*This paper was read by Professor William McNeil, of the University of Chicago, in the author's stead, because of a miscalculation by the author on the dates of the special conference on l7th century French history held in the fall of l976 at the Newberry Library, Chicago, to honor John B. Wolf. It was submitted for consideration for publication in the next year to History and Theory with the proviso that it would have to be reworked in order to make it less oral. The editor of History and Theory expressed no interest in the paper at all. At the time the author interpreted this as a comment on the tendency of that journal to search for the origins of contemporary scholarly historical method in Ranke, rather than in the continuities. In rereading it in l998 the author notes many other possible reasons for a rejection. Still, there is a point here, namely that Ranke may be partly interpreted as a historian of continuities. His willingness to work through already established narratives in order to establish his own merits further reflection.
The five-volume work published by Cotta'scher in l852-56(l) in Stuttgart and Tübingen known as the Französische Geschichte, vornehmlich im sechzehnten und siebzehnten Jahrhundert, arrived soon after publication at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The volumes were bound in typical red calf leather of the BN at the time. These mid-l9th century BN bindings are attractive but not particularly strong, certainly not as strong as those of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; yet, after being on the shelves for well over a century and available to thousands of readers under the call number 8o Lal8 l24, they are in almost mint condition. There are a few scratches here and there but not tears or repairs.
The Jean-Jacques Porchat translation of the Französische Geschichte began to appear chez Klincksieck as early as l855. Volume IV was bound in l857; volumes V-VI were bound in l889 and l893, in the red calf similar to the first German edition. These bindings also are in almost perfect condition. The late binding of Volume IV suggests that the book may have been rebound; if so, how to explain the crisp, mint quality of the paper in that volume? Indeed, the paper in both the first German edition and the French translation at the BN show little rubbing, no markings, and none of the thickening along the edges common to all books receiving heavy use. One senses that Ranke's pages have hardly ever been exposed to the air.
There is only one possible inference to be made from the condition of these books; that the French scarcely have read Ranke on the history of their nation. Does this come as a surprise? There is other evidence to confirm the possibility that the work was ignored; Mariéjol does not cite it in his volume on the reigns of Henry IV and Louis XIII in the Histoire de France (Paris, l905) VI, part 2, ed. by E. Lavisse. On foreign affairs he does cite D.M. Philippson's Heinrich IV und Philipp II (n.p., l870-76) on p. l02, indicating perhaps a familiarity with German scholarship and a belief that Ranke's work had been surpassed. Lavisse, in his own volumes of the Histoire de France (Paris, l906-l908), does cite Ranke in his general bibliography. Apparently few of his compatriots followed his lead.
The apparent neglect of this work poses questions. Ranke is among the very top modern historians of Western civilization. Was this work, like an occasional bad canvas from the best painter, of inferior quality? Did French historians need to read Ranke in the l860's or later, to deepen their knowledge of French history? Do we, as historians of France in the later twentieth century? Here I reveal the inspiration for the subject of this paper. In reading Professor E. Dickerman's article on Henry IV and the Juliers-Clèves crisis, in French Historical Studies, l974, pp.626-53, I suddenly remembered: 'But all this is in Ranke. What are we doing as historians? Just adding notes to the old man's texts?' A rereading of Ranke became necessary, and the results follow. I discovered to my relief that Ranke did not have the story straight in every respect and that Dickerman makes a contribution to our understanding of an aging king. Neverthless, doubts remained. Had Ranke possessed before him all the material unearthed by Dickerman, he surely would have ignored most of it and gone straight ahead with his narrative of political events.
Let us explore the French History, then, for what it was, and is, by breaking up this extraordinarily coherent work to find out what kinds of sources Ranke used, and their value to his contemporaries, its ideological slant, and its rhetorical form, and by this I do not just mean style.
Ranke's sources are almost entirely the sixteenth and seventeenth-century historians, and particularly the Italians, who were writing what was contemporary history for them.The Italians were without ‘Nationalbezug.'(2) Dandolo, Giustiniani, and Belleforest for the reigns of Francis I and Henry II, D'Avila, La Popelinière, and de Thou for the period of the Wars of Religion. His principal sources for the earlier seventeenth century are the Memoria Reconditi of Vittorio Siri and the works of Bentivoglio, Strada, and Aubery. Only for the reign of Louis XIV did he have a modern narrative before him, that is Mignet's Négociations relatives à la Succession d'Espagne (Paris, l835vast-42). These vast early histories, thousands of pages of detailed narratives, pleased him enormously. Ranke thought of supplementing these works, not supplanting them. He never heaps scorn on D'Avila or Siri, though he gently warns readers of their blind spots. Supplemented by published correspondence, memoirs, and manuscript relationi and ambassadorial correspondence, the Renaissance historians nonetheless gave Ranke the warp of his French history. Nor did Ranke imagine other scholars were going to verify his interpretation of the sources. His citations--'the Spanish papers in Brussels,' or ‘Augier in the London archives'-- and the vague time sequence provided by the narrative are a form of scholarship that is not more scientific than that practiced by the Renaissance historians themselves.
But Ranke's admiration for the Italian Renaissance historians went far beyond his delight in finding that they were free from a national outlook in political history. He admired them for their active participation in politics; this, in a sense, legitimates their histories in his mind, and buttresses what they have to say about politics in general. Ever sensitive to clientage way before Syme, Neale, and Namier, Ranke observes that D'Avila's first names—Henrico Catarino—indicated the attachment of his family to the Valois house before the historian's birth.
