Élisée Reclus

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Élisée Reclus
Elisee Reclus, by Nadar, retouched.jpg
Born15 March 1830
Died4 July 1905(1905-07-04) (aged 75)
OccupationGeographer, anarchist revolutionary, and writer

Jacques Élisée Reclus (French:  [ʁəkly] ; 15 March 1830 4 July 1905) was a renowned French geographer, writer and anarchist. He produced his 19-volume masterwork, La Nouvelle Géographie universelle, la terre et les hommes ("Universal Geography"), over a period of nearly 20 years (1875–1894). In 1892 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Paris Geographical Society for this work, despite having been banished from France because of his political activism.

French people are a Romance ethnic group and nation who are identified with the country of France. This connection may be ethnic, legal, historical, or cultural.

Geographer scholar whose area of study is geography

A geographer is a scientist whose area of study is geography, the study of Earth's natural environment and human society. The Greek prefix, "geo," means "earth" and the Greek suffix, "graphy," meaning "description," so a geographer is someone who studies the earth. The word "geography" is a Middle French word that is believed to have been first used in 1540.

Société de Géographie Geographical society of Paris

The Société de Géographie, is the world's oldest geographical society. It was founded in 1821 as the first Geographic Society. Since 1878, its headquarters have been at 184 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris. The entrance is marked by two gigantic caryatids representing Land and Sea. It was here, in 1879, that the construction of the Panama Canal was decided.



Reclus was born at Sainte-Foy-la-Grande (Gironde). He was the second son of a Protestant pastor and his wife. From the family of fourteen children, several brothers, including fellow geographers Onésime and Élie Reclus, went on to achieve renown either as men of letters, politicians or members of the learned professions. [1]

Sainte-Foy-la-Grande Commune in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

Sainte-Foy-la-Grande is a commune in the Gironde department in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwestern France.

Gironde Department of France

Gironde is a department in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of southwest France. It is named after the Gironde estuary, a major waterway. The Bordeaux wine region is in the Gironde.

Onésime Reclus French geographer

Onésime Reclus was a French geographer who specialized in the relations between France and its colonies.

Reclus began his education in Rhenish Prussia, and continued higher studies at the Protestant college of Montauban. He completed his studies at University of Berlin, where he followed a long course of geography under Carl Ritter. [1]

Montauban Prefecture and commune in Occitanie, France

Montauban is a commune in the Tarn-et-Garonne department in the Occitanie region in southern France. It is the capital of the department and lies 50 kilometres (31 mi) north of Toulouse. Montauban is the most populated town in Tarn-et-Garonne, and the sixth most populated of Occitanie behind Toulouse, Montpellier, Nîmes, Perpignan and Béziers. In 2013, there were 57,921 inhabitants, called Montalbanais. The town has been classified Ville d’art et d’histoire since 2015.

Carl Ritter German geographer (born 7 August 1779, died 28 September 1878)

Carl Ritter was a German geographer. Along with Alexander von Humboldt, he is considered one of the founders of modern geography. From 1825 until his death, he occupied the first chair in geography at the University of Berlin.

Withdrawing from France due to the political events of December 1851, as a young man he spent the next six years (1852–1857) traveling and working in Great Britain, the United States, Central America, and Colombia. [1] Arriving in Louisiana in 1853, Reclus worked for about two and a half years as a tutor to the children of cousin Septime and Félicité Fortier at their plantation Félicité, located about 80 kilometres (50 mi) upriver from New Orleans. He recounted his passage through the Mississippi River Delta and impressions of antebellum New Orleans and the state in Fragment d'un voyage á Louisiane, published in 1855. [2]

Great Britain island in the North Atlantic off the north-west coast of continental Europe

Great Britain is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of continental Europe. With an area of 209,331 km2 (80,823 sq mi), it is the largest of the British Isles, the largest European island, and the ninth-largest island in the world. In 2011, Great Britain had a population of about 61 million people, making it the world's third-most populous island after Java in Indonesia and Honshu in Japan. The island of Ireland is situated to the west of Great Britain, and together these islands, along with over 1,000 smaller surrounding islands, form the British Isles archipelago.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Central America central geographic region of the Americas

Central America is a region found in the southern tip of North America and is sometimes defined as a subcontinent of the Americas. This region is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. The combined population of Central America is estimated to be between 41,739,000 and 42,688,190.

