Paul and 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. Paris, John Hurford Stone, 1795.
First Edition of this Translation. 8vo, pp. [ii], viii, , 9-274, with six stipple engraved plates, by Lingée, Lefebvre and Clément, two after designs by Dutailly, tissue guards to all but one of the plates, some scattered foxing, the text printed on mixed stock, much of which is slightly blue-tinted and watermarked ‘P Lentaigne’, occasional light spotting, small marginal hole on D1, one gathering sprung, in contemporary calf, worn at extremities, head and foot of spine chipped, roll tool border to covers within double fillet gilt, corner fleurons and circles gilt, flat spine gilt in compartments, blue morocco label lettered in gilt, both covers badly scratched, with bright marbled endpapers and gilt edges.
An elegant if slightly damaged copy of the scarce first edition of Helen Maria Williams’ translation of Saint-Pierre’s best-selling Paul et Virginie. This English translation was also to prove enormously popular, with many printings in England, but this first appearance, thought to have been printed in Paris at the English press of Williams’ lover, John Hurford Stone, is scarce. Additionally, this copy includes the suite of six engraved plates, found only in a few copies.
In 1792, two years after her first visit to Paris, Helen Maria Williams returned to live there permanently. Her salon on the rue Helvétius became a meeting place not only for her Girondist circle but also for a large number of British, American and Irish radicals, writers and public figures, including Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine, Joel Barlow and Charles James Fox. It was at this time that she became involved with John Hurford Stone (1763-1818), a radical English coal dealer who was working as a printer in Paris. Their involvement caused huge scandal in England, as Stone was married. He divorced his wife in 1794 and it may be that he was married to Williams in the same year. On October 11th, 1793, during tea with Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Williams had learnt that all British citizens in France were to be arrested, following the French defeat at Toulon. The next day she and her family were taken to the Luxembourg prison where they stayed until 26th October, when they were moved to the English Conceptionist Convent, otherwise known as the Couvent des Anglaises. It was here that Williams began this translation. She was released in April of the following year on the condition that she left Paris: she and Stone went together to Switzerland until they were able to return to Paris in 1795, when Stone printed the completed work.
Of the copies listed in ESTC, only three copies, Virginia, Morgan and Penn have the plates, although the BN copy also has the plates. Of the Morgan copy, John Bidwell writes in their catalogue: ‘Given the French origins of the paper, type, plates, and binding, and the quality of the typesetting, this edition was printed in Paris, almost certainly at the English press of the expatriate radical John Hurford Stone, who was living with Helen Maria Williams at the time. Cf. Madeleine B. Stern, “The English Press in Paris and its successors,” PBSA 74 (1980): 307-89’. Adding another level to the interchange of nationalities in this edition, although French, the type was of English origin, being cast from Baskerville’s punches by the Dépôt des caractères de Baskerville in Paris, established by Beaumarchais in 1791 and closed c.1795–6. Beaumarchais, a great admirer of Baskerville, purchased the bulk of the Birmingham printer’s punches from his widow after his death (John Dreyfus, ‘The Baskerville punches 1750–1950’, The Library, 5th series 5 (1951), 26–48).
‘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... 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 t131741, listing BL, Bodleian, Wisbech; Cornell, Harvard, Morgan, Penn, Princeton, Smith College, Toronto, UCLA, Chicago, Illinois, Virginia and Yale.
Cohen-de Ricci 932 (calling for only 5 plates); no details given in Garside, Raven & Schöwerling, see note on HMW’s translation in 1788:71.