French Literature Of The 19th Century:
The Romantic Novelists
Philosophers And Historians
Read More Articles About: French Literature Of The 19th Century
Philosophers And Historians
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The ideas of England and Germany, introduced by the Romanticists, affected philosophic thought and historical writing as well as poetry and fiction. Their effect in these regions became apparent in the second quarter of the Century. The great philosophers of Germany Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel had propounded their systems, and had endeavored to give a rational view of the universe. The French, who have been diffusers rather than creators of philosophy, took up the discussion of these new views and modified them according to their own apprehension. Victor Cousin (1792-1867) was the leader in appreciation and exposition of the new ideas. He was professor at the Sorbonne and after the Revolution of 1830 his services were enlisted in the service of the government and for a time he was Minister of Public Instruction. The English system of philosophy, founded by Locke, and extended by the Scotch philosophers, Reid and Stewart, considered that all human knowledge is derived through the senses. The German philosophers insisted that certain higher ideas are intuitive and are ascertained by pure reason, while the knowledge obtained through the senses belongs to practical reason or understanding. Cousin endeavored to effect a compromise, and formulated the Eclectic system, derived from many sources. He gave much attention to Plato, and translated his works into French. Under his management national education was improved. His colleague, Abel Villemain (1790-1870), held similar positions and in his discourses on Eighteenth Century literature directed attention to the pre-eminence of English literature and oratory. The work of both was direct and fruitful.
There were other thinkers who are generally regarded as philosophical only and yet had considerable influence on literature and the general course of events in French history. They were Eclectics at the outset, but they insisted on carrying their convictions to practical results. Their ideas have become foundation-stones for many latter-day edifices. Claude Henri de Saint-Simon (176o-1825) is interesting as the father of Socialism, a theory which has spread over the world and entered into the life of the present day. He was the seer, the pioneer who blazed the way through the forest, but was not qualified for constructive work. François Charles Fourier (1772-1837) worked out a definite social scheme, which is called by his name. While this system of organized communism failed to take root except in a few places, it contributed to the rapid development of its basic idea, the perfecting of fraternalism. Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) went so far in his radicalism as to pronounce that property is theft. He gave the force of literary expression to communistic doctrines.
The founder of the Positive philosophy, belongs to a superior class of world reformers, considered as systematic thinkers. Auguste Comte (1798-1857) is the most original of French philosophers since Descartes. His system is not only philosophic and social, but religious, having Humanity as its Divinity, good people as its Saints, and a new social order made by rule on a vast and complex plan. The Comtist school has had some distinguished men in science and literature among its disciples.