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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
François Guizot (1787–1874)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Charles Gross (1857–1909)
FRANÇOIS PIERRE GUILLAUME GUIZOT was born at Nîmes, October 4th, 1787. His career was eventful: he was a prolific writer, a successful professor, a great historian, and an influential statesman. Though we are mainly concerned with his literary activity, Guizot the author cannot be isolated from Guizot the patriot, the Calvinist statesman, the political champion of the bourgeoisie and of constitutional monarchy. He is one of the few great historians who have helped to make history. The polities and state-craft of the past should be less mysterious to the experienced and judicious statesman than to the secluded scholar. On the other hand, Guizot’s training in historical research may have reacted on his political life, widening his mental horizon and helping to develop in him the liberal spirit of catholicity and impartiality which he evinced in his public life.  1
  His father, a lawyer, was a victim of the Revolution in 1794. In 1812 Guizot was appointed professor of history at the Sorbonne. In 1814 he began his political career as Secretary-General of the Interior, and in 1817 he became a Councilor of State. In 1822 his lectures at the Sorbonne were suppressed on account of his liberal ideas; in 1828 he recovered his chair at the Sorbonne, and during the next two years lectured on the history of civilization in Europe and France. Under Louis Philippe he was Minister of Instruction, and did much to improve the French system of education. From 1840 to 1848 he was at the head of the French Cabinet as Minister of Foreign Affairs. With the dethronement of Louis Philippe in 1848 his political activity came to an end. Throughout his life he was a liberal. Though he advocated the political preponderance of the middle classes and the maintenance of a constitutional government he firmly combated revolutionary and ultra-democratic theories; he tried to reconcile the enjoyment of liberty with the preservation of social order. He died September 12th, 1874.  2
  Of his numerous writings the most important are the ‘History of Civilization in Europe,’ the ‘History of Civilization in France,’ the ‘History of the English Revolution,’ ‘Shakespeare and his Times,’ his ‘Memoirs,’ and the ‘History of France, Related for my Grandchildren.’ As a historian he is noted for his philosophic grasp of important historical questions, his clear discernment of the broad lines of historical development, and his insight into the relations of cause and effect. Paying little heed to amusing and dramatic details or personal exploits, he tries to determine the dominant ideas or principles of each period of history. All his works are marked by a seriousness of purpose which often assumes the form of ardent patriotism or earnest religious conviction. He believed that the study of the past has an ethical value, that an accurate knowledge of the past helps us to comprehend the present and to provide for the future. He also believed in the progressive development of mankind through the various ages. The fundamental idea contained in the word “civilization,” he says, is progress or development, the carrying to higher perfection the relations between man and man.  3
  Such a philosophic treatment of history, though stimulating to thoughtful students, may easily degenerate into vague and misleading generalizations. The philosophic historian is tempted to weave his subjective ideas into the tissue which he fabricates, allowing the imagination to dominate over reason. The successful application of the philosophic method presupposes not merely a high order of mental capacity, but also an accurate knowledge of facts, which was less attainable in Guizot’s time than it is at present. When he wrote his ‘Civilization in Europe’ and ‘Civilization in France’ (1828–30), the modern method of historical research was still in its infancy; Ranke had just begun his epoch-making career. It must be admitted however that Guizot’s books are still suggestive and instructive, despite the fact that critical investigation during the past fifty years has revolutionized our knowledge of events and institutions; many of the broad lines of development that he laid down still remain unchanged. It should also be said that Guizot did much for the advancement of historical research by aiding to establish the Society for the History of France and by creating the Historical Commission, both of which have actively promoted this branch of study in France since 1835.  4
  Each of the fourteen brief lectures in his ‘History of Civilization in Europe’ is the delineation of a cardinal event or principle, and these principles are linked into one chain of development. At first he considers the influence of the three main sources of modern civilization—the Christian Church, the Romans, and the Germans; in the light of recent research we may safely say that he underrates the influence of the Germanic element and overestimates that of Rome. Next he examines four later cardinal factors in historical development,—namely, feudalism, the Church, the communes, and royalty,—and traces their interaction down through the period of monarchical centralization and of the Reformation to the French Revolution. He regards France as the center or focus of European civilization. He admits that at various epochs Italy has outstripped France in the arts, and that England has had the lead in developing political institutions; but even those leading ideas or institutions whose birth must be referred to other countries, had to be clarified in France before they were diffused throughout Europe. Therefore France is “eminently qualified to march at the head of European civilization.” Though France does not hold this leadership at present, what Guizot says is certainly applicable in large measure to the past: for centuries the influence of French civilization radiated in all directions, and no other country forms a better nucleus for the study of general European history.  5
  The prominence or dominance of French ideas in European history is also emphasized in Guizot’s ‘History of Civilization in France.’ Though this series of lectures extends only to the fourteenth century, it is a more elaborate work than the ‘History of Civilization in Europe.’ The author gives a detailed account of the leading factors which entered into the development of France, and shows how from the relations between feudalism, the communes, and royalty, national and political unity was gradually evolved. His portrayal of feudalism is particularly detailed and attractive, though his account of the origin of that institution is now antiquated. He believes that two great lessons may be learned from the study of French history: (1) that the rivalry of the nobility and the commons prevented their union against despotism; and (2) that Frenchmen have a tendency to follow an idea or principle to its logical conclusion, regardless of consequences. These lessons help us to understand certain great divergences in the constitutional development of France and England.  6
  Guizot’s account of what he calls “the English Revolution” comprises three separate works: ‘The History of Charles I.’ (1826–27), ‘The History of Oliver Cromwell’ (1854), and ‘The History of Richard Cromwell’ (1856). Like the German historian Gneist, he studied English history in order to determine what France could learn from the annals of her neighbor. Passionately preoccupied with the future of his country, he wished to ascertain just how a great people succeeded in securing and conserving a free government. In dealing with the history of England during the seventeenth century, Guizot exhibits an admirable spirit of impartiality and a firm grasp of the dominant political ideas of the whole period. He also presents much new documentary evidence derived from the French archives. These volumes are still instructive, though Gardiner and other recent writers have overthrown some of Guizot’s conclusions.  7
  In the ‘Memoirs of my Own Time’ (1858–67) Guizot comments upon contemporary political events, many of which he had helped to shape. This work is particularly important for the study of Louis Philippe’s reign, and especially for the period of Guizot’s ministry, from 1840 to 1848.  8
  In his extreme old age he wrote ‘The History of France, Related for my Grandchildren’ (1870–75). In this work the octogenarian tries to impress upon the rising generation of Frenchmen the need of a lofty spirit of patriotism and a strong faith in their vanquished country, a faith which the past history of France should nourish and strengthen. He tries to awaken the interest of his readers by dwelling upon great persons and great events, and he succeeds in giving an admirable account of the general history of France.  9
  Many of Guizot’s books have been translated into English, but most of the translations are marred by serious defects. His style, which has been assailed by some critics and admired by others, shows an improvement in his later works. Though he was not a great historical artist, his style is usually clear. All his writings are marked by a Calvinistic soberness of tone, which, though it may repel those in quest of picturesque historical details, attracts and stimulates thoughtful students.  10

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