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Fustel de coulanges

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  • 1. Fustel de CoulangesAuthor(s): H. A. L. FisherSource: The English Historical Review, Vol. 5, No. 17 (Jan., 1890), pp. 1-6Published by: Oxford University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/546552 .Accessed: 02/02/2011 16:31Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTORs Terms and Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTORs Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at .http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=oup. .Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Oxford University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The English Historical Review.http://www.jstor.org
  • 2. THE ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW NO. XVII.-JANUARY I890 FEistelde CoudazgesBYthe death of Fustel de Coulanges, a very notable figure passes away from the ranks of historians. Fustel deCoulanges was not only a man of wide and exact erudition; hewas one of those powerful and coherent thinkers who have theforce to shape out a path for themselves, and the faith to abide byit. Drawn instinctively towards the most delicate and the mostcontested points of history, he has left everywhere an abundanceof new lights. Indeed, wherever he has trodden, he seems to havechanged the centre of gravity, so that, in proportion to the bulk oftheir writings, few men have effected more. His lofty almost con-temptuous indeperndencewas due to no vulgar hostility or love ofparade. It sprang from a sustained faith in the value of anhistorical method from which he believed that other historianshad departed. To read all the available texts and to report uponthem strictly, such was, in the eyes of Fustel de Coulanges, thefunction of the historian. If every word in the text has been givenits due weight, the truth will be disengaged not hypotheticallybut necessarily. After an exhaustive analysis of institutions aspresented to us by all the existing documents, their affinities willemerge by a sequence as imperious as that which exists betweenthe flash and report of a cannon. History is not an art, but themost arduous of sciences, in which subjective elements have noplace. 11 se peut sans doutte,he says, quune certaine philosophie sedegage de cette histoire scientifique, mais il faut quelle se degagenaturellement,delle-meme, presqute dehors de larolonte de lhistorien. enIn an article written for the Revue des deux Mondes in September1872, entitled La Maniere decrire lHistoire en France et enAllemagne, he complains, in tones which are perhaps too rancorous,that German history is throughout infected by patriotism. He was
  • 3. 2 FUSTEL DE COULANGES Jan. animated by a profound belief that the origins of medieval history had been written on wrong lines to serve the ends of Teutonic self-glorification, that the texts had been insufficiently studied, and that a large amount of interested speculation had been im- ported to fill up the lacunae. Sweeping away the Teutonic tradi- tion, he set himself to build up history anew from its very base, and to correct the results of German erudition by a fresh and thorough investigation of the texts. He possessed important quali- fications for the task, a keen logical understanding, a subtle sense of nice distinctions both of language and law, and untiring industry. The one virtue on which he prided himself, that of absolute scientific impartiality, is the one virtue which experience does not allow us to assign to those historians who give to burning questions a burning answer. The fact is that Fustel de Coulanges was a logician first and an historian afterwards. He has a wonderful eye for the unity of history, for the common properties of institutions, for the widely distributed consequences of some remote force. But he missed the complexity of events, and was, in the process of simpli- fication, apt to ignore the plurality of causes. Determined to extract a clear answer from the darkest oracles of the past, he often submitted his texts to unwilling tortures. In his treatment of institutions he was prone to overlook the political circumstances whiich contributed to their growth arid gave them their distinctive colour, to view them in an unreal and stationary isolation, and to insist too strongly on those features which appeared to harmonise with his own dominating convictions. Always a clear and incisive writer, he excelled especially in the exposition and elucidation of texts. No one has better understood the art of eliciting the maxi- mum of meaning out of the minimum of text, of developing the result into all its logical consequences, and of exhibiting the process in an attractive and exhilarating form. Although every one of his works was in part, if not in entirety, a polemic, and sustained by a back- ground of intense personal feeling, he rarely departed from that sobriety which is the true note of genius. He is trenchant without bluster, imperious without insolence. Fustel de Coulanges was born at Paris on 18 March 1830. In 1850 he entered the Ecole Normale, and on his exit three yearslater was named professor of rhetoric at the Lycee of Amiens.Agrege in 1857, he was doctor of letters in 1858, presenting forhis doctorat the usual two theses, one in French entitled Polybeou la Grece conquise par les Romains, the other in Latin, QuidVestae cultus in institutis veterum privatis publicisque valuerit. In1859 he was named professor suappleantat the Lycee St. Louis,and in 1861 he was appointed to the chair of history at Strassburg.La Cite Antique appeared in 1864, three years after Sir HenryMaines Ancient Law. The subject was suggested by the Latin
