Fenelon, Francis De Salignac De La Motte

, archbishop of Cambray, and author of Telemachus, was of an ancient and illustrious family, and born at the castle of Fenelon, in the province of Perigord, August 6, 1651. At twelve years of age, he was sent to the university of Cabors; and afterwards went to finish his studies at Paris, under the care of his uncle Anthony marquis of Fenelon, lieutenant-general of the king’s armies. He soon made himself known at Paris, and at nineteen preached there with general applause: but the marquis, who was a very wise and good man, fearing that the good disposition of his nephew might be corrupted by this early applause, persuaded him to be silent for some years. At twenty-four be entered into holy orders, and commenced the functions of his ministry in the parish of St. Sulpice, under the abbe Tron^on, the superior of that district, to whose care he had been committed by his uncle. Three years after, he was chosen by the archbishop of Paris, to be superior to the newly-converted women in that city. In 1686, which was | the year after the edict of Nantes was revoked, the king named him to be at the head of those missionaries, who were sent along the coast of Saintonge, and the Pais de Aunis, to convert the protestants. These conversions had been hitherto carried on by the terrors of the sword, but Fenelon declared against this mode, but said, that if allowed to proceed by more rational and gentle means, he would cheerfully become a missionary; and after some hesitation, his request was granted, but his success was not remarkable.

Having finished his mission, he returned to Paris, and was presented to the king: but lived two years afterwards without going to court, being again entirely occupied in the instruction of the new female converts. That he might forward this good work by writings as well as lectures, he published, in 1688, a little treatise, entitled “Education de Filles;” which the author of the Bibliotheque Universelle, calls the best and most useful book written upon the subject, in the French language. In 1688, he published a work “Concerning the functions of the Pastors of the Church;” writtenchiefly against the protestants, with a view of shewing, that the first promoters of the reformation had no lawful call, and therefore were not true pastors. In 1689, he was made tutor to the dukes of Burgundy, Anjou, and Berri; and in 1693, was chosen member of the French academy, in the room of Pelisson deceased. In this situation, he was in favour with all. His pupils, particularly the duke of Burgundy, improved rapidly under his care. The divines admired the sublimity of his talents; the courtiers the brilliancy of his wit. The duke, to the end of his life, felt the warmest regard for his illustrious preceptor. At the same time, Fenelon preserved the disinterestedness of an hermit, and never received or asked any thing either for himself or friends. At last the king gave him the abbey of St. Valery, and, some months after, the archbishopric of Cambray, to which he was consecrated by Bossuet bishop of Meaux, in 1695.

