Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

On History

 | 
Jules Michelet

1. Foreword

Lionel Gossman

Texte intégral

Michelet was the first modern historian to undertake to fill in the complete picture of the past, including science, art, literature, philosophy, architecture, costume and social habits, along with politics, war, religion, economics and law; and he makes you feel that he has actually been back to the Middle Ages or the Renaissance or the Reformation and returned with reactions as vivid as if he were dealing with contemporary events.
—Edmund Wilson, “Michelet,” The New Republic, 31 August 1932

  • 1 Like the Introduction à l’histoire universelle, the Preface Michelet wrote in 1869 for a new 19-vol (...)

1One of the great Romantic historians, Jules Michelet (1798-1874) served as model and inspiration for the founders of the influential Annales school of historians in France. As a result, he has had a more substantial impact on modern historiography than most of his contemporaries—than Carlyle (1795-1881), for example, or Macaulay (1800-1859) or Lamartine (1790-1869). The aim of the present volume, consisting of three relatively short, programmatic texts, is to convey to today’s students of history in the English-speaking world, which the intense revival of interest in Michelet in France seems to have passed by, a sense of the nineteenth-century French historian’s worldview and the values that underlie all his historiographical work—along with an idea of the way he conceived the shape of human history and envisaged the contribution the historian can make to human progress and wellbeing by promoting historical awareness and understanding. Taken together, the three texts can be read as a kind of manifesto of Romantic historiography. They do not purport to tell a particular story; they lay out a grand vision of history, what it means, why it matters, and why it is important for citizens to have a lively sense of it. Two—the Introduction to World History and the “Opening Address” at the Sorbonne of 1834—have been newly translated and are published here in English for the first time; the third, the great Preface to the 1869 edition of Michelet’s complete, multi-volume Histoire de France, is a revised version, which the original translator has himself prepared, of the text he published, also for the first time in English, in his 1977 book, Michelet’s Poetic Vision: A Romantic Philosophy of Nature, Man & Woman (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press).1

  • 2 Letter of 2 January 1856, Lettres inédites (1841-1871), ed. Paul Sirven (Paris: Presses Universitai (...)

2Michelet was an extremely self-conscious historian: from the beginning to the end of his career he never ceased to reflect on history and historiography—what history writing had been in the past; what it could and should be in his own modern age; how it should respond to the political, social and cultural developments that had enabled the popular masses to come into their own, finally, as citizens of democratic nation-states; what structure and meaning might be discerned in history; and how, through a “comprehensive resurrection of the past” (“résurrection intégrale du passé”), the historian might contribute to the self-understanding, and hence to the emancipation and empowerment, of all humanity, of the various particular peoples composing it and of the individual human being (starting with himself)—inasmuch as the individual is part of a larger community, a product both of his nation’s history and, beyond that, of the entire history of humanity. “I would like to explain to myself, as a modern man, my own birth,” the 35-year-old professor told his young audience at the Sorbonne in 1834, for, as he wrote later to a friend, the journalist and literary scholar Eugène Noël, “I am France” (“Je suis la France”).2 Michelet devoted an impressive number of prefaces and essays, of which the present volume offers a modest sampling, to his reflection on those issues.

  • 3 Preface to the 1869 edition of History of France. (See below) The idea of world history as a progre (...)

3The first text in our volume, the Introduction à l’histoire universelle, outlines a very different view of World History from the traditional religious view represented, for instance, by Bossuet’s celebrated Discours sur l’histoire universelle of 1681, even if the notion of Divine Providence is not completely obliterated and the perspective remains largely, though not exclusively Eurocentric. In Michelet’s own words, “My first pages after the July Revolution, written on the burning cobblestones, were a vision of the world, of Universal History, as freedom’s struggle, its ever-repeated victory over the world of determinism.”3

  • 4 Cf. John Stuart Mill’s comment on the “brilliant sketch” of the various provinces of France—the cel (...)
  • 5 See the essays “The Go-Between: Jules Michelet 1798-1874” and “Michelet and Natural History: The Al (...)

