Larcher, Peter Henry

, an eminent French scholar and translator, was born at Dijon, Oct. 12, 1726, of ancestors who were mostly lawyers, connected with some of the first names in the parliament of Burgundy, and related to the family of Bossuet. His father was a counsellor in the office of finance, who- died while his son was an infant, leaving him to the care of his mother. It was her intention | to bring him up with a view to the magistracy, but young Larcher was too much enamoured of polite literature to accede to this plan. Having therefore finished his studies among the Jesuits at Pont-a-Mousson, he went to Paris and entered himself of the college of Laon, where he knew he should be at liberty to pursue his own method of study. He was then about eighteen years of age. His mother allowed him only 500 livres a year, yet with that scanty allowance he contrived to buy books, and when it was increased to 700, he fancied himself independent. He gave an early proof of his love and care for valuable books, when at the royal college. While studying Greek under John Capperonnier, he became quite indignant at having every day placed in his hands, at the risk of spoiling it, a fine copy of Duker’s Thucydides, on large paper. He had, indeed, from his infancy, the genuine spirit of a collector^ which became an unconquerable passion in his more mature years. A few months before his death he refused to purchase the new editions of Photius and Zonaras, because he was too old, as he said, to make use of them, but at the same time he could not resist giving an enormous price for what seemed of less utility, the princeps editio of Pliny the naturalist. It is probable that during his first years at Paris, he had made a considerable collection of books, for, when at that time he intended, unknown to his family, to visit England for the purpose of forming an acquaintance with the literati there, and of learning English, to which he was remarkably partial, he sold his books to defray theexpence of his journey. In this elopement, for such it was, he was assisted by father Patouillet, who undertook to receive and forward his letters to his mother, which he was to date from Paris, and make her and his friends believe that he was still at the college of Laon.

It does not appear that Larcher published any thing before his translation of the “Electra” of Euripides, which appeared in 1750; for the “Calendrier perpetuel” of 1747, although attributed to him, was certainly not his. The “Electra,” as well as many other of his publications, appeared without his name, which, indeed, he appended onJy to his “Memoire sur Venus,” his “Xenophon,” “Herodotus,” and “Dissertations acaderaiques.” The “Electra” had not much success, and was never reprinted, unless by a bookseller, who blunderingly inserted it among a collection of acting plays. | In 1751 Larcher is supposed to have contributed to a literary journal called “Lettres d’une Societe;” and afterwards, in the “Melange litteraire,” he published a translation of Pope’s essay on Pastoral Poetry. He was also a contributor to other literary journals, but his biographer has not been able to specify his articles with certainty, unless those in the “Collection Academique” for 1755, where his articles are marked with an A. and in which he translated the Philosophical Transactions of London. He translated also the “Martinus Scribleru.s” from Pope’s works, and Swift’s ironical piece on the abolition of Christianity. Having while in England become acquainted with sir John Pringle, he published a translation of hi* work “On the Diseases of the Army,” of which an enlarged edition appeared in 1771.

In 1757 he revised the text of Hudibras, which accompanies the French translation, and wrote some notes to it. But these performances did not divert him from his Greek studies, and his translation of “Chereas and Calliroe,” which appeared in 1758, was considered in France as the production of one who would prove an honour to the class of Greek scholars in France. This was reprinted in the *‘ Bibliotheque des Romans Greo/’ for which also Larcher wrote “Critical Remarks on the Æthiopics of Heiiodorus,” but for some reason these never appeared in that work. In 1767 the quarrel took place between him and Voltaire. Larcher, although intimate with some of those writers who called themselves philosophers, and even favourable to some of their theories, was shocked at the impiety of Voltaire’s extremes; and when the “Philosophy of History” appeared, was induced by some ecclesiastics to undertake a refutation, which was published under the title of “Sup. plement a la Philosophic de I’Histoire,” a work which Voltaire himself allowed to be full of erudition. He could not, however, conceal his chagrin, and endeavoured to answer Larcher in his “Defense de mon oncle,” in which he treats his antagonist with unpardonable contempt and abuse. Larcher rejoined in “Reponse a la Defense de mon oncle.” Both these pamphlets added much to his reputation; and although Voltaire, whose resentments were implacable, continued to treat Larcher with abuse in his writings, the latter made no reply, content with the applause of the really learned, particularly Brunck and La Harpe, which last, although at that time the warmest of | Voltaire’s" admirers, disapproved of his treatment of such a man as Lurcher; and in this opinion he was joined even by D’Alembert.

