Marmontel, John Francis

, one of the most distinguished French writers of the eighteenth century, was born in 1723, at Bort, a small town in Limosin. His father, who was in very moderate circumstances, and had a very large family, bestowed great pains on this, his eldest son, and was ably assisted in the cultivation of his talents, by his wife, who appears to have been a woman of superior sense and information. Young Marmoutel first studied the classics and rhetoric in the Jesuits’ college of Mauriac, and at fifteen was placed by his father with a merchant at Clermont. As this, however, was very little to his taste, he applied for admission into the college of Clermont, and having been received into the philosophical class, maintained himself by teaching some of the junior scholars. He afterwards went to Toulouse, and became teacher of philosophy in a seminary of the Bernardines, where his abilities acquired considerable distinction.

Encouraged by this, he was a candidate for one of theprizes given by the academy of Floreal games at Toulouse; but the ode which he wrote on this occasion being rejected, he sent a copy of it to Voltaire, who not only returned it with high praise, but sent him a copy of his works. To a young man like Marmontel, nothing ceuld be more gratifying than the praise and kindness of a man of such high rank in the literary world; and eager to justify Voltaire’s good opinion, he applied more closely to his studies, and obtained the prizes of several succeeding years. It is much to his honour, that while his reputation increased, and his income became considerable, he devoted the latter to the maintenance of his father’s family.

By Voltaire’s advice, he repaired to Paris in 1745 to try his fortune as a man of letters. His first attempts were of the dramatic kind, which had various success, but never enough to render him independent of other employment. His first tragedy, “Denys le Tiran,” indeed, succeeded so well, as to give him a name, and introduce him into the higher circles, but this led him at the same time into a course of dissipation of which he afterwards repented, and which he relinquished, upon being promoted to the place of secretary to the royal buildings, by the interest of madame Pompadour.

We find him afterwards connected with D’Alembert and Diderot, in the compilation of the Encyclopedie, which is supposed to have had no small share in producing the | French revolution. Of this, too, however, he lived to repent, as his attachments were to the royal cause, although he held that changes to a certain degree were necessary. He afterwards became a contributor to the “Mercure Francois,” and it was in this publication that he wrote his “Tales.” In 1758 he became sole editor of the “Mercure/‘ which he very greatly improved but having in a gay party repeated a satire on the duke D’Aumont, which was not his own writing, and having refused to give up the author, he was sent to the Bastille, and lost his situation in the Mercure. His confinement, however, was short, and the reputation his” Tales“acquired in every part of Europe, procured him riches and distinction. After gaming the prize of the French academy, by his” Epitre aux Poetes,“though Thomas and Delille were his competitors, he was admitted into that academy in 1763, as successor to Marivaux, and his fame was afterwards completely established by hisBelisarius,“and his” Les Incas," both which acquired an uncommon degree of popularity.

After the death of D’Alembert in 1783, he was elected perpetual secretary to the French academy, where his employment was to compose eloges on the deceased members, and other pieces to be read in the academy, both in prose and verse. Under the ministry of Lamoignon, keeper of the seals, he was solicited to draw up a memoir on national education, which was a very elaborate composition; but the commencement of the revolution prevented the progress of this undertaking.

As the revolution advanced, be withdrew himself from all share in those proceedings which ended in scenes of blood and violence, and retired to a distant part, where he employed his time in the education of his children, and in the composition of some works which have added considerably to his reputation. In 1797 he was once more called into public life, by being elected a representative in the national assembly; but, after this assembly was dissolved, he again retired to his cottage, where he died of an apoplexy, Dec. 1799, in the seventy-seventh year of his age.

He was fifty-four before he married but this step, there is every reason to think, added much to his felicity, and secured the regular habits of his life. His reputation as a writer, although it was gradually augmented by his various publications, his plays, operas, poems, eloges, and other compositions on miscellaneous subjects, rests now | principally on his “Tales,” in this country, and on his Belisarius and Incas on the continent. His “Tales” have never been surpassed for lively and characteristic dialogue and sentiment, and have been such universal favourites, that there is no European language into which they have not been translated. They speak, indeed, to the passions of general nature, but the author’s imagination is not always under the strictest guidance of his judgment, and they are not among the books which we should recommend to young readers. Of this the French themselves appear sensible, and they are of opinion that the “New Tales,” which he wrote at a more advanced period of life, better deserve the epithet “Moral.” So valuable, however, have they appeared to dramatic writers, that they have formed not only the plot, but much of the dialogue of some very favourite pieces, both on the English and French stage. Since his decease, his “Life” written by himself has been published and translated into English. Of his former works, the best French edition is that of 1787, 32 vols. 8vo. 1


Life as above. —Dict. Hist. Tipographie Moderne.