Mably, Gabriel Bonnot, Abbe' De

, a celebrated French political and miscellaneous writer, and brother to the abbé Condillac, was born at Grenoble in March 1709, and was educated in the Jesuits’ college at Lyons. In his youth he attached himself to his relation the cardinal de Tencin, but never took any higher order in the church than that of sub-deacon. On his coming into life, as it is called, he had the honour to be admitted, both as a relation and a man of letters, into the parties of madame de Tencin, so well known for her intrigues and her sprightly talents, who at that time gave dinners not only to wits, but to politicians. Here madame de Tencin was so much pleased with the figure Mably made in conversation with Montesquieu and other philosophical politicians at hertable, that she thought he might prove useful to her brother, then entering on his ministerial career. The first service he rendered to the cardinal was to draw out an abridgment of all the treaties from the peace of Westphalia to that time (about 1740): the second service he rendered his patron, was of a more singular kind. The cardinal soon becoming sensible that he had not the talent xof conveying his ideas in council, Mably suggested to him the lucky expedient of an application to the king, that he might be permitted to express his thoughts in writing, and there can be little doubt that m this also he profited by the assistance of his relative, who soon began himself to meddle in matters of state. In 1743 he was entrusted to | negoeiate privately at Paris with the Prussian ambassador, and drew up a treaty, which Voltaire was appointed to carry to Berlin. Frederick, to whom* this was no secret, conceived from this time a very high opinion of the abbe, and, as Mably’s biographer remarks, it was somewhat singular that tvro men of letters, who had no political character, should be employed on a negociation which made such an important change in the state of affairs in Europe. The abbe" also drew up the papers which were to serve as the basis of the negociation carried on in the congress at Breda in the month of April 1746.

His success in these affairs had nearly fixed him in political life, when a dispute with the cardinal changed his destination, and the circumstance does credit to his liberality. The cardinal was not only minister of state, but archbishop of Lyons, when the question was agitated respecting the marriages of protestants. The abbe wished him to view this question with the eyes of a statesman only, but the cardinal would consider it only as a prince of the Romish church, and as he persisted in this opinion, the abbe saw him no more. From this time he gave himself up to study, without making any advances to fortune, or to literary men. He always said he was more anxious to merit general esteem than to obtain it. He lived a long time on a small income of a thousand crowns, and an annuity; which last, on the death of his brother, he gave up to his relations. The court, however, struck with this disinterested act, gave him a pension of 2800 Jivres, without the solicitation or knowledge of any of his friends. Mably not only inveighed against luxury and riches, but showed by his example that he was sincere; and to these moderate desires, he joined an ardent love of independence, which he took every opportunity to evince. One day when a friend brought him an invitation to dine with a minister of state, he could not prevail on him to accept it, but at length the abbe said he would visit the gentleman with pleasure as soon as he heard that he was “out of office.” He had an equal repugnance to become a member of any of the learned societies. The marshal Richelieu pressed him much to become a candidate for the academy, and with such arguments that he could not refuse to accept the offer; but he had fio sooner quitted the marshal than he ran to his brother the abbe Condillac, and begged he would get him released, cost what it would. “Why all this | obstinacy?” said his brother. “Why!” rejoined the abbe“Mably,” because, if I accept it 1 shall be obliged to praise the cardinal de Uichelieu, which is contrary to my principles, or, it I do not praise him, as I owe every thing to his nephew, I shall be accused of ingratitude.“In the same spirit, he acquired a bluntness of manner that was not very agreeable in the higher circles, where he never tailed to take the part of men of genius who were poor, against the insults of the rich and proud. His works, by which the booksellers acquired large sums of money, contributed very little to his own finances, for he demanded no return but a lew copies to give as presents to his friends. He appeared always dissatisfied with the state of public affairs, and had the credit of predicting the French revolution. Political sagacity, indeed, was that on which he chiefly rested his fame, andhaving formed his theory from certain systems which he thought might be traced to the Greeks and Romans, and even the ancient Gauls, he went as far as must of his contemporaries in undervaluing the prerogatives of the crown, and introducing a representative government. In his latter works his own mind appears to have undergone a revolution, and he pro\ed that if he was before sincere in his notions of freedom, he was now equally illiberal. After enjoying considerable reputation, and bein^ considered as one of the most popular French writers on the subjects of politics, morals, and history, he died at Paris, April 23, 1785. The abbe Barruel ranks him among the class of philosophers, who wished to be styled the Moderates, but whom Rousseau calls the Inconsistents. He adds, that” without being impious like a Voltaire or a Condorcet, even though averse to their impiety, his own tenets were extremely equivocal. At times his morality was so very disgusting, that it was necessary to suppose his language was ambiguous, and that he had been misunderstood, lest one should be obliged to throw off all esteem for his character." Such at least was the defence which Barruel heard him make, to justify himself from the censures of the Sorbonne.

His works are, 1. “Parallele des Romains et des Franc.ais,Paris, 1740, 2 vols. 12mo. 2. “Le Droit public de l’Enrope,1747, 3 vols. 12mo. 3. “Observations sur les Romains,” 2 vols. 12mo. 4. “Observations sur les Grecs,1751, 12mo, reprinted in 1766, with the title of “Observations sur Thistoire cle la Grece.” 5. “Des | principes des negotiations,” 1757, 12mo. 6. ft Entretiens de Phocion sur le rapport de la morale avec la politiqoe,“Amst. (Piins), 1763, 12mo, reprinted in 1783, 3 vols. 12mo, and by Didot in 1795, 4to. Of this an English translation was published by Mr. Macbeau in 1770. It was once a very popular work in America, where his name was held in the highest honour, until he published his work on the constitution of the United States after the peace of 1783, when the Americans hung him in effigy as an enemy to toleration and liberty. 7.” Observations sur l’histoire de France,“1765, 2 vols. 12mo. 8.” Entretiens sur i’Histoire,“12 mo. This is the work by which he has been most known in England, but in it, as well as his other works, he gives too great preference to the ancients over the moderns. 9.” De la inaniere d’ecrire Phistoire,“Kehl, 1784, 2 vols. 12mo. The whole of his works were collected, with an eloge by the abbe Bnzard, in 15 vols. 8vo, 17i'4. In this are many pieces not enumerated above, particularly his work on” Morals,“and his” Observations on the Government and Laws of America," which last,as we have noticed, destroyed his popularity in America. In both are symptoms of decayed intellect, and that confusion of thought which is peculiar to men who have been theorizing all their lives. 1


Dict. Hist. Barroel’i Mem. of Jacobinism, vol. II. p. 232.