One of the cardinal princiiples of classical and Renaissance historical method was always to give the greatest credence to the narratives written by the active participants in the events they are describing. Ranke did just this. Had D'Avila therefore been able to read the papers, say in Brussels, his narrative might have been fairer to one or another of the participants in the events described; but, in a way, it seems that the sense of space and temporal detachment between D'Avila and Ranke —on Henry III, for example—was reduced deliberately to a minimum by Ranke. A modern scientific historian, or Renaissance survival? I leave it to the specialists of l9th-century historical thought to read D'Avila, Siri, and others, before they reconstruct the foundations of Ranke's reputation as a pioneer in his use of sources. One thing he almost completely avoids is reliance upon eighteenth- century historians. He cites Père Daniel,(3) but never Voltaire.
Turning to the ideological perspective in Ranke's historical thought, it should not surprise us to find the principal Humanist works by Italians. Believing that modern history was built on the history of the Italian republics, and citing Sarpi's great work on the Council of Trent as an example of the richness of Italian historiography, Ranke believed that the history of early-modern France was built on Italian historical foundations, in great part written by Italians themselves. Ranke's French History is, therefore, imbued with a civic Humanist outlook on politics and human nature as worked out and expressed in history by Machiavelli and Guicciardini. The theme of the work, indeed its very structure, is an analysis of the mutation of French government from aristocratic monarchy to absolute monarchy, with the consequent loss of individual and especially corporate liberties. In elucidating the collapse of aristocratic, estate, provincial, and judicial-corporate foundations for independent political action, Ranke exhibits not one bit of republican sentimentalizing. All these liberties in their variety and particularisms were either defeated or lost because each had acted only with its particular interests in mind, not those of the nation. As an heir to the politiques of the sixteenth century, Ranke witnesses the state assume authority and power over all other loci of authority after the latter have descended into bitter partisan squabbles. The state is not a bête noire. It would become repressive because of the collapse of powers. of the other corporations, including the estates, as a result of the failure of these to look beyond their own partisanship.
Ranke never once scoffs at the desire of great nobles to hold enormous power; in fact he recognizes a kind of ‘domino theory' regarding the liberties of provinces, great nobles, estates, parlements, with all ultimately dependent on the power of the great nobles.(4) For example, the Huguenots decline in power because they became too tied to the particular interests of some princes.(5) He also understood Richerism as in some ways a force beyond that of the parlements, by great nobles seeking to save themselves from royal domination.(6)
One does not sense that Ranke's understanding of the dynamics of change in the forms of government was derived directly from antiquity. His Aristotelianism, if it can be called that, especially in his distinction between authority and power, with his eye always measuring the power rather than the authority, is derived from the civic Humanist analysis of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It may be found in D'Avila and Siri, for example. Some of the elements of this civic Humanism, which had already been rejected by the politiques, and which J.G.A. Pocock has shown to have had strong influences in Anglo-American political culture, as evidenced by the association of wealth and luxury with the decline of civic virtue and , ultimately, the rise of despotic force in a republic, are missing in Ranke. But when we see this German humanist compare the rapid rotation of ministers in oriental courts to those during the reign of Francis I, it is obvious that the forms of government ordering in his thought is arranging his observation, and probably shaping his selection of ‘fact' out of which to construct his narrative. In commenting on the estates' failure to maintain their powers over the levying of taxes, always a measure of change of government from one form to another, Ranke remarks:
These are the principles which have for ever been in conflict in the Romano-German states. The thorough consummation of the principle of hereditary monarchy and of absolute power would have induced universal slavery; the principle of a system of government by Estates and of individual freedom would in its complete application have resulted in a republic or an elective monarchy. In the antagonistic operation of both principles, and their mutual limitation, do our states exist.(7)
With this quotation it becomes evident that Ranke understood and accepted as true the civic humanist understanding of human nature and politics. Before looking further at this understanding on some specific points when applied to individuals, it is useful to note how Ranke remained in dialogue with the civic humanists of Renaissance Italy whom he so admired. For example, he reproaches D'Avila for reducing the religious entirely to its political implications.(8) For himself, however, beyond some philosophical remarks, Ranke does not consider himself to be engaged in the political dimension of the religious. Providence plays no overt role in the life of the French nation.(9) Religion, Ranke says, is the great mitigator of national identities; it smooths out those roughest conflicts between nations.(10) It is, however, precisely the collapse of a European religion in the form of Christendom, and the strengthening of the Gallican church that coincided for Ranke with absolutism in France. After having been virtually on a par with the crown, the church became the instrument used by the king against Rome, and in this the national principle was at work. Ranke's definition of religion became more rich and ambiguous as he wrote across two centuries of French history, but for him the great blindness of his Italian humanist forerunners was their not having taken the religious into account for the changes occurring in the distribution of powers in the realm.
Regarding individuals, it was fortune, the fortuna of the Italian humanists, that explains success or failure.
Mazarin, like most men who have risen thanks to Fortune's extraordinary favor, inclined toward fatalism.(11)
If Glück determines the fate of individuals, it does not do so in the lives of nations. The French nation, Ranke somewhat obstinately notes, was forever creating the ‘circles of legality and forms of European life, after which these were then breached by national power in her.'(l2) Nothing could be done about this source of great disorder in Europe, since the French were a Romanic nation. France was accustomed to repaying violent deeds with violent deeds, one of the characteristics of Romanic nations, as he saw it, and it was still true in Ranke's day.(!3) At once fascinated and disgusted by France, Ranke expresses a sense of shock at various things France and women do. Why, they not only admit women to sit in the highest councils of a peace negotiation, they even permit them to speak!(14) No other nation has done this.
