Barthelemi, John James

, an eminent French writer, was born at Cassis, a sea-port in Provence, the 20th Jan. 1716. His family had been long established at Aubagne, in that neighbourhood, where it had been universally respected. His mother, the daughter of a merchant at Cassis, he lost at the age of four years. When he arrived at the age of twelve years, he was sent to school at Marseilles, whence he was transferred to the seminary of the Jesuits, where he received the tonsure. While witli the Jesuits, he formed a plan of study for himself, independent of the professors of the college, and applied with unwholesome sedulity to the study of Greek, Hebrew, Chaldean, and Syriac, by which he for some time lost his health, and nearly his life. At the beginning of this arduous course of study, he became acquainted with a young Maronite, who had been educated at Home, but was then resident at Marseilles, from whom he acquired a fundamental knowledge of the Arabic language, and learned to speak it with facility. By the advice of this person he committed to memory several Arabic sermons, which he delivered to a congregation of Arabian and Armenian Catholics, who were ignorant of the French language.

At the outset of these pursuits, when he was about twenty-one years of age, some merchants of Marseilles came to him with a kind of beggar, who had made his appearance on ‘change, giving himself out for a Jewish rabbi, learned but distressed, and who boldly challenged to have his pretensions investigated by some Oriental scholar. Our author endeavoured to evade the task, by representing, that his | mode of study could at most enable him to read, but not at all to converse in the dialects of the East; but there was no resisting. The Jew began to repeat the first Psalm in Hebrew. Our author recognized it, stopped him at the end of the first verse, and addressed him with one of the colloquial phrases from his Arabic Grammar. The Jew then repeated the second verse, and our author another phrase; and so on to the end of the Psalm, which comprised the whole scriptural knowledge of the rabbi. Our author closed the conference with another sentence in Arabic, and, with more good nature than strict propriety, said, that he saw no reason to intercept the intended charity of the merchants. The Jew, delighted beyond expectation, declared, that he had travelled over Turkey and Egypt, but had no where met with the equal of this young theologian; who acquired prodigious honour by this ridiculous adventure. In vain he endeavoured to tell the story fairly; every one chose the marvellous colouring; he was extolled as a prodigy; and his reputation established at Marseilles.

Having finished his academical studies, he retired to Aubagne, where he resided some time, but often visiting Marseilles, and those persons with whom he had been connected there. Among these were Mr. Gary, a collector of medals, and Pere Segaloux of the convent of Minims, with whom he studied astronomy.

In 1744-he went to Paris, carrying a letter with him to Mons. de Boze, keeper of the royal medals, a learned man, whose age and infirmities predisposing him to retire from labour, he selected our author as an associate in the care and arrangement of the cabinet, and his appointment was confirmed by Mons. de Maurepas, minister of that department. Our author lost no time in arranging in perfect order the large and valuable collection of Mons. D’Etrees and the abbe llothelin, which had remained in a very confused state. These he separated, compared, and described in a supplementary catalogue. At this time his career in these pursuits was threatened with an interruption. His friend and countryman, Mons. de Bausset, had engaged to promote him in the church, and being now bishop of Beziers, invited him to accept the office of vicar-general. Having promised to follow the fortunes of his friend, our author had no intention of retracting his engagement; but wishing to be released from it, he submitted his thoughts on the subject to the bishop, who with great kindness | discharged him from the obligations he held himself under, and left him to follow the bent of his inclinations. In 1747 he was elected associate of the academy of inscriptions, and in 1753, on the death of M. de Boze, with whom he had been associate seven years, he was made keeper of the cabinet of medals, to which office he was promoted, notwithstanding some considerable opposition.

The succeeding year Mons. de Stainville, afterwards duke de Choiseul, being appointed ambassador at Rome, invited our author to accompany him to Italy, an offer which his official duty induced him to decline. In 1755, however, he was enabled to take this journey with his friend Mons. de Cotte, and his residence in Italy was rendered particularly agreeable by the continuance of Mons. cle Stainville there, who introduced him to the celebrated pope Benedict XIV. At Naples he became acquainted with Mazocchi, who was employed in the task of unfolding the numerous ancient manuscripts that had been found in Herculaneum. So little success had attended this undertaking at that period, that it would probably have been abandoned, but for the encouragement given to the prosecution of it by our author. It is related as a proof of the extent of his memory, that having applied in vain for liberty to copy one of these manuscripts, in order to send a fac-simile of the ancient hand-writing to France, and being only suffered to examine it, he read it over attentively five or six times, and suddenly leaving the apartment, copied the fragment from memory, and correcting when he came back some slight errors, he sent it the same day to the academy of belles lettres, enjoining secrecy, that no blame might attach to Mazocchi. While at Rome he gave a new and satisfactory explanation of the beautiful mosaic of Palestina, afterwards pri >ted in the Transactions of the Academy of Inscriptions.

In 1757, Mons. de Stainville returned to Paris, and being appointed to the embassy of Vienna, our author joined him there, with madame de Stainville, who had remained behind at Rome, and an offer was made him to undertake a voyage to Greece, and up the Levant, at the king’s expense; but he declined the undertaking, on the same ground as he had avoided a former proposal, as being incompatible with the duties of his office. In this place, we may observe, that he has shewn his gratitude to his patron, M. de Stainville, and his lady, by describing them in the | Travels of Anacharsis,” under the names of Arsames and Phedrina.