But a storm now arose against him, which obliged him to leave the court for ever; and was occasioned by his book, entitled “An Explication of the Maxims of the Saints concerning the interior life.” This book was published in 1697, and was occasioned by the writings of madam Guyon, who pretended to a very high and exalted devotion. She explained this devotion in some books which | she published, and wrote particularly a mystical exposition of Solomon’s Song. Fenelon, whose gentle disposition is said to have been strongly actuated by the lov of God, became a friend of madam Guyon, in whom he fancied he saw only a pure soul animated with feelings similar to his own. This occasioned several conferences between the bishop of Meaux, the bishop of Chalons, afterwards cardinal de Noailles, and Mr. Tronon, superior-general to the congregation of St. Sulpicius. Into these conferences, in which madam Guyon’s books were examined, Fenelon was admitted; but in the mean time began to write very secretly upon the subject under examination, and his writings tended to maintain or excuse madam Guyon’s books without naming her. This examination lasted seven or eight months, during which he wrote several letters to the examiners, which abounded with so many testimonies of submission, that they said they could not think God would deliver him over to a spirit of error. While the conferences lasted, the secret was inviolably kept with regard to Fenelon; the two bishops being as tender of his reputation, as they were zealous to reclaim him. He was soon after named archbishop of Cam bray, and yet continued with the same humility to press the two prelates to give a final sentence. They drew up thirty-four articles at Issi, and presented them to the new archbishop, who offered to sign them immediately; but they thought it more proper to leave them with him for a time, that he might examine them leisurely. He did so, and added to every one of the articles such limitations as enervated them entirely: however, he yielded at last, and signed the articles March 10, 1695. Bossuet wrote soon after an instruction designed to explain the articles of Issi, and desired Fenelon to approve it; but he refused, and let Bossuet know by a friend, that he could not approve a book which condemned madam Guyon, because he himself did not condemn her. It was in order to explain the system of the mystics that he wrote his book already mentioned. There was a sudden and general outcry against it, and the clamours coming to the king’s ear, his majesty expostulated with the prelates for having kept secret from him what they alone knew. The controversy was for some time carried on between the archbishop of Cambray and the bishop of Meaux. But as the latter insisted upon a positive recantation, Fenelon applied to the king, and represented to his | majesty, that there were no other means to remove the offence which this controversy occasioned, than by appealing to the pope, Innocent XII. and therefore he begged leave to go himself to Rome. But the king sent him word, that it was sufficient to carry his cause thither, without going himself, and sent him to his diocese in August, 1697. When the question was brought before the consultators of the inquisition to be examined, they were divided in their opinions: but at last the pope condemned the book, with twenty-three propositions extracted from it, by a brief dated March 12, 1699. Yet, notwithstanding this censure, Innocent seems to have disapproved the violent proceedings against the author. He wrote thus to the prelates who distinguished themselves as adversaries to Fenelon: “Peccavit excessu amoris divini, sed vos peceastis defectu amoris proximi.” Some of Fenelon’s friends have pretended, that there was in this affair more courtpolicy than zeal for religion. They have observed, that this storm was raised against him at a time when the king thought of choosing an almoner for the duchess of Burgundy; and that there was no way of preventing him, who had been tutor to the duke her husband, and who had acquitted himself perfectly well in the functions of that post, from being made her almoner, but by raising suspicions of heresy against him. They think themselves sufficiently justified in this opinion, by Bossuet’s being made almoner after Fenelon was disgraced and removed. Be this as it will, he submitted patiently to the pope’s determination, and read his sentence, with his own recantation, publicly in his diocese of Cambray, where he led a most exemplary life, acquitting himself punctually in all the duties of his station. Yet he was not so much taken up with them, nor so deeply engaged in his contemplative devotion, but he found time to enter into the controversy with the Jansenists. He laboured not only to confute them by his writings, but also to oppress them, by procuring a bull from Rome against a book which the cardinal de Noailles, their chief support, had approved: namely, father Quesnel’s “Reflections upon the New Testament.” The Jesuits, who were resolved to humble that prelate, had formed a great party against him, and prevailed with the archbishop of Cambray to assist them in the affair. He accordingly engaged himself: wrote many pieces against the Jansenists, the chief of which is the | Four Pastoral Letters,” printed in 1704, at Valenciennes; and spared no pains to get the cardinal disgraced, and the book condemned, both which were at length effected.

But the work that has gained him the greatest reputation, and will render his name immortal, is his “Telemachus,” written, according to some, at court; according to others, in his retreat at Cambray. A servant whom Fenelon employed to transcribe it, took a copy for himself, and had proceeded in having it printed, to about 200 pages, when the king, Louis XIV. who was prejudiced against the author, ordered the work to be stopped, nor was it allowed to be printed in France while he lived. It was published, however, by Moetjons, a bookseller, in 1699, though prohibited at Paris; but the first correct edition appeared at the Hague in 1701. This elegant work completely ruined the credit of Fenelon at the court of France. The king considered it as a satire against his government; the malignant found in it allusions which the author probably had never intended. Calypso, they said, was madam de Montespan Eucharis, mademoiselle de Fontanges Antiope, the duchess of Burgundy Protesilaus, Louvois; Idomeneus, king James II. Sesostris, Louis XIV. The world, however, admired the flowing elegance of the style, the sublimity of the moral, and the happy adoption and embellishments of ancient stories; and critics were long divided, whether it might not be allowed the title of an epic poem, though written in prose. It is certain that few works have ever had a greater reputation. Editions have been multiplied in every country of Europe; but the most esteemed for correctness is that published from his papers by his family in 1717, 2 vols. 12mo. Splendid editions have been published in various places, and translations in all modern languages of Europe, modern Greek not excepted.

