BELL, ANDREW, historian and journalist; fl. 1827–63.
Little is known of Andrew Bell’s life before he came to Canada in 1858, and nothing at all of his birth and family. A Scottish background, a good education, and a superior intellect are revealed to us through his works. Bell tells his readers that he sojourned in Belgium, and that he “lived long” in France (where he had gone about 1827 for health reasons) gaining there an “intimate knowledge of the character of the French people.” He spent a year in the United States in 1835–36 and recorded his experiences in Men and things in America (1838).
Bell was evidently living in Glasgow about 1850 when a friend presented him with a package of manuscript letters by General James Wolfe*. Bell stated in print that these letters “excited a desire” in him to learn more about Wolfe’s life. Related to this interest, no doubt, was an assignment from the publishers of his Historical sketches of feudalism (1852) to prepare a memoir of Wolfe for a proposed biographical collection, “Lives of the illustrious.” Bell was still in Glasgow in 1856, supporting himself as a “literary lecturer and private teacher of French,” and he was an early member of the Glasgow Archaeological Society which was founded in that year. It may have been Bell’s interest in Wolfe which attracted him to Canada, for he says that “within a few hours of first setting my foot upon Canadian soil” he paid his “heart’s devoirs” at Wolfe’s monument in Quebec City. This event took place no later than September 1858; by then he had become editor of the Montreal Pilot, a Reform daily newspaper owned and printed at that time by Rollo Campbell*. In 1859 he was referring to Canada as his adopted country and was campaigning for a national celebration to mark the centennial of the battle of the Plains of Abraham. Favourably taken up by members of the English Canadian press, the proposal was well received in Britain and the United States, and Bell was confident it would be also in France. But he was astonished by the opposition expressed in the French Canadian press “in the most bitter, nay even insulting terms.” On the anniversary day of the battle, 13 Sept. 1859, he lectured on Wolfe at the mechanics’ institute in Montreal and the resulting pamphlet gives the impression that he was more naive than malicious; notwithstanding his stated purpose, to honour Louis-Joseph de Montcalm* and Wolfe equally, he was clearly obsessed by his veneration of Wolfe (“my hero” he called him) and by a patriotism more British than Canadian. In any case, the circumstances were inauspicious for one who, the day after the address, was announced as about to embark on a translation of François-Xavier Garneau’s Histoire du Canada.
It was publisher John Lovell* who engaged Bell for the delicate task of translating “the best Canadian History extant,” to be entitled “The New and Comprehensive History of Canada,” hardly a rendering of the original title. According to the announcement which appeared in the Montreal Pilot on 14 September, Lovell had obtained Garneau’s approbation to publish a translation of his new third edition of 1859 “with such modifications as would make it acceptable to the entirety of our people, whether of British or French origin.” Garneau, however, in a letter to Le Journal de Québec on 15 Oct. 1859, cautioned the public that he had ceded to Lovell only the right to make a faithful and correct translation; any observations provided by the translator should appear as footnotes. Bell executed his commission with dispatch: publication of the three volumes, containing over 1,200 pages of text, was announced on 26 Oct. 1860 in the Pilot, under the title History of Canada. The Pilot stated that Bell had “performed his duty with fidelity,” but French Canadian reviewers, as well as Garneau himself, were quick to point out that the translation was not at all faithful. Moreover, Bell was accused of making changes to please Anglophones and of including notes and insertions that were quite hostile to the original spirit of Garneau’s work. Nonetheless, the responsibility clearly rested with Lovell, the contracting party with Garneau, and Lovell was evidently more concerned with the market for his publication than with scholarship. No doubt Bell’s work was prepared for English readers, rather than for English and French as Lovell had announced, but one must take note of Bell’s avowed intention to modify Garneau’s text, and his prefatory notice did state that his work was a “free, rather than a slavishly literal translation.” The controversy continues to the present day. A revised second edition in two volumes was published by Lovell in 1862; the third edition was published by Richard Worthington of Montreal in 1866, and Belford Brothers in Toronto put out another “third” edition in 1876. The revisions in the 1862 edition were minor, and most probably made by Bell before he left Canada; the later editions are unchanged.
Andrew Bell was listed in the Montreal directory for 1859 as editor of the Pilot, and in 1860–61 as a journalist and lecturer. By May 1862, he was living in a poor district of the port of Southampton, England, and was described as an insurance agent and “teacher of English and French languages.” Bell had left Canada, perhaps because his “intimate knowledge” of the French character had served him so ill there. After July 1863 he disappears from sight, and new material in the 1863 edition of Bell’s Historical sketches of feudalism was contributed by a different person.
[The commonness of the name Andrew Bell has vitiated many of the biographical sources in Canada and Britain. A reading of the relevant sections of Bell’s own works (including title-pages and preliminaries), and of Montreal newspapers and directories contemporary with Bell’s sojourn in that city, furnished primary clues, which were then pursued through correspondence with institutions in the British cities in which Bell had lived: the city and university libraries of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Southampton, and the city archives of Glasgow and Southampton. Generous staff consulted graduate registers, city directories, rate books, transactions of societies, and other local sources, at my request, as well as appropriate biographical and bibliographical sources. I have been quite unable to identify further Bell’s New annals of old Scotland and his memoir of Wolfe in “Lives of the illustrious.” I must also acknowledge the assistance of Professor Pierre Savard, who is preparing a critical edition of Garneau’s works.
Andrew Bell published Men and things in America, being the experiences of a year’s residence in the United States, in a series of letters to a friend (London, 1838) under the pseudonym A. Thomason; Bell’s own name appears, however, on the second edition of this work, published at Southampton, Eng., in 1862. His Historical sketches of feudalism, British and continental; with numerous notices of the doings of the feudalry in all ages and centuries (London, 1852), was republished in 1863 under the title A history of feudalism, British and continental. . . . After British-Canadian centennium, 1759–1859; General James Wolfe, his life and death . . . (Montreal, 1859), Bell published his creative translation of François-Xavier Garneau, Histoire du Canada . . . (3e éd., Québec, 1859) under the title History of Canada, from the time of its discovery till the union year (1840–1) (3v., Montreal, 1860). Second and third editions of this work were published in two volumes at Montreal in 1862 and 1866; another third edition appeared at Toronto in 1876. w.f.e.m.]
Notes and Queries (London), 11 Oct. 1851 and following numbers. Pilot (Montreal), 14 Sept. 1859, 26 Oct. 1860. Glasgow Post Office directory . . . , 1856. Mackay’s Montreal directory, 1858–60.