Hippolyte Taine

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Taine, Hippolyte


(full name Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine). Born Apr. 21, 1828, in Vouziers, in the Ardennes; died Mar. 5, 1893, in Paris. French philosopher, aesthetician, writer, and historian.

Taine studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris from 1848 to 1851. He became a member of the Académie Frangaise in 1878. Taine founded the aesthetic theory of naturalism and the school of cultural history. His chief works were Essays of Criticism and History (1858; Russian translation, 1869), studies on Balzac (1858) and Stendhal (1864), History of English Literature (1863–64; Russian translation, 1876), and The Philosophy of Art (1865–69; Russian translations, 1866 and 1899).

Proceeding from A. Comte’s positivist evolutionism, Taine asserted that criticism should be a neutral analysis that avoids moral and ideological judgments. His methodology was based on the triad la race (a writer’s innate, natural qualities), le milieu (his geographic and climatic setting), and le moment (la race and le milieu during a given historical epoch). The interaction among the components of the triad gives rise to literary styles, genres, and schools.

Taine’s works manifested an elitist indifference to the life of the people. He wrote the books of essays Voyage to the Waters of the Pyrenees (1855) and Voyage in Italy (1866; Russian translation, 1913–16), the satiric novella Parisian Mores: Notes and Opinions of Mr. Frédérick-Graindorge (1867; Russian translation, 1880), Notes on England (1871; Russian translation, 1872), and Travel Journal (1897).

Although Taine was a moderate liberal before the 1870’s, he reacted to the Paris Commune (1871) with hostility and became a reactionary. This turning point was reflected in his major historical work, The Origins of Contemporary France (vols. 1–3, 1876–93; Russian translation, vols. 1–5,1907). Based on a biased selection of sources, the work was essentially an attack against the French Revolution, the Jacobins, and the Jacobinic dictatorship.


La Fontaine et ses fables. Paris, 1861.
Sa Vie et sa correspondence, 4th ed., vols. 1–2. Paris, 1908–14.
In Russian translation:
Bal’zak. St. Petersburg, 1894.
Istoriia estetiki: Pamiatniki mirovoi esteticheskoi mysli, vol. 3. Moscow, 1967.


Plekhanov, G. V. Literatura i estetika, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1958.
Lunacharskii, A. V. Sobr. soch., vol. 8. Moscow, 1967.
Anisimov, 1.1. Zhivaia zhizn’ klassiki. Moscow, 1974. Pages 101–03.
Aulard, A. Taine, historien de la revolution française. Paris, 1907.
Lacombe, P. Taine, historien et sociologue. Paris, 1909.


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Dewald portrays the literary critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804-69) as the influential, informal leader of younger writers--including Hippolyte Taine and Ernest Renan--who wrote for a large public audience and drew on literary or unofficial sources to describe popular culture, religion, and social life among the popular classes.
De l'autre grande philosophie du dix-neuvieme siecle, celle de Maine de Biran, Hippolyte Taine disait qu'elle presentait une conception trop metaphysique du sujet, et que celui-ci s'en trouvait obscurcit; "son style indique a chaque ligne la haine des faits particuliers et precis, l'amour de l'abstraction, l'habitude invincible de considerer uniquement et perpetuellement les qualites generales [...] ne considerant que les facultes et les puissances, il a fini par prendre pour des etres les facultes et les puissances" (Taine, Les Philosophes classiques 62).