Léonce Fabre des Essarts - Tau Synésius
This biographical article is adapted and translated from that by Bernard Desmar published in February, 2015 on the Website: Association d’Études fouréristes et des Cahiers de Charles Fourier (charlesfourier.fr). Translation and additional notes by Rev. Mathieu Ravignat, 2022.
Early Life, Schooling and Marriage
Born Eugène-Joseph-Léonce Fabre des Essarts in Aouste (Drôme) on March 19, 1848, Fabre des Essarts descended from an old and well-known monarchist-legitimist[i] family in the Drôme. His father was a tax collector and his uncle was Vicar General (from 1825 to 1844) then Bishop (from 1844 to 1850) of the diocese of Blois.
He studied at the seminary of Autun, then at the college of Pontleroy (Loir-et-Cher) and entered the teaching profession at the age of 18. In 1865 he was a grammar teacher at the college of Avallon (Yonne), then a tutor in Lyon in 1870, and then a teacher of philosophy at the free college of Forcalquier (from 1872). In 1874 he married Casella, the daughter of a music teacher and niece of the composer Louis Lacombe. The couple had a son, who died in 1893. In 1876, Fabre des Essarts taught at the college of Montélimar (Drôme), before directing the professional school of Nice (Alpes-Maritimes) in 1878. After an impressive career in teaching, he left the profession to enter the Ministry of Public Instruction.
Alongside his activities as a teacher and civil servant, he composed poems for periodicals such as the Revue des jeunes poètes, and then published several of his own very well received collections of poetry (including: Yseult, 1874; Humanité, 1885; La chanson des couleurs, 1889). The quality of his poetical works earned him awards from the Floralie de Toulouse (e.g., in the 1876 in the young poets’ category) and entry into several literary academies. He was admitted to the Society of Letters, Sciences and Arts of the Alpes-Maritimes, the Nouvelle Gaule and the Courte-Échelle and even corresponded with Victor Hugo who was considered at that time as France’s leading poet. Fabre des Essarts also wrote many literary and artistic reviews in various newspapers (e.g., in La Presse, L'Opinion, Le Petit Marseillais, L'Art Dramatique, Le Feu Foulet, La Sylphide, etc.).
During the 1880s, Fabre des Essarts gained a certain amount of fame, and took part in a large number of public ceremonies and tributes to writers and historical figures and during the inauguration of buildings: among others, he read an Ode to Rouget de Lisle for the inauguration of the Conference Room, in Paris, in 1882. Two years later, he recited a few verses during the inauguration of the monument to Alexandre Dumas. He also recited a poem in 1898 at the tomb of Michelet for the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the historian, and in 1903, at the tomb of Quinet, during which he was joined by the highly respected Daniel Halévy and Alphonse Aulard . In 1907, he also publicly read a sonnet on the occasion of the anniversary of the birth of Victor Hugo.
Fabre des Essarts was a passionate devotee of the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and was also involved in a number of commemorative events surrounding the philosopher`s life. In 1912, on the occasion of the bicentenary of the birth of Rousseau, he wrote articles for several magazines and particularly for the Le Savoyard de Paris, and recited several stanzas for a ceremony organized in Ermenonville dedicated to the philosopher’s life. He also lectured on Rousseau the Musician and participated in the publication of a collaborative work: Jean-Jacques Rousseau Judged by the French of Today, with a contribution On the Socialism of Rousseau from which, according to him, Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Proudhon and Cabet got their inspiration.
In 1901, he obtained what might be his highest literary award the “Academic Palms of an Officer of Public Instruction.”
It is unknown when Fabre des Essarts’ interest in esotericism first began, but he joined Freemasonry in the 1880s and in the year 1880 was already writing for several occultist and spiritualist publications (e.g., in La Religion universelle, La Revue des Hautes Études) and continued to do so in the following decades (e.g., in Spiritualisme Moderne, l’Initiation, Réveil Albigeoise and Gnose).
In 1890 he was present at the creation of the Gnostic Church of France with Jules Doinel and was one of Doinel’s first consecrated bishops (of Bordeaux) under the name of Tau Synésius. When Doinel retired in 1896, he was named by Doinel and the Holy Synod as the second Patriarch of the Gnostic Church.
As a Gnostic and Patriarch, he was an active promotor of the Church and wrote many articles in the publications mentioned above, as well as the following major works:
Les Hiérophantes, études sur les fondateurs de religions depuis la Révolution jusqu'à ce jour. 1re série, Fouché, Chaumette, Chantreau et le culte de la Raison ; Robespierre et l'Être suprême ; J.-B. Chemin, Valentin Haüy et les théophilanthropes..., Paris: Chacornac, 1905.
