The Victorian Translators of Verne: Mercier to Metcalfe

Jules Verne Mondial 2005

A talk delivered at the Jules Verne Mondial, March, 2005 by Norman Wolcott, Rockville, MD, USA

Who are they, these translators of Verne? Mostly we know them only as a name in a bibliography, but they were real people. Some were famous authors, others little known journalists; some English clergymen, others ardent Catholics; some old, some young; some published only a few books, others over a hundred; some English, some American; some lived long, some died young — in short, a cross section of 19th century literary activity.

The distinction of translating the first Verne story into the English language belongs to Anne Toppan Wilbur (1817-1864) (married names Anne T. Wood, Mrs. John T. Procter), born in the town of Wendell, Massachussetts in Franklin County, 90 miles west of Boston. She also published under the pseudonyms of Mrs. Annie T. Wood, Mrs. John Procter, and Florence Leigh.

She translated works from French into English. Her Verne translations are:

I. A Voyage in a Balloon BY JULES VERNE. Translated from the French by Anne T. Wilbur, published in: Sartain's Union Magazine of Literature and Art, Philadelphia, May 1852, Vol. X, No. 5, pgs 389-395, 2 chapters.

II. The Pearl of Lima. A Story of True Love. Translated from the French of M. Jules Verne by Anne T. Wilbur, Graham's Magazine, Philadelphia, April 1853, Vol. XLII, No. 4, pgs 422-445, 9 chapters.

These early works by Jules Verne were published in French as Un voyage en ballon: 1851 and Martin Paz, nouvelle historique: 1852. They have also been translated by Elizabeth Frewer and George Towle, offering an opportunity to compare the styles of these various translators.

Ms. Wilbur translated several other books from the French, including The Romance of a Mummy (La Roman de la Momie) by Théophile Gautier, Bradburn, New York: 1863. (This story of an archaeologist in love with a 200 year old mummy is an early novel of the science-fiction genre.) She died at the young age of 47.

At this point we have a rather long hiatus until February 20, 1869 when D. Appleton (N.Y.), published an unauthorized (pirate) edition of Five Weeks in a Balloon translated by the fictitious "William Lackland", the first fully illustrated edition of a Verne novel in English. The illustrations for this volume were carefully re-engraved in America from the French originals with the original engraver's names removed. This translation has been republished in most American editions of this work.

In June, 1869, the Newark Daily News and Weekly Journal published From the Earth to the Moon translated by J. K. Hoyt, the first full length book by Verne attributable to an American author. There were two unattributed translations of this work prior to this in early 1867, but the translators of these are unknown.

The scene now shifts to England where there began a rush to get Verne novels into print. In October, 1871, Griffith & Farran in the U.K. published Journey to the Centre of the Earth by an anonymous translator which sold for the then enormous sum of £7. This was the first illustrated edition of a Verne work in England. It is also one of the most corrupt translations.

In 1871 after the Franco-Prussian war Sampson Low made an agreement with Hetzel & Co. to be the "authorized publisher" of Jules Verne in English, (later interpreted to include the U.S.) thus giving them a monopoly on all future Verne works.

For their first work Sampson Low & Co. chose Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea published in November, 1872, with the translator Rev. Lewis Page Mercier, B.A. 1841, M.A. 1855 (1820-1875). Born in 09 JAN 1820 (Christening: 07 FEB 1820 Old Church, Saint Pancras, London), Mercier came of French Huguenot stock; his grandfather was pastor of the French Protestant church in Threadneedle St. London, his father was active in educational activities. He almost certainly spoke French at home as a child, and may have been one of the few native French speakers to translate Verne. The family was located in the London borough of Hackney, home of the original silk industry of French mercers (= fr. mercier). In 1837 he entered Trinity College, Oxford, where he was the College Latin Essayist. He received a Third in Greats (Greek and Latin) and obtained a post-graduate bursary at University College, Oxford, the "Browne Exhibition", established by one Browne in 1587. Foregoing an academic but at the time necessarily celibate career, he gave up his exhibition to marry Anna Marie Hovell in 1841. He became a deacon in 1842 and a presbyter in 1845.

