In 1888, when curious German readers pur­chased a translation of Hippolyte Bernheim’s On Suggestion and Its Therapeutic Applications, they encountered an intrusive translator who begged to differ with the author. The translator railed against those who might use Bernheim’s work to deny the reality of hypnosis and condude that all these accounts were based on a mixture of naive belief and trickery. Defending the scientists of hysteria from the charge that they were them­selves hysterically deluded, he attacked those who dismissed Charcot’s studies as worthless « errors in observation, » and retreated to the belief that hyp­nosis was « beyond scientific understanding. »

George Makari, Revolution in mind

Ce traducteur intrusif n’était autre que Sigmund Freud. A cette date il était encore à Vienne le défenseur des idées de Charcot, dont la théorie sur l’hypnose était remise en question par Bernheim. Mais quelques années plus tard c’est Charcot lui-même qui devait bénéficier d’une « traduction critique » de Freud.

« While these clouds lowered over Charcot, Freud was busy translating the neurologist’s Tues­day Lessons (Leyons du Mardi), which appeared in installments between 1892 and 1894. Again, in telling footnotes, the German translator begged to differ with the author, now over matters of heredity. Upon receiving page proofs with such amendments, Charcot replied to his Viennese acolyte:

By the way! I am delighted with the notes and critical comments that I encountered at the bottom on the pages of « the Leçons. » Go ahead—that’s fine! Vive la liberté!! as we say here. After this declaration I shall ask the same from you, to tell you that I am astonished to see the extent to which the theory of the syphilitic nature of tabes, and P.G.P., wreaks havoc right now amongst the best minds. Really, the figure 90% (assuming it to be accurate?) can it have so much influence on a stable mind!—what do you do then with the other 10%? »


Je présume que la manière dont les traducteurs et préfaciers tentent de cadrer la réception de l’œuvre qu’ils présentent à un nouveau public a déjà été largement étudié par les historiens des sciences. Les tentatives de neutraliser le mordant d’une œuvre dérangeante donnent parois lieu à des polémiques mémorables comme ce fut le cas pour la préface frauduleuse d’Andreas Osiander au De revolutionibus orbium coelestium de Copernic.