Berthier, William Francis

, a French writer of considerable note, was born at Issoudun en Berri April 7, 1704, and entered among the Jesuits in 1722. He was professor of humanity at Blois, of philosophy at Rennes and Rouen, and of divinity at Paris. The talents he displayed in these offices made him be chosen in 1742 to succeed father Brumoy, in the continuation of his “History of the Gallican Church.” This he executed with general approbation. In 1745 his superiors employed him on the Journal de Trevoux, which he conducted for seventeen years, to the satisfaction of the learned and the public in general. This employment, says the abbé de Fontenay, procured him a high reputation, by the care and accuracy evident in the analysis of the works that came before him, and by the style of a masterly, impartial, and intrepid critic. But this exact impartiality was displeasing to several writers, and especially to Voltaire. When that poet published, without his name, his panegyric on Louis XV. pere Berthier saw it in no other light than as the attempt of a young man who was hunting after antitheses, though not destitute of ingenuity. So humiliating a critique was sensibly felt by Voltaire, who made no hesitation to declare himself the author of the work so severely handled. His mortification was increased when pere Berthier having given an account of a publication, wherein the poet was characterised under the title of “the worthy rival of Homer and Sophocles,” the journalist put coldly in a note, “We are not acquainted with him.” But what raised the anger of Voltaire to its utmost pitch, was a very just censure of several reprehensible passages in his essay on general history. The irritated poet declared openly in 1759 against the Jesuit in a sort of diatribe, which he placed after his ode on the death of the margravine of Bareith. The Jesuit repelled his shafts with a liberal and | manly spirit in the Journal de Trevoux. Upon this the poet, instead of a serious answer, brought out in 1760 a piece of humour, entitled “An account of the sickness, confession, and death of the Jesuit Berthier.” The learned Jesuit did not think proper to make any reply to an adversary who substituted ridicule for argument, and continued the Journal de Trevoux till the dissolution of the society in France. He then quitted his literary occupations for retirement. At the close of 1762 the dauphin appointed him keeper of the royal library, and adjunct in the education of Louis XVI. and of monsieur. But eighteen months afterwards, when certain events occasioned the dismission, of all ex-jesuits from the court, he settled at Ossenbourg, from which the empress queen invited him to Vienna and he was also offered the place of librarian at Milan, but he refused all and after residing here for ten years, obtained permission to go to Bourges, where he had a brother and a nephew in the church. Here he died of a fall, Dec. 15, 1782, just after being informed that the French clergy had decreed him a pension of a thousand livres. The chapter of the metropolitan church gave him distinguished honours at his interment; a testimony due to a man of such eminent piety, extensive erudition, and excellent judgment.

During his residence at Ossenbourg and at Bourges, he composed his “Commentaire sur les Psaumes et sur Isaie,” 15 vols. 12mo. He published also his “Oeuvres spirituelles,” 5 vols. 12mo, the best edition of which is that of Paris, 1811; “Refutation du Contrat Social,1789, 12mo. An “Examination of the fourth article of the Declaration of the Clergy of France in 1682,” lately printed at Liege, 1801, and Paris 1809, has been very unjustly and unfairly attributed to him.1


Biog. Universelle.—Dict. Hist.