Lives in translation: François Soulès
François Soulès (1748-1809), historian, language-instructor, and translator of Thomas Paine's Rights of Man into French.
François Soulès (Boulogne-sur-Mer, 1748 – Paris, 1809) was a writer, teacher and translator who mediated between the French and English speaking worlds in the revolutionary era. Soulès was a professional cultural mediator, who spent twelve years in Great Britain working as a French teacher. Based on his experience teaching, he wrote two French language manuals aimed at English speakers. The works were praised for their clarity, simple rules, and popular phraseology, as compared to existing manuals.
His other works also bear witness to his interest in the Anglophone world, especially regarding the American Revolution, British and French foreign policy, and British politics and parliamentary system. His Histoire des troubles de l’Amérique anglaise, écrite sur les mémoires les plus authentiques (1787) was favourably received.
Enthused by the political developments in his native country, Soulès returned to France in time to participate in the French Revolution. As part of his political commitment, he not only wrote original political tracts but also translated existing works. This included a volume on the rules and regulations of the British parliament, which he hoped could be an inspiration to the Estates General. He also translated several works by his friend and fellow Girondin Thomas Paine, including the famous tract Rights of Man (1791).
After Thermidor, Soulès’ work lost its militant quality as he received government subsidies for his work. Under the Directory he was among the translators hired in an official program to make ‘useful’ literature accessible to the French public. In that role, he participated in large collective translation projects of works of history and geography. He furthermore translated novels and travelogues. The preface to his translation (1796) of Arthur Young’s account of his travels in Italy illustrates how a work that in itself was not political could nevertheless gain new, political meaning in translation. Soulès wrote that the work was an ideal resource to follow the progress of ‘our triumphant armies’ as they progressed into the peninsula. An older work by a British opponent of the French Revolution could thus be turned into a celebration of the republican conquests in Italy.
Read François Soulès' more extensive biography here.