On his return to Paris, Reclus contributed to the Revue des deux mondes , the Tour du monde and other periodicals, a large number of articles embodying the results of his geographical work. Among other works of this period was the short book Histoire d'un ruisseau, in which he traced the development of a great river from source to mouth. During 1867 and 1868, he published La Terre; description des phénomènes de la vie du globe in two volumes. [1]

Reclus reading Le Cri du Peuple in the garden of his home in Brussels, c. 1894-1905 Le Cri du Peuple - Elisee Reclus.JPG
Reclus reading Le Cri du Peuple in the garden of his home in Brussels, c. 1894–1905

During the Siege of Paris (1870–1871), Reclus shared in the aerostatic operations conducted by Félix Nadar, and also served in the National Guard. As a member of the Association Nationale des Travailleurs, he published a hostile manifesto against the government of Versailles in support of the Paris Commune of 1871 in the Cri du Peuple . [1]

Aerostat Lighter than air aircraft

An aerostat is a lighter than air aircraft that gains its lift through the use of a buoyant gas. Aerostats include unpowered balloons and powered airships. A balloon may be free-flying or tethered. The average density of the craft is lower than the density of atmospheric air, because its main component is one or more gasbags, a lightweight skin containing a lifting gas to provide buoyancy, to which other components such as a gondola containing equipment or people are attached. Especially with airships, the gasbags are often protected by an outer envelope.

National Guard (France) 1789–1872 military reserve and police branch of Frances military

The National Guard is a French military, gendarmerie, and police reserve force, active in its current form since 2016 but originally founded in 1789 during the French Revolution.

Paris Commune revolutionary city council of Paris 1871

The Paris Commune was a radical socialist and revolutionary government that ruled Paris from 18 March to 28 May 1871. The Franco-Prussian War had led to the capture of Emperor Napoleon III in September 1870, the collapse of the Second French Empire, and the beginning of the Third Republic. Because Paris was under siege for four months, the Third Republic moved its capital to Tours. A hotbed of working-class radicalism, Paris was primarily defended during this time by the often politicised and radical troops of the National Guard rather than regular Army troops. Paris surrendered to the Prussians on 28 January 1871, and in February Adolphe Thiers, the new chief executive of the French national government, signed an armistice with Prussia that disarmed the Army but not the National Guard.

Continuing to serve in the National Guard, which was then in open revolt, Reclus was taken prisoner on 5 April. On 16 November he was sentenced to deportation for life. Because of intervention by supporters from England, the sentence was commuted in January 1872 to perpetual banishment from France. [1]

After a short visit to Italy, Reclus settled at Clarens, Switzerland, where he resumed his literary labours and produced Histoire d'une montagne, a companion to Histoire d'un ruisseau. There he wrote nearly the whole of his work, La Nouvelle Géographie universelle, la terre et les hommes, "an examination of every continent and country in terms of the effects that geographic features like rivers and mountains had on human populations—and vice versa," [3] This compilation was profusely illustrated with maps, plans, and engravings. It was awarded the gold medal of the Paris Geographical Society in 1892. An English edition was published simultaneously, also in 19 volumes, the first four by translated E. G. Ravenstein, the rest by A. H. Keane. Reclus's writings were characterized by extreme accuracy and brilliant exposition, which gave them permanent literary and scientific value. [1]

According to Kirkpatrick Sale: [3]

His geographical work, thoroughly researched and unflinchingly scientific, laid out a picture of human-nature interaction that we today would call bioregionalism. It showed, with more detail than anyone but a dedicated geographer could possibly absorb, how the ecology of a place determined the kinds of lives and livelihoods its denizens would have and thus how people could properly live in self-regarding and self-determined bioregions without the interference of large and centralized governments that always try to homogenize diverse geographical areas.

In 1882, Reclus initiated the Anti-Marriage Movement. In accordance with these beliefs and the practice of union libre ("free unions"), which was common among working-class French in the mid-to-late 1800s, [4] Reclus allowed his two daughters to "marry" their male partners without any civil or religious ceremonies, an action causing embarrassment to many of his well-wishers. [1] Reclus had himself entered a free union in 1872, after the death of his first wife. In 1882 he also wrote Unions Libres, a pamphlet which detailed his anarchist and feminist objections to marriage. [5] The French government initiated prosecution from the High Court of Lyon, arrested him and Peter Kropotkin as the International Association's organizers, and sentenced the latter to five years' imprisonment. Reclus escaped punishment as he remained in Switzerland. [6]

