Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle

Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle

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Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle (11 February 16579 January 1757), also called Bernard Le Bouyer de Fontenelle, was a French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 author
Author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

.

Fontenelle was born in Rouen
Rouen
Rouen , in northern France on the River Seine, is the capital of the Haute-Normandie region and the historic capital city of Normandy. Once one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe , it was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy in the Middle Ages...

, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 (then the capital of Normandy
Normandy
Normandy is a geographical region corresponding to the former Duchy of Normandy. It is in France.The continental territory covers 30,627 km² and forms the preponderant part of Normandy and roughly 5% of the territory of France. It is divided for administrative purposes into two régions:...

) and died in Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 just one month before his 100th birthday. His mother was the sister of great French dramatists Pierre
Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille was a French tragedian who was one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine...

 and Thomas Corneille
Thomas Corneille
Thomas Corneille was a French dramatist.- Personal life :Born in Rouen nearly twenty years after his brother Pierre, the "great Corneille", Thomas's skill as a poet seems to have shown itself early. At the age of fifteen he composed a play in Latin which was performed by his fellow-pupils at the...

. He trained in the law but gave up after one case, devoting his life to writing about philosophers and scientists, especially defending the Cartesian
René Descartes
René Descartes ; was a French philosopher and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the 'Father of Modern Philosophy', and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day...

 tradition.

A noted gourmand
Gourmand
A gourmand is a person who takes great pleasure in food. The word has different connotations from the similar word gourmet, which emphasises an individual with a highly refined discerning palate, but in practice the two terms are closely linked, as both imply the enjoyment of good food.An older...

, he attributed his longevity to eating strawberries. At ninety-two one woman wrote that he was as lively as a man of twenty-two. When, in his late nineties he met the beautiful Mme Helvétius, he reportedly told her,

In 1935, the lunar crater Fontenelle
Fontenelle (crater)
Fontenelle is a lunar crater that is located along the northern edge of Mare Frigoris, in the northern part of the Moon. To the northeast is the remnant of the crater Birmingham...

 was named after him.

Personal life


Fontenelle was born in Rouen
Rouen
Rouen , in northern France on the River Seine, is the capital of the Haute-Normandie region and the historic capital city of Normandy. Once one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe , it was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy in the Middle Ages...

, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 (then the capital of Normandy
Normandy
Normandy is a geographical region corresponding to the former Duchy of Normandy. It is in France.The continental territory covers 30,627 km² and forms the preponderant part of Normandy and roughly 5% of the territory of France. It is divided for administrative purposes into two régions:...

), the son of a lawyer. His mother was the sister of great French dramatists Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille was a French tragedian who was one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine...

 and Thomas Corneille
Thomas Corneille
Thomas Corneille was a French dramatist.- Personal life :Born in Rouen nearly twenty years after his brother Pierre, the "great Corneille", Thomas's skill as a poet seems to have shown itself early. At the age of fifteen he composed a play in Latin which was performed by his fellow-pupils at the...

.

He was educated at the college of the Jesuits, the Lycée Pierre Corneille
Lycée Pierre Corneille (Rouen)
The Lycée Pierre-Corneille is a school in Rouen, France. It was founded by the Archbishop of Rouen, Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon and run by the Jesuits to educate the children of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie in accordance with the purest doctrinal principles of Roman Catholicism...

(although it did not adopt the name of his uncle (Pierre Corneille) until c.200 years later in 1873). At the Lycée he showed a preference for literature and distinguished himself.

He was trained in his father's profession but he gave up law after pleading one case. He then spent the rest of his life writing about philosophers and scientists, especially defending the Cartesian
René Descartes
René Descartes ; was a French philosopher and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the 'Father of Modern Philosophy', and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day...

 tradition.

He was a noted gourmand
Gourmand
A gourmand is a person who takes great pleasure in food. The word has different connotations from the similar word gourmet, which emphasises an individual with a highly refined discerning palate, but in practice the two terms are closely linked, as both imply the enjoyment of good food.An older...

 and he attributed his longevity to the eating of strawberries. Whatever its cause, his health and vigor lasted until he died. Meeting him at ninety-two, one woman wrote that he was as lively (and as hungry) as a young man of twenty-two.

Early work



He began as a poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

, writing a poem in Latin at the age of 13. More than once competed for prizes of the Académie française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

, but never won anything. He visited Paris from time to time and became friendly with the abbé de Saint-Pierre
Charles-Irénée Castel de Saint-Pierre
Charles-Irénée Castel, abbé de Saint-Pierre was an influential French writer and radical. After Georg von Podiebrad in his Tractatus, he was, perhaps, one of the first to propose an international organisation responsible for maintaining peace.-Life:Saint-Pierre was born at the château de...

