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Guy Patin

GUY PATIN was an author who made much noise in his time: but, like many others of this kind, posterity, more temperate, as less interested in the scandal of the day, will not allow pertness to be wit, and multifarious anecdote, learning. We, as Englishmen, must peculiarly feel our indignation kindle at the strictures which I shall notice; and which, garbage as they are, have been hashed up by D’Argens, Voltaire, and many a French literary Cuisinier.

The work, for which he gained so much unmerited applause, consists of three volumes of letters, which were written to his friends in a familiar style, replete with the anecdotes of the day—a kind of newspaper, rather than an epistolary correspondence; and, like a newspaper, since time has commented on its text, it will be found that the greater part of these anecdotes is false and malicious. They were read, however, with great avidity: but this criticism of Menage will be found to be just—

“The Letters of Guy Patin are replete with falsehoods. Mr. Bigot and I have detected some in every page. He was not careful in what he wrote, and he took every thing as it came.”

“These Letters,” says Voltaire, “were read eagerly, because they contained anecdotes of such things as every body likes, and satires which are liked still more, They shew what uncertain guides in history those writers are, who inconsiderately set down the news of the day. Such accounts are frequently false, or perverted by the malice of mankind.”

Bayle, in criticising them, observes—“It is proper the reader should know all the witty sayings and stories he relates are not true. There are some places, wherein he shews a terrible malice, and a prodigious boldness, in giving a criminal turn to every thing.”

This language is indeed forcible; it is certainly just. The reader may judge by the extract I now make out of the Patiniana, page 17. It was written when Salmasius finished his Defence of King Charles, which was so nervously answered by Milton.

“The book of Mr. Salmasius, written for the defence of the King of England, is now printed at Leyden, in French, and in Latin. This apology for a king, who has been beheaded by his people, is a delicate subject, and will not please every body. The English, who, are the worst, the most cruel, and the most perfidious of people, pretend that they are countenanced by their religion, and the political law; but Religio non fert Parricidas, Ecclesia nescit Sanguinem. The most refined politics do not go so far as to dare to punish kings, like other malefactors, by the hand of the common hangman. The grandfather of this monarch was strangled by the Puritans of Scotland. His grandmother, Mary Stuart, was beheaded in England, in the year 1587, by the command of Queen Elizabeth. I, who naturally hate the English, cannot but shudder with horror when I think of this nation.”

I shall say nothing on this extraordinary passage; but only remark that, though all this passed so near the times in which Patin lived, he has committed, in this short extract; a gross historical blunder, as Mr. James Petit Andrews has detected; to whose labours I take this opportunity of acknowledging myself indebted for much pleasurable information.

It has been a custom to echo amongst the Gallic writers, that the English nation are of the race

“—of the Cannibals that each other eat,
  The Anthropophagi———”

The very executions of our malefactors at Tyburn have been urged as a proof. Hear Voltaire—

“There have been sanguinary times in all nations; but, amongst the English, more illustrious men have been brought to the block than in all Europe besides. It was the character of this nation to commit legal murders. The gates of London have been infected with human heads fixed to the walls.”

D’Argens, in his Philosophical Visions, has given the character of the English nation, under the name of the Libertines, in the second Vision. The passage is too long to be quoted ; but the power of his pencil seems not inferior to that of the lively Voltaire’s, in drawing our portrait with a vermillion hue. “Monsters!” as Shakespeare says,

“———whose heads
  Do grow beneath their shoulders!”———

He says, that a civil war is our delight, and the beheading a monarch our amusement. This hardly deserves the name of wit; it is certainly destitute of truth. I have, not infrequently, thought that these lively and facetious writers (for surely they did not mean to be serious) are ignorant of their own history; no improbable circumstance with those who probably have written nearly as many books as they have read. I maintain, that France has known more sanguinary periods than England; and that more of their kings than of our own have come to an untimely end. Let us recollect the assassinations of Henry the Third and Fourth; the reigns of Henry the Second and Charles the Fourth; Louis the Thirteenth and Fourteenth; and let all the efforts of all the Patins produce a massacre in England so dreadful as that of St. Bartholomew in France!