Johnson Newman, A Little-known Englishman in Russian Service in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century

The British subject in Russian service was a far from rare phenomenon in the eighteenth century. He was already part of a tradition that had begun long before in the reign of Ivan IV, soon after the fortuitous arrival of the English in Muscovy. The most visible representative of the new breed was the personal physician to the tsar. There is virtually an unbroken line from the mid-sixteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth of eminent medical practitioners, who include in their number such as Robert Jacobs, Samuel Collins, Robert Erskine, James Mounsey, John Rogerson and James Wylie. Numerous British officers served in the Russian army and, from the time of Peter I, also in the navy. Pre-eminent among them were Field Marshal James Keith and Admiral Samuel Greig, both Scots, like the last four named doctors. Increasingly in the eighteenth century specialists of all kinds were recruited into Russian service - shipbuilders, canal engineers, mechanics, ironmasters, factory managers, teachers, artists, architects, gardeners. Noy, Lambe Yeames, Perry, Farqharson, Robison, Morgan, Baird, Gascoigne, Brompton, Walker, Cameron, Bush and Gould - a mere fifteen names from the hundreds of British subjects who made a considerable contribution to the material and artistic culture of Russia, particularly during the reigns of Peter I and Catherine II. But the name of the Englishman who occupies centre stage in what follows is not one that commands instant, or even delayed, recognition. Were Johnson Newman not mentioned in a recent article by V.A. Somov as the translator of the first volume of Pierre-Charles Levesque's Histoire de Russie into English,(1) he might indeed safely be called completely unknown.

Much remains obscure in Newman's biography, not least precisely when, how and why he first came to Russia. He himself was later to write that he had had "intercourse and connection ... with all ranks of people in Russia since the year 1755".(2) His name is encountered for the first time in 1757, when the Admiralty College requested the Academy of Sciences to test Newman's fitness to be a teacher of English in the Navel Cadet Corps.(3) This move, incidentally, was taken on 22 January, some two months before Elizabeth's ukaz was promulgated, requiring the qualifications of all foreign tutors in private and public institutions to be certified.(4) Newman was examined by the Professor of Jurisprudence, Frederic-Henri Strube de Piermont, who reported that not only did Newman as a native Englishman speak the language well but he also knew its grammar soundly enough to teach the cadets.(5) In a further document, dated 1 February 1757, Newman was already styling himself "Informator in the English language",(6) but there is no evidence that he ever taught at the Cadet Corps. He may indeed have entered instead the College of Foreign Affairs as a translator. It is as such, fourteen years later in 1771, that he next swims into view. Newman writes to Professor Gerhard-Friedrich Müller, who was by that time Director of the Archive of the College of Foreign Affairs in Moscow, to tell him of a letter he had received from Daniel Dumaresq, a former chaplain to the British Factory in St Petersburg and colleague of Muller on the commission on educational reform set up by Catherine II in 1764. "Всем известная между Гдном Думареском и вами находивщаяся дружба побудила меня соообщить вашему высокородию сию выписку, которая, хотя собою маловажна, однакож она служит в знак, как постоянства его в дружбе, как и усердия его к российскому государству", he writes, offering his services as a go-between.(7)

It was also in 1771 that there appeared in St Petersburg a pamphlet with the title: О китайских садах. Перевод из книги сочиненной г. Чамберсом содержащей в себе описание китайских строении, домашних их оборов одеянии, махин и инструментов.(8) The translator is not identified, but there are good reasons to suppose that he was Newman. There is among Catherine II's papers in RGADA (former TsGADA) a weighty file bearing the archival description 'Собственоручная французская рукопись Екатерины II, об устройстве садов, и перевод ее на русском языке'.(9) The only reference to this document occurs in an article by E.P. Shchukina, who alleges that Catherine "переводила и комментировала книгу 'Чемберса'".(10) but as I have recently demonstrated,(11) the empress was in fact editing an already published French translation of a major English work on the 'English garden', Thomas Whately's Observations on Modern Gardening (London, 1770). The French translator, Francois de Paule Latapie, provided his version with a long introduction, which in fact includes a translation of the very chapter from Sir William Chambers's Designs of Chinese Buildings. Furniture. Dresses. Machines, and Utensils (London, 1757) that was to appear in Russian in 1771.(12) Catherine retained only a little of the material from Latapie's introduction, omitting the excerpt from Chambers. There are, nonetheless, two versions of the chapter among her papers. The first bears the title 'O razpolozhenii sadov u Kitaitsov' and the indication 'Perevel Ivan Numan' and is followed by a second which almost completely, including the title, coincides with the printed version.(13) Despite a whole row of variants between these two Russian translations, they are sufficiently close in other respects to suggest that they are the work of one and the same translator, namely Newman. However, the translations were made directly from the English original, which is not surprising, given that the Russian translation was published a mere two or three months after the French version had appeared in Paris.(14) In order to give a unique example of Newman's abilities as a translator from English into Russian and to allow comparisons of the two manuscript versions and the printed one and also of the English original and the French translation, let us take the opening remarks by Chambers about rivers in Chinese gardens:

"The rivers are seldom straight, but serpentine, and broken into many irregular points; sometimes they are narrow, noisy, and rapid, at other times deep, broad and slow."
(Chambers, 1757, p. 16)

"Редко видеть у них увидите реки, прямыя, но кривыя и, в разных местах безпорядочно пресечены, то уские, шумящи, и быстры, то глубоки, широки, и тихотекущи бывают."
(Ньюмен, l. 270)

"Редко видеть можно у них реки прямыя, но извиляющияся и немного безпорядочные потоки пресекающияся; в уных местах они уски, шумящия, и быстры, в других же местах глубоки, широки, и тихотекущи."
(Второй вариант, ll. 283-283ob.)

"Редко видеть можно у них реки прямыя, но извиляющияся и на много безпорядочные потоки пресекающияся, в иных местах они уски, шумящи и быстры; в других же местах глубоки широки, и тихо текущи. "
(O kitaiskikh sadakh, 1771, c. 11)

"Les rivieres suivent rarement la ligne droite; elles serpentent, & sont interrompues par diverses irrégularités. Tantôt elles sont étroites, bruyantes, & rapides: tantôt lentes, larges, & profondes."
(Latapie, p. xvi)(15)

Unfortunately, Newman's service record has not been located, but the subsequent stages in his career may largely be established with the help of various archival documents and letters. In the summer of 1777 Nikolai Semenovich Mordvinov, on his return to Russia after service in the English fleet, suggested (for reasons unknown) in a letter to Andrei Samborskii, the priest at the Russian Embassy in London, that Newman "по морскому нашему слуху, не самой лучшей человек"(16) Newman at that time was acting as secretary of the Russian Ambassador in London, Aleksei Semenovich Musin-Pushkin, and continued in that post under his successor, Ivan Simolin. This piece of information we learn from the letter of another naval officer, this time English, Samuel Bentham, who was journeying to Russia in the winter of 1779. In Mittau Bentham met the Duke of Courland, who was very anxious to develop trading links with England. When Bentham offered his own services, the Duke explained that he was already using Newman who had been recommended to him by Musin-Pushkin, but that "N was not the man who suited him, that he had made abominable blunders in executing his commissions and besides that as he did not at all like his new master Simolin, he wished to have no further connection with him".(17) In London, Newman, like all members of the Russian embassy. Father Samborskii included, carried out numerous commissions and errands for the Russian aristocracy and gentry. In April 1779 he wrote to Petr Vasil'evich Bakunin (Men'shoi), a senior official in the College of Foreign Affairs, that he was sending him the buttons and cloth he had requested, but at the same time he did not let slip the opportunity to complain about his lot and to seek some increase in his salary or promotion.(18) Two years later, on 21 April 1781, he was in fact promoted to embassy councillor (sovetnik posol'stva) with an annual salary of 1200 rubles and that summer was sent to the Russian embassy in Portugal.(19) He served in Lisbon until the end of 1785, when Bakunin's good offices secured him the newly created post of Russian consul at Hull.(20) Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, Newman poured out his thanks to the Empress in a florid epistle sent via Bakunin: "I feel myself by far too deficient in the Colours of any Language, to paint satisfactorily that deep Impression of Gratitude and Joy which the Matter and Manner of Your Imperial Majesty's gracious favour has indelibly stamped on my Heart and Mind ..."(21)

