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Radical Translations

The political and confidential correspondence of Lewis the Sixteenth. With observations on each letter


Helen Maria Williams

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The political and confidential correspondence of Lewis the Sixteenth. With observations on each letter translation


p. x: 'whatever disposition we may have to strew flowers over the tomb of the unfortunate, we may be allowed to doubt whether any generation, even the remotest, will raise Lewis the Sixteenth to the honors of an apotheosis'. p. xx: 'it appears singular that no suspicions entered the minds of the French editors, that the public, who were called only to admire, would sometimes pause to compare and to reason'. p. xxii: 'It is no longer the king they mean to defend; it is the revolution they are earnest to criminate. Let them not be displeased therefore, if in the observations which have suggested themselves on reading these letters, they sometimes discover an attempt to defend that barbarism towards which the most enlightened country of Europe has made a retrograde step'. p. xxiv: 'Considering the French revolution as the most important event of modern history, every thing that tends to throw light on the momentous epocha has some portion if interest; and it is with this persuasion that I presume to offer to the public the observations that accompany the subsequent letters. If I have not concealed my admiration of the great and exalted principles in favor of the human race which the revolution was destined to establish, I hope also, that, in commenting on the character and conduct of Lewis the Sixteenth, I shall not be accused of insensibility or injustice, while I have sought nothing but the truth'.


In a lengthy preface, Williams comments on the goal of her translation, which is to judge on the person and historical role of king Louis XVI. The editors of the French manuscript stated that they wanted to defend the memory of the king and prove to the world that the king was innocent and righteous. Williams, although she regrets the king's execution, is of a different opinion altogether. From the manuscript she has selected only the king's letters, not the additional documents which have already been published elsewhere, and to each letter she has added a commentary. In the 1820s it was revealed that the so-called originals were in fact forgeries. See Paul Hague, Helen Maria Williams, p. 120.