English Printing in Revolutionary Paris

Given all the Brexit talk of late, we thought it might be nice to balance things out with a list of books on Britain’s relationship with Europe.  And what better book to feature than one printed in Europe by an Englishman?

In this latest list we offer a first edition of Helen Maria Williams’ English translation of Saint-Pierre’s Paul et Virginie, which, out of the two contemporary English translations, ultimately became the more popular and highly-regarded.  Its origin, however, has traditionally caused bibliographers some trouble. Though its typography and use of catchwords hint at a solidly English origin, it could equally be French, given the paper stock and binding.  Is it English, French, or a mixture of the two?

John Bidwell at the Morgan Library offers an explanation:  ‘Given the French origins of the paper, type, plates and binding, and the quality of the typesetting, this edition was printed in Paris, almost certainly at the English Press of the expatriate radical John Hurford Stone, who was living with Helen Maria Williams at this time’ (see Madeleine B. Stern, ‘The English Press in Paris and its successors’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 74 (1980), 307–389).  The type is indeed of ultimate English origin, being cast from Baskerville’s punches by the Dépôt des caractères de Baskerville in Paris, established by Beaumarchais in 1791 and closed c.1795–6.  Beaumarchais (who considered Baskerville a genius) purchased the bulk of the Birmingham printer’s punches from his widow after his death (John Dreyfus, ‘The Baskerville punches 1750–1950’, The Library, 5th series 5 (1951), 26–48; also cited by Bidwell).

Stone (1763–1818) was an English radical and printer living in Paris who rubbed shoulders with other like-minded expats such as Helen Maria Williams, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and Thomas Paine.  Williams quickly formed an association with Stone, who divorced his wife in 1794 and was possibly secretly married to her that year.  Paul and Virginia was translated at the height of the Terror, when Williams was imprisoned in the Couvent des Anglaises on account of the war between England and France.  Stone’s English Press remained active throughout these years in the Rue de Vaugirard, successfully printing works by authors such as Paine and Joel Barlow.

For more on this book, check out item 20 in our latest list, Britain and Europe.

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