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Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Pierre Hyacinthe Azais

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AZAIS, PIERRE HYACINTHS, a brilliant French writer on philosophy, was born at Sorreze in 1766, and died at Paris in 1845. He was educated at the college in his native town ; and at the age of 17 joined a religious body with the view of afterwards entering the church. He remained only a year in this society, and then accepted an appointment as teacher in the college at Tarbes. The duties of this office proved most uncongenial to him, and lie gladly entered the service of the bishop of Oleron, to whom he acted as secretary. With this, too, he quickly became dissatisfied, either on account of the bishop s reiterated desire that he should take orders, or from the many petty annoyances incident to his post. He with drew to the little village of Villemagne, near Beziers, where he supported himself by performing the duties of organist in the church. He afterwards acted as tutor to the Count de Bosc s sons, with whom he remained till the outbreak of the Revolution. Azais, at first an ardent admirer of that great movement, was struck with dismay at the atrocities that were perpetrated, and published a vehement pamphlet on the subject. He was denounced, and had to seek safety in flight. For eighteen months he found refuge in the hospital of the Sisters of Charity at Tarbes ; and it was not till 1806 that he was able to settle in Paris. There, three years later, he published his treatise Des Compensations dans les Destinees Humaines, in which he sought to show that happiness and misery were fairly balanced in this world, and that consequently it was the duty of citizens to submit quietly to a fixed government. This doctrine was not displeasing to Napoleon, who mr.de its author professor at St Cyr. After the removal of that college, he obtained, in 1811, the post of inspector of the public library at Avignon, and from 1812 to 1815 he held a similar office at Nancy. His preference for the Bonaparte dynasty naturally operated in his disfavour at the Restora tion ; but after suffering considerable privation for some years, he obtained a government pension, which placed him beyond the reach of want. He employed the remain ing years of his life in oral and published expositions of his system of philosophy. According to Azais, the whole of existence, the universe, whose cause is God, may be regarded as the product of two factors, Matter and Force. Matter in its primitive state consists of homogeneous elements or atoms. All force is in its nature expansive, and is, therefore, subject to one supreme law, that of equilibrium, or equivalence of action and reaction ; for evidently expansive force emanat ing from each body is repressive force acting on all other bodies. The whole of the phenomena of the universe are successive stages in the development caused by the action of this one force under its one law on the primitive atoms ; and in tracing this development we must group facts into three distinct orders, first, the physical; second, the physiological ; third, the intellectual, moral, and political. In the sphere of physical phenomena, distinct development can be traced from the simplest mechanical motion up through the more complex forces of light, heat, and elec tricity to the power of magnetic attraction, by means of which the second great order of facts is produced out of the first. For magnetic force acting on elastic bodies, which as reactive have potential life, creates the primitive living globule, which is shaped like a tube open at both ends. From this first vital element a gradual ascent can be traced, culminating in man, who is differentiated from the other animals by the possession of intellect, or consciousness of the ideas with which external things impress him. These ideas, however, are in themselves corporeal ; what is immaterial in man, or his soul, is the expansive force inherent in him. Moral and political phenomena are the results of two primitive instincts, progress and self-con servation, corresponding to the two forces, expansion and repression. From the reciprocal relations of these instincts may be deduced the necessary conditions of social and political life. The ultimate goal of humanity is the perfect fulfilment of the law of equilibrium, the establishment of universal harmony. When that is accomplished, the destiny of man has been achieved, and he will vanish from this earth. Such a consummation may be looked for in about 7000 years. During an additional period of 5000 years the great cosmical forces will be gradually tending towards the establishment of complete equilibrium ; and, when this is attained, the present system of things is at an end. The chief works of Azais, besides the Compensations, are- -Systeme Universel, 8 vols. 1812 ; Du Sort de I homme, 3 vols. 1820 ; Cours de Philosophic, 8 vols. 1824 ; Explication Universelle, 3 vols. 1826-8 ; Jeunesse, Maturite, Religion, Philosophic, 1837 ; De la Phrenolocjie, du Maynetisme, ct de la Folie, 1843.