Isaac Disraeli.

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from him, I hope I may have the benefit of the clergy.
What words have I robbed him of? — and how have I become
the richer for them ? I was never so taken with him as to
be once tempted to break the conamandments, because I love
plain speaking, plain writing, and plain dealing, which he
does not : I hate the word excerpted^ and the action imported
in it. However, he is a fanciful man, and thinks there is no
elegancy nor wit but in his own way of talking. I must say
as TuUy did, Malim equidem indisertam prudentiam quam
stuUam loquacitatem,'*

In his turn he accuses Vernon of being a perpetual tran-
scriber, and for the Malone minuteness of his history.

" But how have I excerpted his matter ? Then I am sure
to rob the spittle-house ; for he is so poor and put to hard

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shifts, that he has much ado to compose a tolerable story,
which he hath been hammering and conceiving in his mind
for four years together, before he could bring forth his fcBta%
of intolerable transcriptions to molest the reader's patience
and memory. How doth he run himself out of breath, some-
times for twenty pages and more, at other times fifteen, ordi-
narily nine and ten, collected out of Dr. Heylin*s old books,
before he can take his wind again to return to his story ! I
never met with such a transcriber in all my days ; for want
of matter to fill up a vacuum^ of which his book was in much
danger, he hath set down the story of Westminster, as long
as the Ploughman's Tale in Chaucer, which to the reader
would have been more pertinent and pleasant. I wonder he
did not transcribe bills of Chancery, especially about a tedi-
ous suit my fiiither had for several years about a lease at

In his raillery of Vernon's affected metaphors and com-
parisons, '' his similitudes and dissimilitudes strangely hooked
in, and fetched as far as the Antipodes," Barnard observes,
" The man hath also a strange opinion of himself that he is
Dr. Heylin ; and because he writes his life, that he hath his
natural parts, if not acquired. The soul of St Augustin
(say the schools) was Pythagorically transfused into the corpse
of Aquinas ; so the soul of Dr. Heylin into a narrow soul.
I know there is a question in philosophy. An anirruB sint
(Bqucdes ? — ^whether souls be alike ? But there's a difference
between the spirits of Elijah and Elisha : so small a prophet
with so great an one ! "

Dr. Barnard concludes by regretting that good counsel
came now unseasonably, else he would have advised the
writer to have transmitted his task to one who had been an
ancient friend of Dr. Heylin, rather than ambitiously have
assumed it, who was a professed stranger to him, by reason
of which no better account could be expected from him than
what he has given. He hits off the character of this piece
of biography — "A Life to the half; an imperfect creature,

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that is Dot only lame (as the honest bookseller said), but
wanteth legs, and all other integral parts of a man ; nay the
very soul that should animate a body like Dr. Heylin. So
that I must say of him as Plutarch doth of Tib. Gracchus,
* that he is a bold undertaker and rash talker of those mat-
ters he does not understand/ And so I have done with him,
tmless he creates to himself and me a future trouble ! "

Vernon appears to have slunk away from the duel. The
son of Heylin stood corrected by the superior Life produced
by their relative ; the learned and vivacious Barnard prob-
ably never again ventured to alter and improve the works of
an author kneeling and praying for corrections. These
bleating lambs, it seems, often turn out roaring lions !


The ^Methode pour Studier rHtstotre" by the Abb^
Lenglet du Fresnoy, is a master-key to all the locked-up
treasures of ancient and modem history, and to the more se-
cret stores of the obscurer memorialists of every nation. The
history of this work and its author are equally remarkable.
The man was a sort of curiosity in human nature, as his
works are in literature. Lenglet du Fresnoy is not a writer
merely laborious ; without genius, he still has a hardy origi-
nality in his manner of writing and of thinking; and his
vast and restless curiosity fermenting his immense book-
knowledge, with a freedom ver^ng on cynical causticity, led
to the pursuit of uncommon topics. Even the prefaces to the
works which he edited are singularly curious, and he has
usually added UUiothequ£S, or critical catalogues of authors,
which we may still consult for notices on the writers of ro-
mances—of those on literary subjects— on alchymy, or the
hermetic philosophy; of those who have written on appari-
tions, visions, &c. ; an historical treatise on the secret of con-