His first posting was to Glasgow where he was Assistant Minister of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Chapel, 2nd master of the Glasgow College School, and Chaplain to the Garrison, after which he moved on to be 2nd Master at a new school in Edgbaston near Birmingham (1846) and headmaster (1849). In 1857 he moved back to Hackney becoming headmaster at the St. John's Foundation School and Assistant Reader at the Chapel of the Foundling Hospital in nearby Brunswick Square. In 1861 we find him living at the school at age 41, head of a family of 9 children (ages 1,2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 14, 15), numerous servants and 25 pupils. Relieved of his position by the Governing Board in 1861, he then became Chaplain at the Chapel of the Foundling Hospital, one of the most important charitable institutions in England.

The Foundling Hospital was the first public charity in England, established in 1739 by a Royal Charter granted by King George II and Queen Caroline. The buildings were erected on 53 acres purchased by Thomas Coram the ship captain who sponsored its establishment. Early benefactors were the painter Hogarth and George Friedrich Handel who played at the opening and conducted the Messiah every year thereafter. Well known artists contributed paintings, and the Foundling Hospital became the first picture gallery in the country. Church services at the chapel with famous preachers, famous musicians, a professional choir and organist attracted large crowds of the most well connected people in London throughout the century. The buildings were torn down in 1921 to make way for a fish market.

In 1866 Lewis Mercier suddenly found it necessary to borrow £250 from Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh (Warwickshire), the wealthiest landowner in England, at the rate of 15% per annum. (Lord Leigh had appointed him "Provincial Grand Chaplain to the Freemasons, Warwickshire in 1852.) By 1870, in ill health and unable to repay his debt when it came due, he was forced in extremis to seek extra funds by translating for Sampson Low.

Mercier offered one great advantage to Sampson Low: speed. A native French speaker, an excellent linguist, fluent in several languages, with the aid of his assistant Eleanor E. King (1838 — ??) he was able to translate four novels in little over a year in his spare time, enabling Sampson Low to come out with a new Verne book for the Christmas trade in 1872 and 1873. To avoid a conflict of interest with his position as Chaplain, Mercier wrote under the pen names of "Mercier Lewis, M.A., Oxon." And "Louis Mercier". Mercier has been pilloried in America for decades for the 20% deletions in the text of his translations, but in view of his desperate financial situation it is more than likely that the deletions were either performed or dictated by his editors at Sampson Low. We shall never know for sure as the offices of Sampson Low in Fleet Street were completely destroyed by the bombing of London in December, 1940. There is also internal evidence to indicate that editors made changes to Mercier's translation even in press; an even more drastically cut version of 20,000 Leagues (175 pp.) was published by Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd. in the early 1900's.

The following are the Verne books translated by Lewis Mercier:

I. Twenty thousand Leagues under the Sea, Sampson Low et al.: Nov., 1872

II. From the Earth to the Moon and a Trip Around It, Sampson Low et al.: Oct., 1873

III. Around the World in Eighty Days. Falsely attributed to Lewis Mercier. The only reason for this attribution is the 1962 edition in England by Collier and in the U.S. by Doubleday of a "Junior Deluxe Edition" attributing the translation to "Mercier Lewis". The book is in fact a simply a bowdlerized version of Towle's 1873 translation.

Mercier also translated The Wreck of the Hansa, (The German Arctic expedition of 1869-70), Sampson Low et al.: 1874, as well as publishing several religious works and instructional works for teachers of Greek and Latin. His position at the Foundling Hospital was terminated in 1873, and he died on Tuesday November 2nd, 1875, the date his annual payment to Lord Leigh was due.

