Fustel de Coulanges as an HistorianAuthor(s): Edward JenksSource: The English Historical Review, Vol. 12, No. 46 (Apr., 1897), pp. 209-224Published by: Oxford University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/547462 .Accessed: 02/02/2011 16:33Your 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Oxford University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The English Historical Review.http://www.jstor.org
THE ENGLISII REVIEW HISTORICAL NO. XLVI.-APRIL I897 Fustel de Coulange s Hn istoria;n as died on 12 Sept.N UMADENYSFUSTELDE COULANGES 1889. At the time of his death he was widely known inFrance and Germany as a devoted and inspiring teacher, whosereverencefor his work made its sterling qualities the more impres-sive, and as a writer of striking originality, unsurpassed industry,and an unrivalledgift of exposition. His influencewas, in its way,as penetratingas that of Renan and Gaston Paris. A chair hadbeen specially created for him in the famous Ecole PratiquedesHautes Etudesin the Sorbonne, foundedbyDuruy. He was renownedthroughoutthe civilised world as the author of La CiteAntique,published in 1864, a work to which, avowedlyor unavowedly, morethan one writer of eminence has been indebtedfor his inspiration.When death came he was engaged in publishing,in a greatly ex-panded form, his Histoire des Institutions Politiques de lAncienneFrance,a task which has, since his death, and since the appearanceof Mr.HerbertFishersadmirablearticle, publishedin this REVIEWin January 1890,2beencompletedby his friendand formerpupil }I.CamilleJullian. The publicationof this work,and of two volumes l Fustel has been accused of borrowing the idea of his work from Maines AncientLaw, published in 1861, and this book was certainly on his shelves at the time of hisdeath (see Catalogue des Livrcs . . . de feu M,2. Fustel de Coulangcs, Picard, 1890,p. 16); but it is sufficient to compare the two volumes to realise the absurdityof the charge. Besides, as Fustel himself candidly confessed, he could not in 1864read English, and the first French translation of Maine did not appear till ten yearslater (P. Guiraud, Fustel de Coulanges, p. 37). At the risk of reproof, it maybe suggested that the work of Fustels countryman Flaubert, Salanrmnbo, whichappeared in 1862, is much more likely to have been the inspiration. But of theoriginality of the book there can be little question, and M. Jules Simon is justified indescribing it, in the words of Montesquieu, as prolem sine matre creatam. 2 Fustel de Coulanges, ENGLISH HISTORICAL V. IEYIEW, 1-6. VOL. XII.-NO. XLVI. P
210 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AS AN HISTORIAN April of detachedstudies,3chiefly dealing with the same subject, and the appearance of a biography by MI.Paul Guiraud,4together with various French appreciations, by MMI.Jules Simon,5 Albert Sorel,6 Gabriel Monod,7 Edouard Sayous,8 and others, seem to renderit possible to form some probableestimateof the rankwhich Fustel is likely to occupy as an historian. It is very certain, despite the judgment of M. Monod,9that Fustel himself would desire to be judged by his work as a medievalist. Though he does not appear to have ever formally repudiated La Cite Antique, though indeed he refers to it with somethingof satisfaction in the last pages which he published,0 he had, in fact, totally abandoned methodswhich alone rendered the it possible for such a book to be written. The Fustel of 1864 puts to himself the question- Quelsouvenir peut-ilnous resterde ces gen6rations ne nousont qui paslaiss6un seul texte 6crit? And he answersit thus :- le Heureusement, passene meurt jamaiscompletement lhomme. pour Lhommepeutbien loublier, maisil le garde toujoursen lui. Car,tel quilest lui-inme h chaque il epoque, est le produit le resum6 toutes et de les 6poques ant6rieures.Sil descend son ame,il peuty retrouver en et ces distinguer diff6rentes 6poquesdapresce quechacunedellesa laiss6 en lui." The Fustel of later years was never weary of protesting against the applicationof such a doctrine to the study of history. Yet we may very well doubt whether nature had fitted him for a medievalist. When we think of the MiddleAges, with their credulity, their blind acceptanceof inconsistent beliefs,their vague- ness and incompleteness,their indifferenceto orderand symmetry, their gross materialism,their passion for display, their illiteracy, we are compelledto ask at the outset whether Fustel was the man to make such a period live before us. A classic to the finger-tips, sceptical,logical,definite,with an exquisitesense of style, untouched by gross ambitions, dignified, self-controlled, he approaches his materials with the air of a critic, rather than with the frank delight of an artist whose soul goes out in sympathy with his subject. We read his books,and we are tempted to say-The MiddleAges are NouveElesRccherches sur quclqucs Probldmes dHistoire (1891); Questions His-toriques (1893). The Recherches sur quelques Problemes dHistoire appeared in 1885,during its authors lifetime. 4 Fustel de Coulanges. Hachette, 1896. Minmoires lAcademie des Sciences, xviii. 33-72. de * Ibid. pp. 185-230. 7 BevueIlistorique, xli. 277-85. Acaddemi de Besanfon: Rcntrde Solennellc, 1890, pp. 41-51. * Op. cit. p. 279. o La Monarchic Fralnqe, Preface, p. ii. He seems, however, to have given his thecontemporaries impressionthat he regarded as a juvenileessay (AlbertSorel, itop. cit. p. 214). "2 La Citd Anttiguc, Introduction, pp, 4, 5.
