Ruben Saillens vs Leon Tolstoy
December 12, 2014
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Ruben Saillens (1855-1942) was a well-known French Baptist pastor, writer and musician. My next few posts will consist of my translation of a story written by him that was first published in France about 130 years ago. Unknown to the writer, someone translated it into English. The English version, with no name attached, then found its way to Russia where it was discovered by Leon Tolstoy. Tolstoy then proceeded to render the story into Russian, with a few minor changes including changing the setting from Marseilles to some place in Russia. When a French translation of Tolstoy’s version appeared, Ruben Saillens wrote to Tolstoy, who replied with an apology in 1888.
Ten years later, seeing that the story was being published everywhere and attributed to Tolstoy, Saillens wrote again and received the following reply:
As I wrote to you, in all the Russian editions of my writings it is said that the tale: Where there is love, God is there, is borrowed from a translation made from French (and is none other than your tale: Le Père Martin). As for the translations which are made of your tale in America and elsewhere, it is completely impossible for me to control them, inasmuch as more than fifteen years ago I surrendered all my copyrights for all my works that have appeared since 1881 in Russia as well as other countries.
With kindest regards
March 20, 1899
Was Tolstoy a plagiarist? He was definitely negligent if he made no attempt to discover who wrote the original tale that he then modified and sent out under his own name. However one can’t say that he deliberately plagiarized Saillens’ story; since it came to him in English, perhaps he took it to be an old English folk tale.
Most readers will be familiar with some version of the story of Papa Panov, the old Russian cobbler. I have tried to convey Saillens’ original French story as faithfully as possible. I would be interested in hearing your opinion: do you prefer Saillens’ story or Tolstoy’s?