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nades, especially on Sundays and fête-days, a more particular interest than that simply of conversations on any subjects which accidentally presented themselves. So they read a chapter in the Old Testament, and then each one made his remarks.
The Abbé Renaudot,* one of the first orientalists of the day addressed himself particularly to the critical examination of the text, the Abbé de Langeron to the questions of general history; the Abbé Fleury to those of ecclesiastical history; the Abbé de Cordemoy to doctrinal questions; his father, a great Cartesian, to metaphysical; the Abbé Fléchier to the figures and the style, and the Abbé de la Brone,‡ a tolerable poet, and former laureate of the floral games, to the poetry. There was also the Abbé de St. Luc, son of the marshal of this name; the Abbé de Longerne, and some others. Later, for these reunions lasted twenty-five years,—men of all ranks and conditions were admitted; Racine and La Bruyère among the number. It is vexatious to be obliged to add, that fashion finally intruded into the society. When the king took up religion, there was great eagerness to be received among the philosophers.
The life and soul of these meetings, was Bossuet. Although several of those whom we have just mentioned were more learned, each in his own department, than Bossuet, it was wonderful to perceive how each one submitted to the influence of his genius, and preserved the position of a disciple. He, on his side,
* Born in 1646, died in 1723. It is to him that Boileau addressed his epistle on "The love of God."
Reader to the dauphin, in whose service Bossuet had placed him. We have by him a " History of Charlemagne,” and a “ History of France," continued by his son.
Nominated Bishop of Mirepoix in 1679 in consequence of a sermon preached before the king. He played a part also in the dispute concerning the Bull,
Famous for his originality and roughness of manner.
with that urbane ease which is giver by the consciousness of undisputed dominion, commonly interfered only in order to decide something; but-unless forced by his subject to do so-he avoided deciding for or against any one, and confined himself to bringing out, by means of a lucid summary of the whole, that which was best in the remarks of each. The results of the discussion were noted down during the meeting, on the margin of one of Vitré's large Bibles, from whence Bossuet scrupled not afterwards to take all that he needed for his works. We do not, however, find that any of those who had thus contributed, ever complained of this; it appears, on the contrary, that they were proud to bring their anonymous materials to all that he built, or wished to build.
Often, indeed, they brought him more extended notes, upon which he drew with no more ceremony than he employed in regard to those in his Bible. His glory received no injury from this; it might have been said, that all belonged to him, in right of his genius. The Protestants alone, thought of remarking, that this right resembled a great deal too much the right of the strongest; and perhaps there was some reason in this remark. But what purpose does it serve, to be right in the face of popular favor? Go and tell the French, that the Genevese Dumont and some others wrote the orations of Mirabeau! They will laugh in your face, and perhaps, too, they will not be altogether wrong. When Mirabeau ascended the tribune, it signified nothing whether his discourse was by some one else cr not; as soon as three sentences of it had been pronounced by him, it was his own, and could no longer belong to any other besides him. Thus it was that Bossuet made use of other people's ideas.
But to return to our philosophical promenades. They had commenced two years earlier, at St. Germain, and had been continued at Versailles during the summers of 1673 and 1674. This
was, the first meeting of 1675; accordingly, the Council, as it was called, was not complete. It had often numbered as many as twelve members, and we have already said that on this day there were but five or six. This was because the meeting had not been announced beforehand. It had been suddenly resolved that they should profit by an afternoon of fine weather, and were not sorry, moreover, to make a beginning on so solemn a day as Shrove Tuesday.
The Fénélons quickened their steps, and were soon able to seize the subject of the conversation. This was not an intrusion on their part, since the nephew generally attended this conference, and the uncle was very intimate with Bossuet.
They had taken up the book of Isaiah, at the same place where they had left off, the previous autumn. This was at the fourteenth chapter. The Abbé Fleury had read it aloud, and the discussion had just commenced. But on this occasion Bossuet, contrary to his usual custom, was the first to take the subject. He felt an impulse to express the profound impression which this superb chapter had made upon him.
"How many grand things it contains !" he exclaimed. "If the author were a poet only, I would say that this was his masterpiece. You may find in some other chapters, equal,—perhaps greater richness; but it seems to me that there is none where the grandeur of the arrangement is more suited to the majesty of the details. It is not simply an isolated passage, nor is it even an ode ;—it is a whole poem. The more you study it, the more you will be convinced that nothing is wanting."
And he proceeded to give them a rough sketch of its plan and execution.
It would indeed be difficult to find anything, even in the Bible, superior to this chapter. It is the one where the prophet, apostrophizing a king who is just dead,-descends with him into the
depths of hell, to proclaim the nothingness of his glory, and to sing the release of the nations which had groaned beneath his yoke. From Augustine to Bossuet,-from Jerome to Dr. Lowth, from Sidonius to the two Racines, the world has had but one voice to admire this chapter;—and where is even the infidel,— if he still retain an appreciation of the beautiful and poetical,— who will refuse to join the chorus?
It is vexatious that Bossuet's Commentaries on the Old Testament, although for the most part prepared and written down subsequently to these conversations, should give us but a very imperfect idea of what was said. Do not, in these notes, expect either poetry or eloquence. You will scarcely find a few words, here and there, from which you may conjecture, that the sublimity of the text has not escaped the commentator. They are Commentaries, in the strictest sense of the word, and the author even seems to have confined himself to commenting as a philologist rather than a theologian. We wish that it could be truly said, that these notes are of great value in a philological point of view; but unfortunately this is not the case. Bossuet did not understand Hebrew; he studied it subsequently,—but scarcely went beyond the first elements. The Abbé Renaudot, whom he familiarly called his lexicon,-knew just as much of it as the other scholars of the day,-that is to say-little enough in comparison with what has since been known; the study of the oriental languages being then almost as much in its infancy as that of the natural sciences. Thus, Bossuet generally confined himself to the Latin text and the Septuagint. What really solid structure could be raised on a basis of knowledge which would not in our day content the humblest German scholar? He is, accordingly, but rarely quoted by the commentators of the present day. However, if these notes contain but little true learning, they also contain fewer errors than might be imagined.
There was a certain depth of logic and reason in the author's mind, which supplied his want of learning. This can be most convincingly seen, for instance, in a little treatise on anatomy, which he wrote for the education of the Dauphin. There are many things lacking in this, which Bossuet did not know,— which were not known at all then; yet there is nothing, or scarcely anything, which does not agree more or less with subsequent discoveries.
The accusation of dryness may remain then. But in these conversations, where he did not consider himself obliged to be learned,—at least not to be learned only, the commentator was merged in the poet, and the learned man in the man of genius. He followed frequently in the footsteps of the prophets, to a height, which it seemed as if none other excepting them had ever yet reached.
In the meantime our two friends continued to approach the group. At the end of the avenue they joined it, and after the first salutations the Marquis said :
"Continue, gentlemen, I beg. But perhaps I have no righta layman-"
"A layman," said Bossuet, "to whom we could wish that all priests should bear a resemblance. Besides, you are not the only one; here is M. Pélisson-"
The Marquis bowed, but very coldly.
He had at first rejoiced, like all the Roman Catholics of France, at the conversion (in 1670,) of so distinguished a man; but when he saw him become the enemy of his former brethren, and receive without the least shame, the price of his zeal against them, he ceased to esteem him. Some one remarking one day in his presence, that God had showed great mercy to Pélisson in wresting him from the dominion of error;-" A very great mercy," replied M. de Fénélon, "since he was so fortunate as