1897 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AS AN HISTORIAN 211not here. All these things may have existed in the MiddleAges;now and again a statesman or a speculatormay have seen them.But they formed no substantial part of the life of the averageman. And then we ask ourselveswhy Fustel cameto deal with sucha subject. He began his careeras a teacher of rhetoricand ancienthistory; these were the subjectsof his study at Athens, of his teach-ing at Amiens, at Strassburg,and at the Ecole Normaleat Paris.Until the year 1870 (he was born in 1830) he gave no public proofthat the Middle Ages had specially interested him.2 In the year1874 he issued the first volume of his great work. Where are weto look for the causes of the change? Even the sternestrepudiatorof the a priori methodcouldhardlydistrust the suggestion that the war with Germany was, of allthings, the event most likely to work a spiritual revolutionin themind of a Frenchman of the years 1870-4. But there is no needto resort to the a priori method. Until the year 1870, Fustels pub-lished writings are occupied entirely with problemsof the ancientworld. That he was profoundlymoved by the war itself is manifestfrom the facts that he took public part in the questionsof the hour,and that he had preparedhimself to write its history.13 From theyear 1870 onwardsthere came in rapid succession from his pen aseries of articles dealing directly, or by obvious reference,with thepolitical questions of the day." They are inspired by a depth ofpassion quite alien from the scientific calm of his earlier writings.The passion is controlled and obscured by the unbending dignityof a classical style; but it is unmistakablythere, and its influenceserves to add a human interest to works which profess to be theabstract voice of history. Fustel had passed through the longagony of the war, and had come out of it with a burning desire torescue his country from the abyss of despair into which she hadfallen-to recreateher abandonedself-respect. For his lifes workhe set himself to refute the gigantic calumny that France was adegradedand enslaved provinceof the Roman empire, enlightened 12 It is, however, right to say that some of his most characteristic views on thebarbarian conquests are to be found in the unpublished notes of the lectures deliveredbefore the empress in 1870 (see Jules Simon, op. cit. p. 51). M. Monod (RevueBlistorique, xli. 283) carries others back to the Strassburg period. 13 Guiraud, p. 177. 1 LAlsace est-elle Allemande ou Franeaise ? (1870), La Politique dEnvalzissement(1871), both reprinted in Questions Historiques (1893); Les Libertes Comnnunalesen Europe (1871), LInvasion Germanique au V"e Siecle (1872), both in the Revue desDeux Mondes; De la Manigre decrire ZHistoire en France et en Allemagne (1872), inQuestions Historiques. It is much to be regretted that M. Jullian has not thought fitto reprint the articles entitled LOrganisation de la Justice dans ZAntiquitdet lesTemps Modernes, which appeared in the Bevute des Deux Mondes in 1871. It is truethat parts of them have been incorporated"into La Monarchie Franque, but it isonly after reading the articles themselves that we fully realise what we have lost bytheir authors death. What would we not have given for his matured exposition ofthe Fors de Bearn and the Olim, of Pierre des Fontaines and Jean Bouteiller ? P2
212 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AN HISTORIAN April AS from time to time by the outpourings of Teutonic freedom,but sadly apt to fall again into the darkness of hopeless and vicious bondage. To this end he undertookto reconstructthe MiddleAges. He wentinto the war,aphilosopher,he came out of it a patriot.5 He still wore the judges robes,but he had in truth becomean advocate, and an advocateall the more dangerous that he still assumed the tone of impartiality. In this character he displayeda mastery of his art, a resource, a vigour, a subtlety, which rendered him a most formidable opponent; and, after a short experience of his powers,few could be found willing to measure swordswith him.16 It is no part of our present object to inquire how far Fustel has succeededin his task of raising up a generation of high-mindedand powerful teachers and students, or to examine to what extent the splendidwork produced by French men of letters in the last two decades is indebted to his inspiration. We have here rather to consider how far the fundamental change of 1870 has influencedFustels own writings, and affectedtheir value. When a controversialist undertakesto write history, he incursthe risk of two special dangers. Having to deal with controversial subjects,he may be tempted to deal only with controversialsub-jects. Having to decipherevidence,he may be temptedto read intoit his own prepossessions. How far did Fustel succumbto thesetemptations? It would not be just to say that lie deals only with controversialquestions. If he occasionally uses expressions17 which would leadus to believe that, to his thinking, the province of the historianincludes the whole field of social life, Fustel practicallyaccepts thecurrent modern doctrinethat history is the recordof states. Heaccordinglyconfineshis attention mainly to the ostensible machi-nery of government, and to those institutions-e.g. systems oflandownership-which,in medievalstates, exercised directinfluence aupon governmental machinery. He does not profess to describethe development of religious beliefs,the variations of manners, thegrowth and decline of literatureand other arts, or even those pro-cesses of commercialand industrialdevelopmentwhich are as muchinstitutions as are political organs.18 He only alludes in an inci- 15 Though he did not take part in so-called practical politics, Fustel was not with- out concrete views on political questions. One of his most interesting convictions is that a republican form of government is incompatible with democratic principles. See the account of his views in Guiraud, cap. iv. "I An admirable specimen of such unwillingness is to be found in Schroders Lehrbuch der Deutschen Rechtsgeschichte, p. 48, n. 19, on the Germanic Mark. Inother places Dr. Schroder appears to quote Fustel as an authority for doctrines towhich he (Fustel) was diametrically opposed. " (Lhistoire) est la science des societes humaines (LAlleu et le DomlaineRural, Introd. p. 4). " There is an interesting passage on medieval commerce in La Monarchie Franzqte(pp. 254-64). But Fustel does not deal with the subject systematically.
