Paul & Virginia, by SAINT-PIERRE, Jacques Henri Bernardin de (1737-1814).WILLIAMS,…

SAINT-PIERRE, Jacques Henri Bernardin de (1737-1814).
WILLIAMS, Helen Maria (1762-1827), translator.

Paul & Virginia, translated from the French of Bernardin Saint Pierre, by Helen Maria Williams, Author of Letters on the French Revolution, Julia, a Novel, Poems, &c. With six plates, engraved by Richter. Fourth Edition. London, Vernor and Hood, 1799.

Fourth Edition. 12mo (162 x 95 mm), engraved frontispiece, extra engraved title-page and pp. viii, 168, with four further engraved plates, attractive woodcut vignettes scattered throughout the text, in contemporary vellum, a little warped, blind tooled border to covers, plain spine with black morocco label lettered in gilt, marbled endpapers and edges, bookplate removed from front pastedown.

An attractive illustrated edition of Helen Maria Williams’ popular translation of Saint-Pierre’s best-selling novel, which was first published in 1788 in the fourth volume of the author’s Etudes de la Nature. An anonymous English translation appeared later that year and was fairly popular, running to a number of editions, but it was in the present translation by Helen Maria Williams that the novel took the English speaking world by storm, being republished at least a dozen times by the end of the century. Williams’ translation was first published in Paris in 1795 and is thought to have been printed at the English press of John Hurford Stone, the English radical who was Williams’ lover at the time.
The Preface, written by Williams, is signed Paris, 1795, and explains the circumstances in which the work was composed: ‘The following Translation of Paul and Virginia was written at Paris, amidst the Horrors of Robespierre’s Tyranny. During that gloomy Epocha it was difficult to find Occupations which might cheat the Days of Calamity of their weary Length. Society had vanished; and, amidst the minute Vexations of Jacobinical Despotism, which, while it murdered in Mass, persecuted in Detail, the Resources of writing, and even reading, were encompassed with Danger... In this situation I gave myself the task of employing a few hours every day in translating the charming little novel... and I found the most soothing relief in wandering from my own gloomy reflections to those enchanting scenes of the Mauritius, which he has so admirably described... the public will perhaps receive with indulgence a work written under such peculiar circumstances; not composed in the calm of literary leisure, or in pursuit of literary fame; but amidst the turbulence of the most cruel sensations, and in order to escape from overwhelming misery’ (Preface, signed Helen Maria Williams, Paris, June, 1795).

ESTC t129729, at BL, Belfast, Bodleian, NT; Cornell, Harvard, McMaster, UCLA and Rochester.

See Garside, Raven and Schöwerling 1788:71.

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