Truly, if there are a good many bad authors, it must be allowed there are still a greater number of wretched critics: and when I consider the mortifications that dramatic poets must undergo, I am astonished that there are any so bold as to brave the ignorance of the multitude, and the dangerous censure of witlings, who sometimes corrupt the judgment of the public. —Book VII, Chap. VI
Having read The Adventures of Roderick Random by Tobias Smollett, Modern Chivalry by H. H. Brackenridge, and The Alhambra by Washington Irving, I've come across references to the character Gil Blas, and couldn't help wanting to learn more about the novel.
L'Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane, by Alain René Lesage, was published between 1715 and 1735. It was a major influence on Tobias Smollett, whose novels in turn were an influence on later authors such as George Eliot, W. M. Thackeray, and Charles Dickens. Indeed, such was the popularity of Gil Blas for many years, that such authors as Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain could refer to it without fear of incomprehension. And the popularity of that novel in England and America was assisted by none other than Tobias Smollett.
Yes! Tobias Smollett himself produced the first English translation of Gil Blas! How could I possibly want to read another's? Well, there is the assertion that his translation runs off the tracks in various places (I wouldn't know)*. Nonetheless, how could I not reproduce his work for Kindle format, giving it the loving treatment it deserves? Granted, there is an epub version of the 1913 edition available at this site, but I chose not to adopt it, even as a starting point.
There seems to have been a tendency for mid-1800s editors to run fast and loose with the contents of the editions that they produced—perhaps out of frustration of their not being authors themselves—and for such mutilations to persist in subsequent editions. This was certainly the case with Modern Chivalry, and appears also to be the case with Gil Blas. Compare, for example, the following passage from various editions:
As there are ſome people who cannot read, without making applications of the vicious and ludicrous charaƈters they meet with in works of this kind, I declare to theſe evil-minded readers, that they will be to blame, if they apply any of the piƈtures drawn in this book. I publickly own, that my purpoſe is, to repreſent life as we find it; but God forbid, that I ſhould undertake to delineate any man in particular!
As there are some people who cannot read without making applications of the vicious and ludicrous characters they meet with in works of this kind, I declare to these mischievous readers, that they will be to blame, if they apply any of the pictures drawn in this book. I publicly own that my purpose is to represent life as we find it: but God forbid that I should undertake to delineate any man in particular!
There are some people in the world so mischievous as not to read a work without applying the vicious or ridiculous characters it may happen to contain to eminent or popular individuals. I protest publicly against the pretended discovery of any such likenesses. My purpose was to represent human life historically as it exists: God forbid I should hold myself out as a portrait-painter.
[There is some assertion that the latter version is actually from the 1809 translation by Benjamin Heath Malkin, but I have yet to find anything online which confirms this.]
It is for this reason that—as with Modern Chivalry—I chose to transcribe the 1819 edition, consisting of Volumes I, II, and III. The HTML was composed and corrected in three passes: 1) initial transcription, 2) spell checking, and 3) proof-reading on my Kindle. Some obvious typographical errors were fixed, but a number of spelling variations were preserved. Despite all this labor, I found the novel itself delightful to read: perhaps not as hilarious as Modern Chivalry, but nonetheless a ripping good yarn.
Here are links to the master HTML document, a home-brew Kindle version, and the Kindle version published through Amazon. As Gil Blas might say, ¡Salud!
February 11, 2019 [Updated December 5, 2021]
*A modern translation is available in Kindle format, for a modest price, at Amazon.
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