Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dutens, Louis

DUTENS, LOUIS (1730–1812), diplomatist and man of letters, was born at Tours on 15 Jan. 1730, of a French Huguenot family. He was educated at first by his father, and besides being a proficient at chess, began at a very early age to write enigmas and epigrams. An early love affair, which did not meet with his father's approval, made him wish to leave home, and he went to Paris, eager to witness the rejoicings for the peace of 1748. Here he wrote a tragedy, ‘Le retour d'Ulysse à Ithaque,’ which, though rejected at Paris, was actually performed with success at Orleans. His career in life was decided by his sister being placed in a convent by the Archbishop of Tours. It seemed to him that advancement in any profession was hopeless in France from his religion, and he determined to settle in England. There he was received by an uncle who had retired with a large fortune from the business of a jeweller, and lived in Leicester Square. He had introductions to Mr. Pitt and Lord Barrington; but a misunderstanding between Miss Pitt and his father and sister prevented these being of any use. However, he learned English, translated some English comedies into French (which afterwards turned out to have been originally derived from French sources), and endeavoured to get a travelling tutorship. On this failing, he returned to Paris, but was soon afterwards persuaded by his uncle to revisit England, and he became tutor in the family of a Mr. Wyche. He gives a curious account of his experiences there, of his studying Hebrew and the classical languages, and of the influence he obtained over a daughter of Mr. Wyche who was deaf and dumb. In 1758 he obtained the appointment of chaplain to the embassy at Turin, under the Hon. Stuart Mackenzie. He at once took orders in the English church, and left London for Turin in October. On the death of George II, Mackenzie was appointed ambassador at Venice, and invited Dutens to attend him as secretary, but almost immediately afterwards Mackenzie was summoned to London to assume the office of secretary of state for Scotland, and he obtained permission for Dutens to remain at Turin as chargé d'affaires on the part of the king of England. Here he stayed till May 1762, when George Pitt (Lord Rivers) was appointed envoy extraordinary to the court of Turin. He then returned to London after a short stay in Paris; in 1763 he obtained a pension of 300l., and was again sent to Turin. While here, besides other literary efforts, he edited the works of Leibnitz, published at Geneva in 1768 in 6 vols. 4to. About this time, through Mr. Mackenzie, he was offered a deanery in Ireland by the Duke of Northumberland, then lord-lieutenant. On his declining this, he was given the living of Elsdon in Northumberland by the duke. On this he left Turin, and went to England in 1766 to take possession of it. On his arrival the king through General Conway gave him 1,000l. for his services. He never ventured on any professional duties as a clergyman, and his appearance, manners, and foreign accent naturally excited considerable surprise among his parishioners when he first appeared at Elsdon. The duke continued his patron through life, and in 1768 sent him to travel through Europe with his second son, Lord Algernon Percy. They spent some time at Rome, Naples, Vienna, Berlin, &c., seeing the emperor at Rome, Voltaire at Geneva (to whom Dutens was known as the author of ‘Le Tocsin,’ a pamphlet against the philosophers, especially Voltaire and Rousseau, published at Paris in 1769), Brucker at Augsburg (who had helped him in his edition of Leibnitz), the king of Prussia at Potsdam, the king of Sweden, Gustavus III, at Brunswick, and Baron Trenck at Aachen. On his return, as he had been disappointed of a more valuable benefice than Elsdon by the Duke of Northumberland having joined the opposition, the duke gave him 1,000l., and Dutens continued to live chiefly with him, going to Alnwick, Spa, and Paris in his company. On the duke and duchess leaving Paris he remained there, was present at the accession of Louis XVI, and afterwards spent some time at Chanteloup with the Duke and Duchess de Choiseul. In 1776 he returned to England, and was with the Duchess of Northumberland at her death, after which he went a third time to Italy with Mr. Mackenzie. On his return he had intended to remain quiet at Elsdon, but was persuaded to accompany Lord Mountstuart on his being appointed envoy at Turin, though the Duke of Northumberland had endeavoured to induce Dutens to live entirely with him. He did not, however, find the situation a pleasant one, and left Turin finally for Bologna, Florence (where he found Sir H. Mann), and Rome, when the duke renewed his proposal, offering him 500l. a year to live with him. He again refused, and intended to settle at Florence. But finding it necessary for his money matters to return to England, he went to Paris in June 1783, and the next year to London, where he spent most of his time with the Duke of Northumberland and Lord Bute. In 1786 he accepted an offer to go to Spain with Lord Walsingham as secretary of the embassy; but this was abandoned on Lord Walsingham being offered the place of postmaster-general. Dutens was again at Spa in 1789, then filled with French emigrants; in 1791 he returned to London, and resided chiefly there to the end of his life, very much with Mr. Mackenzie, who left him a legacy of 15,000l. The best literary society of London was open to him, and he retained his powers of mind and body to the last, playing billiards well when turned seventy. Shortly before his death he called on his friends, and returned them their letters. He died in London 23 May 1812. He had received the title of historiographer to the king, was F.R.S., and also associate of the French Academy of inscriptions. His library (a very choice one) was sold at Christie's in the summer of 1813.

