Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

January 1981


Published in Romance Notes 22:2 (Winter 1981), pp. 197–201. Copyright © 1981 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of Romance Languages. Used by permission.


François Lamy is always mentioned in the lively polemic over rhetoric touched off in 1694 by the attack of Goibaud Dubois against pulpit eloquence. The Benedictine Lamy became the center of the controversy when a 1698 éclaircissement of his De la connaissance de soi-même (5 vols. Paris, 1694-1698) provided the most thorough critique of the ancient art the quarrel produced. Malebranche himself did not participate directly in this dispute, but since he had made similar criticisms in passing in the Recherche de la vérité (1674) his presence was constantly felt in the background. This resemblance is no coincidence. According to Fr. André, an eighteenth-century biographer of Malebranche, Lamy "passoit dans la Républ. des lettres pour un imitateur servile du P.M." Just the same, André notes that Lamy was perfectly capable of taking independent positions. For example, when another 1698 éclaircissement linked Malebranche to certain Quietist doctrines, the Oratorian felt compelled to defend himself in print. Thus we can wonder to what extent Lamy's criticisms of rhetoric reflect Malebranche's stance. A second eighteenth-century biographer, J. F. Adry, points out that while Malebranche was named in the dispute over eloquence, he refused to intervene: "ce qu'on pouvoit lui faire dire pour ou contre la rhetorique le touchoit moins que la question subtile et délicate qui avait brouillé les deux grands prelats de CAMBRAI et de MEAUX." Lamy's position was that eloquence, by its very nature, cannot lead to a knowledge of spiritual entities like God, angels or the soul (v. 436-437) and that it corrupts man's heart and mind (v. 378). Was Malebranche's silence due to agreement with Lamy or to his well known desire to avoid polemics?