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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/688

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

propriate quotations and authorities. Such an article takes the reader into the depths of philosophical speculation; in tracing the history of a word he follows the history of thought. The verb passer runs to no less than sixty-six meanings, many of them amusing, proverbial, anecdotical. The word faire in French represents the two English verbs to make and to do. It consequently covers an immense field of action. M. Littré defines it as the word "qui dénote toute espèce d'opération qui donne être ou forme." He traces it through eighty-two shades of meaning, and the article he devotes to it is an essay of no less than eight quarto pages. Hence this Dictionary becomes attractive and even fascinating. Like Forcellini's Lexicon, which it most resembles, there is scarcely a passage or marked expression in the French classics which is not cited in it; but Forcellini and Ducange were dealing with dead or expiring languages; M. Littré had to force his way through the Babel of modern literature and society.

We now pass from the book to the man, whose life is scarcely less remarkable than the work to which he devoted it, and here we shall avail ourselves of the guidance of M. Pasteur in his discourse. Emile Littré was born in Pans, February 1, 1801. His father was an artilleryman of the first Republic, who had adopted with passion, both in politics and religion, the stern theories of the Revolution of 1791, and defended them in the patriotic army. He transmitted these opinions to his son, who inherited the same austerity of principles, tempered, however, by great natural benevolence. His mother was a woman of the same energetic stamp, though uneducated. Sainte-Beuve described her as "a Roman matron." The lad was educated at the Lycée Louisle-Grand, his father having a small appointment in the office of inland revenue in Paris. The elder Littré learned Greek, and even began Sanskrit, to assist in the education of his son. On leaving college the young man acted for a time as secretary to M. Daru; but he desired to follow the medical profession, and had all but completed his hospital training, when his father died, leaving him too poor to take his degree and to enter upon practice. Accordingly, he never did practice medicine, except gratuitously among the poor of his village. Yet such was the medical reputation he acquired by his subsequent writings, that, as we have been informed, he was ultimately elected a member of the Medical Council of Paris. At this early stage of his life, in 1831, he was compelled to fall back on the humble occupation of a teacher of foreign languages and mathematics, and a translator of articles for the "National" newspaper, which made him acquainted with Armand Carrel. Meanwhile his mind, conscious of its strength, yet modest to excess, formed vast and varied projects, which he hesitated to execute. Such was the mastery he had already acquired over the sources of the French language, that he amused himself by translating a book of the "Iliad" into French verse of the thirteenth century. He also translated the elder Pliny, and in 1831 plunged into a greater