Besides his edition of the works of Leibnitz, his own memoirs give him the greatest likelihood of being remembered. These were begun in 1775, partially printed in 1802, then suppressed, and finally published in 1805, under the title of ‘Mémoires d'un Voyageur qui se repose,’ translated as ‘Memoirs of a Traveller now in Retirement.’ He calls himself throughout ‘Duchillon,’ a name taken from an estate that had been long in the family. He tells very openly the history of his attachments and his other adventures. Considering the opportunities he had through life and the character of the society in which he moved, the volumes, though interesting, are less valuable than might be expected. In the course of the work he has a chapter on the Man in the Iron Mask, whom he decides to have been a minister of the Duke of Mantua. As a kind of supplement, a volume entitled ‘Dutensiana’ follows the memoirs, which consists of a separate collection of anecdotes and observations. There is a good mezzotint of Dutens by Fisher, published January 1777.

The following are the most important works that he published; most of them appeared first in French, and then were translated into English: 1. ‘Caprices poétiques,’ 1750. 2. ‘Recherches sur l'origine des Découvertes attribuées aux Modernes,’ 1766, translated with additions in 1769. 3. ‘Institutions leibnitziennes ou précis de la monadologie,’ Lyon, 1767. 4. ‘Poésies diverses,’ 1767. 5. Edition of Leibnitz, Geneva, 1769. 6. ‘Le Tocsin,’ Paris, 1769, re-edited under the title ‘Appel au bon sens,’ 1777; translated, London, 1798, 1800. 7. ‘La Logique ou l'art de raisonner.’ 8. ‘Explication de quelques médailles de Peuples, de Rois, et de Villes Grecques et Phéniciennes,’ 1773. 9. ‘Du miroir ardent d'Archimède,’ 1775. 10. ‘Itineraire des routes les plus frequentées, ou Journal d'un voyage aux villes principales de l'Europe en 1768–71.’ Paris, 1775, London, 1778, translated 1782. 11. An edition of Dacier's translation of Epictetus, Paris, 1775. 12. ‘Des pierres précieuses et des pierres fines,’ Paris, 1776, London, 1777. 13. An edition of Longus, Paris, 1776. 14. ‘Lettres à M. Debure sur la réfutation du livre de l'esprit par J. J. Rousseau,’ Paris, 1779. 15. ‘De l'Eglise, du Pape, de quelques points de controverse et des moyens de réunion entre toutes les églises chrétiennes,’ Geneva, 1781. E. D. Clarke, the traveller, states that Plato, the archbishop of Moscow, complained that in this work Dutens published his correspondence without his leave. But Dutens showed that he had received no letters from the archbishop, and what he did publish was a ‘Profession of Faith of the Russian Greek Church,’ which the archbishop had sent him (Gent. Mag. lxxx. pt. ii. 641). 16. ‘Œuvres mêlées,’ Geneva, 1784, London, 1797. 17. ‘L'ami des étrangers qui voyagent en Angleterre,’ London, 1787. 18. ‘Histoire de ce qui s'est passé pour l'établissement d'une régence en Angleterre,’ London and Paris, 1789, translated under the title ‘An History of the … Period from the beginning of his Majesty's illness … to the appointment of a Regent.’ This caused him the loss of the favour of the Prince of Wales, whom he had known for some years. 19. ‘Table généalogique des héros des romans’ (n.d.), 2nd edition, 1796. 20. ‘Recherches sur le temps le plus reculé de l'usage des voûtes chez les anciens,’ 1795, translated under the title ‘Inquiries into the Antiquity of Vaults among the Ancients,’ London, 1805. 21. ‘Mémoires d'un voyageur qui se repose,’ 1805. Besides these he wrote tracts ‘sur l'arbre généalogique des Scipions,’ on the means of securing brick buildings from fire, on the chess automaton, and a catalogue ‘des médailles qu'on trouve dans les voyages de Swinburne,’ &c. He also wrote the French version of the account of the Marlborough gems, 1791.

[Biographie Universelle; Haag's La France Protestante, where he is called ‘Du Tens ou Du Tems;’ Memoirs of a Traveller now in Retirement, London, 1806; Gent. Mag. lxxxii. pt. ii. 197, 391 (1812); Beloe's Sexagenarian (1817), ii. 99–104; Dibdin's Bibliographical Decameron, iii. 92, 93.]

H. R. L.