While Mercier was translating Twenty Thousand Leagues, Sampson Low proceeded with the translation of their next Verne novel, Meridiana, The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in South Africa, engaging for this the services of Ellen Elizabeth Frewer (1848 — 1901+). Miss Frewer was the daughter of George Frewer and Elizabeth Lydia Frewer. George Frewer attended St. John’s College, Cambridge with a B.A. 1844 in mathematics and M.A. 1847. He was a Church of England clergyman, a 2nd Mathematics Master at Eton College (1844-1873) and then Rector of Hitcham, Maidenhead at a salary of £490. Born in 1848 in Slough, Miss Frewer was christened 27 Feb 1848 in Upton Cum Chalvey, Buckingham, England. In 1871 she was living with her family at 91 Common Lane, Eton College. She was educated at Queen's College, London, where she passed with honors the Cambridge local examinations. Schooled in both French and German, she was only 23 when she started translating for Sampson Low. She also showed spirit in translating under her own name, treading on that Victorian code of respectability which required that young ladies of good breeding should not be involved in "business". Unfortunately Meridiana was published the same month as Twenty Thousand Leagues and so attracted little attention. Ms. Frewer however continued translating Verne novels for the next ten years; coming from a family of means she may have been able to exert control over her published works which comprise uncut translations of the original Verne. She continued to live with her family until after 1901 and does not appear to have married. Her Verne translations are:

I. Meridiana; The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in South Africa, Sampson Low et al.: 1872

II. The Survivors of the Chancellor; and Martin Paz, Sampson Low et al.: 1875

III. Hector Servadac, Sampson Low et al.: 1877

IV. Dick Sands; the Boy Captain, Sampson Low et al.: 1878

V. The Tribulations of a Chinaman in China, Sampson Low et al.: 1880

Ms. Frewer also translated several books of exotic travel and adventure for Sampson Low up until 1882 and a life of Victor Hugo.

For their next book, The Fur Country, Sampson Low turned to Nancy Regina Emily Meugens, (1844-1933). Nancy Meugens was born 2 Sep 1844 in Lambeth, Surrey. She wrote under the nom de plume of "N. D’Anvers" until her marriage in 1882, after which she used the name of "Mrs. Arthur Bell". Her father, Pierre Meugens, was born (1808) in Belgium; hence her pseudonym "N. D'Anvers = Nancy from Antwerp". Les pays de fourrures was published in France 19 June 1973; Meugens completed the translation in October, 1973, and Sampson Low published it with 100 illustrations in November, one month after the French illustrated edition. The long wait for English Verne novels was over. Her Verne translations are:

I. The Fur Country, Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle:1873, (her first published work at age 28), reprinted by James Osgood, Boston: 1873.

II. The Great Navigators of the XIX'th Century, Sampson Low, Marston, Low, Searle and Rivington: 1880.

III. The Blockade Runners, Sampson Low, et al.: 1874; ascribed in some editions to "N. D’Anvers".

IV. Around the World in Eighty Days, Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle: 1873; listed there (erroneously, N.W.) to George Towle and "N. D’Anvers". This last book is almost certainly the sole work of George Towle; Meugens may have performed some editorial work. A critical examination of the American and English editions is required.

In 1882 Ms. Meugens married the London landscape painter Arthur George Bell (1849-1916), who illustrated several of her books. These lithographs are the sole remnant of his artistic work. An ardent catholic, she continued to publish numerous religious, travel, and art history books until 1920. She corresponded with James McNeil Whistler, the painter, and Charles Freer, the American collector who acquired Whistler's famous "Peacock Room" for the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C. She also wrote a biography of Whistler. She died at her home in Rastgarth, Southbourne-on-Sea, Hampshire on 30 Aug 1933. At that time she was one of the two surviving translators of Verne who had worked for Sampson Low.

In early 1873 the American publisher James Osgood of Boston, Mass., collaborated with George Makepeace Towle (1841-1893) for the publication of a translation of Around the World in Eighty Days, which had just been published in France. George Towle (27 Aug 1841 — 9 Aug 1893) was born in Washington, D. C., the only son of Nathaniel Carter and Eunice (Makepeace) Towle. He was graduated in arts from Yale in 1861, and in law at Harvard Law School in 1863. He practiced law in Boston till 1865, when he became associate editor of the Boston Post, and in 1866 he published the first of his many books, a popular work called Glimpses of History. In 1866 he was appointed United States Consul at Nantes, France. After serving there for two years he was transferred to the consulate in Bradford, England. While in Europe he acquired a command of French that he utilized as a translator of Jules Verne and other popular writers in that language, and gained a knowledge of European politics of which he made literary use. One of his many prominent friends was Charles Dickens, to whose periodical, All The Year Round, he contributed many articles on American affairs. In 1870 he published a book, American Society (2 vols.), in London.

