Chamfort, Sebastian Roche Nicolas

, an ingenious French writer, and one of the victims of the revolution, was born in 1741, in a bailiwick near Clermont, in | Auvergne. In supporting a revolution which levelled all family distinctions, he had no prejudices to overcome, being the natural son of a man whom he never knew. This circumstance, however, did not diminish his affection for his mother, who was a peasant girl, to supply whose wants he often denied himself the necessaries of life. He was taken at a very early age into the college des Prassins at Paris, as a bursar, or exhibitioner, and was there known by his Christian name of Nicolas. During the first two years he indicated no extraordinary talents, but in the third, out of the five prizes which were distributed annually, he gained four, failing only in Latin verses. The next year he gained the whole, and used to say, “I lost the prize last year, because 'I imitated Virgil; and this year I obtained it, because I took Buchanan, Sarbievius, and other moderns for my guides.” In Greek he made a rapid progress, but his petulance and waggish tricks threw the class into so much disorder, that he was expelled, and not long after left the college altogether. Thrown now on the world, without friends or money, he became clerk to a procurator, and afterwards was taken into the family of a rich gentleman of Liege, as tutor. After this he was employed on the “Journal Encyclopedique,” and having published his Eloges on Moliere and La Fontaine, they were so much admired as to be honoured with the prizes of the French academy, and that of Marseilles. About this time he had little other maintenance than what he derived from the patronage of the duke de Choiseul and madame Helvetius, and therefore was glad to take such employment as the booksellers offered. For them he compiled a “French Vocabulary,” and a “Dictionary of the Theatres.” While employed on this last, he fancied his talents might succeed on the stage, and was not disappointed. His tragedy of “Mustapha,” acted in 1778, was acknowledged to have great beauties; and Voltaire, who witnessed the performance, said with an exclamation, that he Was reminded of Racine. This was followed by two comedies, fugitive pieces of poetry, letters, epigrams, translations of the Anthology, and of Martial, all which contributed very considerably to his reputation. His poetical “Epistle from a father to a son, on the birth of a grandson,” gained him the prize of the French academy, although it appears inferior to his “L’Homme de Lettres, discours philosop.hic|iic en vers.” At length he gained a | seat in the academy, on the death of St. Palaye, on whom he wrote an elegant eloge. His tragedy of “Mustapha” procured him the situation of principal secretary to the prince of Conde, but his love of liberty and independence prevented him from long discharging its duties. After resigning it, he devoted himself wholly to the pleasures of society, where he was considered as a most captivating companion. He also held some considerable pensions, which, however, he lost at the revolution.

When this great event took place, his intimacy with Mirabeau led him to join the revolutionists, and he assisted Mirabeau in many of his works. He even obtained admission into the Jacobin-club, and in 1791 was appointed secretary, but soon saw through their hypocrisy, detested their sanguinary principles, and left them. After the 10th of August, Roland procured him to be appointed national librarian, in conjunction with Carra. He saw with horror the excesses of all parties, and when the words “Fraternity or Death” appeared on all the walls of Paris, he exclaimed “The fraternity of these fellows is that of Cain and Abel.” These, and other sarcasms, made him obnoxious to Robespierre, and he was apprehended, and endeavoured to commit suicide. He only, however, mangled himself shockingly on this occasion, and lived till April 1794. He was unquestionably a man of talents, but in his political conduct inconsistent and frivolous, attaching himself to no party, yet maintaining the pernicious principles from which each party had arisen. In 1795, his friend Ginguene published his works in 4 vols. 8vo, with a Life. They are entirely of the miscellaneous kind, and the fourth volume consists of Maxims and Opinions, which have since been published separately under the title of “Chamfortiana.” Many of them are founded on an accurate observation of human nature, and of the manners of his age and country. 1

1 Dict. Hist. Biog. Moderne, Anecdotes of the Founders of the French Republic,