Amyot, James

, bishop of Auxerre and grand almoner of France, was born Oct. 1514, of an obscure family at Melun. The following particulars of his origin are from various authors. Variilas affirms, That at the age often years, Amyot was found lying sick in a ditch on the road to Paris, by a gentleman, who was so singularly compassionate, as to set him upon his horse, and carry him to a house, where he recovered, and was furnished with sixteen pence to bear his charges home. This goodness met with an ample reward, as Amyot left to the heirs of this early benefactor the sum of 1600 crowns a year. It is also said, that as Henry II. was making a progress through his kingdom, he stopt at a small inn in Berry to sup. After supper a young man sent in to his majesty a copy of Greek verses. The king, being no scholar, gave them to his chancellor to read, who was so pleased with them, that he desired him to order the boy who wrote them to come in. On inquiry he found him to be Amyot, the son of a mercer, and tutor to a gentleman’s son in that town. The chancellor recommended his majesty to take the lad to Paris, and to make him tutor to his children. This was complied with, and led to his future preferments.

By what means he was educated is not certainly known, but he studied philosophy at Paris in the colUge of the cardinal ie Moine, and although naturallyof slow capacity, his uncommon diligence enabled him to accumulate a large | stock of classical and general knowledge. Having taken the degree of master of arts at nineteen, he pursued his studies under the royal professors established by Francis I. viz. James Tusen, who explained the Greek poets; Peter Dones, professor of rhetoric; and Oronce Fine, professor of mathematics. He left Paris at the age of twenty-three, and went to Bourges with the sieur Colin, who had the abbey of St. Ambrose in that city. At the recommendation of this abbot, a secretary of state took Amyot into his house, to be tutor to his children. The great improvements they made under his direction induced the secretary to recommend him to the princess Margaret duchess of Berry, only sister of Francis I.; and by means of this recommendation Amyot was made public professor of Greek and Latin in the university of Bourges: he read two lectures a day for ten years; a Latin lecture in the morning, and a Greek one in the afternoon. It was during this time he translated into French the “Amours of Theagenes and Chariclea,” with which Francis I. was so pleased, that he conferred upon him the abbey of Bellosane. The death of this prince happening soon after, Amyot thought it would be better to try his fortune elsewhere, than to expect any preferment at the court of France; he therefore accompanied Morvillier to Venice, on his embassy from Henry II. to that republic. When Morvillier was recalled from his embassy, Amyot would not repass the Alps with him; choosing rather to go to Rome, where he was kindly received by the bishop of Mirepoix, at whose house he lived two years. It was here that, looking over the manuscripts of the Vatican, he discovered that Heliodorus, bishop of Tricca, was the author of the Amours of Theagenes; and finding also a manuscript more correct and complete than, that which he had translated, he was enabled to give a better edition of this work. His labours, however, in this way, did not engage him so as to divert h>m from improving his situation, and he insinuated himself so far into the favour of cardinal de Tournon, that his eminence recommended him to the king, to be preceptor to his two younger sons. While he was in this employment he finished his translation of “Plutarch’s Lives,” which he dedicated to the king; and afterwards undertook that of “Plutarch’s Morals,” which he finished in the reign of Charles IX. and dedicated to that prince. Charles conferred upon him the abbey of St. Cornelius de, Compeigne, although | much against the inclination of the queen, who had another person in her eye; and he also made him grand almoner of France and bishop of Auxerre; and the place of grand almoner and that of curator of the university of Paris happening to be vacant at the same time, he was also invested in both these employments, of which Thuanus complains. Henry III. perhaps would have yielded to the pressing solicitations of the bishop of St. Flour, who had attended him on his journey into Poland, and made great interest for the post of grand almoner; but the duchess of Savoy, the king’s aunt, recommended Amyot so earnestly to him, when he passed through Turin, on his return from Poland, that he was not only continued in his employment, but a new honour was added to it for his sake: for when Henry III. named Amyot commander of the order oiF the Holy Ghost, he decreed at the same time, as a mark of respect to him, that all the grand almoners of France should be of course commanders of that order. Amyot did not neglect his studies in the midst of his honours, but revised all his translations with great care, compared them with the Greek text, and altered many passages: he designed to give a more complete edition of them, with the various readings of divers manuscripts, but died before he had finished that work. He died the 6th of February, 1593, in the 79th year of his age.

His character has been variously represented. He has been accused of ambition, from his many promotions, and of avarice, from the riches he left behind him; but these are equivocal proofs, and we have given one instance of gratitude which marks something more estimable in his character. Another proof may be brought from his will, that his preferments had not elevated him beyond the recollection of his mean origin. In his will is the following clause: “I leave 1200 crowns to the hospital of Orleans, in acknowledgment of the relief I formerly received there.

It is generally allowed that Amyot contributed essentially, in his translation of Plutarch, towards the polish and refinement of the French language. Vaugelas, a very competent judge, gives him this praise; and adds, that no writer uses words and phrases so purely French, without any mixture of provincialisms. It has been said, however, that he was a plagiarist, and there are two opinions on this subject; the one, that he took his Plutarch from an Italian translation; the other, that the work was executed | by a learned but poor man, whom he hired. But both these opinions were contradicted by an inspection of the copies of Plutarch in his possession, many of which are marked with notes and various readings, which shewed an intimate acquaintance with the Greek. It may, however, be allowed, that his translation is not alxvays faithful, and the learned Meziriac pretends to have discovered nearly two thousand errors in it. Yet it has not been eclipsed by any subsequent attempt, and notwithstanding many of his expressions are obsolete, Racine pronounced that there is a peculiar charm in his style which is not surpassed by the modern French.

His works are, 1. His translation of “Heliodorus,1547, fol. and 1549, 8vo, republished and retouched in 1559, fol. in consequence of his meeting with a complete manuscript of Heliodorus in the Vatican; and from this last edition all those of Lyons, Paris, and Rouen have been copied. 2. “Diodorus Siculus,Paris, 1554, fol. and 1587, containing only seven books, viz. book XI. to XVII. 3“Daphnis and Cloe,” from Longus, 1559, 8vo, of which there have been many, and some very splendid editions, particularly that called the Regent’s edition, 1718, 12mo, one by Didot, 1798, large 4to, and one at Florence, 1810, large 8vo, by M. Courier. 4. “Plutarch’s Lives and Morals,1559, 2 vols. fol. Vascosan’s edition in 13 vols. 12mo, 1567—1574, was long in the highest estimation; the Lives occupy six of these, and the Morals seven, but vol. VI. ought to contain the lives of Hannibal and Scipio by L’Ecluse, which is not the case in all the copies. There have since, however, appeared two more valuable editions, the one in 22 vols. 8vo, 1783—87, with the notes of Brottier and Vauvilliers, and the other in 25 vols. 1801—1806, edited by M. Clavier, with considerable additions. 6. “Lettre a M. de Morvillier,” dated Sept. 8, 1551, containing an account of the author’s journey to Trente. This is printed in Vargas and Dupuy’s histories of the Council of Trent. 7. “Œuvres mélées,1611, 8vo, is mentioned in Niceron, but it is doubtful whether such a collection exists. 8. “Projet de l’Eloquence royale, compose pour Henry III. roi de France,” printed for the first time in 1805, 8vo and 4to. Not long before his death he was solicited to write the history of his country, but his answer was, “I love my sovereigns too well to write their lives.1


Gen. Dict.—Moreri.—Chaufepie.—Biog. Universelle.—Biographia Gallica, vol. I. p. 53.