Polignac, Melchior De, Cardinal
Polignac, Melchior De, Cardinal, was one of the most illustrious scholars and courtiers of France in the latter years of Louis XIV, and in the early reign of Louis XV; an ecclesiastic and high dignitary of the Roman Catholic Church; a distinguished diplomatist, archaeologist, philosopher, and poet. It is in the last of these characters that his reputation has survived, and is likely to survive, though with continually fading luster. The elegant Latinist, whose name was for half a century in the mouths of the fashionable ladies of the court, and of the learned in their studious retreats; whose verses passed current in the gay world for years before they were committed to the press, and continued in circulation for half a century after the death of their author and the oblivion of their source; furnishing to America an inscription in honor of Franklin "Eripuit fulmenque Jovi Phoeboque sagittas;" whose poem was anxiously and frequently desired by Leibnitz, but who died without seeing it, thirty years before it saw the light-this elegant Latinist is now remembered only by a few, and the work which gave him his renown is known to still fewer, being almost as inaccessible as it is unsought. Yet Polignac can never be entirely forgotten, for he linked himself by his poetic labors with Lucretius; and' so long as the profound but dreamy philosophy, and the exquisite but melancholy graces of the greatest of Roman poets are admired, so long will Polignac shine in the radiance reflected from the great luminary with which he is in opposition.
Life. — Melchior de Polignac, the descendant of one of the oldest houses of Auvergne, was born Oct. 11, 1661, at Puly-en-Velay, now Le Puy, the capital of the present department of Haute-Loire, in France. Puy is in the heart of the mountainous region of Middle France, the region of which Puy-de-Dome is the center. It lies at the foot of Mount Anis, in a rugged valley between the great arms of the Cevennes. It is on the left bank of the Upper Loire, and is watered also by its two small tributaries, the Borne and Dolaison. The situation is wild and romantic, and is consecrated by romantic associations. The ground on which the city stands is so ragged and broken that the streets in the higher town are unfit for wheels, and are often mere stairs, like those of Valetta. The cathedral is escalated by an approach of 118 steep steps. Within is a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary, carved by resident Christians (f Lebanon from the cedars of that mountain, though skeptically suspected to have been an idol of the Egyptian Isis. In the suburb of L'Aiguille, the church of St. Michel crowns a basaltic rock 285 feet in height, and is gained by a flight of 216 steps hewn out of the rock. In the Dominican church of St. Laurent are the tomb and part of the remains of Bertrand Duguesclin, the great constable of France. Near by, and close to the village of Expailly, are the ruins of the ancient castle of Polignac, supposed to have been erected on the site of the temple of the Celtic Apollo. From this circumstance-the Templum Apollinim cum— the family of Poliglac claimed to have derived its appellation. The tremendous forces of volcanic action are manifest in the country round about, and the streets of Le Puv are partly paved with the volcanic breccia. The race and the birthplace of the future cardinal were thus encompassed with the evidences on which were founded legends and traditions, pagan and Christian-antiquarian, classical, ecclesiastical, chivalrous, and poetic-which might well inspire the quick fancy of the descendant of an ancient family in that marvelous land; and they were enclosed in scenes of natural beauty or sublimity which might feed his imagination in those years of youth which are susceptible to all external influences. Who shall tell to what extent and in what modes the young mind is molded by the circumstances in which infancy and boyhood are passed-in that impressible period of exulting life when it is facile to all impressions? There are no interesting recollect-ions of Polignac's boyhood. As the cadet of a noble house, he was destined for the Church, and was educated at Paris in the colleges of Clermont and Harcourt. He completed his courses by the study of theology at the Sorbonne, and was early provided with a living through the intervention of his family. The young abbé soon attracted attention by the extent of his acquirements, the vivacity of his disposition, the polish of his conversation, and the elegance of his manners. He is said to have added to 'a distinguished address and personal appearance a sweet and winning eloquence, which became masculine and powerful in the close of his harangues." Madame de Sevignt described him in her Letters as "a man of the world, of fascinating sprightliness, knowing all things and meditating all things; yet with all the gentleness, brilliancy, and complaisance which could be desired in the intercourse of life" (March 18, 1690). Equally flattering commendations were bestowed on him about the same time by Louis XIV and pope Alexander VIII. This pope was 'elected in a conclave attended by the cardinal de Bourbon, who had carried with him to Rome the young abbé, fresh from his theological studies. On this visit Polignac was charged with the discussion of the four articles of 1682 which asserted the liberties of the Gallican Church. He returned to France to report to Louis XIV the favorable results of the effort at conciliation between the French and Roman courts. In 1691 he accompanied the cardinal de Bourbon a second time to Rome, on the occasion of the election of Innocent XII to the pontificate. On his return to France, he shut himself up in the monastery of "Bons Enfants" to continue his studies. He was not suffered to remain long in this learned seclusion.
