Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Étienne Pasquier

Étienne Pasquier (June 7, 1529 - September 1, 1615), French lawyer and man of letters, was born at Paris, on the 7th of June 1529 by his own account, according to others a year earlier. He was called to the Paris bar in 1549.

In 1558 he became very ill through eating poisonous mushrooms, and did not recover fully for two years. This compelled him to occupy himself by literary work, and in 1560 he published the first book of his Recherches de la France. In 1565, when he was thirty-seven, his fame was established by a great speech still extant, in which he pleaded the cause of the University of Paris against the Jesuits, and won it. Meanwhile he pursued the Recherches steadily, and published from time to time much miscellaneous work.

His literary and his legal occupations coincided in a curious fashion at the Grands Jours of Poitiers in 1579. These Grands Jours (an institution which fell into desuetude at the end of the 17th century, with bad effects on the social and political welfare of the French provinces) were a kind of irregular assize in which a commission of the parlement of Paris, selected and despatched at short notice by the king, had full power to hear and determine all causes, especially those in which seignorial rights had been abused. At the Grands Jours of Poitiers of the date mentioned, and at those of Troyes in 1583, Pasquier officiated; and each occasion has left a curious literary memorial of the jests with which he and his colleagues relieved their graver duties. The Poitiers work was the celebrated collection of poems on a flea (see Southey's Doctor).

In 1585 Pasquier was appointed by Henry III advocate-general at the Paris cours des comptes, an important body having political as well as financial and legal functions. Here he distinguished himself particularly by opposing, sometimes successfully, the mischievous system of selling hereditary places and offices, which more perhaps than any single thing was the curse of the older French monarchy. The civil wars compelled Pasquier to leave Paris and for some years he lived at Tours, working steadily at his great book, but he returned to Paris in Henry IV's train in March 1594. He continued until 1604 at his work in the chambre des comptes; then he retired. He survived this retirement more than ten years, producing much literary work, and died after a few hours' illness on the 1st of September 1615.

In so long and so laborious a life Pasquier's work was naturally considerable, and it has never been fully collected or indeed printed. The standard edition is that of Amsterdam (2 vols. fol., 1723). But for ordinary readers the selections of Leon Feugbre, published at Paris (2 vols. 8vo, 1849), with an elaborate introduction, are most accessible. As a poet Pasquier is chiefly interesting as a minor member of the Pléiade movement. As a prose writer he is of much more account. The three chief divisions of his prose work are his Recherches, his letters and his professional speeches. The letters are of much biographical interest and historical importance, and the Recherches contain in a somewhat miscellaneous fashion invaluable information on a vast variety of subjects, literary, political, antiquarian and other.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.