Issue 2007, number 31-32: summaries
La traduction en anglais des résumés publiés dans le numéro double 31-32 a été assurée par le professeur Dennis Wood.
Bertrand Binoche (Université de Paris I)
«Litterature, national spirit and perfectibility»
In De la littérature Mme de Staël is pursuing two quite different objectives. The first is to give an account of what it is about literature that the competing explanatory models of Montesquieu (the general spirit of the nation) and Condorcet (indefinite perfectibility) had left unexplained. The second is set down a programme for a new kind of literature which might at last stabilize public opinion and bring the Revolution to an end. But in pursuing these two goals it became necessary for her to redefine the general spirit of the nation, indefinite perfectibility and literature. This is why Mme de Staël did less to reconcile the models which lay to hand than to undermine them, and why she is much more a writer than she is an Ideologue. For she develops an original, unstable and productive analytical tool which her subsequent writings can be read as stubbornly testing out by the rival means of fiction and rational argument.
Jacques-Olivier Boudon (Université de Paris IV)
«The teaching of history in the Napoleonic age»
For many years we have lived with the notion which originated with Guizot – himself a professor of history at the Sorbonne at the end of the Empire – that the teaching of history was neglected under the Consulate and Empire. In reality history was taught, notably in the colleges and lycées set up under the Law of 11 Floréal Year X (1 May 1802), as well as in university faculties. By studying the syllabuses, we can gauge what kind of history was preferred by the Napoleonic régime. Ancient history did particularly well out of the arrangement, and this leads us to enquire about Napoleon’s own relationship with the past and the use he saw for history in building the imperial monarchy.
Nanette Le Coat (Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas)
«The institutionalization of history at the Ecole Normale: Volney’s Leçons d’histoire»
In the Year III of the Republic, the Committee of Public Instruction was charged with creating a teachers’ training school. The Committee members took their charge very seriously for they were convinced that such a school was essential for furthering the goal of making public education available to all French citizens. They were also persuaded that the primary methodology for training this cadre of teachers should be the analysis of sensations and ideas. This approach would not only provide insight into all the sciences, it would become an indispensable instrument for the promotion of democracy because in broadening public understanding of various fields it would destroy intellectual inequality.
The Ecole normale’s pedagogical program was thus “ideological” in two senses: in its teaching methodology it adopted the epistemological approach favored by the Idéologues; in its goals for a social outcome it espoused their liberal political ideology. Volney’s history course ultimately revealed the fault line between the Ecole normale’s theory and practice, between its methodology and its social goals. What Volney offered in his six lessons was not so much a history course as a penetrating exposé of the critical principles that should guide a new scientific approach to history. He demonstrated that if the goal was to provide young teachers and students with the secular moral outlook that would make them better citizens, traditional history was singularly ill adapted to the task. A systematic and scientific study of history could, on the other hand, offer great insight to legislators who sought to develop enlightened political institutions. Volney’s new vision of history was thus directed more towards an intellectual and political elite than towards the young teachers the school was designed to train.
Regina Pozzi (Università di Pisa)
«The Idéologues and the scientific grounding of history. Daunou and the Cours d’études historiques»
A quarter of a century after Volney’s Leçons d’histoire, the Cours d’études historiques, a series of lectures given by the former Idéologue Daunou at the Collège de France from 1819 to 1830, offers a vast summa of the Idéologues’ theories of history, and one which is curiously outdated. For Daunou, history, while retaining the civic and pedagogical ambitions it had inherited from the Revolution, was about to become an «experimental» science, just as Volney had envisaged it becoming on the basis of sensualist epistemology. Untouched by the new currents of Romanticism, the Cours proposed a «positivistic» scientific model close to that of the young Auguste Comte, whose debt to the Idéologues is well known. The rules which Daunou laid down for criticizing evidence and for establishing facts even anticipate the Introduction aux études historiques of Langlois and Seignobos. It is for this reason that this twenty-volume work bears valuable witness to an important turning point in the history of ideas and of historiography.
