Dacier, Anne

, the learned wife of the preceding, was born at Saumur, about the end of 1651. She was only eleven years old when her father resolved to give her a learned education; which is said to have been owing to the following circumstance, that while he was teaching one of his sons the rudiments of grammar, in the same room where mademoiselle le Fevre was employed with her needle, she, with every appearance of unconcern, now and then supplied her brother with answers to questions that puzzled him. This induced her father to give her a regular course of lessons, and educate her as a scholar, in which character she soon excelled the youths under his care, and became her father’s associate in some of his publications. We are told that when she had learned Latin enough to read Phaedrus and Terence, he began to instruct her in the Greek, which she was so much pleased with, that in a short time she was capable of reading Anacreon, Callimachus, Homer, and the Greek Tragic Poets. As she read them, she shewed so much taste of the beauties of those admirable writers, that all the fatigue of her father in his professorship was softened by the pleasure which he found in teaching her. To divert her in her more serious studies, he taught "her the Italian language, and read over with her several poets of that nation, and particularly Tasso, in the perusal of whom she very acutely remarked the difference between that poet and Virgil and Homer. She sometimes took the liberty of disputing with her father, particularly, on one occasion, respecting Vaugelas’s translation of Quintus Curtius. Her father was charmed with it, but mademoiselle le Fevre ventured to point out some negligences of style, errors in language, and passages ill translated; and he was frequently obliged to own himself of the same opinion with her. These little contests, however, gave him great satisfaction, and he was extremely surprized to find so delicate a taste, and so uncommon a penetration, in so young a person.

In 1673, the year after her father died, she went to Paris, and was then engaged in an edition of Callimachus, which she published in 1674, in 4to. Some sheets of that work having been shewn to Huetius, preceptor to the dauphin, and other learned men at court, a proposal was made to her of preparing some Latin authors for the use of the dauphin; which, though she rejected at first, she at last | Undertook, and published an edition of Florus in 1674, in 4to. Her reputation being now spread over all Europe, Christina of Sweden ordered count Coningsmark to make her a compliment in her name; upon which mademoiselle le Fevre sent the queen a Latin letter with her edition of Florus. Her majesty wrote her an obliging answer; and not long after wrote her another letter, to persuade her to quit the protestant religion, and made her considerable offers to settle her at court. This, however, she declined, and proceeded in the task she had undertaken, of publishing authors for the use of the dauphin, the next of which was “Sextus Aurelius Victor,Paris, 1681, 4to; in which same year also she published a French translation of the poems of Anacreon and Sappho with notes, which met with great applause; so great, as to make Boileau declare, that it ought to deter any person from attempting to translate those poems into verse. She published, for the use of the dauphin, Eutropius, Paris, 1683, 4to, which was afterwards printed at Oxford, 1696, 8vo; and Dictys Cretensis & Dares Phrygius, Paris, 1684, 4to, which was afterwards printed, cum notis variorum, at Asnst. 1702, 8vo. She had also published French translations of the Amphitryo, Epidicus, and Iludens, comedies of Plautus, Paris, 1683, 3 vols. 12mo, and of the Plutus and Clouds of Aristophanes, 1684, 12mo, with notes, and an examen of all these plays according to the rules of the theatre. She was so charmed with the Clouds of Aristophanes, it seems, that, as we learn from herself, she had read it over 200 times with pleasure.

