Menage, Giles

, called, from his great learning, the Varro of his times, was born at Angers, Aug. 15, 1613. He was the son of William Menace, the king’s advocate at Angers; and discovered so early an inclination to letters, that his father was determined to spare no cost or pains in his education. He was accordingly taught the belles lettres and philosophy, in which his progress fully answered the expectations of his father, who, however, thought it necessary to divert him from too severe application, by giving him instructions in music and dancing; but these were in a great measure thrown away, and he had so littie genius for music, that he never could learn a tune. He had more success in his first profession, which was that of a barrister at law, and pleaded various causes, with considerable eclat, both in the country, and in the parliament of Paris. His father had always designed him for his profession, the law, and now resigned his place of king’s advocate in his favour, which Menage, as soon as he became tired of the law, returned to him. Considering the law as a drudgery, he adopted the vulgar opinion that it was incompatible with an attention to polite literature. He now declared his design of entering into the church, as the best plan he could pursue for the gratification of his love of general literature, and of the company of literary men; and soon after he had interest to procure some benefices, and among the rest the deanery of St. Peter at Angers. In the mean time his father, displeased at him for deserting his profession, would not supply him with the money which, in addition to what his livings produced, was necessary to support him at Paris. This obliged him to look out for some means of subsistence there, independent of his family; and at the recommendation of Chapelain, a member of the French academy, he was taken into the family of cardinal de Retz, who was then only coadjutor to the archbishop of Paris. In this situation he enjoyed the repose necessary to his studies, and had every day new opportunities of displaying his abilities and learning. He lived several years with the cardinal; but | having received an affront from some of his dependants, he desired of the cardinal, either that reparation might be made him, or that he might be suffered to depart. He obtained the latter, and then hired an apartment in the cloister of Notre Dame, where he held every Wednesday an assembly, which he called his “Mercuriale.” Here he had the satisfaction of seeing a number of learned men, French and foreigners; and upon other days he frequented the study of Messieurs du Puy, and after their death that of Thuanus. By his father’s death, which happened Jan. 18, 1648, he succeeded to an estate, which he converted into an annuity, for the sake of being entirely at leisure to pursue his studies. Soon after, he obtained, by a decree of the grand council, the priory of Montdidier; which he resigned also to the abbe de la Vieuville, afterwards bishop of Rennes, who procured far him, by way of amends, a pension of 4000 livres upon two abbeys. The king’s consent, which was necessary for the creation of this pension, was not obtained for Menage, till he had given assurances to cardinal Mazarin, that he had no share in the libels which had been dispersed against that minister and the court, during the troubles at Paris. This considerable addition to his circumstances enabled him to prosecute his studies with more success, and to publish la great many works, which he generally did at his own expence. The excessive freedom of his conversation, however, and his total inability to suppress a witty thought, whatever hiight be the consequence of uttering it, created him many enemies; and he had contests with several men of eminence, who attacked him at different times, as the abbe d’Aubignac, Boileau, Cotin, Salo, Bohours, and Baillet. But all these were not nearly so formidable to him, as the danger which he incurred in 1660, by a Latin elegy addressed to Mazarin; in which, among his compliments to his eminence, it was pretended, that he had satirized a deputation which the parliament had sent to that minister. It was carried to the grand chamber by the counsellors, who proposed to debate upon it; but the first president, Lamoignon, to whom Menage had protested that the piece had been written three months before the deputation, and that he could not intend the parliament in it, prevented any ill consequences from the affair. Besides the reputation his works gained him, they procured him a place in the academy della Crusca at Florence; and he might have been | a member of the French academy at its first institution, if it had not been for his “Requete des dictionnaires.” When the memory of that piece, however, was effaced by time, and most of the academicians, who were named in it, were dead, he was proposed, in 1684, to fill a vacant place in that academy, and was excluded only by the superior interest of his competitor, M. Bergeret: there not being one member, of all those who gave their votes against Menage, who did not own that he deserved the place. After this he would not suffer his friends to propose him again, nor indeed was he any longer able to attend the academy, if he had been chosen, on account of a fall, which had put his thigh out of joint; after which he scarcely ever went out of his chamber, but held daily a kind of an academy there. In July 1692, he began to, be troubled with a rheum, which was followed by a defluxion on the stomach, of which he died on the 23d, aged seventy- nine.

