Perron, James Davy Du

, a cardinal more eminent for great talents and learning than for principle, was descended from ancient and noble families on both sides. His parents, having been educated in the protestiint religion, found it necessary to remove from Lower Normandy to Geneva; and settled afterwards in the canton of Berne, where he was born, Nov. 25, 1556. His father, Julian Davy, an able physician, and a man of learning, instructed him till he was ten years of age, and taught him mathematics and the Latin tongue. Young Perron seems afterwards to have built upon this foundation, for, while his parents were obliged to remove from place to place by civil wars and persecution, he taught himself the Greek tongue and philosophy, beginning that study with the logic of Aristotle: thence he passed to the orators and poets; and afterwards applied to the Hebrew language with such success, that he could read it without points, and lectured on it to the protestant clergy.

In the reign of Henry III. he was carried to the French court, which was then at Blois, where the states were assembled in 1576; and introduced to the king as a prodigy of parts and learning. His controversial talents were already so conspicuous, that few cared to dispute with him. His ingenuity does not, however, appear to have greatly advanced his interest, for we are told that when, after this, he came to Paris, he had no other resource than to teach Latin for bread, and that at a time when he held public conferences upon the sciences, m the grand hall of the Augustiues. He set himself afterwards to read the “Summa” of St. Thomas Aquinas, and cultivated a strict friendship with Philip Desportes, abbot of Tiron, who procured him his own place of reader to Henry III. and was the first to advise him to renounce his religion. Previously to | his taking this step, he is said to have offended Henry III. by an avowal of religious indifference, which is thus related: one day, while the king was at dinner, he made an admirable discourse against atheists; on which the king commended him much for having proved trie being of a God by arguments so solid. Perron instantly replied, that “if his majesty was disposed to hear him, he would prove the contrary by arguments as solid;” which so offended the king, that he forbad him to come into his presence. This story has been denied by some French writers, as derogatory to Duperrou’s religious principles; but others say that, granting it to be true, it means no more than that Du Perron vaunted his ability to take either side of a question, a practice universal at that time in the schools; yet they allow that his reply to the king was rather ill-timed, and ill-expressed.

He recovered, however, from any loss of character which this affair might occasion, by abjuring the religion in which he had been educated. It is rather singular that he is said to have acquired a distaste of the prorestant religion by studying the “Suinma” of St. Thomas Aquinas, and the writings of St. Austin; but having by this or by some other means, reconciled his mind to the change of his religion, he displayed all the zeal of a new convert by labouring earnestly in the conversion of others, even before he had embraced the ecclesiastical function. By these arts, and his uncommon abilities, he acquired great influ*­ence, and was appointed to pronounce the funeral oration of Mary queen of Scots, in 1587; as he had done also that of the poet Ronsard, in 1586. He wrote, some time after, by order of the king, “A comparison of moral and theological virtues;” and two “Discourses,” one upon the soul, the other upon self-knowledge, which he pronounced before that prince. After the murder of Henry III. he retired to the house of cardinal de Bourbon, aud laboured more vigorously than ever in the conversion of the reformed. Among his converts was Henry Spondanus, afterwards bishop of Pamiez; as this prelate acknowledges, in his dedication to cardinal du Perron of his “Abridgment of Baronius’s Annals.” But his success with Henry IV. is supposed to redound most to the credit of his powers of persuasion. He went to wait on that prince with cardinal de Bourbon, at the siege of Rouen; and followed him at Nantes, where -he held a famous dispute with four | protestant ministers. The king, afterwards resolving to have a conference about religion with the principal prelates of the kingdom, sent for Du Perron to assist in it; but, as he was yet only a layman, he nominated him to the bishopric of Evreux, that he might be capable of sitting in it. He came with the other prelates to St. Denis, and is said to have contributed more than any ether person to the change in Henry’s sentiments.

After this, he was sent with M. d’Ossat to Rome, to negotiate Henry’s reconciliation to the holy see; which at length*he effected more to the satisfaction of the king, than of his subjects; that part of them at least, who were zealous for Gallican liberties, and thought the dignity of their king prostituted upon this occasion. After a year’s residence at Rome, he returned to France; where, by such services as have already been mentioned, he obtained promotion to the highest dignities. He wrote, and preached, and disputed against the reformed; particularly against Du Plessis Mornay, with whom he had a public conference, in the presence of the king, at Fontainbleau. The king resolved to make him grand almoner of France, to give him the archbishopric of Sens, and wrote to Clement VIII. to obtain for him the dignity of a cardinal; which that pope conferred on him, in 1604, with singular marks of esteem. The indisposition of Clement soon after made the king resolve to send the French cardinals to Rome; where Du Perron was no sooner arrived, than he was employed by the pope in the congregations. He had a great share in the elections of Leo X. and Paul V. He assisted afterwards in the congregations upon the subject of Grace, and in the disputes which were agitated between the Jesuits and the Dominicans: and it was principally owing to his advice, that the pope resolved to leave these questions undecided. He was sent a third time to Rome, to accommodate the differences between Paul V. and the republic of Venice. This pope had such an opinion of the power of his eloquence and address, that he said to those about him, “Let us beseech God to inspire cardinal Du Perron, for he will persuade us to do whatever he pleases.

