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Radical Translations

Griffet de Labaume’ s literary works include plays and poetry, as well as the licentious parody La Messe de Gnide (1795). Alongside this, he worked as a professional translator, translating from English and German into French. He translated novels, plays, travelogues, and a work of statistics.

Part of his translation activities bear witness to his political activism in the French Revolution. He published in political journals and joined the political organisation (and publishing venture) Cercle social. In 1795, Griffet de Labaume was among the beneficiaries of a programme set up by the Convention to support writers financially. He subsequently became an important figure in the Directory’s policy to make ‘useful’ literature accessible to the French public through translation.

Title page of Griffet de Labaume's translation of Thomas Paine's Common sense (1791) Google Books

With his French translation of Ottobah Cugoano’s Thoughts and sentiments on the evil and wicked traffic of the slavery and commerce of the human species (1787) he contributed to the abolitionist movement around his fellow translator François-Xavier Lanthenas.

He translated the famous works Common Sense and Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, whom he knew from the Cercle social . They were published as Le sens-commun (1791) and Théorie et pratique des droits de l'homme (1792). The latter work was co-translated with Lanthenas, with whom he also published a new French translation of Common Sense in 1793.

Griffet strongly believed in the cultural exchange between the nations as a way of furthering human progress. As such, he played a dynamic role in the transnational circulation of texts in the revolutionary period. He had an interest in the national myths of surrounding countries, translating Macpherson’s Ossian, Bodmer’s epic Die Sundflutz and the history of Switzerland by Johannes von Müller. He was particularly instrumental in the introduction of German literature to the French public. Alongside Joseph de Maimieux, he was an important contributor to the Bibliothèque germanique (1799-1800), a collection of French translations of (extracts from) German works, by Kant and Herder among others. Griffet futhermore translated many works by Wieland.

Read Antoine-Gilbert Griffet de Labaume's more extensive biography here.