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


François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire
uncertainty John Wilkes

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

Summary (extracted citations)

From the translator's preface: "I have preserved the order of the original, except in a paragraph or two… The French translator hath gone much farther; he hath not only transposed every chapter, but every paragraph in the whole book. But in this, I conceive, he hath assumed a right which belongs not to any translator, and which cannot be justified. His disposition may appear more systematical, but certainly the author hath as undoubted a right to the arrangement of his own ideas, as to the ideas themselves; and therefore to destroy that arrangement is to pervert his meaning." "But it must also be allowed that much is still wanting to perfect our system of legislation: the confinement of debtors, the cruelty of jailors and the extortion of the petty officers of justice, to all which may be added the melancholy reflection, that the number of criminals put to death in England is much greater than in any other part of Europe."


The Italian preface and 'Avisso' are omitted while a six-page translator's preface and first translation of Voltaire's 80-page 'Commentary' have been added. It is clear that the translator is working from both Italian and French versions, as while the structure keeps the original Italian format, there are some passages whose structure and wording follow Morellet, although the translator greatly disapproves of Morellet's meddling with the structure of the text (see above).

While the title page does not mention Beccaria's name, it does appear in the translator's preface, which explains the reasons for concealing his name, namely the text's condemnation by the Inquisition. The translator goes on to stress the importance of penal laws to the happiness, peace and security of each member of society before deploring their imperfection and cruelty in all nations. This is why "an attempt to reduce them to the standard of reason must be interesting to all mankind". Throughout the preface it is clear that the translator is very well informed about the publishing history of Beccaria's text. The last two pages contain a commentary on the English penal system and advocating much-needed reform.

Voltaire's 'Commentaire sur le livre Des Délits et des peines' (1766, originally published anonymously), which was appended on the end, was less of a commentary on Beccaria's text than a reflection on some of the issues raised. This was the very first translation of Voltaire's text, which by February 1767 had run through six editions. An Italian translation appeared a few months later and would not be issued in a single volume with Beccaria's text until 1769.

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).