Through the means of this patron, then become duke of Choiseul, and principal of the king’s ministers, in the room of cardinal de Bernis, our author, in 1758, was amply provided for, first hy pensions on the archbishopric of the Abbey and the treasure of St. Martin of Tours, and afterwards by the place of secretary-general of the Swiss; besides which he enjoyed a pension of 5000 livres on the Mercure. His attachment to his patron was highly honourable to him. In 1771, on the dismission of the duke de Choiseul, and his banishment to Chanteloup, our author did not hesitate to follow him: and when that minister was compelled to resign the office of general of the Swiss, he would have given up his place of secretary immediately, if his patron had not interfered. He went, however, to Paris, and offered the surrender of his brevet to the count d‘Affry, who refused to accept it, being willing to protect our author if he would give up his friend. This he, positively refused to do: upon which M. d’Affry, much to his honour, accepted the resignation, granting him 10,000 livres out of the annual profits of the place, and Barthelemi set off next day for Chanteloup.

Barthelemi was now in possession of a considerable income, not less than 35,000 livres per annum, and this he employed in a manner highly commendable. Ten thousand he distributed to men of letters in distress, and the remainder he enjoyed with great liberality. He took under his protection three of his nephews, and settled and established them in the world. He promoted the welfare also of the rest of his family which remained in Provence, and he collected a numerous and valuable library, which he disposed of some time before his death. In 1788, he published his celebrated work, “The Travels of Anacharsis the Younger in Greece,” the excellence of which it is unnecessary to point out, as the repeated editions of the English translation have made it familiar in this country. In 1789 he was prevailed upon to accept the vacant seat in the French academy, which he had before declined. In 1790, on the resignation of M. Le Noir, librarian to the king, that post was offered to our author by M. de St. Priest. He declined it, however, as interfering with his literary pursuits, being then preparing for the press a work he had long meditated, a Catalogue Kaisonnee of the rich | cabinet he had long had under his care. In the execution of this project he was defeated by the unhappy circumstances of the times, which pressed very severely upon him in other respects. His places and appointments, by the madness of the moment, were suppressed, and he was at the close of his life reduced to great difficulties. Still, however, he was never known to complain, and might be seen daily traversing the streets of Paris on foot, bent double with age and infirmity, making his accustomed visits to madame De Choiseul.

In the year 1792, a visible change took place in his constitution; his health declined, and he became subject to fainting fits, which deprived him of his senses for many hours together. This state of imbecility was rendered more unhappy. On the 30th of August 1793, he, with his nephew and six other persons belonging to the public library, were denounced under pretence of aristocracy, by persons to whom he was an titter stranger. Being then at madame de Choiseul’s, he was removed from her house, and conducted to the prison called Les Magdelonettes. Though, from his great age and bodily infirmities, he was sensible he could not long survive the severity of confinement, stijl he submitted to his fate with that calmness and serenity of mind which innocence only can inspire. So great was the estimation in which he was held, that in prison every attention was paid to his convenience. A separate chamber was allotted to him and his nephew, where they received, on the evening of their imprisonment, an early visit from madame de Choiseul. By her interference, aided by some others, the order for his arrest was revoked, and before midnight he was released and carried back to her house, from whence he had been taken. To compensate, in some degree, for the insult offered him (for even the wretches then in power could not divest themselves of all sense of shame), he in October following was proposed on the execution of Carra, and the resignation of Champfort, to succeed the former as principal librarian; but he chose to decline it, on account of his age and infirmities. These last increased visibly, and about the beginning of 1795, being, then in his eightieth year, his decease appeared visibly approaching, and it was probably hastened by the extreme severity of the season. He died on the 25th of April, with little corporal suffering, preserving his senses so entirely to the lust, that he was reading Horace, in company with | his nephew, two hours before his death, and was probably unconscious of his approaching fate.

His person was tall, and of good proportion, and the structure of his frame seemed well adapted to support the vigorous exertions of his mind. Houdon, an artist of merit, has finished an excellent bust of him. “He leaves,” says his biographer, “each of his relations a father to bewail, his friends an irreparable loss to regret, the learned of all countries an example to follow, and the men of all times a model to imitate.

The works of the abbe Barthelemi, published separately, are, 1. “Les Amours de’ Carite et de Polydore,” a romance translated from the Greek, 1760, 12 mo, and 1796. 2. “Lettres sur quelques monumens Pheniciens,1766, 4to. 3. “Entretiens sur I’etat de la Musique Grecque au quatrieme siecle,1777, 8vo. 4. “Voyage du jeune Anacharsis,” already mentioned, of which there have been various editions of the original, particularly a superb one by Didot, and translations into English, and other languages. 5. About the time of his death he was preparing a vast medallic history, under the title of “Paleographie numismatique,” 3 vols. fol. 6. “Discours prononce” a l’academie Franchise,“1789, 4to. 7.” Voyage in Italic,“1801, 8vo. S.” Dissertation sur une inscription Greque, relative aux finances des Atheniens,“1792, 8vo. 9.” CEuvres diverses," published by Sainte Croix, 1798, 2 vols. 8vo. Besides these he wrote many papers on subjects of classical antiquity in the Memoirs of the Academy, vol. X. to LXXX. 1


From a memoir of his life drawn up by the Duke de Nivernois, and translated in the Gent. and European Magazines for 1796.—Dict. Hist.—See also Gent. Mag. 1795, p. 647; 1796, p. 20, 93.