Peter Anthony Motteux
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Peter Anthony Motteux (25 February 1663 – 18 February 1718), born Pierre Antoine Motteux, was an English author, playwright, and translator. Motteux was a significant figure in the evolution of English journalism in his era, as the publisher and editor of The Gentleman's Journal, "the first English magazine," from 1692 to 1694.
A native of Rouen, he was a French Huguenot who came to England in 1685 after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. At first he made his living as an auctioneer; by 1706 he maintained a shop in Leadenhall Street, selling imports from China, Japan, and India, and (in his own words) "silks, lace, linens, pictures, and other goods." He also held a position with the Post Office in the first decade of the 18th century.
Among his miscellaneous works, A Poem in Praise of Tea (1701) is arguably the best known. Motteux's end was controversial, and may have constituted a case of autoerotic asphyxiation: "His death in a bawdy house was thought to be suspicious, and caused a good deal of legal disturbance." Five people were tried for his murder, but were acquitted. He was survived by his widow Priscilla, two sons and a daughter.
Motteux is perhaps best known for completing Sir Thomas Urquhart's translation of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel. Books I and II of Urquhart's translation of Rabelais had been published in 1653; Motteux (with outside help) revised these, completed Urquart's translation of Book III, and translated Book IV and the possibly-spurious Book V. The entire work was published in 1693 and 1694 (reprinted in 1708; revised by John Ozell in 1737).
While Urquhart's original version of Rabelais has sometimes been acclaimed as a masterpiece in itself, critics have had reservations about Motteux's continuation. In part, Motteux suffered for frankly rendering the vulgarity of Rabelais, to a generation of readers less prepared to tolerate it than Urquhart's had been.
Motteux produced an important translation of Cervantes' Don Quixote; this 4-volume 1712 edition was credited as "translated from the original by many hands and published by Peter Motteux." Very popular in its own era, Motteux's version of the work has been condemned by later, more rigorous translators, for:
- adopting a frivolous style, compared to the mock-serious and ironic tone of the original;
- turning Don Quixote and Sancho Panza into buffoons;
- casting the work in a "Franco-Cockney" rather than a Spanish ambience.
Motteux translated other works as well, one example being The Present State of the Empire of Morocco (1695) by François Pidou de Saint-Olon.
Motteux wrote a series of plays and musical librettos that were produced during the 1690s and early 18th century, including:
- The Loves of Mars and Venus (1695)
- Love's a Jest (1696)
- She Ventures and He Wins (1696)
- The Novelty, or Every Act a Play (1697)
- Beauty in Distress (1698)
- Britain's Happiness (1704)
- The Amorous Miser, or the Younger the Wiser (1705)
- Thomyris, Queen of Scythia (1707)
- Love's Triumph (1708)
Motteux worked in the English stage genre then called "opera," which were semi-operas somewhat comparable to modern musicals; works like The Rape of Europa by Jupiter (1694), Acis and Galatea (1701), and Arsinoe, Queen of Cyprus (1705), the first two with music by John Eccles, and the third with music by Thomas Clayton. His final works are translations and adaptations of opera libretti from the Italian.
As was typical of Restoration drama, Motteux's plays often adapted earlier works; and his plays in turn were adapted by others into new forms. His semi-opera The Island Princess, or the Generous Portuguese (1699) was an adaptation of John Fletcher's play The Island Princess, with music by Daniel Purcell. After his death, the comic subplot of Acis and Galatea was transformed into "a comic mask" called Roger and Joan, or the Country Wedding (1739). Much later, David Garrick adapted The Novelty into a farce titled The Lying Varlet, published in 1823.
Motteux edited The Gentleman's Journal, or the Monthly Miscellany from its initial issue, dated January 1692, to its last of November 1694; evidence suggests he wrote most of the prose in each issue as well. (The plan was for monthly issues, though some were late, and some were missed.) Motteux may have been influenced by Le Mercure Galant, a French periodical of the 1670s devoted to Court news and gossip — though Motteux's Journal was more ambitious. The Journal published "News, History, Philosophy, Poetry, Musick, Translations, &c." It covered a wider range of topics than other periodicals of its era like The Athenian Gazette, giving it some claim as the first "general interest" magazine in English. Motteux reviewed plays by John Dryden (a personal friend) and William Congreve among others; he published verse by the poets of the era, including Matthew Prior and Charles Sedley; he covered the musical career of Henry Purcell and printed several of his songs. The Journal even featured a "Lovers' Gazette," foreshadowing the advice-to-the-lovelorn columns of later generations of popular journalism.
Though its existence was relatively brief in historical terms, the Journal provided a precedent for later publications of the same type, notably The Gentleman's Magazine and The London Magazine. One curiosity of the Journal is that the title page of its first issue bore the motto E pluribus unum, apparently the earliest use of what would later become the motto of the United States of America. Motteux used the phrase in the sense of "one chosen among many," rather than its common later connotation. (Classicists have attempted to trace possible sources for the motto, ranging from Vergil to Aristotle to Horace to Cicero to St. Augustine.)
Motteux published early arguments in favor of the equality of the sexes; he re-titled the October 1693 issue of the Journal "The Lady's Journal," and devoted it to articles by and about women.