Log in

Radical Translations

  • Date
  • False: false attribution such as false place of imprint or false date
  • Fictional place: false imprint contains a fictional, invented place of imprint or date
  • Form: type or genre of writing.
  • Female
  • Male
  • Language
  • Noble: person was born noble.
  • Place
  • Role: the main role of a person or organization in relation to a resource.
  • Subject: content, theme, or topic of a work.
  • Uncertainty: information could not be verified.

An Essay on Crimes and Punishments: translated from the Italian, with a commentary attributed to Mons. de Voltaire, translated from the French.

Authors of source text

Cesare Bonesana di Beccaria


uncertainty John Wilkes
John Almon

Related resources

is translation of
Dei delitti e delle pene has translation
has paratext
An Essay on Crimes and Punishments: translated from the Italian, with a commentary attributed to Mons. de Voltaire, translated from the French. paratext

Summary (extracted citations)

"If we look into history we shall find that laws… have been for the most part the work of the passions of a few… not dictated by a cool examiner of human nature, who knew how to collect in one point the actions of a multitude, and had this only end in view, the greatest happiness of the greatest number". “From what I have written results the following general theorem, of considerable utility, though not conformable to custom, the common legislator of nations. That a punishment may not be an act of violence, of one, or of many against a private member of society, it should be public, immediate, and necessary, the least possible in the case given, proportioned to the crime and determined by the laws”. “Every act of authority of one man over another, for which there is no absolute necessity, is tyrannical”.

Held by


Url to Dublin edition, published by John Exshaw in 1777.

This translation, from the 6th Italian edition was the last to be extensively revised and corrected by its author, and was the first edition to include Voltaire's commentary. While the author's name was not mentioned, as in the Italian edition, it does appear in the translator's preface. An Italian version was also published in London by Pietro Molini, the brother of the French publisher, who helped to arrange the English translation.

The impact of this utilitarian analysis of criminal law on the Anglophone world was considerable. It influenced the thought and writings of David Hume, Lord Mansfield, Sir William Blackstone, Sir Frederick Morton Eden, Jeremy Bentham, Filippo Mazzei, and four American presidents (George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison). Bentham cited Beccaria's treatise when discussing reward and punishment in his 'Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation', and almost certainly borrowed his famous phrase, "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" from Beccaria's Introduction (see above).

For a good account of its English translation history, see Rosamaria Loretelli, 'The First Translation of Cesare Beccaria's On Crimes and Punishments. Uncovering the Editorial and Political contexts', in Diciottesimo Secolo, anno II (2017).

On the basis of Loretelli's indication of the close relationships between the publisher John Almon, the journalist-politician John Wilkes, the London-based publisher, Pietro Molini, Morellet and the Philosophes, as well as evidence of another translation by Wilkes, he is indicated here as a possible translator. Wilkes spent most of 1765–66 in Italy and Paris. There's also a small possibility the translation was by Henry Fuseli, translator of an associated work by Giacinto Dragonetti, 'Trattato delle Virtu e de’ premi' (1766). A bilingual edition was published in 1769 by John Almon.

For Beccaria's wider influence, including on American policy, see J. D. Bessler, 'The Italian Enlightenment and the American Revolution: Cesare Beccaria's Forgotten Influence on American Law', in Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, vol.37, no.1 (2017); and M. Palumbo & E. Sidoli, eds., 'The Books that Made Europe' (2016), pp.248-249.