European studies blog

30 September 2015

Sir Roger L’Estrange, translator from the Spanish

Sir Roger L’Estrange 1616-1704  was a censor and an important figure in the development of political journalism in England.  In 2008  a volume of studies devoted ten chapters to such topics as ‘Roger L'Estrange and the Huguenots: continental Protestantism and the Church of England’.

However, only the reader who persevered to the end, ‘The works of Roger L'Estrange : an annotated bibliography’ by Geoff Kemp,  would discover that Sir Roger was also a translator from Latin (Seneca, Cicero, Terence, Erasmus; Aesop from the Latin of Dorpius), Greek (Josephus) and Spanish.

His Spanish translations were two:

1.) Spanish Decameron: ten tales, five from the Novelas ejemplares of Cervantes and five from La garduña de Sevilla by the much less remembered Castillo Solórzano.  Wouldn’t you like to read:

‘The Perfidious Mistress’ – ‘The Metamorphos’d Lover’ – ‘The Imposture out-witted’ –T’he Amorous Miser’ – ‘The Pretended Alchemist’?

There’s a lesson here about the reception history of literature: the Novelas have been in print continuously since 1613; La garduña de Sevilla was first printed in 1642 and reprinted in 1955 1972,  and 2012.

2.) Quevedo’s Sueños (Dreams, or, according to L’Estrange, Visions). This is a satirical parody of Dante’s Inferno, in which Quevedo sees the vices of his age laid bare. 

Quevedo tp
Title engraving from Quevedo’s Sueños (British Library 635.g.3-5)

Samuel Pepys (a connoisseur of Spanish) loved it, writing in his diary on 9 June 1667 that he was:

making an end of the book I lately bought a merry satyr called “The Visions,” translated from Spanish by L’Estrange, wherein there are many very pretty things; but the translation is, as to the rendering it into English expression, the best that ever I saw, it being impossible almost to conceive that it should be a translation.

The Brussels edition has some tasty ilustrations, ‘muy donosas y apropriadas à la materia’ [witty and appropriate].

Quevedo hell 2
A suitably infernal scene from the Sueños

As a man who lived by his pen, L’Estrange’s choice of texts to translate was probably commercial rather than personal.

But there are some curious patterns to be drawn. Quevedo, translated by the translator of Seneca, was himself the translator, and imitator, of Seneca. And both L’Estrange and Quevedo shared the pungent parallelisms and jerky style of Seneca: what Williamson calls ‘The Senecan Amble’.

L’Estrange doubtless appreciated the sinewy satire of Quevedo:

The Physician is only Death in a Disguise, and brings his Patient’s Hour along with him.  Cruel People! Is it not enough to take away a Man’s Life, and like Common Hangmen to be paid for’t when ye have done; but you must blast the Honour too of those ye have dispatcht, to excuse your Ignorance?  Let but the Living follow my Counsel, and write their Testaments after this Copy, they shall live long and happily, and not go out of the World at last, like a Rat with a Straw in his Arse, (as a Learned Author has it) or be cut of in the Flower of their Days by these Counter-Feit Doctors of the Faculty of the Close-stool.

Quevedo Doctors
A procession of doctors (with their instruments of torture) from the Sueños

In 1709 Henry Felton wrote of him ‘a perfect Master of the familiar, the facetious and the jocular style, [he] fell out into his proper Province, when he pitched upon Erasmus and Aesop.’ (Williamson, p. 364).  (Aesop was regarded as humorous.)  The 18th century found him a bit too unbuttoned.

But in Quevedo he found a kindred spirit.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies


Francisco de Quevedo, Obras ... Nueva impression corregida y ilustrada con muchas estampas muy donosas y apropriadas à la materia. [Edited by Pedro Aldrete Quevedo y Villegas.] (Amberes, 1699). 635.g.3-5.

The Visions of Dom Francisco de Quevedo Villegas ... Made English by R. Lestrange (London, 1673)

Pedro Urbano González de la Calle. Quevedo y los dos Sénecas (Mexico, 1965).  X.909/5543.

Theodore S.  Beardsley, Hispano-classical translations printed between 1482 and 1699 (Pittsburgh 1970)  X.0972/19b.(12.)

Roger L'Estrange and the making of Restoration culture, edited by Anne Dunan-Page and Beth Lynch (Aldershot, 2008)  YC.2008.a.6251; Document Supply m08/.16619

George Williamson, The Senecan Amble: a study in prose form from Bacon to Collier (London, 1951).  11869.b.19.




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