Edgar Quinet

Last updated
Edgar Quinet. Edgar Quinet - gravure sur acier.jpg
Edgar Quinet.
Grave of Quinet in Montparnasse cemetery, Paris Paris - Cimetiere du Montparnasse - Edgar Quinet 1.jpg
Grave of Quinet in Montparnasse cemetery, Paris

Edgar Quinet (French:  [kinɛ] ; 17 February 1803 27 March 1875) was a French historian and intellectual.



Early years

Quinet was born at Bourg-en-Bresse, in the département of Ain. His father, Jérôme Quinet, had been a commissary in the army, but being a strong republican and disgusted with Napoleon's 18 Brumaire coup, he gave up his post and devoted himself to scientific and mathematical study. Edgar, who was an only child, was usually alone, but his mother (Eugénie Rozat Lagis, who was an educated person with strong, albeit original, Protestant religious views) exercised great influence over him. [1]

He was sent to school first in Bourg and then in Lyon. His father wished him on leaving school to go into the army, and then enter a business career. Quinet was determined to engage in literature, and after a time got his way when he moved to Paris in 1820. [1]

His first publication, the Tablettes du juif errant ("Tablets of the Wandering Jew"),which appeared in 1823, symbolized the progress of humanity. [1] He became impressed with German intellectual writing and undertook translating Johann Gottfried Herder's Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit ("Outlines of Philosophy of the History of Man") learnt German for the purpose, and published his work in 1827, and obtained through it considerable credit.

Early writings

At this time he was introduced to Victor Cousin, and made the acquaintance of Jules Michelet. He had visited Germany and the United Kingdom before the appearance of his book. Cousin obtained for him a position on a government mission to the Morea, in the Ottoman Empire, in 1829 (during the Greek War of Independence), and on his return he published in 1830 a book on La Grèce moderne ("Modern Greece"). [1] With Michelet he published a volume of works in 1843, denouncing Jesuits and blaming them for religious, political and social troubles. He also became acquainted with and a lover of the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1838. Quinet wrote several lectures praising Emerson's works which were published with the title of Le Christianisme et la Revolution Francaise in 1845. [2]

Hopes of employment that he had after the July Revolution were frustrated by his reputation as a speculative republican. Nonetheless, he joined the staff of the Revue des deux mondes , and for some years contributed numerous essays, the most remarkable of which was that on Les Épopées françaises du XIIème siècle, an early, although not the earliest, appreciation of the long-neglected chansons de geste . Ahasverus , his first major original work, appeared in 1833it is a singular prose poem. [1]

Shortly afterwards he married Minna More, a German girl with whom he had fallen in love some years before. Growing disillusioned with German thought because of Prussian aggressive tactics, [3] he visited Italy, and, besides writing many essays, produced two poems, Napoléon (1835) and Prométhée (1838), both written in verse and seen as inferior to Ahasverus published in 1833. In 1838 he published a strong reply to David Strauss' Leben Jesu, and in that year he received the Legion of Honour. In 1839 he was appointed professor of foreign literature at Lyon, where he began the highly influential course of lectures which formed the basis for his Génie des religions. Two years later he was transferred to the Collège de France, and the Génie des religions, published (1842), he sympathized with all religions but did not favor one above all. [1]


Quinet's Parisian professorship, which began in 1842, was notorious as the subject of polemics. His chair was that of Southern Literature, but, neglecting his proper subject, he chose, in conjunction with Michelet, to engage in a violent polemic with the Jesuits and with Ultramontanism. Two books bearing exactly these titles appeared in 1843 and 1844, and contained, as was usual with Quinet, the substance of his lectures. [1]

These lectures excited great debate and the author obstinately refused to return to literature-proper; consequently, in 1846, the government put an end to the lectures, a measure that was arguably approved by the majority of his colleagues. [1] He was dismissed in 1846 by the Collège de France for his adamant attacks on the Roman Catholic Church, exaltation of the revolution, support for the oppressed nationalities of France and for supporting the theory that religion is a determining force in societies.[ citation needed ]

1848 Revolution

By this time Quinet was a pronounced republican, and something of a revolutionary. He joined the rioters during the 1848 Revolution which overthrew King Louis-Philippe of France, and was elected by the département of Ain to the Constituent and then to the Legislative Assembly, where he affiliated with the extreme radical party. [1]

He had published in 1848 Les Révolutions d'Italie ("The Revolutions of Italy"), one of his main works. He wrote numerous pamphlets during the short-lived Second French Republic, attacked the Roman expedition with all his strength and was from the first an uncompromising opponent of Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (Napoleon III). [1]


Quinet fled Louis Napoléon's 1851 coup d'état to Brussels until 1858 and then fled to Veytaux, Switzerland, until 1870. [1] His wife had died some time previously, and he now married Hermione Asachi (or Asaky), the daughter of Gheorghe Asachi, a Romanian poet.[ citation needed ] In Brussels, Quinet lived for some seven years, during which he published Les Esclaves ("The Slaves", 1853), a dramatic poem, Marnix de Sainte-Aldégonde (1854), a study of the Reformer in which he emphasizes Sainte-Aldégonde's literary merit, and some other books. [1]

