Lewis Page Mercier

Lewis Page Mercier
Born 9 Jan 1820
Died 2 Nov 1875
Nationality British
Education BA (Oxon) 1841, M.A. 1855
Occupation Chaplain of the Foundling Hospital, 1861-1873
Known for Translator of Jules Verne's novels
Religion Church of England
Spouse Anna Marie Hovell
Children 11

Reverend Lewis Page Mercier (1820–1875)[1] is known today as the translator, along with Eleanor Elizabeth King, of two of the best known novels of Jules Verne: Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas [2] and From the Earth to the Moon, and a Trip Around It. To avoid a conflict of interest with his position as chaplain, Mercier wrote under the pen names of Louis Mercier, MA (Oxon) and Mercier Lewis[3].



In 1871, the publishers Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington acquired the English rights to several of Jules Verne's books[4]. For their first work Sampson Low & Co. chose Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas published in November, 1872, with the translator Rev. Lewis Page Mercier, (1820–1875) B.A. Oxon., 1841, M.A. 1855. Born on 9 January 1820 (Christening: 7 February 1820, Old Church, Saint Pancras, London [5]), the only son of Francis Michael Jacob Mercier, Lewis Mercier came of French Huguenot stock; his grandfather was pastor of the French Protestant church in Threadneedle Street, London. He almost certainly spoke French at home as a child, and may have been one of the few native French speakers to translate Verne. The family was located in the London Borough of Hackney[6], home of the original silk industry of French mercers (French: mercier).

In 1837 Mercier entered Trinity College, Oxford,[7] where he was the College Latin Essayist. In 1839 he received an open scholarship from the University.[8] He received a Third in “Greats” (Greek and Latin) receiving his B.A. on 25 June 1841,[9] and obtained a post-graduate bursary at University College, Oxford, the “Browne Exhibition”, established by one Browne in 1587. Foregoing an academic but at the time necessarily celibate career, he gave up his exhibition to marry Anna Marie Hovell[10] in 1842. He became a deacon in 1843[11] and a presbyter in 1845. In 1855 he was awarded his M.A. degree[7] from University College.

His first posting was to Glasgow where he was Assistant Minister of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Chapel, 2nd master of the Glasgow College School, and Chaplain to the Garrison. While in Glasgow he was admitted to membership in the Glasgow Philosophical Society (15 Nov 1843)[12]. From Glasgow he moved on to be 2nd Master at a new school in Edgbaston near Birmingham (1846) and headmaster (1849). In 1857 he moved back to Hackney becoming headmaster at the St. John’s Foundation School and Assistant Reader at the Chapel of the Foundling Hospital in nearby Brunswick Square.[13] In 1861 we find him living at the school at age 41, head of a family of 9 children (ages 1,2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 14, 15), numerous servants and 25 pupils.[14] Relieved of his position by the Governing Board in 1861, he then became Chaplain at the Chapel of the Foundling Hospital, then one of the most important charitable institutions in England.

The Foundling Hospital[15] was the first public charity in England, established in 1739 by a Royal Charter granted by King George II and Queen Caroline. The buildings were erected on 53 acres (210,000 m2) purchased by Thomas Coram the ship captain who sponsored its establishment. Early benefactors were the painter Hogarth and George Friedrich Handel who played at the opening and conducted the Messiah every year thereafter. Well known artists contributed paintings, and the Foundling Hospital became the first picture gallery in the country. Church services at the chapel with famous preachers, famous musicians, a professional choir and organist attracted large crowds of the most well connected people in London throughout the century. Charles Dickens who lived nearby attended regularly with a reserved pew. The buildings were torn down in 1926 to make way for a fish market which was never built.

In 1865 Lewis Mercier suddenly found it necessary to borrow £250[16] secured by a bond from Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh (Warwickshire), the wealthiest landowner in England, at the rate of 12% per annum. (Lord Leigh had appointed him “Provincial Grand Chaplain to the Freemasons, Warwickshire in 1852.) By 1870, in ill health and unable to repay his debt when it came due, he was forced in extremis to seek extra funds by translating for Sampson Low, who were in the process of printing a religious book of his.

