1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bayle, Pierre

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17484901911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 3 — Bayle, Pierre

BAYLE, PIERRE (1647–1706), French philosopher and man of letters, was born on the 18th of November 1647, at le Carla-le-Comte, near Pamiers (Ariège). Educated by his father, a Calvinist minister, and at an academy at Puylaurens, he afterwards entered a Jesuit college at Toulouse, and became a Roman Catholic a month later (1669). After seventeen months he resumed his former religion, and, to avoid persecution, fled to Geneva, where he became acquainted with Cartesianism. For some years he acted under the name of Bèle as tutor in various Parisian families, but in 1675 he was appointed to the chair of philosophy at the Protestant university of Sedan. In 1681 the university at Sedan was suppressed, but almost immediately afterwards Bayle was appointed professor of philosophy and history at Rotterdam. Here in 1682 he published his famous Pensées diverses sur la comète de 1680 and his critique of Maimbourg’s work on the history of Calvinism. The great reputation achieved by this critique stirred the envy of Bayle’s colleague, P. Jurieu, who had written a book on the same subject. In 1684 Bayle began the publication of his Nouvelles de la république des lettres, a kind of journal of literary criticism. In 1690 appeared a work entitled Avis important aux refugiés, which Jurieu attributed to Bayle, whom he attacked with animosity. After a long quarrel Bayle was deprived of his chair in 1693. He was not depressed by this misfortune, especially as he was at the time closely engaged in the preparation of the Historical and Critical Dictionary (Dictionnaire historique et critique). The remaining years of Bayle’s life were devoted to miscellaneous writings, arising in many instances out of criticisms made upon his Dictionary. He died in exile at Rotterdam on the 28th of December 1706. In 1906 a statue in his honour was erected at Pamiers, “la réparation d’un long oubli.” Bayle’s erudition, despite the low estimate placed upon it by Leclerc, seems to have been very considerable. As a constructive thinker, he did little. As a critic he was second to none in his own time, and even yet one can admire the delicacy and the skill with which he handles his subject. The Nouvelles de la république des lettres (see Louis P. Betz, P. Bayle und die Nouvelles de la république des lettres, Zürich, 1896) was the first thorough-going attempt to popularize literature, and it was eminently successful. The Dictionary, however, is Bayle’s masterpiece.

Editions.—Historical and Critical Dictionary (1695–1697; 1702, enlarged; best that of P. des Maizeaux, 4 vols., 1740); Les Œuvres de Bayle (3 vols., The Hague); see des Maizeaux, Vie de Bayle; L. A. Feuerbach, Pierre Bayle (1838); Damiron, La Philosophie en France au XVIIe siècle (1858–1864); Sainte-Beuve, “Du génie critique et de Bayle” (Revue des deux mondes, 1st Dec. 1835); A. Deschamps, La Génèse du scepticisme érudit chez Bayle (Liége, 1878); J. Denis, Bayle et Jurieu (Paris, 1886); F. Brunetière, La Critique littéraire au XVIIIᵉ siècle (vol. i., 1890), and La Critique de Bayle (1893); Émile Gigas, Choix de la correspondance inédite de Pierre Bayle (Paris, 1890, reviewed in Revue critique, 22nd Dec. 1890); de Budé, Lettres inédites adressées à J. A. Turretini (Paris, 1887); J. F. Stephen, Horae Sabbaticae (London, 1892, 3rd ser. pp. 174-192); A. Cazes, P. Bayle, sa vie, ses idées, &c. (1905).