Léonard Burnand (Université de Lausanne)
«Necker historian of the French Revolution»
If most students of history are aware that Jacques Necker played an important role in the French Revolution, far fewer know that he was also its historian and interpreter. Although he is famous for the part he played during this dramatic period, Louis XVI’s minister is less known as a commentator on the events which were to shake France from 1789 onwards. In his later works Necker set out to write a genuine history of the Revolution, giving his readers a detailed account of the principal events which took place between the calling of the Estates-General and the fall of Robespierre. It is this unexplored area of the writings of Mme de Staël’s father that is examined in this article. We will observe how the Genevan was chronicling a phenomenon whose early signs and opening phase he had been able to follow very closely. This will enable us to show that for Necker writing history often goes hand in hand with self-justification.
Stéphane Zékian (Université de Paris IV)
«Using ideas: perfectibility and progress in Cabanis’s writings»
The many pages in which Cabanis defends the notion of human perfectibility in history reveal a strong tension between quiet confidence in a firmly established fact and the recurrent fear that this notion might yet be disproved. It is a threat that will not go away. As he swings from optimism to pessimism, his philosophy of history appears contradictory. We will examine this contradiction here. In a practical history of ideas this is not a theoretical shortcoming, nor is it the simple and harmless dressing up of a vague idea of human perfectibility which has just emerged from the philosopher’s workshop. It is in fact the principal driving force of Cabanis’s work and lends it effectiveness.
Damien Zanone (Université Stendhal Grenoble 3)
«The torment of writing contemporary history during the Restoration: historians, writers of memoirs and Benjamin Constant»
Contemporary history – that is the history of the French Revolution – seemed both essential and impossible to write under the Empire and during the Restoration. This is the epistemological torment which the historians of the period constantly endured, alongside its thinkers and politicians. Contemporary history appeared at the theoretical level to lead only to intellectual aporia, while at the political and moral level there was an urgent practical need for it. As a result of this agonizing, a profound change took place during the 1820s in the way writing history was conceived, and two genres – historical writing and the writing of memoirs – were reshaped. This article assesses the torment which writers of the time underwent by examining three kinds of text: the work of historians trying to give an account of contemporary history (René-Jean Durdent, Charles Lacretelle); writers of historical memoirs who – as soon as possible after 1815 when censorship was abolished – rushed in to fill the gap left by historians and to meet the overwhelming need for historical narratives about contemporary history; and finally, emblematic and in a category of their own, there are the Mémoires sur les Cents-Jours [Memoirs on the Hundred Days] of Benjamin Constant.
Maria Pia Casalena (Università di Bologna)
«From eulogy to Romantic biography: the contribution of the Coppet Circle»
The beginning of the nineteenth century saw a new era in the writing of biography. «The science of man» which grew out of psychology and anthropology, Pre-Romanticism followed by Romanticism, a re-evalution of the resources available to writers of fiction, and the national perspective, all of these affected the very notion of the life of the individual and the way it could be represented at different historical periods. The conventional formality of the eulogy gave way to new ways of studying «character» and to dynamic representations of a life.
In their biographical writings Mme de Staël, Sismondi and Prosper de Barante not only reworked views of history that were current between the French Revolution and the Empire, but also what was generally believed about literature’s obligations towards society. These writers’ personal experience was very important in this regard. The study of biographical writing from Mme de Staël’s Rousseau to Barante’s Ducs de Bourgogne, including contributions to the Biographie Michaud, throws new light on the painful transition from the «old» to the «new».
Helena Rosenblatt (City University of New York)
«Madame de Staël, la Réforme protestante, et l’histoire de la notion de ‘jugement privé’ ou ‘individuel’»
L’admiration et la préférence de Mme de Staël pour le protestantisme sont choses connues de longue date. Ce n’est que récemment que l’importance qu’elle a accordée à la notion de ‘jugement privé’ a été également mise en lumière. L’article analyse le fait que la Réforme et le concept de ‘jugement privé’ sont en réalité étroitement interdépendants dans la pensée staëlienne et que cette notion a une longue histoire dans les polémiques religieuses françaises. L’une des causes de l’attirance de Mme de Staël pour le protestantisme tient à la conviction que celui-ci est en mesure de favoriser l’épanouissement du ‘jugement individuel’ et par conséquent d’encourager le développement des citoyens conscients et responsables dont a besoin toute politique libérale.