4Written in the immediate aftermath of the successful July Revolution of 1830, this essay presents in extraordinarily succinct and vivid form the basic dialectical structure and the richly metaphorical substance of Michelet’s vision of history. In it the historian traces the world-historical process by which, from ancient times to the present, through immense, often violent and destructive struggles, periods of crisis, and clashes of cultures, the modern world was created, i.e. men and women gradually—often by the most devious routes—achieved ever greater freedom from the oppression of the strong and of material nature itself. The historian himself contributes to this process both by delving into the depths of the forgotten past and offering insight into hidden forces, fears, and impulses which determine the lives of the members of a community but of which they have hitherto been unaware, and by disclosing the pattern and direction of the history of humanity. Michelet represents this process as the progressive displacement of “fatality” by “freedom,” of “matter” by “spirit,” of myth by history, and, somewhat more problematically, of the female principle, that is to say, in his terms, of material necessity and the endlessly repeated cycle of birth and death, by the ever-expanding power of reason, law and scientific understanding.4 History, it could be said, liberates man from the past, inasmuch as the past is like the womb in which the preconscious infant is nurtured, the breast at which he is fed and from which he must detach himself in order to become a free, active and independent individual in charge of his own destiny. What results from the triumph of the male principle, Michelet emphasizes, is not a new tyranny of men over women, or of spirit over nature, but a “penetration” of the female by the male principle, the liberation of woman herself from the tyranny of her own bodily nature, and the humanisation of nature, its transformation from a blind and indifferent determinism into an ally and partner of “spirit.” Within this world history is embedded the history of France, which is portrayed as at once emblematic and exemplary. Whence the claim at the end of the essay that France is the nation that, after the glorious July Revolution of 1830, is destined to lead all humanity on the next stage of its unending journey to ever greater freedom and dominion over nature and fate. Michelet adhered to this program throughout all his writing, including even the remarkable and best-selling natural histories, to which he turned in his later years, after being removed in 1852, on political grounds, from his positions at the Collège de France and the National Archives.5

  • 6 On Michelet’s wide reading, see also the “Journal de mes lectures,” pp.301-331.

5Though twice as long as the Introduction itself (an effect of Michelet’s fascination with Germany and German scholarship?), the extensive “Notes and Clarifications” appended to it, some of which amount to virtual essays in their own right, have been included in order to give a sense of the range of Michelet’s interests and reading.6 As befitted his conception of history, he was not content simply to adapt and revise traditional historical narratives. He knew that in order to write the totally new kind of history he envisaged, a history embracing all aspects of people’s lives, he would have to exploit a wide range of sources: archival documents, to which, as Director of the Historical Section of the National Archives, he had ready access until 1852; scholarly works in various languages from the Renaissance to his own time, including quite recent books on the Orient and editions of ancient Oriental literature; the writings of the Ancients (Greek and Latin); the great texts of medieval and modern European literature from Dante to Goethe and Byron; popular literature and folk tales; works of art and architecture; studies of religion, law, and medicine; and rules and precepts for the conduct of daily life.

6Michelet’s inaugural lecture or “Opening Address” as Professor of History, on 9 January 1834, to a packed auditorium at the Sorbonne, on his temporarily replacing Guizot, who had been appointed Minister of Education in the new government of Louis-Philippe, is the second text in our volume. In it Michelet again argues for the importance of the study of history, impressing on his young audience that the present is the product of the past, which is always alive within it, that every human being carries an immense past within himself (Michelet was addressing an almost exclusively male audience) of which he often has little or no consciousness, and that it is the task of the historian to bring that unconscious foundation of the living individual to the light of consciousness. This is at one and the same time an act of piety toward those past generations on whose sufferings and sacrifices the present has been built (history as “résurrection”) and a step forward in the emancipation of the present generation. Taking up, in even more concentrated form, the broad outlines of the Introduction to World History, but focusing on one particular period of crisis and transition in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (developed more fully shortly afterwards in volume III [1837] of the Histoire de France), the lecturer called on his audience to learn from history that humanity’s grand progressive movement has often been realised through crises so severe and disorienting that many believed the end of the world was imminent. In fact, what the people of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were living through was the end of the Middle Ages, the prelude to a new and brighter time for all humanity. In a similar way, the students were doubtless expected to understand, the turmoil of the end of the Ancien Régime, the Revolution, and the Restoration, which they were living through, was the prelude to a new and better future. Informed by history, the young should therefore have confidence in the essentially progressive character of the historical process, through times of seemingly catastrophic upheavals and disasters, and should work to promote that process, never yielding to passivity or despair. The lecture was received by its young audience with enthusiastic and prolonged applause.

