|French literary history|
Étienne Pasquier (7 June 1529 – 1 September 1615), French lawyer and man of letters, was born at Paris, on 7 June 1529 by his own account, according to others a year earlier. He was called to the Paris bar in 1549.
In 1558 he became very ill through eating poisonous mushrooms, and did not recover fully for two years. This compelled him to occupy himself by literary work, and in 1560 he published the first book of his Recherches de la France. In 1565, when he was thirty-seven, his fame was established by a great speech, which remains known, in which he pleaded the cause of the University of Paris against the Jesuits, and won it. Meanwhile he pursued the Recherches steadily, and published from time to time much miscellaneous work.
His literary and his legal occupations coincided in a curious fashion at the Grands Jours of Poitiers in 1579. These Grands Jours (an institution which fell into desuetude at the end of the 17th century, with bad effects on the social and political welfare of the French provinces) were a kind of irregular assize in which a commission of the parlement of Paris, selected and despatched at short notice by the king, had full power to hear and determine all causes, especially those in which seignorial rights had been abused. At the Grands Jours of Poitiers of the date mentioned, and at those of Troyes in 1583, Pasquier officiated; and each occasion has left a curious literary memorial of the jests with which he and his colleagues relieved their graver duties. The Poitiers work was the celebrated collection of poems on flea (La Puce de Madame Des Roches, published 1583; see Catherine Des Roches).
In 1585 Pasquier was appointed by Henry III advocate-general at the Paris cours des comptes, an important body having political as well as financial and legal functions. Here he distinguished himself particularly by opposing, sometimes successfully, the system of selling hereditary places and offices. The civil wars compelled Pasquier to leave Paris and for some years he lived at Tours, working steadily at his great book, but he returned to Paris in Henry IV's train in March 1594. He continued until 1604 at his work in the chambre des comptes; then he retired. He survived this retirement more than ten years, producing much literary work, and died after a few hours' illness on 1 September 1615.
In so long and so laborious a life Pasquier's work was naturally considerable, and it has never been fully collected or indeed printed. The standard edition is that of Amsterdam (2 vols. fol., 1723). But for ordinary readers the selections of Leon Feugbre, published at Paris (2 vols. 8vo, 1849), with an elaborate introduction, are most accessible. As a poet Pasquier is chiefly interesting as a minor member of the Pléiade movement. As a prose writer he is of much more account. The three chief divisions of his prose work are his Recherches, his letters and his professional speeches. The letters are of much biographical interest and historical importance, and the Recherches contain in a somewhat miscellaneous fashion invaluable information on a vast variety of subjects, literary, political, antiquarian and other.
Recherches de la France
Pasquier's historical work is seen as an important predecessor to modern historiography, although he is indebted to the methods of other important Italian historians. He makes frequent use of primary sources (or contemporary chroniclers) and cites them as he goes along. Contrary to many other historical works of the time, Pasquier was seeking to create an accurate reconstruction of past for the present needs of France, which he held to be in a period of crisis.
He looks to define France in terms of its customs and culture and is writing a distinctly national history. He begins his story not with the origins of human civilization but with the origins of France in the Gauls. He laments the lack of sources but tries to extract what he can from things such as Caesar's writings on Gaul.
Pasquier attempts to contrast France with Rome and believes that the history of France is as great as the history of Rome, criticizing the widespread use of Latin, Roman law, etc. Instead, he has great respect for French literature and institutions without glorifying the history of France and its kings in the way of previous chroniclers.
- Huppert, George, The Idea of Perfect History: Historical Erudition and Historical Philosophy in Renaissance France. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970) - See the chapter on Pasquier p28-71.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press