In Boston he commenced the translating of Verne, ushering in a period in which the English translations appeared almost as soon as the French editions were published. The French edition of Le tour du Monde en quatre-vingt jours was published 30 Jan 1873 and by 7 July 1873 Osgood had already had published Towle's translation. Osgood evidently had made an arrangement with Sampson Low, as Low used Towle's translation of Eighty Days and Osgood used Low's Fur Country. The year 1873 marked a high point for the appearance of Verne in English, with no fewer than four new novels appearing in time for the Christmas season.

Towle continued to translate the Verne novels for James Osgood, until the bankruptcy of the firm in 1876. The translations are of a uniformly high quality, though he does use rather florid Victorian language (such as "Teutons" for "Germans"). His Verne translations are:

I. Around the World in Eighty Days, James Osgood, Boston: 1873, reprinted by Sampson Low.

II. Dr. Ox and Other Stories, James Osgood: 1874, reprinted by Sampson Low, 1874.

III. The Wreck of the Chancellor; Martin Paz, James Osgood: 1874.

After returning to America Towle continued actively in the literary life of Boston publishing over 50 books and articles and giving public lectures on topics of the day. On 16 Sep 1866, he was married in Paris to Nellie Lane of Boston, who survived him. He died in Brookline after a long illness culminating in paralysis of the brain, and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery. He had no children. [American National Biography, Cyclopedia of American Biography]

In the mid 1870's the publishers Ward, Lock, and Tyler and George Routledge and Sons commissioned new translations of some of Verne's books which were a great improvement on the early mis-translations of Griffiith & Farran and Sampson Low. The first of these was Frederick Amadeus Malleson (1819-1897).

Frederick Amadeus Malleson was born in 1819. He was graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, B.A. 1853 and M.A. 1860. He was ordained a deacon in 1853. In 1870 he acquired the living at the church of Broughton-in-Furness, Lancashire, (net income of £130) a small town in the Lake District near Ulverston, remaining in this peaceful corner until his death in 1897. In 1871 the population was 1255. A local history in 1882 said "The principal trade of the place now consists in the making of hoops and baskets (locally called swills), brushstocks and rake and fork shafts, the material being supplied from the coppice wood which abounds in the Furness fells. . . Broughton Church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, is of ancient foundation. . . A tablet in the Church records that the living was endowed in 1766 with lands purchased with £400, The living is a perpetual curacy, in the patronage of James Sawrey Cookson, Esq., J.P., and in the incumbency of the Rev. F. A. Malleson, M.A." In 1881 he was living at the Vicarage with his wife Lucy, 3 nieces, and a sister-in-law.

Malleson’s first literary efforts were translations from the French, the first in 1875 being Brigadier Frederic: a story of an Alsacian Exile. [Translated by F. A. Malleson.] by Émile Erckmann and Pierre Alexandre Chatrian. Apparently intrigued by these two authors he also translated their The Man-Wolf and Other Tales. [1876]. The same year Five Weeks in a Balloon appeared, and the next year A Journey into the Interior of the Earth, both published by Ward, Lock, and Tyler. As with other clergymen, Malleson avoided his own name in publishing these non-religious books, signing only with "F.A.M."

He published and edited several religious works and a travel book on Wordsworth's Switzerland. He was a friend and correspondent of John Ruskin; their correspondence has been published in two volumes. His Verne translations are:

I. Five Weeks in a Balloon, Ward, Lock, and Tyler: 1875

II. A Journey into the Interior of the Earth, Ward, Lock, and Tyler: 1876

His translations are careful and accurate; he indicated such was his desire in the preface to Interior of the Earth. Changes for religious reasons are only a few lines where Verne discusses the "creation".

Henry Frith (1840 - 1910) was born in Dublin, Ireland, educated at Cheltenham College, and entered Trinity College, Dublin, with the aim of studying for the profession of civil engineer.

