1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Silhouette, Étienne de
SILHOUETTE, ÉTTIENNE DE (1700-1767), controller-general of France, was born at Limoges on the 5th of July 1709. He travelled extensively while still a young man and drew attention to himself by the publication of English translations, historical writings, and studies on the financial system of England. Successively councillor to the parlement of Metz, secretary to the duke of Orleans, member of the commission on delimitation of Franco-British interests in Acadia (1749), and royal commissioner in the Indies Company, he was named controller-general through the influence of the marquess de Pompadour on the 4th of March 1759. The court at first reposed a blind confidence in him, but soon perceived not only that he was not a financier but also that he was bent on attacking privilege by levying a land-tax on the estates of the nobles and by reducing the pensions. A storm of opposition gathered and broke: a thousand cartoons and jokes were directed against the unfortunate minister who seemed to be resorting to one financial embarrassment in order to escape another; and in allusion to the sacrifices which he demanded of the nobles, even the conversion of their table plate into money, silhouette became the popular word for a figure reduced to simplest form. The word was eventually (1835) admitted to the dictionary by the French academy. Silhouette was forced out of the ministry on the 21st of November 1759 and withdrew to Brie-sur-Marne, where during the remainder of his life he sought refuge from scorn and sarcasm in religious devotion. He died on the 20th of January 1767.
Silhouette left several translations from the English and the Spanish, accounts of travel, and dull historical and philosophical writings, a list of which is given in Quérard, France littéraire, ix. 138. A Testament politique, published under his name in 1772, is apochryphal. See J. P. Clement and A. Lemoine, M. de Silhouette (Paris, 1872).