Bayle, Pierre was born at Carlat, formerly in the Comte de Foix, November 18th, 1647, his father being a Protestant minister. At the age of nineteen he was sent to the college at Puy-Laurens, where he studied from 1666 to 1669 with an ardor that permanently injured his health. Subsequently he was sent to Toulouse, where he put himself under the philosophical course of the Jesuits. The end of this was his conversion from Protestantism, but for a time only. In August, 1670, he made a secret abjuration of Catholicism, and went to Geneva, where he formed an acquaintance with many eminent men, and especially contracted a close friendship with James Basnage and Minutoli. At Geneva and in the Pays de Vaud he lived four years, supporting himself by private tuition. In 1674 he removed first to Rouen, and soon after to Paris. The treasures of the public libraries, and the easy access to literary society, rendered that city agreeable to him above all other places. He corresponded freely on literary subjects with his friend Basnage, then studying theology in the Protestant University of Sedan, who showed the letters to the theological professor, M. Jurieu. By these, and by the recommendations of Basnage, Jurieu was induced to propose Bayle to fill the chair of philosophy at Sedan, to which, after a public disputation, he was elected, November 2, 1675. For five years he seems to have been almost entirely occupied by the duties of his office. In the spring of 1681, however, he found time to write his celebrated letter on comets, in consequence of the appearance of the remarkable comet of 1680, which had excited great alarm among the superstitious. In 1681 the college at Sedan was arbitrarily suppressed by order of the king, and Bayle went to Rotterdam, where, in 1684, he was called to fill the same chair. Here he published his Critique generale de 'Histoire du Calvinisme de Maimbourg,' a work admired for its ability by both Catholics and Huguenots, but nevertheless burnt by the hands of the hangman at Paris. About this time a work appeared called l'Avis aux Refugies, a satirical work, which treated the Protestants with very little delicacy. This book Jurieu (who had written unsuccessfully in opposition to the Critique generale above mentioned, and had, in consequence, imbibed a bitter hatred against Bayle) attributed to him; and although Bayle, in more than one Apology, denied the imputation, succeeded so far in raising a belief that Bayle was the author, that in 1693 he was removed from his professorship at Rotterdam. Having now entire leisure, he commenced his great work, the Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, the first edition of which was published in 2 vols. fol. in 1696, and the second, much enlarged, in 1702. This edition, and that of 1720 (both in 6 vols. fol.), are esteemed the best. The last edition was published at Paris 1820-23, 16 vols. The English edition of 1735, edited, with additions, by Birch and others for the London booksellers, is more valuable than even the original work. This work was undertaken principally to rectify the mistakes and supply the omissions of Moreri, but gave great and just offense in many parts from the indecency of its language, its bold leaning toward Manichaeism, and the captious sophistries which obscure the plainest truths and infuse doubts into the mind of the reader. Besides Jurieu, two new enemies appeared on this occasion, Jacquelot and Leclerc, who both attacked Bayle's supposed infidelity. His controversy with them lasted until near the period of his death, which happened on the 28th of December, 1706, in his fifty-ninth year. Among his other works are,
1. Commentaire sur ces paroles de l'evangile: Contrains-les d'entrer (1686): —
2. La Cabale chimerique (1691): —
3. Reponses aux Questions d'un Provincial (5 vols. 12mo, 1702, 1704):
4. Janua Caelorum Reserata: —
5. Selected Letters (best ed. 3 vols. 1725): —
6. Entretiens de Maxime et de Themiste; ou, Reponse a M. Leclerc (1706): —
7. Opuscules, etc.
His life was written by Des Maizeaux, in 2 vols. 12mo, 1722, and by Feuerbach (Augsb. 1838). See Haag, La France Protestante, 2, 60-63; Rev. des Deux Mondes, Dec. 1835; Landon, Eccl. Dict. 1, 98.