The Gentleman and the Scholar

  • Craig B. Brush
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idees / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 14)


In January 1676, two months after Pierre Bayle had turned twentyeight, the Essais were proscribed by the Roman Catholic Church.1 As a man who lived largely in Protestant milieus, Bayle was quite unlikely to be aware of this censure; at least, he never mentions it in his writings; and one remark of his concerning the silence of the Parlement de Paris about the Essais (108), suggests that he did not know it.2 His lifetime spanned a period in which the attitude of the French intellectual world towards the essayist underwent a radical change.3 During the first half of the century, little criticism was directed against the Essais in any form. Guez de Balzac’s stylistic reproaches, published in 1657, mild as they were, and later the harsh comments in the Logique of Port-Royal (2nd edition, 1662) as well as the censures of Bossuet, Malebranche, and Pascal, all testify to mounting animosity toward Montaigne as too worldly in his morality, too skeptical in his philosophy, too self-centered in his portrait, and too gross in his language. From 1580 to 1669 editions of the Essais had been published every two or three years; then for fifty-five years, not a single complete edition appeared, and only two severely truncated versions. Finally, Pierre Coste’s monumental 1724 edition was published in London, but not in France until the following year.


Seventeenth Century Nous Sommes Ambiguous Pronoun False Modesty Pronoun Referenee 
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  1. 1.
    Boase was unable to determine precisely what made the church put the Essais on the Index. Although it was probably their fideism, it could have been the secular morality of Montaigne’s later thought. See Alan M. Boase, The Fortunes of Montaigne, A History of the Essays in France, 1580–1669 (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1935), p. 417.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See Alan M. Boase, The Fortunes of Montaigne, Pierre Villey, Montaigne devant la postérité (Paris: Boivin, 1935),Google Scholar
  3. 3a.
    and Maturin Dreano, La Renommée de Montaigne en France au XVIII e siècle (Angers: Editions de l’Ouest, 1952).Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    This remark first appeared in 1708 in the English translation of Desmaizeaux’s earliest version of Bayle’s biography. See Ruth Elizabeth Cowdrick, The Early Reading of Pierre Bayle (Scranton, Pennsylvania : Mennonite Publishing House, 1939), p. 18. The following remark which does not appear in the French versions of the biography, is probably spurious. “Concerning the latter, he us’d to tell his Friends in Mirth, that if all the Gopys of his Essays were lost to the World, he cou’d retrieve ‘em to a Tittle, so often had he read ‘em over.”Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    Cowdrick, Early Reading, p. 55. His notes are preserved in the Thott collection in Copenhagen.Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    In her biography, Pierre Bayle: Du pays de Foix à la cité d’Erasme (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1963) Elisabeth Labrousse uncovers not a few misleading statements in the sections of the Vie de Bayle devoted to the scholar’s childhood. De Naudis concealed the poverty of his relatives and their intransigent Protestantism whenever he could.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    Impressive as this figure is, various factors reduce its importance. Bayle had a mania for precise scholarship ; he frequently appealed to authoritative authors to support his views ; and he sought to convey his lack of partisanship by quoting liberally from others. One must also keep in mind his tremendous productivity. The Dictionnaire has 44 quotations from the Essais and 32 other references to Montaigne in one way or another. It also has no less than nine thousand pages in Beuchot’s 4o edition. This means one quotation per 200 pages — and every page is studded with quotations.Google Scholar
  8. 1.