Like D'Avila and Siri before him, Ranke always sees power, not rights or authorities, precedents, or constitutions, as the actor in his narrative. Whenever great nobles, estates, and parlements act, it is always with a penchant to partisanship and their own interest, not in that of the nation. Only the king consistently placed the national interest above his own, and even here, Ranke had reservations. Buffeted by particular interests, duped by great nobles, ground down in petty squabbles between prince and province, town and town, the French perceived that the only path out of disorder lay in affirming the king's power.(15) Beyond this tie between the king and the nation only action in conformity with service to the nation enhances authority. Any other motive for action only tears down authority, and ultimately leads to loss of power. Thus partisanship and faction doom the grands, estates, provinces, and parlements, though even as late as the Fronde all of these still had sufficient authority to command another hearing by the nation.(16) They all fail. How does Ranke's view on the relation between power, interest, and the nation differ from that of the politiques?
The question takes Ranke to the heart of kingship. There are two sorts of kings: those who perceive themselves as charged by God to carry out high duties (e.g. Louis XI), and the other sort, who act as if France is their personal possession(Philip IV), meaning that whatever they do is also in the interest of the nation.(17) Examples of both types of kings are many, and Ranke remarks that both tendencies may co-exist in the same king. He never says explicitly which sort Louis XIV was, but it is beyond the personalities, and fortune that institutions carry history. For example, absolute monarchy as a form of government appeared for Ranke for the first time in modern Europe in the sixteenth century, in the Papal States.(18)
Though not inevitable, it was understandable how Protestantism and aristocracy in France would go down together, for like the Catholic League, which also failed, Protestantism never got beyond its particular interest to act for the whole.(19) Similarly, the bourgeois are always in tow. They have aspirations but are only minor actors who attempt to preserve the vestiges of a ‘civic movement' from the fifteenth century into later periods. Had they succeeded the cities would have turned France into a nation in which the cities were as powerful as they were in Germany.(20)
Estates general evoke ambivalences in Ranke. His discussion of them is quite brief. One can almost sense his desire to explore their significance and reasons for failure in greater detail, but it is evident that he was overpowered by a repugnance for presenting their bickerings and failure to grapple with what he deemed to be the critical issues facing them. It would be interesting to explore D'Avila's and Siri's thought about estates general meetings, but it is clear that Ranke's repugnance for ‘confusion' and ‘disorder' was more of a sensibility that he shared with his contemporaries than with the Italian diplomats and historians who had taught him so much.
The issues that required attention were, of course, taxation, and military power. He scolds the estates of Provence for failing to recall that they possessed ancient imperial ties, and that a civil war might have permitted them to escape annexation by France, an action carried out by tyrannical power.(2l) The members of the Assembly of Notables of l626 also fail to realize that if a standing army were established, it would reduce their own independence. Instead of debating this real issue, all the notables did was to debate how a standing army would be paid.(22) Ranke also noted that the idea that the king alone should have military power in the realm seemed to be gaining ground, and he does not seem to know why. Never once in his narrative do we find a discussion of the scourge of the countryside by small aristocratic armies.
From a somewhat different perspective, but always with the same overall sense of direction, Ranke notes that the Breton estates appealed to Louis XIII to not appoint a governor whose lineage connected him to the ancient ducal house. Reflecting that ‘pure royalism' had come to predominate in a province that had previously been a powerful seat of aristocracy,(23) Ranke lets the reader be dismayed. His analysis of the distribution of power in the pre-absolutist monarchy led him to interpret the liberties of all other groups as hinging on the maintenance of military power by the Guises, the Montmorencies, the Condés, Bouillons,and Vendômes. Thus time after time he feels betrayed by the heads of these houses who put their own petty interests above cooperation with other great noblemen to preserve collectively their power and authority.(24) For Ranke neither Richelieu nor Louis XIV crush the power or authority of the grands. Aristocratic power declined in favor of state power after princely authority had been lost by the jealousies and bickerings among the grands themselves.
Nevertheless, it was Richelieu who gave the French Monarchy another form (Gestalt).(25) Had his original intention been to create a popular monarchy? The war with Spain prevented him from carrying out his general plan; then, almost ineluctably, the rise of ministerial power laid the foundations for absolute monarchy. Richelieu placed the interest of the nation and the state above those of the dynasty and religious faith, and above his own interests as well.(26) The cardinal was not like the other ministers of his day—that is Lerma, Olivares, Eggenberg, Buckingham, Concini, and Luynes—because his power did not depend upon the king's personal favor.(27) Clearly Ranke admired Richelieu's vision as he expressed to Louis XIII the interests and likely behavior of the other European states, and not surprisingly, he compares this vision and the analytical force underlying it to those of Machiavelli.(28) The remark that really sums up Richelieu for Ranke, however, derives from the many years spent by the greatest German historian studying Roman Catholic politics; for Richelieu, he says, had all the characteristics of a ‘Grand Inquisitor.'(29)
To be sure, the cardinal's attempts to realize his vision made still another clash with princes, parlementaires, and bourgeois inevitable. The narrative of the Fronde sparkles as a result of Ranke's sense of personal engagement in the outcome, because, in a sense, inevitability and fortune were at their most apparent in civil and foreign wars. Ranke thought that power itself was highly fluid. Provincial affairs could influence Parisian political affairs with astonishing rapidity, hence in the resurgence of claims to particularist authorities, a kind of ‘domino effect‘ on the internal equilibrium of authorities could occur. Since these had already been shocked by Richelieu's policies, royal power could increase and ebb.(30) Dominos go up and down together. Aristocrats such as Elbeuf and the senior Condé were pleased to have bourgeois and minor noble support as the Parlement stood up to Anne and Mazarin.