His reputation as a translator from the Greek being now acknowledged, some booksellers in Paris who were in possession of a manuscript translation of Herodotus left by the abbe“Bellanger without revision, applied to Larcher to prepare it for the press; and he, thinking he had only to correct a few slips of the pen, or at most to add a few notes, readily undertook the task, but before he had proceeded far, the many imperfections, and the style of Bellanger, appeared to be such, that he conceived it would be easier to make an entire new translation. He did not, however, consider this as a trifling undertaking, but prepared himself by profound consideration of the text of his author, which he collated with the ms copies in the royal library, and read with equal care every contemporary writer from whom he might derive information to illustrate Herodotus. While engaged in these studies, Paw published his” Recherches philosophiques sur les Egyptiens et les Chinois,“and Larcher borrowed a little time to publish an acute review of that author’s paradoxes in the” Journal des Savans“for 1774. The year following, while interrupted by sickness from his inquiries into Herodotus, he published his very learned” Memoire sur Venus,“to which the academy of inscriptions awarded their prize. During another interruption of the Herodotus, incident to itself, he wrote and published his translation of Xenophon, which added much to the reputation he had already acquired, and although his style is not very happily adapted to transfuse the spirit of Xenophon, yet it produced the following high compliment from Wyttenbach (Bibl. Critica)” Larcherus is est quern non dubitemus omnium, qui nostra aetate veteres scrintores in linguas vertunt recentiores, antiquitatis linguaeque Grace* scientissimum vocare.“Larcher’s critical remarks in this translation are very valuable, particularly his observations on the pronunciation of the Greek. The reputation of his” Memoire sur Venus,“and hisXenophon,“procured him to be elected into the Academy of inscriptions, on May 10, 1778. To the memoirs of this society he contributed many essays on classical antiquities, which are inserted in vols. 43, 45, 46, 47, and 48; and these probably, which he thought a duty to the academy, interrupted his labours on Herodotus, not | did it issue from the press until 1786. The style of this translation is liable to some objections, but in other respects, his profound and learned researches into points of geography and chronology, and the general merit and importance of his comments, gratified the expectations of every scholar in Europe. It was translated into Latin by Borheck, into German by Degan, and his notes have appeared in all the principal languages of Europe. We may here conclude this part of our subject by noticing his new and very much improved edition ofHerodotus,“published in 1802, 9 vols. 8vo. The particulars which distinguish this edition are, a correction of those passages in which he was not satisfied with having expressed the exact sense; a greater degree of precision and more compression of style; a reformation of such notes as wanted exactness; with the addition of several that were judged necessary to illustrate various points of antiquity, and render the historian better understood. We have already hinted that Larcher was at one time not unfriendly to the infidel principles of some of the French encyclopedists. It is with the greater pleasure that we can now add what he says on this subject in his apology for further alterations.” At length,“he says,” being intimately convinced of all the truths taught by the Christian religion, I have retrenched or reformed all the notes that could offend it. From some of them conclusions have been drawn which I disapprove, and which were far from my thoughts; others of them contain things, which I must, to discharge my conscience, confess freely, that more mature examination and deeper researches have demonstrated to have been built on slight or absolutely false foundations. The truth cannot but be a gainer by this avowal: to it alone have I consecrated all my studies: I have been anxious to return to it from the moment I was persuaded I could seize it with advantage. May this homage, which I render it in all the sincerity of my heart, be the means of procuring me absolution for all the errors I have hazarded or sought to propagate." In this vast accumulation of ancient learning, the English reader will find many severe strictures on Bruce, which he may not think compatible with the general opinion now entertained both in France and England on the merits of that traveller.

During the revolutionary storm Larcher lived in privacy, employed on his studies, and especially on the second | edition of his “Herodotus,” and was but little disturbed. He was indeed carried before the revolutionary committee^ and his papers very much perplexed those gentlemen, who knew little of Greek or Latin. For one night a sentinel was placed at his door, who was set asleep by a bottle of wine, and next morning Larcher gave him a small assignat, and he came back no more. When the republican government became a little more quiet, and affected to encourage men of letters, Larcher received, by a decree, the sum of 3000 livres. He was afterwards, notwithstanding his opinions were not the fashion of the day, elected into the Institute; and when it was divided into four classes, and by that change he became again, in some degree, a member of the Academy of inscriptions, he published four dissertations of the critical kind in their memoirs. The last honour paid to him was by appointing him professor of Greek in the imperial university, as it was then called; but he was now too tar advanced for active services, and died after a short illness, in his eighty-sixth year, Dec. 22, 1812, regretted as one of the most eminent scholars and amiable men of his time. His fine library was sold by auction in Nov. 1814. 1


Life prefixed to the catalogue of his library, probably by one of the De Bure’s.