Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 13
Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard

by Pierre-Louis-Théophile-Georges Goyau


Philosopher and French politician, b. at Sompuis (Marne), 21 June, 1763; d. at Châteauvieux (Loire et Cher), 4 September, 1845. An advocate under the ancient régime, and assistant registrar of the municipality of Paris from 1790 till 1792, he withdrew to La Marne during the Terror. In 1797 he represented La Marne in the Council of the Five Hundred (Cinq-Cents) and became prominent through a celebrated discourse in which he demanded liberty for the Catholic religion, "which rallied under its ancient standards seven-eighths of the French people", and accused of "profound folly" those who wished to substitute "I know not what philosophical silliness". Driven from the council by the stroke of the 18 Fructidor, he turned to the restoration of the Bourbons and began a correspondence with Louis XVIII; he was even, up to 1804, a member of a secret council which sent messages to the future king. Under the empire he withdrew from public life, but accepted from Napoleon (December, 1809) the chair of philosophy at the Sorbonne. His teaching, which was influenced by the School of Reid, marked a reaction against the sensualism of the eighteenth century. He held to a certain spiritualism based on "common sense", and an "understanding of human weakness". Under the Restoration he again took up politics; he became deputy and was president for five years of the Committee of Public instruction as counsellor of state. As deputy he opposed both the intrigues of the Ultras, and the anti-constitutional manoeuvres of the Left. His discourses on the religious laws of the epoch show that he was inclined to admit, as a consequence of the Concordat, the interference of the state in Church matters. Educated by a Jansenist mother, and declaring voluntarily that "whoever did not know Port-Royal did not know humanity", he preserved certain prejudices against Roman influence and gave expression to them in his discourses. He opposed the law punishing sacrilege with death, and the laws restraining the liberty of the Press. In 1827 he was elected by seven electoral colleges, became president of the Chamber in 1828, and presented to Charles X in 1830 the address of the two hundred and twenty-one in which the Chamber refused to accept Polignac. Royer-Collard described himself when he wrote to Barante (19 Sept., 1833): "my only vocation as a liberal was on the side of the Legitimists". For the "doctrinaires", of whom he was the head, the legitimist monarchy without liberty was an arbitrary absolutism, liberty without the legitimist monarchy, anarchy. Under the monarchy of July he continued as deputy, but only as a spectator. The "Restoration" writes Barante, "was for him a country", and from 1830 this country no longer existed. He resigned from the Chamber in 1842, and passed his last years in retirement, but his disciples, both in philosophy and politics — Jouffroy, Cousin, Guizot, Rémusat — perpetuated the influence of certain of his writings; and M. Faguet declares that in these one must seek "the most penetrating, the most solid, and the most far-seeing doctrine on parliamentary government". This he developed with a grave, austere eloquence, trusting to logic for its strength. Whilst during the first half of the nineteenth century the word "liberal" was generally synonymous with Voltaireanism and hostility to the Jesuits, certain speeches of Royer-Collard quoted by Barante show that this liberal, especially in his later years, professed a deferential attachment for the Church. "If Christianity", he wrote, "has been a degradation, a corruption, Voltaire in attacking it has been a benefactor of the human race; but if the contrary be true, then the passing of Voltaire over the Christian earth has been a great calamity." In a letter to Pere de Ravignan he comments upon the institution of the Jesuits as a wonderful creation. His death was that of a professing and believing Catholic. He was the incarnation of the upper middle class of his time. He was a member of the French Academy from 1827.

JOUFFROY, OEuvres de Thomas Reid, III, IV (Paris, 1828-36), contains some lessons in philosophy and historical fragments by Royer-Collard; DE BARANTE, La vie politique de M. de Royer-Collard, ses discours et ses ecrits (2 vols., Paris, 1861); FAGUET, Politiques et moralistes du 19 siecle, first series (Paris, 1891); SPULLER, Royer-Collard (1895).

GEORGE GOYAU