In Veytaux, his literary output was greater than ever. In 1860, he published a unique volume, partly reflecting the style of Ahasverus, and entitled Merlin l'enchanteur ( Merlin the Enchanter); in 1862, a Histoire de la campagne de 1815 ("History of the Campaign of 1815"), in 1865 an elaborate book on the French Revolution, in which the author depicts atrocities carried out by revolutionary forces (causing his rejection by many other partisans of republican ideas). Many pamphlets date from this period, as does La Création (1870), a third book of the genre of Ahasverus and Merlin, but even vaguer – dealing with physical science rather than history, legend, or philosophy for the most part. [1]

Return and final years

Quinet had refused to return to France to join the liberal opposition against Napoleon III, but returned immediately after the Battle of Sedan in the Franco-Prussian War. He was then restored to his professorship, and during the siege of Paris wrote vehemently against the Germans. He was elected deputy to the National Assembly by the département of the Seine in 1871, and was one of the most obstinate opponents of the terms of peace between France and Germany. He continued to write till his death, which occurred at Versailles in 1875. [1]

Le Siège de Paris et la défense nationale ("The Siege of Paris and the National Defence") appeared in 1871, La République ("The Republic") in 1872, Le Livre de l'exilé ("The Book of Exile") in the year of its author's death and after it. This was followed by three volumes of letters and some other work. Quinet had already in 1858 published a semi-autobiographical book called Histoire de mes idées ("History of My Ideas"). [1]


According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition:

His character was extremely amiable, and his letters to his mother, his accounts of his early life, and so forth, are likely always to make him interesting. He was also a man of great moral conscientiousness, and as far as intention went perfectly disinterested. As a writer, his chief fault is want of concentration; as a thinker and politician, vagueness and want of practical determination. His historical and philosophical works, though showing much reading, fertile thought, abundant facility of expression, and occasionally, where prejudice does not come in, acute judgment, are rather (as not a few of them were in fact) reported lectures than formal treatises. His rhetorical power was altogether superior to his logical power, and the natural consequence is that his work is full of contradictions. These contradictions were, moreover, due, not merely to an incapacity or an unwillingness to argue strictly, but also to the presence in his mind of a large number of inconsistent tastes and prejudices which he either could not or would not co-ordinate into an intelligible creed. Thus he has the strongest attraction for the picturesque side of medievalism and catholicity, the strongest repulsion for the restrictions which medieval and Catholic institutions imposed on individual liberty. He refused to submit himself to any form of positive orthodoxy, yet when a man like Strauss pushed unorthodoxy to its extreme limits Quinet revolted.

As a politician he acted with the extreme radicals, yet universal suffrage disgusted him as unreasonable in its principle and dangerous in its results. His pervading characteristic, therefore, is that of an eloquent vagueness, very stimulating and touching at times, but as deficient in coercive force of matter as it is in lasting precision and elegance of form. He is less inaccurate in fact than Michelet, but he is also much less absorbed by a single idea at a time, and the result is that he seldom attains to the vivid representation of which Michelet was a master. [4]

Early editions

His numerous works appeared in a uniform edition of twenty-eight volumes (1877–79). His second wife, in 1870, published certain Mémoires d'exil, and Lettres d'exil followed in 1885. In that year Prof. George Saintsbury published a selection of the Lettres à ma mère (Letters to My Mother) with an introduction.

English translations published in the United States

Related Research Articles

Germaine de Staël Swiss author

Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein, commonly known as Madame de Staël, was a French woman of letters and historian of Genevan origin whose lifetime overlapped with the events of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era. For many years she lived as an exile under the Reign of Terror and under Napoleonic persecution. Known as a witty and brilliant conversationalist, often dressed in flashy and revealing outfits, she participated actively in the political and intellectual life of her times. She was present at the Estates General of 1789 and at the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Her intellectual collaboration with Benjamin Constant between 1795 and 1811 made them one of the most celebrated intellectual couples of their time. They discovered sooner than others the tyrannical character and designs of Napoleon. In 1814 one of her contemporaries observed that "there are three great powers struggling against Napoleon for the soul of Europe: England, Russia, and Madame de Staël". Her works, both novels and travel literature, with emphasis on passion, individuality and oppositional politics made their mark on European Romanticism.

Pierre Claude François Daunou French statesman and historian of the French Revolution and Empire

Pierre Claude François Daunou was a French statesman of the French Revolution and Empire. An author and historian, he served as the nation’s archivist under both the Empire and the Restoration, contributed a volume to the Histoire littéraire de la France, and published more than twenty volumes of lectures he delivered when he held the chair of history and ethics at the Collège de France.

