Simon-Nicholas Henri Linguet  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Simon-Nicholas Henri Linguet (14 July 1736 – 27 June 1794), French journalist and advocate, was born in Reims, where his father, the assistant principal in the Collège de Beauvais of Paris, had recently been exiled by lettre de cachet for engaging in the Jansenist controversy.

He is chiefly remembered for his Memoirs of the Bastille.

He attended the College de Beauvais and won the three highest prizes there in 1751. He accompanied the count palatine of Zweibrücken to Poland, and on his return to Paris he devoted himself to writing. He published partial French translations of Pedro Calderón de la Barca and Lope de Vega, and wrote parodies for the Opera Comique and pamphlets in favor of the Jesuits. Received at first in the ranks of the philosophes, he soon went over to their opponents, possibly more from contempt than from conviction, the immediate occasion for his change being a quarrel with Jean le Rond d'Alembert in 1762. Thenceforth he violently attacked whatever was considered modern and enlightened, and while he delighted society with his numerous sensational pamphlets, he aroused the fear and hatred of his opponents by his stinging wit.

He was admitted to the bar in 1764, and soon became one of the most famous pleaders of his century. But in spite of his brilliant ability and his record of having lost but two cases, the bitter attacks which he directed against his fellow advocates, especially against Gerbier (1725-1788), caused his dismissal from the bar in 1775. He then turned to journalism and began the Journal de politique et de literature, which he employed for two years in literary, philosophical and legal criticisms. But a sarcastic article on the French Academy compelled him to turn over the Journal to La Harpe and seek refuge abroad.

Linguet, however, continued his career of free lance, now attacking and now supporting the government, in the Annales politiques, civiles et litteraires, published from 1777 to 1792, first at London, then at Brussels and finally at Paris. Attempting to return to France in 1780 he was arrested for a caustic attack on the duc de Duras (1715-1789), an academician and marshal of France, and imprisoned nearly two years in the Bastille.

He then went to London, and thence to Brussels, where, for his support of the reforms of Joseph II, he was ennobled and granted an honorarium of one thousand ducats. In 1786 he was permitted by Vergennes to return to France as an Austrian counselor of state, and to sue the duc d'Aiguillon (1730-1798), the former minister of Louis XV, for fees due him for legal services rendered some fifteen years earlier. He obtained judgment to the amount of 24,000 livres. Linguet received the support of Marie Antoinette; his fame at the time surpassed that of his rival Pierre Beaumarchais, and almost excelled that of Voltaire. Shortly afterwards he visited the emperor at Vienna to plead the case of Van der Noot and the rebels of Brabant. During the early years of the French Revolution he issued several pamphlets against Mirabeau, who returned his ill-will with interest, calling him the ignorant and bombastic M. Linguet, advocate of Neros, sultans and viziers.

On his return to Paris in 1791 he defended the rights of San Domingo before the National Assembly. His last work was a defense of Louis XVI. He retired to Marnes near Vile d'Avray to escape the Terror, but was sought out and summarily condemned to death for having flattered the despots of Vienna and London. He was guillotined in Paris on the 27th June 1794.

Linguet was a prolific writer in many fields. Examples of his attempted historical writing are Histoire du siècle d'Alexandre (Amsterdam, 1762), and Histoire impartiale des Jésuites (Madrid, 1768), the latter condemned to be burned. His opposition to the philosophies had its strongest expressions in Fanatisme des philosophes (Geneva and Paris, 1764) and Histoire des revolutions de l'empire romain (Paris, 1766-1768). His Theorie des lois civiles (London, 1767) is a vigorous defense of absolutism and attack on the politics of Montesquieu. His best legal treatise is Mémoire pour le comte de Morangies (Paris, 1772); Linguet's imprisonment in the Bastille afforded him the opportunity of writing his Mémoires sur la Bastille, first published in London in 1789; it has been translated into English (Dublin, 1783, and Edinburgh, 1884-1887), and is the best of his works though untrustworthy.


This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


  • L-A. Deverite, Notice pour servir a l'histoire de la vie et des écrits de S. N. H. Linguet (Liege, 1782)
  • Gardoz, Essai historique sur la vie et les ouvrages de Linguet (Lyon, 1808)
  • Jean-François Barrière, Mémoire de Linguet et de Latude (Paris, 1884)
  • Charles Monselet, Les Oublies et les dedaignes (Paris, 1885), pp. 5–38
  • H. Monin, "Notice sur Linguet," in the 1889 edition of Mémoires sur la Bastille
  • S-N.H. Linguet, "Memoirs of the Bastille," (Dublin, 1783; reprint with notes 2005)
  • Jean Cruppi, Un avocat journaliste au xviiie siècle: Linguet (Paris, 1895)
  • A. Philipp, Linguet, ciii National-Ökonom des XVIII Jahrhunderts in seinen rechttichen, socialen und volkswirtschaftlichen Anschauungen (Zurich, 1896)
  • A. Lichtenberger, Le Socialisme utopique (1898), pp. 77–131.


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