Michel Porret (Université de Genève)
«The “onward march of the human spirit”: Prosper de Barante, testing literature through history»
In about 1800 European intellectuals viewed the Enlightenment in the perspective of the French Revolution. The question of the moral responsibility of the philosophes for the events of the Revolution (notably the Terror) haunted their conscience. Some – following the example of Barruel who was hostile to the egalitarian and atheistic principles of 1789 even before Joseph de Maistre – blamed the philosophy of the Enlightenment for having destroyed ‘religious principles’ and those of the monarchy. Others rejected the notion that the Enlightenment had been responsible for bringing about the downfall of the Ancien Régime. In this polemical context, which was fuelled by that of liberalism under the Empire, the debate on the significance of the Enlightenment sometimes took the form of a «literary tableau of France in the eighteenth century», offering a balanced assessment of the age of Voltaire. Begun in June 1806 under the aegis of the Institut National (as the result of a competition), completed in December 1807, published anonymously in December 1808 (dated 1809), published again at least eight times up to 1856, Prosper de Barante's De la littérature française pendant le dix-huitième siècle brought him fame as a liberal historian and advocate of ‘local colour’. Influenced by the liberalism of Jean-Joseph Mounier, Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant, continuing the ‘philosophical history’ of Voltaire despite a distrust of abstraction and ideology, not so much a work of scholarship as one of synthesis, the book is part of the ‘birth of the literary history’. It rejects the idea that the philosophes bore moral responsibility for the Revolution. The Age of Enlightenment remains that of the ‘onward march of the civilization’ in a cultural continuum with the age of Louis XIV, as continual progress in the arts and literature shows. Using the contrasting achievements of the eighteenth century, Barante writes a non-teleological cultural history of politics in order to exonerate the Enlightenment from what was to happen later during the Revolution.
Geneviève Lafrance (Université de Paris IV – Université de Montréal)
«Corinne’s “innocente ruse”? History and the strategy of forgetfulness in Mme de Staël’s Corinne»
The “journey through the centuries” on which Corinne takes her lover is one of the “innocent ruses” that she employs to make Oswald forget his father and his homeland. This remarkable strategy – using history to induce forgetfulness – would be less paradoxical if the contemplation of ruins were akin to accepting loss. But the eloquence and imagination which the heroine demonstrates amid the remains of Ancient Rome, like Oswald’s later reflections at Pompeii, tend only to revive a lost presence. To recall the important events in Italian history very often leads to remembering famous people – something through which, in the long run, the poetess will only find herself condemned. Mme de Staël is showing through the failure of Corinne’s ruse how important and how difficult it is to forget, especially in the age the novelist was living in. For those few years of the past which Corinne is vainly seeking to erase, like the ones which are an obsession for her lover, are linked for both characters to the abandonment of a father, and this novel, published in 1807, comes close to raising the delicate question of how the memory of the French Revolution is to be handled.
Aurelio Principato (Università di Milano)
«Classical Antiquity and the French Revolution: comparative readings of Germaine de Staël and Chateaubriand»
During the period when De la littérature was published, Classical Antiquity was coming under intense scrutiny. Having served as a steady point of reference during the Revolution, it now became a privileged perspective from which to view the possible outcome of the political crisis. It is from this standpoint too that Chateaubriand attacks Germaine de Staël’s work and the notion of human perfectibility, transforming the vision of ancient history which he had adopted for his Essai sur les révolutions. What we have learned while editing Chateaubriand’s essay has enabled us to compare the ways in which, at the beginning of the new century, the two writers were using Classical sources, in particular their choice of examples, such as stereotypes drawn from Plutarch and their reading of the Abbé Barthélémy’s Voyage d’Anacharsis, which Germaine de Staël had enjoyed in her youth.
