Desmaizeaux, Pierre (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 14
Desmaizeaux, Pierre

by Leslie Stephen
Surname Des Maizeaux in the ODNB.

DESMAIZEAUX, PIERRE (1673?–1745), miscellaneous writer, was the son of Louis Desmaizeaux, a minister of the reformed religion at Paillat, Auvergne, who upon the revocation of the edict of Nantes had taken refuge at Avenches in Switzerland. A testimonial preserved among Desmaizeaux's papers, dated 15 Sept. 1688, states his age to be fifteen; and as he speaks of himself as sixty-six in 1739, he must have been born in 1672 or 1673 (not 1666 as usually stated). He studied at the academy of Berne from 1690 to 1695, and at Geneva from 1695 to 1699, receiving high testimonials from the professors at both places. He became known to Bayle, who was naturally accessible to the French refugees, and who during the rest of his life corresponded with Desmaizeaux (see Bayle, Letters). Bayle had a good opinion of him, and gave him an introduction to the third Lord Shaftesbury, with whom in 1699 he came to England. Through Shaftesbury he became known to Halifax and to Addison. He obtained tutorships and some literary work; but about 1709 his health broke down. He obtained through Addison, then secretary to Wharton, the lord-lieutenant of Ireland, a pension of 3s. 6d. a day on the Irish establishment (warrant dated 28 April 1710). Various charges reduced its net value to about 42l. a year. It was irregularly paid, and was his only certain income. He supplemented his means by literary work. A pamphlet called ‘Lethe,’ on the whig side, was published by him in Holland, translated into English, and burnt by the common hangman in Dublin in 1710. He was chiefly employed as a literary agent and in the drudgery of editing. He had a regular correspondence with the Dutch booksellers, and contributed to literary journals. In 1738 he received for eighty-one pages contributed to a literary journal during the year 4l. 0s. 6d. For the works of Saint-Evremond he and his co-editor Silvestre were to receive half-profits after the expenses (fixed beforehand at 281l.) had been covered by the sale. He projected a dictionary after the manner of Bayle, of which his lives of Hales and Chillingworth were specimens; but his poverty prevented him from having the necessary leisure. He was known to many of the more liberal thinkers of his time, and seems to have been generally respected. On 10 Nov. 1720 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1722 was made ‘a gentleman of his majesty's privy chamber.’ Warburton when struggling into notice in 1732 sent him a gold medal struck by the French league in 1592 with a very respectful letter, and afterwards begged him to get some papers inserted in the ‘Bibliothèque Britannique’ (where they appeared in 1736). In 1738 Warburton was still complimentary, though in 1737 he had written contemptuously to Birch of ‘the tasteless verbose Frenchman's’ life of Boileau, so inferior to Birch's own biographies. In April 1739 Hume wrote a polite letter to Desmaizeaux asking his judgment upon the ‘Treatise of Human Nature,’ then first published. Desmaizeaux's greatest friend seems to have been Anthony Collins [q. v.], whose letters (Sloane MS. 4282) continued for many years to contain many friendly invitations. Collins left him eight manuscript volumes, which Desmaizeaux immediately transferred to Collins's widow, receiving fifty guineas. On reflection he felt that he had done a ‘most wicked thing’ in betraying his friend's trust. He returned the money (6 Jan. 1730) as the ‘wages of iniquity.’ Mrs. Collins, however, kept the manuscripts, and in 1737 wrote some angry letters to Desmaizeaux for having mentioned to a common friend a report that the letters had been ‘betrayed’ into the hands of the Bishop of London.

One of the letters from Collins in August 1729 mentions the birth of a child of Desmaizeaux, and in 1742 his pension was extended to his wife, Anne Desmaizeaux, for her life. He died 11 July 1745. He was a careful and industrious literary drudge, though by no means a lively writer. He was author or editor of the following: 1. ‘Lettre sur Arnauld d'Andilly’ (which led to a controversy with Joseph Bougerel, priest of the Oratory), and explanation of a passage in Hippocrates in ‘Nouvelles de la République des Lettres,’ 1704. 2. ‘Œuvres meslées de M. de Saint-Evremond … publiées sur les MSS. de l'Auteur’ (by P. Silvestre and P. Desmaizeaux), 3 vols. 4to, 1705. He also wrote the ‘Life of Saint-Evremond,’ published separately in 1711. 3. ‘Mélange curieux des meilleures pièces attribuées à M. de Saint-Evremond,’ 1706 (form the last two volumes of the edition of Saint-Evremond, published in seven volumes in 1726). 4. ‘Vie de Boileau-Despréaux,’ 1712. 5. ‘Life of John Hales,’ 1719. 6. ‘Life of William Chillingworth,’ 1725. 7. ‘Recueil de diverses pièces sur la philosophie, la religion naturelle,’ &c., par Leibnitz, Clarke, Newton, 1720. 8. A collection of several pieces of Mr. Locke, 1720. 9. Bayle's ‘Œuvres diverses,’ 4 vols. 4to, 1725–31. 10. ‘Lettres de M. Bayle, avec des remarques par Desmaizeaux,’ 1729. 11. ‘Vie de Bayle,’ prefixed to Bayle's ‘Dictionary,’ 1730 and later editions. (Desmaizeaux says in the preface that he had written a life at Shaftesbury's request, of which a very imperfect English translation appeared in 1708). He wrote the memoirs of Toland, prefixed to his works in 1726 and 1747, translated Fénelon's ‘Télémaque,’ 1742, edited ‘Scaligerana, Thouana, Perroniana, Pittæana, and Colomesiana,’ 2 vols. 1740, and contributed to the ‘Bibliothèque raisonnée des ouvrages des Savants de l'Europe,’ 1728–53, and to the ‘Bibliothèque Britannique,’ 1733–47.

[The biographical facts are from the Sloane MSS. 4281–9, which contain Desmaizeaux's voluminous correspondence, chiefly with Dutch publishers. The last volume contains various personal documents. See also Moreri's Dictionary (1759), iv. 125; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. v. 546, 578, ix. 619; Illustrations, ii. 66, 82, 148; D'Israeli's Curiosities of Literature (1841), 378–82, where some of them are printed.]

L. S.