modern

customs. He invites several people to his house to eat, and in order to show them more

consideration, has the meal prepared in the manner of the Antients. First of all he

places three beds or couches around the table to represent the Triclinium. A boiled goose

was served first, with a rich sauce of pepper, coriander, mint, rue, anchovy and oil. At

each end of the table were pies of the Roman type; one was filled with a superb broth

made of poppy-syrup; the other with ham rissoles cooked in honey and garnished with

parsley, parsnips, cheese and chicken livers. There was also a loin of veal boiled with

fennel and chervil, swimming in a sauce composed of honey and flour, a strange hachis

of the lights, the livers and blood of the hare. Next a pluck of pork was brought on,

filled with the flesh of the same animal chopped very tiny with eggs, cloves, garlic,

aniseed, rue, ginger, oil and pepper. The roast meat course consisted of several

chickens stuffed with a mixture of pepper and assafoetida, with a sauce of wine and

vinegar in which herrings had been marinaded. As a side dish there was a fricasee of

snails cooked in milk, and fritters of pumpkins oregano and oil. The dessert appeared,

and one saw with pleasure a great bowl of olives, side-by-side with another containing a

very special jelly. Of all that was served at this ridiculous meal hardly anything was

touched but the olives. The guests thought that they would be poisoned by the other

dishes, except for the Amphytrion of the feast who found everything excellent. Much

Burgundy wine was drunk, because there was no Falernian.

In imitation of Homer and Virgil, who described everything that was engraved on

the shields of some of their heroes, the English author gives us a description of a

chamber-pot:

[quotes: probably a reference to the chamber-pot ‘waggish enterprise’ in Peregrine

Pickle, ch. XIII, pp. 89 ff., but see ch. XIV of Clifford’s Oxford English Novels edition,

pp. 65ff.)



92 TOBIAS SMOLLETT



The ingenious or pleasing qualities to be found in this work cannot compensate for

the boredom induced by the reading of four long volumes. The translator

acknowledges that the best English novel cannot stand comparison with ours. So what

need is there for all these English productions.



37.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, letter

23 July 1754



From a letter to the Countess of Bute, The Complete Letters of Lady Mary

Wortley Montagu, ed. Robert Halsband, Oxford, 1966, vol. III, pp. 66–8.

Fielding has realy a fund of true Humour, and was to be pity’d at his first entrance into

the World, having no choice (as he said himselfe) but to be a Hackney Writer or a

Hackney Coachman. His Genius deserv’d a better Fate, but I cannot help blaming that

continu’d Indiscretion (to give it the softest name) that has run through his Life, and I

am afraid still remains. I guess’d R.Random to be his, thô without his Name. I cannot think

Fadom wrote by the same hand; it is every way so much below it….

Since I was born, no original has appeared excepting Congreve, and Fielding, who

would I beleive have approach’d nearer to his excellencies if not forc’d by necessity to

publish without correction, and throw many production into the World he would have

thrown into the Fire if meat could have been got without money, or money without

Scribbling. The Greatest Virtue, Justice, and the most distinguishing prerogative of

Mankind, writeing, when duly executed do Honor to Human nature, but when

degenerated into Trades are the most contemptible ways of getting Bread. I am sorry

not to see any more of P[eregine] Pickle’s performances; I wish you would tell me his

name.



38.

Mrs Laetitia Pilkington on Roderick Random

1754



From Memoirs of Mrs Laetitia Pilkington 1712–1750. Written by Herself (1748–

50), English Library edn., ed. J.Isaacs, with an Introduction by Iris Barry,

1928, p. 350.

These Memoirs, along with Mrs Theresa Constantia Phillips’ Apology

(1748) provided a ‘model’ for Lady Vane in her Memoirs of a Lady of Quality

inserted in Peregrine Pickle.

Dr Matthew Pilkington and Laetitia were friends of Swift in Dublin. He

described them in 1730 as ‘a little young poetical parson, who has a littler

young poetical wife’.

Stand apart now, ye Roderick Randoms,

Foundlings, bastard sons of wit,

Hence ye profane, be far away,

All ye that bow to idol lusts, and altars raise,

Or to false heroes give fantastic praise.



39.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, letter

1 January 1755



From a letter to the Countess of Bute, The Complete Letters of Lady Mary

Wortley Montagu, ed. Robert Halsband, Oxford, 1966, vol. III, p. 78. The

reference here is to Smollett’s translation of Don Quixote which appeared in

1755.

I am sorry my Friend Smollet1 [sic] loses his time in Translations. He has certainly a

Talent for Invention, tho’ I think it flags a little in his last work. Don Quixote is a

difficult undertaking. I shall never desire to read any attempt to new dress him; tho’ I

am a meer pidler in the Spanish Language, I had rather take pains to understand him in

the Original than sleep over a stupid Translation.