Michel Brix (Université de Namur)
«The Considérations sur la Révolution française and the philosophy of history»
In Mme de Staël’s view the consequences of the French Revolution – the end of aristocratic privilege and of arbitrary rule by a king, as well as the advent of a constitutional monarchy on the English model – were inevitable, and were «centuries in the making». In the light of this, her Considérations sur la Révolution française can be linked to a particuarly fertile tradition in Western thought, the notion that history has a meaning and a direction and that – to draw inspiration from a phrase used by the writer herself at the beginning of her book – great historical changes never occur by accident. This article traces the intellectual origins of this concept of history as a chain of events that are «foreseeable», from St Augustine to the German philosophers and to the French advocates of the idea of «perfectibility» at the end of the eighteenth century.
Gérard Gengembre (Université de Caen) &
Jean Goldzink (Institut d’Etudes politiques, Paris)
«Historical causalities and writing of history in the Considérations sur la Révolution française»
In her Considérations sur la Révolution française, Mme de Staël undertakes a philosophical examination of the French Revolution: was it possible and how – to prevent what happened in 1789? She refutes any fatalistic or reactionary interpretation. While defining the main causes, of which nine are underlined in this paper, she praises the figure of Necker, who could have been instrumental in the quiet advent of a necessary revolution. Another major point of her work is to understand how and why Bonaparte took charge, and to study his influence in the shaping of history, along with his devious manner of ruling. How should history be written after the Revolution? In order to take up this challenge, Mme de Staël initiates a new course and combines several genres, such as a narrative discourse, memoirs, analysis and meditation on politics. The interplay of these forms, through the numerous connections, points of view and linkings between causes and effects, gives its sense to history.
Stéphanie Tribouillard (Université de Caen)
«The Considérations sur la Révolution française and liberal histories of the Revolution in the early nineteenth century»
Although in 1818 most liberals were won over by the historical vision of Mme de Staël’s Considérations sur la Révolution française and she was hailed as the «new Tacitus», her continuing belief in a moderate Revolution displeased some «independent liberals». In his Examen critique, Bailleul denied Mme de Staël the status of a historian, accused her of being too lukewarm and took issue with her on the role of the French aristocracy, whom he believed had brought about a hardening of attitudes during the Revolution. Without approving of the Terror, he considered that it had been inevitable in the circumstances. Following Bailleul’s lead, Mignet and Thiers saw the Terror as wholly justifiable. In the eyes of nineteenthcentury readers and historians – including those like Michelet and Quinet who could see no excuse for what had happened in 1793 – Mme de Staël’s effacing of the Terror was seen as contrary to the requirements of historical truth. Moreover, as social history progressed, the absence of any link between ideology and the relations of production rapidly made the Considérations appear to some extent out of date. A number of Bailleul’s ideas, which were developed by Thiers and Mignet, still influenced leftwing historians in the twentieth century, in particular the Marxist interpretation of the French Revolution, which nowadays is open for debate and located within the evolution of ideology. Restoring the balance of the social and the political has made Mme de Staël’s book once again worthy of our interest.
Giovanni Paoletti (Università di Pisa)
«Benjamin Constant at work as a historian: "Aperçus sur la marche et les revolutions de la philosophie à Rome" (1829)»
Constant’s work is characterized by a close link between theory and history. However this link involves a number of insoluble internal contradictions. In Constant we find on the one hand a general conception of historical evolution based on the impossibility of halting mankind’s progress in self-improvement. But on the other hand specific historical research reveals that retrograde events, such as the loss of liberty or the institutionalizing of inequality, occur frequently and are indeed normal. By analysing Aperçus sur la marche et les révolutions de la philosophie à Rome [A General Survey of the Progress of and Changes in Roman Philosophy] we can illustrate this with a concrete example. By comparing the different stages in drafting the work and by studying the sources on which Constant draws we can see a number of «hidden» aspects of his way of writing history. Such an approach brings out clearly the uniqueness of Constant’s view of history: the movement back and forth between history and theory which is so typical of his mode of thought owes its richness to a complex and problematic view of historical laws and causality.