1897 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AS AN HISTORIAN 213dental way to battles, sieges, and internationalrelations. Individualsappearto interest him little, unless they happen to be authorsofdocuments. He apologises for relating the history of Childeric.19 Although an occasional word reveals the fact that he has a distinct appreciation of a Dagobert or a Charles the Bald,20 the reader may turn page after page of his books without lighting upon a name or a date. It is quite safe to say that he betrays no interest in indivi- dual character, regarded as an objective fact. With him individuals are merely regrettable essentials of historical developements. He seems almost to forget that societies, even political societies, are composed, after all, of human beings, and that, in rudimentary societies, the influence of individfals is often very great. But, in his chosen province, he goes over the whole ground, carefully de- scribing, piece by piece, the framework of the state at a given period, and it is in many cases only by an increase of vitality, a deepening rigour of demonstration, that the reader, otherwise unacquainted with the course of controversy, becomes aware that Fustel is mar- shalling an argument rather than depicting an institution. In his minor works, of course, he throws off the mask: many of them are avowedly polemics. But in his History there are proportion, balance, completeness. Herein lies, in fact, the danger of the situation. The historians of the nineteenth century have fairly agreed in describing the Frankempire as the inauguration of a new epoch, in which old things were cast away. In their view the civilisation of the Roman world dis-appeared, and modern Europe slowly grew out of virgin soil. Theprimitive customs of the German tribes, spread abroad by the Violkerlanderuzng, replaced the elaborate system of Roman law; theinvaders settled down as feudal overlords of a conquered race, whomthey treated as outside the political pale, and whose lands theydistributed amongst themselves; communal ownership of the soilreplaced the Roman system of individual proprietorship; justicewas no longer meted out by imperial functionaries, but issued fromthe mouths of assembled freemen; the Merovingian or Karolingianking was merely a tribal chief, bound to consult his followers on allquestions of policy, and to accept their decision; men no longergroaned under the oppressive omnipotence of a centralised despotism,nor wallowed in the vices of an effete civilisation, but rejoiced inthe freedom of self-government and the innocence of primitivesimplicity. According to Fustel, the Teutonic invasion (if invasion it can becalled) was the gradual incorporation of petty handfuls of brigandsinto a gigantic system of administration in which they were soon 19 LInvasion Germanique, 472. p. 20 Les Articles de Kiersy (Nouvelles Recherches, p. 458).
214 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AS AN HISTORIAN Aprillost.21 There was no Volkerwanderung at all, but merely a roam- 22ing about of small companiesof mercenaries,perpetuallyfightingagainst one another, and willing to sell themselves to the highestbidder.23 The chief of one of these companiesmanaged,by a luckyaccident, to seize the administrative machineryof north-easternGaul, and to use it as a means of extorting money from the pro-vincials.24 But Clovia had no policyother than that of fightingwithrival chiefs of kindredblood. Owingmainlyto the advantageof beingable to pose as a Roman official,25 succeeded in conqueringhis herivals; but his reign, and those of his successors,had no influenceon the institutions of the countrieswhich nominallyobeyedthem,26and which graduallyfell into anarchy under their incapablerule27The officiallanguage of the Merovingsis the Latin of the imperialchancery; the common speech of their day, the Gallo-Romanofthe lower empire.28 Their court is modelled on the palatium ofConstantinople.29The Frankish graf is the Roman comes,and thecomitatlus the Roman civitas; 30 the rachimbiurgiare the assessoresof the Roman governor, and they have no voice in judgment.3The Merovingiankingship is purely hereditary; for the Merovingstreated the kingdomas a piece of property.32 There are no racedistinctions in this epoch;33 and there is no proof of any generalconfiscation of lands by a conquering people.34 The alleged per-sonality of the laws is based, not on descent, but on social posi-tion: the francus is a freeman (ingenuus) and the romanuzs en- anfranchisedslave.35 The one original Germanidea, that of universalmilitary service,36is of no avail to resist the process of decay; andthe accession of the house of Pepin is no resurrectionof Germangenius, for Pepin is partly Roman (or at least Gallo-Roman)bydescent, and Charles the Great draws his inspiration fromRome and Constantinople, not from the forests of Germany.37Finally, feudalism itself is a product not of the fifth century, butof the ninth; and if the immunitas is a confession by the Karo-lingian monarchs of their inability to keep their own officials in thecheck,38 prccarium and the patronatus are social abuses againstwhich the legislators of Byzantium have for centuries thunderedinvain.39 It is feudalism and not the barbarians which abolishes the 21 LInvasion Germaniquc, pp. 317-20. 22 23 Ibid. p. 340. Ibid. pp. 306-11. " Ibid. pp. 481-8. 25 Ibid. p. 495. 6 Ibid. bk. ii. capp. xiv.-xvi. 27 Transformations de la Royaute, bk. i. capp. ii.-v. 28 LInvasion 29 La Germanigqe, p. 545. Monarchic Franque, cap. viii. 30 Ibid. 196-216. 31 Ibid. pp. pp. 350-78, and Recherches, pp. 423-99. 32 Ibid. pp. 33-50. 33 LInvasion Germanique, c. xv. 34 LAlleu, pp. 149-50. 35 De lInAgalite du Wergeld dans les Lois Franqucs (Nouvelles Recherches, p.361); La Monarchie Franque, p. 283. 36 Ibid. cap. xii. 37 Transformations de la Royante, bk. ii. cap. ii. 38 Les Origines dueSystUne Fodal, c. xvi. 39 Ibid. c. iv.