The previous experience of his adroitness recommended him as a suitable person to conduct the delicate negotiations in support of the candidature of the prince de Conti for the crown of Poland. He was accordingly sent to Warsaw as ambassador extraordinary. This was his first diplomatic employment. On his journey he was wrecked on the Prussian coast; and, to add to the misfortunes of the sea, he was plundered and his life imperiled by marauders of Dantzic. He managed, however, to reach the court to which he was accredited, and was cordially welcomed by the heroic king, John Sobieski. In his confidential mission at Warsaw he displayed great dexterity and capacity for intrigue, which were, however, frustrated of their expected fruit by the listlessness and delays of the French prince. But the sentiment of Poland was expressed in an epigram cited by Leibnitz (Lett. 6 a Burnet):
"Per vivum Deum Nolumus Condaeum."
The election resulted in placing the Polish crown on the head of Augustus, elector of Saxony, the first king of the Saxon line. Louis XIV manifested his disappointment by replacing Polignac at the court of Warsaw by the abbé de Chateaunay, and ordered the discredited ambassador to return to his abbey of Bon Port (or Fair Haven). The rusticated diplomatist accepted his banishment with apparent gratification, and declared it altogether conformable to his wishes and fortunes. Here he remained during four years, closely occupied with those studies and labors which enabled him to merit the high but pedantic compliment of Voltaire:
"Le cardinal, oracle de la France, Reunissant Viroile avec Platon, Vengeur du ciel et vainqneur de Lucrce."
To these years of tranquil application must be assigned the conception and commencement of the poem by which his renown was mainly acquired, and by which it has been preserved. On his return from Poland, Polignac visited the celebrated skeptic Bayile with whom he had many and earnest conferences. Bayle, in replying to the theological arguments of his clerical opponent, assumed to be a Protestant, and justified the genuineness of his Protestantism on the score of protesting against everything usually said or done against "tout ce qui se dit et tout ce qui se fait." The French abbé could make no serious impression upon his astute and witty antagonist, but was much struck with the frequency and point of his citations from Lucretius. He determined in consequence to re-read the great Roman poet, and to refute his infidel and materialistic arguments. To this task he addressed himself at once in his retreat at Bon Port, and occasional passages of the incipient poem were communicated to his friends, were circulated from mouth to mouth, and excited general expectation among scholars.
