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Radical Translations

Nicolas de Bonneville

Contributions

  1. Bulletin de de la bouche de fer journalist
  2. Bulletin des Amis de la Vérité journalist
  3. Discours de Brutus de Shakespeare translation translator
  4. Extrait des Nouveaux essais de Nicolas Bonneville translation translator
  5. Extrait des Nouveaux essais de Nicolas Bonneville paratext author
  6. Histoire de l'Europe moderne, depuis l'irruption des peuples du Nord dans l'Empire romain, jusqu'à la paix de 1783 paratext author
  7. Histoire de l'Europe moderne, depuis l'irruption des peuples du Nord dans l'Empire romain, jusqu'à la paix de 1783 translation translator
  8. La Chronique du mois journalist
  9. La Feuille villageoise journalist
  10. La Sentinelle journalist
  11. Le Bien informé journalist
  12. Pacte maritime adressé aux nations neutres. Par un neutre paratext author
  13. Pacte maritime adressé aux nations neutres. Par un neutre translation translator

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Biography

Bonneville (Évreux, 1760 – Paris, 1828) was a journalist, writer, editor, printer, translator and opinion maker.

He was the son of the public prosecutor at Évreux in Normandy. He started studying philosophy but was expelled after a conflict over Rousseau’s supposed atheism. He then turned to studying languages and became fluent in English and German. His knowledge of these languages helped him to become an important cultural mediator between France, Great Britain, the USA and Germany in the revolutionary period.

He travelled to England in 1786, where he was initiated as a freemason. In Paris he was admitted to the lodge Les Amis réunis in 1788. He wrote two books on the subject of freemasonry in which he violently attacked the Jesuits. His later writings contain elements of esoterism and symbolism, possibly due to the influence of the German mystic Johann Joachim Christoph Bode and the French occultist Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. He pleaded for the abolition of Christianity and the foundation of a universal religion founded on philosophy and scholarship. He defended popular sovereignty, direct democracy and social equality. He can therefore be qualified as a utopian socialist.

Bonneville became influential in the French Revolution due to his political journalism and his activism in political clubs. Prior to the opening of the Estates General he founded the newspaper Le Tribun du Peuple. He proposed the establishment of a citizens’ militia and called for the storming of the Bastille. He subsequently held functions in the militia and in the Paris sections. On 13 October 1790 he founded, along with the abbé Fauchet, the Cercle Social (also called Société des Amis de la Vérité). The society’s proclaimed goal was the happiness of humankind. Initially (1789-1790), the Cercle was a closed circle of like-minded spirits devoted to egalitarian and revolutionary ideas, attracting the likes of François-Xavier Lanthenas, Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière, Jacques-Pierre Brissot, Sébastien Maréchal and Gracchus Babeuf. It then (1790-1791) grew into a political club with thousands of members, one of the most influential ones in Paris. It was the stronghold of the Girondin movement, but stopped existing after the massacre on the Champ de Mars in July 1791.

Afterwards (1791-1794) the Cercle mainly operated as a printing and publishing venture, with the financial support of Roland. Bonneville directed the company along with Lanthenas and Reynier. It became a very influential centre of Girondin propaganda. The reports of the club were published in the newspaper Bouche de Fer (mouth of iron), which also functioned as the mouthpiece of the Cordeliers Club (until July 1791). Bonneville furthermore edited the newspapers La Chronique du mois, Le Bien informé, La Sentinelle, La Feuille villageoise and Bulletin des Amis de la Vérité. Among his collaborators were Claude Fauchet (with whom he fell out in 1791), Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Etienne Clavière, Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois, John Oswald, Nicolas de Condorcet, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Nicolas-Edme Rétif de le Bretonne and Thomas Paine. The Cercle Social also published a little less than two hundred books, brochures and pamphlets concerned with revolutionary and Enlightenment ideas.

Despite running for the Legislative Assembly and the National Convention, Bonneville never succeeded in getting elected. After Varennes he founded a Société républicaine with Condorcet and the Rolands. His protest against the September Massacres earned him a violent attack by Marat. He was arrested for his Girondin sympathies during the Terror but was released after the fall of Robespierre. He later ran into trouble with the Directory and Napoleon and remained under close surveillance by the authorities.

Bonneville’s translating activities started under the protection of D’Alembert, who provided him with German and English texts. The bulk of his translations concerned German novels and theatre. Many of these appeared in the 12-volume Nouveau Théâtre Allemand, which he published in collaboration with Adrien Chrétien Friedel. These translations, and his own poetic exploits, made him into a forerunner of romanticism in France.

His translations from the English were more political. Between 1789 and 1792 he published the three volumes of his adaptation of William Russell’s The History of Modern Europe (second edition, 1786). In the introduction, Bonneville wrote that the reputation of the work in England impressed him while staying in that country. He accepted the task of translating it but later understood that it was in reality a compilation rather than a history. Among its many faults were the poor translations which Russell took from secondary sources, whereas a 'real' translation meant to create anew. The work nevertheless had many merits compared to older histories of Europe, mainly because of its truthfulness. Bonneville set out to transform his translation of Russell into a more useful text. He was compelled to do so by the revolutionary circumstances, which demanded a modern history of Europe.

Bonneville is today best remembered for his translations of three works by his close friend and collaborator Thomas Paine: Le Sens-commun (1793), Pacte maritime adressé aux nations neutres (1800) and De l’origine de la Franc-Maçonnerie (1812). The second one was translated in collaboration with Paine, while he lived at Bonneville’s house (1797-1800). Bonneville’s French translation was anonymously translated into Italian in 1801 as Patto marittimo: indirizzato alle nazioni neutrali, da un neutrale. The translation of Essay on the Origins of Freemasonry was posthumous: Paine has legated the manuscript to Bonneville’s children and entrusted the translation to him. Bonneville stressed the fact that his translations stayed close to the original. For the rest he hardly commented on them.

Paine hosted Bonneville’s wife and their three sons when they moved to the USA in 1802. Bonneville was only able to join them in 1814. Paine had died in the meantime, leaving his possessions to Bonneville’s children. After four years Bonneville returned to Paris and started a bookshop. He died in a state of poverty and poor mental health.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_Bonneville

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolas_de_Bonneville

Henry Stavan, ‘Bonneville’, Dictionnaire de journalistes (1600-1789), http://dictionnaire-journalistes.gazettes18e.fr/journaliste/090-nicolas-de-bonneville

Kates G., The Cercle Social, the Girondins, and the French Revolution, UC Press, Berkeley 1985.