1897 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AS AN HISTORIAN 215 western empire; and the deathblow of that empire is not the victory of Odoacer,40 the treaty of Verdun.41 but Now all this, or a great part of it, may be true; and it is, in fact, very little more than a restatement of the views put forward by the abbe Dubos in the Discours Preliminaire prefixedto his Histoire Critique,publishedat the commencementof the eight- eenth century.42 But it should be borne in mind that almost everyassertion which it implies is strenuouslydenied by one or an other memberof a distinguishedschoolof modernhistorians,which Fustel chooses to brandwith the title of Germanist, but which,in fact, includes not only G. L. von Maurer,Waitz, Zoepfl,Eichhorn, Lamprecht, Schroder, Sohm, Gfrorer,Freeman, Junghans,43 and possibly even Stubbs and Brunner, but Michelet, Thierry, Viollet, Glasson, Th6venin, Armand Riviere, Arbois de Jubainville, and Laveleye. It is time, however, that we returned from Fustels conclusionsto his methods. And the other danger into which a controversialistis likely to fall, in his writing of history, is, in fact, a danger against which Fustel has virtuously attempted to guard himself by the adop- tion of one of his most characteristicdoctrines. In the writing of history, he urges again and again, we must limit ourselves rigidly to the evidenceof texts. What do the documents tell us ? That and that alone is history. History is not a matter of imagination, it is a matter of observation: it is inductive, not deductive. We may admit at once that the study of documentsis, with Fustel, no mere quotationof haphazard extracts, but a reasoned and minute questioning, comparison, and interpretation of an immensemass of written evidence. The question still remains-Is this touchingconfidence writtentestimonywarranted? Andthis in question is, in effect, the questionof the comparative value of direct and indirect evidence. Now the great objectionto indirect evidence is that it may be misinterpreted. It can hardlybe wilfullymisleading,or prejudiced.But direct evidencemay be open to all these objections. We know for a fact that the definitionof forgeryhas varied from time totime; and that, when the offencewas treated as a matter of eccle-siasticaljurisdiction,the rules on the subjectwere such as a modernjudge wouldhardly approve. Manya medieval monasteryretainedin its service a useful officialwhom we should scarcelybe far wrong 40 Les Origines du Systeme Fdodal, c. iv. 41 Transformations de la Royaut4, bk. iv. c. 5. 42 Histoire Critique de lVtablissement de la Monarchie Franloise dans les Gaules.Amsterdam, 1734. 43 Junghanss work (Die Geschichte der Frainkischen Kunige Childerich zndChlodovech), published in 1857, contains more than one of Fustels ideas. But theninth chapter, in which its author summarises his conclusions, is a good exampleof the legend which Fustel set himself to destroy. It has been translated into Frenchby G. Monod.
216 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AS AN HISTORIAN April in describingas a forgerin ordinary. The famous doctrine that the end justifies the means was here very much in point. If a hostile claim were made to lands which had been for ages in the possessionof a great abbey, are we to supposethat the absence of an original charter of gift would be allowedto stand in the way of a successful defence? On the day of trial the documentwould be forthcoming, and, in an age ignorant of the modern science of diplomatic,would probablybe accepted as conclusive. We have heard of forged decretals,and forgeddonations,of Simonides and Shapira; and the applicationof critical tests is every day reducing the number of those medieval documentswhich we can accept as authentic in the strictest sense. We have in effect,according to KarlPertz,44 some 120 genuineroyalchartersof the whole Mero- but vingian epoch, and of these only forty-eightsurvivein their original form;45 all the rest are copies, which may, or may not, have been actually taken from the originals. Again, are we to supposethat a pious chronicler,detailing the doings of a monarchor great feuda-tory, who had distinguished himself by his munificence to thechroniclershouse, would give quite their due prominenceto thoseacts of his hero which were likely to prejudice the latter in theeyes of posterity? And in this connexion it is not unworthy ofnotice that a very large proportion,perhaps five-sixths,of the docu-ments which profess to date from the ninth and four precedingcenturies, are of ecclesiasticalorigin. The need for caution is hereobvious. But it may be said that these are vague charges. Let us look,then, at a concreteexamplerecently exposedby the late M. JulienHavet, whose early death has robbed France of one of her most promisingscholars. Until the year 1885 historians (Fustel amongthe number46) had consideredas one of the most valuable texts ofMerovingiantimes a document purportingto be the testament ofa certain Perpetuus,bishop of Tours in the fifth century, the con-tents of which are expressly described by his celebratedsuccessor,Gregory. This document was believed to be reproduced in analleged copy discovered, after his death, among the papers ofJer6me Vignier, a priest of the Oratory,who died in 1661, and pub-lished by Ach6ryshortly afterwards.47 It is true that this copy, 4 Monumenta Germ. vol. i. Prol. p. xi. It is true that J. Havet suggests ((Elluves,i. 2, n.) that Pertz has relegated to his list of spurtia documents which deserve abetter fate. On the other hand Havet disputes at least one important charter whichPertz accepts as genuine. We must, of course, remember the private charters, notprinted by Pertz. But, according to Fustel himself (LAllcu, p. 114), the totalnumber does not exceed 300; and, of course, many of these are not originals. 45 Havet ((Euvrcs, i. 2) reduces these numbers to ninety and thirty-seven respec-tively. With him agrees Giry (Manuel de Diplomatique, p. 706). 4l LAlleu et Ic Domaine iRural, p. 14.5, n.; NTouvellcs Recechrches, 229, n. p. 47 Vetcrum aliquot Scriptorum . . . Spicilcgium. The document in question is
