Edward Carpenter's Autobiography
The Edward Carpenter Archive
by Simon Dawson

Chapter 15 - TRANSLATIONS AND TRANSLATORS | Comment and Feedback

Forward to Chapter 16 - Rural Conditions

AMONG the many good things in my life which I owe to my books by no means the least has been my introduction through them to dear and valued foreign friends.

One day in March 1901 there called upon me a young Hungarian - Ervin Batthyany by name – a modest, sturdy and almost rustic-looking youth of about twenty-three. He proved to be a member of the well-known Batthyany family, whose influence in Hungarian politics, on the Liberal as well as on the Conservative side, has always been considerable; but he was by no means conservative in his outlook or ultra-aristocratic in his leanings.

It happened at the moment of his appearance that I was doing some gardening and trundling about a wheelbarrow. "Oh," he said at once, "do let me wheel that barrow for you; I do like so much to do that sort of work" but I have no chance at home - I am so civilized you know." For a moment I thought he was chaffing; then the next moment I saw he was quite sincere. I believe I let him trundle the barrow for a bit; then we sat down and talked.

It turned out that he was expecting in the following year to come into large landed estates in Hungary; that he had studied and thought about Socialism to some extent; and that among other things he wanted to consult me about the administration of his property when he should have the management of it. It appeared that with the almost feudal system still prevailing in that part, the cottagers and labourers working on such estates were practically attached to the soil and frequently transferred with it from owner to owner; that they were employed by the farm-bailiffs in gangs for the benefit of the estate; that they received next to no monetary wages, but were paid in pork or flour or the poor tenements they inhabited - that is, they were paid by a small share of the wealth they had themselves created; that they had no means of earning anything independently; and that they had little or no education - the schools being all under the thumb of the Catholic priests.

We talked over possible reforms - of a mild kind of course, as anything drastic would be out of the question; and when he went away he said with the same charming simplicity as before “The next time I see you I hope I shall not be so civilized." The next time proved to be some three years later.

He returned to Buda-Pesth shortly after his visit to Millthorpe; and took as it happened a copy of Towards Democracy with him, which he gave to a lady friend there - a certain Madame Nadler - knowing that she was interested and indeed accomplished in English literature. Madame Nadler took warmly to the book, and before long it came about that she and the young Count, who was a frequent visitor at her house, spent a large part of their time together in reading and discussing it - with the not unnatural result that they became warmly interested in each other.

Meanwhile he, the young man, plunged into the administration of his newly acquired estate, and in the course of two or three years made useful changes. He founded an undenominational school, with a workshop for instructing the peasants in various crafts, and a reading-room provided with more or less socialistic literature - an innocent enough proceeding as we should think, but it turned the whole Clerical party against him, and terrified the aristocratic landowners of the neighborhood out of their wits, as with the shadow of a coming revolution! All this, together with his journalistic work in connection with various anti-militarist and Anarchist papers brought him into conflict with his family and the authorities, with the result that a sequestration of his property took place, and for a couple of years he was subject to a good deal of annoyance. During that period, curiously enough, little Millthorpe became the chief means of communication between the two friends - for I was in touch with them both, while their local and more direct letters were liable to be intercepted. They were thus able to concert plans to frustrate the enemy, which they did with such success that at the end of the period mentioned Ervin resumed work on his estates - though not without some risk, as may be imagined, of renewed attacks.

After these events Towards Democracy became more than ever a link between the two friends. They determined to translate the book - not into Hungarian but into German (as being a more widely received language), and they set to work upon it in real earnest. Mme. Nadler's competence for this labour was quite exceptional. With a great enthusiasm for the book and a quick appreciation of its meanings, she combined a very fine literary sense and aptness of phrase; while Ervin with his rather encyclopaedic brain was able to interpret all sorts of references to trades and Nature-processes. In 1906 the translation of Part I was published in Berlin; and Parts II, III and IV followed in separate editions in the three following years, 1907, 1908, and 1909.


But meanwhile (early I think in 1904) Mme. Nadler having decided to give her children the advantage of an English education, and at the same time to save them from the hatefulness of enforced military service, migrated to this country; and so it came to pass that I made the personal acquaintance of this remarkable and beautiful woman – an acquaintance which, I need not say, soon ripened into friendship. Ervin, too, finding his native land not very congenial came over to England; and thus it happened that after the lapse of three years he and I resumed the conversations which we had first begun over the wheelbarrow. I did not notice that he was notably less 'civilized' than before, but his experiences had very obviously altered his political and social outlook, and his general views were decidedly more anti-governmental than they had been at the earlier date.