Eijiro Ohno (University Ferris, Yokohama, Japan)
«Benjamin Constant and immobility of China»
The image, which Constant conveys of China, can be captured in one word: immobility. Still, the necessity of human species' progress is beyond any doubt for him. But do these two notions of inevitable progress and of Chinese motionlessness not flatly contradict each other? From the beginning of missionary work in China at the end of the 16th century, the Jesuits mention the low level of technology and science in China in spite of the Empire's fabulous antiquity. Furthermore, quite a few laymen note the vices of Chinese civilization, backing up their views by referring to the socio-political changes in their own countries. These critical aspects of China are introduced into the notion of progress all along the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes: the vision of historical progress incriminates China's immobility. This idea of Chinese particularity is subsequently integrated into the conception of universal history. Constant's approach obviously meets this genealogy of ideas of progressivism, implying a negative assessment with regard to China.
Emeric Travers (Université de Toulouse)
«The status of the historical example in Constant’s political thought»
Since Constant maintains that there is a continuity between political theory and political practice and since he refuses to see any gap between political facts and the thought which gives an account of them, he is obliged to adopt an inductive approach. This logical form of political theorizing means that he considers any law allowing us to understand social phenomena as being the result of generalization based on historical circumstances. Such an approach assigns a particular role and status to the historical example. Examples drawn from history cannot therefore be reduced merely to ways of illustrating theoretical propositions formulated a priori by the activity of the mind, but are the beginning and end of Constant’s political theorizing. Historical examples need to be made intelligible, that is, to be covered by a law which is itself based on a certain number of similar examples which justify general conclusions, and these historical examples will then demonstrate the validity of that law. The status of the historical example thus offers a key to Constant’s political epistemology. It is an epistemology which goes hand in hand with Constant’s affirmation of man’s social nature and is at the very basis of his liberalism.
Alexandre Escudier (Centre de Recherches Politiques de Sciences Po, Paris)
«The divided consciousness of the Modernes: perfectibility, aesthetic education, theodicy»
B. Constant, F. Schiller and F. Schlegel were contemporaries who had met on occasion. Each writer developed an authentic philosophy of history whose themes can be summed up respectively as «perfectibility», «aesthetic education» and «anti-chiliastic theodicy». These three positions in no way coincide and typify the extreme heterogeneity of the historical thinking of the «Modernes». In this article the view which is put forward can be summarized thus: 1) each of these writers does indeed have a philosophy of history worthy of the name; 2) this philosophy has to be grasped and reconstructed in the light of their individual views about Modernity; 3) each writer constructs an articulated model of world history with an original mainspring, various stages in development and a normative end point; 4) each of these philosophies of history is closely linked to a more or less explicit political philosophy; 5) the problem of constitutionalism, to which only B. Constant’s work offers a precise response, is the criterion which enables us today to discriminate normatively between these three positions.
Jean-Daniel Candaux (Université de Genève)
«Sismondi’s homage to Paul-Henri Mallet (1807)»
Sismondi’s first historical work appeared in March 1807. It is a pamphlet of about fifty pages entitled De la vie et des écrits de P.-H. Mallet [Concerning the Life and Writings of P.-H. Mallet] written on the occasion of Mallet’s death at the age of 77. Mallet was a Genevan well known as a historian of Denmark and above all as the «discoverer» and adapter of Scandinavian sagas. In this pamphlet Sismondi pays homage to his compatriot who was the first Genevan to make history his profession, Sismondi takes the opportunity to praise in turn Scandinavian mythology, the empire of the Germans and Swiss traditions without any reference to France and to proclaim his republican ideals and his belief that «patriotism» and «liberty» are the key to the happiness of peoples.
Aude Déruelle (Université de Nice)
«Julia Sévéra: towards a different concept of history»
If Sismondi’s historical works are now to some extent forgotten, what is one to say of his historical novel Julia Sévéra (1822)? It is not the novel’s literary qualities that will be emphasized here, since Sismondi wrote it above all as a historian. The introduction to Julia Sévéra asserts the same imperatives as the introduction to his Histoire des Français (1821): objectivity and the need to draw on historical sources. But why write a novel when one is the author of a History of France? The whole undertaking supposes that there is a «historical element» which cannot be dealt with by historical discourse and which requires a different form, the novel. This is the notion of History which we will consider in this novel, drawing comparisons with the Histoire des Français and the Histoire du déclin et de la chute de l’empire romain (1835) which reflect the same historical period.