Reclus had strong views on naturism and the benefits of nudity. He argued that living naked was more hygienic than wearing clothes; he believed that it was healthier for skin to be fully exposed to light and air so that it could resume its "natural vitality and activity" and become more flexible and firm at the same time. He also argued that from an aesthetic point of view, nudity was better: naked people were more beautiful. His principal objection to clothing was, however, a moral one; he felt that a fixation with clothing caused excessive focus on what was covered. [7] [8] : 485

Elisee Reclus EliseeReclus1905.png
Élisée Reclus

In 1894, Reclus was appointed chair of comparative geography at the University of Brussels, and moved with his family to Belgium. His brother Élie Reclus was at the university already, teaching religion. [6] Élisée Reclus continued to write, contributing several important articles and essays to French, German and English scientific journals. He was awarded the 1894 Patron's Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society. [9]

In 1905, shortly before his death, Reclus completed L'Homme et la terre, in which he rounded out his previous works by considering humanity's development relative to its geographical environment. [8] [10]

Personal life

Reclus married and had a family, including two daughters.

He died at Torhout, near Bruges, Belgium.


Reclus was admired by many prominent 19th century thinkers, including Alfred Russel Wallace, [11] George Perkins Marsh and Patrick Geddes, [12] Henry Stephens Salt, [13] and Octave Mirbeau. [14] James Joyce was influenced by Reclus' book La civilisation et les grands fleuves historiques.

Reclus advocated nature conservation and opposed meat-eating and cruelty to animals. He was a vegetarian. [15] As a result, his ideas are seen by some historians and writers as anticipating the modern social ecology and animal rights movements. [16] [17]



L'Homme et la terre ("The Earth and its Inhabitants"), 6 volumes:



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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Chisholm 1911, p. 957.
  2. Clark, John. "Putting Freedom on the Map: The Life and Work of Élisée Reclus (Introduction and translation of Fragment)". Mesechabe. 11 (Winter 1993): 14–17. Retrieved May 15, 2008.
  3. 1 2 Sale, Kirkpatrick (2010-07-01) "Are Anarchists Revolting?", The American Conservative , 1 July 2010
  4. McPhee, Peter (2004). A Social History of France 1780-1914 (Second ed.). Palgrave MacMillan. p. 195.
  5. Ferretti, Federico. "Anarchist geographers and feminism in late 19th cen- tury France: the contributions of Elisée and Elie Reclus". Feminist Historical Geographi. 44: 68–88.
  6. 1 2 Ingeborg Landuyt and Geert Lernout, "Joyce's Sources: Les Grands Fleuves Historiques", originally published in Joyce Studies, Annual 6 (1995): 99–138
  7. Reclus, Elisée (2004). Clark, John P.; Martin, Camille (eds.). Anarchy, Geography, Modernity: The Radical Social Thought of Elisée Reclus. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. pp. 107–. ISBN   978-0-7391-0805-5.
  8. 1 2 Reclus, Élisée (1905). L'Homme et la terre. Tome VI. Paris.
  9. "List of Past Gold Medal Winners" (PDF). Royal Geographical Society. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  10. Chisholm 1911, p. 958.
  11. Wallace, A. R. (1905). My Life: A Record of Events and Opinions. Chapman and Hall. OCLC   473067997.
  12. Livingstone, David N. (1993). The Geographical Tradition: Episodes in the History of a Contested Enterprise. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN   0-631-18535-6. OCLC   25787010.
  13. "Are we to apply the name "crank" to that great thinker and beautiful writer, Elisee Reclus? One of the finest essays ever written in praise of vegetarianism is an article which he contributed to the Humane Review when I was editing it in 1901."Salt, Henry Stephens (1930). Company I have kept. George Allen & Unwin. p. 162. OCLC   2113916.
  14. "...the scales were finally tipped...by Mirbeau's contact with the works of Kropotkin, Reclus and Tolstoy....They were the compound catalyst which caused Mirbeau's own ideas to crystallise, and they constituted a trilogy of enduring influences."Reg Carr, Anarchism in France: The Case of Octave Mirbeau Manchester University Press, 1977.
  15. "History of Vegetarianism – Élisée Reclus (1830 – 1905)". ivu.org. International Vegetarian Union. Retrieved January 23, 2010.
  16. Marshall, Peter (1993). "Élisée Reclus: The Geographer of Liberty". Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London: Fontana. ISBN   0-00-686245-4. OCLC   490216031.
  17. Hochschartner, Jon (19 March 2014). "The Vegetarian Communard". CounterPunch . Retrieved 2017-04-05.

Further reading