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fession, &c. ; besides those " Pieces Justificatives," which
constitute some of the most extraordinary documents in the
philosophy of history. His manner of writing secured him
readers even among the unlearned ; his mordacity, his sar-
casm, his derision, his pregnant interjections, his unguarded
frankness, and often his strange opinions, contribute to his
reader's amusement more than comports with his graver
tasks; but his peculiarities cannot alter the value of his
knowledge, whatever they may sometimes detract from his
opinions ; and we may safely admire the ingenuity, without
quarrelling with the sincerity of the writer, who having com-
posed a work on V Usage des Romans, in which he gaily
impugned the authenticity of all history, to prove himself
not to have been the author, ambi-dexterously published an-
other of V Histoire justijiee contre les Romans ; and perhaps
it was not his fault that the attack was spirited, and the justi-
fication dull.

This " M^thode" and his "Tablettes Chronologiques," of
nearly forty other publications are the only ones which have
outlived their writer ; volumes, merely curious, are exiled to
the shelf of the collector; the very name of an author
merely curious — that shadow of a shade — ^is not always even
preserved by a dictionary-compiler in the universal charity
of his alphabetical mortuary.

The history of this work is a striking instance of those
imperfect beginnings, which have often closed in the most
important labours. This admirable ** M^thode ** made its first
meagre appearance in two volumes in 1713. It was soon
reprinted at home and abroad, and translated into various
languages. In 1729 it assumed the dignity of four quartos;
but at this stage it encountered the vigilance of government,
and the lacerating hand of a celebrated censeur, Gros de
Boze. It is said, that from a personal dislike of the author,
he cancelled one hundred and fifty pages from the printed
copy submitted to his censorship. He had formerly approved
of the work, and had quietly passed over some of these ob-

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noxious passages : it is certain that Gros de Boze, in a dis-
sertation on the Janus of the ancients in this work, actually
erased a high commendation of himself,* which Lenglet had,
with unusual courtesy, bestowed on Gros de Boze ; for as a
critic he is most penurious of panegyric, and there is always
a caustic flavour even in his drops of honey. This censeur
either affected to disdain the commendation, or availed him-
self of it as a trick of policy. This was a trying situation
for an author, now proud of a great work, and who himself
partook more of the bull than of the lamb. He who winced
at the scratch of an epithet, beheld his perfect limbs bruised
by erasures and mutilated by cancels. This sort of troubles
indeed was not unusual with Lenglet. He had occupied his
old apartment in the Bastile so often, that at the sight of the
officer who was in the habit of conducting him there, Lenglet
would call for his night-cap and snuff; and finish the work
he had then in hand at the Bastile, where, he told Jordan,
that he made his edition of Marot. He often silently resti-
tuted an epithet or a sentence which had been condemned by
the censeur, at the risk of returning once more ; but in the
present desperate affair he took his revenge by collecting the
castrations into a quarto volume, which was sold clandes-
tinely. I find, by Jordan, in his Voyage Litieraire, who
visited him, that it was his pride to read these cancels to his
friends, who generally, but secretly, were of opinion that the
decision of the censeur was not so wrong as the hardihood of
Lenglet insisted on. All this increased the public rumour,
and raised the price of the cancels. The craft and mystery
of authorship was practised by Lenglet to perfection ; and he
often exulted, not only in the subterfuges by which he parried
his censeur s, but in his bargains with his booksellers, who
were equally desirous to possess, while they half-feared to
enjoy, his uncertain or his perilous copyrights. When the
unique copy of the Methode, in its pristine state, before it
had suffered any dilapidations, made its appearance at the
* This fact appears in the account of the minuter erasures.