We will demonstrate that historical considerations in the novel are both thematic (portraying one thing in particular, people’s behaviour) and pedagogic (fostering historical awareness in the reader). The modern historian – that is one who is writing in the post-Revolutionary world – should not be content simply to record dates, but should seek the reasons for those dates in people’s behaviour. The title Julia Sévéra ou l’an quatre cent quatre-vingt-douze [Julia Severa, or the Year 492] refers to the year before the marriage of Clovis, the symbolic moment when the Franks became part of Christendom, a «revolution» which would shape France’s future. Sismondi’s intention is, «for each revolution, to be able to portray for [his] readers social life within an imaginary framework», so as to «show people’s opinions» (I, p. III). A novel can linger over a particular date which in itself may seem without significance, but which, like any moment in time, is a part of History. That may indeed be the role of the novel: to make readers aware that the age in which they are living is at the same time a historical period.
Adrian Lyttelton (Johns Hopkins University Center, Bologne)
«L’Histoire des républiques italiennes de Sismondi et le Risorgimento»
En rassemblant l’histoire des multiples cités-Etats italiennes indépendantes en une seule œuvre traitant de la croissance et du déclin de la liberté politique, Sismondi dota le mouvement national italien d’un passé dont il puisse se réclamer.
Son ouvrage reçut un accueil chaleureux de la part des publicistes libéraux des revues Il Conciliatore et L’Antologia. C’est en Lombardie et en Toscane, provinces dans lesquelles une élite issue des notables urbains avait l’habitude de convoquer son passé républicain pour légitimer ses revendications politiques de leadership, que la réception fut la plus enthousiaste. Critiques à l’égard de la distinction de Constant entre la liberté des anciens et celle des modernes, les Toscans mettent l’accent sur la liberté politique active. Toutefois, Sismondi lui-même, bien que persuadé de la nécessité d’un esprit civique, pensait que l’échec des républicains à défendre la liberté civile a été l’une des causes principales de leur déclin.
En Lombardie, Sismondi eut une influence profonde sur le fédéralisme urbain de Carlo Cattanel. Le Piémontais Cesare Balbo reconnaissait l’importance de l’héritage ‘commuunal’, mais il pensait que sa survie avait aussi empêché l’épanouissement des institutions représentatives.
Sismondi approuvait la tendance dominante du mouvement italien qui, jusque en 1848, favorisait le fédéralisme, en tant que moyen de conciliation du patriotisme local et national, bien qu’il ait aussi influencé l’unitaire Mazzini.
Rolando Minuti (Università di Firenze)
«The image of Islam in the historical works of Sismondi»
Reflections on Islam are a constant feature of the history of European culture in the modern age and one of the most sensitive issues in the period between the «crisis of European consciousness» (Hazard) and the assertion of colonial power by European states in the nineteenth century. In the historical, political and philosophical culture of the Romantic age – and in the wake of the French expedition to Egypt – Islam was a subject of special interest and one which touched on a central concern for European culture at that time, the notion of civilization. Even if it was not a theme to which Sismondi devoted a separate work, the history of Islam was nevertheless of considerable importance for him, particularly in his Histoire de la chute de l’empire romain et du déclin de la civilisation de l’an 250 à l’an 1000 [History of the Fall of the Roman Empire and of the Decline of Civilization from 250 to 1000 AD] (1835). Our article sets out to examine in detail what his contribution was on the subject and above all to study it in relation to Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which for Sismondi was the essential work of reference. Analysis of a very specific topic will allow a clearer understanding of the continuities and discontinuities in Sismondi’s historical thought in relation to the cultural tradition of the Enlightenment and will enable us to place his work more accurately in the context of thought about the notion of civilization in French and European culture at the beginning of the nineteenth century.