1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lamennais, Hugues Félicité Robert de
LAMENNAIS, HUGUES FÉLICITÉ ROBERT DE (1782-1854), French priest, and philosophical and political writer, was born at Saint Malo, in Brittany, on the 19th of June 1782. He was the son of a shipowner of Saint Malo ennobled by Louis XVI. for public services, and was intended by his father to follow mercantile pursuits. He spent long hours in the library of an uncle, devouring the writings of Rousseau, Pascal and others. He thereby acquired a vast and varied, though superficial, erudition, which determined his subsequent career. Of a sickly and sensitive nature, and impressed by the horrors of the French Revolution, his mind was early seized with a morbid view of life, and this temper characterized him throughout all his changes of opinion and circumstance. He was at first inclined towards rationalistic views, but partly through the influence of his brother Jean Marie (1775-1861), partly as a result of his philosophical and historical studies, he felt belief to be indispensable to action and saw in religion the most powerful leaven of the community. He gave utterance to these convictions in the Réflexions sur l’état de l’église en France pendant le 18ième siècle et sur sa situation actuelle, published anonymously in Paris in 1808. Napoleon’s police seized the book as dangerously ideological, with its eager recommendation of religious revival and active clerical organization, but it awoke the ultramontane spirit which has since played so great a part in the politics of churches and of states.
As a rest from political strife, Lamennais devoted most of the following year to a translation, in exquisite French, of the Speculum Monachorum of Ludovicus Blosius (Louis de Blois) which he entitled Le Guide spirituel (1809). In 1811 he received the tonsure and shortly afterwards became professor of mathematics in an ecclesiastical college founded by his brother at Saint Malo. Soon after Napoleon had concluded the Concordat with Pius VII. he published, in conjunction with his brother, De la tradition de l’église sur l’institution des évêques (1814), a writing occasioned by the emperor’s nomination of Cardinal Maury to the archbishopric of Paris, in which he strongly condemned the Gallican principle which allowed bishops to be created irrespective of the pope’s sanction. He was in Paris at the first Bourbon restoration in 1814, which he hailed with satisfaction, less as a monarchist than as a strenuous apostle of religious regeneration. Dreading the Cent Jours, he escaped to London, where he obtained a meagre livelihood by giving French lessons in a school founded by the abbé Jules Carron for French émigrés; he also became tutor at the house of Lady Jerningham, whose first impression of him as an imbecile changed into friendship. On the final overthrow of Napoleon in 1815 he returned to Paris, and in the following year, with many misgivings as to his calling, he yielded to his brother's and Carron's advice, and was ordained priest by the bishop of Rennes.
The first volume of his great work, Essai sur Vindijérence en maliére de religion, appeared in 1817 (Eng. trans. by Lord Stanley of Alderley, London, 1898), and affected Europe like a spell, investing, in the words of Lacordaire, a humble priest with all the authority once enjoyed by Bossuet. Lamennais denounced toleration, and advocated a Catholic restoration to belief. The right of private judgment, introduced by Descartes and Leibnitz into philosophy and science, by Luther into religion and by Rousseau and the Encyclopaedists into politics and society, had, he contended, terminated in practical atheism and spiritual death. Ecclesiastical authority, founded on the absolute revelation delivered to the Jewish people, but supported by the universal tradition of all nations, he proclaimed to be the sole hope of regenerating the European communities. Three more volumes (Paris, 1818-1824) followed, and met with e. mixed reception from the Gallican bishops and monarchists, but with the enthusiastic adhesion of the younger clergy. The work was examined by three Roman theologians, and received the formal approval of Leo XII. Lamennais visited Rome at the pope's request, and was offered a place in the Sacred College, which he refused. On his return to France he took a prominent part in political work, and together with Chateaubriand, the vicomte de Villéle, was a regular contributor to the Conservaleur, but when Villéle became the chief of the supporters of absolute monarchy, Lamennais withdrew his support and started two rival organs, Le Drapeau blanc and Le Memorial calliolique. Various other minor works, together with De la religion considérée dons ses rapports avec l'ordre civil el politique (2 vols., 1825-1826), kept his name before the public.
