University of Virginia Library


The one non-dramatic work by Murphy that Vaillant published is a translation of a French novella by Jean- François Marmontel.[19] We consider it here for the sake of clarifying the grounds of the entire dispute and because it sheds some interesting light on the process of hasty commercial translation and the economics of such publication.

Murphy charges that "in the Month of ffebruary 1767" he delivered to Vaillant "the Manuscript Copy of a Book Intitled Belisaurius which was originally written in ffrench by Monsieur De Marmintal, and which your Orator Translated into the English Language." The translation was "to be by him Published and sold for your Orators profit and Advantage and your Orator did not Transfer or sell nor make any Bargain or Agreement to Transfer or sell the Copy of the said Translation." Murphy alleges that Vaillant has "sold sundry Large Impressions of the said Work amounting to Ten thousand Copies at and for the price of four shillings for each Printed Copy," but that he has paid Murphy nothing and refuses to show him the accounts. Later in his bill of complaint Murphy says that Vaillant "sometimes" claims that Murphy made him a gift of the translation, and sometimes claims that he bought the copyright for £21, giving "colour to this his pretence" by having lent Murphy £21, taking a promissory note for it dated 5 March 1767, and then "falsely & fraudulently" writing "a certain Memorandum at the foot of the above mentioned promisory Note" concerning Belisarius. Murphy maintains that "a ballance of ffive hundred pounds" is due to him on sales


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of the translation, which would be a very modest profit on sales allegedly totalling £2000 (10,000 copies at 4s each).

On this evidence, Vaillant would certainly seem to be a fraud and a cheat. His answer, however, makes much better sense than Murphy's charges:

in or about the Month of february 1767 he having received Intelligence that a Book intitled Belisarius written in French by Monsieur de Marmontel was then publishing in Paris[20] he this Defendant procured from Paris by the Post the first three or four sheets of the said work as they were printed off with design to have the same Translated into English and to secure to himself the Property in the said Translation and to sell such Translation for his own emolument and being desirous of Employing the said Complainant in that business he this Defendant carried the said first three or four sheets of the said work written in ffrench to the said Complainant who agreed and undertook to Translate the same for and on the Account of him this Defendant and to oblige him and not otherwise and said that as he was then called to the bar he would not put his Name to the Title as he would not choose any longer to be considered as a writer for hire least the Publick should imagine that he attended to such kind of Business more than to the Law.
Murphy had been educated in France at the English Jesuit College at St. Omer. He was not merely boasting when he said in the unsigned Translator's Preface that this was "not journeywork: it was undertaken con amore, with a kind of affection for the various graces of M. Marmontel's performance."[21] Vaillant says that Murphy accordingly carried out the translation as Vaillant brought him fresh copy hot from Paris, but that no agreement for sale of the work was ever made.[22] He admits that he loaned Murphy £21 and that without Murphy's knowledge or consent he wrote a memorandum on the promissory note that might be taken to imply that the £21 (which had not been repaid) was payment for Belisarius. He admits to having printed five thousand (not ten thousand) copies and having sold 4,200 of them, but at "the Price of three shillings for each Printed Copy of the two first Editions when bound and of three shillings and six pence for the subsequent Editions and not at the Price of four shillings."[23] The gross receipts must have been close to £700,[24] and even allowing lavish costs for printing, paper, copper plates,


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and so forth, the net profit ought to have been more than £400—a sum Murphy would no doubt have liked to collect.

Neither man's story seems wonderfully plausible: we must believe either that Murphy gave away the translation or that Vaillant was a bare-faced thief who agreed to publish the manuscript at the author's risk and then appropriated all the profits when they proved substantial. Fortunately, there is one further piece of evidence, and it hoists Murphy neatly by his own petard. Vaillant offers to put in evidence

a Letter written by the said Complainant to him this Defendant in the Words and figures following that is to say, Dear Sir, . . . inclosed I send you the Plan of a projected Edition of Murphei Opera Omnia. I have this Affair very much at heart and am eager to see it executed. I wish to do it in conjunction with you in Preference to all others. I beg you will consider of it and let me know your Thoughts. The pieces with this Mark X are your own already but I suppose if you do not choose to be concerned that by Custom the Author may give a Complete Edition of his Works. I am Dear Sir Yours sincerely Arthur Murphy Lincolns Inn 26th November 1770. To Paul Vaillant Esqr. And in the said Letter was inclosed a plan which is referred to by the said Letter and which is of the Complainants Handwriting and Marking as to the said Mark And is now in this Defendants custody or Power. In which plan the said Composition or work [Belisarius] is with several others marked with the said Mark X as being the property of this Defendant.
This seems conclusive: as of 1770 Murphy had admitted of his own accord that Belisarius was Vaillant's property.

Some comments made in passing by both parties clarify the nature of this project and the relations between author and publisher. Murphy complains that he spent ten weeks on the job, which is not possible, given the French and English publication schedules. He says that Vaillant told him "that if the said Work had been transacted by an unskilful hand or by any of the Persons whom Booksellers occasionally hire & call Hackney writers that the merit of the original ffrench would have suffered & been obscured to such a degree that the Translation would probably have a very indifferent Sale & the profits of course would have been much Diminished." He also says that Vaillant sent him "sundry Notes Cards or Letters recommending to your Orator to persevere in the said Translation & assuring him that the Translation if finished as it began would redound very much to the profit as well as the Reputation of your Orator." These notes were apparently not saved, for Murphy does not offer to put them in evidence.

Vaillant replies that Murphy "was employed in the whole ffive Weekes in making the said Translation and not more," and that "had it not been for the Delay occasioned by not receiving the French Work from Paris regularly the said Complainant could easily have translated the said Work in twelve Days" because "the whole Work when printed amount[ed] to no more than ten sheets and an half" (which is correct if one includes the prelims). Murphy, he says, "performed the Translation with so much facility as not to be obliged even to transcribe his Copy for the press." He says he might have made dismissive remarks about "Hackney Writers" and "believes that he might write to him the Complainant some flattering Letter or Letters in order to induce


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him the Complainant to take more Pains for this Defendant saith that the Complainant translated it so very fast that he this Defendant was in Fear that it would be done too much in a Hurry." Naturally he denies saying anything that might imply that Murphy would benefit financially beyond the £21 loan that Vaillant did not mean to insist on his repaying.

Why Murphy did what he did we will probably never know. One can, however, understand his ex post facto frustration. He had scribbled off a translation in the course of a few weeks, working part time and doing no revision—with the result that Paul Vaillant had profited to the extent of some £400 or more. Marmontel's radical critique of the French government drew praise from Murphy, along with a statement that helps explain Vaillant's eagerness. The translator asserts that Marmontel "has had the genius and the courage to think with freedom, even in Paris, where we understand, by the last post, that his book is now suppressed" (vi), news that presumably helped sales.[25] Murphy may have done the translation essentially as a favor, but probably had no inkling that it would prove so valuable a property. When Vaillant subsequently took him to court, demanding nearly £200 from him, Murphy had some cause to feel that Vaillant had not only picked his pocket but was trying to strip his carcass clean.