His civil service appointment came however from the War Office. He remained there until 1875 when he retired on a pension and subsequently devoted himself to literature. One of his first literary efforts was the translation of Vingt mille lieues sur les mers (1876). With his scientific background he understood much of what Verne had written, and this translation has remained one of the best of the time with only minor deletions from the original text. He revised Kingston's translation of Swiss Family Robinson and published his own later with 200 woodcut and coloured engravings (1878). He published works on graphology and palmistry, his Chiromancy; or, The Science of Palmistry ran to 17 editions. His published translations, novels, and instructional titles on electricity and steam engines amount to nearly 200. In 1881 he was living in Battersea Rise, Hatfield House, Battersea, Surrey with his wife Mary, two daughters, two sons and three servants. He described his occupation as "Author Editor Publisher's Reader". His Verne translations are:

I. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Geo. Routledge and Sons: 1876

II. The Floating City and the Blockade Runners, Geo. Routledge and Sons: 1876

III. Round the World in Eighty Days, George Routledge and Sons: 1878

IV. The Fur Country, George Routledge and Sons: 1879

Of T. H. Linklater we know nothing at all, except that he translated the Moon Novels for Routledge. His translation is complete, with the science correctly translated. His translation is:

I. From the Earth to the Moon Direct and Round the Moon, George Routledge and Sons: 1877

With the appearance of the three parts of L'Ile Mysterieuse, Sampson Low turned from relatively unknown translators to the well known William Henry Giles Kingston (1814-1880). Kingston was a famous juvenile author, having published over a hundred adventure books for boys since the 1840's. His writings occupy nine pages and a half of the British Museum Catalogue. They were very popular; his tales were quite innocuous, but most of them proved ephemeral; and today he is only remembered for his translations of Mysterious Island and Michael Strogoff.

He was born in London on the 28th of February 1814. Much of his youth was spent at Oporto, Portugal, where his father was a merchant, but when he entered the business, he made his headquarters in London. He early wrote newspaper articles on Portuguese subjects. These were translated into Portuguese, and the author received a Portuguese order of knighthood and a pension for his services in the conclusion of the commercial treaty of 1842. In 1844 he started writing adventure novels. These books proved so popular that Kingston retired from business, and devoted himself to the production of tales of adventure for boys. Within thirty years he wrote upwards of one hundred and thirty such books. He had a practical knowledge of seamanship, and his stories of the sea, full of thrilling adventures and hairbreadth escapes, exactly hit the taste of his boy readers.

His translations have a certain flair and make for good reading, but they often are not too literal and dates and times may get confused. He is condemned today for deleting the entire portion of Mysterious Island Volume III dealing with the death of Captain Nemo because it revealed Nemo as a freedom fighter against the British occupation of India. He also changed the hero's name from "Smith" to "Harding". "Smith" was a name used by gypsies and not a suitable name for a Victorian hero.

He took an interest in philanthropic activities ; he was a zealous volunteer and worked actively for the improvement of the condition of seamen and acted as secretary of a society for promoting an improved system of emigration. He died at Willesden on the 5th of August 1880. [Dictionary of National Biography] His Verne translations are:

I. The Mysterious Island, Sampson Low et. al., 3 volumes: 1875, reprinted by Scribner, Armstrong, & Co., New York, 1 volume: 1876

II. Michael Strogoff, Sampson Low et al.: 1876, reprinted by Scribner, Armstrong, & Co., "revised by Julius Chambers": 1877

III. The Child of the Cavern; or Strange Doings Underground, Sampson Low et al.: 1877

IV. The Begum's Fortune; with an account of the Mutineers of the Bounty, Sampson Low et al.: 1879, reprinted by J. B. Lippincott: 1879

With the death of Kingston in 1880, Sampson Low turned to a number of lesser known translators such as William John Gordon. Gordon was a prolific juvenile author, writing over 200 books on all sorts of subjects: butterflies, railways, birds, grasses, dictionaries etc. His literary career started with his Verne translations. Probably his most popular book is Flags of the World, Frederic Warne & Co.: 1915 which has been reprinted many times. His Verne translations are:

