He was the son of a cutler, and at the age of twenty-two was made a master in the Collège du Plessis. In 1694 he was rector of the University of Paris, rendering great service among other things by reviving the study of Greek. He held that post for two years instead of one, and in 1699 was appointed principal of the Collège de Beauvais.
Rollin held Jansenist principles, and even went so far as to defend the miracles supposed to be worked at the tomb of François de Paris, commonly known as Deacon Paris. Unfortunately his religious opinions deprived him of his appointments and disqualified him for the rectorship, to which in 1719 he had been re-elected. It is said that the same reason prevented his election to the Académie française, though he was a member of the Academie des Inscriptions. Shortly before his death he protested publicly against the acceptance of the bull Unigenitus.
Rollin's literary work dates chiefly from the later years of his life, when he had been forbidden to teach. His once famous Ancient History (Paris, 1730-38), and the less generally read Roman History, which followed it, were avowed compilations, uncritical and somewhat inaccurate. But they instructed and interested, generation after generation. A more original and really important work was his Traité des études (Paris, 1726-31). It contains a summary of what was even then a reformed and innovative system of education, including a more frequent and extensive use of the vulgar tongue, and discarded the medieval traditions that had lingered in France.
See Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi, vol. vi.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press