Newman was thus able to return to his homeland. His life in Hull and in nearby Beverley, where he lived with his family, passed quietly and unnoticed. Only an insult to the honour of his adopted fourteen-year old daughter by a member of the local gentry in 1788 rippled the surface and he appealed to the Russian Ambassador Semen Vorontsov for protection and to the British government for satisfaction and damages.(22) As consul Newman performed his undemanding duties conscientiously and satisfactorily, receiving as recompense at the beginning of 1793 the rank of collegiate councillor (коллежский советник).(23) He sent off regularly to the Commerce College news about Anglo-Russian trade and reports with well-intentioned and often sound proposals and advice, but he rarely received answers or acknowledgements from the head of the College, Aleksandr Vorontsov.(24) It occasions no surprise that Newman enjoyed much free time and leisure to devote to translations and other literary endeavours.

In June 1781, just prior to his departure for Lisbon, Newman dared to approach the Empress for her patronage for a translation that he wished to undertake. The translation in question was to be of an as yet unwritten account of the late Captain James Cook's third expedition. Newman informed the Empress that an account of that expedition had recently appeared in London, but that the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks, "(которому имянно от Его британского величества сочинить Ему изо всех морских оригинальных дневных записок полное справедливое и достоверное описание) уверияет меня, что оное зазорное описание совсем маловажно и что на оном нималейше уверить не можно".(25) Furthermore, Banks had promised to pass to Newman for translation into Russian his own manuscript prior to publication. Newman's first approach to the Empress, however, did not meet with success. In the event, his departure for Lisbon would have made the project unrealistic. But he did not abandon literary plans of a similar nature and when he returned to England, he immediately began to think of ways to be useful "tant à la Russie qu'à ma Patrie".(26)

In 1789 Newman, together with the Russian consul general in London Alexander Baxter and several other Englishmen, was elected to the Imperial Free Economic Society, but it is not known whether subsequently he sent the Society any communications or reports.(27) His contribution to Anglo-Russian relations was somewhat different. In that same 1789 there appeared in Hull the first volume of Newman's English translation of Pierre-Charles Levesque's Histoire de Russie. copies of which he immediately dispatched to St Petersburg. One copy with the inscription "For His Imperial Highness Paul Petrovitz Grand Duke of all the Russias", which was in the library of Tsarskoe Selo, is now in the Russian National (Public) Library; another, a gift for the Empress, is in the Hermitage Library. Sadly, in the latter Newman saw fit to show his talents not only as translator but also as odester, penning sixteen lines of rhymed banality, beginning:

Ye vain and envious Foes to Russia's State!
Be wise in time for Wisdom dooms your Fate:
Desist ye false from your erroneous Strife,
Be wise, and imitate Great Catherine's Life.(28)

The translation as such was not, however, dedicated to the Empress but to the Vice- Chancellor Ivan Osterman, the head of the College of Foreign Affairs, to whom a year later Newman wrote in connection with his work on Levesque. In his short 'Translator's Preface' Newman praises "the philosophical Monsieur Levesque" for the veracity of the narrative and expresses the hope that the translation will help his fellow countrymen to understand better Russian history and also "cement that natural and political connection, which, from their first knowledge of each other, has always subsisted between the Empires of Russia and Great Britain".(29) In his letter to Osterman Newman gives interesting details about his translation, the rough draft of which he had apparently finished some years earlier. Via Osterman's secretary, a certain Valz, he had then become acquainted with Ivan Boltin's Примечания на Историю древная и нынешная России г. Леклерка (1788). which obliged him to make some corrections and improvements to his initial translation, although he adds that Levesque "lui-même a bien critiqué" Le Clerc.(30) It is also of interest to note that the industrious consul was also preparing a translation of Boltin so that in the event of there being published an English version of Le Clerc's Histoire fausse et offensante, he would be "bien armé à Lui faire la Guerre literaire".(31) An English Le Clerc was never published. It is understandable therefore that there was no English Boltin, although those Englishmen who wrote about the history of Russia at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of nineteenth centuries, such as William Tooke, were well aware of Boltin's strictures.(32) But equally there was no published English Levesque. How could that be?