    The Bibliothèque nationale lists 6 copies of this edition, one of them containing the name plate of Pierre-Daniel Huet. Volume I is 556 pages and 24 pages of index; Volume II, 827 pp., and 47 pp. of index; Volume III, 610 pp., 34 pp. of index. Based on Mlle de Gour-nay’s posthumous edition, it includes her preface, her dedication to Richelieu, and a summary life of the author drawn from the Essais themselves. Bayle complained of the inadequacy of the index in this edition (48). Like any true scholar he suffered frequently from the lack of a good index, which he called ‘Tame des livres” (DHC 2 Antonio A, 156 /).Google Scholar
  9. 2.
    The fourth edition includes the reference. (The incident is listed in the index of Bayle’s edition.)Google Scholar
  10. 3.
    On the other hand, Bayle passes up perfectly obvious opportunities to quote memorable passages. For example, in DHC 2 Bongars M he cites de Thou rather than the essayist on the early age at which Etienne de La Boétie composed the Contr’un. Likewise, the isle of Cea has its own article (DHC 2 Zia) with a remark on suicides and no reference to II : iii.Google Scholar
  11. 1.
    If we could be sure that the article Sébonde was composed at the time Bayle was working on the letter S and not earlier, it would be possible to assign a more accurate date. A comment included only in the first edition of the DHC at the end of Rochefoucauld A notes that the article was written in May 1696. A similar comment (Sorin, Fauste M, n. 92, 367 /), fixes the composition of Socin at July 1696. The article Sébonde would then seem to be datable roughly in June 1696. This is, however, hypothetical. During 1696 Bayle was rushed by the impatience of his printer to finish the dictionary. Already in the article Peiresc, he apologized for the relative skimpiness of the last letters of the alphabet. He had completed a large portion of the allotted pages and was forced to sacrifice some articles for which he had material ready and to reduce the length of others. Many of the later articles, then, may be presumed to be of early composition. The demands of proofreading imposed on the encyclopedist during 1696 were especially onerous and left him little time for composition. In a letter to de Naudis, 20 February 1696 (OD I B, 177 r), Bayle explains that he was receiving copy at the rate of six sheets (24 folio pages) a week. Three days later, he wrote Minutoli that the letter M had been printed, which represented approximately two thirds of the Dictionnaire (unpublished fragment of the autograph letter 43 of the Columbia collection). In the next eight months he was to proofread the remaining third as well as compose a considerable part of it. Several of the most philosophical passages (Pauliciens, Péréira, Rorarius, Socin) are accurately dated by Bayle himself as written in 1696. This hectic activity leaves open the strong possibility that many shorter articles at the end of the alphabet had already been prepared.Google Scholar
  12. 1.
    Boase, The Fortunes of Montaigne, pp. 303–304, mentions Plassac-Méré’s horrendous attempts at modernization of the Essais. Google Scholar
  13. 2.
    In a letter to Jean Rou, dated 21 February 1696 (OD IV, 723 /), Bayle’s criticism of Seneca’s style shows how far he is from modeling his own ideas on the style of the Essais. “Ceux qui se servent du stile coupé ont moins de peine à ôter les équivoques ; ils recommencent une période presque à chaque ligne. C’est prendre le parti le plus facile ; un paresseux s’accommode fort de cela. Vous & moi, Monsieur, qui nous sommes accoutumez au stile lié, & qui enfermons le plus de pensées que nous pouvons dans une période, nous sommes en effet plus courts que ceux qui se servent du stile coupé, & néanmoins les mauvais juges s’imaginent que nous emploions plus de paroles. Ils ne savent pas qu’il n’y a gueres d’Ecrivain dont le Verbiage soit plus grand que celui de Seneque. Ciceron mettroit dans une période de six lignes, ce que Seneque dit dans six périodes qui tiennent chacune huit ou neuf lignes. Mais quoi qu’il en soit, nous avons mille peines à ôter les équivoques.” Bayle’s loose epistolary style makes clear how little the “stile lié” was natural to him.Google Scholar
  14. 1.
    See supra, p. 144, note 1.Google Scholar
  15. 2.
    For “le pyrrhonisme historique” see infra, pp. 253–256.Google Scholar
  16. 3.
