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Radical Translations

Théophile Mandar


Mandar (Marines, 1759 – Paris, 1823) was a politician, translator and man of letters.

He took an active part in the French Revolution. He was present at the storming of the Bastille and at the journées of 20 June and 10 August. He held functions in the Paris sections and frequented the Cordeliers club, the Cercle Social and the Confédération des Amis de la Vérité. After Varennes he participated in the petitioning campaigns against the monarchy. He protested in vain against the September Massacres, publishing a discourse against them. In 1793 he was national commissioner for the Conseil exécutif for the organisation of the department of Mont-Terrible. After Thermidor he became a member of the Comité d’instruction publique. Under the National Convention and the Empire, he was a beneficiary of the program to subsidize translators. He translated from English to French, mainly travel literature. He furthermore published treatises on the affranchissement of black slaves and on insurrection as well as several volumes of poetry.

Mandar is best remembered for his 1790 translation of Marchamont Nedham’s The Excellencie of a Free State (extensively analysed by Rachel Hammersley and Raymonde Monnier). The translation of this 1656 treatise was part of a broader revival of English republican authors of the seventeenth century in revolutionary France. Mandar did not hide the political motives behind his translation, openly recognizing its activistic quality. His self-proclaimed goal was to inspire the legislators of the French nation. To that end, Mandar thoroughly transformed the original text. He did so by adding a lot of material: a long preface, many footnotes, two appendices and two writings of his own. The appendices contain fragments from Machiavelli’s The Prince and Rousseau’s The Social Contract, followed by Mandar’ own observations. Mandar considered the addition of these texts ‘useful’ because they complemented and confirmed Nedham’s thoughts. He expected the reader to greatly profit from the comparison between these authors. For the same reason he added many footnotes taken from the work of enlightened writers: ‘in order to render it [= the translation] truly useful in the present circumstances, I found it necessary to insert in their entirety the learned and ingenious metaphysical definitions of political government by the citizen of Geneva and by Condillac’. The addition of contemporary authors was meant, in other words, to update and corroborate Nedham’s text, which had been written nearly 150 years ago. Raymonde Monnier notes that the same process was at work in the translation itself: Mandar ‘inscribed’ in in the vocabulary of the revolution by the conscious use of contemporary terms (e.g. ‘égalité’ for ‘equability’).

The result was a hybrid and vibrant text in which many voices speak at the same time. Mandar united all of these into one consistent, radical discourse. His translation probably was the source of the Jacobin patriot Pietro Custodi’s partial translation of Nedham: Della sovranità del popolo e dell’eccellenza di uno stato libero. Opera scritta originalmente in inglese nell'anno 1656 (Milan, 1797).

In the preface to his treatise Des insurrections, Mandar commented on his choice to publish the text under his own name. He decided against an anonymous publication because recognizing his authorship might make the treatise more convincing to reader. Since he hoped that his publication would contribute to the common good, to include his name would be an act of civisme.


V. Criscuolo, Il giacobino Pietro Custodi: con un’appendice di documenti inediti (Rome: Istituto storico italiano per l’età moderna e contemporanea, 1987).

Rachel Hammersley, French Revolutionaries and English Republicans: The Cordeliers Club, 1790-1794 (Rochester: Boydell Press, 2011).

Raymonde Monnier, ‘Traduction, transmission et révolution : enjeux rhétoriques de la traduction des textes de la conception républicaine de la liberté autour de 1789’, Annales historiques de la Révolution française 364 (2011), 29-50.

Marchamont Needham, De la souveraineté du peuple, et de l’excellence d’un État libre, traduit de l’anglais et enrichi de notes par Théophile Mandar, édition présentée et annotée par Raymonde Monnier (Paris: Éditions du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 2010.).

J.M. Quérard, La France littéraire, ou dictionnaire biographique, p. 484.

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