VOL. IV. 8

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sale of the curious library of the censew Gros de Boze, it
provoked a Roxburgh competition, where the collectors,
eagerly outbidding each other, the price of this uncastrated
copy reached to 1500 livres ; an event more extraordinary
in the history of French bibliogi'aphy than in our own.
The curious may now find all these cancel sheets, or castra-
tionSy preserved in one of those works of literary history, to
which the Germans have contributed more largely than
other European nations, and I have discovered that even the
erasures, or bruises, are amply furnished in another biblio-
graphical record.*

This Methode, after several later editions, was still en-
larging itself by fresh supplements ; and having been trans-
lated by men of letters in Europe, by Coleti in Italy, by
Mencken in Germany, and by Dr. Rawlinson in England,
these translators have enriched their own editions by more
copious articles, designed for their respective nations. The
sagacity of the original writer now renovated his work by
the infusions of his translators ; like old ^son, it had its
veins filled with green juices ; and thus his old work was
always undergoing the magic process of rejuvenescence. f

The personal character of our author was as singular as
many of the uncommon topics which engaged his inquiries ;
these we might conclude had originated in mere eccentricity,
or were chosen at random. But Lenglet has shown no defi-

* The castrations are in Beyeri Memnrim hUtorico-criticas Librorum rarw'
ruMj p. 166. The bruises are carefully noted in the Catalogue of the Duke
de la ValUgre, 4467. Those who are curious in such singularities will be
gratified by the extraordinary opinions and results in Beyer; and which
after all were purloined from a manuscript "Abridgment of Universal
History," which was drawn up by Count de Boulainvilliers, and more
adroitly than delicately inserted by Lenglet in his own work. The orig-
inal manuscript exists in various copies, which were afterwards dis-
covered. The minuter corrections, in the Duke de la Valli^re's catalogue,
furnish a most enlivening article in the dryness of bibliography. ^

t The last edition, enlarged by Drouet, is in fifteen volumes, but is not
later than 1772. It is still an inestimable manual for the historical
student, as well as his Tablettes Chronohgiques.

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ciency of judgment in several works of acknowledged utility;
and his critical opinions, his last editor has shown, have, foi
the greater part, been sanctioned by the public voice. It is
curious to observe how the first direction which the mind of
a hardy inquirer may take, will often account for that variety
of uncommon topics he delights in, and which, on a closer
examination, may be found to bear an invisible connection
with some preceding inquiry. As there is an association of
ideas, so in literary history there is an association of re-
search ; and a very judicious writer may thus be impelled
to compose on subjects which may be deemed strange or in-

This observation may be illustrated by the literary history
of Lenglet du Fresnoy. He opened his career by addressing
a letter and a tract to the Sorbonne, on the extraordinary
affair of Maria d'Agreda, abbess of the nunnery of the Ira-
maculate Conception in Spain, whose mystical Life of the
Virgin, published on the decease of the abbess, and which
was received with such rapture in Spain, had just appeared
at Paris, where it excited the murmurs of the pious, and the
inquiries of the cunous. This mystical Life was declared
to be founded on apparitions and revelations experienced by
the abbess. Lenglet proved, or asserted, that the abbess was
not the writer of this pretended Life, though the manuscript
existed in her handwriting ; and secondly, that the appari-
tions and revelations recorded were against all the rules of
apparitions and revelations which he had painfully dis-
covered. The affair was of a delicate nature. The writer
was young and incredulous; a grey-beard, more deeply
versed in theology, replied, and the Sorbonnists silenced our
philosopher in embryo.

Lenglet confined these researches to his portfolio ; and so
long a period as fifty-five years had elapsed before they saw
the light It was when Calmet published his Dissertations
on Apparitions, that the subject provoked Lenglet to return
to his forsaken researches. He now published all he had

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formerly composed on the affair of Maria d'Agreda, and two
other works ; the one, " Traite kistorique et dogmatiqiie sur
les Apparitions, les Visions, et les Revelations particulieres,^*
in two volumes ; and " Recueil de Dissertations anciennes et
nouveUes, sur les Apparitions, S^c," with a catalogue of
authors on this subject, in four volumes. When he edited
the Roman de la Rose, in compiling the glossary of this
ancient poem, it led him to reprint many of the earliest
French poets; to give an enlarged edition of the Arrets
d^ Amour, that work of love and chivalry, in which his fancy
was now so deeply imbedded ; while the subject of Romance
itself naturally led to the taste of romantic productions which
appeared in " Z' Usage des Romans," and its accompanying
copious nomenclature of all romances and romance-writers,
ancient and modern. Our vivacious Abbe had been be-
wildered by his delight in the works of a chemical philo-
sopher ; and though he did not believe in the existence of
apparitions, and certainly was more than a skeptic in history,
yet it is certain that the " grande ouvre " was an article in
his creed ; it would have ruined him in experiments, if he
had been rich enough to have been ruined. It altered his
health ; and the most important result of his chemical studies
appears to have been the invention of a syrup, in which he
had great confidence ; but its trial blew him up into a tym-
pany, from which he was only relieved by having recourse to
a drug, also of his own discovery, which, in counteracting the
syrup, reduced him to an alarming state of atrophy. But
the mischances of the historian do not enter into his history :
and our curiosity must be still eager to open Lenglet's
" Histoire de la Philosophic Herm^tique," accompanied by a
catalogue of the writers in this mysterious science, in two
volumes : as well as his enlarged edition of the works of a
great Paracelsian, Nicholas le Fevre. This philosopher was
appointed by Charles the Second superintendent over the
royal laboratory at St. James's : he was also a member of the
Royal Society, and the friend of Boyle, to whom he com-