    Such a tally can only be approximate because of the many borderline cases where it is impossible to separate the historian from the moralist. Nonetheless, using all precaution, I find 17 clear instances of each category in the Dictionnaire, and a similar equality in the quotations in the Œuvres diverses. Most students will find it surprising that Bayle should make such frequent use of the Essais as a historical document. It is worth mentioning in passing that Cornelia Serrurier strives to prove that Bayle can be most justly regarded as a moralist rather than as a philosopher or skeptic or historian. See her Pierre Bayle en Hollande (Lausanne : Imprimerie Coopérative la Concorde, 1912), passim. This appears to me to be the least convincing point in an otherwise informative work.Google Scholar
  17. 1.
    The quotations are: men have less true faith than they think (5) ; Montaigne sometimes misunderstands his own Essais (6) ; Protestants and Catholics reversed themselves on tyrranicide when Henri de Navarre became heir to the French throne (17); the story of Democritus and the figs (50) ; and the effects of partiality on judges (“question pour 1’amy” cited with this passage) (64). The two references are both to the Democritus anecdote (70, 90). The “Apologie” occupies about one-sixth of the Essais; quotations from it represent one-twelfth of the total of Bayle’s citations of Montaigne (if we consider those in the article Sébonde, the proportion is rectified).Google Scholar
  18. 1.
    In a footnote, Bayle refers to the Logique of Port-Royal which quotes the same passage with approval. (He refers to Part III, chapter XIX, Section vii; in modern editions it is chapter XX.)Google Scholar
  19. 3.
    I cannot agree with Dreano when he writes “Quand Bayle lui-même pyrrhonise, c’est à la suite de Montaigne. Il approuve chacun de ses doutes et chacune de ses raisons de douter,” La Renommée, p. 78. There is little evidence for either remark. Dreano also spends considerable effort showing that Bayle’s intention is to exculpate Montaigne in the eyes of the Protestants. There is no explicit statement on Bayle’s part to corroborate this. In so far as the encyclopedist is defending the essayist (and he does not seem to feel the need to), he would naturally wish to recommend him to both Protestants and Catholics. It is hard to believe that he thought of Montaigne in the context of religious controversy or of his Catholicism; he nowhere speaks of Montaigne’s adherence to the Roman Church or of any anti-Protestant remarks in the Essais. Google Scholar
  20. 4.
    I am immensely endebted to Richard H. Popkin’s challenging article “Pierre Bayle’s place in 17th century Scepticism” in Pierre Bayle, le philosophe de Rotterdam, études et documents publiés sous la direction de Paul Dibon, (Amsterdam: Elsevier, Paris: Vrin, 1959). Popkin is the first to make clear the divergencies between Bayle’s and Montaigne’s skepticisms.Google Scholar
  21. 1.
    The one quotation that reflects somewhat Montaigne’s inquiry into the mysteries of personality comes from “De l’expérience,” where he admires the versatility of great souls capable of giving themselves entirely to conversation or dining when they are about to undertake the storming of a city (61).Google Scholar
  22. 2.
    What he has to say on Socrates is astonishingly meager : he was a moralist rather than a philosopher (DHC 2 Euclide art., 312 r) ; his ideas on God are the best one can expect of a pagan, namely that it is wrong to try to know what God wishes to keep hidden (DHC 2 Ariston C, 347 r) ; he went too far in his renunciation of scientific inquiry (DHC 2 Anaxagoras R? 53 l) and a few other references, primarily of a historical nature. Never once, when speaking of Socrates, does Bayle mention Montaigne’s name.Google Scholar
  23. 3.
    See Cornelia Serrurier, Pierre Bayle en Hollande, pp. 42–46, for a penetrating analysis of Bayle’s temperament. “Contrairement à Théophile Gautier, Bayle était — trait essential de son caractère — un homme pour qui le monde extérieur n’existait pas, un vrai savant de cabinet.”Google Scholar
  24. 1.
    See also OD IV, 146 / for an eloquent passage on his desire for the tranquillity of obscurity.Google Scholar
  25. 2.
    The only book that appeared originally with his name on the title page was the Dictionnaire , and then only because his publisher would not have been granted a privilege without it.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1966

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  • Craig B. Brush

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