Jean De La Bruyère

(1645-1696 / Paris)

Biography of Jean De La Bruyère

Jean De La Bruyère poet

Jean de La Bruyère (16 August 1645 – 10 May 1696) was a French philosopher and moralist.

La Bruyère was born in Paris, (not, as was once thought, at Dourdan (in today's Essonne département) in 1645. His family was middle class, and his reference to a certain Geoffroy de La Bruyère, a crusader, is only a satirical illustration of a method of self-ennoblement common in France as in some other countries. Indeed he himself always signed the name Delabruyère in one word, as evidence of this. He could trace his family back at least as far as his great-grandfather, who had been a strong Leaguer. La Bruyère's own father was controller general of finance to the Hôtel de Ville.

The son was educated by the Oratorians and at the University of Orléans; he was called to the bar, and in 1673 bought a post in the revenue department at Caen, which gave him status and an income. His predecessor in the post was a relation of Jacques Benigne Bossuet, and it is thought that the transaction was the cause of La Bruyère's introduction to the great orator Bossuet, who from the date of his own preceptorship of the Dauphin, was a kind of agent-general for tutorships in the royal family, introduced him in 1684 to the household of the Louis, Prince of Condé (1621–1686), to whose grandson Louis as well as to that prince's girl-bride Mlle de Nantes, one of Louis XIV's natural children, La Bruyère became tutor. The rest of his life was passed in the household of the prince or else at court, and he seems to have profited by the inclination which all the Condé family had for the society of men of letters.

Very little is known of the events of this part—or, indeed, of any part—of his life. The impression derived from the few notices of him is of a silent, observant, but somewhat awkward man, resembling in manners Joseph Addison, whose master in literature La Bruyère undoubtedly was. Yet despite the numerous enemies which his book raised up for him, most of these notices are favourable—notably that of Saint-Simon, an acute judge and one bitterly prejudiced against commoners generally. There is, however, a curious passage in a letter from Boileau to Racine in which he regrets that "nature has not made La Bruyère as agreeable as he would like to be."

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