Notwithstanding these diligent literary avocations and his professed enjoyment of the charms of contemplative repose, Polignac was too much of a Frenchman and courtier not to sigh and scheme for a renewal of the delights of Paris and of royal favor. On the proclamation of the duke of Anjou as king of Spain, he wrote to Louis XIV: "If your majesty's prosperity does not put an end to my misfortunes, at least it makes me forget them." The compliment was graciously accepted. He was recalled from his rural banishment, and was -welcomed with the utmost cordiality. The king presented him with two additional abbacies. He seems to have recited at this time long passages from his growing poem to the king, the princes, and the learned. He was sent to Romes auditor of the Rota; and was nominated to the English cardinalate by the Pretender, with whose interests he was entrusted. In 1706 he was joined with the cardinal De la Tremouille in the conduct of the French negotiations. He was recalled from Rome in 1710, and was commissioned, along with the marechal D'Uxelles, as plenipotentiary to the conferences of Gertruydenburg, being already cardinal in petto. The recent victories of Marlborough had rendered the plenipotentiaries of the Dutch provinces arrogant exacting, and impracticable. He rebuked their domineering tone by remarking, "It is very evident, gentlemen, that you are unused to victory." Nothing was effected at this time towards the restoration of peace, but two years later he was sent to the Congress of Utrecht, where he appeared in the habit of a layman, and under the name of the Comte de Polignac. The Dutch negotiators, suspecting the existence of secret articles between France and England, threatened to expel the French ambassadors from their territory. Hereupon Polignac retorted, "We will not depart: we will treat of you, among you, and without you." He refused, however, to sign the treaty, as it excluded from the English throne the Stuart family, to whose head he was indebted for his nomination to the cardinalate. Before the negotiations at Utrecht were closed, the promotion of Polignac was promulgated, and he received the cardinal's hat at Antwerp, Feb. 10, 1713. In the summer of the same year the beretta was delivered to him at Versailles by Louis XIV
himself. He did not neglect his poetic defense of Christianity even in the perplexity of diplomatic cares. He added new passages to his poem during his sojourn at Utrecht, and read his poetic labors to the eminent and aged scholar Le Clerc. Soon after his return to Paris he received the appointment of master of the Royal Chapel, an office which he resigned after three years' tenure. His influence and acceptability at court declined after the death of the great monarch. His stately manners belonged to the old regime, and were uncongenial to the license of the regency. He was involved in the conspiracy of Cellamare through his attachment to the duke and duchess of Maine, and his opposition to the regent Orleans. He was exiled to his abbey of Anchin, in Flanders; and though his arrival was distasteful to the simile and uncultivated Flemish monks, he won their regard by his gentleness and consideration, by the integrity of his government, and by the decoration of their church. He employed himself here with the continuation of his poem; but after three years returned to Paris on the death of the cardinal Dubois and of the regent. In 1724 he attended the conclave in Rome which resulted in the election of Benedict XIII, and rendered himself singularly acceptable to him and to his successor, Clement XII. He was appointed shortly after his arrival in Rome ambassador of France at the papal court, and at length brought to a happy termination the long controversy of the Gallican Church on the subject of the bull Unigenitus. He returned to his native land in 1730, "laden with the spoils of Rome" both the tributes paid to his dexterity, with eloquence, and fascination of manner, and the antique treasures brought from the capital of the ancient world. During his absence he had been appointed, in 1726, archbishop of Auch. and in 1728 Comnmandeur des Ordres du Roi.
During this long political and diplomatic career there had been many intervals of literary retirement, as we have seen, which had been sedulously employed in the acquisition and application of various knowledge. His poetic taste and his learned labors he never entirely laid aside, but rendered them profitable to himself and attractive to statesmen and courtiers wherever his wanderings led him. His public avocations were thus far from filling up the measure of his distinction. In 1704 he succeeded the illustrious Bossuet as a member of the Royal Academy of France. His inaugural address on this occasion was greatly admired. More than twenty years after its delivery the marquis D'Argenson deemed it superior to any discourse delivered during the century in which the Academy had existed, and declared it to be "the most perfect model for those who have a like task to fulfill." In 1715 he was elected an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences, and in 1717 of the Academy of Belles-Lettres. These honors were fairly merited. He had through life been a diligent explorer and collector of antiquities. He gathered a large and valuable cabinet of coins and medals. He brought together at great expense a splendid assemblage of archaic remains, due in great measure to his frequent and prolonged residences at Rome. He instituted explorations in its neighborhood, between Frascati and Grotta Ferrata, and discovered the villa of Marius his conjectures being confirmed by the exhumation of a fragment of an inscription recording the fifth consulship of the conqueror of the Teutones and Cimbri. From these diggings he obtained six statues representing the detection of Achilles at the court of Lycomedes by Ulysses. The palace of the Caesars, in the Farnese vineyard on the Palatine, was opened and examined in his presence. The duke of Parma, who had ordered the excavations, presented Polignac with a bass-relief containing fourteen figures, embodying the legend of Bacchus and Ariadne. It had formed the highest step of the state platform constructed for the imperial audiences. From the Columbarium of the Libertines of Livia he obtained several beautiful urns. He expressed the wish that he could be master of Rome, in order that he might turn the course of the Tiber for a fortnight, and rifle its bed of the precious relics supposed to be concealed beneath its yellow stream. He had surveys executed with the view to the gratification of such a desire. Could it have been satisfied, the project of Garibaldi would have been anticipated by one hundred and fifty years; but recent discussions have indicated the hopelessness of obtaining any considerable treasures by such a laborious procedure. 'The numerous relics which Polignac acquired by these and other opportunities were arranged as a grand museum of antiquities at his hotel in Paris. They ultimately met with a sorrowful fate. The cardinal had hoped to increase them by the examination of the ruins of the Templum Pacis, burned in A.D. 191, in the reign of Commodus. He expected to find amid the ashes and debris the sacred vessels carried off from Jerusalem by Titus. The hope and the expectation both remained ungratified.
