The Inside of History: Jean Henri Merle d'Aubigne and Romantic Historiography

By Klauber, Martin I. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 1998 | Go to article overview

The Inside of History: Jean Henri Merle d'Aubigne and Romantic Historiography


Klauber, Martin I., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


The Inside of History: Jean Henri Merle d'Aubigne and Romantic Historiography. By John B. Roney. Westport: Greenwood, 1996, 214 pp., n.p.

In this revision of his doctoral dissertation, Roney has provided valuable insights into the nature of the historical profession during the nineteenth century. In his analysis of the life and work of the famed Genevan historian J. H. Merle d'Aubigne (hereafter referred to as Merle), Roney shows how Merle merged the movements of evangelicalism and romanticism. Merle was first a pastor and later, in 1832, president and professor of historical theology at the Ecole de theologie de Genbve, until his death in 1872. This institution was a product of the R*veil movement, and although it was never a large school (it had only 65 students in 1865) it was influential in preserving traditional, essential doctrines and making them applicable to changes in the Reformed church.

Writing in an era following over a half century of war and revolution, nineteenthcentury historians saw the Reformation as one of the most important starting points for the rise of the modern world. Merle's own methodology upheld the idea of divine providence as a guiding force throughout history and illustrates human ability to transcend the natural world. Merle credited his mentor, A. Neander, for his approach of combining the internal and the external aspects of history. In addition, Merle admired the approach of the Roman Catholic bishop, J. B. Bossuet, for integrating the concept of the active work of God throughout the history of human experience.

Following the romantic tradition, Merle composed his historical writings in a popular style that almost resembled a historical novel designed to capture the drama of the past. Merle attempted to portray the emotions of individuals, in contrast to L. von Ranke's relatively colorless and critical style. Merle stressed the theme of the struggle between good and evil, in which the hero makes a major contribution to human progress. In times when Christianity flourished, society achieved a higher degree of progress and prosperity.

According to Roney, Merle's methodology was both popular and academic. In fact Merle's writings reached a wide audience, which reflected the popularity of the romantic style. His vivid portraits of the personal feelings of key individuals at times resembled the historical novel in the tradition of Sir W. Scott more than a typical, historical narrative. Merle maintained that this approach provided a better sense of the wholeness of history than a more arid repetition of facts and figures.

According to Merle, the purpose of history is to show how the universal, eternal reality helps us to understand the world around us. …

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