Le Christ sauveur, drame gnostique en 3 journées, Paris: Bibliothèque Chacornac, 1907.
Les enseignements secrets de la gnose, with Simon [Albert de Pouvourville] et Théophane [Léon Champrenaud] Matgioï ; Paris: R. Dumas, ????.
Along with Louis-Sophrone Fugairon (Tau Sophronius), he edited and wrote many parts for the Catéchisme Expliqué de l’Église gnostique published in 1899 and the Ceremonials and Rituals of the Church (ca., 1902-1917).
Esoteric Political Activism
In the middle of the 1880s Fabre des Essarts began his political activism based on the esoteric ideas of Saint-Yves d’Alveydre (1842-1909) with which he corresponded. As an esotericist Saint-Yves d'Alveydre believed that, in order to overcome the economic, social and institutional crises of the time, it was necessary to overhaul the republican political system by reorganizing it around several councils made up of competent elites cooperating in a universal harmony. In 1885, in order to support the cause of Synarchy, Fabre des Essarts, edited a collection of pamphlets entitled the Little Synarchic Library, in which he personally wrote: La Force, Le Droit et les Trois chambres.
From 1886 to 1888, Fabre des Essarts was also the private secretary of the Member of the National Assembly, a certain Louis Andrieux (1840-1931), a Republican from the party’s radical wing who was in favour of major constitutional reform. However, during his time as secretary, a controversy occurred and another Member of the National Assembly, Numa Gilly, accused the members of the budget committee (including Andrieux) of corruption. Fabre des Essarts published a critical book on this situation entitled: The Underbelly of the Gilly-Andrieux Case and following this publication, Andrieux removed him as his secretary.
Shortly after this, and for the same reasons, he was dismissed from his post as a civil servant at the Ministry of Public Instruction; for having, according to him, shouted a little too loudly: Down with the thieves.[ii]
A principled whistle-blower, he fought back and, in a letter published in several newspapers, he denounced the role of Lockroy (the then Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts) in the corruption.[iii] Because of this, he began to experience financial problems and was not allowed to return to his post at the Ministry of Public Instruction until 1898.
In 1889, he Fabre des Essarts ran as a Socialist-Republican candidate in the legislative elections for the department of Var, before withdrawing in favor of Cluseret, who was a former Communard[iv] and who was elected due in part of Fabre des Essarts’ support.
Fabre des Essarts was also active in the early peace movement, including the Society for Peace through Education (centered in Nîmes) and also participated in the Peace Congress in 1889 and contributed a poem to its Almanach de la Paix for 1889.
In the 1890s and 1900s, Fabre des Essarts turned away from Synarchism and became increasingly active in the movement founded on the basis of the complex Christian-Hermetic Socialist thought of Charles Fourier. Fourier believed that it was important to reform society into a federation of autonomous model communities (called phalanstères) composed of individuals living in partly industrial and partly agricultural communities and in which the passions of each individual, determined at their birth by the stars, were combined in a universal harmony.
This interest in Fourier’s thought was already present as early as 1894 when he is reported to have said:
I drank for a long time from the enchanting cup of Fourier and Considérant [...] and believed with them that it was possible to make harmony reign within the human group (society).[v]
In the early 1880s, Fabre des Essarts met Charles Fourier’s disciple Victor Considérant who received him at his home and of which he wrote:
I spoke to him about the possibility of forming a corporate group. He was charmed to find that there was still a little faith among young people…we talked for a long time about the destiny of Humanity and this beautiful dream of universal happiness.[vi]
After this initial meeting, he continued to see Considérant, and in 1893, gave a speech at his funeral in which he exposed the phalansterian ideas of the deceased.
For a short time, Fabre des Essarts, was also the secretary of another Fourierist, the respected architect César Daly, with whom he worked on a great work:
…of (architectural) art, which was to be, at the same time, a magnificent social synthesis while showing how architecture, which is itself the synthesis of all the arts, has evolved harmoniously towards the Ideal, reflecting the civilizations of the past, telling of the struggles and the sufferings of the people, and affirming its eternal aspiration towards progress.[vii]
Fabre des Essarts actively participated in Fourierist events for most of his life after the 1890s. In 1897, for example, he pronounced a poem at a banquet bringing together some phalansterians around Destrem and from 1892 to 1914 he was regularly present at the League of Social Progress and the Societal School’s events, held on the anniversary of Fourier's birth, as well as their visits to the tomb of the Master and banquets in his honor. In 1899, he also attended the inauguration of the statue of Fourier, for which he wrote his now acclaimed Ode to Fourier. He also took part in other Fourierist celebrations, either by being present or by reading a poem of his own composition, or, when he was unavailable, by sending a message and a few verses read by one of the attendees.
