Bernis, Francis Joachim De Pierres

, count of Lyons, and a cardinal and statesman of France, was born at MarceJ de l’Ardeche, May 22, 1715, of a noble and ancient family, but not very rich which circumstance induced his friends to bring him up to the church, as the most likely profession in which he might rise. In this they were not disappointed, as he gradually attained the highest ecclesiastical dignities. When young he was placed at the seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris, and after remaining there some years, he appeared in the world with every personal accomplishment that could introduce him into notice; but his morals appear to have been for some time an obstruction to promotion. The cardinal de Fleury, then prime-minister, who had the patronage of all favours, and who had promised him his countenance, thinking him of a spirit too worldly for the church, sent for him and gave him a lecture on his dissipated conduct, concluding with these words “You can have no expectations of promotion, while I live,” to which the young abbé“Bernis, making a profound bow, replied,” Sir, I can wait" Some think this bon mot, which became very current, was not original but it is certain that Bernis remained for a long while in a state not far removed from poverty, and yet contrived, by means of strict parsimony, to make a decent figure at the houses to which he was invited. Being a writer of verses, and consequently a dealer in compliments, he was always acceptable, and at length by madame Pompadour’s interest, was introduced to Louis XV. The good effects of this, at first, were only an apartment | in the Tuileries, to which his patroness added the furniture, and a pension of fifteen hundred livres yet it soon led to greater matters. Having been appointed ambassador to Venice, he was remarked to have acquired the good opinion and confidence of a state rather difficult to please in appointments of this description, and of this they gave him a strong proof, in a contest they had with pope Benedict XIV. who appointed Bernis as his negociator. On this occasion the state of Venice approved the choice, the consequence of which was, that Bernis effected a reconciliation to the entire satisfaction of both parties. On his return, he became a great favourite at court, acquired considerable influence, and at length, being admitted into the council, was appointed foreign minister. But in this situation he was either unskilful or unfortunate the disasters of the seven years war, and the peace of 1763, were laid to his charge but according to Duclos, he was less to blame than his colleagues, and it is certain that in some instances he has been unjustly censured. It was said, in particular, that he argued for a declaration of war against Prussia, because Frederick the Great had ridiculed his poetry in the following line,

Evitez de Bernis la sterile abondance;

but the fact was, that Bernis always contended, in council, for an alliance with Prussia, and that in opposition to the well-known sentiments of Louis XV. and madame Pompadour. The misfortunes of his country, however, induced him to resign his resignation was accepted, and himself exiled a proof, perhaps, that his advice had been in opposition to the court. Be this as it may, he bore his disgrace with firmness, and when the period of his exile was over in 176-i, he (being already a cardinal) was promoted by the king to the archbishopric of Alby, and five years after sent to Rome as ambassador. A considerable time after this, he was appointed protector of the churches of France, and fixed his residence at Rome, where he remained almost the whole of his life. Two opportunities occurred in which he demonstrated his talents for negociation, the conclaves of 1769 and 1774. He had a hand, likewise, in the name of his court, but against his own opinion, in the dissolution of the Jesuits. During his residence at Rome, his house was the general rendezvous of strangers of distinction, and many English travellers bear | testimony to the elegant manners and hospitality of the cardinal de Bernis. In 1791, the aunts of Louis XVI. driven by the revolution from their family and country, took up their abode with him during their stay at Rome, but that same revolution robbed him of his possessions and his promotions, as he refused to take the oaths then required. In this distress, the court of Spain, at the solicitation of the chevalier d’Azara, settled a pension on him, which he enjoyed but three years, dying at Rome Nov. 2, 1794, in the eightieth year of his age.

As a poet, the cardinal was very early noticed, and his poems were so highly esteemed as to procure his being admitted into the French academy long before he had risen in the world. They have not, however, preserved their reputation, and no person perhaps could judge more severely of them than the cardinal himself, of whose talents they certainly were not worthy, nor did he like to hear them mentioned. After his death a poem of his composition was published, “Religion vengee,” which was at least more becoming his rank than his juvenile effusions. It contains some spirited passages and excellent sentiments, but has too much of the coldness and philosophy of age. His early poems were censured for being overloaded with gorgeous figures andflowers. Voltaire used to call him Eabet-la-Bouquetiere, the name of a fat nosegay woman, who used to ply at the door of the Opera. In other respects, Voltaire had a high opinion of Bernis 1 s talents, as appears from their correspondence (published in 1799, 8vo.) in which Bernis appears to great advantage, and very superior to the flippant freedoms of his correspondent’s style. In 1790, a volume of Bernis’ letters to M. Paris du Verney, was published at Paris but these are not very interesting, unless as exhibiting some agreeable features in his character. The cardinal’s works, in prose and verse, have been often printed, and form 2 vols. 8vo. or 18mo. His poem on Religion was magnificently printed by Bodoni in fol. and 4to. and Didot printed a beautiful edition of his complete works in 1797, 8vo.1


Biog. Universellie.