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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Gabriel Senac de Meilhan

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GABRIEL SENAC DE MEILHAN (1736-1803), French writer, son of Jean Senac, physician to Louis XV., was born in Paris in 1736. He entered the civil service in 1762; two years later he bought the office of master of requests, and in 1766 further advanced his position by a rich marriage. He was successively intendant of La Rochelle, of Aix and of Valenciennes. In 1776 he became intendant-general for war, but was soon compelled to resign. He had hoped to be made minister of finance, and was disappointed by the nomination of Necker, of whom he became a bitter opponent. He was intimate with the comtesse de Tesse, sister of the duc de Choiseul, and in 1781 met Madame de Crequy, then sixty-seven years of age, and began a long friendship with her. His first book was the fictitious Memoires d'Anne de Gonzague, princesse palatine (1786), thought by many people at the time to be genuine. In the next year followed the Considerations sur les richesses et le luxe, combating the opinions of Necker; and in 1788 the more valuable Considerations sur l'esprit et les mceurs, a book which abounds in sententious, but often excessively frank, sayings. Senac witnessed the beginnings of the Revolution in Paris, but emigrated in 1790, making his way first to London, and then, in 1791, to Aix-la-Chapelle, where he met Pierre Alexandre de Tilly, who asserts in his Memoirs that Senac attributed the misfortunes of Louis XVI. to the refusal of his own services. In 1793, while his recollections of the Revolution were still fresh, he wrote a novel, L'Emigre (Hamburg, 4 vols., 1797), which shows perspicacity and good judgment in its treatment of events. It was reprinted in 1904 in an abridged form by Casimir Stryienski and Frantz Funck-Brentano. At the invitation of Catherine II. Senac went in 1792 to Russia, where he hoped to become imperial historiographer, but his manners displeased Catherine, who contented herself with dismissing him with a pension. From Russia he went to Hamburg, and thence to Vienna, where he found a friend in the prince de Ligne. He died on the i 6th of August 1803. Senac also wrote a moderate exposition of the causes that led to the revolution, entitled Du gouvernement, des mours et des conditions en France avant la Revolution, avec les caracteres des principaux personnages du regne de Louis XVI; the last part was reprinted (1813) by the duc de Levis with a notice of the author as Portraits et caracteres. Senac collected his own CEuvres philosophiques et litteraires (2 vols.) at Hamburg in 1795.

See his Ouvres choisies, edited by M. de Lescure in 1862; Lettres inedites de Madame de Crequi a Senac de Meilhan (1856), edited by Edouard Fournier; Louis Legrand, Senac de Meilhan et l'intendance du Hainaut et du Cambresis (1868); and the notice by Fernand Caussy prefixed to his edition (1905) of the Considerations sur l'esprit et les mceurs.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Gabriel Senac de Meilhan'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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