, the abbé Vertot
Réné-Aubert Vertot
René-Aubert Vertot was a French historian.He was for some time a pupil of the Jesuit Fathers seminary at Rouen, which he left at the end of two years to enter the Capuchin Order...

 and the mathematician Pierre Varignon
Pierre Varignon
Pierre Varignon was a French mathematician. He was educated at the Jesuit College and the University in Caen, where he received his M.A. in 1682. He took Holy Orders the following year....

. He witnessed, in 1680, the total failure of his tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 Aspar. Fontenelle afterwards acknowledged the public verdict by burning his unfortunate drama. His opera
Opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

 of Thétis et Pélée ("Thetis
Thetis
Silver-footed Thetis , disposer or "placer" , is encountered in Greek mythology mostly as a sea nymph or known as the goddess of water, one of the fifty Nereids, daughters of the ancient one of the seas with shape-shifting abilities who survives in the historical vestiges of most later Greek myths...

 and Peleus
Peleus
In Greek mythology, Pēleus was a hero whose myth was already known to the hearers of Homer in the late 8th century BCE. Peleus was the son of Aeacus, king of the island of Aegina, and Endeïs, the oread of Mount Pelion in Thessaly; he was the father of Achilles...

"), 1689, though highly praised by Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

, was not much better; and it may be significant that none of his dramatic works are still performed. His Poésies pastorales (1688) are also mediocre.

His Lettres galantes du chevalier d'Her ..., published anonymously in 1685, was a collection of letters portraying worldly society of the time. It immediately made its mark. In 1686 his famous allegory of Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 and Geneva
Geneva
Geneva In the national languages of Switzerland the city is known as Genf , Ginevra and Genevra is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland and is the most populous city of Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland...

, slightly disguised as the rival princesses Mreo and Eenegu, in the Relation de l'île de Bornéo, gave proof of his daring in religious matters. But it was by his Nouveaux Dialogues des morts (1683) that Fontenelle established a genuine claim to high literary rank; and that claim was enhanced three years later by what has been summarised as the most influential work on the plurality of worlds in the period, Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes
Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds
Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds is a popular science book by French author Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, published in 1686. It offered an explanation of the heliocentric model of the Universe, suggested by Nicolaus Copernicus in his 1543 work De revolutionibus orbium coelestium...

(1686). He wrote extensively on the nature of the universe
Universe
The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all matter and energy, the planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space. Definitions and usage vary and similar terms include the cosmos, the world and nature...

: Behold a universe so immense that I am lost in it. I no longer know where I am. I am just nothing at all. Our world is terrifying in its insignificance. He was named Perpetual Secretary to the French Academy of Sciences
French Academy of Sciences
The French Academy of Sciences is a learned society, founded in 1666 by Louis XIV at the suggestion of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, to encourage and protect the spirit of French scientific research...

 for a significant amount of time and is noted for the accessibility of his work - particularly its novel
Novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

istic style. This allowed non-scientists to appreciate scientific development in a time where this was unusual, and scientists to benefit from the thoughts of the greater society. If his writing is often seen as trying to popularize the astronomical theories of René Descartes
René Descartes
René Descartes ; was a French philosopher and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the 'Father of Modern Philosophy', and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day...

, whose greatest exponent he is sometimes considered, it also appealed to the literate society of the day to become more involved in "natural philosophy," thus enriching the work of early-Enlightenment scientists.

Later work



Fontenelle had made his home in Rouen
Rouen
Rouen , in northern France on the River Seine, is the capital of the Haute-Normandie region and the historic capital city of Normandy. Once one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe , it was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy in the Middle Ages...

, but in 1687 he moved to Paris; and in the same year he published his Histoire des oracles, a book which made a considerable stir in theological and philosophical circles. It consisted of two essays, the first of which was designed to prove that oracles were not given by the supernatural agency of demons, and the second that they did not cease with the birth of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

. It excited the suspicion of the Church, and a Jesuit, by name Jean-François Baltus
Jean-François Baltus
Jean-François Baltus was a French Jesuit theologian.-Life:Born at Metz, Balthus entered the Society of Jesus, 21 November 1682, taught humanities at Dijon, rhetoric at Pont-à-Mousson, Scripture, Hebrew, and theology at Strasburg, where he was also rector of the university...

, published a ponderous refutation of it; but the peace-loving disposition of its author impelled him to leave his opponent unanswered. To the following year (1688) belongs his Digression sur les anciens et les modernes, in which he took the modern side in the controversy then raging; his Doutes sur le système physique des causes occasionnelles (against Nicolas Malebranche
Nicolas Malebranche
Nicolas Malebranche ; was a French Oratorian and rationalist philosopher. In his works, he sought to synthesize the thought of St. Augustine and Descartes, in order to demonstrate the active role of God in every aspect of the world...

