Stevens, John (DNB00)

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STEVENS or STEPHENS, JOHN (d. 1726), Spanish scholar and translator, was a Roman catholic, and probably an Irishman. He is said to have accompanied James II in his Irish campaigns, and to have been employed in other services by him. He is probably to be identified with the Lieutenant John Stephens mentioned by D'Alton (King James's Irish Army List, p. 485). He was not attainted, and before 1695 had settled in London. From that time till his death he was busily engaged in translations and historical and antiquarian compilations. He says nothing of himself in any of his numerous works, which are almost always inscribed ‘Captain Stevens.’ The intimate knowledge of Portuguese and of the Spanish language and literature displayed in his prefaces points to a residence in Spain or Portugal. Miscellaneous as Stevens's work was, he deserves special recognition as a predecessor of Southey, Stirling-Maxwell, and Ticknor in the exploration of the rich mine of Spanish literature, and his translations of Quevedo and of the historians Mariana and Sandoval are of real value. He died on 27 Oct. 1726.

Stevens's first publication, an abridged translation in three octavo volumes of Faria y Sousa's ‘Portuguesa Asia,’ appeared in 1695, with a dedication to Catharine, queen dowager of England, and daughter of King John of Portugal. In 1698 he produced a translation and continuation from 1640 of the same author's ‘History of Portugal.’ His English version of Don Francisco Manuel da Mello's ‘The Government of a Wife’ was issued in 1697. It was dedicated to Don Luis da Cunha, the Portuguese envoy. In the same year Stevens published a version of Quevedo's ‘Fortune in her Wits, or the Hour of all Men.’ He issued in 1707 a translation of the collected comedies of Quevedo, which was republished in 1709 and in 1742. A collection of Spanish works translated and adapted by him appeared in the same year under the title of ‘The Spanish Libertines.’ It consisted of Perez's ‘Justina, the Country Jilt;’ ‘Celestina, the Bawd of Madrid,’ by F. de Rojas; ‘Gonzales, the most arch and comical of scoundrels, by himself;’ and D'Avila's comedy, ‘An Evening's Intrigue,’ adapted by the translator.

Some years previously Stevens had essayed a ‘revision’ of Shelton's English version of ‘Don Quixote’ (second edition, ‘further revised and amended,’ London, 1706, in 2 vols. 8vo). It was dedicated to Sir Thomas Hanmer [q. v.], and was illustrated by thirty-three copperplates, ‘curiously engraved from the Brussels edition.’ Stevens also translated in 1705 the so-called ‘continuation’ of ‘Don Quixote’ made by ‘the licentiate, Alonzo Fernandez de Avellaneda,’ which had never before appeared in English. The version was prepared from the French of Le Sage.

A rendering by Stevens of Quevedo's ‘Pablo de Segovia the Spanish Sharper’ formed the basis of the Edinburgh version of 1798, and was reprinted in vol. ii. of ‘The Romancist and Novelist's Library,’ edited by Mr. W. C. Hazlitt in 1841. Mr. H. E. Watts, who utilised it for the edition prepared by him in 1892, says that it is still the best English version. Stevens also translated from the Spanish many works of history and travel, as well as Quintana's ‘The most Entertaining History of Hippolyto and Aminta;’ 2nd edit. 1729, 12mo. His rendering of Mariana's ‘History of Spain’ appeared in 1699, fol.; and of Sandoval's ‘History of Charles V’ in 1703, 8vo. In 1715 he englished Texeira's Spanish version of Mírkhánd's ‘History of Persia.’ His translation of Herrera's ‘General History of the Vast Continent and Islands of America, commonly called the West Indies,’ issued in 6 vols. 8vo, 1725–6, and reprinted in 1740, has been pronounced too free. From Spanish authors Stevens also mainly compiled his ‘New Collection of Voyages and Travels,’ published in two quarto volume in 1711 (having originally appeared in monthly parts), and republished in 1719.

Stevens was also a learned and industrious antiquary. In 1718 he published anonymously a folio translation and abridgment of Dugdale's ‘Monasticon Anglicanum.’ Ralph Thoresby, who afterwards corresponded with Stevens, attributed it to a Spanish priest. He terms it ‘an useful book in its kind, tho' there are both typographical errors and others, besides some reflections upon the revolution’ (Diary, ed. Hunter, 12 Nov. 1719, 7 Jan. 1721). In 1722 Stevens published a continuation of the ‘Monasticon’ in 2 vols., entitled ‘The History of the Ancient Abbeys, Monasteries, Hospitals, Cathedrals,’ &c., illustrated with copperplates. As a further continuation of the ‘Monasticon Anglicanum’ Stevens issued anonymously in 1722, 8vo, his ‘Monasticon Hibernicum.’ This is a translation, with additions and alterations, of Alemand's ‘Histoire Monastique d'Irlande,’ 1690 (cf. Thoresby, Diary, 5 Sept. 1723, ed. Hunter). Stevens also translated Bæda's ‘Ecclesiastical History of Britain.’ The work is scarce, and the rendering so literal as to be obscure in places. Some of the notes were embodied in W. Hurst's version, published in 1814. Stevens's translation formed the basis of that of Dr. Giles (1840), and of that issued in Bohn's ‘Antiquarian Library’ (1847).

From the French he translated in 1712 for Lintot ‘parts of Dupin’ (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. viii. 298), probably Louis Ellies Dupin's ‘Bibliothèque Universelle des Historiens;’ and Book iii. of P. J. D'Orléans's ‘Histoire des Révolutions en Angleterre sous la Famille des Stuarts,’ 1722, 8vo.

He also compiled: 1. ‘A Brief History of Spain,’ 1701, 8vo. 2. ‘The Ancient and Present State of Portugal,’ 1701, 8vo (founded on Faria y Sousa's ‘Europa Portuguesa’). 3. ‘The Lives and Actions of all the Sovereigns of Bavaria,’ 1706, 8vo. 4. ‘A Spanish-English and English-Spanish Dictionary, with Grammar,’ 1706, fol.; 1726, 4to. 5. ‘The Royal Treasury of England; or an Historical Account of Taxes,’ 1725, 8vo; 2nd edit., 1733. Defoe's ‘History of the Wars of Charles XII’ is wrongly ascribed to him by Watt.

[Baker's Biogr. Dramatica, i. 691, ii. 203; Boyer's Polit. State of Great Britain, xxxii. 411; Hist. Reg. 1726 (Chronol. Diary); Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ii. 359, iii. 306; Watt's Bibl. Brit. i. 880; Lowndes's Bibl. Manual, vol. v.; H. E. Watts's Essay on Quevedo prefixed to Pablo de Segovia 1892; Advertisement to Hurst's Translation of Bæda's Eccles. Hist. 1814; Works in Brit. Mus.]

G. Le G. N.