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Saint-Pierre, Jacques Henri Bernardin De

SAINT-PIERRE, JACQUES HENRI BERNARDIN DE (1737- 1814), French man of letters, was born at Havre on the 19th of January 1737. He was educated at Caen and at Rouen, and became an engineer. According to his own account he served in the army, taking part in the Hesse campaign of 1760, but was dismissed for insubordination, and, after quarrelling with his family, was in some difficulty. He appears at Malta,. St Petersburg, Warsaw, Dresden, Berlin, holding brief commissions as an engineer and rejoicing in romantic adventures. But he came back to Paris in 1765 poorer than he set out. He came into possession of a small sum at his father's death, and in 1 768 he set out for the Isle of France (Mauritius) with a government commission, and remained there three years, returning home in 1771. These wanderings supplied Bernardin with the whole of his stock-in-trade, for he never again quitted France. On his return from Mauritius he was introduced to D'Alembert and his friends, but he took no great pleasure in the company of any literary man except J. J. Rousseau, of whom in his last years he saw much, and on whom he formed both his character and his style. His Voyage a Vile de France, (2 vols., 1773) gained him a reputation as a champion of innocence and religion, and in consequence, through the exertions of the bishop of Aix, a pension of 1000 livres a year. It is soberest and therefore the least characteristic of his books. The tudes <fc la nature (3 vols., 1784) was an attempt to prove the existence of God from the wonders of nature; he set up a philosophy of sentiment to oppose the materializing tendencies of the Encyclopaedists. His masterpiece, Paul et Virginie, appeared in 1789 in a supplementary volume of the Andes, and his second great success, much less sentimental and showing not a little humour, the Chaumiere indienne, not till 1790. In 1792 he married a very young girl, Felicite Didot, who brought him a considerable dowry. For a short time in 1792 he was superintendent of the Jardin des Plantes, and on the suppression of the office received a pension of 3000 livres. In 1795 he became a member of the Institute. After his first wife's death he married in 1800, when he was sixty-three, another young girl, Desiree Pelleport, and is said to have been very happy with her. On the 21st of January 1814 he died at his house at Eragny, near Pontoise.

Paul et Virginie has been pronounced gaudy in style and unhealthy in tone. Perhaps Bernardin is not fairly to be judged by this famous story, in which the exuberant sensibility of the time finds equally exuberant expression. His merit lies in his breaking away from the arid vocabulary which more than a century of classical writing has brought upon France, in his genuine preference for the beauties of nature, and in his attempt to describe them faithfully. After Rousseau, and even more than Rousseau, Bernardin was in French literature the apostle of the return to nature, though both in him and his immediate follower Chateaubriand there is still much mannerism and unreality.

Aime Martin, disciple of Bernardin and the second husband of his ond wife, published a complete edition of his works in 18 volumes (Paris, 1818-1820), afterwards increased by seven volumes of correspondence and memoirs (1826). Paul et Virginie, the Chaumiere indienne, etc. have ol ten been separately reprinted. See also Arvede Barin's Bernardin de Saint Pierre (1891).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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