  • 4. 1890 FUSTEL DE CO ULANGES 3thesis on the cult of Vesta which Fustel sent up for his doctoratsix years before. From that time onward he had devoted himselfto the study of the institutions of Greece and Rome, taking themone by one, and submitting each to a rigorous analysis. He wasthen struck by the fact that all the institutions of the ancient Aryanworld bore signs of a common origin in the primitive cult of dead an-cestors. The remarkable cohesion of the family group in early times,the primitive inalienability of property, the phenomena of agnation,adoption, and female disabilities were all explicable on the hypothesisthat the social evolution of the race was controlled by a particularorder of religious belief and observance. A federal union of patri-archal families, each worshipping a common ancestor, the ancientcity passed through the successive stages of monarchy, aristocracy,plutocracy, and democracy, each of which marks a point in the pro-gressive decomposition of the primitive family group. The appear- ance of the archon and the consul, of the strategus and the tribune, the Solonian revolution and the twelve tables are parallel steps in the break-up of the familiar system, which yields to the pressure of a growing non-privileged population. It is obvious that in thisconception of antiquity, pieced together though it largely is by a medley of fragments of dateless and doubtful application, there .is much that is true as well as striking. But its value depends not so much on the amount of ascertained truth which it may contain, as upon the new angle at which it presents every fact and institu-tion of the ancient world. It is a lantern held up from an untried corner, in the light of which familiar shapes assume new relations, one of those fertilising conceptions which produce on every sidea fresh crop of suggestive views-on the lot at Athens, on the Solonian otpot, the origin of priestly families-and which infuse ona new sap into the great reconstruction of the past. Between La Cite Antique and the first volume of Les Institu- tions Politiques de lAncienne France, there elapses a period of eleven years, broken by occasional contributions to the Reeite des deux Mondes, three of which have been substantially incorporated in later works. In 1870 Fustel de Coulanges was summoned back to the Ecole Normale as professor, to become its director in 1880, and in 1875 he was admitted into the Acad6mie des Sciences Morales et Politiques. During all these years he had been making an enthu- siastic and unintermittent study of all the texts bearing upon Roman and Germanic institutions. He boasted that he was the only scholar who had studied, penl in hand, all the Latin texts from the sixth century B.C. to the tenth century A.D., and certainly there is no higher authority on the social history of the later Roman empire. Four works have already appeared as the result of this great labour. In 1875 he issued his Institutions Politiques de lAncienne France, in 1885 the Recherches sur quelques Problemes dHistoire, and in
  • 5. 4 FUSTEL DE COULANGES Jan. 1888 La Monarchie Franque. Since his death a fourth volume has been published, entitled L Alleu et le Domaine Rural pendant lEpoque Merovingienne, and three more volumes are in prepara- tion, two of which, La Gaule Romaine and ILInvasion Ger- manique, will cover in a more matured form the ground occupied by the volume of 1875, while the third, Le Benefice de lEpoque Merovingienne, will complete the account of the Frank land system. We have thus not yet reaped the full harvest of Fustels labours, but if we may judge from the striking work which he never lived to complete, the store which is yet in reserve will be a rich one. The question of the primitive form of landed property had, until quite lately, received but one answer. In 1848, J. M. Kemble asserted that the mark is the original basis upon which all Teutonic society rests, and his view was worked out in detail by Maurer with reference to Germany, and by Nasse with reference to England. Sir Henry Maine, M. de Laveleye, M. Paul Viollet, M. dArbois de Jubainville, all accepted the results of the Teutonic theory, and veri- fied them from additional sources. In La Cite Antique Fustel de Coulanges had expressed his opinion that although communism may have been the original form of landed