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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Victor Duruy (1811–1894)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
DURUY, whose monumental works upon Grecian and Roman history have been worthily reproduced in England under the editorship of Professor Mahaffy, and in America in sumptuous illustrated editions, was a figure of the first importance both in the educational and in the distinctly literary history of France, throughout nearly half the present century. He became one of the “Immortals” in 1884, succeeding to the chair of Mignet; but his ‘History of Ancient Greece,’ which was published in 1862, had been already crowned by the Academy. His more extensive ‘History of the Grecian People,’ published in 1885–1887, won from the Academy the Jean Renaud prize of 10,000 francs.  1
  He was born September 11th, 1811, of a family employed in the Gobelins tapestry works in Paris. His predilection for study secured him an opportunity to enter the College of Sainte-Barbe, whence he passed to the Normal School.  2
  When he was twenty-two he began teaching history, first at Rheims, and then in the College of Henry IV. in Paris. Here he began his literary work, mostly upon school-books, of which he wrote many, mainly historical and geographical. He received the degree of Doctor of Letters in 1853, and became successively Inspector of the Academy of Paris, Master of Conferences at the Normal School, Professor of History at the Polytechnic School, and Inspector-General of Secondary Instruction. During the whole of this period he had been engaged with secondary classes, and had become strongly impressed by the faulty condition of the primary and secondary schools. In 1863 Louis Napoleon put him at the head of the educational system of the empire as Minister of Public Instruction. This appointment gave him the opportunity to carry out numerous and important secularizing reforms which brought him into sharp collision with the clerical party. He held his post as minister for six years—six years of struggle with the parsimonious disposition of the administration upon the one hand, and with the hostile clericals upon the other.  3
  The measures in which he was especially interested were the reorganization of the Museum of Natural History, the extension of scientific study, the introduction of the study of modern and contemporary history in the lyceums (a dreadful experiment, according to his opponents), gratuitous and compulsory primary education, the improvement of the night schools, and popular classes for adults. He was to a large extent successful in all these, except in the direction of compulsory education. The efforts which he made to improve the instruction given to young girls brought upon him the tempest. The bishops, with Monsignor Dupanloup of Orléans at their head, raised a veritable crusade, and Pope Pio Nono himself at length entered the hostile ranks. Probably in part because of this conflict, he was superseded in 1869 and was made a member of the Senate, from which he retired to private life, and the prosecution of his literary labors on the fall of the empire, in the following year. He died in 1894.  4
  As an author his style is clear and direct. Among his numerous works the most important are the two great histories, for which, as for other achievements, honors were heaped upon him. In these he laid particular stress upon the milieu—the conditions of place, time, and race. Consequently he has therein written the history of the Greek and Roman peoples, and not merely the history of Greece and Rome,—and has pictured them, so far as possible, as they looked and felt and thought and acted. He exhibits, for example, the growth of the magnificent power of Rome, and its decadence; and shows the all-conquering empire subdued to the manners, the gods, and the institutions of the conquered. And worse:—“They had become enamored of the arts, the letters, and the philosophy of Greece, and dying Greece had avenged itself by transmitting to them the corruption which had dishonored its old age.”  5
  The drift of his argument appears in this paragraph, in which he sums up his story of the Eternal City:—“In the earlier portion of its history may be seen the happy effects of a progressively liberal policy; in the later the baneful consequences of absolute power, governing a servile society through a venal administration.”  6
 
 
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