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Radical Translations

As an active politician moving in Girondin circles, Lanthenas was acquainted with many of the political and intellectual protagonists in revolutionary Paris. Among his friends at the revolutionary organization Cercle Social was Thomas Paine, the British-American ‘apostle of liberty’ whose books had deeply influenced revolutionary movements on both sides of the Atlantic.

Lanthenas set about to translate his friend’s major works into French. He first collaborated with Antoine Griffet de Labaume, the translator of Paine’s Common Sense, on the translation of Rights of Man. It appeared in 1792 as Théorie et pratique des droits de l’homme.

Lanthenas also authored two translations of Paine’s The Age of Reason. The first, Le Siècle de la raison, ou Le Sens commun des droits de l'homme (1793), was based on an unpublished draft of that work. It was published in Lanthenas’ own name, without mention of Paine. This incomplete version is an attack on Catholicism and religion and does not include the overt promotion of deism of the first published edition in the English original (1794).

Title page of Lanthenas' translation of Thomas Paine's Rights of man (1792) Google Books

Lanthenas’ second translation of The Age of Reason, published in 1794, is entitled Le siècle de la raison, seconde partie. Ou Recherches sur la vraie théologie et sur la théologie fabuleuse. This time Paine is mentioned as the author and Lanthenas’ name is omitted. Lanthenas dedicated the translation to Paine (‘the founder and supporter of liberty in the ancient and new world’), calling himself Paine’s ‘true friend and sincere admirer’.

Lastly, Lanthenas translated Paine’s The decline and fall of the English system of finance. It appeared in 1796 as Décadence et chute du système des finances de l'Angleterre.

Lanthenas’ translations acted not only upon the French speaking world but also upon Italy. His and Griffet de Labaume's 1793 edition of Théorie et pratique des droits de l’homme was banned in the Kingdom of Naples, indicating the work’s perceived revolutionary potential. His Décadence et chute was itself translated into Italian by the Jacobin physician and academic Giovanni Rasori (1766-1837). And Lanthenas’ own tract on the importance of civil religion in republics was promptly translated into Italian as Religione civile proposta alle repubbliche (1797), testifying to the transnational dynamics at play in radical translation in the revolutionary era.

Read François-Xavier Lanthenas' more extensive biography here.