Clerc, John Le

, brother to the preceding, a celebrated writer, and universal scholar, was born at Geneva, March 19, 1657. He was sent to a grammar-school at eight years of age; where he soon discovered an insatiable inclination to books, and such a genius for poetry, that he flattered himself, if he had duly cultivated it, he would probably have gained no small reputation. But the more serious studies, to which he applied himself, made him entirely neglect poetry, and he never wrote verses but on particular occasions. Thus, in 1689, having translated into French two sermons of bishop Burnet, preached before king William, on account, he says, of the friendship which subsisted between himself and that prelate, he subjoined to the one a small poem in heroic, and to the other an epigram in elegiac verse, upon England restored to liberty.

When he was about sixteen years old, he was removed from the grammar-school, and placed under M. Chouet, to study philosophy, in which he spent two years, but did not yet enter upon the study of divinity, thinking it better to employ another year on the belles lettres, and also in acquiring the elements of the Hebrew tongue. He now read all the books that could any ways improve him in this pursuit; and it was this constant assiduity and application, to which he inured himself in his youth, that enabled him afterwards to go through so much uninterrupted fatigue of reading and writing, and to publish such a vast variety of works. At nineteen years of age he began to study divinity under Philip Mestrezat, Francis Turretin, and Lewis Tronchin, and he attended their lectures above two years.

After he had passed through the usual forms of study at Geneva, and had lost his father in 1676, he resolved to go for some time into France; and thither he went in 1678, but returned the year after to Geneva, and was ordained with the general applause of his examiners. Soon after, he met with the works of Curcellseus, his great uncle by his father’s side, which had been published by Limborch in 1674, but were not easily to be got at Geneva among the Calvinists, who had no intercourse with the Arminians; and by reading these he became so convinced that the remonstrants had the better of the | argument against all other protestants, that he resolved to leave both his own country and France, where the contrary principles were professed. In 1680 he went to Sauraur, a protestant university, where he first read the works of Episcopius, with whose learning and eloquence he was much pleased. He also began to make notes and observations upon the Old Testament, which he read in the Polyglott, which notes he afterwards used in his commentaries. While he was at Saumur, there came out a book with this title, “Liberii de sancto amore, epistolae theoJogicae, in quibus varii scholasticorum errores castigantur.” 8vo, consisting of “eleven theological epistles, in which several errors of the schoolmen are corrected.” It was ascribed by some to le Clerc, while others thought it too learned to be written by a young man of twenty-four. It is certain that though he never owned it, yet he speaks of it in such a manner as must almost convince us that he was really the author of it, and it contains many of those free opinions respecting the Trinity, &c. which could not fail to give offence, and induce him for a time to conceal his name.

In 1682, Le Clerc, intending to visit England, travelled through Paris, and arrived at London in May, chiefly with a view to learn the English language; which, with the help of a master, he soon effected. He preached several times in the French churches at London, and visited several bishops and men of learning; but the air of the town not agreeing with his lungs, he returned to Holland, after less than a year’s stay, in company with the celebrated historian Gregorio Leti, who formerly lived at Geneva, and was then retiring to Holland. He visited Limborch at Amsterdam, from whom he learned the condition of the remonstrants in the United Provinces, but did not yet join them, although he discovered his real sentiments to Limborch, with whom he entered into a strict friendship, which lasted till the death of that great man. He had not been long in Holland before his friends and relations entreated him to return to Geneva, but not being able when there to dissemble his opinions, which wexe contrary to those established by law, he thought it prudent to return to Holland at the latter end of 1683. The year after he preached sometimes in French in the church of the remonstrants, but was soon obliged to leave off preaching j for what reason is not known, but his friends have | thought proper to impute it to the jealousy of the Walloon ministers, who finding their audiences very thin when Le Clerc preached, prevailed upon the magistrates to forbid his preaching any more. In 1634, when the remonstrants held a synod at Rotterdam, he preached once more before them; and was then admitted professor of philosophy, the Hebrew tongue, and polite literature in their school at Amsterdam. The remainder of his life offers nothing to us but the history of his works, and of the controversies in which he was engaged; which were numerous, and displayed undoubted talents.