7The third work presented here, the beautiful Preface Michelet wrote for a new edition of his complete Histoire de France in 1869, presents a retrospective account of how the historian’s understanding of French history evolved in the course of writing the successive volumes of the Histoire de France, together with his view of the goals of historical writing, the methods by which those goals can be attained, and his own evolving relation, as its historian, to the object of his research and writing. The translator has himself provided an Introduction to this remarkable text. Its combination of boldly original and imaginative writing style and probing reflection and analysis is characteristic of Michelet’s mature work.

8Though separated by almost four decades, the three texts, taken together, constitute a powerful statement of a great historian’s vision of history and of the importance, for the present, of investigating, exhuming, and understanding the past in all its richness and complexity.

***

  • 7 Michelet 1798-1874, Introduction and choice of texts by Lucien Febvre, p.11. (All translations in t (...)
  • 8 Lucien Febvre, Michelet et la Renaissance (Paris: Flammarion, 1992), p.108. See, below, the opening (...)
  • 9 Jacques Le Goff, “Michelet et le Moyen Âge aujourd’hui,” in Michelet, Oeuvres complètes, ed. Paul V (...)
  • 10 Marc Bloch, review of Febvre’s Histoire de la Franche-Comté, Revue de Synthèse, 28 (1914): 354; Blo (...)

9After falling into disfavour and being regarded with disdain as “literary” by the positivist historians who followed him, Michelet was rediscovered and rehabilitated in the early twentieth century by the members of the Annales school, notably Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch, the school’s founders, and Fernand Braudel, one of its most prominent and widely admired later leaders. Febvre refers frequently to Michelet in his own work and from December 1942 to April 1943, in the darkest days of the German occupation of France, he devoted an entire lecture course at the Collège de France to his nineteenth-century predecessor’s account of the Renaissance. This was followed by another course, in 1943-1944, dedicated to Michelet as a renovator of history. Febvre also brought out a little volume on Michelet soon after the end of the War: Michelet 1798-1874 (Geneva: Éditions des Trois Collines, 1946), in which he defended Michelet as “the founding model” of modern French historiography and took issue with those who still held that “as a historian, he wasn’t so great.”7 In 1992, over three decades after Febvre’s death, his 1942-1943 lectures, edited by Fernand Braudel, were published by Flammarion as Michelet et la Renaissance. In Febvre’s words, “The historical method of the Michelet of 1840 can be defined in two words: it is totalizing and it is synthesizing” (“elle est totalitaire et elle est synthétique”). “It is totalizing because it does not assign to the historian the task of reviving any one of the multiple activities in which human beings are engaged—political activity, for example, or the law, or religion. All things human matter to the historian, everything men create or do is the object of history […]: political constitutions, churches, religions or philosophies, artistic or literary productions, economic activities, scientific discoveries. It is synthesizing because it is not enough for the historian to study political history, or the history of law, or the history of art separately. […] Everything to do with human beings must be studied together. For there is no single work of men that does not have an impact on all the others both severally and taken together.”8 This view of Michelet’s significance was echoed by the medievalist Jacques Le Goff, a younger member of the Annales school. Michelet, Le Goff claimed, is “the father of the new history, of a total history that aims to grasp the past in all its density” (“le père de l’histoire nouvelle, de l’histoire totale qui veut saisir le passé dans toute son épaisseur”).9 Marc Bloch was somewhat more circumspect than his colleague Febvre: “Michelet is a seductive, but sometimes dangerous model,” he warned (“Michelet est un maître séduisant, mais parfois dangereux”). Nevertheless, Michelet and Fustel de Coulanges were, for him too, “our great forebears,” who “taught us to recognize that the object of history is, by its nature, man.”10

  • 11 Fernand Braudel, Écrits sur l’histoire (Paris: Flammarion, 1969), pp.15-38, on p.19.
  • 12 “His subjectivity was only the earliest form of that insistence on totality, those authentic compar (...)

