Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

The Turkish Spy.

Whatever may be the defects of the “Turkish Spy,” the author has shown one uncommon merit, by having opened a new species of composition, which has been pursued by other writers with inferior success, if we except the charming “Persian Letters” of Montesquieu. The “Turkish Spy” is a book which has delighted our childhood, and to which we can still recur with pleasure. But its ingenious author is unknown to three parts of his admirers.

In Boswell’s “Life of Johnson” is this dialogue concerning the writer of the “Turkish Spy.” “B. — Pray, Sir, is the ‘Turkish Spy’ a genuine book? J. — No, Sir. Mrs. Mauley, in her ‘Life’ says, that her father wrote the two first volumes; and in another book —‘Dunton’s Life and Errours,’ we find that the rest was written by one Sault, at two guineas a sheet, under the direction of Dr. Midgeley.”

I do not know on what authority Mrs. Manley advances that her father was the author; but this lady was never nice in detailing facts. Dunton, indeed, gives some information in a very loose manner. He tells us, p. 242, that it is probable, by reasons which he insinuates, that one Bradshaw, a hackney author, was the writer of the “Turkish Spy.” This man probably was engaged by Dr. Midgeley to translate the volumes as they appeared, at the rate of 40s. per sheet. On the whole, all this proves, at least, how little the author was known while the volumes were publishing, and that he is as little known at present by the extract from Boswell.

The ingenious writer of the Turkish Spy is John Paul Marana, an Italian; so that the Turkish Spy is just as real a personage as Cid Hamet, from whom Cervantes says he had his “History of Don Quixote.” Marana had been imprisoned for a political conspiracy; after his release he retired to Monaco, where he wrote the “History of the Plot,” which is said to be valuable for many curious particulars. Marana was at once a man of letters and of the world. He had long wished to reside at Paris; in that emporium of taste and luxury his talents procured him patrons. It was during his residence there that he produced his “Turkish Spy.” By this ingenious contrivance he gave the history of the last age. He displays a rich memory, and a lively imagination; but critics have said that he touches everything, and penetrates nothing. His first three volumes greatly pleased: the rest are inferior. Plutarch, Seneca, and Pliny, were his favourite authors. He lived in philosophical mediocrity; and in the last years of his life retired to his native country, where he died in 1693.

Charpentier gave the first particulars of this ingenious man. Even in his time the volumes were read as they came out, while its author remained unknown. Charpentier’s proof of the author is indisputable; for he preserved the following curious certificate, written in Marana’s own handwriting.

“I, the under-written John Paul Marana, author of a manuscript Italian volume, entitled ’L’Esploratore Turco, tomo terzo,‘ acknowledge that Mr. Charpentier, appointed by the Lord Chancellor to revise the said manuscript, has not granted me his certificate for printing the said manuscript, but on condition to rescind four passages. The first beginning, &c. By this I promise to suppress from the said manuscript the places above marked, so that there shall remain no vestige; since, without agreeing to this, the said certificate would not have been granted to me by the said Mr. Charpentier; and for surety of the above, which I acknowledge to be true, and which I promise punctually to execute, I have signed the present writing. Paris, 28th September, 1686.

“JOHN PAUL MARANA.”

This paper serves as a curious instance in what manner the censors of books clipped the wings of genius when it was found too daring or excursive.

These rescindings of the Censor appear to be marked by Marana in the printed work. We find more than once chasms, with these words: “the beginning of this letter is wanting in the Italian translation; the original paper being torn.

No one has yet taken the pains to observe the date of the first editions of the French and the English Turkish Spies, which would settle the disputed origin. It appears by the document before us, to have been originally written in Italian, but probably was first published in French. Does the English Turkish Spy differ from the French one?1

1 Marana appears to have carelessly deserted his literary offspring. It is not improbable that his English translators continued his plan, and that their volumes were translated; so that what appears the French original may be, for the greater part, of our own home manufacture. The superiority of the first part was early perceived. The history of our ancient Grub-street is enveloped in the obscurity of its members, and there are more claimants than one for the honour of this continuation. We know too little of Marana to account for his silence; Cervantes was indignant at the impudent genius who dared to continue the immortal Quixote.

The tale remains imperfectly told.

See a correspondence on this subject in the Gentleman’s Magazine, 1840 and 1841.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/disraeli/isaac/curiosities/chapter109.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37