1897 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AN HISTORIAN 217 ASwritten by Vignier himself, purportedto have been made from theoriginal; but the original was never found. Notwithstandingthissuspicious circumstance,and despite the fact that Roth had, in1850, thrown a doubt on the genuineness of other pieces alleged tohave been discovered by Vignier,48 authenticity of the alleged thetestament seems to have been unquestioned till Julien Havet tookthe matter in hand. This learned critic had very little difficultyinshowing (1) that the documentfound among Vigniers papers didnot, in fact, correspondwith the description given by GregoryofTours; (2) that it grossly violated several cardinalrules of Romanlaw as that law stood in the fifth century; (3) that, on the otherhand, it was perfectly consistent with the provisionsof the laterRomanlaw, which was studiedin Francein the seventeenthcentury;(4) that the language of the document,especially in the names ofplaces, was anachronistic if attributed to the fifth century, butaccorded accurately with the nomenclature of the seventeenth.Pushing his researchesstill further, Havet, assisted later on byBattifol, Wattenbach, and Ingold, seems to have proved prettyclearly that Jerome Vignier was an ingenious man of letters whoamused his leisure hours by fabricatingdocuments,not necessarilywith intent to deceive, but with the result of deceiving. Fustel,who has enunciated some rather dangerous doctrine on the valueof non-contemporary copies,49protests against this attempt to dis-credit the memory of a pious saranTt, mainly on the ground of itsimprobability.50 But here we must remind Fustel of his ownmethods. And, after all, no one accuses Vignier of more than ajen desprit. But, if the historian had only to guard against fabrications,thecase against Fustels theory of evidence would not be so strong asit is. The study of diplomatic has made such strides in recentyears, that we may hope before very long to have something likean authentic canon, upon which it will be possible to rely withconfidence. It is the unintentional and unavoidable misleadingwhich constitutes the real danger. A documentmay not have in-tended to say what it appearsto say; or, on the otherhand, it mayomit all descriptionof essentials which, for some reason or another,its framer did not deem it necessary to describe. Finally, theabsenceof documentsmay be as misleadingas the existence of falsedocuments. And it is just in these cases that the interpretationofthe controversialistis likely to be warped. A very curious exampleof the first case has recently arisen. Until recent years, it was the rule for editors of Merovingianin v. 105-8 of the edit. of 1665. Vignier was the originator of the marriage myth ofthe Maid of Orleans. s4 Alsatia, 1855, pp. 94-5. P La Monarchie Frangte, pp. 21-3. m Nouvellcs Recherches, p. 247, n.
218 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AS ANLHISTORIAN April documentsto readthe openingwordsof a royaldiplomathus: N. rex virfrancorumn illutster. The practice was adoptedby Dom Bouquet, Mabillon,Letronne, Karl Pertz, Pardessus, and Jules Tardif, and has become classical. As a matter of fact, the words vir inluster do not appearin full in the protocolof any of the original charters whichwe possess; but, wheremoderntranscribers have placedthem,the originals show a sort of monogram (siglum), somewhat difficult todecipher,which appearsto representthe letters V. INL., or, perhaps,V. INLT.51 Now, vir inluster was a well-recognised official title of thelater Roman empire, and belonged, amongst other officials,to themagistri militum. The office of magistcr milit,nmwas frequently heldby barbariansin the fourth and fifth centuries; and, though thereseems to be no positive proof that the early Merovingsactuallyserved as magistri milituLm,Fustels theory is that the formula N.rexfrancorum vir inzlusteris merely an adaptation by the Merovin-gian chancelloror referendariusof the Roman formula,N. magistermilitmnl inlutster. From this and other evidence he drawsthe virconclusionthat the early Merovingsconsidered themselves the in-heritors of the Roman empire.52 But Julien Havet denies thatV. INL. signifiesvir inluster. Accordingto him it is an abbreviationof viris inlustribus, and refers to the addresses of the diploma; whilethe undoubted appearance of viriinlusterin the Karolingiandocu-ments he attributes to the habits of Pepins mayoral chancery.53Havets arguments, though ingenious and interesting, and thoughsupportedby the adherence of 1MMI. dArboisde Jubainville54 andGiry,~5appear by no means conclusive; and Fustel has answeredthem with vigour.56 But it is obvious that evidencecapableof suchwidelydifferentinterpretationby eminent critics can hardlybe con-sideredabsolutelysafe. In sobertruth, no perfectlyobjectiveaccountof any documentcan be given, except by means of a facsimile repro-duction. The critic, the translator, even the copyist, necessarily leavessometracesof himself in his work; and all the formidableapparatusof referencewith which Fustel adorns his pages will not wipe awaythe memoryof the essay De la Maniere decrirelHistoireen France 51 See facsimiles in Letronne (Diplomata et Chartac Merovingicae Aetatis, Nos.I. IV. VI. VII., &c.) To an outsider No. I. looks much more like inluster vir than virinluster. But the latter is the official rendering. La Monarchic Franzqe, pp. 123-7. 53 CELnves, 1-1l. i. 5< Deux Manidres decrire lHistoire, cap. vi. ? 6. This book, which was pub-lished in 1896, contains many severe strictures on Fustels accuracy. These stricturesare, however, open to the very grave objection that they are mainly based on thesecond (1877) edition of Fustels book, although the definitive edition had appearedlong before M. dArbois de Jubainvilles criticism was published in solemn form. Thepassages selected do not appear in the definitive edition, and the writer cannot tracethem in the first. Unhappily, the second edition is not easily met with in England. 5s Manuel de Diplomatiquce,pp. 318, 708, &c. 5S Les Titres Roimains de la Monarchie Franque, Nouvelles Recherches, pp. 219-74.Fustel is supported by Pirenne (Compte rendzt de la Commissiolt Royale dHistoire,4e ser. xiii., 1885) and H. Bresslau (Neues Arctiv, xii. 355-60, 1887). But the verdictof the majority seems to be against him.