10For his part, Fernand Braudel saluted Michelet in his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France on 1 December 1950, as “the greatest of all” the nineteenth-century historians—greater even than Ranke or Burckhardt—in recognition of “so many flashes of insight and inspired premonitions” (“tant d’éclairs et de prémonitions géniales”).11 Four years later the prestigious Paris publishing house of Les Éditions du Seuil brought out Michelet par lui-même, a selection of texts with commentaries by the late Roland Barthes. This penetrating and innovative study by the leading avant-garde French literary critic of the second half of the twentieth century has now acquired classic status and continues to be reprinted by the publisher. In it Barthes takes up Febvre’s theme of Michelet as the pioneer of total history. The historian’s much derided “subjectivity,” he argues, was in fact “the earliest form of an insistence on totality” and the nineteenth-century Romantic turns out to have been “at once a sociologist, an ethnologist, a psychoanalyst, and a social historian.”12 Even if he often interpreted them symbolically, as one means of establishing interconnections among them, the objects of Michelet’s interest—climatic and geographical conditions, popular mentalities, eating habits, clothing, health and disease, arts and technologies, the historian’s relation to the objects of his study—have indeed come to occupy a central place in modern historical research.

11Reflecting the revived interest in Michelet among French historians, new editions of his major works, the Histoire de France and the Histoire de la Révolution Française, have been published in the last half-century—the former in several multi-volume editions, with various publishers, between 1964 and 2009, as well as in a cheap popular paperback abridgement in 1963, the latter in two volumes of over 1500 pages each in Gallimard’s elegant Bibliothèque de la Pléaide collection in 1952, in a 6-volume edition in 1967, a 7-volume edition in 1974, a 9-volume edition in 1979, as well as in several abridgements, including one in the popular Livre de Poche series on the eve of the bicentenary of the Revolution. In addition, many individual works, such as the Mémoires de Luther, the Histoire romaine, Le Peuple, La Sorcière, La Femme, Légendes démocratiques du Nord, Le Procès des Templiers and the inevitable Jeanne d’Arc, not to mention the natural history writings of the historian’s later years, have been republished in the last half-century, while hitherto private writings and unpublished lectures have also been edited and made available to contemporary scholars: the early diaries (Écrits de jeunesse, 1959), the astounding Journal to which Michelet confided both his most intimate thoughts and fantasies and his reflections on history and plans for historical writing (4 vols., 1959-1976); the Correspondance générale (12 vols., 1994-2001); the lectures delivered at the École Normale (1987); and the courses taught at the Collège de France from 1838 to 1851 (2 vols., 1995). Between 1971 and 1987 the publishing house of Flammarion put out Paul Viallaneix’s magisterial 21-volume edition of Michelet’s Oeuvres complètes.

***

  • 13 Letter to Macvey Napier, 27 April 1840, “The Earlier Letters of John Stuart Mill 1812-1848,” in Mil (...)
  • 14 A. Potter, D.D., of Union College, the author of the Introduction to an 1843 edition of this work p (...)
  • 15 History of France, translated by Walter K. Kelly (London: Chapman and Hall, 1844-1846); History of (...)
  • 16 Mill in Edinburgh Review, 79 (January 1844): 1-39; Lewes in British and Foreign Review, 16 (January (...)
  • 17 Edinburgh Review article, reproduced in Mill, Collected Works, vol.20, pp.217-255, on p.231.

12In Michelet’s own lifetime, virtually every one of his works appeared in English translation, both in England and in the United States, soon after its publication in French, and all the translations went through several editions. The natural history books that the historian began to produce in collaboration with his second wife, Athénaïs Mialaret, after he had been dismissed, on refusing to take the oath of allegiance to Napoleon III, from his positions at the Collège de France and the National Archives, proved especially popular in the English-speaking world. The regular historical writings were by no means neglected, however. Though John Stuart Mill, who admired and corresponded (indirectly) with Michelet, expressed regret in 1840 that the French historian, “a writer of great and original views,” was “very little known among us,”13 an English translation of the early Précis de l’histoire moderne (1827-1828) was in fact adopted for use in schools and colleges,14 and two different translations of the first volumes of the Histoire de France were published simultaneously in the late 1840s by different London publishing houses.15 The English translation of the first four books of the Histoire de la Révolution Française, went through at least five editions between its first publication in 1848 and the end of the century. Mill certainly did his bit to make Michelet better known. He himself wrote a long, extremely favourable review of the Histoire de France for the influential Edinburgh Review in 1844; he arranged for his “young friend,” George Henry Lewes, the longtime partner of the novelist George Eliot, and a great admirer of Michelet, whose work he helped to have translated into English, to meet personally with the historian in Paris; and he encouraged Lewes to write an article on the contemporary French historians—including Michelet, “the historian par excellence” in Lewes’ words—in the British and Foreign Review, also in 1844.16 “Michelet’s books,” Mill wrote, “are not for those who dislike to think or explore for themselves,” they are “not books to save a reader the trouble of thinking, but to make him boil over with thought. Their effect on the mind is not acquiescence, but stir and ferment.”17

  • 18 Michelet himself vigorously rejected the view that he was essentially a “literary” and “imaginative (...)
  • 19 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edn. (Cambridge, 1911), vol.18, pp.369-70.