But could all those involved in recovering their powers and legitimacies from the absolute state cooperate long enought to restore the older form of government?(31) Ranke sees Retz as the only leader who temporarily succeeded in creating a party out of all the major opponents to the absolute monarchy. Like others of his generation Retz had read Plutarch,(32) thus his reflection about politics became distilled into portraits and commonplaces. His Mémoires reveal the assumption that petty interests and obsessions move individuals in politics.(33) Just why Ranke attributes the last feature to Plutarch rather than Tacitus remains unclear, but it is interesting that from the perspective of motivation by petty interest it is for Ranke possibly more true than for the other Frondeurs. Condé, Turenne, and some other Frondeurs demonstrated a clear desire to hold power, not just to expel Mazarin.(34)
The bourgeois of Paris also wanted to reassert their own civic independence while acting under the cover of the princes and judges. Yet with what power they had all they did was spoil their chances by taxing arbitrarily through forced loans, thus prefiguring what would happen in the years of the First Republic and Directory.(35) In Ranke, no constituted power, not even that of the ‘civic movement,' is free of serious drawbacks for action. From this perspective it is easy to understand how only an equilibrium of powers, always unstable, and always going toward one or another form of government, remained central to Ranke's understanding of French history.
Coincident with the authority sustaining the state, Ranke saw classical literature,(36) Catholic exclusivism, and a kind of superiority of thought which possesses power in itself.(37) He borders on the contradictory when he discusses the relationships between culture, intelligence, and politics, nonetheless, his views are always strongly stated as judgments. A politique perspective in the sixteenth-century sense may have been at the core of his thought; he certainly celebrates the desire of the judges to transcend church-state quarrels, which he interprets as action in accord with the nation.
There are certainly nineteenth-century resonances in his meanings for the words nation, ideas, and power, but these certainly do not alter the tenor of the work as an appeal for balancing unity with diversity in the interest of assuring liberties, and ‘freedom.' What contemporary historian has, in his own way, to be sure, written his French history from a politique perspective, updated, but still recognizable? Pierre Goubert's L‘Ancien Régime: les Pouvoirs (Paris, l973), where the analysis describes actions and potentials for action, not authorities, one in which the body politic is in almost equilibrium until after l789? This is a politique perspective on a still more profound level than Ranke's, or for that matter, anything any sixteenth-century Erastian could have imagined. The great difference between Ranke and Goubert is, of course, that for the former the actions of individuals still count. For Goubert, at least in this work, these too are emphemera, not unlike ideas. Richelieu, Colbert, and Louvois for Goubert at this phase of his writing, never really altered the distribution of powers in society by ministerial action.
Before turning to Ranke's sense of the role of the individual some attention should be given to rhetoric in the Französiche Geschischte.
Staying strictly within the work under discussion, it is possible to assert that Ranke remained a brilliant practicioner of the ancient art of persuasion, as found in the Greek and Roman historians.(38) Here, as with his understanding of Renaissance Humanism, it is possible to discern more continuities with the past than is usually thought to be present in the great founder of modern history.
Ranke was thoroughly familiar with the principles of the ars historica, and seems quite deliberate and reflective in his selection of which principles he wishes to reject. To be sure, as a ‘modern' he rejected the conscious classicism that was summed up in mimetic ideas, because classicism impeded the full expression of a national culture.(39) This said, however, he was not unlike the Renaissance historians when he describes history as a synthesis of learning and eloquence, of Wissenschaft and Kunst, of eloquentia and doctrina. Essentially, Ranke accepts the narratives of sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century historians for what they are. He seeks to improve on them, but he does not really include new subjects or integrate critical attacks on these works. Like so many before him (one thinks of the Siècle de Louis XIV!) his chapter on literature is not integrated into the narrative of politics. When Ranke starts out with chapters on the origins of the French nation, the origins of the first dynasty, and the complexities of the Hundred Years' War, Ranke indicated his respect for the old structure of French historical thought which had been refined and enriched in the late sixteenth century.
In the old debate between rhetoricians over whether judgments should or should not be included in the narrative, the Livy versus Tacitus debate, Ranke definitely includes ( without exaggeration) what must be be called judgments. The short introductory pages of each chapter are reflections designed to lift the reader above events to the more transcendental topics of human nature, nations, thought itself, and time. Taken all together these passages constitute a structure of historical thought that is Ranke's own, and much broader and even universal than simply what could only be considered a small part, namely French history. Had D'Avila or Siri awakened from the dead to read the French History, they would have been puzzled by Ranke's frequent repetition of his work. Renaissance historians accepted the rise of absolute monarchy with more serenity; indeed Ranke's repetitiveness makes us in the twentieth century sense that the centralization of all power into the hands of one was such an emotional issue for him that this otherwise quite Humanist work becomes almost Liberal in the sense of libertarian by reason of the emotional gain by repetition rather than what is specifically stated that could be interpreted as libertarian. It is beyond the competence of this historian to assess whether or not Ranke's rhetoric of repetition has antique roots, or whether he senses that his readership is largely Liberal, and that he thus needs to distance himself from absolutism by repeating his central thesis.
Like any other Humanist historian, Ranke sprinkles topoi about politics and human nature all through his narrative. He was undoubtedly proud of his understanding of politics, and it was on this that he wished to edify his readers. Machiavelli and Guicciardini are his unacknowledged teachers. Never as cynical as Tacitus, nor as lurid as Sallust, politics for Ranke remained something enhancing of human dignity. Those who succeed from baser motives are not admired. His topoi are not integrated deeply into the context to fuse the specific with the timeless. Instead, they stand out as judgments, and they are a source of pride. Here are some of his topoi, selected at random:
In the prince of ancient lineage, whose life is intertwined with the fate of the nation, the nation recognizes the security of all that has come to be, the guarantee of its future, and entrusts itself to his leadership.(40)
What would later be known as political science and sociology, a topos such as this one appears to have been gleaned from the widest possible reading, and perhaps not a few were coined by Ranke himself. What greater source of immortality for the historian could there be than to have contributed to the world's political wisdom?
