Henri Saint-Simon (1760-1825): Selected Writings on Science, Industry, and Social Organization

Henri Saint-Simon (1760-1825): Selected Writings on Science, Industry, and Social Organization

Henri Saint-Simon (1760-1825): Selected Writings on Science, Industry, and Social Organization

Henri Saint-Simon (1760-1825): Selected Writings on Science, Industry, and Social Organization

Excerpt

Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon belonged to one of France's most distinguished aristocratic families, which claimed, with some justification apparently, to be directly descended from Charlemagne through the comtes de Vermandois. The second child and first son of Balthazar-Henri and Blanche-Elisabeth de Saint-Simon, he was born at Berny in Picardy on 17 October 1760. Balthazar-Henri was the cousin of Louis, duc de Saint-Simon (1675-1755), author of the well-known memoirs of the court of Louis XIV and the Regency; and the brother of Maximilien-Henri, marquis de Saint-Simon (1720-99), a noteworthy military historian and translator of the classics.

Although his parents were not very wealthy (his father's only income derived from various army pensions), Claude-Henri was brought up in impressive comfort. The family owned a château in Berny, with large estates, and also had a winter residence in Paris, which meant that Claude-Henri was introduced at an early age into Parisian social circles. This enabled him in his teens to meet a number of eminent intellectual figures, such as Rousseau and d'Alembert. The latter actually tutored him for a short time; and it seems likely that it was under d'Alembert's influence that his passionate interest in philosophy and the advancement of scientific knowledge first emerged. In later life he acknowledged that d'Alembert had transformed his mind into 'such a tight metaphysical net that not a single important fact could slip through it'.

Very little is known about Saint-Simon's formal education. The most detailed account available is his own, given in a manuscript of 1810 which remained undiscovered until more than a century after his death:

'Let us recall the education we received. They began by fixing our attention on the history of the Greeks and the Romans: they inflamed our young hearts over the virtues of the Gracchi and the Brutuses; they wounded our still tender souls with the dagger of republicanism. They inspired us with democratic sentiments when they took us from the study of classical languages to French. Jean-Jacques, Voltaire, Helvétius, Raynal . . .

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