Acknowledging the sources: from France to Venice

As stated in our previous post, most of the reviews and articles that appear in Caminer’s journals might be traced back to French sources that are usually acknowledged at the beginning of the column treating foreign press news. On many occasions there are direct references to the original journals in the text of the Italian articles. These published links allow us to see the attitude Italian journalists had towards their sources. Let us look at some examples. The first is a review of a French adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, published in Nuovo Giornale Enciclopedico (May 1785, p. 202):

Nouveau, ec. Nuovo viaggio in Francia, del Sig. Sterne, a cui è unita la Storia di Lefevre, e una scelta di Lettere del medesimo Autore. Ginevra 1785. – E’ conosciutissimo per le piacevoli Opere da lui pubblicate e pel suo Viaggio Sentimentale il fu Sig. Sterne. Questo nuovo Viaggio in Francia è sul gusto della vita di Tristano Shandy. Un po’ di piacevolezza, un po’ di stravaganza, una dose copiosa d’originalità rendono cotali opere intraducibili, e insuscettibili d’Estratti. In Francia però subiscono e l’uno e l’altro maltrattamento.

[New, etc. The new journey to France, by Mr Sterne, with the History of Lefevre, and a choice of letters by the same author. Geneva 1785. —The late Mr Sterne is very well known for the pleasant Works he wrote and for his Sentimental Journey. This new Journey to France is similar in its style to the life of Tristan Shandy. A touch of agreeableness, a touch of extravagance, and an abundant amount of originality make these works untranslatable, and uncongenial to be reduced to excerpts. In France, however, they are subject to both types of mistreatment.]

The source appeared in Journal Encyclopédique (May 1785, pp. 71–79). The French article is much longer: eight pages. It deals with the plot and the characters of the book, giving some comments and presenting extracts. In the Italian review there are no traces of information about the story: the judgement is limited to a few words, which are different from the tone of the French review. After all, Sterne was a well-known author, and the Italian review could offer some independent opinions (see infra with regard to how established authors were treated). Even more importantly, the journalist, probably Alberto Fortis, seems to attack the Journal Encyclopédique (‘In Francia…’). The French review, in fact, serves as the base to criticize some aspects of French journalism, like for example the long extracts taken from the book without appropriate context. On this occasion, the attitude towards the source is one of being sceptical about some of its communicative strategies, and manifesting an early intention of affirming a different and more independent way of spreading knowledge and information about the English novel through the press.


The second example I will show is about another work by Sterne, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, a review of which appeared in Nuovo Giornale Enciclopedico (October 1786, p. 92):

Fin, ec. Conclusione della Notizia su lo spirito e le Opere di Mons. Sterne. Codesto strano Autore, che pur piace e seduce anche i non istrani, ha avuto la disgrazia d’avere tre traduttori, che si sono prese libertà imperdonabili alterando, e troncando tratto tratto il di lui testo. Si discute in questo scritto qual sia quello che l’ha storpiato più. Uno però de’ tre traduttori, il Sig. D. L. B., merita d’essere preferito, perchè ha raccolto e pubblicato in fine Viaggio Sentimentale molte lettere scelte e frammenti di Sterne, che non erano conosciuti in Francia.

Fin, etc. Conclusion of the News entry regarding Mr Sterne’s spirit and Works. This strange author, who yet manages to please and seduce the less strange readers too, had the misfortune of having three translators who took unforgivable liberties in their work, changing and cutting his text here and there. It is debated here who among them has distorted it more. However, one of the three translators, Mr D. L. B., deserves to be preferred, since he collected and published at the end of the Sentimental Journey several selected letters and passages by Sterne, which were not known in France.

