- Esprit Fléchier
Esprit Fléchier (
June 10, 1632- February 16, 1710) was a French preacher and author, Bishop of Nîmesfrom 1687.
He was born at
Pernes-les-Fontaines, in the "département" of Vaucluse, and brought up at Tarasconby his uncle, Hercule Audiffret, superior of the Congregation des Doctrinaires. Fléchier entered the order, but on the death of his uncle, he left it, owing to the strictness of its rules, and went to Paris, where he devoted himself to writing poetry. His French poems met with little success, but a description in Latinverse of a tournament ("carrousel", "circus regius"), given by Louis XIV around 1662, brought him a great reputation. He subsequently became tutor to Louis Urbain Lefèvre de Caumartin, afterwards intendant of finances and counsellor of state, whom he accompanied to Clermont-Ferrand, where the king had ordered the "Grands Jours" to be held (1665), and where Caumartin was sent as representative of the sovereign.
There Fléchier wrote his curious "Mémoires sur les Grand jours tenus a Clermont", in which he relates, in a half romantic, half historical form, the proceedings of this extraordinary court of justice. In 1668 the duke of Montausier procured for him the post of "lecteur" to the dauphin. The sermons of Fléchier increased his, reputation, which was afterwards raised to the highest pitch by his funeral orations. The most important are those on Madame de Montausier (1672), which gained him the membership of the Academy, the
duchesse d'Aiguillon(1675), and, above all, Marshal Turenne (1676). He was now firmly established in the favour of the king, who gave him successively the abbacy of St Séverin, in the diocese of Poitiers, the office of almoner to the dauphiness, and in 1685 the bishopric of Lavaur, from which he was in 1687 promoted to that of Nîmes. The edict of Nanteshad been repealed two years before; but the Calvinistswere still very numerous at Nîmes. Fléchier, by his leniency and tact, succeeded in bringing over some of them to his views, and even gained the esteem of those who declined to change their faith.
During the troubles in the Cévennes he softened to the utmost of his power the rigour of the edicts, and showed himself so indulgent even to what he regarded as error, that his memory was long held in veneration amongst the Protestants of that district. It is right to add, however, that some authorities consider the accounts of his leniency to have been greatly exaggerated, and even charge him with going beyond what the edicts permitted. He died at
Pulpit eloquence is the branch of "belles-lettres" in which Fléchier excelled. He is indeed far below Bossuet, whose robust and sublime genius had no rival in that age; he does not equal Bourdaloue in earnestness of thought and vigour of expression; nor can he rival the philosophical depth or the insinuating and impressive eloquence of
Jean-Baptiste Massillon. But he is always ingenious, often witty, and nobody has carried farther than he the harmony of diction, sometimes marred by an affectation of symmetry and an excessive use of antithesis. His two historical works, the histories of Theodosius Iand of Ximenes, are more remarkable for elegance of style than for accuracy and comprehensive insight.
The last complete edition of Fléchier's works is by JP Migne (Paris, 1856); the "Mémoires sur les Grands Jours" was first published in 1844 by B Gonod (2nd ed as "Mém. sur les Gr. J. d'Auvergne", with notice by Sainte-Beuve and an appendix by M Chéruel, 1862).
His chief works are:
*"Histoire de Théodose le Grand"
*"Histoire du Cardinal Ximénès"
*"Sermons de morale"
*"Panigyriques des saints"
He left a "portrat" or "caracure" of himself, addressed to one of his friends. The "Life of Theodosius" has been translated into English by F Manning (1693), and the "Funeral Oration of Marshal Turenne" in HC Fish's "History and Repository of Pulpit Eloquence" (ii., 1857). On Fléchier generally see Antonin VD Fabre, "La Jeunesse de Fléchier" (1882), and Adolphe Fabre, "Fléchier, orateur" (1886); A Delacroix, "Hut. de Fléchier" (1865).
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