Mercier offered one great advantage to Sampson Low: speed. A linguist of sorts, conversant with older French dialects, possibly fluent in multiple languages, he worked with his assistant Eleanor Elizabeth King (1838 — ??) to translate three Verne novels in little over a year in his spare time, enabling Sampson Low to come out with a new Verne book for the Christmas trade in 1872 and 1873. Unfortunately Mercier's shaky grasp of latter-day French idioms and limited knowledge of his era's science and technology led him into many foolish translating errors. He has also been pilloried in America and England for his stilted prose and his translations' many omissions. In view of his desperate financial situation it has been conjectured that the deletions could have been dictated by his editors at Sampson Low, however no hard evidence has been found to support this surmise. It is equally likely that he worked fast simply to get paid fast. [17] A drastically cut version of Mercier's already-cut 20,000 Leagues (175 pp.) was published by Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd. in the early 1900s.

Mercier was forced to resign[18] his position at the Foundling Hospital by the Governing Board in early 1873 after troubles arose over his supervision of the schools, and he died on Tuesday November 2, 1875,[19] the date his semi-annual payment of £15 to Lord Leigh was due.

Affair of Stephan Poles and the British Museum

In 1874 the Polish expatriate, revolutionary, member of the Paris commune, American war correspondent, and author Stephan Poles (1847–1875)[20] published a pamphlet denouncing in strong language the secretary and chief librarian of the British Museum, John Winter Jones. The pamphlet entitled The actual condition of the British Museum, a literary expostulation[21] was sold on Russell Street in front of the building by a sandwich man. Some of the Museum officials furnished information for the compilation of the pamphlet. Mercier apparently read this pamphlet and published his rebuttal The British Museum. An impartial statement, in answer to a pamphlet by Stephan Poles under the pseudonym "M.A." (i.e. Master of Arts).[22] Both of these pamphlets are available in British depositary libraries. Stefan Poles died on November 22, 1875 only a few weeks after the death of Mercier.

Other works

Mercier also translated The Wreck of the Hansa (The German Arctic expedition of 1869-70), as well as publishing several religious works and instructional materials for teachers of Greek and Latin listed below:

  • A Manual of Greek Prosody. Mercier, Lewis Page, 12 vo, Glasgow, 1843.[23]
  • Selections from Æsop, Xenophon, and Anacreon, for the use of junior forms in schools. Mercier, Lewis Page, 12 vo, London, 1851.
  • The Present European Crisis viewed in its relation to Prophecy; a sermon [on Rev. xxii. 10], etc. Mercier, Lewis Page, 8 vo, London, 1853.
  • The Principles of Christian Charity derived from the example of our Saviour and His Apostles. Mercier, Lewis Page, 8 vo, London, 1855.
  • Considerations respecting a future state, an essay. Mercier, Lewis Page, 8 vo, London, Oxford, 1858
  • “The Christian and the Harvest.” A sermon [on Matt. iv. 4], etc.; Mercier, Lewis Page, 8 vo, London, 1860.
  • “The Mystery of God’s Providence.” A sermon [on Eccl. vii. 15] preached ... Dec. 22, 1861, on the occasion of the death of H. R. H. the Prince Consort. Mercier, Lewis Page; Albert, Prince Consort of Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, London, [1861.]
  • “The Eucharistic Feast.” A brief historical inquiry into the true nature of the Lord’s Supper. Mercier, Lewis Page, 8 vo, London, 1868.[24]
  • Outlines of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ : with critical and expository notes, and an emendation of the common chronologies. Rev. Lewis Mercier, London : Sampson Low, Marston, Low & Searle, 1871, 1872[25]
  • The German Arctic Expedition of 1869-70, and narrative of the wreck of the “Hansa” in the ice. By Captain Koldewey ... assisted by members of the scientific staff. With ... illustrations. Translated and abridged by the Rev. L. Mercier; and edited by H. W. Bates., London : Sampson Low, Marston, Low & Searle, 1874[26]
  • The British Museum. An impartial statement, in answer to a pamphlet by Stephan Poles[20] entitled ‘The Actual Condition of the British Museum.’ By M. A. [i.e. L. P. Mercier.] / A., M. ; Mercier, Lewis Page ; Poles, Stephan ; London : Spottiswoode & Co., 1875.