13While the rediscovery of Michelet by modern French historians has led to the publication of many new editions of his writings over the last half-century in France, there has been, in contrast, a marked decline in English-language publications of his work since 1900. To the degree that he figures at all in the historiographical landscape of English-speaking scholars, he is usually thought of, above all, as an excessively literary and “imaginative” historian, strongly nationalist and anglophobic, who claimed a privileged place for his country in world history.18 Even in the nineteenth century the later volumes of the Histoire de France aroused far less interest than the earlier ones on the Middle Ages, and where they were discussed they were subject to harsh criticism, provoked partly no doubt by the increasingly strident anti-English strain in those later volumes and partly by a tone of unconcealed political and moral engagement in them that ran counter to the “neutrality” required by the positivist ideal of a politically more conservative generation. By 1911, the author of the article on Michelet in the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica noted that Michelet of late had “not received much attention from critics and monographers.” His own judgment was severe. “The Introduction à l’histoire universelle,” he wrote “showed a different style” from that of the earlier Précis de l’histoire moderne, “exhibiting no doubt the idiosyncracy and literary power of the writer to greater advantage but also displaying the peculiar visionary qualities which made him the most stimulating, but the most untrustworthy (not in facts, which he never consciously falsifies, but in suggestion) of all historians.” As for his Histoire de la Révolution, “in actual picturesqueness as well as in general veracity of picture, the book cannot approach Carlyle’s, while as a mere chronicle of events it is inferior to half a dozen prosaic histories older and younger than itself.”19

  • 20 Edmund Wilson, “Michelet,” The New Republic, 31 August 1932; Lewis M. Dabney, Edmund Wilson: A Life (...)
  • 21 Dabney, Edmund Wilson, p.254.

14Thanks to Edmund Wilson’s widely read and now classic To the Finland Station (1940), Michelet did make a brilliant but brief reappearance on the Anglo-American literary and intellectual scene in the mid-twentieth century. Unusually—for, as Wilson put it himself in the early 1930s, “Michelet’s ‘History of France’ was popular with our grandfathers, but people seem rarely to read it today”—Wilson and his mother had read Michelet together when he was a young man, and he relates that he carried the memory of the chapters on Philip the Bold with him while serving in Eastern France in World War I.20 Later he came to admire Michelet as a historian to whom the writing of history had been a way of acting on history, and it was as a critic of the decline of the revolutionary tradition and an advocate of “the idea that society can be remade by men in accord with human aspiration”21 that he published a short laudatory article on Michelet in the old, progressive New Republic in 1932 and turned again to the nineteenth-century French historian for the first five chapters of To the Finland Station, his comprehensive account of the revolutionary idea from the early nineteenth century to the October Revolution. If “Michelet is no longer read,” he asserted, referring to an article written in France in 1898, on the eve of the Michelet centenary, it is

  • 22 Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History (New York: Harc (...)

because people no longer understand him. […] He commits for the skeptical young men of the end of the century the supreme sin of being an apostle, a man of passionate feeling and conviction. Michelet created the religion of the Revolution and the Revolution is not popular today, when the Academicians put it in its place, when persons who would have been nothing without it veil their faces at the thought of the Jacobin terror, when even those who have nothing against it manage to patronize it.22

15In addition to Michelet’s fervent engagement with history, Wilson also emphasized his originality as a historian,

  • 23 Wilson, To the Finland Station, pp.18, 20.

fusing disparate materials, […] indicating the interrelations between the different forms of human activity […] as if he were braiding a rope. […] Yet the plaiting of a rope is too coarse an image. No image except that of life itself can convey the penetrating intelligence with which, in the volumes on Louis XIV, for example, Michelet interrelates the intrigues of the court, the subjects of Molière’s comedies and the economic condition of France.23

16Wilson’s enthusiastic endorsement of Michelet was unusual, however, if not unique, and as he was himself a man of letters—essayist, critic, and novelist (and socialist at the time to boot)—rather than a professional historian, it appears to have done little to enhance awareness of or interest in Michelet among practising historians in the English-speaking world.

