Posts Tagged ‘Religion


Francois de La Mothe Le Vayer ~ Writer

An Avocat at the Parlement of Paris

He was born on 1588, Paris and died 1672.  He is an independent thinker and writer who developed a philosophy of skepticism more radical than that of Michel Montaigne but less absolute than that of Pierre Bayle.  He became an avocat at the Parlement of Paris, taking over his father’s seat, but soon resigned when the attraction of belles letters became stronger.  His work La Contrariete d’ humeur entre la nation francaise et l’espagnole (1636; “Conflicts of Interest Between the French and Spanish Nations”) and Considerations sur l’ eloquence francaise (1638) earned him admission to the Academie Francaise in 1639.  He was admired by the powerful Cardinal de Richelieu and was tutor to several noble youths, including from 1652 to 1657 Louis XIV, for whom he wrote a complete series of texts.  The King rewarded him by appointing him historiographer of France and councilor of state.

His many philosophical works include De la vertu des paien (1642); “On the Goodness of the Pagans”); a treatise entitled Du peu de certitude qu’il y a dans l’ histoire (1668; “On the Lack of Certitude in History”), which marked a beginning of historical criticism in France;  and five skeptical Dialogues, published  posthumously under the pseudonym Orosius Tubero, which are concerned, respectively, with diversity in opinions, variety in customs of life and sex roles, the value of solitude, the virtue of the fools of this time, and differences in religion.


Charles Lamb (2 of 2)

Lamb’s letter, however, contain much of his most perceptive criticism and reveal his personal tastes.  The criticism often appears in the form of marginalia, reactions, and responses: brief comments, delicately phrased, but hardly ever argued through.

It was the founding of the London Magazine in 1820 that gave birth to “Elia” and to Lamb’s greatest achievements in literature.  The essays are almost wholly autobiographical (though often he appropriated to himself the experiences of others).  Many of the best deal with things half a century past;  vistas revealed by an imagination looking back down the experiences of a lifetime.  Lamb adopted the pseudonym “Elia” (the name of a fellow clerk) in order to spare the feelings of his elder brother, John, at that time a clerk in the South Sea house, which is the subject of the essay. 

The persona of “Elia” predominates in nearly all of the essays, Lamb’s style, therefore, is highly personal and mannered, its function being to “create” and delineate this persona, and the writing though sometimes simple is never plain.  The essays conjure up, with humour and sometimes with pathos, old acquaintances such as Samuel Salt, recall scenes from childhood and from later life, indulge the author’s sense of playfulness and fancy, and avoid only whatever is urgent or disturbing:  politics, suffering, sex, religion.  The first essays were published separately in 1823; a second series appeared, as The Last Essays of Elia, in 1833.

After Lamb’s retirement from the India House, a worsening of his sister’s condition obliged the pair to move to Edmonton.  This separation from the friends who gave him life and courage did not help his spirits.  His tendency to drink too heavily became more pronounced.  He died at Edmonton from complications to a wound suffered in a fall.  His sister outlived him by 13 years.

The standard edition of the works of Charles and Mary Lamb, edited by  E.V. Lucas, appeared in 7 volumes in 1903-05.  The best available edition of the letters, edited by Lucas, appeared in 3 volumes in 1935.  The standard biography, also by Lucas, was published in 1905 (rev. ed. 1921).  These is valuable critical material in Charles Lamb and his Contemporaries (1933), by Edmund Blunden, and in English Literature, 1815-1832 (in vol. 10 of Oxford History of English Literature) (1963), by Ian Jack. – The New Encyclopedia Britannica



Henry Adams (2 of 4)

These articles were published in Chapters of Erie and Other Essays *1871).  The mediocrity of the nation’s “statement” constantly irritated him.  Adams liked to repeat Pres. Ulysses S. Grant’s remark that Venice would be a fine city if it were drained.

Adams continued his reformist activities as editor of the North American Review (1870-76).  Moreover, he participated in the Liberal Republican movement.  This group of insurgents, repelled by partisanship and the scandals of the Grant administration, bolted the Republican Party in 1872 and nominated the Democrat Horace Greeley for president.  Their crusade soon foundered.  Adams grew disillusioned with a world he  characterized as devoid of principle.  He was disgusted with demagogic politicians and a society in which all became “servant(s) of the powerhouse.” 

Americans, he wrote, “had no time for thought; they saw, and could see, nothing beyond their day’s work; their attitude to the universe outside them was that of the deep-sea fish.”  His anonymously published novel Democracy, an American Novel (1880) reflected his loss of faith.  The heroine, Madeleine is introduced to the democratic process.  She meets the President and other figures who are equally vacuous.  After her contact with the power brokers, Madeleine concluded:  “Democracy has shaken my nerves to pieces.”

In 1880 Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard College appointed Adams professor of medieval history.  He was the first American to employ the seminar method in teaching history.  In 1877 he resigned to edit the papers of Thomas Jefferson’s treasury secretary,  Albert Gallatin.  Pursuing his interest in U.S. history, Adams completed two biographies, The Life of Albert .Gallatin (1879) and John Randolph (1882).  He continued to delve into the nation’s early national period, hoping to understand the nature of an evolving American democracy. 

This study culminated in his nine-volume History of the United States of America during the administrations of Jefferson and Madison (1889-91), a scholarly work that received immediate acclaim.  In this work he explored the dilemma of governing an egalitarian society in a political world in which the predominant tendency was to aggrandize power.  In 1884 Adams wrote another novel, Esther.  Published under a pseudonym, Esther dealt with the relationship between religion and modern science, a theme that engaged Adams throughout his life. – (C.McH.)

July 2020

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