Mezerai, Francis Eudes De

, an eminent French historian, was born at Ry, near Argentau in Lower Normandy, in 1610. He was educated in the university of Caen, where he discovered an early inclination for poetry; and had himself so high an opinion of his talent in that art, that he thought he should be able to raise both a character and a fortune by it. But, upon going to Paris, he was dissuaded from pursuing poetry, by Vauquelin des Yveteaux, who had | been the preceptor of Louis XIII. and advised to apply himself earnestly to history and politics, as the surest means of succeeding in life. In the mean time, that gentleman procured him the place of commissary of war, which he held for two or three campaigns, and then quitted it. Upon his return to Paris, he resolved to spend the remainder of his life there; and, changing the name of his family as being an obscure one, he took the name of Mezerai, which is a cottage in the parish of Ry. But his little stock of money made him apprehensive that he should not be able to continue long at Paris; and therefore, to support himself, he had recourse to writing satires against the ministry, articles which were then extremely well received, and for which he had naturally a turn. M. Larroque, in his Life of Mezerai, assures us, that he was author of all the pieces published against the government under the name of Sandricourt. They are written in a low and burlesque style, and adapted merely to please the populace. Larroque has given us the titles of nineteen of these pieces, but would not give those of others which Mezerai wrote, either during the minority of Louis XIV. or against cardinal Richelieu; “because,” he says, “they ought to be forgotten, out of reverence to the persons whom they attacked.

By these satires Mezerai gained a considerable sum in less than three years; and being now in easy circumstances, applied himself, at the age of twenty-six, to compile an “History of France.” Cardinel Richelieu, hearing of his character and circumstances, made him a present of two hundred crowns, with a promise to remember him afterwards. He published the first volume of his history in 1643, which extends from Pharamond to Charles VI.; the second in 1646, which contains what passed from Charles VI. to Charles IX.; and the third in 1651, which comprehends the history from. Henry Hi. till the peace of Vervins, in 1598; all in folio. This history procured him a pension from the king. It was received with extraordinary applause, as if there had been no history of France before: and perhaps there was none more agreeable as to Teracity. In 1668, he published, in 3 vols. 4to, an “Abridgement of the history of France:” in which there being several bold passages, which displeased Colbert, that minister ordered Perrault, of the French academy, to tell Mezerai, in his name, that “the king had not given him | a pension of 4000 livres to write in so free a manner; that his majesty had indeed too great a regard to truth, to require his historiographers to disguise it, out of fear or hope; but that he did not think they ought to take the liberty of reflecting, without any necessity, upon the conduct of his ancestors, and upon a policy which had long been established, and confirmed by th.e suffrages of the whole nation.” Upon this remonstrance, the author promised to retouch the passages complained of, which he did in a new edition, 1672, in 6 vols. 12mo. In this, however, he was so unfortunate as neither to satisfy the public, who were displeased to see the truth altered, nor the minister, who retrenched half his pension. Mezerai was extremely piqued at this, and complained of Colbert in such severe terms, as induced that minister to deprive him of the remainder of his pension. Mezerai then declared that he would write history no longer; and that the reason of his silence might not be concealed, he put the last money which he recieved as historiographer, into a box by itself with this note “Here is the last money I have received of the king he has ceased to pay me, and 1 to speak of him either good or ill.” * Mezerai had designed at first to revise his great work; but some friends giving him to understand that a correct abridgement would be more acceptable, he followed their advice, as we have related, and spent ten whole years in drawing it up. The first edition of it “met with greater applause than even his larger work, and was much sought after by foreigners as well as Frenchmen. Learned men, and critics in historical matters, have remarked many errors in it; but he did not value himself at all upon correctness; and used to tell his friends, who reproached him with the want of it, that” very few persons could perceive the difference between a history that is correct and one that is not so; and that the glory which he might gain by greater accuracy was not worth the pains it would cost."

In 1649, he was admitted a member of the French academy, in the room of Voiture; and, in 1675, chosen perpetual secretary of that academy. Besides the works abovementioned, he wrote a “Continuation of the general history of the Turks,” in which he is thought not to have succeeded “L’Origine des Francois,” printed at Amsterdam, in 1682Les Vanites de la Cour,” translated from the Latin of Johannes Sarisburiensis, in 1640; andaFrench | translation of “Grotius de Veritate Christianse Religionis,” in 1644. He died July 10, 1633, aged seventy-three. He was, according to Larroque, a man who was subject to strange humours. He was extremely negligent in his person, and so careless in his dress, that he had more the appearance of a beggar than a gentleman. He was actually seized one morning by the archers des pauvres, or parish officers; with which mistake he was highly diverted, and told them, that “he was not able to walk on foot, but that, as soon as a new wheel was put to his chariot, he would attend them wherever they thought proper.” He used to study and write by candle-light, even at noon-day in summer; and always waited upon his company to the door with a candle in his hand. He had a brother, father Eudes, a man of great simplicity and piety, whom he insidiously drew in to treat of very delicate points before the queen ­mother, regent of the kingdom, who was of the Medici family; and to lay down some things relating to government and the finances, which could not fail of displeasing that princess; and must have occasioned great trouble to father Eudes, if the goodness of the queen had not excused the indiscretion of the preacher. But of all his humours, none lessened him more in the opinion of the public, than the unaccountable fondness he conceived for a man who kept a public house at Chapellein, called Le Faucheur. He was so taken with this man’s frankness and pleasantry, that he used to spend whole days with him, notwithstanding the admonition of his friends to the contrary; and not only kept up an intimate friendship with him during his life, but made him sole legatee at his death. With regard to religion, he affected Pyrrhonism; which, however, was not, it seems, so much in his heart as in his mouth. This appeared from his last sickness; for, having sent for those friends who had been the most usual witnesses of his licentious talk about religion, he made a sort of recantation, which he concluded by desiring them “to forget what he might formerly have said-upon the subject of religion, and to remember, that Mezerai dying, was a better believer than Mezerai in health.” These particulars are to be found in his life by M. Larroque: but the abbe Olivet tells us, that he “was surprised, upon reading this life, to find Mezerai’s character drawn in such disadvantageous colours.” Mezerai was certainly a man of many singularities, and though agreeable when he pleased in his conversation, yejfc | full of whim, and not without ill-nature. It was a constant way with him, when candidates offered themselves for vacant places in the academy, to throw in a black ball instead of a white one: and when his friends asked him the reason of this unkind procedure, he answered, “that it was to leave to posterity a monument of the liberty of the elections in the academy.” As an historian, he is valued very highly and deservedly for his integrity and faithfulness, in relating facts as he found them; but for this solely: for as to his style, it is neither accurate nor elegant, although he had been a member of the French academy long before he wrote his “Abridgment.1


Bibl. Anc. et Moderne, vol. XXV. p. 440.—Niceron, vol. V. and X.—Moreri.—Hist. de l‘Academie Françoise depuis 1652 jusqu’a 1700, p, 221. edit. Paris, 1730.-Dict. Hist.