Peiresc, Nicolas Claude Fabri De

, a very learned Frenchman, was descended from an ancient and noble family, seated originally at Pisa in Italy, and born in 1580. His father, lienaud Fabri, lord of Beaugensier, sent him at ten years of age to Avignon, where he spent five years on his classical studies in the Jesuits’ college, and was removed to Aix in 1595, for the study of philosophy. In the mean time, he attended the proper masters for dancing, riding, and handling arms,all which he learned to perform with expertness, but rather as a task, than a pleasure, for even at that early period, he esteemed all time lost, that was not employed on literature. It was during this period, that his father being presented with a medal of the emperor Arcadius, which was found at Beaugensier, Peiresc begged to have it: and, charmed with deciphering the characters in the exergue, and reading the emperor’s name, in that transport of joy he carried the medal to his uncle; who for his encouragement gave him two more, together with some books upon that subject. This incident seems to have led him first to the study of antiquities, for which he became afterwards so famous. In 1596, he was sent to finish his course of philosophy under the Jesuits at Tournon, where he also studied mathematics and cosmography, as being necessary in the study of history, yet all this without relaxing from his application to antiquity, in which he was much assisted by one of the professors, a skilful medallist j nor from the study of belles lettres in general. So much labour and attention, often protracted till midnight, considerably impaired his constitution, which was not originally very strong. In 1597, his uncle, from whom he had great expectations, sent him to Aix, where he entered upon the law; and the following year he pursued the same study at Avignon, under a private master, whose name was Peter David who, being well skilled likewise in | antiquities, was not sorry to find his pupil of the same taste, and encouraged him in this study as well as that of the law. Ghibertus of Naples, also, who was auditor to cardinal Aquaviva, much gratified his favourite propensity, by a display of various rarities, and by lending him Goltzius’s “Treatise upon Coins.” He also recommended a visit to Home, as affording more complete gratification to an antiquary than auy part of Europe. Accordingly, his uncle having procured a proper governor, he and a younger brother set out upon that tour, in Sept. 1599; and passing through Florence, Bologna, Ferrara, and Venice, he fixed his residence at Padua, in order to complete his course of law. He could not, however, resist the temptation of going frequently to Venice, where he formed an acquaintance with the most distinguished literati there, as Sarpi, Molinus, &c. in order to obtain a sight of every thing curious in that famous city. Among others, he was particularly caressed by F. Contarini, procurator of St. Mark, who possessed a curious cabinet of medals*, and other antiquities, and found Peiresc extremely useful and expert in explaining the Greek inscriptions. After a year’s stay at Padua, he set out for Rome, and arriving there in Oct. 1600, passed six months in viewing whatever was remarkable. After Easter he gratified the same curiosity at Naples, and then returned to Padua about June. He novr resumed his study of the law; and at the same time acquired such a knowledge of Hebrew, Samaritan, Syriac, and Arabic, as might enable him to interpret the inscriptions on the Jewish coins, &c. In these languages he availed himself of the assistance of the rabbi Solomon, who was then at Padua. His taste for the mathematics was also revived in consequence of his acquaintance with Galileo, whom he first saw at the house of Pinelli at Rome; and he began to add to his other acquisitions a knowledge of astronomy and natural philosophy. From this time it was said that “he had taken the helm of learning into his hand, and begun to guide the commonwealth of letters.

Having now spent almost three years in Italy, he returned to France in the end of 1602, and arrived at Montpellier in July, where he heard the law lectures of Julius P.K in", until he returned to Aix, about the end of J 603, at the earnest request of his uncle, who having resigned to him his senatorial dignity, had, ever since the beginning of the year, laboured to get the king’s patent. The | degree of doctor of law being a necessary qualification for that dignity, Peiresc kept the usual exercise, and took that degree Jan, 18, 1604; on which occasion he made a most learned speech, upon the origin and antiquity of the doctoral ornaments.

In 1605, he accompanied Du Vair, first president of the senate at Aix, who was very fond of him, to Paris; whence, having visited every thing curious, he crossed the water, in company with the French king’s ambassador, in 1606, to England. Here he was very graciously received by king James; and having seen Oxford, and visited Camden, sir Robert Cotton, sir Henry Saville, and other learned men, he passed over to Holland; and after visiting the several towns and universities, with the literati in each, he went through Antwerp to Brussels, and thence back to Paris, returning home in Sept. 1606, on account of some family affairs.