Polignac's liberal studies were by no means restricted to poetry and classical archaeology. A portion of his time was always devoted to philosophy, mathematics, and physics. He thus gained that diversified and extensive knowledge which is strikingly but not convincingly displayed in his Anti-Lucretius. The last decade of his life seems to have been chiefly consecrated to this graceful and remarkable poem; but it was also occupied with the arrangement and study of his ample gallery of instructive curiosities, and enlivened by pleasant intercourse with his friends, and with the distinguished strangers who were attracted to his hotel by his wide and long-established reputation. For half a century he was one of the notabilities of Europe. He died at Paris Nov. 20, 1741, and his collection was scattered at his death. His habits had been elegant and courtly-his living generous-his public employments and his private pursuits expensive- his ample means consumed in costly accumulations. He was embarrassed with debt, and after his decease his books, his gems, his medals, his sculptures, and his numerous articles of virtu were offered for sale. His statues were purchased by Frederick the Great, and were transported to Berlin, where they were destroyed on the capture of that city in the Seven- Years' War. All that remains as a memorial of Polignac is his confutation of Lucretius.
Even that great work-for it merits the epithet of great both by its design and by its execution-the great Latin poem which preserves his reputation, was left in as incomplete and fragmentary a condition as the ancient ruins from which he had recovered the shattered monuments of ancient art. He never finished it— he never put its finished parts together ("varias partes variis temporibus perpoliendo, dissolutas, ac dissipatas in unum corpus revocare numquam curaverat"). A few days before his death he consigned his unarranged manuscripts to his long-tried companion and friend the abbé de Rothelin, appointing him his literary executor, to revise, arrange, connect, complete the scattered leaves, or to suppress them, according to his discretion. The provision for the performance of these duties seems to have been early made. The marquis D'Argenson reports it in his Memoires, published fifteen years before Polignac's death: "A poem against Lucretius, of equal length with the original, and divided into nine books, requires the life of a man to carry it to perfection. The cardinal began too late, and cannot flatter himself with the hope of living to finish it. It is said that he means to charge the abbé de Rothelin with the task. who, from vanity, will not refuse it, and will think it an honor to put the work of his respectable friend in a state to appear before the public. But to this end the aid of some able professor of the university will be necessary: the abbé will never accomplish it of himself… But who, at present, will read a Latin poem entirely philosophical, of five or six thousand lines? Greek is entirely forgotten; it is to be feared that Latin will soon be so, and that the cardinal de Polignac, the abbé de Kothelin, and a certain M. Le Beau, coming up in the university, will be called the last of the Romans." From vanity, from affection, from love of learning, from zeal for philosophy, or from all these motives combined, the pious task intrusted to him was faithfully and creditably discharged by the abbé de Rothelin. With the counsel and assistance of the abbate Cerati, rector of the University of Pisa, he prepared the work for the press, and wrote the dedication to pope Benedict XIV. He, too, died without seeing the fruit of his labors; and the long- expected work, which for forty years it had been a mark of polite culture to know (Anti-Lucretium nosse pars urbanitaltis), appeared at Paris under the supervision of Prof. Le Beau, to whom the charge of editing it had been consigned by Rothelin. It was reproduced at London in 1748. D'Argenson thought that translations would be left unread; but translations soon diffused the fame of tile work among those who were ignorant of the classic tongues. At the commencement of the century, while the poem was in its crude infancy, a translation was begun by the dukes of Maine and Bourbon. The French version of Bougainville was issued in 1759, and the Italian of Ricci was produced in splendid form at Verona in 1767 (3 vols. 4to).