These translations by Madame Nadler were, however, by no means the first to be made into German. In 1901 or so Herr Karl Federn had come over from Vienna and spent a day or two at Millthorpe. In 1902 he placed his translation of Love's Coming-of-Age with a Leipzig publisher, and the book almost immediately had a good reception. It passed through several editions, and when a few years later, in 1912, the first German Women's Congress was held in Berlin the book curiously enough became a sort of bone of contention, dividing the advanced party who took it as their text-book, from the more conservative party who anathematized it. In proportion as controversy raged around it the work became more notorious, a cheap edition was printed, and before the Great War broke out some fifty thousand copies had been sold.

Herr Federn was not very fortunate in his choice of a title. Wenn die Menschen reif zur Liebe werden is only a rather heavy paraphrase of Love's Coming-of-Age, and the text of the book itself suffers from: a certain heaviness and diffuseness. Still to Herr Federn himself I feel I owe a considerable debt, not only for introducing my work to the German public, but for the general fidelity of his translations and the loyalty of his dealings on my account with the German publishers. In 1903 he published also in Leipzig: his translation of Civilization: its Cause and Cure; and in 1905, in Jena, the translation of The Art of Creation (Die Schopfung als Kunstwerk!). This last was issued in rather elaborate format by the well-known firm, Eugen Diederichs, but has never reached the circulation of the other two.

In the Spring of 1909 I was at Florence for some weeks; and there - largely through my friend Professor Herron - I came into touch with an interesting circle of young Italian literati and artists; especially interesting to me because they represented a strong reaction away from the very bourgeois and commercialized Italian art-ideals of the later nineteenth century, and towards the ideals of John Ruskin and William Morris - ideals founded on the socialization of human activities and the intimate relationship of all true literary and artistic work to the actual life of the mass-peoples.

The group included such men as Riccardo Nobili, probably the best living exponent of Fourteenth Century Italian art, whose charming little story A Modern Antique delightfully exposes the fakes of Florentine art-dealers and the gorgeous gullibility of American globe-trotters; Roberto Assagioli, the young philosopher, editor of Psiche - a psychological Review - and author of an illuminating tract on the Talking Horses of Elberfeldt [Footnote 1]; Guido Ferrando, author of a couple of tracts on La Coscienza Universale and La Nuova Psicologia (Florence 1908) - who has done me the honour to translate my Love's Coming-of-Age and my Art of Creation into Italian; Count Auteri, the Sicilian architect and sculptor; Giuseppe Rambelli, the artist, and others.

More or Less associated with this group - and on a second visit - I made the acquaintance of Teresina Bagnoli, a gifted young woman who had already been in correspondence with me with regard to a translation of T. D. (of which she sent me batches from time to time for criticism and revision). I found her swift and penetrating and original, and verging on Anarchism in her political and philosophic outlook; and I have to thank her for her excellent little volume Verso la Democrazia [Footnote 2] which has brought me into touch with Italian leaders in that intimate field.

It is curious, but perhaps not unexpected, that my best translators have been women. To a third lady friend, Mademoiselle Senard, I owe a very excellent version of Towards Democracy into French (Parts III and IV only). After some little preliminary correspondence Mlle. Senard came over from Paris in the summer of 1913 and spent a couple of months in the country in my neighborhood. Sprung from an old-fashioned and rather aristocratic family in Burgundy she had managed at a comparatively early age to emancipate herself from a convent school and education, and by her resolution had almost compelled her parents to find for her a way out into the great world. She had become a perfect linguist in English, German and Italian; and I found her a fine-looking and attractive person of thirty-five or so, always, like a true Frenchwoman, perfectly dressed and chic, yet simply dressed and absolutely natural in her conversation and movements. It was a pleasure to spend many a morning or afternoon with her, looking over her translation work or rambling through the garden and the fields.


