1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dumont, Pierre Étienne Louis

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

DUMONT, PIERRE ÉTIENNE LOUIS (1759-1829), French political writer, was born on the 18th of July 1759 at Geneva, of which his family had been citizens of good repute from the days of Calvin. He was educated for the ministry at the college of Geneva, and in 1781 was chosen one of the pastors of the city. The political troubles which disturbed Geneva in 1782, however, suddenly turned the course of his life. He belonged to the liberals or democrats, and the triumph of the aristocratic party, through the interference of the courts of France and Sardinia, made residence in his native town impossible, though he was not among the number of the proscribed. He therefore went to join his mother and sisters at St Petersburg. In this he was probably influenced in part by the example of his townsman Pierre Lefort, the first tutor, minister, and general of the tsar. At St Petersburg he was for eighteen months pastor of the French church. In 1785 he removed to London, Lord Shelburne, then a minister of state, having invited him to undertake the education of his sons. It was at the house of Lord Shelburne, now 1st marquess of Lansdowne, where he was treated as a friend or rather member of the family, that he became acquainted with many illustrious men, amongst others Fox, Sheridan, Lord Holland and Sir Samuel Romilly. With the last of these he formed a close and enduring friendship, which had an important influence on his life and pursuits.

In 1788 Dumont visited Paris with Romilly. During a stay of two months in that city he had almost daily intercourse with Mirabeau, and a certain affinity of talents and pursuits led to an intimacy between two persons diametrically opposed to each other in habits and in character. On his return from Paris Dumont made the acquaintance of Jeremy Bentham. Filled with admiration for the genius of Bentham, Dumont made it one of the chief objects of his life to recast and edit the writings of the great English jurist in a form suitable for the ordinary reading public. This literary relationship was, according to Dumont’s own account, one of a somewhat peculiar character. All the fundamental ideas and most of the illustrative material were supplied in the manuscripts of Bentham; Dumont’s task was chiefly to abridge by striking out repeated matter, to supply lacunae, to secure uniformity of style, and to improve the French. The following works of Bentham were published under his editorship: Traité de législation civile et pénale (1802), Théorie des peines et des récompenses (1811), Tactique des assemblées législatives (1815), Traité des preuves judiciaires (1823) and De l’organization judiciaire et de la codification (1828).

In the summer of 1789 Dumont went to Paris. The object of the journey was to obtain through Necker, who had just returned to office, an unrestricted restoration of Genevese liberty, by cancelling the treaty of guarantee between France and Switzerland, which prevented the republic from enacting new laws without the consent of the parties to this treaty. The proceedings and negotiations to which this mission gave rise necessarily brought Dumont into connexion with most of the leading men in the Constituent Assembly, and made him an interested spectator, sometimes even a participator, indirectly, in the events of the French Revolution. The same cause also led him to renew his acquaintance with Mirabeau, whom he found occupied with his duties as a deputy, and with the composition of his journal, the Courier de Provence. For a time Dumont took an active and very efficient part in the conduct of this journal, supplying it with reports as well as original articles, and also furnishing Mirabeau with speeches to be delivered or rather read in the assembly, as related in his highly instructive and interesting posthumous work entitled Souvenirs sur Mirabeau (1832). In fact his friend George Wilson used to relate that one day, when they were dining together at a table d’hôte at Versailles, he saw Dumont engaged in writing the most celebrated paragraph of Mirabeau’s address to the king for the removal of the troops. He also reported such of Mirabeau’s speeches as he did not write, embellishing them from his own stores, which were inexhaustible. But this co-operation soon came to an end; for, being attacked in pamphlets as one of Mirabeau’s writers, he felt hurt at the notoriety thus given to his name in connexion with a man occupying Mirabeau’s peculiar position, and returned to England in 1791.

In 1801 he travelled over various parts of Europe with Lord Henry Petty, afterwards 3rd marquess of Lansdowne, and on his return settled down to the editorship of the works of Bentham already mentioned. In 1814 the restoration of Geneva to independence induced Dumont to return to his native place, and he soon became the leader of the supreme council. He devoted particular attention to the judicial and penal systems of his native state, and many improvements on both are due to him. He died at Milan when on an autumn tour on the 29th of September 1829.