  1. ^ Registry of Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1839, British Records Office, London, also available at http://www.ancestry.com/
  2. ^ Jules Verne (1875). Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, Or The Marvellous and Exciting Adventures of Pierre Aronnax, Conseil His Servant, and Ned Land, a Canadian Harpooner. Boston: Geo. M. Smith & Co.. http://books.google.com/books?id=6GwUAAAAYAAJ&printsec=titlepage&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0. Retrieved 2008-10-25. 
  3. ^ Norman M. Wolcott (2007). "How Lewis Mercier and Eleanor King Brought You Jules Verne". Lulu Books. http://www.ibiblio.org/pub/docs/books/sherwood/How_Lewis_Mercier.htm. Retrieved 2008-10-05. "We note that only for the last book, 1874 (after his dismissal), does he use his real name. (...) Mercier, as other Victorian clergymen who translated Verne, was drawing a salary from an agent of the crown. It was not then, nor now, allowable to trade on one's official position for outside business purposes." 
  4. ^ Edward Marston (1904). After Work: Fragments from the Workshop of an Old Publisher. London: William Heineman. http://books.google.com/books?id=ASUl_WzppPUC&printsec=titlepage#PPA177,M1. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  5. ^ "LDS "Family Search"". http://www.familysearch.org/eng/default.asp. 
  6. ^ "Hackney in 1868". http://homepages.gold.ac.uk/genuki/MDX/Hackney/HackneyHistory.html. 
  7. ^ a b Joseph Foster (1891). Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1715-1886. London: Parker and Co.. pp. 944. http://books.google.com/books?id=l-stAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA944&dq=Lewis+Page+Mercier+-inauthor:%22Lewis+Page+Mercier%22&lr=&num=100&as_brr=1&ei=xhj-SI7KBqW0zATEm8DqBg. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  8. ^ The Ecclesiastical gazette, or, Monthly register of the affairs of the Church of England. Charles Cox. 1839. pp. 166. http://books.google.com/books?id=r5sOAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA166&dq=Lewis+Page+Mercier+-inauthor:%22Lewis+Page+Mercier%22&lr=&num=100&as_brr=1&ei=xhj-SI7KBqW0zATEm8DqBg. Retrieved 2008-10-22. 
  9. ^ A Catalogue of All Graduates in Divinity, Law, Medicine, Arts and Music 1659-1850. Oxford University Press. 1851. p. 449. http://books.google.com/books?id=WehLAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA449&dq=Lewis+Page+Mercier+-inauthor:%22Lewis+Page+Mercier%22&lr=&num=100&as_brr=1&ei=xhj-SI7KBqW0zATEm8DqBg#PPA449,M1. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  10. ^ "FreeBMD". http://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/search.pl?start=1842&end=1842&sq=3&eq=3&type=Marriages&vol=3&pgno=124&jsexec=1&mono=0&v=MTIyNDk5Mzk2Mjo5Y2VmZDdlYTE2MWRhOTQ2ODkwZTE3OThlNzM4N2U0MTcwOTA5ZDVh&searchdef=given%3Dlewis%2520page%26db%3Dbmd_1223978767%26type%3DMarriages%26sq%3D1%26v%3DMTIyNDk5Mzg5Nzo4NDNhOWQzMTNlY2FkNjIwYzQ4YzhjMWRlOTk1ZmUxNmQ1MWM5MjQ2%26eq%3D4%26surname%3Dmercier&action=Find. 
  11. ^ Charles Cox (1843). The Ecclesiastical Gazette. Charles Cox. pp. 173. http://books.google.com/books?id=_psOAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA173&dq=Lewis+Page+Mercier+-inauthor:%22Lewis+Page+Mercier%22&lr=&num=100&as_brr=1&ei=xhj-SI7KBqW0zATEm8DqBg. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  12. ^ Proceedings of the Glasgow Philosophical Society 1841-42. Richard Griffin & Co, Glasgow; and Thomas Tegg, London. 1843. pp. 176. http://books.google.com/books?id=RQIFAAAAQAAJ&pg=RA1-PA176&dq=Lewis+Page+Mercier+-inauthor:%22Lewis+Page+Mercier%22&lr=&num=100&as_brr=1&ei=xhj-SI7KBqW0zATEm8DqBg. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  13. ^ Crockford's Clerical directory, London, 1858. See for example Crockford's Clerical Directory. Church House Publishing.. 1868. http://books.google.com/books?id=w2gFAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA453&dq=Lewis+Page+Mercier+-inauthor:%22Lewis+Page+Mercier%22&lr=&num=100&as_brr=1&ei=xhj-SI7KBqW0zATEm8DqBg#PPA453,M1. 
