Pellisson-fontanier, Paul

Pellisson-Fontanier, Paul a noted French character of the reign of king Louis XIV, a renegade from the Huguenots, and the principal government agent for the conversion scheme of the Protestants through bribery, was born at Beziers in 1624. He was deprived of his father at an early age, and was educated by his mother in the principles of the Reformed Church. His family had for a long time been distinguished in the profession of the law, and to that profession he was also destined. He studied successively at Castres, Montauban, and Toulouse, and acquired an intimate knowledge of the best classical writers, and of French, Spanish, and Italian literature. To the study of civil law and jurisprudence he especially devoted himself; the fruits of this shortly afterwards appeared in a paraphrase of the Institutes of Justinian, which was published at Paris in 1645. He commenced his legal career with considerable success at Castres, but it was soon interrupted by a most severe attack of small-pox, which permanently affected his sight, and so disfigured him that he was compelled to abandon the practice of his profession. He retired into the country, and devoted himself to general literature. In 1652 he settled in Paris, where his writings had already made him advantageously known. The French Academy, in acknowledgment of the services he had rendered it by writing its history (the work perhaps by which he is best known), decreed that he should be appointed a member of it on the first vacancy that should occur, and that in the mean time he should be permitted to attend their sittings: to enhance the honor, they further decided that a similar privilege should on no consideration be granted in future to any man of letters. The same year Pellisson purchased the office of secretary to the king; and in 1657 he was appointed first clerk to the minister of finances. In this employment, where vast sums of money passed through his hands, he maintained his reputation for integrity, while his increased means enabled him to render pecuniary services to the distressed men of letters in the capital. His services were rewarded with the appointment, in 1660, to the office of state counselor. The following year, when the minister was found guilty of defalcation, Pellisson, as the supposed confidant of the minister. was imprisoned in the Bastile. He remained upwards of four years in captivity. During this imprisonment he composed three memoirs in behalf of Fouquet, which have been reckoned the finest models of that species of writing in the French language. They became however the plea for additional severity towards Pellisson. In order to increase the rigor of his confinement, he was deprived of the use of ink and paper, the want of which compelled him to have recourse to divers ingenious expedients, such as writing on the margin of his books with the lead of the casements. The persevering influence of his friends was at length successful in restoring him to liberty; and he was even received into favor by a king whose characteristic was seldom to forgive any opposition to his despotic will. The sufferings Pellisson had undergone at the Bastile were compensated by a pension and the appointment of historiographer to the king. In 1670 he abjured Protestantism for the Roman Catholic faith. This change, followed soon after by his entrance into holy orders, enabled Louis XIV to bestow upon him the abbacy of Gimont and the priory of St. Orens, a benefice of considerable value in the diocese of Auch. However, he is favorably distinguished from most proselytes by the lenient and tolerant disposition which he evinced towards those who disagreed with him in opinion, and, when high in royal favor, he publicly disapproved and opposed by his influence and writings the violent measures which were employed by the king's command to bring his Protestant subjects within the pale of the Roman Church. He persuaded his royal master to empower him to use money as he might see fit for the conversion of the Huguenots; and, as the king consented, Pellisson became the advocate of the policy of bribing the Nonconformists into the Church's fold. He communicated with the bishops, and placed in their hands sums of money, with instructions to employ them in indemnifying persons who might abjure heresy for any loss they sustained, or might imagine they sustained, by taking that step. Of course the plan worked well, for there are always many whom gold will tempt. and it is not at all surprising that Madame de Maintenon could write in 1683, "M. Pellisson works wonders... He may not be so learned as M. Bossuet, but he is more persuasive. One could never have ventured to hope that all these conversions would have been obtained so easily" (sic). "I can well believe," she writes in another place, "that all these conversions are not equally sincere; but God has numberless ways of recalling, heretics to himself. At all events, their children will be Catholics. If the parents are hypocrites, their outward submission at least brings them so much nearer to the truth; they bear the signs of it in common with the faithful. Pray God to enlighten them all; the king has nothing nearer to his heart" (Lettres et Memoires de Mme. de Maintenon, 8:90). In 1671, on the occasion of the reception of the archbishop of Paris as member of the Academy, he delivered a panegyric on Louis XIV, which was translated into the Latin, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and even Arabic languages. In 1673, having incurred the displeasure of Madame de Mtontespan, he was deprived of his office of royal historiographer; but, at the special request of Louis, he continued to write the life of the king, and for that purpose accompanied him in several of his campaigns. Nearly every succeeding year of Pellisson's life was marked by some instance of royal favor. His death took place at Versailles in February, 1693. The fact of his not receiving the sacrament in his last moments has been explained by the Roman Catholic writers to be owing to the suddenness of his death; by Protestants to his unwillingness to sanction, by a solemn act of hypocrisy, a conversion which they allege to be insincere. The arguments on both sides will be found impartially stated by Bayle (art. "Pellisson"). It may reasonably be supposed that Pellisson was never truly won over to the Church of Rome, and that he professed conversion for selfish purposes. His efforts to win over Protestants was only to give them advantages of which he saw them deprived, and to avoid persecution. He corresponded with Leibnitz regarding the question of religious toleration, and laid down his views in Reflexions sur les differences en matiere de Religion— (1686). See Weiss, Histoire des Refugies Protestants de France (Paris, 1863, 12mo), p. 65 sq., especially p. 78; Jervis, Hist. of the Church of France, 2:63 sq.; Smiles, Hist. of the Huguenots after the Revocation (see Index).

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