Politische und Vertraute Correspondenz Ludwig’s XVI: by WILLIAMS, Helen Maria…

WILLIAMS, Helen Maria (1762-1827).
BABIÉ DE BERCENAY, François (fl. 1803-1822).
SULPICE IMBERT, Comte de la Platière (1723-1809).

Politische und Vertraute Correspondenz Ludwig’s XVI: mit seinen Brüdern, und mehrern berühmten Personen während der letzten Jahre seiner Regierung, und bis an seinen Tod. Strasburg, Gesellschaft der Gelehrten, 1804.

First Edition in German. 8vo (190 x 120 mm), pp. [xii], 159, [1], 163, [1], title page laid down, in later half roan over marbled boards, spine ruled and stamped in blind, gilt tooling faded, with red morocco label lettered in gilt, dark marbled endpapers, red edges.

The scarce first German edition of Helen Maria Williams’ most overtly political translation and her single most controversial work. The letters of Louis XVI were obtained in good faith by Williams, who hoped to use her translation and commentary for the transmission of her own revolutionary beliefs. The enterprise turned out to be a massive error of judgement on her part as the public reaction was overwhelmingly that of sympathy for the unjustly treated king, quite the opposite to the effect she had intended. Worse than this, however, was the public and official outcry that greeted its publication. Almost immediately people began to doubt the authenticity of the letters and Williams was subject to a barrage of humiliating attacks. The first blow was that the work was confiscated by the authorities for fear of its royalist sympathies and this was followed by endless attacks, most notably a full-length vitriolic tirade by Bertrand de Moleville, A Refutation of the Libel on the Memory of the late King of France, published by Helen Maria Williams under the title of Political and Confidential Correspondence of Louis XVI translated from the original manuscript by R. C. Dallas, London, 1804. Bertrand de Moleville was unrestrained in his criticism both of the present and other works and of Williams herself, whom he famously described as 'a woman whose lips and pen distil venom'.
After years of suspicion and controversy, it transpired that the letters were indeed forgeries. Williams had purchased them from François Babié de Bercenay and Sulpice Imbert, Comte de la Platière and had herself been convinced that they were genuine. In 1822, however, Babié de Bercenay revealed in a letter that he had written the letters at the suggestion of his friend Sulpice Imbert. Williams, the innocent translator, had unwittingly been implicated in a literary hoax. Such was the humiliation she suffered after the publication that Williams retired from literary life and very little is heard of her over the next ten years.
‘Were it not for Babié’s revelation in 1820, we may never have known the actual history of Williams’s set of the Louis XVI letters. With its historical (mis)representation deriving from a non-original (in a sense) original, does Williams’s text prove an ambiguous artefact? However, the work exists as a testament to the importance of her translational oeuvre in its position in the canon as a contribution to her revolutionary communication and, in a secondary sense, as an intriguing example of the pseudotranslational subgenre’ (Paul Hague, Helen Maria Williams: the purpose and practice of translation, 1789-1827, 2015, pp. 126).
The letters in the original were given in French and English, with Williams’ commentary given only in English. In this edition, the entire text is given only in German.

OCLC lists a handful of copies but only Duke outside Germany.

Keywords: French Revolution
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