Prévost-Paradol was born in Paris, France, conceived through an irregular liaison between the opera singer Lucinde Paradol and the writer Léon Halévy. When Halévy later married Alexandrine Le Bas, his wife agreed to adopt the child, who was then brought up with their own children.
Education and works
Prévost-Paradol was educated at the College Bourbon and entered the École Normale. In 1855 he was appointed professor of French literature at Aix. He held the post barely a year, resigning it to become a leader-writer on the Journal des débats. He also wrote in the Courrier du dimanche, and for a very short time in the Presse.
His chief works are Essais de politique et de littérature (three series, 1859–1866), and Essais sur les moralistes français (1864). He was, however, rather a journalist than a writer of books, and was one of the chief opponents of the empire on the side of moderate liberalism. He underwent the usual difficulties of a journalist under that regime, and was once imprisoned. In 1865 he was elected to the Académie française.
August Strindberg referred to him in his novel The Growth of a Soul:
Now he took to reading again. Chance brought into his hand two of "the best books which one can read." They were De Tocqueville's Democracy in America and Prévost-Paradol's The New France. The former increased his doubts as to the possibility of democracy in an uncultivated community. Written with sincere admiration for the political institutions of America, which the author holds up as a pattern for Europe, this work points out so sincerely the dangers of democracy, as to make even a born hater of the aristocracy pause.
Opposition and death
The accession of Émile Ollivier to power was fatal to Prévost-Paradol, who apparently believed in the possibility of a liberal empire, and consequently accepted the appointment of envoy to the United States. This was the signal for the most unmeasured attacks on him from the Republican Party. He had scarcely installed himself in his post before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War occurred. He shot himself at Washington on 19 July 1870, and later died.