By Joseph Thomas
WHEN I first determined on the publication of a new edition of THE DEVIL ON TWO STICKS, I had certainly no idea of engaging in a new translation. I had not read an English version since my boyhood, and naturally conceived that the one which had passed current for upwards of a century must possess sufficient merit to render anything beyond a careful revision, before passing it again through the press, unnecessary. However, on reading a few pages, and on comparing them with the much-loved original, I no longer wondered, as I had so often done, why LE DIABLE BOITEUX was so little esteemed by those who had only known him in his English dress, while Gil Blas was as great a favourite with the British public as any of its own heroes of story. To account for this, I will not dwell on the want of literal fidelity in the old version, although in some instances that is amusing enough; but the total absence of style, and that too in the translation of a work by one of the greatest masters of verbal melody that ever existed, was so striking as to induce me, rashly perhaps, to endeavour more worthily to interpret the witty and satirical ASMODEUS for the benefit of those who have not the inestimable pleasure of comprehending him in his native tongue—for, as Jules Janin observes, he is a Devil truly French.
In the translation which I here present, I do not myself pretend, at all times, to have rendered the words of the 'graceful Cupid' with strict exactness, but I have striven to convey to my reader the ideas which those words import. Whether I have succeeded in so doing is for others to determine; but, if I have not, I shall at all events have the satisfaction of failing in company,—which, I am told, however, is only an Old Bailey sort of feeling after all.
I have not thought it necessary to attempt the Life of the Author; it will be enough to me, for fame, not to have murdered one of his children. I have therefore adopted the life, character, and behaviour of Le Sage from one of the most talented of modern French writers, and my readers will doubtless congratulate themselves on my resolve. Neither have I deemed it needful to enter into the controversy as to the originality of this work, except by a note in Chapter VIII; and this I should probably not have appended, had I, while hunting over the early editions there referred to, observed the original dedication of Le Sage to 'the illustrious Don Luis Velez de Guevara,' in which are the following words: "I have already declared, and do now again declare to the world, that to your Diabolo Cojuelo I owe the title and plan of this work; and I must further own, that if the reader look narrowly into some passages of this performance, he will find I have adopted several of your thoughts. I wish from my soul he could find more, and that the necessity I was under of accommodating my writings to the genius of my own country had not prevented me from copying you exactly." This is surely enough to exonerate Le Sage from the many charges which have been urged against him; and I quote the concluding sentence of the above, because it is an excuse, from his own pen, for some little liberties which I have, in my turn, thought it necessary to take with his work in the course of my labours.