The source is once again the Journal Encyclopédique (August 1786, pp. 134–142), and once again the article is a lot longer than the one that appeared in Venice. The French review contains some information about a series of translations of the novel published in France at that time, which are provided with some comments and some details about the quality, deemed as not excellent. The Italian journalist expresses quite a sharp judgement about the translations in the first paragraph, but only motivating it with general and brief considerations. His conclusion is also very brief, with the acknowledgement that an enigmatic ‘Mr D. L. B.’ is the one to be preferred. The Italian readership is not provided with further explanation or contextualization: sometimes, the process of reception of foreign culture was building on laconic information. The Italian article, in fact, looks more like a review of the French review, rather than an informative piece: ‘si discute’ shows that the attitude of the journalist towards the source is rather passive, aimed at summarizing more than actually contextualizing the content to be later delivered in Italy. It gives an account of what was going on in France, but it does not provide the same apparatus that was available for the French readership.

Another example of how the sources were acknowledged concerns a review that appeared in Nuovo Giornale Enciclopedico (November 1788, p. 124) about Edward and Sophia. A novel by a lady, who is an anonymous author. The text is the following:

Edouard, ec. Odoardo e Sofia, Romanzo tradotto dall’Inglese. 2 vol. in 12. Parigi presso Desenne 1788. vale 3 lire di Fr. Vien lodato anche questo. Noi non lo abbiamo veduto.

[Edouard, etc. Edward and Sophia, Novel translated from English. 2 vols. in 12. Paris, Desenne 1788. Worth 3 French liras. This one is also praised. We have not seen it].

The source review was published in Journal Encyclopédique (September 1788, p. 538), and it is slightly longer:

Edouard et Sophie, roman traduit de l’anglois. 2 volumes in 12. A paris, chez Desenne. 1788. (Prix, 3 livres). « Donner l’extrait d’un roman, (dit-on dans un avis imprimé que nous venons de recevoir) c’est ôter au lecteur le plaisir de la surprise que causent toujours des événemens bien tissus, c’est le priver de l’attrait qu’on trouve à en deviner les fuites & les résultats, c’est enfin l’instruire de ce qu’il doit ignorer pour lire avec un intérêt complet ces sortes d’ouvrages ».

« Nous nous contenterons, pour annoncer celui-ci, de dire que le traducteur, frappé de la vérité des caractères, de la vraisemblance des anecdotes intéressantes qui le composent, du naturel de son dénouement, a eu soin de faire disparoitre les longueurs de l’original qui auroient pu assoiblir l’intérêt, & lui a donné la rapidité qu’on aime à trouver dans ces sortes de lectures. Enfin le but moral qu’on apercoit dans ce roman, y est rempli par des événemens qui attachent, en faisant aimer les personnages vertueux, & détester ceux qui réunissent autant de vices que de ridicules ».

[Edouard and Sophie, novel translated from English. 2 volumes in 12. In Paris, at Desenne’s. 1788. (Price, 3 pounds). ‘To give the excerpt of a novel,’ (it is said in a printed notice which we have just received) ‘is to deprive the reader of the pleasure of the surprise always caused by well-organized events, and to deprive him of the attraction of discovering the leaks and the result is, finally, to instruct him in what he must ignore to read with a complete interest in these kinds of works.

‘We will content ourselves, to announce this one, to say that the translator, struck by the truth of the characters, the plausibility of the interesting anecdotes which compose it, of the natural of his denouement, took care to make the length of the original work disappear, which would have been able to soften the interest, and gave him the rapidity which one likes to find in these sorts of readings. Lastly, the moral object which we perceive in this novel is filled with events which are attached, and make us love the virtuous characters, and detest those who have so many vices they become ridiculous.’]

It is evident that the first paragraph of the French review is completely overlooked (even if, as we saw earlier, the tendency to give excerpts and synthesis of the novels was not appreciated by Italian journalists as well), and that the second is summarized with a laconic ‘this one is also praised’, without giving any of the information contained in the original text. On the other hand, the Italian journalist declares they did not have the chance to see the novel: so the French are completely ‘responsible’ for what the Italians say about it. The attitude of the journal is, in this case, rather passive or, at least, neutral: without the possibility of building a personal opinion, the journalist opts to report the news without adding any unverifiable details.

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