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municated the secret of infusing young blood into old veins,
with a notion that he could renovate that which admits of no
second creation.* Such was the origin of Du Fresnoy's
active curiosity on a variety of singular topics, the germs of
which may be traced to three or four of our author's princi-
pal works.

Our Abb^ promised to write his own life, and his pug-
nacious vivacity, and hardy frankness, would have seasoned
a piece of autobiography ; an amateur has, however, written
it in the style which amateurs like, with all the truth he
could discover, enlivenejl by some secret history, writing the
life of Lenglet with the very spirit of Lenglet : it is a mask
taken from the very features of the man, not the insipid wax-
work of an hyperbolical eloge-maker.f

Although Lenglet du Fresnoy commenced in early life his
career as a man of letters, he was at first engaged in the great
chase of political adventure ; and some striking facts are
recorded, which show his successful activity. Michault de-
scribes his occupations by a paraphrastical delicacy of lan-
guage, which an Englishman might not have so happily
composed. The Minister for foreign affairs, the Marquis de

♦ The Dictionnaire Histoiique, 1789, in their article Nich. Le Fevre,
notices the third edition of his •* Course of Chemistry,'* that of 1664, in
two volumes; but the present one of Lenglet du Fresnoy's is more recent,
1761, enlarged into five volumes, two of which contain his own additions.
I have never met with this edition, and it is wanting at the British
Museum. Le Fevre published a tract on the great cordial of Sir Walter
Rawleigh, which may be curious.

t This anonymous work of " M^moires de Monsieur P Abb^ Lenglet du
Fresnoy," although the dedication is signed G. P., is written by Michault,
of Dijon, as a presentation copy to Count de Vienne in my possession
proves. Michault is the writer of two volumes of agreeable " Melanges
Historiques et Philologiques ; " and the present is a very curious piece of
literary history. The Dictionnaire Historique has compiled the article of
Lenglet entirely from this work ; but the Journal des Sgavans was too ascetic
in this opinion. EUnt-ce la peine defaire un livre pour apprendre an puhUc
ju'^un homme de lettres fui eipion, escroc, bkarre,fougueux, cynique, incapable
d'amitie, de decence^ de soumission aux bix t ^c. Yet they do not pretend
that the bibliography of Lenglet du Fresnoy is at all deficient in curiosity.

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Torcy, sent Lenglet to Lille, where the court of the Elector
of Cologne was then held : " He had particular orders to
watch that the two ministers of the elector should do nothing
prejudicial to the king's affairs." He seems, however, to
have watched many other persons, and detected many other
things. He discovered a captain, who agreed to open the
gates of Mons to Marlborough, for 100,000 piastres ; the
captain was arrested on the parade, the letter of Marlborough
was found in his pocket, and the traitor was broken on the
wheel. Lenglet denounced a foreign general in the French
service, and the event warranted the prediction. His most
important discovery was that of the famous conspiracy of
Prince Cellamar, one of the chimerical plots of Alberoni ; to
the honour of Lenglet, he would not engage in its detection,
unless the minister promised that no blood should be shed.
These successful incidents in the life of an honourable spy
were rewarded with a moderate pension. — Lenglet must
have been no vulgar intriguer ; he was not only perpetually
confined by his very patrons when he resided at home, for
the freedom of his pen, but I find him early imprisoned in
the citadel of Strasburgh for six months : it is said for pur-
loining some curious books from the library of the Abbe
Bignon, of which he had the care. It is certain that he knew
the value of the scarcest works, and was one of those lovers
of bibliography who trade at times in costly rarities. At Vi-
enna he became intimately acquainted with the poet Eousseau,
and Prince Eugene. The prince, however, who suspected
the character of our author, long avoided him. Lenglet in-
sinuated himself into the favour of the prince's librarian ; and
such was his bibliographical skill, that this acquaintance ended
in Prince Eugene laying aside his political dread, and pre-
ferring the advice of Lenglet to his librarian's, to enrich his
magnificent library. When the motive of Lenglet's residence
at Vienna became more and more suspected, Rousseau was
employed to watch him ; and not yet having quarrelled with
his brother spy, he could only report that the Abb^ Lenglet

