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patrick leech, Cosmopolitanism, Dissent, and Translation: Translating Radicals in Eighteenth-Century Britain and France

Bologna: Bononia University Press, 2020, 195 pp. ISBN: 978-88-6923-496-5
Rachel Rogers
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LEECH, PATRICK. Cosmopolitanism, Dissent, and Translation: Translating Radicals in Eighteenth-Century Britain and France. Bologna: Bononia University Press, 2020, 195 pp. ISBN 978-88-6923-496-5

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1The subject of Patrick Leech’s valuable book is the translators of radical texts, their trajectories, collaborations and networks, as opposed to the translations themselves and the ideas they sought to convey. Leech’s subtitle – “translating radicals” - is a deft touch, since his study seeks to provide insight both into radicals “who translated” (160), from early eighteenth-century Huguenots exiles, via Enlightenment figures such as D’Holbach, to French revolutionary translators and British radicals of the 1790s, and into the contexts in which radical texts were themselves translated during this period. Leech draws on a store of secondary literature, in particular biographies of individuals who he sees as sharing a common ‘cosmopolitan’ outlook and making a significant contribution to the spreading of radical ideas through their translations. In doing so he has put together a highly useful compendium of eighteenth-century radical translators, few of whom could be considered as professionals in the trade, but all of whom sought to “propagate radical world views” through their translating activities (13). Leech tries to understand the immediate impact that translation could have in times of political upheaval or even revolution, and the “radical agenda” (75) of those who translated, rather than the origins or intellectual roots of particular texts. The influence of Jonathan Israel’s work permeates the book, and the author regularly makes reference to the latter’s scholarship, particularly drawing on his distinction between a ‘Radical’ and ‘Moderate’ Enlightenment and his emphasis on the “transnational dimension of Enlightenment thought” (61). The author also brings out some subtle and perceptive parallels with the role of translation in other eras, such as that of the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Leech’s familiarity with translation theory is also to be highlighted, a quality which allows some of his conclusions to transcend the particular period of focus. His work is also a timely contribution to a field which is attracting growing interest from scholars, as the ‘Revolutionary Translations’ project run by King’s College London is testament to.

2The scope of the study is wide-ranging and aims at providing a broad view of the translation work of eighteenth-century dissenting radicals. Leech focuses on some lesser-known figures as well as on individuals who gained prominence in their time, often as philosophers or writers rather than as translators per se. He argues that translation is a facet of some individuals’ work that has not been fully accounted for, yet was at the heart of much radical activism itself. For the author “the multilingual framework of some of the representatives of the Radical Enlightenment” (84) can help to provide new insights into the individuals themselves but also more widely into oppositional channels of news and ideas. Translators were therefore actors in their own right, helping to circulate and bring to light texts and convey ideas across borders. As Leech claims, “translation enabled the easy shift and transfer of meanings from one realm to another, and provided diachronic or synchronic analogies of use to polemicists and reformers and helped to create a shared climate of radicalism.” (94). Translators also adapted swiftly to changing circumstances, updating their work to keep pace with events. Joel Barlow, for instance, updated his translation of Brissot’s work after the latter’s execution in October 1793 (98). Leech sheds light on translators’ practices, correspondence and related occupations, sometimes uncovering some fascinating texts in the process, such as Thomas Cooper’s translation of an account of the deposition of Louis XVI by J. B. D’Aumont, discussed in chapter 6.

3The locating of networks and collaborations is important and emphasises how individuals rarely worked alone, and were often part of a “transnational milieu” (85), sharing space and ideas, and engaging in the “collaborative act” of translation (67). Many were an integral part of what Leech terms a “generalized European counter-culture” (68), their decision to translate certain censored or controversial texts exposing them to the threat of repression. This explains why many translations were published anonymously or are difficult to credit to one individual. Leech navigates this uncertainty with care and transparency, pointing out when doubt exists over the identity of an author or translator. He is surely right to note that “the identification of a single translating subject may not be so important” (158), yet at the same time does not fully square this observation with his own biographical approach.

4In this study of individual translators’ trajectories and their networks the author relies overwhelmingly on secondary biographical sources rather than archival records. This is understandable given the scope of the book’s subject matter and the timeframe and geographical zones covered. Nevertheless, at times the case studies appear cursory. Although the focus on translators rather than translations is amply and convincingly justified, the reader is left wondering about the detail of the subversive ideas that the translators sought to convey or the significant or subtle ways that they changed or altered a text and engaged with the ideas they translated. John Locke’s correspondence with Huguenot translator Pierre Coste, discussed in chapter 2, stands out as a partnership calling out for more detailed investigation. The author himself acknowledges the scope for further textual analysis on occasions (161). In this vein, Leech is self-effacing and generous in his acknowledgement of the contribution of other scholars and translation theorists to the periods he has studied, though on occasions this has a tendency to hinder the clarity of the author’s own conclusions. At times one wonders where the author stands among the wealth of concepts and analytical tools that abound. This is most striking in the concluding pages when Leech makes reference to the contributions of Eisenstein, Sennett and Cronin (164).

5The author shows sensitivity to radicals’ reasons for translating, whether they be pecuniary, personal, political, philosophical, and the different uses to which translations could be put (legitimising a political agenda, cementing a translator’s reputation, for instance). Areas of further enquiry come to mind from a close reading of Leech’s work. It would be fascinating to know more about the contribution of radicals to interpreting. The link with printers, publishers and booksellers could also be explored in greater depth, building on the author’s study of Joseph Johnson in chapter 5. The final two chapters of the book anticipate further investigation into the identities of the translators who contributed to the Analytical Review in addition to Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Christie, both of whom are rightly mentioned by Leech. What were their motives and their brief? How did they convey their translations? Were their reports interfered with, altered or intercepted? The author himself recognises that “the full extent and nature of translated material in the English press during this period remains a subject for further work” (130) and there appears ample scope therefore for extending this survey and building on the premises outlined in the book. There are a few editing hitches and one or two works would be worth adding to the bibliography (Emmanuelle de Champs’ work on Bentham in France and in French, for instance) yet broadly speaking this is an exciting and ambitious book which provides some helpful insights and connections which will be very useful to those working in translation studies as well as scholars viewing radicalism in a broader, interdisciplinary framework.

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Rachel Rogers, « patrick leech, Cosmopolitanism, Dissent, and Translation: Translating Radicals in Eighteenth-Century Britain and France »XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 78 | 2021, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2021, consulté le 28 novembre 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/1718/8239 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/1718.8239

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Rachel Rogers

Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès

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