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Art. XVII. The Political and Confidential Correspondence of Lewis

the Sixteenth : With Observations on each Letter. By Helen Maria

Williams, 3 vol. 8vo. London. G. & J. Robinson, 1803. W HOEVER reads this striking title-page, will immediately be dis

W posed to ask some questions as to the authenticity and genuineness of the letters. But, in a particular of such indispensable importance, the editor has not thought fit, perhaps had it not in her power, to satisfy the just curiosity of the public. The story she tells in the preface is imperfect, and is told very foolishly. We are given to understand, in the way of allusion and hints, which were probably thought more elegant than a plain statement, that a French edition of these papers was prepared for the press by certain friends of the late King: that this publication would have conGifted of two volumes, one containing his Majes ty's private letters, the other his compositions on public and general subjects: that, in the preface of this intended edition, it was stated that the originals are deposited in the hands of a personage who will think it a pleasure and a duty to communicate them to such as are curious or incredulous :' that this statement is true: that the French publication has been deferred, and the manuscript volumes have fallen into the hands of Miss Helen Maria Williams--but by what means, the says, ' it is unnecessary to mention :' finally, that she has obtained - such proofs from men who now fill eminent offices under the republie, and from others who exercised the higheit functions under Lewis the Sixteenth, and who were consequently instructed both as to the {pirit and the letter, as leave no doubt whatever with respect to the authenticity of these papers.' There is nothing very improbable in any part of this story; but no part of it is here proved. In its present shape, it does not wear the flightest semblance of evidence. The public can never yield an entire credit to these volumes, until it shall receive information, in what manner the originals, if such really exist, have been preserved and collected. The literary manuscripts of Lewis probably remained in his own poffeffion, until his private property was plundered ; and then must have fallen into the hands of persons who were not likely to yield them up to the lurking or emigrant friends of the murdered Monarch. Most of the private letters now published were written under such circumstances of agitation and cmergency, that copies would hardly be retained at the time ; and several of them are addresied, in terms of reproach, to a personage, whom, if he has voluntarily surrendered them to the public eye, we must at once believe to have merited those fevere reproaches, and to be actuated at l. it by such heroilm, as to devote his own character to the confecration of his Sovereign's fame. It is impossible, therefore, that we should feel ourselves completely satisfied with regard to these papers, until their progress and transmission has been faithfully traced from the closet of Lewis to the hands of the present poffeffor. The name of that person, too, the public is entitled to require, as well as the means by which the editor contrived to obtain copies. The manner in which her preface is written, implies an unwilling confession, that she has never seen the originals; nor should we, indeed, have been liable to take it for granted, that a communication of such importance would be made to a foreign refugee authoress, whose reputation in her own country has fcarcely reached beyond the customers of the circulating libraries. From all these considerations, we do not hesitate to say, that the letters, at present before us, as manuscripts of Lewis, appear without any external evidence of that allegation, and without a single circumstance in the manner of publication, that, independently of the letters themselves, can inspire confidence in their authenticity.

Notwithstanding this dissatisfaction with the manner in which they are introduced to the public, we shall venture, without any consciousness of inconsistency, to express our persualion, that the letters, at least most of them, are genuine. We owe this belief to the impressions of internal evidence. In their general manner and turn of expression, they bear a sufficient resemblance to the writings which have long been known as the avowed or ascertained compofitions of Lewis; while the sentiments that predominate, and give a character and consistency to the correspondence, accord with that benevolent, but unresisting temper, which is a. scribed to the King by all who had opportunities of observing him, and which is established by the uniform tenor of his conduct. He shows here all his amiable weaknesses, and his many estimable virtues. The plainness, too, of the diction in most of the letters, is altogether different from the finery and flippancy that prevail among French writers of the present' school; and there are many touches of that just pathos and dignified emotion, which is natural only to a good man, in the anguish of unmerited suffering, amid the wrecks of external grandeur. To the weight of this internal evidence, we do not choose to disguise that we have admitted a strong confirmation, from presumptions of a more indirect nature. We cannot believe that the editor of the present publication would descend to assist any forgery, by which the reputation of Lewis the Sixteenth would be heightened, and his memory endeared. On the contrary, she maintains, throughout her obfervations, a malignant struggle against the conviction which these letters cannot fail to impress on every well-regulated mind. A person may be capable of irrational, unfeeling, incurable bigotry, who would not be guilty of a direct fabrication; and a fanatic, who has taken up the trade of authorship, though not likely to invent proofs destructive of the favourite creed, might yet find it convenient to gratify the curiosity of the public, reserving a happy self-justification in the idea of repelling all this evidence, by the force of an eloquent and ingenious commentary. Our application of this presumption to the present instance may at first be suspected of harshnels : by some courteous and gentle readers, perhaps, will be deemed ungallant. But, in an offence against generosity, and all humane feelings, we cannot permit that confideration of sex, which aggravates the delinquency, to soften the punishment. Nor will our severity appear extreme to any, who shall labour, as we have painfully done, through the large portion of these volumes, of which Miss Williams claims the demerit.

Our readers muft be anxious to peruse some of the letters; and we are no less impatient to quit, for such interesting objects, the irksome and humiliating talk of exposing imposture, and chastifing conceited dulness. But no part of our duty may be dispensed with. The three volumes, now in our hands, furnish a most reprehensible specimen of what is called book-making. All the original materials might have been contained in a very small volume; but the article (so it will be called in Paternoster Row) is made up by a tranflation of all the letters, and by a long commentary on each. The style of the translation, and the temper, as well as the materials of the commentary, are defects of a different kind, which we shall presently notice. But this method of adulterating their wares, of afforcing unmerchantable commodities with those of necessary demand, of making out a large bulk by a mixture of rubbish, is an imposition practised upon the publie by the literary tradesmen, und ought to be repressed, if pollible, by literary police. The translation is superfluous to those who have access to the original; the original is useless to those who mult remain content with a translation ; and the commentary, we are satisfied, will not be perused by either the one or the other. For the accommodation of the public, we hope some bookseller will under. take a correct edition of the originals alone.