1897 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AS AN HISTORIAN 219 et en Allemagne. Nay, it ispossible to holdthat Fustels practice of referringexclusivelyto original documents in his foot notes is both unfair and inconvenient. It should always be borne in mind that Fustels works are written for the general public,not for specialists. They are didactic, not merely erudite. And it may very well be questioned whether, for example, Lehuerou is not a safer guide for the layman than the Notitia Dignitatum, and MM. Emile Desjardins and Auguste Longnon than Dicuil and the monk of Colmar; while it is hardly fair to these modern authors (two of whom, at least, were to be found on Fustels bookshelves that57) Fustels readers should be left to assume that he for the first time had establishedthe striking similarity betweenthe administrative divisions of Roman and Frankish Gaul. But where Fustels theoryappearsat its weakestis in its failure to allow for the absence of documents. Himself rarely without a pen in his hand, he hardly seems to realise that the universal passion for records is a very modern thing, and that men who labouredpainfully at the productionof runes or majusculeswould contrive, so far as possible, to do without such irksome assistance. The story of Theodoricand the stencil plate is an illustrationmuchto the point. The true recorder of early times is the memory,8not the pen; and the historian who refuses to see anything morein the early MiddleAges than the recordsof scribesis apt to obtainnot merely an imperfectbut a distortedview of his subject. Leav-ing out of account the accidental and deliberate destructions ofdocumentswhich are continuallytaking place, and the comparativerarity of medieval documents,we must always rememberthat thenearer to primitive conditionswe go, the larger the proportionofhuman transactions which are not recordedin writing at all. Andit would be as rash to deny that such transactions took place,becauseno written evidence of them is in existence, as to assertthat there were no births and deaths in England before the six-teenth century,on the groundthat the registers begin at that time.To realise the weaknessof Fustels theory, we have only to imaginethe case of a man blind from his birth. Fustel would not allowthat he could knowanything of the world around him, except whathe was expressly told. The sounds of common life, the hum ofbees, the song of birds, the rustle of leaves, the noise of hurryingfeet, would be terriblyliable to misinterpretation. And yet it maybe questionedwhether the blind man would not get from them histruest idea of the unseen world. Now suppose him restored tosight. In the objects which he saw around him would he not 5 Catalogue, pp. 37, 40. 5S The abbe Dubos is the author (op. cit. Preliminaire, p. 15) of a rather startlingdoctrine that oral tradition is less vivid in primitive than in advanced communities.The doctrine can hardly be accepted without proof.
220 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AS AN HISTORIAN Aprilreally have far betterevidenceof whathappenedduringhis blindnessthan all the documents of that period? That is just our positionwith regard to the MiddleAges. We cannot see them, but we canhear the echoes of their life struggle; we can also see the lifewhich they have produced. This criticism appears to apply with especial force to one of themost famous of Fustels many controversies,the controversyas tothe nature of the land system among the Germansof the fifth andsixth centuries. As is well known,he holds that the documentsdonot prove the theory, adopted by so many distinguished writers,that the German system was a system of co-proprietorship the invillage or clan. There he is doubtlessright, and his opponentshavemade a profoundmistake in attempting to prove by documents atheory which, if true, almost presupposesthe absence of documents.Furthermore it is quite possible that in Gaul, on which Fustelseyes were mainly fixed, the firm establishment of a system ofindividualownershipby the Roman law may have proveda barriertoo strong for the national prejudicesof the Germans,few or many,who settled there. But Fustel goes further than this, and assertsthat the documents disprovethe existence of co-proprietorship notonly in Gaul, but in what is now Germanyand (by implication)inTeutonic Europe generally.59 But is it not possible that, along-side of this system of written conveyancing, applicable only toindividual ownership, and (apparently)little practised except byroyalty and the church,there may have existed a system of popularoral conveyancing; just as alongside of the record-keepingroyalcourts in England there existed for long centuries many other lawcourts,whosehistorywe can now but dimly trace, though it may wellbe that they played a very large part in the daily lives of ordinarymen ? It would appear that the earliest land charter of privateorigin known to exist relative to Swedishland is of the year 1208.60Are we to conclude from this fact (1) that there were no previoustransfersof private land; (2) that previoustransferstook place, butwere effected by oral procedure; or (3) that there were previousdocumentarytransfers which have been lost ? Either of the twofirst hypotheses would militate against Fustels theory; the last isno more probable than the second. Take Fustels own tests of com-munal ownership. They are heredity, inalienability, exclusion ofwomen from the inheritance.6 But are not these featuresjust thevery reasons why we should not expect documentarysurvivals of 59 This, at any rate, is the impression likely to be formed by a reading of his cele-brated essay Le ProblUme des Origines de la Propriiet Fonciere, published in 1889.In his earlier essay, Les Germains connaissaicnt-ils la Pro2)rite des Terres ?, he ismuch more cautious (cf. Recherches, p. 315). But even there, as M. Simon says,il ne laffirmait pas, mais il le croyait (op. cit. p. 68). o6 Diplonatarium Suecanum, ed. Liljegren, i. 159. " Recherches,p. 234. Fustel speaks here only of alienation by testament. But