property, there was no existing Greek or Latin text which indicated its existence. The proposition, as it stands in La Cite Antique, is still disputable, but it indicates the line of attack which Fustel de Coulanges after- wards adopted with such great results in another field. In 1844, Guerard in his prolegomena to the Polyptique dIrminon had attempted to trace the chief features of the manor to the legisla- tion of the later Roman Empire, but he had not, as far as we are aware, received any notable support until Fustel de Coulanges opened up the whole question of the Germanic invasion and the organisation of justice under the Merovingians in articles written to the Revue des deux Mondes in 1871 and 1872. The task which Fustel de Coulanges set himself was strictly critical. The Teutonic school had in the first place overlooked the Roman evidence, and had in the second place read the Teutonic documents in the light of national or philosophical prepossessions. With the leaven of Jean-Jacques still fermenting in their brains, they had confused a positive historical problem with a speculative ethnological hypothesis. They had run, too, into the easy excesses opened out by the new comparative method. They had eagerly annexed the Russian mir, which, whatever it may have been before 1592, has ever since that date been subject to a lord, and theJavanese sawahs, concerning which the earliest quoted documentdates from 1804. Wherever they had discovered either jointfamiliar holdings, or indivisibility of tenure, or village commonlands, or joint agricultural exploitation, they either boldly identifiedthem with the object of their quest, or treated them as sure
  • 6. 1890 FUSTEL DE COULANGES 5indications that the object existed. They relied upon the wordsager, mark, allmend, commntnia, had never examined their history butor tested their meaning. It was clear that beforeany sound resultcould be attained, the problem must be divested of its dazzlingaccessories,and submittedto critical tests in a narrowedarea. Thequestion for the historian is not, what was the primitive state ofman ? but, what do our documentsrelate of the early German?Fustel de Coulangesaimed at showingthat, on the existing textualevidence, the Teutonic tradition is not only not proven but posi-tively contradicted. Onthe one hand all the agriculturalcharacter-istics of the manor existed under the empire, and are again dis-coverableunder the earliest Merovingians. On the other hand theGermans, so far from imposing their free institutions on con-queredGaul, never, in historical times at least, possessed thoseinstitutions, and would in any case have been powerlessto imposethem. In the admirable essay on the Colonat,in which he traces theserfdomof the Polyptiquesto its varied origins under the Romanempire, and in the no less admirable chapters in LAlleu et leBenefice, in which the structure of the Roman and Merovingianland system is analysed, Fustel de Coulanges has satisfactorilyestablished the first half of his contention. The second half islarger and more complex. It involves a dissection of the Germanicinstitutions beforethe conquest,an account of the invasion, and acomprehensive minute study of the institutions which prevailed yetin France during the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries. No onecan have read the four volumes which deal with these questionswithout feeling the immense service which Fustel de Coulangeshas renderedto historical inquiry. Although we may hesitate tobelieve that the Germansof the fifth century were the debris dunerace epuisee, or that Clovis ruled as a delegate of the Roman empire,it is certainly true that Germanshad been settled in Gaul, both ascultivatorsand as soldiers, long before the conquest, and that theMerovingianmonarchyaped the nomenclature of Constantinople.Although Fustel de Coulanges was wrong in supposing that thepope did not intervene in the concernsof the Merovingian dioceses,he was right in pointing out that the bishop was always nominatedby the king. Criticismsmay be made, and those not sparingly,onhis treatment of evidence,but they are unavailing to shake thesolid fabric of his work. He has not only recalledsocial history from hasty inferenceandflimsy analogy to the study of the texts, but he has investigatedand largely determined the use of the terminology which servesas its datum. Among the- many debts which we owe toFustel de Coulanges,it is not the least that he has traced andaccuratelynoted, through documents covering a period of six cen-
  • 7. 6 FUSTEL DE COULANGEIS Jan.turies, the varying significance of the terms marca, covnnunia,allviend,alodis. He has workednew and untried veins of inquiry,and has placed every detail of his investigations before the eye ofthe reader. He has not only written history in his own way, buthe is at pains to show how the thing is done. If ever the worldisto possessa definitiveaccount of the origins of feudalismin France,we suspect that the author will owe his opportunityto Fustel deCoulanges. H. A. L. FISHER.