Guillaume Du Vair - Encyclopedia

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GUILLAUME DU VAIR (1555-1621), French author and lawyer, was born in Paris on the 7th of March 1556. Du Vair was in orders, and, though during the greater part of his life he exercised only legal functions, he was from 1617 till his death bishop of Lisieux. His reputation, however, is that of a lawyer, a statesman and a man of letters. He became in 1584 counsellor of the parlement of Paris, and as deputy for Paris to the Estates of the League he pronounced his most famous politico-legal discourse, an argument nominally for the Salic law, but in reality directed against the alienation of the crown of France to the Spanish infanta, which was advocated by the extreme Leaguers. Henry IV.

acknowledged his services by entrusting him with a special commission as magistrate at Marseilles, and made him master of requests. In 1595 appeared his treatise De l'eloquence francaise et des raisons pour quoi elle est demeuree si basse, in which he criticizes the orators of his day, adding by way of example some translations of the speeches of ancient orators, whichreproduce the spirit rather than the actual words of the originals. He was sent to England in 1596 with the marshal de Bouillon to negotiate a league against Spain; in 1599 he became first president of the parlement of Province (Aix); and in 1603 was appointed to the see of Marseilles, which he soon resigned in order to resume the presidency. In 1616 he received the highest promotion open to a French lawyer and became keeper of the seals. He died at Tonneins (Lot-et-Garonne) on the 3rd of August 1621. Both as speaker and writer he holds a very high rank, and his character was equal to his abilities. Like other political lawyers of the time, Du Vair busied himself not a little in the study of philosophy. The most celebrated of his treatises are La Philosophie morale des Stoiques, translated into English (1664) by Charles Cotton; De la constance et consolation es calamites publiques,' which was composed during the siege of Paris in 1589, and applied the Stoic doctrine to present misfortunes; and La Sainte Philosophie, in which religion and philosophy are intimately connected. Pierre Charron drew freely on these and other works of Du Vair. F. de Brunetiere points out the analogy of Du Vair's position with that afterwards developed by Pascal, and sees in him the ancestor of the Jansenists. Du Vair had a great indirect influence on the development of style in French, for in the south of France he made the acquaintance of Malherbe, who conceived a great admiration for Du Vair's writings. The reformer of French poetry learned much from the treatise De l'eloquence francaise, to which the counsels of his friend were no doubt added.

Du Vair's works were published in folio at Paris in 1641. See Niceron, Memoires, vol. 43; and monographs by C. A. Sapey (1847 and 1858).

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