189T FUSTEL DE COULANGES AS AN HISTORIAN 221 such a system ? In fact it is outside documentsaltogether,it is in speech (not forgettingVinogradoffsconspicuouswarning),customs, institutions, geographicalfeatures, survivals of all kinds, that we must look for evidenceof the communalsystem. Happily there is much more history in the world than can be put on the shelvesof a library; and an afternoonin the fields or an hour in an old building may teachthe historianas much as a volumeof charters. Upon the great subject of the survival of intermixed lands, Fustel says virtually nothing; and though the Allinenden which have, beyond question, existed in central Europe since the thirteenth century may be, as he suggests, the creation of the twelfth, we are entitled to ask that this view, no less than its opponent, should be proved. But in this great question of land ownership Fustel did not even know all the documents. He dismisses the English evidencein a way which seems to show that he had not much acquaintancewithit;G2 of the Scandinavian evidence he was avowedly ignorant.63 And yet, while we may fully admit the force of his remarkson the value of so-called comparative studies, we shall probably think that, in a matter of this kind, the evidenceof England and Scandi- navia is of considerablevalue for the early history of the Germans. Now the English documents,if they do not expresslydescribecom- munal ownership,at least make pretty clear allusions to it; while the Scandinavian codes expressly show us, not merely the com- munal village, but an oral system of conveyancing. How very far from conclusiveFustels reasoningon this great subjectis, may be gathered from the most cursory glance at Professor MIaitlands latest work.64 Somethinghas now been said of Fustels conclusionsand of hismaterials. It remains to allude to one other equally strikingfeature of his work. He was, of course, a scientific as opposedtoan epical historian. But even the scientific historian has a choiceof methods. He may write lengthwise or crosswise,perpendicularlyor horizontally. Each plan has its advantages. The formeris themore lifelike, more apt to find readers; and, after all, the greatesthistorian can accomplish little unless he is read. On the otherhand, the syntheticalwriter is so apt to be overcomeby the volumeof his material, that he generally compromisesby confining hisstory to the actions of a few prominentmen or to a particularsideof human activity; and his readers thus miss that enlargementofhorizon which should be one of the chief benefits derived fromthe study of history. Fustel, aware of this danger, and deeplydistrusting the allurements of synthesis, pinned his faith to thepresumably alienation inter vivos, at least of specific land, would be equally incon.sistent with community. 62 63 Reche?rccs, p. 307, n. Questions Historiqgues,p. 101. 61 Domesday Book and beyond. Cambridge, 1897.
222 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AS AN HISTORIAN April analytical method: Une loingue et scrltpuleuseobservationdit detail est done la seule voie qui puisse conduire qulelquerue densemble. Pour un jour de synthese il faut des ainees danalyse.A5 And, in effect, Fustels great work is nothing more or less than a series of detached sectional studies, the order in which they appear, or are read, seeming to him of small importance.66 One may very well ask whether this is history at all, even the history of institutions. For institutions, no less than individuals, are alive, are subject to the laws of growth and decay, and, at least in progressive societies like those of western Europe, are continually developing. Any process which treats them as rigid bodies is prima facie unsuitable to the subject; and Fustel made a damaging admission when he reminded his hearers that lhistoire est prcprement la science du devenir.67 For the one quality which is conspicuously absent from his works is movement. We are shown a series of pictures, exqui- sitely drawn, of different periods and aspects of society. There are the administrative systems of Roman Gaul, of the Merovings, of the Karolings; the land systems of Roman Gaul, of Merovingian Gaul, of Karolingian Gaul. But we do not see how or why the transfor- mations are effected; we only realise that they have been effected. A page of Fustel is to a page of Gibbon what a skeleton is to a living body. We may perceive the mechanism better, but we pro- bably get a less complete understanding of the animal. A controversialist, but a controversialist incapable of subterfuge; an historian who confines his attention to documents, but whose knowledge of documents is unrivalled; an analyst, but an analyst of many subjects and many periods-what is the special value of Fustels work ? It would seem natural to say that it is material for history,rather than history itself. The distinction is important, and mustbe taken as largely qualifying Fustels famous dogma, that historyis not an art, but a science. The task of collecting, arranging, andweighing evidence, of drawing from that evidence just conclusions,is a scientific task. But the building up of a record which shallfaithfully reproduce the life of which these dead materials speak isemphatically a work of art. History is necessarily subjective; itis knowledge, not the materials from which knowledge is derived. La Gaule Romzaine, Introd. p. xiii. 66 So puzzling, indeed, is the arrangement of Fustels great work, that it may behelpful to state here exactly how it appeared. The first volume was published in1875, and was reprinted (with some alterations) in 1877. At this time the authorhoped to finish his work in two volumes. In 1888 appeared La Monarchie Franque,in 1889 (but after the authors death) LAlleu et ie Donzaine Rural, in 1890 LesOrigines du SystUmeFeodale, in 1891 La Gaule Romnaineand LInvasion Germanique(these last two being an expansion and reissue of the volume of 1875 and 1877), in1892 Les Transformations de la Boyautd pendant VEpoqie " Les Carolingienne. Origines du? Systeme Feodal, Introd. p. xv.