The Anti-Lucretiuts. — The philosophical poem of cardinal Polignac, as published by Le Beau, and, apparently, as originally designed by its author, consists of nine books; but it closes without epilogue, peroration, or envoy. Notwithstanding its length, its protracted gestation, and its elaborate execution, it ends like that canto of Butler's Ludibras which celebrates the Bear and Fiddle, but "breaks off in the middle." It wants alike completeness and completion. It is fragmentary and desultory, deficient and redundant. Its arguments are ingenious without being convincing, and its polemics are more dazzling than satisfactory. The blind and fanatical Cartesianism of the poet confines him in a labyrinth of bewildering errors, and conceals from him at once the vagaries and weaknesses of his master, and the strength and profundity of those who had risen up to confute his philosophic hallucinations. He is dizzied by the vortices in which he has involved himself. He forgets his specific function as the antagonist of Epicurean ethics and physics, and devotes himself with more earnest energy to the refutation of all anti-Cartesians, whom he assimilates to and often identifies with the Epicurean herd. He is in consequence both undiscerning and unjust in the treatment of his brilliant predecessors and contemporaries. The statement and confutation of the doctrines of Spinoza might have been very acceptable to the Cartesians and theologians of his own day, when Spinoza was so little understood and so harshly appreciated (3, 803-872; 4:1295-1307). It may be highly approved even now by those who still retain the old fanatical delusions and the old animosities in regard to Spinoza, and who cannot recognise in him Coleridge's "God-intoxicated sage." SEE SPINOZA But surely the language in which the cardinal assails the Newtonian system, and proceeds to confute Newton himself, does equal discredit to his good-sense and to his scientific perspicacity (2, 865- 1006; 4:933-1124). He does, it is true, allow a faint echo of the universal admiration for Newton to escape him:
"Dicam Tanti pace viri, quo non solertior alter Naturam rerunm ad leges componere motus, Ac Mundi partes justa perpendere libra, Et radium solis transverso prismate fractum Septemn in primigenos perimansurosque colores Solvere" (2, 874-880).
Yet how different is this deprecatory commendation from the enthusiastic eulogy bestowed on Des Cartes!
"Quo nonline dicam Natlurme genium, Patrime decus, ac decus aevi Cartesiurm nostri, quo se jactabit alumno' Gallia foeta viris, ac duplicis arte Minervme" (8:55-59).
This is the manifest reflection of the tribute of Lucretius to the "Grains homo," Epicurus. We may endure with patience Polignac's contempt for the materialistic tendencies of Locke's philosophy, and his omission of his contemporaries, Malebranche and the much greater Leibnitz (an omission which may be satisfactorily explained), but we cannot fail to observe his utter inability to discern the scientific acumen, and the wonderful faculty of logical co-ordination and development, which characterized his chosen antagonist Lucretius. One of the most admired, and probably the most brilliant passage in the Anti-Lucretius, is the opening, in which he announces his subject and its difficulties, and does earnest homage to the exquisite graces of the Roman poet. But this inauguration of his thesis does not prevent him from speaking of the spirit and doctrines of Lucretius in terms which reveal rather the controversialist eager to display his own powers in the best light than the sincere inquirer anxious to discover and to promulgate only the truth. With all our regard for the courtly and clerical poet, we must confess him to be more of a dilettante than a philosopher or adept in science.
But, while thus taking exception to the substance and argumentation of the poem, and to the narrowness and fanaticism inseparable from the advocacy of fantastic and erroneous theories, attention may be justly called to the general execution of the difficult task, and to many episodical disquisitions, which assail by anticipation the speculations of Darwin and the evolutionists, and present many topics and many suggestions which merit careful examination in connection with the scientific controversies that distract our own day by the revival of ancient hallucinations.
Whatever deductions may be properly made from the Anti-Lucretius on the score of scientific superficiality and philosophic aberration, the work merits high praise on account of its design and execution; and still deserves consideration as a memorable and singularly graceful production of the modern Latin muse.
