Tucker on “fake” translations

Here’s a bit of fun from the 1891 volume of The Bookseller and Newsman, where Benjamin R. Tucker got very actively involved in the debate about translations of Emile Zola’s “Money.” It’s classic Tucker.
The American Edition of “Money.”
The editorial notice of The Nile Publishing Company’s edition of “Money,” by Emile Zola, in the March Newsman, was the cause of much comment in trade circles. The following correspondence from the publishers of this book will interest The Newsman readers and throw much light on the matter of translating and publishing foreign works:
The Nile Publishing Company.
Chicago, March 26, 1891.
Editor The Newsman —We are in receipt of your last issue of the Newsman, and note what you say regarding our edition of “Money.” In reply we only say we seriously regret that you should accept such a statement as true from a competing publisher and publish it before at least allowing us to make a true statement concerning our translation.
It is true that we placed “Money” on the market on the 11th of March, but we were not enabled to complete it on that date by “drawing from the scant imagination fund of our translator.” We were enabled to do so by the expenditure of several hundred dollars in having the last fifteen pages cabled to us. We acknowledge that the last few pages were not literally translated, but Zola’s sentiments were expressed.
Do you not know that not one of Zola’s novels that have been published in the United States is complete? Publishers in this country are compelled to expurgate them, for our people will not tolerate his superlative degree of realism. Then why should we be so unjustly treated when we have only done what others have done, and what we were compelled to do?
We again repeat that we extremely deplore the fact that we have been so badly misrepresented in the Newsman. We have been working diligently, employing every honest means to succeed in our new departure. We are succeeding, notwithstanding the tact that three of our books have been reprinted by a competitive firm without provocation.
The article was undoubtedly published as dictated to you without your careful consideration, for we do not believe you would intentionally do us such an injustice. We have always understood that you, like ourselves, were striving for honest success, upholding your own rights and doing justice to others. We think therefore” that you will agree with us at once and say it is only just that we should be privileged to state in the next issue of the Newsman the exact facts concerning our translation. We enclose therefore our statement and feel confident that it will appear in your next issue.
Hoping for your success, we are,
            Very truly yours,
                        Nile Publishing Company,
Nile C. Smith.
With this statement to the editor of the Newsman, the Nile Publishing Company enclosed the following for insertion. It is for our readers to decide on the soundness of the premises assumed by this company.
“Money,” by Emile Zola, was first placed on the market by Nile Publishing Company, Chicago. This enterprising firm, knowing there would be competitive editions on the market, formulated a plan to outstrip its competitors. The day the last instalment was finished in Gil Blas, a telegram was sent to them from Paris, at an expense of several hundred dollars, giving a complete synopsis of the last eight instalments of the story. By so doing they were enabled to place this book on the market two weeks in advance of any competing publisher. Although a large amount of “Money” was expended to secure the copy for this book, we doubt not but what it was a profitable investment, as the orders were very large.
Benj. R. Tucker.
P. O. Box 3366, Boston, April 3, 1891.
To the Editor of  The Newsman:
I congratulate you on your bold denunciation of Chas. H. Sergei & Co., and the Nile Publishing Co. for their attempt to defraud the public with an edition of Zola’s “ Money,” from which more than one-third of the story is omitted. Such outspokenness from the newsdealers’ organ must encourage all honest and reputable publishers who ask for no monopoly and fear no competition, but will not stoop to vie with their rivals in false and fraudulent pretence.
I am told that the Nile Publishing Co. meets your indisputable charge that they “faked” the concluding portions of “Money,” by claiming that they had a complete synopsis of the story cabled to them at an expense of several hundred dollars. But the question immediately arises, What did they do with it? Did they throw it into the waste-basket? They certainly did not put even a complete synopsis, much less a full translation, into their book. In place of the last 12,000 words of the story they print less than 3,000, and more than two-thirds of what they do print is “faked”—that is, as you say, drawn from the scant imagination fund of their translator, with the help of a few indications from Paris. For I am quite willing to believe that they did receive a short cablegram—not because they say so, but because I do not credit them with wit enough to come even as near as they did without the aid of some small hint or two.
But their claim that they had a complete synopsis will not bear examination for a moment.
Where is the final interview between Madame Caroline and Maxime, in which the latter character is disposed of? Missing absolutely: not a hint as to what became of Maxime.
Where is the little girls’ prayer for Saccard at the “Work of Labor,” one of the most touching and effective scenes of the book? It must be in the waste-basket, or else it got lost on the wires, for there is no reference to it in the Nile Publishing Co.’s book.
What has become of the absorbingly interesting parting between Madame Caroline and Saccard in prison, which fills nine pages of the real work with dialogue? It is reduced to one page of descriptive matter, which describes nothing that took place at the interview, but a number of things that did not take place.