There is no tighter bond between men than that created by undertakings conceived of, begun, executed in common.(4l)
This was the topos prompted by discussing Louis XIII's relationship with Richelieu. Or:
Every power that wants to rise must be grounded upon some great service, for every great service secures authority and power.(42)
This thought was prompted after summing up the record of Carolingian defeats of the Moslems.
On the political behavior of societies:
Fanatical opinions, in general, exercise their full strength on individuals rather than on great corporations.(43)
which followed after describing Clément's assassination of Henry III.
And more generally:
There is nothing in the world blinder than the suspicion, so wise in its own eyes, which interprets all that happens in accordance with a preconceived opinion,(44)
a thought prompted by the Parisians in the spring of l588.
In these and many other topoi Ranke distills his knowledge of politics. The topos provides knowledge for the reader, but it also evokes special resonances for the participant in politics. There is a kind of arrogance in these claims to have knowledge of politics. Ranke clearly takes pleasure in recounting how Anne of Austria was on very good terms with a certain Potier, bishop of Beauvais, who was placed in a position of political influence because of friendship. But experienced as Anne was in politics as a result of being surrounded by true statesmen, she did not listen to Potier, for she recognized in this friend someone more capable of administering a diocese than a kingdom.(45) The scorecard of political knowledge is kept for all participants as they file through Ranke's narrative.
Other comparisons may be made if we continue to consider classical rhetorical theory and discern how Ranke broke from it. For example, he uses the first person, which is something ancient rhetoricians general frowned on. At one point, barely in control of his Fronde narrative, he comes up saying: "...And if I am not mistaken..."(46) Like his Humanist predecessors, however, he willingly includes hearsay evidence, after clearly stating what it is. Also, like Renaissance historians, and still more, ancient historians, he includes prodiges —such phenomena as the earthquake which millions in China believed presaged Mao's death. Ranke includes these phenomena from nature because:
Legend adds the supernatural to the natural...Let us not quarrel with a childlike religious view when at times it exercised a profound and fortifying influence on men's souls.(47)
But the presence of the older rhetorical art is perhaps most evident in the definition of the narrative itself. Ranke constructs his history out of political action and portraits, essentially. As already mentioned the brief chapter on literature is not integrated into the political narrative. Corneille's plays embody the same thought about the state and aristocracy as Richelieu's,(48) yet there was also a literature written solely to uphold aristocratic authority.(49)
Ranke also likes to draw parallels, even with quite remarkable anachronism. He says that Margaret of Navarre's religious poetry has a Zinzendorfische quality to it.(5l) As we shall see in the study of portraits, Coligny, William III, and George Washington have things in common, Retz, alas, failed because he tried to be St. Ambrose and Catalina at the same time!(52)
I want now to come back to the question of why the French ignored Ranke's French History when it was published, and then conclude by a glance at his Louis XIV, and how his views differ from John B. Wolf's.
What works on Early Modern French history could be found on the shelves of Parisian bookstores in l855-56, the year of the Ranke publication? (The Analecten, Vol. V, appeared in l86l). Next to the somewhat older histories by Sismondi were those by Augustin Thierry, and of course, Guizot. Alexis de Tocqueville published his Old Regime and the Revolution in l856, creating an immediate sensation. Each of these works, though in different ways and for somewhat different periods (just how different these periods were perceived in the l850's is not evident), had the same published sources as Ranke while drawing unequally on different manuscript sources, and all contained elements of a civic Humanist historical outlook. Unlike Sismondi, Thierry, and Guizot, neither Ranke nor Tocqueville wrote specifically to legitimate representative democratic government by search throughout the French past for its origins. Ranke did not confuse bourgeois civic politics of the late Middle Ages with some form of representative government.
Other shelves held Pierre Clément's first works on Colbert and Mignet's Négociations relatives à la Succession d'Espagne, which had appeared between l835 and l842. Ranke's French History arrived among a quite formidable collection of French history written by the French themselves. He certainly added bits and pieces from his archival research, but rarely did these bits substantially alter the existing grand narrative of Early-Modern French history as it had already been worked out by D'Avila, Siri, Daniel, and Griffet.
Then, as if these works were not enough, Michelet's Renaissance et Temps Modernes also appeared in l855-57. Clearly this was a golden decade of French historiographical production.
Now it might be tempting to accuse the French of being parochial in not reading Ranke, but in fairness it must be said that they had interesting history reading before them on the very same centuries treated in Ranke's book. Indeed, Guizot's, Thierry's, and Tocqueville's works have something of the balance between Kunst und Wissenschaft that may be found in Ranke's. The distinguishing feature in Ranke's, if it can be stated superficially, was its sober cynicism about political knowledge, deeper still than Tocqueville's?
Then, as if this were not enough, still another major work appeared in l855: Adolphe Chéruel's Histoire de l'Administration Monarchique en France. Ostensibly only administrative history, it was in fact more than that, including a political narrative and portraits of many of the leading political actors of French history. There might be disagreement as to the value of all these works, but no matter, together they constitute an impressive array both as works of synthesis and imagination. Still, when the publisher, Klincksieck, undertook publication of a translation of Ranke—over 2,000 pages—he must have believed that there was a market for such a work. The fact that Porchat's translation appeared almost simultaneously with the publication of Michelet, Tocqueville, and Chéruel suggests that he might have been aware of what was coming along. It is doubtful if Ranke cared very much. He was on to other projects, and then too, the French nation had shown a remarkable capacity for pulling itself through, and for not being self destructive on the European stage, despite revolutions from aristocratic to absolute monarchy, and on to republics and empires. Did the German nation? Here Ranke was quite pessimistic in the later l850's.