NOTE

1 As Halsband notes, in calling Smollett her friend, Lady Mary refers only to her fondness for

his writing: they had never met.



40.

Unsigned review of Smollett’s translation of Don

Quixote

September 1755



From The Monthly Review, September 1755, xiii, 196–202. The reviewer is

Ralph Griffiths, and he makes a sustained comparison between Smollett’s

translation and that of Charles Jervas, whose translation appeared in 1742.



Dr Smollet undertook this translation in dependence upon the encouragement of a

subscription; in which we have not heard what success he met with, nor is there any list

of subscribers names; however, the books are delivered from the press in a genteel and

elegant manner, in respect both to the paper, type, and engravings.

The ingenious translator informs us, in a short advertisement, that his aim in this

undertaking, was to maintain that ludicrous solemnity, and self-importance, by which

the inimitable Cervantes has distinguished the character of Don Quixote, without raising him

to the insipid rank of a dry philosopher, or debasing him to the melancholy

circumstances, and unentertaining, caprice of the ordinary madman; and to preserve

the native humour of Sancho Panza from degenerating into mere proverbial phlegm, or

affected buffoonry;—that he has endeavoured to retain the spirit and ideas, without

servilely adhering to the literal expression, of the original; from which, however, he

has not so far deviated, as to destroy that formality of idiom so peculiar to the

Spaniards, and so essential to the character of the work;—that the satire and propriety of

many allusions, which had been lost in the change of customs, and lapse of time, is

restored in explanatory notes; and the whole conducted with that care and

circumspection, which ought to be exerted by every author, who, in attempting to

improve upon a task already performed, subjects himself to the most invidious

comparison.

How far the doctor has succeeded in the above mentioned respects, it may not

become us hastily to determine. Don Quixote is perhaps the most difficult book in the

world to translate; and for this plain reason, that it is the most difficult to be

understood. Few, very few, of even the Spaniards, of the present day understand all its

beauties, or can explain the obscurities which the lapse of time, as Dr Smollet says, hath

occasioned: how then can it be expected that Englishmen should be perfect masters of

this author? It is true, we may be able to read him in the orginal, and that with great



THE CRITICAL HERITAGE 97



delight; but to transfuse all his spirit, his fine humour, and the beauty of his numerous

allusions, into a foreign language in these remote times too, and the nation likewise so

remote, is a task which a genius equal to that of Cervantes himself could not perform,

without the same knowledge of the country, and of the times in which this excellent

author lived: including also the most extensive acquaintance with the language, idioms,

customs, humorous expressions, provincial phrases, and proverbial sayings, of the

people for whom the translation is intended.

But as all these advantages must be considered as unattainable; as the best translation

we can look for must be expected from the hand of a person chiefly qualified by books;

we fancy a better than Dr Smollet’s, upon the whole, will not speedily appear. Jarvis’s

may, in some respects, be thought a more exact version; but in our opinion, the

doctor’s genius (notwithstanding some things that appear to be rather inaccuracies than

defects in judgment) comes nearest the great original.—With regard to those

translations from translations, published by Matteux, and others, they deserve no farther

mention; except to express our wonder, that under the burlesque veil, and farcical

disguise, in which they have enveloped the author, they have not been able totally to

divest him of his native dignity: yet, —after all, we doubt not but many readers, who

take up an English Don Quixote, merely to be diverted, will pronounce Matteux’s the best

book.1

A small specimen will shew the difference between the translation of Dr Smollet, and

of his predecessor, Mr Jarvis. We shall take from each the notable story told by Sancho,

to expose the mistaken politeness of his master, in the affair of table-precedency: those

who are possessed of this work in the original, may, perhaps, have the curiosity to

compare both with the Spanish.2

From Dr Smollet.

The duke and dutchess came to the door

to receive him. [Don Quixote] attended by

one of those grave ecclesiastics who

govern the families of noblemen; who,

being of no birth themselves, know not

how to direct those who are; who seek to

measure the grandeur of the great by the

narrowness of their own souls, and in

attempting to make their pupils

economists, convert them into

downright misers: such, I say, was the



From Mr Jarvis.

The duke and dutchess came to the halfdoor to receive him, and with them a

grave ecclesiastic: one of those who

govern great mens houses; one of those,

who, not being princes born, know not

how to instruct those that are how to

demean them-selves as such; one of those

who would have the magnificence of the

great measured by the narrowness of

their own minds; one of those who,

pretending to teach those they govern to

be



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