1897 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AS AN HISTORIAN 223 But, looking a little closer, we seem to see that Fustels work isneither history nor the materials for history. He is not an editorof documents,like Dom Bouquet, Le Long, Mabillon,Pertz, Le-tronne, Champollion-Figeac,Roziere, Jules Tardif, or even likeBenjamin Guerard,whom he so much admired. He does not writeUrkundengeschichte. selects, extracts, compares, arranges in Heline his beloved documents; and from them draws sharp andpointed doctrines,which he supports by argument,and even byinvective. He is not content to establish the text and leave hisreaders to draw their own conclusions. He does not even professto be a paleographer,and therein he lays himself open to obviouscriticism; for one who stakes his all on documentsought clearly tobe content with nothing less than the documentsthemselves. ButFustel, unless speciallyattacked,is willing to accept the renderingsof the editors, whilst he rejects with scorn the conclusions of thehistorians. He is a critic, but not a sceptic; a materialist,but nota nihilist. Surely, then, his value is clear. IIe has not written the defini-tive history of the MiddleAges in western Europe; we may haveto wait many years for such a work,to witness the failure of manyattempts. But each historian, as he essays his task, will have toreckon with Fustel de Coulanges. His work is a standard and atest. No historian with a name to lose will henceforward ventureto quoteisolatedtexts in the haphazardfashionpractisedby Fustelsimmediatepredecessors;he has taught us that half a dozen passageswhich appear to favour a certain view are not of great weightwhencompared with several hundreds which manifestly contradict it.And his clear and incisive analysis constitutes a steel barrierwhichthe riders of fanciful theorieswill find it difficultto clear. As eachfuture historian tells his story he will proceedwith the fear ofFustel before his eyes, and many of the time-honoured legendswillappear no more. There is not much left of Gauppstheory of thelaw of the ChamavianFranks;68 for Fustel has shown that it restson a baseless identificationof the Chamaviof the fourth centurywith the inhabitants of Hamaland in the ninth.69 The articles ofKiersy will no longerproveto us (as they do to MMI. Thevenin7 andEImile Bourgeois71)that Charles the Bald solemnly discussedeachclause of his capitularieswith his assembledcouncil; forFustel hasshown that the alternation of question and answer is an arrange- 63 Lex FrancorumnChawmavorum (1855). The writer has not been able to see thiswork, or the translation of it which appeared in the Notlvelle Revue de Droit Francraiset Etranger for 1855. But Gaupps views are expressly adopted by Sohm in his editionof the text for the Monumenta Germaniac (Legunm tom. v. pp. 269-76, folio). 69 Quelquzes Remarques sur la Loi dite des Francs Chamnavcs(Nouvelles Re-cherches, p. 408). 7o Lex et Capitula (Bibl. de lEcole des Hautes Etudes, fasc. 35, p. 154). 7 Le Capitulairc de Kiersy-sur.-Oise, cap. iii.
224 FUSTEL DE COULANGES AS AN HISTORIAN April andment of a scribe,72 that capitulariesand answerswere separatedocuments. We shall no longer see village communitywhereverwe read the word mnarca; Fustel has examined every Frankish fordocument in which it occurs from the sixth century to the tenth,and shown that in these cases it is only possible to translate iteither as a boundaryor as a private domain.73 The homo vligranswill no longer walk for us as the would-bepartnerin a communitywhich will have none of him; for Fustel has reduced him to thelevel of a commontrespasser.74We shall for the future be extremelyscepticalof any accountof land partitionby conqueringBurgundiansand Wisigoths; for Fustel has shown it to be extremelyprobablethat hospitalitas nothing more than the right to free quarters.75 wasAnd, finally, we shall no longer hastily translate villa as Gemeinde,or even as township; for Fustel, in one of his most admirablestudies, has shown us that the villa was a very definite thing, andthat it was not the territorybelonging to a group of cultivators,but the absolute propertyof a landowner.76 The man who has done all this may be an iconoclast; but he ismuch more. He has set the writers of history on a newroad; andwe shall be much surprisedif the student in future years does ndtfind, as he looks backward,that a great gulf divides the historiansof the twentieth century-those at least who treat of the MiddleAges-from their predecessorsof the nineteenth. If this prophecyprove correct,the bridge which spans the gulf will be found to bethe work of Fustel de Coulanges. EDWARDJENKS. 72 Les Articles de. Kiersy (Nouvelles Recherches, p. 420). 73 La Marche Germaniqquc (Rccherc7es, pp. 319-56). :4 Etude str Ic Titre de la Loi Salique De migrantibus (Nouvelles Recherc7es,pp. 327-60). It must be admitted, however, that Fustels interpretation of thisfamous passage has been condemned by one of the most competent of modern critics(Maitland, Domesday, p. 350, n.) 75 Sur t Hospitalitd dans la Loi des Burgondes (ibid. pp. 314-26). 76 Le Colonat Romain (Rechechcs, pp. 1-186).