TAINE, HIPPOLYTE ( 1828-1893), historian, philosopher, and critic; born at Vouziers in the Ardennes mountains on 21 April 1828. His father was a solicitor; his grandfather had been a subprefect. Taine was uprooted by the death of his father ( 1840) to be raised by his devoted mother and sisters in Paris. After losing his religious faith while in his teens, thus straining but not severing family ties, Taine began a promising but ultimately frustrating academic career. At the Ecole Normale Supérieure ( 1848), his record was brilliant and his abilities highly praised by his teacher, the philosopher Etienne Vacherot ( 1809-1897). But Taine could not accept the prevailing doctrines, and he failed his examinations for the agrégation. After an inferior assignment as substitute teacher at the Collège de Nevers ( 1851-1852), he was assigned to Poitiers ( 1852) and then to Besançon, where he was demoted to teaching the lower grades. Exasperated at last by this treatment and by the close supervision to which secondary school teachers were subjected, Taine obtained leave to complete his doctoral dissertation. When his psychology thesis ("Les sensations") was rejected, he turned to an inoffensive topic, receiving his doctorate for a thesis on La Fontaine et ses fables ( 1853; published 1860). Taine did not continue his academic career but, as with a number of other Second Empire academics, turned instead to literature and to journalism, publishing his first article in the "Revue de l'instruction publique" in 1855.
Taine's pessimism about human nature had prevented his being horrified by Louis Napoleon's coup d'état in December 1851. The subsequent plebiscite, he argued, while not justifying the coup did give to the new regime the right to be obeyed. Taine had signed the required oath, much to the disgust of his close liberal associates. Moreover, he frequented the salon of his long-time friend, Princess Mathilde, Napoleon III's cousin. But the regime distrusted his independence (he wrote for the liberal Journal des débats and Revue des deux mondes) and found his confrontation with traditional religion embarrassing. He was appointed examiner at the military academy of Saint-Cyr in 1863, then shortly afterward dismissed, by Minister of War Jacques Louis Randon, despite the emperor's mild protest. However, in 1864 Taine was named to replace Eugène Viollet-le-Duc as professor of the history of art at the reorganized Ecole des