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was every morning occupied in working on his " Tablettes
Chronologiques," a work not worthy of alarming the govern-
ment ; that he spent his evenings at a violin player's married
to a French woman, and returned home at eleven. As soon
as our historian had discovered that the poet was a brother
spy and news-monger on the side of Prince Eugene, their
reciprocal civilities cooled. Lenglet now imagined that he
owed his six mouths' retirement in the citadel of Strasburgh
to the secret officiousness of Rousseau : each grew suspicious
of the other's fidelity ; and spies are like lovers, for their mu-
tual jealousies settled into the most inveterate hatred. One
of the most defamatory libels is Lenglet's intended dedication
of his edition of Marot to Rousseau, which being forced to
suppress in Holland, by order of the States-general ; at Brus-
sels, by the intervention of the Duke of Aremberg ; and by
every means the friends of the unfortunate Rousseau could
contrive ; was however many years afterwards at length
subjoined by Lenglet to the first volume of his work on
Romances ; where an ordinary reader may wonder at its
appearance unconnected with any part of the work. In this
dedication, or " Eloge historique," he often addresses " Mon
cher Rousseau,'* but the irony is not delicate, and the calumny
is heavy. Rousseau lay too open to the unlicensed causticity
of his accuser. The poet was then expatriated from France
for a false accusation against Saurin, in attempting to fix on
him those criminal couplets, which so long disturbed the peace
of the literary world in France, and of which Rousseau was
generally supposed to be the writer; but of which on his
death-bed he solemnly protested that he was guiltless. The
coup'de-grace is given to the poet, stretched on this rack of
invective, by just accusations on account of those infamous
epigrams, which appear in some editions of that poet's works ;
a lesson for a poet, if poets would be lessoned, who indulge
their imagination at the cost of their happiness, and seem tc
invent crimes, as if they themselves were criminals.

But to return to our Lenglet. Had he composed his own

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life, it would have offered a sketch of political servitude and
political adventure, in a man too intractable for the one, and
too literary for the other. Yet to the honour of his capacity,
we must observe that he might have chosen his patrons,
would he have submitted to patronage. Prince Eugene at
Vienna ; Cardinal Passionei at Rome ; or Mons. Le Blanc,
the French minister, would have held him on his own terms.
But " Liberty and my books ! " was the secret ejaculation of
Lenglet ; and from that moment all things in life were sacri-
ficed to a jealous spirit of independence, which broke out in
his actions as well as in his writings ; and a passion for study
for ever crushed the worm of ambition.

He was as singular in his conversation, which, says Jordan,
was extremely agreeable to a foreigner, for he delivered him-
self without reserve on all things, and on all persons, seasoned
with secret and literary anecdotes. He refused all the con-
veniences offered by an opulent sister, that he might not
endure the restraint of a settled dinner-hour. He lived to
his eightieth year, still busied, and then died by one of those
grievous chances, to which aged men of letters are liable :
our caustic critic slumbered over some modem work, and,
falling into the fire, was burnt to death. Many characteristic
anecdotes of the Abbe Lenglet have been preserved in the
Dictionnaire Historique, but I shall not repeat what is of
easy recurrence.


A LEARNED friend, in his very agreeable "Trimestre, or a
Three Months' Journey in France and Switzerland," could
not pass through the small town of Trevoux without a liter-
ary association of ideas which should accompany every man
of letters in his tours, abroad or at home. A mind well in-

Online LibraryIsaac DisraeliCuriosities of literature → online text (page 10 of 43)