He retired to La Chénaie and gathered round him a host of brilliant disciples, including C. de Montalembert, Lacordaire and Maurice de Guerin, his object being to form an organized body of-opinion to persuade the French clergy and laity to throw off the yoke of the state connexion. With Rome at his back, as he thought, he adopted a frank and bold attitude in denouncing the liberties of the Gallican church. His health broke down and he went to the Pyrenees to recruit. On his return to La Chénaie in 1827 he had another dangerous illness, which powerfully impressed him with the thought that he had only been dragged back to life to be the instrument of Providence. Les Progrés de la revolution el de la guerre contre l'église (1828) marked Lamennais's complete renunciation of royalist principles, and henceforward he dreamt of the advent of a theocratic democracy. To give effect to these views he founded L'Avenir, the first number of which appeared on the 16th of October 1830, with the motto “ God and Liberty.” From the first the paper was aggressively democratic; it demanded rights of local administration, an enlarged suffrage, universal freedom of conscience, freedom of instruction, of meeting, and of the press. Methods of worship were to be criticized, improved or abolished in absolute submission to the spiritual, not to the temporal authority. With the help of Montalembert, he founded the Agence générale pour la défense de la liberté religieuse, which became a far-reaching organization, it had agents all over the land who noted any violations of religious freedom and reported them to headquarters. As a result, L'Avenir's career was stormy, and the opposition of the Conservative bishops checked its circulation; Lamennais, Montalembert and Lacordaire resolved to suspend it for a while, and they set out to Rome in November 1831 to obtain the approval of Gregory XVI. The “ pilgrims of liberty ” were, after much opposition, received in audience by the pope. but only on the condition that the object which brought them to Rome should not be mentioned. This was a bitter disappointment to such earnest ultramontane, who received, a few days after the audience, a letter from Cardinal Pacca, advising their departure from Rome and suggesting that the Holy See, whilst admitting the justice of their intentions, would like the matter left open for the present. Lacordaire and Montalembert obeyed; Lamennais, however, remained in Rome, but his last hope vanished with the issue of Gregory's letter to the Polish bishops, in which the Polish patriots were reproved and the tsar was affirmed to be their lawful sovereign. He then “ shook the dust of Rome from off his feet.” At Munich, in 1832, he received the encyclical M irari vos, condemning his policy; as a result L'Avenir ceased and the Agence was dissolved. Lamennais, with his two lieutenants, submitted, and deeply wounded, retired to La Chénaie. His genius and prophetic insight had turned the entire Catholic church against him, and those for whom he had fought so long were the fiercest of his opponents. The famous Paroles d'un cvoyanl, published in 1834 through the intermediary of Sainte-Beuve, marks Lamennais's severance from the church. “ A book, small in size, but immense in its perversity, ” was Gregory's criticism in a new encyclical letter. A tractate of aphorisms, it has the vigour of a Hebrew prophecy and contains the choicest gems of poetic feeling lost in a whirlwind of exaggerations and distorted views of kings and rulers. The work had an extraordinary circulation and was translated into many European languages. It is now forgotten as a whole, but the beautiful appeals to love and human brotherhood are still reprinted in every hand-book of French literature. Henceforth Lamennais was the apostle of the people alone. Les Ajaires de Raine, des maux cle l'église el de la sociélé (1837) came from old habit of religious discussions rather than from his real mind of 1837, or at most it was but a last word. Le Livre du peuple (1837), De l'esclavage rnoderne (1839), Polilique d l'usage du peuple (1839), three volumes of articles from the journal of the extreme democracy, Le Monde, are titles of works which show that he had arrived among the missionaries of liberty, equality and fraternity, and he soon got a share of their martyrdom. Le Pays el le gouvernernenl (1840) caused him a year's imprisonment. He struggled through difficulties of lost friendships, limited means and personal illnesses, faithful to the last to his hardly won dogma of the sovereignty of the people, and, to judge by his contribution to Louis Blanc's Revue du progres was ready for something like communism. He was named president of the “ Société de la solidarity républicaine, ” which counted half a million adherents in fifteen days. The Revolution of 1848 had his sympathies, and he started Le Peuple consliluanl; however, he was compelled to stop it on the 10th of July, complaining that silence was for the poor, but again he was at the head of La Revolution dérnocralique el sociale, which also succumbed. In the constituent assembly he sat on the left till the coupe d'étal of Napoleon III. in 1851 put an end to all hopes of popular freedom. While deputy he drew up a constitution, but it was rejected as too radical. Thereafter a translation of Dante chiefly occupied him till his death, which took place in Paris on the 27th of February 1854. He refused to be reconciled to the church, and was buried according to his own directions at Pere La Chaise without funeral rites, being mourned by a countless concourse of democratic and literary admirers.