The first thing he published, after he was settled at Amsterdam, was a work of his uncle David Le Clerc, late professor of the oriental languages at Geneva, entiled “Theological Dissertations,” Amst. 1685, 8vo; to which are subjoined dissertations on the same subject by Stephen. Le Clerc, his father, with the lives of both, and notes, in which he frequently differs from them in opinion. In 1687 he published another volume by them, consisting of a “Computus Ecclesiasticus” by David, and some philosophical dissertations by Stephen. About the same time he was editor of his friend Charles Le Cene’s “Dialogues upon several theological subjects,” to which he added five of his own, pointing out the mischiefs that metaphysics have occasioned to religion. Between the first and second publication of his father’s and uncle’s pieces, commenced his celebrated controversy with the learned father Simon, who had just published his “Critical History of the Old Testament.” Le Clerc, in 1685, published a criticism, upon it, entitled “Sentimens de quelques theologiens de Hollande,” &c. In this he vented several bold opinions, which he afterwards retracted or explained into a more harmless sense, such as that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, that the writers of the Old and New Testament were not inspired, &c. Even Bayle, although not scrupulous to make bold assertions, disapproved Le Clerc’s sentiments, as tending to confirm the Calvinists in their dislike of the Arminians, as a sect, which he strongly says, they considered as the common sink of all the Atheists, Deists, and Socinians in Europe.

In the same year, we find him better employed in writing his “Bibliotheque universelle et historique,” a literary journal of great utility. The first eight and part of the ninth volume he wrote in conjunction with de la Crose the tenth is Le Clerc’s, and the 11th La Grose’s; the rest | to the 19th Le CHerc’s, and the remainder to the 25th, which is the last, were written by Mr. Bernard. While employed on this work, Le Clerc published various others. In the years 1687 89, he published French translations of bishop Burners “Reflections upon Varillas’s History,” &c. and of some of his sermons and in 1690 the last book of Stanley’s “Lives of the Philosophers,” translated into Latin, with notes. The same year he revised and corrected the sixth edition of Moreri’s Dictionary; and wrote a French letter to Jurieu, vindicating the character of Episcopius, whom Jurieu had classed among Socinians. Besides these labours, he continued to read regular lectures, as professor of philosophy and the belles-lettres, at Amsterdam; and in 1691, published his “Logic, Ontology, and Pneumatology,” which, in order to complete the course, were followed in 1695, by his “Natural Philosophy.” These were all written in Latin, and were reprinted, in a fourth edition, Amst. 1710, 4 vols. 8vo, to which was subjoined also in Latin, his life, written by himself, 1711, which makes a fifth volume, and in 1712 was translated into English, and published at London. In 1693 he published the first volume of his “Commentary on the Bible,” a work he had long projected, and for which he had been long collecting materials. He published the remainder, at different times, until 1731, when the Commentary on the Prophets appeared, but it was still left incomplete, owing to that decay of his faculties which interrupted all his labours in the latter part of his life.

In 1696 he published the two first volumes of what is said to have been his Favourite work, his “Ars Critica,” to which he added, in 1699, his “Epistolae Criticae & Ec clesiasticae,” as a third volume. The censures he passes upon Quintus Curtius at the end of the second volume, involved him in a controversy with certain critics; and Perizonius in particular. His third volume is employed chiefly in defending himself against exceptions which had been made by the learned Dr. Cave to some assertions in the tenth volume of his “Bibliotheque Universelle,” and elsewhere, Le Clerc had said, that Cave, in his “Historia Literaria,” had concealed many things of the fathers, for the sake of enhancing their credit, which an impartial historian should have related; and that, instead of lives of the fathers, he often wrote panegyrics upon them; Le Clerc had also asserted the Arianism of Eusebius. Both these assertions Cave endeavoured to refute, in a Latin | dissertation published at London, in 1696, which, with a defence of it, was reprinted in the second edition of his “Historia Literaria.” To this dissertation Le Clerc’s third volume is chiefly an answer and the first six letters, containing the matters of dispute between him and Cave, are inscribed to three English prelates, to whom Le Clerc thought fit to appeal for his equity and candid dealing; the first and second to Tenison, archbishop of Canterbury; the third and fourth to Burnet, bishop of Salisbury; and the fifth and sixth to Lloyd, bishop of Worcester. The seventh, eighth, and ninth, are critical dissertations upon points of ecclesiastical antiquity; and the tenth relates to an English version of his additions to Hammond’s annotations on the New Testament; wherein the translator, not having done him justice, exposed him to the censure of Cave and other divines here. At the end of these epistles, there is addressed to Limborch, what he calls an ethical dissertation, in which this question is debated, “An semper respondendum sit calurnniis theologorurn;” but the previous question should undoubtedly have been whether the answers of his opponents deserved the name of calumnies? The fourth edition of the “Ars Critica,” which had been corrected and enlarged in each successive edition, was printed at Amsterdam in 1712.