Newman reminds Osterman that he had sent him "encore 1'année passée quatre Exemplaires du premier Tome imprimé et corrigé" (i.e. after his reading of Boltin).(33) Of the fate of two of these copies we know, but the other two (possibly retained by Osterman himself) have either disappeared or survive in some Russian library. As far as can be established, the copies in St Petersburg are unique. There are no copies in England, in America or in any country contributing to the 'Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue', supervised by the British Library in London.(34) It is clear from the letter to Osterman that Newman had had printed a very small number of 'demonstration copies' of the first volume of his translation but could not proceed to publish the work until he obtained the patronage he desired:

Je n'aurais que peu d'Encouragement et de debit au public anglois sans la Protection de quelque Personnage anglois, qui me permettroit de la lui dedier. J'ai done 1'idée de la dedier au Roi, au Prince de Galles, ou à quelque Chef de 1'Opposition, tel qu'au Due de Portland ou à Monsieur Fox; et la Grace que je solicite actuellement de Votre Excelice c'est de m'honorer de Son Entremise aupres de la Cour de Russie pour m'obtenir telle Protection et permission; pour que je puisse publier tous ces deux Ouvrages en Angleterre et les dedier auquel des susdits Personnages que la Cour de Russie jugera a propos de choisir et m'indiquer.(35)

It is probable that once again Newman received no answer from the Russian court. The year was then 1790 and Catherine was distracted by other reading, not least of the 'revolting' Radishchev, and she looked with suspicion on all Frenchmen, not distinguishing at all, as we know, between "le medecin Le Clerc et le precepteur 1'Evêque, qui sont des bêtes, ... et des bêtes ennuyeuses et dégoûtantes".(36) And it was also in 1790, that George Prince, the noted Hull printer who was responsible for producing the few copies for Newman, died.(37) Newman's hopes of publishing the English Levesque were dashed. His wish to publish a second work, described in his letter to Osterman, also came to nothing. Newman clearly understood that ignorance of foreign languages was a huge barrier between nations and he was particularly conscious of British ignorance of Russian.

Depuis 1'année 1755 que je suis entré en Russie au Service, j'ai souvent été temoin oculaire par Terre et par Mer de quantité d'Anglois qui sont entrés au Service de la Russie dans tous les Departements et qui faute de sauvoir et la Langue et 1'Histoire de Russie, n'ont pu communiquer leurs Idées, ni par consequent lui être util sans Interprête, avec toute leur Fidelité, Zeie, Courage et Sciences reconnus.(38)

He had therefore himself written a 'Grammaire russienne pour un Gentilhomme Anglais', modelled on Lomonosov's РОссийская грамматика. It was precisely according to the same model that Jean-Baptiste Charpender had written his Elemens de la langue russe (1768), which countless foreigners, English among them, had used in the second half of the eighteenth century. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, when once again the lack of Russian grammar for the English was keenly felt, a proposal was made to translate Charpentier's textbook from French into English and publish it in London.(39) By that time Newman was dead and the manuscripts of both his grammar and his translation of Levesque had vanished without trace. He himself seems to have vanished also without trace. The burial registers of the two Beverley parishes at that date, St John and St Martin (the Minster) and St Mary and St Nicholas, were searched without success over the period 1798-1810.(40) It is possible, however, that Newman returned to Russia. In the passport registers, held at the Passport Office, there is an entry under 15 September 1803 for a passport for 'Mr Newman & family", on the recommendation of William Eton.(41)