When, after the death of Destrem, a schism occurred in the Fourierist movement, Fabre des Essarts, most often attended the events of the group organized by Alhaiza, the director of the publication La Rénovation but he also participated in the groups of the Union phalanstérienne and the École Sociétaire Expérimentale. However, he was not anti-Dreyfusard like Alhaiza and was an admirer of the positions taken by Émile Zola during the Dreyfus affair[viii] and participated in the public tribute paid to Zola in June 1901.
Fabre des Essarts' faith in the forthcoming advent of Fourierist Harmonious Society seemed to waver in the late 1890s, at least when he expressed himself outside of Fourierist circles. In 1896 he wrote to the newspaper L'Humanité Intégrale:
I was in my time, like others, a fanatic of the good Fourier. Madly, I believed in the possible realization of a Material Harmony. It was my old friend Considérant himself who cured me of my chimera, by calling my attention to the universal-devouring (tendency) between men. Gnosis finally opened my eyes...But if the world of matter escapes us, that of the Spirit belongs to us. Harmony! We can create it in the universe of thought.[ix]
In 1903, in a poem published in La Sylphide, he also publicly wondered whether: “Plato and Fourier only dreamed a beautiful dream”.[x]
Disappointed by Fourierist promises, even if, as we have seen, he continued to attend their events, Fabre des Essarts affirmed in various occultist publications that he had come to prefer Gnosticism:
…even if human genius managed to straighten the axis of the globe and to make this eternal dawn shine, as sung by Fourier, will he be able to impose his law of universal fraternity on the stars drunk with their hatred towards the suns (and) thirsty for cataclysms? Fortunately, there is another world, a truly harmonious, logically ordered, august, glorious and sacred world. [...] This is the domain of Gnosis, it is the immaterial Cosmos of absolute science...[xi]
In 1907-1908 the Gnostic Church experienced its first schism, when Jean Bricaud, appointed bishop of the diocese of Lyon-Grenoble a few years earlier by Fabre des Essarts, founded his own more catholic Universal Gnostic Church. However, Fabre des Essarts did not abandon Gnosticism and continued to direct his Church (the Gnostic Church of France), and continued to publish many esoteric themed works.
At the beginning of the 20th century, he was also still writing poetry in several newspapers, including the Nouvelle Revue and during the war, as a pacifist, he published several articles criticizing militarism and denouncing “German crimes”, in which he saw “a case of collective mental teratology” affecting the Germanic people.[xii]
Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see an end to the war to end all wars, and died in 1917 at Versailles, where he had been living for several years.
[i] Légitimisme is one of the two major monarchist political movements in France. It is the branch which supports the senior male line of the Bourbons, which renounced their claim to the throne of France for that of Spain in the 17th century and then in favour of the cadet Orléans branch in the 19th century. It is characterized by a strong social-conservatism and very traditional Roman Catholic based ideology. The other major monarchist movement is that of Orléanisme, which is a more liberal and constitutional form of monarchism. The last King of the French was of the Orléans family and Orléanisme enjoyed the support of many Freemasons and esotericists at the time.
[ii] Le Temps, December 9, 1888.
[iii] Such as in La Presse, August 26, 1889.
[iv] A Communard was a veteran of the first socialist government in Europe, the Paris Commune of 1870. Because this municipal government was violently crushed by the army, veterans who survived it gained a kind of mythic status in certain political circles.
[v] Ce monde et l’autre, in L’Initiation, December, 1894.
[vi] Fabre des Essarts, Victor Considerant - Notes intimes, in La Méditerranée, January 15, 1894.
[vii] Fabre des Essarts, Notes intimes sur César Daly, in La Rénovation, November 30, 1899.
[viii] The Dreyfus affair was a complex political and juridical scandal of an anti-Semitic nature in 19th century France. Dreyfus was a jew who was considered wrongly accused by many because of his religion and ethnic background, including by the famous novelist Émile Zola. An anti-Dreyfusard, therefore, is a person who was actively against Dreyfus and often, but not always, anti-Semitic. Fabre des Essarts, in supporting Émile Zola, agreed that Dreyfus was wrongly accused.
[ix] L’Humanité intégrale, December, 1897, p. 219-220.
[x] La lutte pour la vie, in La Sylphide reproduced in Revue littéraire, 1903, p. 291-292.
[xi] Ce monde et l’autre, in L’Initiation, December, 1894.
[xii] Les crimes allemands et notre indulgence, in Nouvelle Revue, July-August, 1915 and Horror, in Nouvelle Revue, November-December, 1915.