  14. ^ U.K. Census, June, 1861, available at http://www.ancestry.com/
  15. ^ R. H. Nicholls and F. A. Wray, The History of the Foundling Hospital, London: Oxford University Press, 1935
  16. ^ "Correspondence of Lewis Mercier at the Shakespeare Trust, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, UK.". http://calm.shakespeare.org.uk/dserve/dserve.exe?dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqDb=Catalog&dsqCmd=Overview.tcl&dsqSearch=(((text)='mercier')AND(Repository='SBTRO')). Retrieved 2008-10-23. 
  17. ^ Details of the errors in Mercier's translations and an explanation of how they occurred may be found in Norman Wolcott. "How Lewis Mercier and Eleanor King Brought You Jules Verne". http://www.ibiblio.org/pub/docs/books/sherwood/How_Lewis_Mercier.htm. Retrieved 2008-01-19. , Newsletter of the North American Jules Verne Society, Vol. 12, No. 2, Dec. 2005, and in expanded form in a publication of the same title, published by the Choptank Press, St. Michaels, MD, 2007.
  18. ^ Minutes of the Select Committees of the Foundling Hospital, 1864-1886, unpublished, London Metropolitan Archives, London, UK
  19. ^ Death Certificate, British Records Office, London, U.K.
  20. ^ a b Boase, Frederic (1897). Modern English Biography: Containing Many Thousand Concise Memiors of Persons who Have Died Since the Year 1850, with an Index of the Most Interesting Matter. Netherton and Worth, For the author. pp. 1571. http://books.google.com/books?id=_IVmAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA5-PA1707&dq=%22stephen+poles%22&lr=&num=100&as_brr=1&ei=BYz-SM29HYjcygT069XRBg#PRA4-PA1583,M1. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  21. ^ "The actual condition of the British Museum, a literary expostulation". http://copac.ac.uk/wzgw?id=081201d5e6b09d22cdea99ed1337d2ba7d89b8&f=u&rsn=1&rn=1. Retrieved 2008-10-23. 
  22. ^ M.A. i.e. L. P. Mercier (1875). The British Museum. An impartial statement, in answer to a pamphlet by Stephan Poles. London: Spottiswoode & Co.. http://copac.ac.uk/wzgw?id=081201d5e6b09d22cdea99ed1337d2ba7d89b8&f=u&rsn=1&rn=2. Retrieved 2008-11-30. 
  23. ^ Rev. Lewis Page Mercier, B.A. (1843). A Manual of Greek Prosody. Glasgow: John Smith and son. http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&id=kucDAAAAQAAJ&dq=page+mercier&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=ag3b6MCC1Q&sig=ynu_gIDEfJuvCLnxbQEs3e0l7xk. Retrieved 2008-10-19. 
  24. ^ Rev. L. P. Mercier (1868). The Eucharistic Feast. London: William Mackintosh. http://books.google.com/books?id=f-4CAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=inauthor:%22Lewis+Page+Mercier%22&lr=&num=100&as_brr=1&ei=qFH-SJ6IOZWyyQS_oKXFDQ. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  25. ^ Rev. Lewis Mercier, M.A. (1872). Outlines of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ Vol II. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle. http://books.google.com/books?id=tJoCAAAAQAAJ&printsec=titlepage#PPP5,M1. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  26. ^ Karl Koldewey, Lewis Page Mercier, Henry Walter Bates (1874). The German Arctic Expedition of 1869-70: And Narrative of the Wreck of the "Hansa" in the Ice. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle. http://books.google.com/books?id=-9kBAAAAYAAJ&printsec=titlepage&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 

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