Niceron, John Peter

, one of the most useful French biographers, was born at Paris, March 11, 1685. He was of an ancient and noble family, who were in very high repute about 1540. He studied with success in the Mazarine college at Paris, and afterwards at the college Du Plessis. He appears to have been of a serious turn of mind, and of great modesty, and from a dread of the snares to which he might be exposed in the world, de termined to quit it for a religious life. On this subject he consulted one of his uncles, who belonged to the order of Barnabite Jesuits. This uncle examined him; and, not diffident of his election, introduced him as a probationer to that society at Paris. He was received there in 1702, took the habit in 1703, and made his vows in 1704, at the age of nineteen. After he had professed himself, he was sent to Montargis, to study philosophy and theology, a course of both which he went through with credit, although he confesses that he never could relish the scholastic system | then in vogue. His superiors then, satisfied with his proficiency and talents, sent him to Loches, in Touraine, to teach the classics and rhetoric. Here his devout behaviour and excellent conduct as a teacher, made him be thought worthy of the priesthood, which he received at Poitiers in 1708, and as he was not arrived at the age to assume this orders a dispensation, which his uncommon piety had merited, was obtained in his favour. The college of Montargis having recalled him, he was their professor of rhetoric during two years, and philosophy during four. In spite of all these avocations, he was humanely attentive to every call and work of charity, and to the instruction of his fellow-creatures, many of whom heard his excellent sermons, pure and unadorned in style, but valuable in matter, which he delivered not only from the pulpits of most of the churches within the province, but even from those of Paris. In 1716 his superiors invited him to that city, that he might have an opportunity of following, with the more convenience, those studies for which he always had expressed the greatest inclination. He not only understood the ancient, but almost all the modern languages; a circumstance of infinite advantage in the composition of those works which he has given to the public, and which he carried on with great assiduity to the time of his death, which happened after a short illness, July 8, 1738, at the age of fifty-three. His works are, 1. “Le Grand Fébrifuge; or, a dissertation to prove that common Water is the best remedy in Fevers, and even in the Plague; translated from the English of John Hancock, minister of St. Margaret’s, London, in 12mo.” This treatise made its appearance, amongst other pieces relating to this subject, in 1720; and was attended with a success which carried it through three editions; the last came out in 1730, in 2 vols. 12mo, entitled “A Treatise on common Water;Paris, printed by Cavelier. 2. “The Voyages of John Ouvington to Surat, and divers parts of Asia and Africa; containing the History of the Revolution in the kingdom of Golconda, and some observations upon Silk- Worms,Paris, 1725, 2 vols. 12mo. 3. “The Conversion of England to Christianity, compared with its pretended Reformtion;” a work translated from the English, and written by an English catholic, Paris, 1729, 8vo. 4. “The Natural History of the Earth, translated from the English of Mr. Woodward, by Mons. Nogues, doctor in physic with an | answer to the objections of doctor Camerarius containing, also, several letters written on the same subject, and a methodical distribution of Fossils, translated from the English, by Niceron,Paris, 1735, 4to. 5. “Memoirs of Men illustrious in the republic of letters, with a critical Account of their Works. Paris,” 12uio. The first volume of this great work appeared in 1727; the others were given to the public in succession, as far as the thirty-ninth, which appeared in 1738. The fortieth volume was published after the death of the author, in 1739. Since that event three others were added, but in these are many articles of which Niceron was not the author. It is not easy to answer all the objections which may be offered to a work of this kind. The author himself, in one of his prefaces, informs us that some of his contemporaries wished for a chronological order; some for the order of the alphabet; some for classing the authors according to the sciences or their professions, and some according to the countries in which they were born. As his work, however, appeared periodically, he thought himself justified in giving the lives without any particular order, according as he was able to procure materials. That the French critics should dwell upon the unavoidable mistakes in a work of this magnitude, is rather surprizing, for they have produced no such collection since, and indeed Niceron has been the foundation, as far as he goes, of all the subsequent accounts of the same authors. Chaufepie only treats him with respect while he occasionally points out any error in point of date or fact. 1


Life by the abbé Gouget, in vol. XL, of the Memoirs.—Chaufepie.