Pellisson-Fontanier, Paul

, a French academician, and a man of genius, was descended from an ancient and distinguished family, and born at Beziers in 1624. His mother, who was left a widow very young, brought him up in the protestant religion, and sent him to Castres to learn the belles lettres of Morns, or More, a learned Scotsman, who was principal of a college of the protestants at that place, and father of the famous Alexander More. At twelve years of age he was removed to Montaubon to study philosophy; and thence to Toulouse, where he applied himself to the law. He acquired a good knowledge of the Latin, Greek, Spanish, and Italian languages; but his love for the belles lettres did not make him neglect the law, which he studied so diligently as to publish, when he was not quite one-and-tweiuy, “A Commentary upon the Institutes of Justinian,Paris, 1645, 12mo. Some little time after he went to Paris, where the celebrated Conrart, to whom he had been recommended by the protestants of Castres, introduced him to the gentlemen of the academy | who assembled at his house; but Pellisson soon returned to Castres, the residence of his family, and applied himself to the business of the bar. He had excited the admiration of all about him, and was going on in a most flourishing way, when the small-pox seized him, and disfigured his countenance so much that his friend mademoiselle de Scudery told him he had abused the common liberty of men to be ugly. Having come to Paris a second time, he had contracted a friendship for this ladv, and for many years, it is said, they did not fail either to see or write to each other every day. In 1652 he became secretary to the king; and the same year read his “History of the French Academy, from its establishment in 1635 to 1652,” to that society, who were so well pleased with it that they decreed him the first vacant place in the academy, and that, in the mean time, he should be empowered to come to all their meetings, and give his vote as an academician; with a proviso, however, that the like favour could not hereafter be granted to any person, upon any consideration whatever. This work of PtJlisson, which has always been reckoned a master-piece, was printed at Paris, 1653, in 8vo.

Fouquet, the celebrated superintendant of the finances, who well knew his merit and talents, made him his first clerk and confidant in 1657; and Pellisson, though much to his injury, always preserved the sincerest attachment to him. Two years after, he was made master of the accounts at Montpelier, and had scarcely returned from that place to Paris, when the disgrace of his patron Fouqnet involved him in much trouble, and in 1661 he was sent to the Bastile, and confined there above four years. Though a very strict watch was set over him, he found means to correspond with his friends, and even with Fouquet himself, from whom he also received letters. He used his utmost endeavours, and employed a thousand arts to serve this linister; and he composed in his behalf three famous pleadings, which, Voltaire says, “resemble those of the Roman orator the most of any thing in the French language. They are like many of Cicero’s orations a mixture of judicial and state affairs, treated with an art void of ostentation, and with all the ornaments of an affecting eloquence.” In the mean time, the public was so convinced of his innocence, and he was so esteemed in the midst of his misfortunes, that Tanaquil Faber dedicated his edition of Lucretius to him; and the very day that leave | was given to see him, the duke de Montausier, and other persons of the first distinction, went to visit him in the Bastile. He was set at liberty in 1666; and, two years after, had the honour to attend Louis XIV. in his first expedition against the United Provinces, of which he wrote a history. In 1670 he abjured the protestant religion, for which, it is said, he was prepared, during his imprisonment, by reading books of controversy. Voltaire says, “he had the good fortune to be convinced of his errors, and to change his religion at a time when that change opened his way to fortune and preferment.” He took the ecclesiastical habit, obtained several benefices, and the place of master of the requests. The king settled on him a pension of 6000 livres; and, towards 1677, entrusted him with the revenues of some abbeys, to be employed in converting the protestants. He shewed great zeal in this work; but was averse to harsh measures. He published “Reflexions surles differens de la Religion” a new edition of which came out in 1687, augmented with an “Answer to the objections from England and Holland,' 7 in the same language. He employed also his intervals of leisure, for many years, in writing a large controversial volume upon the sacrament; but did not live to finish it, and the world has probably lost little by it. What he wrote on religious subjects does little credit to his pen. Even when he died, which was on Feb. 7, 1693, his religion was a matter of dispute; both papists and protestants claiming him for their own, while a third party thought he had no other religion than what he found necessary at court. He wrote some other works than those mentioned, both in prose and verse, but they have not been in request for many years. A selection, indeed, was published lately (in 1805), at Paris, somewhat in the manner of the compilations which appeared in this country about thirty years ago, under the name of” Beauties." 1


Gen. Dict.—Niceron, vol. II. and X.—Dict. Hist.