In 1694, he published his “Life of Cardinal Richelieu,” 2 vols. 8vo, of which a second edition appeared in 1696, and a third in 1714. In 1696 he also published two tracts on “Lotteries,” and on “Incredulity.” In 1697, his “Compendium of Universal History” appeared, and although merely an abridgment of Petavius, has been found so useful as to pass through several editions. In 1698, he published his Latin translation of Hammond’s “Paraphrase and Notes on the New Testament,” 2 vols. fol. but took many liberties, as already noticed, with Hammond’s sentiments. This was again reprinted in 1714. In 1699, he published, with a dedication to Dr. Sharp, archbishop of York, his “Harmonia Evangelica,” Gr. and Lat. and in the same year the first of his “Parrhasiana” or thoughts upon various subjects, moral and literary. This does not appear to have given universal satisfaction, and involved him in a long dispute with Bayle on the principles of the Manicheans, and in another with the same gentleman, on the system of plastic natures advanced by Cudworth and Dr. Grew. We are not of opinion that a longer account of these disputes would now be very interesting, yet those who have patience to | peruse the several attacks and replies of the combatants, will be frequently struck with their talents, ingenuity, and perseverance.

In 1701, another controversy produced his “Questiones Hieronymianae,” an attack on the character of that father, as to his skill in the Greek and Hebrew languages, and on Martinay, who some time before had published an edition of Jerom’s works. In 1701 he published a very indifferent edition of Hesiod, and the following year, under the name of Theodore Gorallus, he edited “P. Cornelii Severi Etna,” which involved him in a philosophical dispute with Burman, who had no respect for his verbal accuracy. In 1703, under another assumed name, Johannes Phereponus, he added to the Amsterdam edition of St. Augustine’s works, some animadversions on that father, which were answered by Dr. Jenkin, master of St. John’s college, Cambridge, in a work printed in 1707. In 1703, his French translation of the “New Testament” occasioned him to be ranked among Socinians, and some steps were taken, although in vain, to have it suppressed. The same year, he returned to his more useful employment, by beginning his “Bibliotheque choisee,” as a supplement to his “Bibliotheque Universelle.” This was continued to the year 1714, and consists of 28 vols. 12mo. It was immediately followed by his “Bibliotheque ancienne et moderne,” which extended to 29 vols. These 83 little volumes contain a great mass of very valuable materials, of critical disquisitions and bibliographical notices and memoirs, and well deserve a place in the library of every literary man. The public are indebted to them for the documents from which Dr. Jortin principally composed his life of Erasmus.