And, finally, the grand and wonderful picture of the death of Sigismond the Socialist—was this devoured by the fishes at the bottom of the sea, or by Publisher Sergei’s office cat? This complete synopsis by cable does not even mention the fact that Sigismond is dead.
But it is not only at the end that such omissions are made; they occur all through the book. And it is useless for Sergei and the Nile Publishing Co. to maintain that they were obliged to make these omissions on account of Zola’s realism, for they have cut out page after page of matter having nothing whatever to do with those subjects the treatment of which the Comstock law seeks to prohibit. No, their motive was simply to reduce the proportions of the book sufficiently to enable them to put a cheap and inferior edition upon the market at 25 cents, as they knew that they could not afford to sell the complete book for that price.
Not satisfied with the perpetration of the fraud, they are now trying to bulldoze those who insist on exposing it. I recently sent out a statement to booksellers, pointing out that my edition of “Money” is complete, but that the Nile Publishing Co’s edition omits more than one-third. In consequence I received the following letter:
Chicago, March 28, 1891.
Benj. R. Tucker, Boston:
Dear Sir:—We find you are sending letters to dealers in which you use our name and state that our edition of “Money” omits more than one-third of the book. This is not true, and, if you continue sending out letters of the above description, we shall be compelled to take legal steps to prevent you from so doing.
Very truly,
                        Nile Publishing Co.
                        Nile C. Smith.
I did not keep a copy of my answer, which was more emphatic than dignified; but I give below the text as nearly as I can remember it. It certainly does not vary from the original as much as the Nile Publishing Co.’s book varies from Zola’s.
P. O. Box 3366, Boston, March 30, 1891.
Nile Publishing Co., Chicago:
Oh, come off! You can’t bluff me, if you do live in Chicago. It is a fact that you omitted more than one-third of the book, and you know it. Go ahead with your legal steps. I should very much like to have you undertake the job. I should like nothing better than an opportunity to show you up in court. Meanwhile, I shall lose no opportunity to show you up out of court, show your book to be a fraud, and Laird & Lee’s a bigger fraud still.
Yours contemptuously,
Benj. R. Tucker.
P. S.—While you are at it, why don’t you sue the New York Newsman, which has branded your book as “the latest fake”? You don’t dare to.
This challenge to the Nile Publishing Co. to take me into court I hereby renew, after giving them fresh provocation. Let us see if they will accept it.
And now, Mr. Editor, I want to put a question to you. In your exposure of the Nile edition, you indirectly commended Laird & Lee’s, which had not then appeared. Now that it has been published, I desire you to tell me how much less a “fake” is an edition which omits 34,000 words of a story than an edition which omits 56,000 words? And does not the former commit a greater fraud than the latter when it aggravates its offense by showing on its cover the words “Complete and Unabridged”? I am sure that as an independent editor you will give answers to these questions that will satisfy both the reading public and myself.
Benj. R. Tucker.
Laird & Lee.
Editor  The Newsman —Mr. Benjamin R. Tucker, of Boston, is sending around promiscuously, a circular purporting to praise to the skies his own 50 cent translation of “Money,” by Zola (a very natural thing to do), but praising it at the expense of our own—25 cent—edition, a very discourteous and unbusiness-like proceeding on his part.
Finding that he cannot get a sufficient market for his high-priced book, Mr. Tucker thinks fit and proper to disparage our property, the Max Maury special translation of “Money,” made in accordance with our minute instructions and containing every incident, dialogue, description, and features, important or not, of the great Zola book, toned down so as to be acceptable to the best, and only desirable, class of American readers.
Although somewhat more diffuse and uselessly prosy, and certainly much more objectionable in its rendition of delicate passages, the Tucker edition contains not one single incident, dialogue, description or features, important or not. not contained in our own edition.
In a word, “Money” as issued by us is a safer book to handle, whilst lacking none of the beauty and interest of the original French text.
The said text has been fully respected and followed, paragraph after paragraph, as published in the Paris daily, the Gil-Blas, from the 30th of November, 1890, to (and including) the 14th of March, 1891.
Our book is the finest 25 cent book ever put on the market. In bulk and make-up it cannot be beaten for the price, and it is, to all purposes, a full and unabridged edition of “Money,” by E. Zola.
      Yours truly,
                        Laird & Lee.
Chicago, April 8, 1891.
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.


  1. Tucker himself is not entirely innocent on this score, alas, since he published, as though it were a direct translation from the Russian, his translation of an (unidentified) French translation of Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done?

  2. I seldom assume Tucker is entirely innocent. And I think he may have been a little less bold in the “rendition of delicate passages” in some of Proudhon’s work than might have been appropriate. But I thought the exchange was fun, and rather characteristic. It turns out there is quite a bit more back and forth in that same volume.

  3. For some reason, this reminds me of every single conversation that happens on the “Mutualism” group.

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