Fenelon passed the last years of his life in his diocese, in a manner worthy of a good archbishop, a man of letters, and a Christian philosopher. The amiableness of his manners and character obtained for him a respect, which was paid even by the enemies of his country; for in the last war with Louis XIV. the duke of Marlborough expressly ordered the lands of Fenelon to be spared. He died in January 1715, at the age of sixty-three.

He was a man of great learning, great genius, fine taste, and exemplary manners: yet many have suspected that he | was not entirely sincere in his recantation of his “Maxims of the Saints;” a work composed by him with great care, and consisting, in great part, of extracts from the fathers. Yet, if we consider the profound veneration of a pious catholic bishop for the decisions of the church, the modesty and candour of his character, and even his precepts to the mystics, we shall be inclined to acquit him of the charge. He had said to these persons in that very book, “that those who had erred in fundamental doctrines, should not be contented to condemn their error, but should confess it, and give glory to Gocl; that they should have no shame at having erred, which is the common lot of humanity, but should humbly acknowledge their errors, which would be no longer such when they had been humbly confessed.” He has also been accused of ambition for his conduct in. the controversy, with the Jansenists, but the charge rests only on presumptive evidence, and is equally refuted by his general character. In his theology, he seems to give greater scope to feeling than to reason; but if he inclined to mysticism, and thus seemed to deviate from the established system of his church, he does not appear to have made the least approach to protestantism. On the contrary, no one has more forcibly inculcated the danger of putting the scriptures into the hands of the people (a fundamental tenet of popery), than Fenelon has done in his “Letter to the archbishop of Arras.” Submission to the decisions of the holy see is likewise exemplified in his whole conduct as well as in his writings. Indeed, Fenelon seems to have been one of those, who, either from early prepossessions, or from false reasonings upon human nature, or from an observation of the powerful impressions made by authority on the credulity, and a pompous ritual on the senses of the multitude, imagine, that Christianity, in its native form, is too pure and elevated for vulgar souls, and, therefore, countenance and maintain the absurdities of popery, from a notion of their utility.

Fenelon published several works besides his “'Telemachus,” and the “Explanation of the Maxims of the Saints,” already mentioned, which first appeared in 1697. These were, 1. “Dialogues of the Dead,” in two volumes, 12mo, composed for the use of the duke of Burgundy, and intended in general to cure him of some fault, or teach him some virtue. They were produced as the occasions arose, and not laboured, 2. “Dialogues on Eloquence in | general, and that of the. Pulpit in particular,” 12mo, published in 1718, after his death. He there discusses the question, whether it is better to preach by memory, or extemporaneously with more or less preparation. The rules of eloquence are also delivered in a neat and easy manner. 3. “Abridgment of the Lives of the ancient Philosophers,” 12 mo, written for the duke of Burgundy, of which an excellent translation, with notes, was lately published by the rev. John Cormack, 1808, 2 vols. 12mo. 4. “A Treatise on the Education of Daughters,” 12mo, an excellent work. 5. “Philosophical Works, or a demonstration of the Existence of God, by proofs drawn from Nature,” 12mo; the best edition is of Paris, 1726. 5. “Letters on different subjects of Religion and Metaphysics,1718, 12mo. 6. “Spiritual Works,” 4 vols. 12mo. 7. “Sermons,” printed in 1744, 12mo the character of these discourses is rather pathetic writing than strong reasoning; the excellent disposition of Fenelon appears throughout; but they are unequal and negligent. He preached extemporaneously with facility, and his printed sermons are in the same style. 8. Several works in favour of the bull 41 Unigenitus,“against Jansenism. 9.” Direction for the Conscience of a king,“composed for the duke of Burgundy; a small tract, but much esteemed, published in 1748, and re-published in 1774. There is a splendid French edition of his works in 9 vols. 4to, Paris, 1787 1792; and one of his” OEuvres choices,“1799, 6 vols. 12mo. In 1&07 appeared at Paris a new volume of his” Sermons choisies," 12mo, which is said to do credit to his established reputation. 1


Life, by Ramsay, 17C3, 12rr,o. Oen. Dict. Eloges par TVAlembert. Memoirs de due de St. Simon. Gen. Dict. in Saliguac. Eloge par La Harpe, 1771.