However well one may know a foreign language it is rarely possible to follow every nuance of meaning or to succeed entirely in avoiding errors; and a foreigner dealing with English has perhaps all the more difficulty in that way on account of the idiomatic and irregular character of our language. I have not always cared so much about the other books, but with Towards Democracy I have been very anxious that the renderings should be faithful; and it has been fortunate for me that in these three cases I have had such very competent translators, and been sufficiently versed myself in the languages concerned to be able to assist them in doubtful places.

Marcelle Senard wrote also a little brochure of her own on Edward Carpenter et sa Phitosophie, [Footnote 3] which shows the clearness and penetration of a well-balanced French mind. Then, on the outbreak of the War in 1914 she took up Nursing, work and with extraordinary energy and devotion organized and helped to equip a new Hospital for the Wounded at Nevers, south of Paris, where she remained for a year as Manageress and Secretary, till exhausted with the incessant labour she was at last compelled to relinquish the post.

In connection with French translations I must not forget to mention my friend Paul Le Rouge who is now assistant judge in French Morocco, and who translated and published my Prisons, Police and Punishment in Paris some ten years ago. I am sorry to say I have not found an English judge or police-magistrate who has taken an equal interest in the original book!

Early in 1910 I received one or two letters from a young Japanese illustrating the sad state of commercial slavery and militarism into which Japan had fallen since the Russo-Japanese War. Women and children as well as men were being worked twelve hours or more a day in the factories which were springing up on all sides, and for a miserable pittance; there were no regulations to curb the greed of employers; and any public protest was treated as anti-governmental Socialism, with the result that papers were suppressed in the most arbitrary way, and speakers committed to prison. A Japanese lady, Mme. Fukuda, had been imprisond for five years for thus voicing the wrongs of the workers; and my correspondent, Sanshiro. Ishikawa, was awaiting trial on a similar charge. He had, being a fair English scholar, been interested in my work for some time; and told me (what I had heard before) that a translation of my Civilization book had circulated pretty widely in his country at a quite early date. That translation, however, had gone out of print, and he, Ishikawa, was preparing a new one for the press, when the Japanese Censor interfered and forbade its publication!

This shows up pretty clearly the state of darkness which had descended on the land of the Rising Sun! It was not of course on account of his interest in my book that he had been arrested, but on account of his general work in the cause of Labour.

The result of his trial was that he was sent to prison for three months, and that on his emergence he had to keep rather quiet on account of the attentions of the Police. He retained however his interest in my writings, made translations of portions of them, and embodied these together with some biographical matter in a book of some three hundred pages beautifully printed in Japanese characters and published in Tokyo in 1912; but of course for the most part a sealed book to me. Some small portions, however, are printed in our language and characters, including a letter from myself written to him while he was in prison - which I may as well reproduce here as it serves to throw light on the situation:-


Just a line to cheer you in prison - though you will be nearly coming out when this reaches you. I received your letter of March 27 with much pleasure. You were to go to prison next day. They seem to be very severe and despotic in Japan, when one cannot even publish Civilization: its Cause and Cure there. But your countrymen are too sensible to bear this sort of treatment for very long. I suppose it is patriotism which is so very strong in the nation just now, and which forms an excuse for anti-socialism. King Edward VII's death is causing a great wave of patriotism here; yet the future of mankind is leading us beyond patriotism to humanity.

I cannot write much now, but thought I would send you a few lines. I believe I did send you my photograph. If it did not reach you let me know, and I will send another.

With hearty greetings and thanks to you for what you have done in the great Cause.

Yours very truly,
21 May, 1910.

After a time - I hardly know whether on account of troubles in Japan or of attractions towards Europe - Sanshiro determined to come to these Western lands; and one day in the autumn of 1913, as I happened to be in London, he came to call on me there. Anything less dangerous-looking as a revolutionary it would be hard to imagine. Small in stature, timid in manner, and with a very gentle voice, he seemed the embodiment of quietude and sympathy. It was not difficult however in his case, as in that of many Japanese, to discern, beneath that composed exterior, a strong undercurrent of' resolution and courage.

