Monday, July 31, 2017


Punishment for a Sloppy Translation

Transcript of a lecture by Leo Strauss on Rousseau:
LS: Now let us read page 5, bottom, and the note. We cannot read the whole note.

Mr. Reinken: "Tender, anxious mother, I appeal to you. You can remove this young tree from the highway and shield it from the crushing force of social conventions. Tend and water it ere it dies."

LS: No, not "of social conventions" "of human opinions," he says. I admit these are almost equivalent terms for Rousseau, but the translator should not take liberties. I mean, "opinions humaines" is as easy to translate from French into English as "conventions sociales." In a good society, the translator would receive a public spanking, because there is no excuse for that; but such well-ordered societies cannot be expected, because it would require a complete change in the publishing business, and this is beyond human power, surely.
The translation is by Barbara Foxley (1911), from Rousseau's Émile, Book I:
C'est à toi que je m'adresse, tendre et prévoyante mère, qui sus t'écarter de la grande route, et garantir l'arbrisseau naissant du choc des opinions humaines! Cultive, arrose la jeune plante avant qu'elle meure.
Hat tip: Greta Goetz.

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