The versification and expression of Polignac have been unfavorably compared with the excellences of some of the earlier Latinists. In making the comparison with Vida, one of the chief of those elders, some advantage may be derived from a direct, though unequal, counterpart to one of his poems. The description of the game of chess in the Anti-Lucretius may be fairly considered in connection with the Scacchia, Ludus, of the Cremonese poet. The same ingenuity in rendering the stiffness of classic Latinity plastic, for the purpose of describing things and processes entirely unknown to the classical vocabulary, may be admired in both. In the one instance chess is employed only as an illustration, and the description occupies only fifteen lines (Anti-Lucr. 3, 892-906); in the other it constitutes the thesis of a descriptive poem. In a few lines, and in a mere illustration, there is, of course, no opportunity for detail. Nor is there room for such elaborate intricacy of narration-such subtle twisting in and twisting out of facile diction-nor for such surprising felicity of adaptation of old forms to new and undesigned uses, in the later episode as in the earlier poem. There is nothing possible within the narrower field which, for curious dexterity, admits of being adduced as a parallel for Vila's marvellous explanation of the diverse movements of the pieces at chess (Scacch. 85-168), or for his explanation of the maneuvers and fortunes of the game. But it may be permitted to act upon the artist's maxim, 'ex pede
Herculem;' and we may discern in the episode of Polignac (notwithstanding the deficiency of materials for an accurate and minute comparison) a command over the resources of the Latin tongue which is not unworthy of Vida, even in such fantastic sports of fancy and erudition. If the larger faculties of the poet are considered, Vida's epic, the Christiad, fails to exhibit such compass of expression, such grace and dignity, and even melody of utterance, or such vigor of imagination, as the Anti- Lucretius. Both Vida and Polignac, it is true, fall into the unclassical frailty of terminating their hexameters too frequently with monosyllables and enclitics. They are careless of their caesuras, and repeat too often certain easy forms and mannerisms. There may be more liquidity and smoothness in Vida, but there is more elevation and a more masculine gravity in Polignac. If the former adheres with unconscious imitation to the transparent fluency of Virgil, the latter with equal success, but with deliberate endeavor, reproduces the peculiarities, and not rarely the splendors, of Lucretius, in the very diction of the greater Roman poet. But, whatever judgment may be passed on either the absolute or the relative merit of the Anti-Lucretius, it remains a very remarkable poem, which deserves to be reclaimed from the oblivion in which it has been suffered to remain so long. It was a praiseworthy and noble effort to repel the advances of skepticism in the day of Spinoza and Locke and Bayle; "to justify the ways of God to man," by explaining the wonder of the universe in consonance with a lively and intelligent faith in a wise, beneficent, and sustaining Creator. Despite of its imperfections, its disconnections, its disorder and incompleteness, the study of the poem may be advantageously renewed after the lapse of a century, though other weapons may be required for the renovated conflict between faith and science than can thence be drawn, in consequence of the vast changes which have since been made in all the implements of intellectual warfare.
Literature. — It results from the long neglect into which the Anti-Lucretius had fallen that the bibliography of the subject is exceedingly scant and unsatisfactory. The histories of philosophy pass it by with little or no notice; the editors of Lucretius, and the commentators on the De Natura Rerum, have scarcely bestowed more attention upon it. There is very little to assist investigation which is not due to the contemporaries of Polignac. Under these circumstances, the only references which it seems expedient to make are, Biographie Universelle, s.v. Polignac; De Boze, Eloge de M. le Cardinal de Polignac, prononae dans l'Acacernie Royle des Inscriptions
et des Belles-Lettres; De Mairan, Eloge de M. le Cardinal de Polignac, prononce dans l'Academie Royale des Sciences; Fancher, Hist. du Carcdinal de Polignac (Paris, 1772, 2 vols.); St. Simon, Memoires; D'Argenson, Memoirs; Anti-Lucretius, sive de Deo et Natura Libri Novem (Lond. 1748, 2 vols. 12mo). The recent History of French Literature by Van Laun. though extending over three octavo volumes, has not a word on Polignac, so much has his memory fallen into neglect. For the relation of Polignac to the important ecclesiastical events of his time, see Jervis, Hist. of the Church of France, 2, 181, 224, and the art.SEE NOAILLES in this Cyclopedia. (G. F. H.)