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I had the happiness to see, what I most desired, historical works taking a high place in popular favour, and writers of the first class devote themselves to them in preference.

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The number and importance of the publications which appeared successively from to the end of ; so many extensive works, each of which presented in a new light, and re-established in some sort, an epoch either ancient or recent of the past; such a concourse of efforts and talents gave rise to the opinion, then a probable, now unfortunately a very doubtful one, that history would be the stamp of the nineteenth century, and would give it its name, as philosophy had done for the eighteenth. Such a belief was well calculated to excite zeal into enthusiasm.

I believed myself, according to the fine expression of M. I reached my aim in the spring of , after four years and a half of unceasing toil. The success I obtained surpassed my hopes; but this joy, great as it was, had a sad compensation; my eyes had worn themselves in work; I had partly lost my sight.

My task ended, I listened, but too late perhaps, to the advice of taking some repose; it was urgent, for I had become perfectly incapable of reading or writing. My eyesight continued to diminish notwithstanding the use of the strongest remedies; and as a last medical prescription, I was ordered to travel. I went to Switzerland, and thence to Provence, where M. Fauriel soon came to join me. He had a scientific end in view in this journey; it was the last complement of long and patient researches on the political and literary history of Southern France, a work worthy in my opinion of the most flourishing time of historical erudition.

Condemned to idleness, I followed from city to city my laborious traveling companion, and not without envy saw him scrutinize all the relics of the past, searching archives and libraries, to put the finishing stroke to the work which was to fill up an immense vacuum in our national history. Unable myself to read, not only manuscript, but the finest inscription engraved on stone, I endeavoured to derive some benefit from my travels by studying in the monuments the history of the architecture of the middle ages.

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I had just enough sight to guide me, but when in the presence of edifices or ruins, of which it was necessary to find out the epoch, and determine the style, I know not what inward sense came to the help of my eyes. Animated by what I would willingly call the historic passion, I saw farther and more clearly. None of the principal lines, no characteristic feature escaped me, and the promptness of my glance, so uncertain in ordinary circumstances, was a cause of surprise to the person who accompanied me.

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Such are the last ideas that the sense of sight procured me; a year afterwards this slight, although to me keen enjoyment, was no longer permitted me; the remains of vision had disappeared. On my return to Paris in the first months of , I again began to follow what I considered to be my destiny, and almost blind, found again all my zeal for new studies.

The necessity of reading with the eyes of another, and dictating instead of writing, did not alarm me; I had been broken into this kind of work by the editing of the last chapters of my book. The always Edition: current; Page: [ xvii ] painful transition from one method to the other, was rendered less so to me by the eager attentions of a friendship which is very dear to me. It is to M. Armand Carrel, whose name is now celebrated, that I am indebted for having overcome without hesitation this difficult step. His firm character and judicious mind came to my assistance in the days of discouragement; and perhaps I returned service for service, in being the first to guess and reveal to himself the futurity awaiting his great talents.

I first occupied myself with a project long before conceived and decided on; it was that of a great history, or rather of a great chronicle of France, uniting in the frame of a continuous narrative all the original documents of our history from the fifth to the seventeenth century. The almost universal favour which the collections of chronicles and memoirs then enjoyed, had seduced and somewhat misled me. I thought it would be possible to join together all the clashing materials by filling up gaps, suppressing repetitions, but preserving with care the cotemporaneous expression of facts.

It seemed to me that from this work, in which, so to speak, each century would relate itself, and speak with its own voice, must result the true history of France; that which would never be altered, never would belong to any other writer, and which all would consult as the repertory of our national archives.


By a singular coincidence, the same idea presented itself at the same time to one of my friends, whose great understanding exercised the more power over me, because the character of his mind least resembled my own; this was M. Mignet, the idealist historian of the new school, gifted with a wonderful talent for the generalization of facts and historical induction. We associated together for the execution of our mutual thought.

We both made for several months preparatory studies, he on the thirteenth and following centuries, I on the preceding period. Every thing went right as long as there was nothing to do but to notice and pass in review the large masses of narrative which were to unite in the composition of our work.

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There was apparently something imposing in it; but when it became necessary to set about the final editing, our illusions vanished, and we each on our side perceived that a labour, in which art did not enter, was repugnant to us. I for my share ended a volume, the one which was first to appear; fortunately the enterprise was abandoned before any thing had been published.

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When it became necessary to choose another subject for a book, the propensity of my mind to look back and take former ideas and former sketches into my hands again, made me think of the ten letters on the history of France, published in Six years had elapsed since that period, and the reform of historical studies no longer needed preaching; it spoke for itself, and advanced with giant strides. However, if the revolution was accomplished for the select few, it was not yet so for the body of the public.

If MM. Guizot, de Sismondi and de Barante found enthusiastic readers, Velly and Anquetil had still the advantage over them of far more numerous patrons. I therefore recommenced my polemic of , not against those men, guilty only of having possessed the science of their time, but against that science itself, which, old and worn out for us, ought to make way for a new science.

