Littre, Maximilien Paul Emile

Littre, Maximilien Paul Emile the leader of positivistm in France, was born in Paris, February 1, 1801. He at first chose medicine as his profession, and, though he did not practice, much of his varied intellectual activity was directed to the scientific and historical side of the subject; indeed, his first work of great importance was his edition and translation of Hippocrates, the first volume of which appeared in 1839, while the last came out on the eve of the appearance of his famous Dictionnaire de la Langue Francaise. In the same year, when his Hippocrates appeared, he was elected a member of the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, and in 1844 he took Fauriel's place in the company charged by the Academy with the continuation of the Histoire Litteraire, in which he did much good work. A great part of his time and energy was also taken up by his connection with Comte and positivism (q.v.). He himself was, by temperament, inclined not to polemics against religion, but to a kind of ignoring of it in favor of science; and he had translated Strauss's Leben Jesu within four years of its publication. He adopted positivism, as it at first presented itself, with vigorous partisanship, and produced in 1845 an excellent analysis of the Philosophie Positive. His subsequent refusal to follow Comte (q.v.) in his later excursions gave rise to the acrimonious polemic between the party of which he was the real chief, and the thorough-going disciples of the Politique, the Synthese, the Catechisme, and the rest. A very few years before his death, Littrd, in his "testament," expressed his attitude towards Christianity, in words from which it is evident that he had no hostility, nor even indifference, towards Christianity. He simply could not believe in it. It was an extreme inability, which his intellect could not overcome, as may be learned from his own words:

Some pious souls have troubled themselves about my conscience. It has seemed to them that, not being an absolute contemner of Christianity, and heartily acknowledging that it possessed grandeur and conferred blessings, there were chords in my heart that it might touch. It was a beginning of faith, they thought, to entertain neither hostility nor contempt for a faith which has reigned for many centuries over men's consciences, and which even now is the consolation of so many faithful souls. As I never experienced nor expressed repulsion or uneasiness in finding myself the subject of the feelings that I have just sketched, and as age and illness warned me of my approaching end as they have never abandoned the hope that I might experience the sovereign effect of divine grace, nor ceased to appeal from the mature man, too proud of his strength, to the old man, henceforth accessible to the promptings of his weakness — I reply to these solicitations, without wishing to wound their feelings, by saying that I neither share their faith nor experience any misery at being unable to believe. I have questioned myself in vain. It is impossible for me to accept the conception of the world which Catholicism imposes upon its true believers; but I feel no regret at being outside these creeds. and I can feel within me no desire to enter within their pale." And yet he died, June 2, 1881, within the pale of the Catholic Church, having shortly before his death been baptized. Besides the works already mentioned, Littre also published, Conservation, Revolution et Positivisme (Paris, 1852): — Auguste Comte et la Philosophie Positive (ibid. 1863): — Semites en Competition avrec les Ayens pour l'Hegemoncie du Monde (Leipsic, 1880). Compare Caro, Littre et le Positivisme (Paris, 1883). (B.P.)

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