Discourse on the Art of Negotiation

translated by Aleksandra Gruzinska and Murray D. Sirkis, Currents in Comparative Romance Languages and Literatures vol. 140 (Peter Lang: New York, 2004), pp. xlviii, 93. ISBN 0-8204-7436-3

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The translators of this modest, entirely abstract but nevertheless rather uplifting work on diplomacy, first published in French in 1737, are not new to the task of making the writings of Pecquet, a senior official in the French foreign ministry in the early eighteenth century, accessible to English readers, having earlier translated his philosophical tract, Diverse Thoughts on Man. Nevertheless, they have taken up a brave challenge here because neither are historians of diplomacy. Gruzinska is a student of French language and literature, and Sirkis is an electrical engineer (emeritus), both at Arizona State University in Tempe. (Sirkis stands in an admirable American tradition. Christian Detmold, the great translator of Machiavelli’s complete works – referred to in the notes of this book on p. 93 though unhappily misspelled ‘Detwold’ – was also an engineer.) Unfortunately, the lack of subject expertise occasionally shows.

For one thing the lengthy Introduction has only a short section on the content of the book itself and its significance, and is quite dwarfed by discussion of such relatively trivial matters as the identity of the ‘mysterious benefactor’ who helped to rehabilitate Pecquet following his fall from royal grace. In other words, what ought to be footnotes emerge as whole sections. As for the translation itself, unfamiliarity with the legal and diplomatic lexicons leads to a tendency to take refuge in a too literal translation and thus to odd lapses. For example, droit des gens [jus gentium] is rendered ‘law of the people’ when early modern English usage was invariably ‘the law of nations’ (or what we now call ‘international law’). There is also a major problem with the literal translation of Pecquet’s words ministre and ministère. In Pecquet’s time, indeed until the end of the eighteenth century, as Gruzinska and Sirkis are aware, the words ‘diplomat’ and ‘diplomacy’ were not applied to the business of negotiations between states and the common term for what we now call a diplomat (of any rank) was a ‘public minister’, in French ministre public or ministre for short. Unfortunately, the term also embraced home officials as well, and Pecquet even occasionally used the French word for ministry ( ministère) not only for what we would now call more often a ‘government department’ but also – logically enough – for any diplomatic mission (loosely, ’embassy’). To translate these terms literally, therefore, as Gruzinska and Sirkis have done, is likely to cause considerable confusion to the modern reader. At this point I must, however, confess that I also translated ministre as ‘minister’ in the passages from Pecquet that I selected for inclusion in my Diplomatic Classics, though ministère meaning ’embassy’ cropped up in none of these, and I indexed ‘public minister’ to the authoritative definition of Vattel, a contemporary of Pecquet’s. In sum, I think that ministère should certainly have been translated ’embassy’ when it meant embassy (though this only occurs at one or two points) and that it might have been advisable to have taken the bold decision to translate ministre either as ‘diplomat’ or ‘representative’ (Pecquet himself sometimes uses représentant as a synonym for ministre). This decision could have been flagged up in the Introduction, using as a peg on which to hang the discussion – as well as a justification for the decision – Pecquet’s own admission that ‘Minister’ is ‘a vague title’ (p. 73 in the book under review).

Having recorded these niggles, I must also stress that Gruzinska and Sirkis have provided a very serviceable and at some points quite elegant translation of a hitherto much neglected work – the only full length translation currently available. In the Introduction they also reveal some very interesting details of Pecquet’s career unearthed in the foreign ministry archives in Paris, present translations of some valuable ‘supporting documents’, and provide a very good bibliography. All things considered, I welcome the appearance of this book.