Turning to his account of the reign of Louis XIV, the first thing to note is that Ranke remained pretty much a follower of the Plutarchian mode of biography, though he scoffed at Retz for doing the same thing. Always careful to begin with the physionomic features (a practice that has become a taboo in our age), he created historical portraits of people as handsome,fat, sensual, of people with piercing eyes, and so forth. Then, like Plutarch, he draws parallels, a brilliant structure for linking personal and political behavior in an ethical construct that may privilege shrewdness. How do Coligny, William III, and Washington resemble each other on the world stage. For Ranke each showed himself to be stronger in defeat than in daily routines.
The reputation which he [Coligny] enjoyed, was founded not on the enthusiasms of triumphs, but rather on the sense of his indispensability.(53)
Here, except for the parallel with Washington, nothing reveals that Ranke was living in the nineteenth century. All the rest is Plutarchian—and in fact not unlike what may be found lin D'Avila or Siri—with Rankean cynicism usually added.
When introducing the Grand Condé, Ranke draws a somber portrait:
His age compared him to Caesar and Alexander, for each age is fond of adding its great men to the immortal names of antiquity.(54)
Then Ranke, a modern, goes right ahead and does the same thing:
Indeed, Condé occupies an excellent position between Gustavus Adolphus and Frederick the Great, next to Turenne, in the ranks of commanders-in-chief of modern Europe.(55)
The rest of the portrait, including the topos, might also be found in any seventeenth-century history of Condé:
With his appearance, the sinking courage rose in his troops. Condé lived among his brothers in arms and his army as a good comrade.(56)
The Plutarchean mode of analysis included, of course, those physical and verbal signs of inner weakness or instability. In the case of Condé:
He lacked the necessary attentiveness to others' ways of thinking to shine in public meetings. He easily became confused and began to stutter.(57)
Ranke does not have to add that Condé could easily show signs of arrogance. He had already evoked a recognizable behavioral pattern, one that has not entirely disappeared from our civilization, of the aggressive, overbearing male. Its opposite was also recognizable: Charles I never, observers remarked, looked at anyone straight in the eye.(58) Are schoolboys still scolded if they behave like Charles?
The Plutarchian mode of describing human behavior allows Ranke to make these parallels, which are at once psychological and political, a pre-modern political psychology that not a few political scientists and journalists still practice, but in one or another jargon.(59) The Duke of Mayenne could have anticipated General Monk's aid to Charles II of England by helping Henry IV, but he did not.(60) Here Ranke puts aside the differences in rank between Mayenne and Monk, as well as the different powers in the two monarchies, to imply quite simply that while their military and political situations were similar they behaved in two ways because of human nature. Some parallels are drawn but not completed historically. The Wars of Religion, for example, go their bloody course, because France failed to produce a Cranmer.
And national character had certainly been part of the Plutarchian mode of analysis since the Renaissance. The Medici queens behave like Florentines. Quoting a Dutch envoy—Ranke frequently holds someone up in front of him as a spokesman—Ranke says that a ‘Florentine spirit' pervaded the French court after Henry IV's assassination.(61) Italians, freed from national blinders, not only could analyze the past with greater historicity, but could function politically without being inhibited by the prevailing morality of the French nation. It is not difficult to find Ranke contradicting himself as a result of these nationalist perspectives. He perceived the Italians as not behaving according to the same rules as the French in some instances, and not a few French in the seventeenth century would have agreed with him. Was there a critical perspective available for historians in the l850's which might have permitted Ranke to temper the national element in his Plutarchian approach to individuals? To answer this question would take us far afield, but it merits reflection.
The central feature of the Plutarchian mode of understanding individuals is, of course, that they do not really evolve or change in time. Aspects of character are manifested as a result of testing situations and encounters. Ranke's historical personages do not evolve; they simply respond to or initiate conditions around them, and fortune, faith, and intelligence circumscribe actions. His portrait of Louis XIV is a case in point.
The Sun King remains elusive, inscrutable for Ranke. The chapter which opens the personal reign again resumes the reasons for the triumph of absolute monarchy, and gives portraits of Colbert, Lyonne, and Fouquet. The chapter on the king himself includes no attempt to characterize the individual. Ranke doubts that Louis himself believed much of what Bossuet had to say about monarchical authority. Trying to be more precise, he adds:
Above everything he saw himself as the master whose duty it is to uphold the general interest.(62)
This observation leads us right back to the ideological, not to a portrait. He had said as much of Coligny and Richelieu; their placing general interests above private interest and fortuna accounted for their achievements. At another point, after expressing the civic-Humanist credo that it is desirable to let all tendencies and counter-tendencies work themselves out in a kingdom as long as they do not interfere with the public interest, Ranke depicts Louis as too eager for unity and uniformity in his kingdom(63). We are still not much closer to Louis. About the War of Spanish Succession Ranke says:
Louis considered that war...his own personal affair. What had provoked it was his ideas about law, ambition, his determination...(64).
Still not much closer to Louis. There is information, but no portrait. Certainly there is nothing as well-defined for Louis XIV as for his father, Richelieu, and Condé.
At this point it must be recalled that Ranke's whole book is about the collapse of aristocratic monarchy. By l660 he perceives this as having largely happened. The causes had been the placing the private over the general by the high nobles. Absolute monarchy in the hands of ministers could not really be reproached; they were followers, not initiators. Now, when we confront Ranke asserting that a conquering power is not at fault when it extends itself all across Europe,(65) it is, of course, the result of the neighbors who fail to recognize the danger and fail to join to contain the conquering power. Arguments about domestic politics were thus not all that different from those working themselves out on the international stage. For Ranke a king such as Louis is something of a product of a long process, and is not really an individual.