  • 24 Based on the 1848 translation by Charles Cocks, the Professor of English at the Collège Royal in Pa (...)
  • 25 Wynnewood, PA: Kolokol Press, 1972-1973. The three volumes contained Books 7-8, 11-13 and 14-17 of (...)

17In 1967, as part of a series devoted to pre-twentieth century classics of historiography, a much abridged version of the 1848 translation of the History of the French Revolution was put out by the University of Chicago Press.24 It is not clear, however, what impact, if any, this publication has had, and an attempt in 1972 by a small press in Pennsylvania to publish the complete History of the French Revolution in a new translation seems to have faltered after the appearance of three non-consecutive volumes (4, 6, and 7).25 The University of Illinois Press brought out a translation of Le Peuple in 1973. Increasing attention to women’s history also sparked a revival of interest in La Sorcière (The Witch), and 1987 saw the publication in New York of Roland Barthes’ book on Michelet in a translation by the gifted poet and essayist Richard Howard. It seems highly likely, however, that the appearance of Howard’s translation had more to do with the reputation of Barthes among literary scholars than with interest in Michelet among historians. There have been a few fine studies of Michelet and his work in English, but these have also mostly been by literary scholars rather than historians. (See the bibliography at the end of this volume.)

18Michelet, it would seem, cuts a very small figure on the historiographical horizon of the English-speaking world. It is hoped that the present volume will revive interest in a nineteenth-century historian who was hailed by the leaders of the modern Annales school as a founding father.

Notes

1 Like the Introduction à l’histoire universelle, the Preface Michelet wrote in 1869 for a new 19-volume edition of his Histoire de France (originally published successively over the years from 1833 to 1867 in 17 volumes and covering the entire history of France down to the reign of Louis XVI), was not taken up in any of the English translations of this work. Most of these, in any case, did not venture beyond the volumes dealing with the period down to the late Middle Ages. It may be that the speculative and programmatic character of both texts was the cause of their having been neglected at a time when history was expected to be “histoire événementielle” (“a narrative of events”), to borrow the term invented by the Annales historians.

2 Letter of 2 January 1856, Lettres inédites (1841-1871), ed. Paul Sirven (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1924), p.233.

3 Preface to the 1869 edition of History of France. (See below) The idea of world history as a progressive movement toward ever greater human freedom and dignity had been proposed by Kant in his Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht in 1784 and again by Schiller in his inaugural lecture, Was heisst und zu welchem Ende studiert man Universalgeschichte? at the University of Jena in 1789, and Michelet had read Schiller’s short work in February 1828. (“Journal de mes lectures,” in Ecrits de jeunesse: Journal (1820-1823), Mémorial, Journal des idées, ed. Paul Viallaneix [Paris: Gallimard, 1959], p.329) But Kant and Schiller were calling for a history that they themselves believed would be difficult, if not impossible to write and that they did not even sketch out in its broad lines. In addition, the point of view of both Kant and Schiller was that of the cosmopolitan Enlightenment. Neither had Michelet’s keen interest in the particular character and contribution of different peoples or his insight into the complexities of an historical development often promoted by seemingly “reactionary” and “unenlightened” behaviours and actions.

4 Cf. John Stuart Mill’s comment on the “brilliant sketch” of the various provinces of France—the celebrated “Tableau de la France”—at the beginning of volume II of the Histoire de France: “A strenuous asserter of the power of mind over matter, of will over spontaneous propensities, culture over nature, [Michelet] holds that local characteristics lose their importance as history advances. In a rude age the ‘fatalities’ of race and geographical position are absolute. In the progress of society, human forethought and purpose, acting by means of uniform institutions and modes of culture, tend more and more to efface the pristine differences.” (Mill, “Michelet’s History of France,” in J.S. Mill, Collected Works, ed. Jean O’Grady and John M. Robson [Toronto: University of Toronto Press; London: Routledge, 1963-1991], vol.20, p.238) See the full text of Mill’s review in the Online Supplement.