A. G. Cross (Cambridge University)


(1) V. A. Somov, 'Kniga P.-Sh. Leveka "Rossiiskaia istoriia" (1782 g.) i ee russkii chitatel'', Kniga i biblioteki v Rossii v XIV - pervoi polovine XIX veka (Leningrad, 1982), s. 86.
(2) 'The Translator's Preface', in P. C. Levesque, The History of Russia, I (Hull, 1789), i.
(3) SPb. Arkhiv RAN, f. 3, op. I, ed. khr. 218, l. 344.
(4) P. S. Biliarskii (red.), Materialy dlia biografii Lomonosova (SPb., 1865), s. 58-59.
(5) SPb. Arkhiv RAN, f. 3, op. I, ed. khr. 218, l. 346-47. (Strube de Piermont was to be a member of the examining board, along with G.-F. Müller, Braun and Fischer).
(6) Tam zhe, l. 350ob.
(7) Tam zhe, f. 21, op. 3.
(8) Svodnyi katalog russkoi knigi XVIII veka, III (Moskva, 1966); s. 357. po. 8139.
(9) RGADA, f. 10, Kabinet Ee Velichestva, op. 1, ed. khr. 383.
(10) E. Ts. Shchukina, '"Natural'nyi sad" russkoi usad'by v kontse XVIII v.', Russkoe iskusstvo XVIII veka: materialy i issledovaniia (Moskva, 1973), s. 114.
(11) See my 'Catherine the Great and Whateley's Observations on Modern Gardening', Study Group on Eighteenth-Century Newsletter, no. 18 (1990), 21-29.
(12) 'Discours préliminaire du Traducteur', L'Art de former les jardins modernes, on l'art des jardins anglois. Traduit de l'anglois. A quoi le traductéur a ajouté un Discours préliminaire sur l'origine de l'art, des notes sur les texte, & une Description detaillée des jardines de Stowe, accompagnée du plan (Paris, 1771), pp. i-lix.
(13) RGADA, f. 10, op. 1, ed. khr. 383, ll. 266-92ob.
(14) SPb. Arkhiv RAN, f. 3, op. 4, po. 26/2 (1771), l. 40ob.
(15) The order of the last three words in the various excerpts is one of the indications that the English original was the source for the Russian version.
(16) IRLI, f. 620, Arkhiv A. A. Sambroskogo, ed. khr. 127, l. 3ob.
(17) The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, II (London, 1968), 396. See also ibid., p. 370.
(18) RGADA, f. 1261, Vorontsovy, op. 3 ed. khr. 2642, ll. 1-2.
(19) V. N. Aleksandrenko, Russkie diplomaticheskie agenty v Londone v XVIII v., II (Varshava, 1899), s. 391.
(20) Ibid., s. 231.
(21) RGADA, f. 1261, op. 3, ed. khr. 2642, l. 3.
(22) SPb, OII RAN, f. 36, op. 1, d. 1251, ll. 66-70.
(23) Mesiatsoslov s rospis'iu chinovnykh osob v Gosudarstve na leto 1794 (SPb, 1794), s. 44.
(24) RGADA, f. 1261, op. 3, d. 7999, ll. 1-11 (five letters over period August 1786 to July 1788).
(25) AVPR, f. Snosheniia Rossii s Angliei, d. 325, l. 1ob.
(26) Ibid., d. 772, l. 1.
(27) Heinz Mohrmann, Studien über russisch-deutsche Begegnungen in der Wirtschafwissenschaft (1750-1825) (Berlin, 1959), p. 119
(28) P.-C. Levesque, The History of Russia, I (Hull, 1789), facing title page.
(29) Ibid., p. i.
(30) AVPR, f. Snosheniia Rossii s Angliei, d. 772, l. 1ob (Newman sent a virtually identical letter to A. A. Bezborodko, which is in Rgada, f. 10, op. 1, ed. khr. 650, ll. 124-26.
(31) Ibid., ll. 1-1ob.
(32) W. Tooke, History of Russia, from the Foundation of the Monarchy by Rurik, to the Accession of Catherine the Second, II (London, 1800), p. 492.
(33) AVPR, d. 772, l. 1ob.
(34) Confirmed in a letter to me from D. R. S. Pearson, The British Library, 21 June 1990. See my 'From Hull to Petersburg: Levesque's History of Russia Printed by George Prince', Factotum, no 33 (1991), pp. 14-18.
(35) AVPR, d. 772, l. 2.
(36) Sbornik Imperatorskogo Russkogo istoricheskogo obshchestva, XXIII (SPb, 1878), p. 274.
(37) C. W. Chilton, Early Hull Printers and Booksellers (Kingston-upon-Hull, 1982), pp. 53-57.
(38) AVPR, d. 772, l. 2ob.
(39) Recollections of the Life of the Rev. A. J. Scott, D.D., Lord Nelson's Chaplain (London, 1842), p. 64.
(40) Letter from the County Archivist, Humberside County Council, Beverley, 5 October 1990.
(41) Passport Office, London, Volume I (1795-1822). A transcript of the Russian entries in the volume was given to me many years ago by J. S. G. Simmons, one of his countless acts of kindness.