Europe under the Old Regime

Europe under the Old Regime

Europe under the Old Regime

Europe under the Old Regime

Excerpt

Albert Sorel stands among the first historians of Europe because of his elaborate study entitled L'Europe et la révolution française, which appeared in eight volumes between 1885 and 1904. His whole life was devoted either to preparation for or to the completion of this great work. Sorel was born in Normandy in 1842 and trained in the law. In 1866 he entered the foreign office under Napoleon III, and gained valuable practical experience of diplomacy during the period of the fall of the second empire and the establishment of the third republic. In 1872 he was appointed to the chair of diplomatic history at the École libre des sciences politiques in Paris, and in 1875 he left the foreign office to become the secretary general of the Présidence du sénat. There his light official duties permitted him leisure for the scrupulous historical researches upon which his literary work was founded. L'Europe et la révolution française was recognized as a classic when the first volume appeared in 1885. It received the Gobert grand prize and was crowned by the French Academy, and the work was crowned a second time when the second volume came out in 1887. The author died in 1906, only two years after the final volume was published and in the same year that the completed history was awarded the Osiris prize by the Institute of France.

Sorel's work clearly represents not only, an improvement on von Sybel's Geschichte der Revolutionszeit von 1789-1800, but also a reaction against the point of view of Taine, whose theories of scientific social and intellectual history had paradoxically resulted in his brilliantly prejudiced studies of the old regime and the French revolution. The doctrinaire theories of the revolutionaries, to Sorel, were neither to be attacked nor supported; they were merely a cloak under which the living body of national interest remained unchanged. He was not interested in theories of society, but in the attitude of individual men towards their interests and their times, and the way in which many such views combined to create the substance and the continuity of diplomacy. When viewed in this light, Sorel's masterpiece becomes . . .

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