Jules Michelet French historian

Jules Michelet was a French historian. He was born in Paris to a family with Huguenot traditions.

Philips of Marnix, Lord of Saint-Aldegonde Flemish writer and noble

Philips of Marnix, Lord of Saint-Aldegonde, Lord of West-Souburg was a Flemish and Dutch writer and statesman, and the probable author of the text of the Dutch national anthem, the Wilhelmus.

Henri Grégoire French bishop

Henri Jean-Baptiste Grégoire, often referred to as Abbé Grégoire, was a French Roman Catholic priest, constitutional bishop of Blois and a revolutionary leader. He was an ardent abolitionist of human slavery and supporter of universal suffrage. He was a founding member of the Bureau des longitudes, the Institut de France, and the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers.

Émile Boutroux French philosopher and historian

Étienne Émile Marie Boutroux was an eminent 19th century French philosopher of science and religion, and an historian of philosophy. He was a firm opponent of materialism in science. He was a spiritual philosopher who defended the idea that religion and science are compatible at a time when the power of science was rising inexorably. His work is overshadowed in the English-speaking world by that of the more celebrated Henri Bergson. He was elected membership of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences in 1898 and in 1912 to the Académie française.

Edgar Quinet (Paris Métro) Paris Métro station

Edgar Quinet is a station of the Paris Métro serving line 6 at the intersection of the Boulevard Edgar-Quinet, the Rue du Montparnasse and the Rue de la Gaîté in the 14th arrondissement.

Antoine Claire Thibaudeau French politician

Antoine Claire, Comte Thibaudeau was a French politician.

Charles Lenormant French archaeologist

Charles Lenormant was a French archaeologist.

Gheorghe Asachi Romanian polymath

Gheorghe Asachi was a Moldavian, later Romanian prose writer, poet, painter, historian, dramatist and translator. An Enlightenment-educated polymath and polyglot, he was one of the most influential people of his generation. Asachi was a respected journalist and political figure, as well as active in technical fields such as civil engineering and pedagogy, and, for long, the civil servant charged with overseeing all Moldavian schools. Among his leading achievements were the issuing of Albina Românească, a highly influential magazine, and the creation of Academia Mihăileană, which replaced Greek-language education with teaching in Romanian. His literary works combined a taste for Classicism with Romantic tenets, while his version of the literary language relied on archaisms and borrowings from the Moldavian dialect.

Hippolyte Castille was a French writer and polemicist.

<i>Le Juif errant</i> (opera) opera

Le Juif errant is a grand opera by Fromental Halévy, with a libretto by Eugène Scribe and Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges.

Claude de Beauharnais (1756–1819) French politician; father-in-law of Charles, Grand Duke of Baden

Claude de Beauharnais was a French politician.

Montparnasse Cemetery cemetery in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris, France

Montparnasse Cemetery is a cemetery in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris, in the city's 14th arrondissement. The cemetery is roughly 47 acres and is the second largest cemetery in Paris. The cemetery has over 35,000 graves and approximately a thousand people are buried here each year.

Albert Laponneraye was a French republican socialist and a journalist, popular historian, educator and editor of Robespierre's writings. He was a representative of the Neo-Babouvist tendency in the 1840s, along with Richard Lahautière, Jean-Jacques Pillot and others. He combined Jacobin republicanism with egalitarian communism and anti-clericalism. He was influenced by the doctrines of Philippe Buonarroti and Étienne Cabet. In the 1830s and 40s Laponneraye was one of the best known advocates of republican communism. He is viewed as a forerunner of Karl Marx.

Charles Joseph Mathieu Lambrechts French politician

Charles Joseph Mathieu Lambrechts was a Belgian-born lawyer who became Minister of Justice of the French Republic, during the Directoire. Later he was a deputy from 1819 to 1824.

Natural borders of France

The natural borders of France are a political and geographic theory developed in France, notably during the French Revolution. They correspond to the Rhine, the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, the Pyrenees and the Alps, according to the revolutionaries.

Godefroy Calès French politician

Jean Marie Noël Godefroy Calès was a French physician and politician. He was born on March 21, 1799 in Saint-Denis (Seine-Saint-Denis) and died on July 25, 1868 in Villefranche-de-Lauragais (Haute-Garonne).

Jean Jules Godefroy Calès French politician

Jean JulesGodefroy Calès was a French politician and physician. He was born on July 24, 1828 in Villefranche-de-Lauragais (Haute-Garonne) and died on November 2, 1899 in Bordeaux (Gironde).

Hermiona Asachi was a Romanian writer and translator.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Saintsbury 1911, p. 755.
  2. Chazin, Maurice (March 1933), "Quinet an Early Discource of Emerson", PMLA 48, 1: 147-163
  3. Barzun, Jaques (October 1974), "Romantic Historiography as a Political Force in France", Journal of the History of Ideas 12, 3: 318-329
  4. Saintsbury 1911, pp. 755–756.