Still, Ranke accuses Louis of ‘egoism' in foreign policy.(66) What he admits is his refusal to believe that the interests of the prince may always be seen as coinciding with those of the nation, and by the nation itself. Roman emperors, popes, Charles V, and Philip II had given Ranke trouble enough. In the study of the French the cement between the prince and the people seems very heavy. Ranke seems relieved to discern the rise of a literature of opposition after l685. Understanding the l660s and l670s had, in a sense, escaped him.
The new actors are those—chiefly William III—who struggle to join European forces in their effort to stop France's effort to dominate Europe. Throughout his long life, Louis XIV for Ranke remains a rather pasty, unknowable monarch. He is unchanging because the Plutarchian mode of understanding individuals does not include maturing, learning, or declining. This is why Ranke would probably ignore Dickerman's work on the aging of Henry IV. Whenever Ranke leaves Plutarch to try to move in close to Louis, it is because the absolutist monarch type seems to be nuanced. Ranke observed that France changed her policy toward the Dutch after l677 because the latter were no longer the same threat to the French, but still Ranke seems unwilling to jump out of his civic Humanist perspective to consider European politics from the viewpoint of power and power only. He notes ironically how Spain came to the support of its former subjects the Dutch, but we do not learn the connections between personalites and politics after l660. It may be far too great an over-simplification to say that kings and kingship had been a problem for the historians of Florence and Venice to comprehend en profondeur since at least l494. D'Avila offers little help. Siri wrote about the decades when French kings were either quite weak or immature, at least in the writings he published. More suggestive is the opening sentence of Chéruel's account:
One must distinguish with care the diverse phases of this long reign where one has too often grown accustomed to see the majestic figure of Louis XIV dominate.(67)
Yet were Ranke to wake up and read J.B. Wolf's Louis XIV he would certainly want to improve on his own text in a subsequent edition. For Ranke was a modern not only in his love of taking into account the latest research; he loved to learn about politics as understood and practiced by statesmen. He might not abandon his civic-humanist perspective, and on this he would certainly find confirmation in the work of many recent historians, but he might be fascinated by the question of how someone could change from a blustering and conquering prince to one prey to nightmares while groping to solve problems by relying on experts. Learning after Louvois's death that the king was conducting a European war virtually on his own would have intrigued Ranke. Louis's prose in dispatches might have seemed more authentic to that inveterate believer in mixed constitutions, the same historian who virtually ignores the king's Memoirs as a source. Wolf's Louis XIV would have prompted the great German historian off to draw other parallels. It is tempting to speculate what they might have been. Charles VIII? Philip II?
l. The fifth volume, the Analecten, was published only in l86l. It was never translated into French. I should like to thank Sarah Thomas, of the German Department, The Johns Hopkins University, for help on some of the translations of the German.Professor Walther Kirchner (ret.) of the University of Delaware pointed innumerable typographical errors, as I struggled to shift my typing skills from the Royal Standard typewriter discarded as warn out in l966 by the Columbia History Department, and which I have used ever since, and continue to use. Any and all errors which remain, however, are my responsibility.
2. Ranke provides a ‘geneology' of historical thought at the beginning of his discussion of D'Avila: ‘Die allgemein wirksame, und allgemein gelesene historische Literatur ist, wie im achtzehnten Jahrhundert von Frankreich, so im sechzehnten und dem grössten Theil des siebzehnten hauptsächlich von Italien ausgegangen. Die italienische Historiographie hatte sich an des Geschichte der italienischen Republiken gebildet, und unter dem Einfluss des wiedererweckten Studiums der Classiker in Form und Inhalt zum Wetteifer mit denselben erhoben; sie hatte dann, als die Republiken in die allgemeinen europaïschen Angelegenheiten verwickelt wurden, ihren Blick über diese ausgedehnt und sie in ihren Kreis gezogen; als endlich in dem unselbständig gewordenen Italien nichts Bedeutendes mehr vorkam...; V, p. 3l.
3.Vol. II, p.37. For Ranke's place in the history of historical thought, (in l976) see G. G. Iggers, The German Conception of History: the National Tradition of Historical Thought from Herder to the Present (Middletown, l968); P. Gay, Style in History (New York, l974); and L. Krieger, ‘Elements of Early Historicism: Experience, Theory, and History in Ranke' History and Theory 14, pp. l-l4, T. von Laue, Leopold Ranke: the Formative Years (Princeton, l950), and H. White, The Historical Imagination in l9th century Europe (Baltimore, l973)
4. It is the grands, especially Condé, not the Parlement, that are the challenge to ministerial government. Vol. III, Chap. IV, pp.84-l20.
5. Regarding the decline of the Huguenots, it was not only their alliance with aristocrats which caused their decline, but also their belief that the crown would protect them. They trusted more in the crown than in their own military power. There is here an evocation of civic-humanism concerning the need for military power, and scorn for dependence. Vol. III, p. 345.
6. Vol. I, p.l35. See J.G.A. Pocock's exploration of the civic-humanist character of Gibbon's thought: ‘Between Machiavelli and Hume: Gibbon as Civic Humanist and Philosophical Historian,' in Daedalus, l05, (Summer, l976) pp. l53-l69. See also my ‘Personality and Politics in the Persian Letters,' Political Science Quarterly, 84, l969, pp. 606-2e7. And the analogy between Valois and Turkish politics, Vol. I, p. 34l.
