The most bad tempered preface ever written?

Just because it amuses me, here’s part of a fantastically bad tempered preface to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. It’s written by J. M. D. Meiklejohn, the translator, and it really is worth reading: it won’t take long!


The difficulties which meet the reader and the translator of this celebrated work arise from various causes. Kant was a man of clear, vigorous, and trenchant thought, and, after nearly twelve years’ meditation, could not be in doubt as to his own system. But… he had never studied the art of expression. He wearies by frequent repetitions, and employs a great number of words to express, in the clumsiest way, what could have been enounced more clearly and distinctly in a few. The main statement in his sentences is often overlaid with a multitude of qualifying and explanatory clauses; and the reader is lost in a maze, from which he has great difficulty in extricating himself. There are some passages which have no main verb; others, in which the author loses sight of the subject with which he set out, and concludes with a predicate regarding something else mentioned in the course of his argument. […]

A previous translation of the Kritik exists, which, had it been satisfactory, would have dispensed with the present. But the translator had, evidently, no very extensive acquaintance with the German language, and still less with his subject. A translator ought to be an interpreting intellect between the author and the reader; but, in the present case, the only interpreting medium has been the dictionary.

Indeed, Kant’s fate in this country has been a very hard one. Misunderstood by the ablest philosophers of the time, illustrated, explained, or translated by the most incompetent,— it has been his lot to be either unappreciated, misapprehended, or entirely neglected. Dugald Stewart did not understand his system of philosophy—as he had no proper opportunity of making himself acquainted with it. […]

More recently, an Analysis of the Kritik, by Mr. Haywood, has been published, which consists almost entirely of a selection of sentences from his own translation :—a mode of analysis which has not served to make the subject more intelligible. In short, it may be asserted that there is not a single English work upon Kant, which deserves to be read, or which can be read with any profit, excepting Semple’s translation of the "Metaphysic of Ethics." All are written by men who either took no pains to understand Kant, or were incapable of understanding him.*

The following translation was begun on the basis of a MS. translation, by a scholar of some repute, placed in my hands by Mr. Bohn, with a request that I should revise it, as he had perceived it to be incorrect. After having laboured through about eighty pages, I found, from the numerous errors and inaccuracies pervading it, that hardly one-fifth of the original MS. remained. I, therefore, laid it entirely aside, and commenced de novo. These eighty pages I did not cancel, because the careful examination which they had undergone, made them, as I believed, not an unworthy representation of the author. […]

No edition of the Kritik is very correct. Even those of Rosenkranz and Schubert, and Modes and Baumann, contain errors which reflect somewhat upon the care of the editors. But the common editions, as well those printed during, as after Kant’s life-time, are exceedingly bad. One of these, the "third edition improved, Frankfort and Leipzig, 1791," swarms with errors, at once misleading and annoying. […]

* It is curious to observe, in all the English works written specially upon Kant, that not one of his commentators ever ventures, for a moment, to leave the words of Kant, and to explain the subject he may be considering, in his own words. Nitsch and Willich, who professed to write on Kant’s philosophy, are merely translators; Haywood, even in his notes, merely repeats Kant; and the translator of "Beck’s Principles of the Critical Philosophy," while pretending to give, in his "Translator’s Preface," his own views of the Critical Philosophy, has fabricated his Preface out of selections from the works of Kant. The same is the case with the translator of Kant’s "Essays and Treatises," (2 vols. 8vo. London, 1798.) This person has written a preface to each of the volumes, and both are almost literal translations from different parts of Kant’s works. He had the impudence to present the thoughts contained in them as his own; few being then able to detect the plagiarism.


If you can think of a more bad tempered preface, then do let me know about it.

(Crossposted from JeremyStangroom.Com.)

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