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VISCOUNT ST CYRES,
LATE STUDENT AND LECTURER OF CHRIST CHURCH
WITH EIGHT ILLUSTRATIONS
METHUEN & CO.
This little book is an attempt to review the whole Life and Works of Fénelon from a standpoint somewhat more impartial than that of his biographers in France. There the ship of his reputation has always sailed under a Party flag. To contemporary admirers such as de Ramsai he is pre-eminently a Saint; a generation later comes the rise of sentimentalism, when Rousseau and La Harpe forget the Churchman in the prophet of philanthropy and the Rights of Man. During the Napoleonic era appears the great official Life by Cardinal Bausset, where Fénelon is pictured as the typical enlightened priest, blessing the typical enlightened despotism—though only to be elevated, thirty years later, to a very different pedestal, when Lamennais hails him as the champion of a progressive Papacy at war with illiberal Kings and Bishops. Lastly, in our own day has come the inevitable reaction, and in the various writings of M. Brunetière, but especially in the monumental Fénelon et Bossuet of M. Crouslé, the shifty womanish malcontent at Cambrai, a vague cosmopolitan and a friend of Rome, is everywhere unfavourably contrasted with the frank and manly Bossuet at Meaux, national in his faith and politics as in his genius and good sense.
That there is truth in each of these views, but not the whole truth, it has been my endeavour to show. Fénelon will appear in these pages as the father of eighteenth century sentimentalism-witness his politics and philosophy, his educational and literary theories—but also an upholder of seventeenth century rationality, and of the most ruthlessly stoical of mysticisms—a disciple sometimes worthy, sometimes dilettantist, and sometimes morbid, of the great Spanish ascetic St John of the Cross. And in
pursuance of this theme I have departed a little from traditional lines, and dealt with subjects usually dismissed more cavalierly, such as Fénelon's relation to the Jansenists and Papacy, to the philosophy of Malebranche and the Classical School of literature. Inasmuch, however, as these abstract matters may prove a weariness to many, I would advise readers interested only in the history of his life to pass rapidly over my 11th chapter, and omit the 6th, 12th, and 13th altogether.
It remains only to express my great indebtedness to preceding biographers, and to the long list of other writers on Fénelon, whose names are given on a later page.
Also to the authorities of the British Museum for sanctioning the reproduction of three scarce engravings, respectively of the Duke of Burgundy, of Cambrai City, and of Malebranche. And more especial thanks are due to Sir John Murray Scott and the Trustees of the Wallace Collection at Hertford House, who have generously broken through their usual rule, and allowed the reproduction of the portrait of Fénelon by Philippe de Champagne, which serves as frontispiece to this book.