Panat in postcardThe Ranums'

Panat Times

Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


De Thou Studies

Avant Propos

Return to Table of Contents

The text you are holding in your hands or viewing on your monitor was written with two distinct readerships in mind. The first is the specialist in history, literature or art, or the learned amateur who is familiar with the general history of France in the seventeenth century. I have not provided lengthy contexts for all the facts that de Thou brings up in his narrative and that bear on heresy or Lorraines-Guises factionalism -- the two principal themes explored here.

The second readership for which I have written is the tiny minority of scholars who are interested in the history of historical thought. Jacques-Auguste de Thou ranks among the very top French narrative historians, along with Voltaire, Tocqueville, Michelet, Chéruel and Goubert. My aim is to make de Thou's work better known. Not philosophy of history, not historiography, what I seek to write is the history of historical thought as it has been practiced by D. Kelley, N.S. Struever, Z. Schiffman, W.F. Church, F. Gilbert, S. Uomini, R. Kagan, H. Baron, C.-G. Dubois, J.G.A. Pocock, S. Kinser, G. Huppert, C. Grell, B. Barret-Kriegel, B. Guenée, A. Graves, G. Spiegel, A. Momigliano and C. Volpilhac-Auger, E. Cochrane, A. Bakos, D. Gembicki, W. Bouwsma, R. Kagan, L. Gossman, F. Gilbert, O. Hintze, H. Butterfield, C. Seignebos, J.W. Thompson, S. Mellon, M.L.W. Laistner, and R. Syme -- each asking his or her own personal questions, but all devotees of close historical reading.

It is my hope that these chapters may contribute to defining and extending, if not a discipline at least a special aproach to the study of all histories.

In Artisans of Glory (Chapel Hill, 1980), I elucidated the tellingly negative influences of a deeply historicized ancient rhetoric upon five seventeenth-century writers of history who came from a variety of social and religious milieux. Their efforts to write history according to the rules of classical rhetoric and exemplarity yielded mediocre works of history (and epic poetry). Indeed, while the great writers of classical French also followed these rules, they sensibly ignored them when writing such works as Le Cid, Phèdre or Les Lettres provinciales. (1)

The nearly century and a half that separates the publication of de Thou's Historiarum sui temporis, circa 1606 (referred to as "History" in what follows), and Voltaire's Siècle de Louis XIV in 1751, has only Bossuet's Discours sur l'Histoire Universelle (2) as a candidate to rank among the great narrative histories. Many histories were, of course, published, but their authors often erred on the side of panegyric in their efforts to write a French Livy. The practice of preparing critical editions of ancient and medieval texts, begun in the sixteenth century, continued without interruption: thus it was not the lack of sources, nor a repressive political culture, that led to the failures in writing narrative history.

Over the centuries, readers of de Thou have incorporated into their own narratives much of what he says about the Wars of Religion. However, I have not found a commentator who has attempted to elucidate the general themes in the History about the entire period in France. My attempt to pull together what de Thou writes about heresy and factionalism constitutes a meager beginning of what might be done. An article about divinité in de Thou's Preface is scheduled (eventually?) to be published in the Mélanges Sabatier. One day it will find its way to these "De Thou Studies," to help clarify de Thou's personal religious views. Eventually, there will also be a short chapter on de Thou's inclusion of family members in the History. Did Froissart or Commines include family members in their chronicles? In the official histories written in the seventeenth century, family members were not included, no matter how illustrious. De Thou however includes numerous references to his family in the Vita. Ingrid De Smet is attentive to de Thou's closest learned, non-robe friends. Jotham Parsons, The Church and the Republic (Washington, 2004), provides much insight into the Gallican outlook shared by de Thou and other parlementaire members of his family.

Samuel Kinser, The Works of Jacques-Auguste de Thou (The Hague, 1966) combines insightful close reading and masterful bibliographical techniques. The groundwork for a critical edition of the History is here. While an indispensable tool for reading the History, Kinser's work does not in fact offer an interpretation of it.

Claude-Gilbert Dubois's La Conception de l'histoire en France au XVIIe siècle (Paris, 1977) offers a short analysis of the Preface and some sound comments on the body of the text -- mainly about its politique perspective -- as well as a synthesis of the notion of the divine infused in the French nation.

Ingrid A.R. De Smet's Thuanus (Geneva, 2006) is a careful and learned overview of both the life and the works. If we cannot accurately discern the man of letters and statesman in the faulty editions of the History, he can easily be found and loved here. There is particular acuteness in the different familial, friendly, and political-religious contexts that prompted de Thou to turn to poetry. It is tempting to infer that some of the learned, whimsical and burning irony about politics and humanity in the poems and Vita is also in the History, but ....

Keeping my themes always in mind, I did not go back to de Thou's Vita, now in a new edition by A. Teissier-Ensminger (Paris, 2007); but it is evident that for anyone to write more generally about religion, heresy and factionalism in de Thou, the entire �uvre would have to be gone through carefully.

Among the pioneering articles that give pleasure to cite are R. Zuber's "Cléricature intellectuelle ..." (3); J.-M. Châtelain's "Heros togatus" (4); Amy Graves on the "art du portrait" in de Thou (5); and M. Yardeni's "La Pensée politique des 'Politiques.' (6)



1. I have nothing original to say on these issues, but see M. Fumaroli, L'Age de l'éloquence, Rhétorique et "res literaria" de la Renaissance au seuil de l'époque classique (Geneva, 1980; Paris, 1994); and I. Porter, ed., The Classical Traditions of Greece and Rome (Princeton, 2006), passim. Some historians have found it difficult to accept the notion that a revived and deeply historicized ancient rhetoric might have negative consequences on the writing of history. F. Waquet, "Res et verba. Les érudits et le style dans l'historiographie de la fin du XVIIe siécle," History of Historiography, 8 (1985), pp. 27-36.-

2. See my Introduction to the Elborg Forster translation (Chicago, 1976).

3. "Cléricature intellectuelle et cléricature politique: le cas des érudits gallicans (1580-1620)," Travaux de linguistique et de littérature ... de l'université de Strasbourg, 21 (1983), pp. 121-134.

4. Heros Togatus": culture cicéronienne et gloire de la robe dans la France d'Henri II," Journal des Savants (1991), pp. 263-287.

5. "L'art du portrait dans l'Histoire universelle," in Jacques-Auguste de Thou (1553-1617), Ecritures et condition robine, Cahiers V.L. Saulnier, 24 (Paris, 2006), pp. 127-142.

6. "La Pensée politique des 'Politiques': Etienne Pasquier et Jacques-Auguste de Thou," in T. Wanegffelen, ed., De Michel de l'Hospital à l'Édit de Nantes, politique et religion face aux Églises (Clermont-Ferrand, 2002), pp. 495-510.