After the murder of Henry IV. in 1610, Du Perron devoted himself entirely to the court and see of Rome, and prevented every measure in France which might displease that power, or hurt its interests. He rendered useless the arret of the parliament of Paris, against the book of | cardinal Bellarmine and favoured the infallibility of the pope, and his superiority over a council, in a thesis maintained in 1611, before the nuncio. He afterwards held a provincial assembly, in which he condemned Richer’ s book, “concerning ecclesiastical and civil authority” and, being at the assembly of Blois, he made an harangue to prove, that they ought not to decide some questions, ou account of their being points of faith. He was one of the presidents of the assembly of the clergy, which was held at Rouen in 1615; and made harangues to the king at the opening and shutting of that assembly, which were much applauded. This was the last of his public services; for after this he retired to his house at Bagnolet, and employed himself wholly in revising and completing his works. This was with him a matter of great importance, for he not only had a private press in his house, that he might have them published correctly, and revised every sheet himself, but is said also to have printed a few copies of every work that he wished to appear to advantage, for the revisal of his friends before publication. He died at Paris, Sept. 5, L618, aged sixty-three. He was a man of great abilities; had a lively and penetrating wit, and a particular talent at making his views appear reasonable. He delivered himself upon all occasions with great clearness, dignity, and eloquence. He had a prodigious memory, and had studied much. He was very well versed in antiquity, both ecclesiastical and profane; and had read much in the fathers, councils, and ecclesiastical historians, of which he knew how to make the best use to perplex, if not to convince his adversaries. He was warmly attached to the see of Rome, and strenuous in defending its rights and prerogatives; and therefore it cannot be wondered, that his name has never been held in high honour among those of his countrymen who have been accustomed to stand up for the Galilean liberties. They consider indeed that ambition was his ruling passion, and that it extended even to literature, in which he thought he ought to hold the first rank. In his youth he had translated into French verse a part of the Æneid and the praises which Desportes and Bertaut bestowed on this performance made him fancy that his style was superior to that of Virgil. He was in his own opinion, says the abb Longuerue, the commander-in-chief of literature; and authors found that his opinion was to be secured before that of the public. His | favourite authors were Montaigne, whose essays he called the breviary of all good men, and Rabelais, whom, by way of distinction, he called “The author.

The works of Du Perron, the greatest part of which had been printed separately in his life-time, were collected after his death, and published at Paris, 1620 and 1622, in 3 vols. folio. The first contains his great “Treatise upon the Eucharist,” against that of Du Plessis Mornay. The second, his “Reply to the Answer of the King of Great Britain.” The following was the occasion of that work: James I. of England sent to Henry IV. of France a book, which he had written himself, concerning differences in religion. Henry put it into the hands of Du Perron’s brother, who informed his majesty, from what the cardinal had observed to him, that there were many passages in that book, in which the king of England seemed to come near the catholics; and that it might be proper to send some able person, in hopes of converting him entirely. Henry accordingly, after taking the advice of his prelates in this affair, desired to know of the king of England, whether he would approve of a visit from the cardinal Du Perron? King James answered that he should be well pleased to confer with him, but for reasons of state could not do it. After this, Isaac Casaubon, who had been engaged in several conferences with Du Perron about religion, and seemed much inclined to that egregious absurdity, a reunion between the popish and reformed church, was prevailed on to take a voyage into England; where he spoke advantageously of Du Perron to the king, and presented some pieces of poetry to him, which the cardinal had put into his hands. The king received them kindly, and expressed much esteem for the author; which Casaubon noticing to Du Perron, he returned a letter of civility and thanks to his Britannic majesty; in which he told him, that, “except the sole title of Catholic, he could find nothing wanting in his majesty, that was necessary to make a most perfect and accomplished prince.” The king replied, that, “believing all things which the ancients had unanimously thought necessary to salvation, the title of Catholic could not be denied him.” Casaubon having sent this answer to Du Perron, he replied to it in a letter, dated the 15th of July, 1611, in which he assigns the reasons that obliged him to refuse the name of Catholic to his Britannic majesty. Casaubon sent him a writing by way of answer, in | the name of the king, to all the articles of his letter; to which the cardinal made a large reply, which constitutes the bulk of the second volume of his works. The third contains his miscellaneous pieces; among which are, “Acts of the Conference held at Fontainbleau against Du Plessis Mornay;” moral and religious pieces in prose and verse, orations, dissertations, translations, and letters.

There was a fourth volume of his embassies and negotiations, collected by Caesar de Ligni, his secretary, and printed at Paris in 1629 and 1633, folio: but these are supposed not to have done him much honour, and Wicquefort thinks him as a diplomatic character inferior to d’Ossat in every respect. There were also published afterwards, under his name, “Perroniana,” which, like most of the ana, is a collection of puerilities and impertinences. 1


Dupin. Bullart’s Academic ties Sciences. Vie de Du Perron, by Vurigny. Biog, Univ. in Duperron. -Perrault’s Les Hommes Illustres.