In 1709 he published an elegant edition, with notes of his own, of “Sulpicius Severus,” and also of * 4 Grotius de veritate,“&c. to which, besides notes, he added a treatise” De eligenda inter Christianos dissentientes sententia.“The same year he published and dedicated to lord Shaftesbury, the celebrated author of the Characteristics, &c.A Collection of the remains of Menander and Philemon,“a completer collection than had been made by Grotius and others, to which he added a new Latin version, and notes. As it is allowed by Le Clerc’s friends, that he committed several errors in this work, which proceeded from his not having carefully enough attended to the metre, it is not surprising that it should have exposed | him to the censure of the critics and philologers. The attack was begun by our learned Bentley, under the name of Phileleutherus Lipsiensis; whose censure, it is said, we know not how truly, vexed Le Clerc to such a degree, that it threw him into a fit of sickness, which lasted several days. Bentley’s” Emendatioues," as they are called, of Le Clerc’s edition, were published at Utrecht in 1710, with a preface written by Burman; in which there is a very large proportion of critical rancour, to which Le Clerc did net think proper to make any reply, as he was conscious that he had given some reason for the exceptions that were made, although they might not justify the language employed. He was defended, however, by an unknown person, who assumed the name of Philargyrius Cantabrigiensis; and published it in 1711, with a preface written by himself. This Philargyrius Cantabrigiensis is said to have been Cornelius de Pauw, a gentleman who distinguished himself by philosophical and critical publications.

Our predecessors affect to wonder that Le Clerc, who always expressed an high regard for the English nation, dedicated several of his principal works to the prelates and great men of it, and was so instrumental, by means of his “Bibliotheques,” in spreading the abilities, learning, and merits of its ablest writers throughout Europe, should yet be so frequently attacked by some or other of its scholars and divines, and this they explain by adding that Le Clerc’s Arminian principles were directly opposite to the nonjuring and high church principles, which then prevailed much in England; that though he expressed a zeal for Christianity, yet he abhorred any thing which looked like an hierarchy; and that hence he was often led to speak favourably, and perhaps with some degree of approbation, of books published here, which were in the mean time, together with their authors, anathematised by our own divines. Tindal’s “Rights of the Christian Church,” which came out in 1706, affords a memorable instance, which Le Clerc, in his “Bibliotheque Choisie” of the same year, not only approved, but even epitomised, and recommended it in the strongest terms imaginable. It may be remembered also, that about the same time, or perhaps a little before, there was a scheme formed among some great personages, to bring Le Clerc over -to England, and to make a better provision for him than he enjoyed at | Anasterdam; for this some affirm to have been one cause of the jealousy and ill-will conceived against him; but after what we have said of Le Clerc’s religious principles, it will not perhaps be thought that any other reason is necessary to explain the zeal of his opponents, or their opinion that such a determined enemy to the establishment and its doctrines would have proved no great acquisition to the church of England.

In 1710, Le Clerc, never successful in his classical attempts, published a very inaccurate edition of “Livy,” 10 vols. 12mo, and the year after the “Three Dialogues ofÆschinus Socraticus,” to which he added his “Sylvoj Philologies.” In 1716 appeared his “Ecclesiastical History of the first two centuries,” and a “History of the United Provinces,1723 and 1724, the last of his original works which it is necessary to mention. Besides these, however, he was frequently employed as an editor, and added prefaces and notes to the works published under his inspection, as “Cotelerii Patres Apostolici,1698; Petavius de Theologicis dogmatibus,“1700;” Martini! Lexicon philologicum," 1701; and the fine edition of Erasmus’s works, 10 vols. fol. 1703 1707. He was unquestionably a most laborious, as well as a very learned many but frequently deficient in correctness, owing to the vast quantity of labour undertaken by him.

He always enjoyed a very good state of health till 1728, when he was seized with a palsy and fever, which deprived him of speech and almost of memory. The malady increased daily; and after spending the last six years of his life with little or no understanding, he died Jan. 8, 1736, in his seventy-ninth year. He had been married in 1691, when he was abuut thirty-four years old; and his wife, who was the daughter of Gregorio Leti, brought him four children, who all died young. Le Clerc was not ambitious of either honours or riches. He was satisfied with a competency of fortune, if indeed he could be said to have it; and though it may be supposed that he was driven to write so much for the sake of the profits attending it, yet he tells us in that life which he wrote of himself to 1711, that he had received for all his labours little else from the booksellers than books. Whatever projects might be on foot for his coming into England, they do not seem to have been begun on his side: for he always appeared happy in the studious and philosophic ease which he enjoyed at | Amsterdam, dividing his time between his pupils and his books. 1


Life by himself.—Gen. Dict.—Moreri.—Chaufepie.Saxii Onomast.