Deleyue, Alexander

, one of the French Encyclopaedists, was born at Portets, in the vicinity of Bonrdeanx, in January 1726; was at an early age admitted into the | college of the Jesuits, and, when only fifteen years old, was invested with their order. He was a youth of much imagination and sensibility, and at the same time strongly addicted to mental melancholy; during which he almost uninterruptedly directed his thoughts to the two great extremes of futurity, heaven and hell, which distressed him with perpetual agitations of mind. Deleyre, however, did not long continue in this state of mind, but quitted the Jesuit society, and with this, we have no small reason to believe, every religious faith whatever. As he was of plebeian birth, he could have no expectations from the court; his only alternatives were philosophy and the law; and the latter did not exactly correspond, we are told by his eulogist, either with his sensibility or his independence of mind. Montesquieu was at this time the Miecenas of Guienne, and became the patron of Deleyre from a thorough conviction of his talents: he introduced him to Diderot, d’Alembert, J. J. Rousseau, and Duclos; and his destiny was fixed: he decided for philosophy, and became a writer in the Encyclopedic. In this new capacity his hardihood was not inferior to that of his colleagues; the famous, or rather infamous, article on fanaticism was soon known to have been of his production, and it was likely to have been essentially detrimental to him; for he had now fixed his attention upon matrimony, and had obtained the consent of a lady; but the priests of the parish in which the ceremony was to have been celebrated, refused to unite them, in consequence of their having heard that Deleyre was the author of this article. His patronage, however, was at this time increased, and he had found a warm and steady friend in the due de Nivernois, who interfered in the dispute, and Deleyre obtained the fair object of his wishes. The duke had before this solicited, and successfully, the appointment for him of librarian to the infant prince of Parma, who was at this period committed to the immediate care of Condillac. In this situation he continued for some considerable time; and although a dispute respecting the mode of educating their pupil at length separated him from this celebrated logician, he appears to have always entertained for him the highest degree of respect.

At the commencement of the revolution, Deleyre proved himself warmly attached to the popular side of the question: he was elected a member of the National | Convention and of the Committee of Public Instruction. In revolutionary politics he was a Girondist; and his natural taciturnity prevented him from falling a sacrifice to the tyranny of Robespierre. He made his will while in Italy, in 1772. At this period he seems to have anticipated the approaching misfortunes of his country: “France,” says he, in this curious paper, “the country in which I was born, has, from the corruption of her manners, fallen under the yoke of despotism. The nation is too blind or too indolent to desire or be able to free herself. The government is become odious, and will terminate in despotism.” He adds, that, in consequence hereof, he is tired of life, and that, as he is uncertain whether he shall have patience enough to wait for his decease, or courage sufficient to hasten it, he deems it a duty to be prepared with a testament, explicitly stating all his desires concerning himself and the little he has to bequeath. This sort of language was not uncommon to the Encyclopedists and their immediate friends; but with all their vaunting, they appear to have had more attachment to life, or more dread of dissolution, than the German sentimentalists. With the latter, suicide was common, even among many who seldom boasted of performing it: among the former it was more often threatened than executed. Our philosopher died in the beginning of 1797, in the seventy-first year of his age, of a natural decay. The three chief works in which he engaged during his life-time were, an “Analysis of the Philosophy of Bacon,” in whose general opinions he appears to have been profoundly versed a variety of articles introduced into the body of the Encyclopedic and a “General History of Voyages,” a voluminous publication, which extended to nineteen large octavos. He published also “Le Genie de Montesquieu,” 12mo, and “L’Esprit de St. Evremont,” 12mo. Upon his decease were discovered many inedited works, and among the rest a poetic translation of Lucretius. Of such a translation, France, as well as every other country in Europe, except Italy, is much in want; but, from what we have seen of M. Deleyre’s metrical ballads, we strongly doubt his capacity to do justice to the inimitable beauties of the Roman bard: several of these ballads have, nevertheless, obtained the honour of being set to music by his friend Jean-Jaques Rousseau. It is more to the praise of Deleyre, that he was an enemy to all persecution, and, when in the possession of power, | acted with kindness towards many who were of different sentiments from his own, and by whom he had been been undeservedly ill-treated. 1


Memoirs of the French Inititute, vol. XXXII. —Dict. Hist.