During the most difficult time of his republican period he found solace for his intellect in the composition of'Une voix de prison, written during his imprisonment in a similar strain to Les paroles d'un croyant. This is an interesting contribution to the literature of captivity; it was published in Paris in 1846. He also wrote Esquisse de philosophies (1840). Of the four volumes of this work the third, which is an exposition of art as a development from the aspirations and necessities of the temple, stands pre-eminent, and remains the best evidence of his thinking power and brilliant style.-There are two so-called Qiuvres completes de Lamennais, the first in I0 volumes (Paris, 1836-1837), and the other in IO volumes (Paris, 1844); both these are very incomplete and only contain the works mentioned above. The most noteworthy of his writings subsequently published are: Arnschaspands el Darvands (1843), Le Deuil de la Pologne (1846), lllélanges philosophiques el politiques (1856), Les Evangiles (1846) and La Divine Cornédie, these latter being translations of the Gospels and of Dante. Part of his voluminous correspondence has also appeared. The most interesting volumes are the following: Correspondance de F. de Lamennais, edited by E. D. Forgues (2 vols., 1855-1858); CEuvres inédites de F. Lamennais, edited by Ange Blaize (2 vols., 1866); Correspondance inédite entre Lamennais et le baron de Vitrolles, edited by E. D. Forgues (1819-1853); Confidence; de Lamennais, lettres inédites de 1821 ri 1848, edited by A. du Bois de la Villerabel (1886) 3 Lamennais d'aprés des documents inédits, by Alfred Roussel (Rennes, 2 vols., 1892); Lamennais intirne, d'aprés une correspondence inédite, by A. Roussel (Rennes, 1897); Un Lamennais inconnu, edited by A. Laveille (1898); Lettres de Larnennais ri Montalembert, edited by E. D. Forgues (1898); and many other letters published in the Revue bleue, Revue britannique, &c. »
A list of lives or studies on Lamennais would fill several columns. The following may be mentioned. A Blaize, Essai biography ue sur M. de Lamennais (1858); E. D. Forgues, Notes et souvenirs (1859); F. Brunetiére, Nouveaux essais sur la littérature contemporaine (1893); E. Faguet, Politiques et moralist es, ii. (1898); P. Janet, La Philosophie de Lamennais (1890); P. Mercier, S.J., Lamennais dapres sa correspondence et les travaux les plus récents (1895); A. Mollien et F. Duine, Lamennais, sa vie et ses idées; Pages choisies (Lyons. 1898); The Hon. W. Gibson, The Abbé de Lammenais and the Liberal Catholic Movement in France (London, 1896);E. Renan Essais de morale et de critique (1857); E. Schérer, Mélanges de critique religieuse (1859); G. E. Spuller, Lamennais, étude d'histoire et de politique religieuse (1892); Mgr. Ricard, L'école menaisienne (1882), and Sainte-Beuve, Portraits conternporains, tome i. (1832), and Nouveaux Lundis, tome i. p. 22; tome xi. p. 347.