5 See the essays “The Go-Between: Jules Michelet 1798-1874” and “Michelet and Natural History: The Alibi of Nature” in the Online Supplement.

6 On Michelet’s wide reading, see also the “Journal de mes lectures,” pp.301-331.

7 Michelet 1798-1874, Introduction and choice of texts by Lucien Febvre, p.11. (All translations in the Editor’s Foreword are by the editor unless otherwise indicated.) On Michelet as the modèle fondateur of the Annales school, see Florence Hulak, Sociéte et mentalité. La science historique de Marc Bloch Paris: Hermann, 2012), pp.13, 99. Even in the positivist period of French historiography, some eminent historians, notably Gabriel Monod, who had known Michelet personally, continued to admire and be inspired by him; see Monod’s essays on Michelet in his Les Maîtres de l’histoire: Renan, Taine, Michelet (Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1894), pp.185-269 and Portraits et souvenirs (Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1897), pp.15-59; his Jules Michelet (Paris: Sandoz et Fischbacher, 1875) and his two major studies, Jules Michelet, Études sur sa vie et ses œuvres avec des fragments inédits (Paris: Hachette, 1905) and La Vie et la pensée de Jules Michelet (Paris: Champion, 1923), 2 vols. (the text of a course taught at the Collège de France in 1905-1910).

8 Lucien Febvre, Michelet et la Renaissance (Paris: Flammarion, 1992), p.108. See, below, the opening pages of Michelet’s Preface to the 1869 edition of the Histoire de France.

9 Jacques Le Goff, “Michelet et le Moyen Âge aujourd’hui,” in Michelet, Oeuvres complètes, ed. Paul Viallaneix (Paris: Flammarion, 1971-1987), 21 vols., vol.4, pp.45-63. According to Le Goff, Michelet’s vision of a total history of the Middle Ages—a history that would emerge from “all possible documents, laws and art, charters and poems, the soil and libraries, a history that would exploit the entire arsenal of the human sciences (not available to Michelet but called for by his method) and that would resuscitate not ghosts but real people of flesh and also of intellect and feeling”—remains a challenge to modern-day medievalists, many of whom are still caught up in narrow issues of erudition and do not venture beyond their special fields of research. (p. 60)

10 Marc Bloch, review of Febvre’s Histoire de la Franche-Comté, Revue de Synthèse, 28 (1914): 354; Bloch, The Historian’s Craft, translated by Peter Putnam (New York: Vintage Books, 1953), p.25.

11 Fernand Braudel, Écrits sur l’histoire (Paris: Flammarion, 1969), pp.15-38, on p.19.

12 “His subjectivity was only the earliest form of that insistence on totality, those authentic comparisons and associations, that attention to the most insignificant concrete detail, that today characterize the very method of the human sciences. It is because Michelet was a discredited historian—from a positivist point of view—that he could be at once a sociologist, an ethnologist, a psychoanalyst, a social historian.” (Roland Barthes, Preface to his edition of Michelet’s La Sorcière [Paris: Club Français du Livre, 1959], reprinted in Essais Critiques [Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1964], p.124) The idea of a history embracing more than politics and the actions of the great had, of course, been put forward by many Enlightenment writers. Friedrich Schiller, for instance, conceived of something close to the “total history” that, according to Febvre or Barthes, had been Michelet’s goal. “In truth,” Schiller wrote, “the history of religion and the churches, the history of philosophy, the history of art, of customs and manners, and the history of trade and commerce ought to be consolidated with political history. Only such a history would be a true world history.” (Cited in Friedrich Burschell, Schiller [Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1968], p.295) But this remained an ideal. In practice, the story of the underground dwellings that ants build for themselves in silence while eagles and vultures tear each other apart in the air above them, as Voltaire put it, was usually conceived as distinct from other activities and was confined in the work of Voltaire and Hume to separate chapters, isolated from the main narrative. Nor was the Enlightenment historian sensitive to the interest of “the most insignificant concrete detail.”

13 Letter to Macvey Napier, 27 April 1840, “The Earlier Letters of John Stuart Mill 1812-1848,” in Mill, Collected Works, vol.13, p.431.