Soon after this, he made a purchase of the barony of Rians, which he completed in 1607; and in the same year, at the solicitation of his uncle, having approved himself before that assembly, he was received a senator on the 1st‘ of July. In the following year his uncle died. In 1616, he attended Du Vair to Paris; where, in 1618, he procured a faithful copy, and published a second edition of “The -Acts of the Monastery of Maren in Switzerland.” This was in defence of the royal line of France against the title of the Austrian family to the French crown by right of succession; and, upon this, he was nominated the same year, by Louis XIII. abbot of Guistres in Guienne. He remained in France till 1623, when, upon a message from his father, now grown old and sickly, he left Paris, and arrived at Aix in October. Not long after he presented to the court a patent from the king, permitting him to continue in the function of his ancient dignity, and to exercise the office of a secular or lay person, notwithstanding that, being an abbot, he had assumed the person of a churchman. The court of parliament, not assenting to this, decreed unanimously, that, being already admitted into the first rank, he should abide perpetually in it; not returning, as the custom of the court was, to the inferior auditory, in which trials are usually had of criminal cases. He obtained also, a rescript from the pope, to license him to be present at the judgment of capital causes, as even in the higher auditory some select cases of that nature wers | customarily heard: but he never made use of this licence, always departing when they came to vote, without voting himself. In 1627, he prevailed with the archbishop of Aix, to establish a post thence to Lyons, and so to Paris and all Europe; by which the correspondence that ho constantly held with the literati every where, was much facilitated. Jn 1629, he began to be much tormented with complaints incident to a sedentary life; and, in 1631, having completed the marriage of his nephew Claude with Margaret D’Alries, a noble lady of the county of Avignon, he bestowed upon him the barony of Rians, together with a grant of his senatorial dignity, only reserving the function to himself for three years. The parliament not agreeing to this, he procured, in 1635, letters-patent from the king, to be restored, and to exercise the office for five years longer, which he did not outlive, for, being seized June 1637, with a fever, he died, on the 24th of that month, in his fifty-seventh year.

A very honourable funeral was provided for him by his nephew Claude, in the absence of his brother, who was then at Paris; but who, returning shortly to Provence, hastened to perform the funeral rites, and to be present at the obsequies. He also procured a block of marble from Genoa, from which a monument was made and erected to his memory, with an epitaph by Rigault. As he had been chosen in his life-time a member of the academy of the Humoristi at Rome, his eulogium was pronounced by John James Bouchier, of that learned society, in the presence of cardinal Barberini, his brother Antonio, cardinal Bentivoglio. and several other cardinals, and such a multitude of celebrated and learned men, that the hall was scarce able to contain them. Many copies of verses, in Italian, Latin, and Greek, were recited; which were afterwards printed together, with a collection of funeral elegies in forty languages, under the title of “Panglossia.” Peiresc was, in his person, of a middle size, and of a thin habit; his forehead large, and his eyes grey; a little hawk-nosed, his cheeks tempered with red the hair of his head yellow, as also his beard, which he used to wear long; his whole countenance bearing the marks of uncommon courtesy and affability. In his diet he affected cleanliness, and in all things about him; but nothing superfluous or costly. His clothes were suitable to his dignity; yet he never wore silk. In like manner, the rest of his house was adorned | according to his condition, and very well furnished; but he neglected his own chamber. Instead of tapestry, there hung the pictures of his chief friends and of famous men, besides innumerable bundles of commentaries, transcripts, notes, collections from books, epistles, and such like papers. His bed was exceeding plain, and his table continually loaded and covered with papers, books, letters, and other things; as also all the seats round about, and the greatest part of the floor. These were so many evidences of the turn of his mind, which made the writer of his eulogium compare him to the Roman Atticus; and Bayle, considering his universal correspondence and general assistance to all the literati in Europe, called him “the attorney-general of the literary republic.” The multiplicity of his engagements prevented him from finishing any considerable work; but he left behind him a great number of Mss. on local history and antiquities, mathematics and astronomy, the medallic science, languages, &c. Of the writings of this scholar there have been published 48 Italian letters, addressed to Paul and John Baptist Gualdo, in the “Lettere d’uomini illustri;” a considerable number of letters among those of Camden, and a long and learned dissertation on an ancient tripod found at Frejus, in the “Mem. de Literature et de l’Histoire,” by Desmalets, in 1731. It is remarkable, that though Peiresc bought more books than any man of his time, yet the collection which he left was not large. The reason was, that as fast as he purchased, he kept continually making presents of them to learned men to whom he knew they would be useful. But the destruction of a multitude of his papers after his death, by some of his near relations, is mentioned by the learned with indignation and regret; they were applied to the vile uses of heating the oven and boiling the pot. Gassendi, another ornament of France, has given us his life iii detail, in elegant Latin, one of those delightful works, which exhibit a striking likeness of a great and good man at full length, and shew every feature and fold of the drapery in the strongest and clearest light. 1


Vita i Gassendo, Hague, 1655, 4to.~ Gen. Dict. —Moreri. Burigny’s Life of Grotius, &c.