The eight volumes of letters writ by a Turkish spy

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The eight volumes of letters writ by a Turkish spy


Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy marks the beginning of the espionage narrative vogue of the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century. Publication of the first volume sparked a wave of imitations, including Ned Ward’s The London Spy, or The Memoirs of John Baptiste de la Fontaine, Charles Gildon’s The Golden Spy, or A Political Journal of the British Nights Entertainment, and Captain Bland’s The Northern Atalantis, or York Spy (McBurney 915). This genre capitalized on the mystery and intrigue of the secret informant and on the “outsiders’” perspective on social and political scandals.


Of the complete eight English volumes (six volumes in the French text), Giovanni Paolo Marana is credited with uncontested authorship and original ownership of volume one. Authorship of the later volumes, however, has remained open for debate, as a result of the convoluted publication and copyright history. Volumes Two and Three were also published by Marana; however, he simultaneously ceded copyright to Claude Barbin, who apparently did not hold onto those rights for very long. The next French edition was not published by Barbin but rather Etienne Ducastin in 1689. Barbin likely sold the rights to Ducastin, but that does not explain the legality or authorization of the Amsterdam single-volume edition that was published in 1688. The Amsterdam edition contained all 102 previously published letters, but divided them into four sections; this division only added to the later confusion regarding the correct number of volumes (918-919). By 1693, ownership appeared to be in the hands of John Leake and Robert Midgley. Scholars argue the possibility that hack writer William Bradshaw authored the later volumes under the direction of Robert Midgley (922). Both men participated in the publishing process of the English editions and, therefore, have raised suspicions of deeper involvement than simply translating and/or editing the manuscripts.


Marymount University's Gomatos Collection includes a full set of eight English volumes. The set, however, appears to be mixed; Volume One contains “The twenty-third edition;” Volumes Two through Six and Volume Eight contain “The eleventh edition;” and Volume Seven reads “The twenty-sixth edition.” The ESTC notes that the twenty-third edition of Volume One is most often found with the eleventh edition of Volumes Two through Eight. All were published in 1741 and printed for G. Strahan, S. Ballard, J. Brotherton, W. Meadows, T. Cox, W. Hinchcliffe, J. Stag, J. Clark, S. Birt, D. Brown, T. Astley, S. Austen, J. Shockburgh, L. Gilliver, J. Hodges, E. Wicksteed, J. Oswald, J. Comyns, C. Bathurst, T. Fisher, J. Carter, and A. Wilde.


Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy maintains a buzz around the authorship debate and history of ownership. It also provides an interesting window into 17th century cultural interaction by illustrating Parisian society and politics through “Arabian” eyes.

Edition Information

Note that frontispiece occurs before the single title page in the physical book.

Vol. 1 has both general and special t.-p.; v. 2-8 have special t.-p. only.

Special t.p. for v. 1 contains edition statement "The twenty-third edition." Title-pages for v. 2-6, and v. 8 have statement: "The eleventh edition." Vol. 7 has statement: "The twenty-sixth edition."

Authorities agree that the first part of the work, published in Paris 1684, was written by Marana. The remainder has been ascribed to different Englishmen, among them Dr. Robert Midgley and William Bradshaw. It is probable however that Midgley simply edited the English translation, made by Bradshaw, of the original Italian manuscript. cf. Gentleman’s magazine, 1840-41; also, Dict. nat. biog., v. 6, p. 185; v. 37, p. 366.
Further Reading

Aksan, Virginia H. “Is There a Turk in the Turkish Spy?” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 6.3 (Apr. 1994): 201-14.

Baktir, Hasan. “A Dialogic Enlightenment Perspective: Approach to the Ottoman and European Relations in Pseudo-Oriental Letters.” Turkish Studies 3.4 (Summer 2008): 193-211.

Ballaster, Ros. “The Eight Volumes of Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy (1687-1694).” Fables of the East: Selected Tales 1662-1785. Ed. Ros Ballaster. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. 207-210.

Howells, Robin. “The Secret Life: Marana’s Espion du Grand-Seigneur (1684-86).” French Studies: A Quarterly Review 53.2 (Apr. 1999): 153-66.

Kaiser, Thomas. “The Evil Empire? The Debate on Turkish Despotism in Eighteenth-Century French Political Culture.” The Journal of Modern History 72.1 (Mar. 2000): 6-34.

Lee, C.D. “The Authorship of Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy: The Oxford Connection.” Bodleian Library Record 18.4 (Oct. 2004): 333-64.

McBurney, William H. “The Authorship of the Turkish Spy.” PMLA 72.5 (Dec. 1957): 915-935.

Weitzman, Arthur J. Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy. New York: Columbia UP, 1970.


London : Printed for G. Strahan




Noble, Jessica
Howe, Tonya


Book; 8 v. : port. ; 18 cm.





Marana, Giovanni Paolo, 1642-1693. Midgley, Robert, 1655?-1723. Bradshaw, William, fl. 1700. , “The eight volumes of letters writ by a Turkish spy,” John T. and Agnes J. Gomatos Special Collections Room, accessed March 3, 2021,