14 A. Potter, D.D., of Union College, the author of the Introduction to an 1843 edition of this work put out by Harper and Brothers in New York and entitled Modern History, salutes Michelet, “one of the most learned, laborious, and elegant” of the “remarkable school” of recent French historians, for combining “great philosophical sagacity” with “what is so apt to be wanting in the German historians—a brilliant imagination, a clear and picturesque style, and great felicity of illustration.” He then defines the intended readership of the pocket-sized work: “While this work will be useful to general readers, its more immediate object is to furnish a good text-book in modern history for schools and colleges.” Modern History, it turns out, went through eight editions, with various publishers in London and New York, between 1843 and 1900. As late as 1911, the otherwise severely critical author of the article on Michelet in the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (vol. 18, p.369) considered this early work “a sound and careful book, far better than anything that had appeared before it, and written in a sober yet interesting style.”

15 History of France, translated by Walter K. Kelly (London: Chapman and Hall, 1844-1846); History of France, translated by G.H. Smith (London: Whittaker, 1844-1847; New York: Appleton, 1845-1848).

16 Mill in Edinburgh Review, 79 (January 1844): 1-39; Lewes in British and Foreign Review, 16 (January 1844): 72-118, quoted phrase on p.105.

17 Edinburgh Review article, reproduced in Mill, Collected Works, vol.20, pp.217-255, on p.231.

18 Michelet himself vigorously rejected the view that he was essentially a “literary” and “imaginative” writer. On learning that Mill was planning to write a review of his Histoire de France, he penned this note: “Should Mr. Mill do me the honour of reviewing my book in an English journal, I would be most obliged to him if he would emphasize how powerfully this historian, too thoughtlessly accounted a ‘man of the imagination,’ has been motivated by a passion for the truth.” The English reading public should be made aware that his account of the trial of Joan of Arc, for instance, is based not on chronicle sources but on documents; and he counts on “the impartiality of an Englishman” to defend his book, despite the fact that it “presents so unfavourable a view of the English.” (Letter to Gustave d’Eichthal, 24 September 1841, Correspondance générale, ed. Louis Le Guillou, vol.3 [Paris: Champion, 1995], pp.480-481) See also Michelet’s letter to Taine, complaining that the praise heaped on him as a writer is part of a campaign to diminish him as a historian (cited in Roland Barthes, Michelet par lui-même [Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1969], p.89) and a long letter of late July 1911 in which Lucien Febvre defends Michelet for having distinguished carefully between “l’art” and “l’histoire” against Henri Berr, founder of the Revue de Synthèse, who lumped Michelet and Thierry together as “poets” who both “created and deformed history.” (Lucien Febvre, De la ‘Revue de synthèse’ aux ‘Annales’: Lettres à Henri Berr, 1911-1954 [Paris: Fayard, 1997], p.10) Even as a writer, however, Michelet’s vivid, emphatic style came in for severe criticism from modern anti-Romantics; e.g. Paul Valéry: “By chance, have been reading some Michelet. […] It gave me a fit of literary indignation. That stuff is made to be preached in some popular university; there’s not a word in it worth reflection. […] All that claptrap has never been put through the intellect (it would have come to pieces and dissolved), but merely blurted out to the superficial public.” (Letter to André Gide, 5 July 1908, in Paul Valéry, History and Politics, translated by Denise Folliot and Jackson Mathews [New York: Pantheon Books, 1962], p.512)

19 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edn. (Cambridge, 1911), vol.18, pp.369-70.

20 Edmund Wilson, “Michelet,” The New Republic, 31 August 1932; Lewis M. Dabney, Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005), p.14; Edmund Wilson, Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1920s and 30s, ed. Lewis M. Dabney (New York: Library of America, 2007), p.576.

21 Dabney, Edmund Wilson, p.254.

22 Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1940), p.37

23 Wilson, To the Finland Station, pp.18, 20.

24 Based on the 1848 translation by Charles Cocks, the Professor of English at the Collège Royal in Paris, and updated by the editor, Stanford Professor Gordon Wright, this edition contained only the Introduction and the first three of the twenty-one books of the original, ending on the account of the Fête de la Fédération (14 July 1790). Cocks’s 1848 translation, which included as much of the text as had been published in France at the time (publication of the entire work in French was not completed until 1853), had also included Book IV. The last edition to be reviewed and revised by Michelet himself appeared in 1869.

25 Wynnewood, PA: Kolokol Press, 1972-1973. The three volumes contained Books 7-8, 11-13 and 14-17 of Michelet’s text.