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Ernest Hello

French philosopher and essayist, b. at Lorient, Brittany, Nov. 4, 1828; d. at Keroman, near Lorient, July 14, 1885

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Hello, ERNEST, French philosopher and essayist, b. at Lorient, Brittany, November 4, 1828; d. at Keroman, near Lorient, July 14, 1885. His father belonged to the French judiciary and was at the time of his death councilor at the Court of Cassation in Paris. He bequeathed to his son, besides a share in the little ancestral patrimony, Keroman, an honorable game and an invincible veneration and love for the truth. Ernest Hello was from infancy extremely frail of physique, and this delicacy of health, pursuing him through life, was a great obstacle in his labors and undoubtedly the source of the tinge of melancholy which underlies his writings. From his earliest years Hello manifested unusual power of intellect. At school at Rennes and later at the College Louis-le-Grand, in Paris, whence he graduated at the age of fifteen, he was first in his classes. In accordance with his father’s wishes he read law, and was admitted after the most brilliant examinations, but refused to embrace the profession because of a decision of his comrades to the effect that a lawyer might not in conscience defend an unjust cause. Influenced by his admiration for Gratry and Lacordaire, he was attracted to theology and was instructed in this science by Abbe afterwards Bishop Baudry, then a professor at St-Sulpice. The thorough knowledge of principles which Hello thus acquired enabled him later to use his own powers of perception with perfect freedom and orthodoxy. In 1857 he married Zoe Berthier, daughter of an army officer and herself a writer of some ability. In the same year in conjunction with Georges Seigneur, he founded “Le Croise”, a daily paper devoted to the Catholic cause. Among his collaborators were Leon Gautier, Louis Veuillot, Pere Ventura, Dubosq de Pesquidoux, Oscar Haward, and Numa Boudet. The success of the journal was almost immediate, but after two years it was abandoned, owing to some disagreement between the two founders. This was the great disappointment of Hello’s life. Thereafter he wrote for the press at large in France, Belgium, and even the United States, “Le Propagateur” of New Orleans receiving some of his contributions.

Hello’s first book, “Renan, l’Allemagne et l’Atheisme” (1858), was a refutation of Renan, who had just published his “Etudes d’histoire religieuse”. The book was received with acclaim and recognized as accomplishing the defeat of the famous apostate, but, yielding to the temper of the times, Frenchmen continued to read Renan and soon forgot Hello. An enlarged edition of this work under the title “Philosophie et atheisme” appeared shortly after the author’s death. It is, perhaps, the greatest of his works, exhibiting the full powers of his great mind, his remarkable grasp of basic truths, his perfect control of the instruments of philosophy and his own striking style. Hello made masterly translations of the writings of Bl. Angela of Foligno and of the mystic Ruysbroeck. Besides these his published works are: “L’Homme”, “Physionomies des saints”, “Contes extraordinaires”, “Paroles de Dieu”, “Plateaux de la balance”, and “Le Siecle” “L’Homme” is looked upon by his critics as his chief work. It is a collection of essays arranged under the three heads, life, science, art, and united by the Catholic standpoint of their author and their bearing upon the different departments of human activity. Since his death his works have passed through several editions, the seventh edition of “L’Homme” appearing in 1905. Disdaining the spirit of compromise characteristic of his times Hello rejected the method inaugurated by Descartes and generally adopted in the systems of that day, making use, instead, of the principles of theology and philosophy as found in Scripture. His clear perception of fundamental principles joined to his simple, lofty style won for him a small but intelligent and appreciative audience through whom his influence has spread. The “Physionomies des saints” has been translated into English under the title “Studies in Saintship” (London, 1903). Translations of some of the essays in “Plateaux de la balance” appeared some years ago in “The Catholic Review” (St. Louis), but the individuality of his style defies successful translation.


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