He read English with ease, but spoke it rather slowly and with difficulty, was intelligent, and like many Orientals skilful with his fingers and apt at housework. We tried to find him employment and a means of living in our neighborhood or in Sheffield or Manchester, but without success, and after similar efforts in London he migrated to Brussels where he knew of a friend in Paul Reclus, the brother of Elie and Elisee Reclus, and where he obtained occupation in decorative painting. This was early in 1914. In August, of course, the War broke out, and a few weeks later the Germans entered Brussels. The Recus family - before their entry I imagine - retired to Paris; but Sanshiro remained in Brussels - I believe as caretaker of their apartments. It was a somewhat risky position. The Germans drew a cordon round the city, and ruled severely within it. Once or twice only he got messages through to me. But as the weeks went by he began to feel that he must escape at all costs; and in the end he succeeded in doing, so - by representations I believe to the Japanese Government, which led to his liberty being granted in exchange for a German prisoner taken at Kiao-chow; but of this I am not certain. I have not seen him since, but anyhow he got to Liancourt (near Paris) where he now is [1915].

Another Japanese friend, Mr. Saikwa Tomita, the youthful author of The Matanjitensho or Psalm of the Last Day, has translated and published large portions of Towards Democracy in current Japanese magazines, and intends apparently to bring the whole out in book form - as well as versions of The Art of Creation and some of my other works. Speaking (in a letter) of the present War, he says: "Japan is at her crisis as well as Europe is. Here in this country, as you well know, he who is for the lower classes and vagabonds, or who is for [the] cosmopolitanism, is treated by the authorities under the name of ill-fame and has to suffer from a bitter experience." And Sanshiro Ishikawa above-mentioned speaks likewise: "Is not this a terrible epoch, that the violent force only holds the supreme power in this world, and humanity has no influence, at least in [the] international affairs. The present situation of Japan is in most dangerous step [stage]; many peoples are becoming admirers of militarism. Commercialism is already too powerful; and I feel a duty that I must fight with full-hearted spirit against them."

Let us pray that these true-hearted fighters for Internationalism may prevail - all over the world, and among all nations!

I am proud to find that among the Bulgarians - who are supposed just now to be our enemies – I have many friends. Messrs. Vaptzaroff and Dosseff, editors of the magazine called Renaissans at Burgas and Tchirpan, published in it shortly before the War various chapters of Civilization, including "The Defence of Criminals," "Custom," "Modern Science," etc., and later the whole of that book, and of England's Ideal. With the outbreak of the war however they retired to Maikop in the Kuban territory (east of the Black Sea), being in touch there with another friend of mine, the Russian novelist and mystic, Ivan Najivin. M. Najivin, who makes home apparently in the country near Novorossisk on the shores of the Euxine - working there among his bees, and in his vineyard and vegetable garden - has written to me for some years, chiefly about Cosmic Consciousness and Sandals! He is, as may be imagined, particularly interested in the Indian Sannyasis and mystics, and was lately much surprised to find that some of the Russian peasant sects (notably the Stranniks) among whom he had lived so long were all the time unbeknown to him holding views and favouring practices very similar to those of the Hindu mystics. "Bientot je vous ecrirai des choses extraordinaires a propos du gnanam et samadhi, etc. Tout cela existe parmi le bas people et les moines Russes!" (letter of May 1913). He translated my Visit to a Gnani into Russian under the title I Am, also large portions of Towards Democracy and the whole of Civilization. Besides Najivin I am indebted to M. Sergius Orlovski and M. G. Rapoport and others for introductions to the Russian public.

To my young friend. Illit Grondahl of Kloften, Norway, I owe the circulation of my works in Norway, especially in Bergen. In Amsterdam a translation of Civilization (De Beschaving: hare oorzaak en hare Genesing) was issued as long ago as 1899 - with Preface by Leo Tolstoy (the same preface which Tolstoy wrote to the chapter on Modern Science [Footnote 4]); and in the same city a translation of Love's Coming-of-Age (Liejde's Meelder-jarigheid) was issued in 1904.


  1. Entitled I Cavalli pensanti di Elberfeldt (Florence, 1912). {Return to main text}
  2. Part I only. published by Lanciani, 1912. {Return to main text}
  3. Published by the Libr. de l'Art independant, 81 rue Dareau, Paris. {Return to main text}
  4. But not of course to Civilization itself. M. Najivin, writing to me, says: "A propos de la 'Civilization' Tolstoy n'a pas ecrit un preface - seulement il a beaucoup loue ce livre dans deux lettres a moi, et j'ai fait des extraits de ces lettres et je les ai publies maintes fois. . . . L'exemplaire de la 'Civilization' avec des notes de Tolstoy est envoye au Musee de Tolstoy a St. Petersbourg." {Return to main text}

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