He composed several works, which had much reputation in their day 1. “Origines de la langue Franchise,1650, 4to a very valuable work, reprinted in folio after his death, in 1694, enlarged by himself, but this has sunk under the much improved edition by Jault, Paris, 1750, 2 vols. fol. 3. “Miscellanea,1652, 4to; a collection of pieces in Greek, Latin, and. French, prose as well as verse, composed by him-at different times, and upon different subjects; among which is “La requete des dictionnaires,” an ingenious piece of raillery, in which he makes all the dictionaries complain that the academy’s dictionary will be their utter ruin, and join in an humble petition to prevent it. It was not written from the least malignity against the academy, but merely to divert himself, and that he might not lose several bon mots which came into his head upon that occasion. He suppressed it for a long time; but at last it was stolen from him, and published by the abbé Montreuil, without his knowledge, and prevented him, as we have observed, from obtaining a place in the academy, at its first institution; which made de Monmor say, “that he ought to be obliged to be a member, on account of that piece, as a man, who has debauched a girl, is obliged to marry her.” 3. “Osservazioni sopra TAminta del Tasso,1653, 4to. 4. “Diogenes Laertius Graece et Latine cum commentario,” Lond. 1664, in folio. Menage published his first edition at Paris, in 8vo, 1662, and sent it to bishop Pearson in London, who wrote him a complimentary letter | of thanks, which is inserted in the London edition, which is now a rare and expensive book. Meibom’s edition of 1692 contains Menage’s annotations, &c. 5. “Poemata,1656, 12mo. They were often reprinted; and what is remarkable, his Italian poetry has been said to be esteemed even in Italy, although Menage could not speak two wordsin Italian. Baretti, however, condemns without mercy the Italian verses both of Menage and lleignier. MorhohY pretends that he has borrowed greatly from the Latin poems of Vincent Fabriciusj and several have accused him of plundering the ancients. We ought not, perhaps, to omit here, tbat having, according to the custom of poets, chosen mademoiselle de la Vergne, afterwards countess de la Fayette, for his poetical mistress, he gave lieu in Latin, inadvertently we may suppose, the name of Laverna, the goddess of thieves and this gave occasion to the following epigram:

" Lesbia nulla tibi est, nulla est tibi dicta Corinna:

Carmine laudatur Cynthia nulla tuo.

Sed cum doctorum compiles scrinia vatum,

Nil minim, si sit culta Laverna tibi."

6, “Recueil des Eloges faits pour M. le cardinal Mazarin,1666, folio. 7. “Origine delta Lingua Italiana,1669, foL He undertook this work only to shew the academy della Crusca, that he was not unworthy of the place with which they had honoured Inm. Dr. Burney says that in his *' Dictionnaire Etymologique de la Langue Franchise,“and in his” Origine della Lingua Italiana,“curious inquirers after the musical language of the middle ages wilt find more information than in any other lexicons or philosophical works with which we are acquainted, except lathe Glossarium of Ducange. 8.” Juris civilis amcenitates,“Paris, 1677, 8vo, reprinted with a preface by J. G. Hoffmann, Francfort, 1737, 8vo. 9.” Les poesies de Malherbe, avec des notes,“1666,” 8vo, reprinted more than once. Io. “Observations sur la Langue Francois,1675, and 1676,“in 2 vols. 12mo. 11. Histoire de Sable, contenant les seigneurs de la ville de Sable, jusqu‘a Louis I, due d’Anjou et roy de Sicile; premiere partie,” 1686, folio. He was very much prejudiced in favour of this history, and was engaged in the second part at his death. In the “Menagiana,” he is represented as saying, that it is an incomparable book that one may find every thing in it; and that in every page there are many learned observations?; | kut the public have not been of this opinion. 12. “Historia mulierum philosopher urn,” Lugd. 1690, 12mo. This is reprinted in Meibom’s Diogenes Laertius. 13. <* AntiBailiet,“1690: a criticism of the” Jugemens des Sgavans“of M. Baillet, who in that work had spoken of Menage in a manner that displeased him. 14.” Menagiana," not published till after his death, and printed at first in one volume, afterwards in two. But M. de la Monnoye published an edition with great additions, at Paris, 1715, in 4 rols. 12mo. This is a very amusing collection, but will admit of abridgment without any injury to the memory of Menage.

Menage was possessed of a most tenacious memory, which he retained, except during a short interval, to a great age. Among his “Poems” is one addressed to the goddess of memory, petitioning her to restore to him her former favours; and another, in which he pours forth his gratitude for the welcome return. This uncommon talent of memory made Menage a very agreeable companion tQ the ladies, in whose company he took "delight, and for whose amusement he repeated, with great readiness and humour, all the anecdotes, verses, &c. which he thought would entertain the company. 1

1 Gen. Dict. —Niceron, vol. I. and X. Dipt, HUt,-~Menagiana,