I. The Giant Raft, Sampson Low et al.: 1881-82.

II. Godfrey Morgan: A California Mystery, Sampson Low et al.: 1883.

III. The Floating Island, or the Pearl of the Pacific, Sampson Low et al.: 1896

Agnes Dundas Kingston (1856 — 1886) Agnes Dundas Kingston was born in Blackheath, Kent. In 1881 she was living with her mother, Agnes Kingston in a household of 12 persons including three sons and two other daughters in Willesden, Middlesex. Her only published work appears to be her translation of La maison à vapeur at age 24. She died young at age 30. Her Verne translation is

I. The Demon of Cawnpore, pt 1 of The Steam House, Sampson Low et al.: 1880.

II. Tigers and Traitors, pt 2 of The Steam House, Sampson Low et al.: 1881

Mary de Hauteville published several translations from the French in both England and New York from 1876 to 1879. Her last published work is the translation of Le rayon vert :

I. The Green Ray, Sampson Low et al.: 1883.

As the interest in Verne declined in the 1880's, Sampson Low turned to a number of anonymous translators, and even omitted publishing several books entirely, finally returning to a well known author with Frances Sarah Johnston (1830-1908) who published under her married name of "Mrs. Cashel Hoey". She was born 14 Feb 1830 in Bushy Park, Dublin and was one of the eight children of Charles Bolton Johnston, secretary and registrar of the Mount Jerome cemetery. At age 16 she married Adam Murray Stewart who died in 1855; there were two daughters of the marriage. In 1853 she began to contribute reviews and articles on art to Dublin papers and periodicals. Thenceforth until her death she was continuously occupied in journalism, novel-writing or translation. She came to London with an introduction to Thackeray and in 1858 converted to Catholicism and married John Cashel Hoey (1828-1893), C.M.G., a Knight of Malta and a well-known Dublin journalist and later a prominent lawyer.

Mrs. Hoey wrote in all 16 novels. She also translated twenty-seven works from the French and Italian. They include memoirs, travels, and novels. She was granted a civil list pension of £50 in 1892 and died on 8 July 1908 at Beccles, Suffolk; she was buried in the churchyard of the Benedictine church at Little Malvern, Worcestershire. [Dictionary of National Biography]. Her translations of Verne are:

I. For the Flag, Sampson Low et al.: 1897

II. An Antarctic Mystery, Sampson Low et al.: 1898

The last person to translate Verne for Sampson Low was Hope Cranstoun Metcalfe (1866 - 195?) He was born in the Straits Settlements, Penang, Malaya, 22 Feb 1866, son of Julia R. Metcalfe. Julia Metcalfe, a widow, was living with her two sons and a daughter in Chelsea, London in 1861 receiving a pension from the India Office. Metcalfe attended the Honiton Grammar School in Honiton, Devon, and later entered Cambridge University where he matriculated Michelmas term in Corpus Christi college, 1884, however he never received a degree. In 1894 he married Edith Kirkpatrick. He had two children, Frances Hope Metcalfe b. 1895 and Sylvia Metcalfe. In 1901 he was living in London at the Author’s Club, and listed his occupation as "Private Secretary and Author". His serious publishing career started in 1902 with the publication of a novel, Splendid Mourning". His first translation was The Daughters of Louis XV : (mesdames de France) tr. from the French of Casimir Stryienski, in 1912. His most famous work is Peeresses of the Stage ... With twenty-four portraits, 1913, "About actresses, who have married peers of the realm, or sons of peers of the realm." In 1915 he translated the first French pulp fiction work, Fantômas by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain — "Fantômas is the Lord of Terror, the Genius of Evil, the arch-criminal anti-hero of a series of 32 pre-WWI French thrillers." Metcalfe's Verne translations are:

I. Master of the World, Sampson Low et al.: 1914

II. Their Island Home, Sampson Low et al.: 1923

III. Castaways of the Flag, Sampson Low et al.: 1923

IV. Lighthouse at the End of the World, Sampson Low et al.: 1923

His last published work was in 1927, but he lived on until after 1953, as in that year he renewed the copyright at the Library of Congress (U.S.) to Lighthouse at the End of the World which had been allowed to lapse by G. Howard Watt.

And so sometime in the 1950's or 1960's the last living Sampson Low translator and contemporary of Jules Verne departed this earth.