WHEN I WROTE the preface to my translation of the Republic, I did not have to argue the importance of the book; I had to justify only the need for a new translation when there were so many famous existing versions. With Emile the situation is the reverse: there is general agreement that the only available translation is inadequate in all important respects, while the book itself is not held to be of great significance and has little appeal to contemporary taste. However, this is not the place to make a case for Emile. I can only hope that this translation will contribute to a reconsideration of this most fundamental and necessary book.
The translation aims, above all, at accuracy. Of course, no intelligible translation could be strictly literal, and simply bad English would misrepresent Rousseau's very good French. Style cannot be separated from substance. But unless the translator himself were a genius of Rousseau's magnitude, the attempt to imitate the felicity of his language would fail and would distort and narrow his meaning. One would have to look at what one can say well in English rather than at Rousseau's thought. He is a precise and careful writer. He speaks of a real world of which we all have experience, no matter what our language. He, above all writers, thought he spoke to all men. The translator must concentrate on making his English point to the same things Rousseau's French points to. And this is best done by finding the closest equivalents to his words and sticking to them, even when that causes inconvenience.
Every translation is, of course, in some sense an interpretation; and thus there can be no mechanical rules for translation. The question, then, is what disposition guides the translator: whether the impossibility of simple literalness is a fact against which he struggles and a source of dissatisfaction with himself, or whether he uses it as an excuse to display his virtuosity. As with most choices, the right one is least likely to afford opportunities for flattering one's vanity. The translator of a great work should revere his text and recognize that there is much in it he cannot understand. His translation should try to make others able to understand what he cannot understand, which means he often must prefer a dull ambiguity to a brilliant resolution. He is a messenger, not a plenipotentiary, and proves his fidelity to his great masters by reproducing what seems in them to the contemporary eye wrong, outrageous, or incomprehensible, for therein may lie what is most important for us. He resists the temptation to make the book attractive or relevant, for its relevance may lie in its appearing irrelevant to current thought. If books are to be liberating, they must seem implausible in the half-light of our plausibilities which we no longer know how to ques-