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The Persian Letters in seven English translations © Philip Stewart - page 14 / 16

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était offensé d’une saillie, six out of seven translators understand une saillie in the conversational sense which leads to these renderings:

(O) a martyr to regularity, he was as much offended at any thing that looked like a flight of wit

  • (F)

    A martyr to regularity, he was offended at every start of wit

  • (D)

    A martyr to his own accuracy, he was offended by a witty remark

  • (L)

    A martyr to his strict standards, he was offended by a gross sally

  • (H)

    A martyr ro his own precision, he was as much offended by a witty remark

  • (M)

    a martyt to his own precision, he was offended by a flash of wit

Because they have failed to realize that saillie has another (indeed principal) meaning as p r o t r u s i o n o r o v e r h a n g , 1 9 t h e y h a v e a l s o f a i l e d t o m a k e t h e c o n n e c t i o n w i t h t h e f i r s t s e n t e n c e i n this passage which has to do with the heads of flowers rising above the others.20 Thus, this

sentence flows directly from that allusion in a way that Betts’s version – “He was a martyr to his own exactitude, and was pained by anything that stood out” – at least partially captures.

The phrase un bosquet barlong de dix arpents raises a problem similar to the one above concerning the value of a French livre: what is an arpent, and how might the English reader best grasp its meaning? In the event, all but one of our translators eschews an attempt at strict equivalence and translates “ten acres”:

  • (O)

    a wood of ten acres

  • (F)

    a wood of ten acres

  • (D)

    a parallelogrammic grove of ten acres

  • (L)

    rectangular grove a thousand perches square in area

  • (H)

    a ten-acre park in the form of a parallelogram

  • (B)

    a grove of rectangular shape, ten acres in extent

  • (M)

    an oblong shrubbery of ten acres

And why not? Calculating and specifying exactly how much would be too fastidious, and replacing one arcane term with another, as Loy does, is likely further to confuse the reader, who can look it up and find that a perch is a square rod… but then what is a rod? Even though, it is true, the passage is about precision (dix arpents is nevertheless a round number), “acre” gives the

19“Partie d’un bâtiment qui avance sur la rue, qui n’est pas à plomb sur les fondements” (Furetière) ; Trévoux moreover gives the synonym projecture. Cf. this passage in Voyage à Florence (f. 40v): “Lorsque l’on met des avant-corps à un étage il faut qu’ils règnent partout; ainsi il ne faut pas que la porte n’ait point de saillie et que les fenêtres en aient; il ne faut pas qu’un étage ait des avant-corps, l’autre non […]”; and this sentence from the Préface of L’Esprit des lois : “On ne trouvera point ici ces traits saillants qui semblent caractériser les ouvrages d’aujourd’hui. Pour peu qu’on voie les choses avec une certaine étendue, les saillies s’évanouissent; elles ne naissent d’ordinaire que parce que l’esprit se jette tout d’un côté, et abandonne tous les autres.”

20The episode, which comes from Livy (I, 54), is part of a stock of common references at the time: it was Tarquin who cut off the heads of the tallest poppies as a sign to his son that he should have the most prominent of his companions beheaded.

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