I corrected all that was doubtful in my first work; I widened the field of controversy, and stated the historical questions in a firmer and clearer manner; finally, I substituted a calm language for my youthful style, stamped with a certain febrile ardour, and a superabundance of will which often went beyond the mark. My recent studies were put to use; they helped me to complete the criticism of the fundamental bases of the history of the two Frankish dynasties, and to fix the precise point at which the history of France, properly so called, begins.

When, after treating the question of the accession of the third race, I came to that of Edition: current; Page: [ xviii ] the enfranchisement of the Commons, this problem, which had occupied me ever since the opening of my historical career, detained me by an irresistible attraction: it was impossible for me to leave it before I had treated it under all its phases, by dissertation and by narrative; a subject in which, so to speak, were reflected all my plebeian sympathies. I seemed fulfilling a duty of filial piety, in relating the stormy life of the ancestors of French citizens; in reviving for my cotemporaries the obscure names of some outlaws of the twelfth century.

It is thus that a point of discussion, touched upon in , in a newspaper article, became this time the subject of half a volume. It was not a mere reprint, but a completely new arrangement, in which part of the work underwent such changes, that entire chapters, replaced by others, remained unemployed. During the course of the year , I divided my time between this scrupulous revision and a project, the execution of which is still only prospective, but which will be, if it please God, the crown of my historical works.

He was going to give the public one half of the prolegomena of the history of France, the Celtic origin, the picture of Gallic migrations and that of Gaul under the Roman administration. I undertook for my share the other half, that is, the Germanic origin, and the picture of the great invasions which caused the downfall of the Roman empire in the west. I experienced heartfelt pleasure at the idea of this brotherly association, at the hope of attaching our two names to the double basis on which the edifice of our national history must repose.

I had entered with ardour into a series of researches quite new to me: had sought in the collection of Byzantine historians for the history of the Goths, Huns, Vandals, and other nations that took part in the dismemberment of the empire, when I found myself stopped by an obstacle stronger than myself. However extended these labours, my complete blindness would not have prevented my going through them: I was resigned as much as a courageous man can be; I had made a friendship with darkness.

But other trials came; acute sufferings and the decline of my strength, announced a nervous disease of the most serious kind. I was obliged to confess myself conquered, and to save, if it was still time, the last remains of my health. I gave up work, and left Paris in October, Such is the history of the ten most active and laborious years of my literary life.


I have never found similar ones since, and have only been able to glean a few hours of work here and there amid long days of suffering. The period of rest which opened for me the year marks the limit of these two epochs, so different from one another. There is the end of my youthful career, and the commencement of a new one, which I pursue with courage, but with slow steps, much slower than formerly, but perhaps more surely.

If, as I delight in thinking, the interest of science is counted in the number of great national interests, I have given my country all that the soldier, mutilated on the field of battle, gives her. Whatever may be the fate of my labours, this example I hope will not be lost. I would wish it to serve to combat the species of moral weakness which is the disease of our present generation; to bring back into the straight road of life some of those enervated souls that complain of wanting faith, that know not what to do, and seek everywhere, without finding it, an object of worship and admiration.

Why say, with so much bitterness, that in the world, constituted as it is, there is no air for all lungs, no employment for all minds? Is not calm and serious study there? With it, evil days are passed over without their weight being felt; every one can make his own destiny; every one employ his life nobly. This is what I have done, and would do again if I had to recommence my career; I would choose that which has brought me where I am.

Blind, and suffering without hope, and almost without intermission, I may give this testimony, which from me will not appear suspicious: there is something in the world better than sensual enjoyments, better than fortune, better than health itself; it is devotion to science. The situation of civilized men varies and renews itself incessantly.

Every century that passes over a people leaves a different mode of life, different interests, different wants from what it found. But in this succession of different states, language does not change so rapidly as things, and it is rare that new facts meet at any given point with new signs which express them. The interests which have just arisen are forced to explain themselves in the idiom of those which have disappeared and are not properly understood; present conditions are disguised beneath the expression given to former conditions, and either deceive or escape observation.

Truth, truth is demanded of all who write on law, as if he who undertakes to speak to men about what they are, and what they have to do, had only to will to be truthful.

But at every instant we are conquered by conventional formulas, and truth is buried beneath words. It is not astonishing that our ideas in politics should be still imperfectly fixed, when we only find to express them words twenty centuries old. Sovereignty, submission, government, people, prince, subject, these words, with a few others in use for the last two thousand years, keep our ideas so thoroughly enthralled, that our most varying theories are in fact only words differently arranged.

To speak of the sovereignty of the prince, or the sovereignty of the people; to prescribe the submission of the people to the prince, or the prince to the people; to say that subjects are made for governments, or governments for subjects, is always revolving in the same circle though in different directions; this is speculating equally on the supposition that these collected terms still represent something real and necessary, and that the relations which they have expressed subsist in our social state in accordance with our present nature and wants. It is equally a mistake, if the supposition is ungrounded; and this is what we must first examine.

As men of the same civilization, we ought all to have but one voice on our civil relations, and on what each of us has the right to require from others. Why then are there so many controversies, quarrels, and social hatreds?

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It is because we want an exact language, fit to render our particular desires in a manner which should make itself understood by all. Wishes variously expressed appear opposed, when they best accord: the hostility of words is transferred to men.