In the midst of all these various publications, so close to eacli other, she married Dacier, with whom she had been brought up in her father’s house from her earliest years. This happened, as we have already observed in our account of that gentleman, in 1683; though some have controverted not only the date, but even the marriage itself; and have surmised that she was previously married to one John Lesnier, a bookseller of her father’s, and that she ran away from him for the sake of Dacier, with whom she was never married in any regular way. But it is hardly possible to conceive, that so extraordinary a circumstance in the history of this celebrated lady must not, if it were true, have been notorious and incontested. We are therefore apt to admit father Niceron’s solution of this difficulty; vyho observes, upon this occasion, that “nothing is more | common than for a person, who abandons any party, to be exposed to the calumies of those whom they have quitted,” and to suffer by them. Madame Dacier, soon after her marriage, declared to the duke of Montausier and the bishop of Meaux, who had been her friends, a design of reconciling herself to the church of Rome; but as M. Dacier was not yet convinced of the reasonableness of such a change, they thought proper to retire to Castres in 1684, in order to examine the controversy between the protestants and papists. They at last determined in favour of the latter; and, as already noticed, made their public abjuration in Sept. 1685. This, in the opinion of her catholic admirers, might probably occasion the above-mentioned rumour, so much to the disadvantage of madame Dacier, and for which there was probably very little foundation. After they had become catholics, however, the duke of Montausier and the bishop of Meaux recommended them at court; and the king settled a pension of 1500 livres upon M. Dacier, and another of 500 upon his lady. The patent was expedited in November; and, upon the advice which they received of it, they returned to Paris, where they resumed their studies; but before proceeding in our account of madame Dacier‘ s publications, it is necessary to do justice to the liberality of her patron the duke de Montausier. We are informed, that in 1682 this lady having dedicated a book to the king of France, she could not find any person at court, who would venture to introduce her to his majesty, in order to present it, because she was at that time a protestant. The duke of Montausier, being informed of this, offered his service to introduce her to the king, and taking her in his coach, presented her and her book to his majesty; who told him with an air of resentment, that he acted wrong in supporting persons of that lady’s religion; and that for his part he would forbid his name to be prefixed to any book written by Huguenots; for which purpose he would give orders to seize all the copies of mademoiselle le Fevre’s book. The duke answered with that freedom with which he always spoke to the king, and in which no person else would presume to follow him: “Is it thus, sir, that you favour polite literature? I declare to you frankly, a king ought not to be a bigot.” He added then, that he would thank the lady in his majesty’s name, and make her a present of an hundred pistoles; and that he would leave it to the king to pay him, or not pay him; and he did as he had said. | In 1688 she published a French translation of Terence’s comedies, with notes, in 8 vols. 12mo. She is said to have risen at five o’clock in the morning, during a very sharp winter, and to have dispatched four of the comedies; but, upon looking them over some months after, to have flung them into the fire, being much dissatisfied with them, and to have begun the translation again. She brought the work then to the highest perfection; and, in the opinion of the French critics, even reached the graces and noble simplicity of the original. It was a circumstance greatly to her honour, that, having taken the liberty to change the scenes and acts, her disposition of them was afterwards confirmed by an excellent ms. in the king of France’s library. The best and most finished edition of this universally-admired performance, is that of 1717; which, however, was greatly improved afterwards, by adopting the emendations in Bentley’s edition. She had a hand in the translation of Marcus Antoninus, which her husband published in 1691, and likewise in the specimen of a translation of Plutarch’s Lives, which he published three years after; but being now intent on her translation of Homer, she left her husband to finish that of Plutarch. In 1711 appeared her Homer, translated into French, with notes, in 3 vols. 12mo and the translation is reckoned elegant and faithful. In 1714 she published the Causes of the Corruption of Taste. This treatise was written against M. de la Motte, who, in the preface to his Iliad, had declared very little esteem for that poem. Madame Dacier, shocked with the liberty he had taken with her favourite author, immediately began this defence of him, in which she did not treat La Motte with the greatest civility. In 1716 she published a defence of Homer, against the apology of father Hardouin, or, a sequel of the causes of the corruption of Taste: in which she attempts to shew, that father Hardouin, in endeavouring to apologize for Homer, has done him a greater injury than ever he received from his most declared enemies. Besides these two pieces, she had prepared a third against La Motte; but suppressed it, after M. de Valiincourt had procured a reconciliation between them. The same year also she published the Odyssey of Homer, translated from the Greek, with notes, in 3 vols. 12mo, and this, as far as we can find, was her last appearance as an author. She was in a very infirm state of health the last two years of her life; and died, after a very | painful sickness, Aug. 17, 1720, being 69 years of age. She bad two daughters and a son, of whose education she took the strictest care; but the son died young: one of her daughters became a nun; and the other, who is said to have had united in her all the virtues and accomplishments of her sex, died at 18 years of age. Her mother has said high things of her, in the preface to her translation of the Iliad.

Madame Dacier was a lady of great virtue as well as learning. She was remarkable for firmness, generosity, good nature, and piety. The causes of her change of religion are not well explained, but she appears to have been at least sincere. Her modesty was so great, that she never spoke of subjects of literature; and it was with some difficulty that she could at any time be led to do it. There is an anecdote related of her, which her countrymen say sets this modesty in a very strong light, although others may think the pi oof equivocal. It is customary with the scholars in the northern parts of Europe, who visit, when they travel, the learned in other countries, to carry with them a book, in which they desire such persons to write their names, with some sentence or other. A learned German paid a visit to madame Dacier, and requested her to write her name and sentence in his book. She seeing in it the names of the greatest scholars in Europe, told him, that she should he ashamed to put her name among those of so many illustrious persons; and that such presumption would by no means become her. The gentleman insisting upon it, she was at last prevailed upon and taking her pen, wrote her name with this verse of Sophocles, Γυναιξὶν ὴ πιγὴ φέρει χόσμον, that is, “Silence is the ornament of the female sex.” When likewise she was solicited to publish a translation of some books of scripture, with remarks upon them, she always answered, that “a woman ought to read, and meditate upon the scriptures, and regulate her conduct by them, and to keep silence, agreeably to the command of St. Haul.” Among her other literary honours, the academy of Iticovrati at Padua chose her one of their body in 1684. 1


Gen. Dict. —Niceron, vol. III. —Saxii Onomasticon.