) appeared shortly afterwards.

Fontenelle was a popular figure in the educated French society of his period, holding a position of esteem comparable only to that of Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

. Unlike Voltaire however, Fontenelle avoided making important enemies. He balanced his penchant for universal critical thought with liberal doses of flattery and praise to the appropriate individuals in aristocratic society.

Member of the French Academy


In 1691 he was received into the French Academy in spite of the determined efforts of the partisans of the "ancients", especially Racine
Jean Racine
Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

 and Boileau
Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux
Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux was a French poet and critic.-Biography:Boileau was born in the rue de Jérusalem, in Paris, France. He was brought up to the law, but devoted to letters, associating himself with La Fontaine, Racine, and Molière...

, who on four previous occasions had ensured his rejection. He was thus a member both of the Academy of Inscriptions
Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres
The Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres is a French learned society devoted to the humanities, founded in February 1663 as one of the five academies of the Institut de France.-History:...

 and of the Academy of Sciences
French Academy of Sciences
The French Academy of Sciences is a learned society, founded in 1666 by Louis XIV at the suggestion of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, to encourage and protect the spirit of French scientific research...

; and in 1697 he became perpetual secretary to the latter, an office he held for forty-two years; and it was in this official capacity that he wrote the Histoire du renouvellement de l'Académie des Sciences (Paris, 3 vols., 1708, 1717, 1722) containing extracts and analyses of the proceedings, and also the éloges of the members, written with great simplicity and delicacy. Perhaps the best known of his éloges, of which there are sixty-nine in all, is that of his uncle Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille was a French tragedian who was one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine...

. This was first printed in the Nouvelles de la republique des lettres (January 1685) and, as Vie de Corneille, was included in all the editions of Fontenelle's Œuvres. The other important works of Fontenelle are his Éléments de la géometrie de l'infini (1727) and his Théorie des tourbillons (1752).

Legacy


Fontenelle forms a link between two very widely different periods of French literature, that of Corneille
Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille was a French tragedian who was one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine...

, Racine
Jean Racine
Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

 and Boileau
Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux
Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux was a French poet and critic.-Biography:Boileau was born in the rue de Jérusalem, in Paris, France. He was brought up to the law, but devoted to letters, associating himself with La Fontaine, Racine, and Molière...

 on the one hand, and that of Voltaire, D'Alembert
Jean le Rond d'Alembert
Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert was a French mathematician, mechanician, physicist, philosopher, and music theorist. He was also co-editor with Denis Diderot of the Encyclopédie...

 and Diderot
Denis Diderot
Denis Diderot was a French philosopher, art critic, and writer. He was a prominent person during the Enlightenment and is best known for serving as co-founder and chief editor of and contributor to the Encyclopédie....

 on the other. It is not in virtue of his great age alone that this can be said of him; he actually had much in common with the beaux esprits of the 17th century, as well as with the philosophes of the 18th. But it is to the latter rather than to the former period that he properly belongs.
According to Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve was a literary critic and one of the major figures of French literary history.-Early years:...

, he deserves a place "dans la classe des esprits infiniment distingués"—distinguished, however, it ought to be added by intelligence rather than by intellect, and less by the power of saying much than by the power of saying a little well.
There have been several collected editions of Fontenelle's works, the first being printed in 3 vols. at the Hague
The Hague
The Hague is the capital city of the province of South Holland in the Netherlands. With a population of 500,000 inhabitants , it is the third largest city of the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam...

 in 1728-1729. The best is that of Paris, in 8 vols. 8vo, 1790. Some of his separate works have been frequently reprinted and also translated. The Pluralité des mondes was translated into modern Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 in 1794. Sainte-Beuve
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve was a literary critic and one of the major figures of French literary history.-Early years:...

 has an interesting essay on Fontenelle, with several useful references, in the Causeries du lundi, vol. iii. See also Villemain
Abel-François Villemain
Abel-François Villemain was a French politician and writer.-Biography:Villemain was born in Paris and educated at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. He became assistant master at the Lycée Charlemagne, and subsequently at the École Normale. In 1812 he gained a prize from the Academy with an essay on Michel...

, Tableau de la littérature française au XVIIIe siècle; the abbé Trublet, Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de la vie et des ouvrages de M. de Fontenelle (1759); A Laborde-Milaà, Fontenelle (1905), in the "Grands écrivains français" series; and L. Maigron, Fontenelle, l'homme, l'œuvre, l'influence (Paris, 1906).

External links

  • http://frenchphilosophes.weebly.com/fontenelle.html