Michelet, Jules

Michelet, Jules

(zhül mēshəlā`), 1798–1874, French writer, the greatest historian of the romantic school. Born in Paris of poor parents, he visualized himself throughout his life as a champion of the people. He headed the historical section of the national archives and was professor of history at the Collège de France, but he lost his positions when he refused (1851) the oath of allegiance to Louis Napoleon (later Napoleon III). His major work is his Histoire de France (many volumes, 1833–67; several partial translations into English); its style, its emotional strength, and its powerful evocation make it a masterpiece of French literature. Michelet traced the biography of the nation as a whole, instead of concentrating on persons or groups of persons. His most convincing pages deal with the Middle Ages. Michelet had vast knowledge of factual detail and original documents, but his history, especially the latter part, is marred by emotional bias against the clergy, the nobility, and the monarchic institutions. Many of Michelet's other political and historical works are outgrowths of his history of France; especially notable are Le Peuple (1846) and the biography of Joan of Arc (1853). He also wrote romantic impressions of nature and life.

Michelet, Jules (1798-1874)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A French historian and occultist, born in Paris on August 21, 1798. Michelet was the author of a number of books including La Sorcière (1862), translated as "Satanism and Witchcraft," which suggested that witchcraft grew out of the lower classes' revolt against the harshness of the Church in the Middle Ages. Michelet did relate medieval witchcraft to the remnants of a pre-Christian European fertility cult, but claimed that it featured the Black Mass and ritual sexual intercourse between the devil and his followers.

Michelet's father, a master printer, sent his son to the Lycée Charlemagne, from which Jules went on to teach history in the Collège Rollin. In 1827 he was appointed maître de confèrences at the École Normale. In 1838 he was appointed to the chair of history at the Collège de France. His chief work was a history of France, and La Sorcière grew out of this. He died at Hyères on February 9, 1874.

Michelet, Jules

 

Born Aug. 21, 1798, in Paris; died Feb. 9, 1874, in Hyères. French historian of the romantic school and ideologist of the petite bourgeoisie. Member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences (1838).

Michelet was appointed a professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in 1827 and at the Collège de France in 1838. During the July Monarchy, he was idolized by radical students as an ardent opponent of the Catholic Church. His hostility to the church is expressed in his sociological studies The Jesuits, Priest, Woman, and the Family, and The People (Russian translation, Moscow, 1965). As a young man Michelet believed in a “liberal monarchy,” but he later became a republican. Although he accepted the French Revolution, he disapproved of the Jacobins and communist ideas, regarding economic inequality as a divine law. In 1852, after refusing to take an oath of allegiance to Napoleon III, he was dismissed from the Collège de France and lost his position as head of the historical section in the National Archives, a post he had held since 1831. His textbooks on modern and world history, which exerted a great influence on French historiography, reveal his talent for broad historical generalization and an eclectic approach to philosophical and historical thought, combining G. Vice’s cyclical view of history with G. Hegel’s theory of progress. For Michelet the people, undivided into social classes, are the hero of social progress. Great men are merely symbols, expressing the social ideas of civilizations; essentially they are pygmies who have climbed “on the obedient shoulders of the good giant, the People.”

His most important works are the multivolume History of France, covering events to 1789, and its sequel, the History of the French Revolution. These works are based on primary sources, both published and archival, and on geographic and numismatic data. Michelet set out to reveal the psychology of the French nation, the “national spirit,” as expressed in language, folklore, literature, and art. He strove to resurrect the past with the aid of the arts. Michelet’s subjective evaluations rest on intuition, imagination, and sympathy for the persons and phenomena described.

WORKS

Oeuvres complètes, vols. 1–40. Paris, 1893–98.
In Russian translation:
Obozrenie noveishei istorii. St. Petersburg, 1838.
Reforma (Iz istorii Frantsii v XVI v). St. Petersburg, 1861.
Zhenshchina. Odessa, 1863.
Istoriia XIX v., vols. 1–3. St. Petersburg, 1882–84.
Zhanna d’Ark. Petrograd, 1920.
Ved’ma. Moscow, 1929.

REFERENCES

Vainshtein, O. L. Istoriografiia srednikh vekov. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940. Pages 191–93.
Reizov, B. G. Frantsuzskaia romanticheskaia istoriografiia. Leningrad, 1956. Chapter 9.
Kosminskii, E. A. Istoriografiia srednikh vekov. Moscow, 1963. Pages 401–10.
Monod, G. La Vie et la pensee de J. Michelet, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1923.
Alff, W. Michelet’s ideen. Geneva-Paris, 1966.

O. L. VAINSHTEIN

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