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Pierre Simond

South Africa's very first published author (1704)

Pierre Simond was the pastor to the Huguenots at the Cape of Good Hope at the turn of the 18th century. He lived with his wife and their five children on his farm, Bethlehem, in the small valley between Simonsberg and the Banghoek mountains, near Stellenbosch. Simond describes the Bergriver valley as a place of solitude and wilderness. Vigne, who visited this part of the world in 1698 described it thus:

The refugees had much to contend with. A two-day journey from the Cape, over wild country where elephants and lions were still seen, they lacked transport, found timber extremely scarce and water often at a distance, with the Berg river impossible to ford in the rainy season. Early harvests failed and the establishing of vineyards and olive groves was a slow process.
Governor Simon van der Stel wrote that the Huguenots who settled there had to till land which had never been cultivated since the beginning of creation.
Nevertheless for Simond this wilderness became a place of inspiration for his translation in verse of the Psalms of David. The psalms were well-known and beloved material in that household.
In the foreword to his book Simond describes how it was his custom to give his children a task for the week. For Pentecost 1699 his children asked for Psalm 50. They drew their father's attention to the fact that in their two Bibles the versions of the Psalms differed in the number of the verses (4 and 5), and Simond also decided that the rhyming of the Psalms in his Bibles were wanting. He took up his pen and, within half an hour, translated Psalm 50 into verse. During the following days - or rather evenings - he continued working. The title, Les Veilles Afriquaines, indicates that the work was done during the nights. He completed the project within three months.
Simond hoped to have his translation published and earn more income. In 1700 he requested permission to return to the Netherlands. On 9 April 1702 he delivered his last sermon at the Cape and on the 16th of May 1702 Simond and his family departed for Europe on the Abbekerk.
On his arrival in Europe he submitted some of his work but was told that his verses were not good enough. Some time later, he found a text describing the rules for French poetry and started to correct his rhymed translations.
Simond had his rerhyming published privately. It seems that by 1704 Simond had a complete translation of all 150 psalms ready for publication but for some reason he presented only the first fifty psalms.


Les Veilles Afriquaines ou Les Pseaumes de David mis en vers françois, Cornelle de Hoogenhuisen, Amsterdam, 1704

The book had a remarkable journey from the Banghoek Mountains at the Southern tip of Africa in 1699 to the Netherlands of 1704 and from there to Warsaw and St Petersburg in Russia, where it re-surfaced in 1997 - two hundred and ninety seven years after it was published. In 2002 a limited edition of a facsimile of the original copy was published in South Africa.

Information by Pieter Coertzen

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