1902 Encyclopedia > France > French History (Historical Writing) since 1830

(Part 73)


History (Historical Writing) since 1830

The remarkable development of historical studies which we have noticed as taking place under the Restoration was accelerated and intensified in the reigns of Charles C. and Louis Philippe. Both the scope and the method of the historian underwent a sensible alteration. For something like 150 years historians had been divided into two classes, those produced elegant literary works pleasant to read, and those who produced works of laborious erudition, but not even intended for general perusal. The Vertots and Voltaires were on one side, the Mabillons and Tillemonts on another. Now, although the duty of a French historian to produce works of literary merit was not forgotten, it was recognized as part of that duty to consult original documents and impart original observation. At the same tome, to the merely political events which had formerly been recognized as forming the historian’s province were added the social and literary phenomena which had long been more or less neglected. Old chronicles and histories were re-read and re-edited; innumerable monographs on special subjects and periods were produced, and these latter were of immense service to romance writers at the time of the popularity of the historical novel. Not a few of the works, for instance, which were signed by Alexandre Dumas consists mainly of extracts or condensations from old chronicles, or modern monographs ingeniously united by dialogue and varnished with a little description. History, however, had not to wait for this second-hand popularity, and its cultivators had fully sufficient literary talent to maintain its dignity. Sismondi, whom we have already noticed, continued during this period his great Histoire des Français, and produced his even better known Histoire des Republiques Italiennes au Moyen Age. The brothers Thierry devoted themselves to early French history, Amédée Thierry (1787-1873) producing a Histoire des Gaulois and other works concerning the Roman period, and Augustin Thierry (1795-1856) the well-known history of the Norman Conquest, the equally attractive R ècits des Temps Mérovingiens, and other excellent works. Philippe de Ségur (1780-1875) gave a history of the Russian campaign of Napoleon, and some other works chiefly dealing with Russian history. The voluminous Histoire de France of Henri Martin (b. 1810) is perhaps the best and most impartial work dealing in detail with the whole subject. De Barante. After beginning with literary criticism, turned to history, and in his Histoire des Ducs de Bourgogne produced a work of capital importance. As was to be expected, many of the most brilliant results of this devotion to historical subjects consisted of works dealing with the French Revolution. No series of historical events has ever perhaps received treatment at the same time from some many different points of view, and by writers of such varied literary excellence, among whom it must, however, be said that the purely royalists side is hardly at all represented. One of the earliest of these histories is that of Mignet (b. 1796), a sober and judicious historian of the older school. About the same time was begun the brilliant work of M. Thiers (1797-1877) on the Revolution, which established the literary reputation of the future president of the French republic, and was at a later period completed by the Histoire de Consulat et de l’Empire. The downfall of the July monarchy and the early years of the empire witnessed the publication of several works of the first importance of this subject. De Barante contributed histories of the Convention and the Directory, but the three books of greatest note were those of Lamartine, Michelet (1798-1873), and Louis Blanc (b. 1813). Lamartine’s Histoire des Girondins is written from the constitutional republican point of view, and is sometimes considered to have had much influence in producing the events of 1848. It is, perhaps, rather the work of an orator and poet than of a historian. The work of Michelet is of a more original character. Besides his history of the Revolution, Michelet which wrote an extended history of France, and a very large number of smaller works on historical, political, and social subjects. His imaginative powers are of the highest order, and his style stands alone in French for its strangely broken and picturesque character, its turbid abundance of striking images, and its somewhat sombre magnificence, qualities which, as may easily be supposed, found of Louis Blanc is that of a sincere but ardent republican, and is useful from this point of view, but possesses no extraordinary literary merit. The principal contributions to the history of the Revolution during the last twenty years are those of Quinet, Lanfrey, and Taine. Edgar Quinet (1803-1875), like Louis Blanc a devotee of the Republican and an exile for its sake, brought to this one of his latest works a mind and pen long trained to literary and historical studies; but La Révolution is not considered his beats work. P. Lanfrey devoted himself with extraordinary patience and acuteness to the destruction of the Napoleonic legends, and the setting of the character of Napoleon I. in a new, authentic, and very far from favourable light. Quite recently M. Taine, after distinguishing himself, as we have mentioned in literary criticism (Histoire de la Littérature Anglaise), and attaining less success in philosophy (De l’Intelligence), has begun an elaborate discussion of the Revolution, its causes, character, and consequence, which has excited some commotion among the more ardent devotes of the principles of ’89. To return from this group, we must notice Michaud (1767-1839), the historian of the crusades, and Guizot (1787-1876), who like his rival Thiers, devoted himself much to historical study. His earliest works were literary and linguistic, but he soon turned to political history, and for the last half-century of his long life his contributions to historical literature were almost incessant and of the most various character. The most important are the histories Des Origines du Gouvernement Représentatif, De la Révolution d’Angleterre, De la Civilisation en France, and latterly a Histoire de France, which he was writing at the time of his death. Among minor historians of the century may be mentioned Duvergier de Haurrane (Gouvernement Parlementaire en France), Mignet (Histoire de Marie Stuart), Ampére (Histoire Romaine à Rome(, a Beugnot (Destruction du Paganisme d’Occident), Haussonville (La Réunion de la Lorraine à la France), Vaulabelle (Les Deux Restaurations.)

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