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DENIS DIDEROT.

This French philosopher, who was born in Langres, 1713, and died in Paris, 1784, founded and edited, with other free-thinkers, the famous “Encyclopédie” (since 1751), which, with the professed aim of presenting a summary of all the branches of human learning and art, became the chief repository of the revolutionary and infidel ideas of the eighteenth century, and was several times suspended by the government, but completed at last. He was all his life considered a confirmed atheist; but during his later years, to the astonishment of his friends, he made the Bible a part of the education of his only daughter, who subsequently wrote his “Mémoires,” and frequently received visits from a clergyman.

284

The late venerable Antistes Hess of Zurich, the author of a “Life of Jesus “ and other good works, relates from the mouth of a personal witness the following interesting anecdote, which we will give (from Stier’s “Reden Jesu,” part vi. p. 496) in the original French, and in an English translation—

Dans une de ces soirées du Baron d’Holbach où se reunissaient les plus célèbres incredules du siècle, on venait de se donner pleine carrière pour rélever le plus plaisamment du monde les prétendues absurdités, les bêtises, les inepties de tout genre dont fourmillent nos livres sacrés. Le philosophe Diderot, qui n’avait pas pris lui-même une mince part à la conversation, finit par l’arrêter tout à coup en disant:

A merveilles, messieurs, à merveilles, je ne connais personne en France ni ailleurs, qui sache écrire et parler avec plus d’art et de talent. Cependant malgré tout le mal que nous avons dis, et sans doute avec beaucoup de raison, de ce diable de livre, j’ose vous défier, tout sant que vous êtes, de faire un 285recit qui soit aussi simple, mais en même temps aussi sublime, aussi touchant que le récit de la passion et de la mort de Jésus-Christ, qui produise le même effet, qui fasse une sensation aussi forte, aussi généralement ressentie, et dont l’influence soit encore la même après tant de siècles.

Cette apostrophe imprévue étonna tous les auditeurs, et fut suivie même d’un assez long silence.

“In one of those evening parties of Baron d’Holbach, where the most celebrated infidels of the century used to assemble, the conversation turned fieely, and in thie most amusing manner, on the supposed absurdities, stupidities, and all kind of inconsistencies, of the Sacred Scriptures. The philosopher Diderot, who had taken no small part in the conversation, brought it suddenly to a close by the following remark:—

“For a wonder, gentlemen, for a wonder, I know nobody, either in France or anywhere 286else, who could write and speak with more art and talent. Notwithstanding all the bad which we have said, and no doubt with good reason, of this devil of a book (de ce diable de livre), I defy you all—as many as are here to prepare a tale so simple, and at the same time so sublime and so touching, as the tale of the passion and death of Jesus Christ; which produces the same effect, which makes a sensation as strong and as generally felt, and whose influence will be the same, after so many centuries.”

This unexpected speech astonished all the hearers, and was followed by a pretty long silence.”

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