Henri Martin (historian)

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Henri Martin

Henri Martin (February 20, 1810 – December 14, 1883) was a French historian celebrated in his own day, whose modern reputation has been eclipsed by the greater literary and interpretive powers of his contemporary, the equally passionate patriot Jules Michelet, whose works have often been reprinted.[1]


Having first written a few novels, he later devoted his life to the study of the history of France and wrote an account of it, entitled Histoire de France, a formidable work in 19 volumes. He brought the history down to 1789, and received from the Institut de France 20,000 francs as a prize in 1869. The Avenue Henri-Martin in Paris is named after him.

Martin was born at Saint-Quentin, into an upper-middle-class family. Trained as a notary, he followed this profession for some time but having achieved success with an historical romance, Wolfthurm (1830), he applied himself to historical research. Martin sat in the Assemblée Nationale as deputy for Aisne in 1871, and was elected on June 13, 1878, to seat number 38 of the Académie française,[2] but he left no mark as a politician. Redactor at the Siècle, he was also mayor of the 16th arrondissement of Paris in 1870, deputy of Paris in 1871, senator in 1876, and one of the founders and the first president of the Ligue des Patriotes. He died in Paris on December 14, 1883, and, acclaimed as "national historian" was given a public funeral.[3] A laudatory biography soon appeared: Gabriel Hanotaux, Henri Martin, Paris, 1885.


Histoire de France[edit]

Becoming associated with Paul Lacroix (Le Bibliophile Jacob), he planned with him a history of France to consist of excerpts from the chief chroniclers and historians, with original matter filling up gaps in the continuity. In the first volume, which appeared in 1833, Histoire de France depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu'en juillet 1830 the compiler promised to seek "always the dramatic and picturesque side of history, the one that interests the greatest number";[4] its success encouraged Martin to make the work his own, and his Histoire de France, in fifteen volumes (1833–1836) which spans the space from earliest times to the French Revolution, was the result. This magnum opus, rewritten and further elaborated during the following 18 years of research (4th ed., 16 vols. and index, 1861–1865) gained for the author in 1856 the first prize of the Academy, and in 1869 the grand biennial prize of 20,000 francs. A popular abridgement in seven volumes, L'Histoire de France Populaire, was published in 1867. This, together with the continuation, Histoire de France depuis 1789 jusqu'à nos jours (6 vols. 1878-1883), gives a complete history of France, and superseded Sismondi's Histoire des Français.

This work has not withstood the test of time. Martin's romanticized descriptions of Gauls as representing the Druidic key to France's essentialist "primitive tradition", are based on his long-standing close ties with the Saint-Simonian counter-Enlightenment philosopher Jean Reynaud[5] rather than on history.[6] However his popularized accounts gave a great impetus to Celtic linguistic and anthropological studies. His knowledge of the Middle Ages is inadequate, and his criticisms are not discriminating. As a free-thinking liberal republican outside the Catholic Church, his prejudices often biased his judgment on the political and religious history of the ancien régime. The last six volumes, devoted to the 17th and 18th centuries, are superior to the earlier ones.

Other writings[edit]

In his essay De la France, de son génie et de ses destinées (1847) he sought to give the French a sense of their essentially national destiny within the framework of Romantic nationalism. Other minor works included Daniel Manin (1860), La Russie et l'Europe (1866); Etudes d'archéologie celtique (1872); Les Napoléon et les frontières de la France (1874).


  1. ^ Charles Rearick, "Henri Martin: from druidic traditions to republican politics", Journal of Contemporary History 7.3 (1972:53-64) p. 53.
  2. ^ Académie française: Henri Martin
  3. ^ Rearick (1972), p. 53
  4. ^ Quoted in Rearick (1972); p. 54
  5. ^ Martin's admiring account Jean Reynaud, Paris, 1863
  6. ^ Rearick (1972), p. 55, noting the "extremely hostile" account in Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly, Le XIXe siècle, les oeuvres et les hommes, first series (1861), pp. 97-110
  • Former versions of this article incorporated text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, 1911, and The Nuttall Encyclopædia, 1907: some phrases may remain.