7. Vol. I, p. 89.
8. Vol. V, p. l34.
9.It may, however, when individuals destined to play an important role die suddenly. The central dynamic of the French history then, is that only those with authority that act in conformity with the nation grow stronger. Ranke recognized, of course, that not even French kings behaved consistently in accordance with the interests of the nation, but that they did so more than other men and institutions endowed with authority accounts for the rise of the monarchy.
l0. Vol. I, p. l0. On Richelieu's policies being in accord with the tendencies of the Italians, Germans, English, and Spanish, see Vol. II, p. 508.
ll. Vol. III, p. l06.
l2. Vol. I, p. l2l. Ranke challenges the notion that hero-founders could play a preponderant role in establishing the laws and customs of ancient nations. Then, alluding to the various individuals who posed as hero-founders in the l9th century, he asserts that their new states would survive the resurgences of the older European nations. On Washington, see below, p. l9.
l3. Vol. I, p. 26l. He adds elsewhere, ‘Sie sind so, wie sie sein können, wie der Sinn der Nation und der Geist der Zeit, die Energie und der Genius der vornehmsten Begründer, der Widerstand, oder die Unterstützung, welche diese finden, sie machen; die Entwickelung der irdischen Gewalten wird von ihren eigenen Constellationen beherrscht.' Vol. II, p.3.
l4. Vol. II, p. l93.
l5. Vol. I, p. l4.
l6. Vol. III, p. 78ff.
l7. Vol. I, p. l45f.
l8. Vol. III, p.l9. Ibid. p. l99. ‘Dieser Verbindung der geistlichen Macht mit der monarchischen Autorität gegenüber nimmt man wahr, dass sich der Protestantismus gern in ständischen Formen bewegt; wie ja auch in Frankreich die bewaffnete Aufstellung der Hugenotten zu den letzten Erhebungen der Aristokratie gegen das Königthum Anlass und Mittel gab.'
20. A refrain echoed in different places when civic republicanism is discussed. The bourgeois Fronde for Ranke is a resurgence of fourteenth and fifteenth century bourgeois claims to have increased power.
21. Vol. I, p. 521.
22. Vol. II, p. 3ll.
23. Vol. II, p. 310.
24. The great nobles also derive their power from the monarchy. Ranke does not believe in some ancient aristocratic constitution. He remarks cynically about the momentary influence of Hotman's Francogallia: ‘Was man für einen Fortschritt der Ideen zu halten geneigt is, weist sich häufig nur als eine Aufwallung des Momentes aus.' (Vol. I, p.380). Further research did not support Hotman's contentions, ‘und in der höchsten Macht wieder eine Schutzwehr gegen die Factionen sah.' His civic-Humanist perspective leads him to stress the dstinctions between dynastic and elective monarchy, pointing out how long the principle of elective monarchy had survived in France.
25.Vol. III, p. l.
26. Vol. II, p. 375.
27. Vol. II, p. 524.
28. Vol. lII, p. 542.
29. Vol. II, p. 53l.
30. Vol. III, p. 66. On international politics, Ranke's words are: ‘Denn von jeher gab es einen tiefen innern Zusammenhang des europäischen Lebens; Bewegungen von scheinbar localem Ursprung treiben ihre Analogien in entfernten Regionen hervor...'
3l. Vol. III, p. 79ff..
32.Vol. III, p. 7l.
33. Vol. V, p. l92.
34. Vol. III, p. l42.
35..Vol. III, p. 55, n. 2l.
36. Vol. III, p. 366.
37. Vol. II, p. 367. See also Vol. I, p. 533. ‘Denn jede Macht bewegt sich durch den eigenen Trieb der ihr zu Grunde liegenden Ideen: der Eifer der Anhänger sieht in ihrem Fortgang das eignen Glück.'
38..For the understanding of rhetoric in Renaissance historical thought the classic work is N.S. Struever, The Language of History in the Renaissance (Princeton, l970).
39. Vol. III, p. 348.
40. Vol. I, p. 126. See also the M.A. Garvey translation, Civil Wars and Monarchy in France (Freeport, N.Y., rep. l972) I, p. l5l.
41. ‘...als gemeinschaftlich gewollte, begonnene, durchgeführte Unternehmungen...' Vol. II, p.384
42. Vol. I, p. l4. Garvey translation, ed. cit., I. p. l6.
43. Vol. I, p. 472. Garvey translation, ed. cit., II, p. 232.
44. Vol. I,p.l7f.
46. ‘Wenn ich nicht irre....' Vol. III, p. 82.
47. Vol. III, p. 402. Providence is not evoked to explain the cause of national history, but it affects nations through individuals. Alexander Farnese died just as he was about to set out for France! (Vol. I, p. 549)
48. Vol. III, p. 355.
49. Vol. III, p.l3l.
50. Vol. III, p. 36l.
5l. Vol. I, p. l67.
52. Vol. III, p. 73.
53. Vol. I, p. 30l.
54. Vol. III, p. 90
55. Vol. III, p. 90
56. Vol. III, p. 9l.
57. Vol. III, p. 92.
58. Vol. I, p. 339.
59. There are numerous references to Plutarch throughout the text. A particularly revealing one concerns Montaigne's great familiarity with that author. Ranke seems to enjoy Montaigne's parallel of Guise with Philipoemen, and to approve it. Vol. I, p. 259.
60. Vol. I, p. 557.
6l. Vol. II, p. 388.
62. Vol. III, p. 275.
63. Vol. III, p. 503.
64. Vol. IV, p. 293.
65. See the passage which opens Vol. IV, p. 3. ‘In der Natur vorwaltender Mächte liegt es nicht, sich selbst zu beschränken: die Grenzen müssen ihnen gesetzt werden.'
66. Vol. III, p. 562.
67. Chéruel, Vol. II, p. l.