We have submitted to compare the translation of Miss Wil. Jiams, with a great many of the original letters; and our opinion is, that it is executed very inadequately, and betrays frequent marks of carelessness. The peculiar merits of the King's Ityle are lost, and the character of his composition almost obliterated : in place of a natural expression, which varies with the feelings of the writer, and rises above its usual plainness, with


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out effort, into dignity or tenderness, we get for ever the tawdry bombast and the chilling affectation of Miss Helen Maria Williams. In a letter of the 26. August, 1789, Lewis has described with a just conciseness of metaphor, the state of his public feel. ings; en ne me livrant point à cet enthousiasme qui s'est emparé de tous les ordres, mais qui ne fait que glisser sur mon ame :' instead of which the English reader is to be fickened with the torrent of enthusiasm which hurries on all the different orders of the state, but which only glides lightly over the surface of my Soul.' The picturesque word torrent is an especial favourite with this compiler of novels, who has presumed to transcribe the forrows of the last of the Bourbons: · Sans moyens réprellifs,' (he laments, at a more disastrous period to the old Duc de Polignac), · Sans moyens répressifs, je fais seul tête à l'orage; mais cela peut-il durer long-tems?' which is thus debaled,

without any means of repression, I ftem alone the stormy torrent ; but can I long refift?' Again, la tourmente révolutionnaire a troublé toutes les têtes,' is rendered, the revolutionary torrent has dizzied every brain ;' which makes nonsense of a correct image. In the course of some pleasing thoughts relative to the education of the Dauphin, Lewis exclaims, La gloire militaire tourne la tête ; eh! quelle gloire, que celle qui regarde des flots de sang humain, et ravage l'univers; ' military glory, (we have it again) dizzies the brain ; and what species of glory is that which rolls its eye over streams of human blood,' &c. The most easy passages are sometimes rendered with such slovenly negligence, that the very tone of the English language is lost as much as the elegance of the original. Of this, the following is a sufficient fpecimen: The sentence occurs in a letter to Malesherbes, which we shall afterwards give at full length.

• Vous balançâtes long-tems à venir respirer, à ma cour, un air qui convenait peu à la touchante fimplicité de vos maurs ; mais Turgot vous fit entendre qu'il ne pouvait pas, sans vous, opérer un bien durable : il vous decida ; et je l'en estimai d'avantage.' Vol. I. p. 43.

. You long balanced whether you should come and breathe the air of my court, so ill in sympathy with the interesting fimplicity of your manners. Turgot made you understand, that, without your aid, he could operate no durable good: he determined you : and I esteemed him the more.' Vol. I. p. 49.

The general character indeed of the translation is, that it is either affectedly paraphrased, or meanly literal. L'universa. lité des Français,' and ' l'imperturbabiliié,' must be bad phrases in any dialect ; they are not very bad in French, because they are not very unusual; but the literal transcription of them into E lith is inexcuseable. We have fome other instances still worse; the speaks of an epuration of the legillative body,' and and of those princes who have devasted the earth.' So much for her acquaintance with the language of her original country; still more proofs might be collected to shew, that she is not yet naturalized to that of her adopted republic. For infiance, ' de bonne heure, 'is translated often;' blanchisseur,'' whitewasher, " rapprochement,' which is used by the King in allusion to a projected coalition or reconciliation of parties, becomes in her version approximation.' The King says to Malesherbes, ' Vous êtes, si vous me permettez de le dire, un peu égoiste dans votre vertu ;' a delicate and complimentary reproach, by which he urges his request that the patriotic minister would fill remain in his service, but which the translator, with rare ignorance of language and of sense, converts into coarse and absurd abuse, you are, permit me to tell you, somewhat an egotist in your virtue.'

As she has contrived; even under the controul of an original text, to patch on so much unbecoming ornament, we may of course expect, in the free range of her own composition, to fod her flaunting in all the colours and flowers that she can collect. We have' lights beaming from every point of the mental horizon,' and are told of 'à phalanx disciplined against the eruption of research and philofophy.' Though we are once permitted to look back through ihe troublous vifta of the revolution,' yet we are from time to time reminded of ' our regenerated days; one is apt indeed occasionally to forget them. In a long and senseless dissertation which she introducts, our readers will wonder why or how, on the politics of Virgil and his ivory-gate, we are informed that that poet ' sometimes threw out his republican soul athwart the cuiraffed breastplate of the courtier.' Besides these pictures, which are evidently all her own, she finishes sometimes the sketches that have been left imperfect by older masters, Bossuet, for example, and Burke. The Bishop of Meaux had declared, with considerable truth and much bigotry, that modern infidelity was a detestable shoot from the fatal stock planted in the fixteenth century, by the leaders of the reformation : ' it will be found,' (says Miss Williams), on a closer examination, to have been rather an offset from the mysterious and monstrous trunk of papal absurdity.' She is Itill more happy in another attempt of the same kind.

• It was at this period that the queen, who, “ like a morning star, bad just appeared on our horizon," (to borrow the elegant phraseology of the orator), full of life, and splendour, and joy, found every beam refraded, when shot into the political mijl.'

Once or twice she is somewhat playful and lightsome in her composition. The exiled tyrant of Syracuse is familiarly called Denys; and a comparison of somebody to Cæsar, for the purpose

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