Charles Rollin

Statut : Author


Notes : Son of a master cutler and himself trained as a master cutler while he was still adolescent, Charles Rollin came under the protection of a Benedictine priest and obtained a grant to attend the collège du Plessis and then to study theology at the Sorbonne. In 1683, he returned to the collège du Plessis as professor of the second class, and then of rhetoric. Holder from 1688, of the chair of eloquence at the Collège de France, he became in 1699, head of the collège de Beauvais, while in 1694 he was nominated rector of the University. In1701 he entered the Académie des Inscriptions et des Belles-Lettres. This brilliant career was brusquely terminated because of the intransigence of his jansenist convictions ; rather than submit to the papal bull “Unigenitus”, Rollin preferred to be sent back to the Collège de Beauvais (1712), dismissed from his post as rector and excluded from the Councils of the University. Once again appointed rector in 1720, he was only able to maintain himself in post for three months. Thereafter he devoted himself to writing : from 1726 to 1731, he published « Traité des études ou de la manière d’enseigner et d’étudier les belles-lettres, par rapport à l’esprit et le cœur », from 1731 to 1738 the voluminous « Histoire ancienne ». His unfinished “Histoire romaine”, partly published posthumously, appeared between 1738 and 1748. If Rollin remains deliberately, as his preface bears witness, in the wake of the theologies of history whose last great representative is Bossuet, the interpretation of « profane » events which he offers in the body of his narrative no longer rests truly on divine intervention (with a few exceptions, notably the conquests of Alexander). On the other hand, if he subscribes to the perspective of the ancient Ciceronian “historia magistra vitae”, it is in order to persist in the moral and educational aims of history, in an age when these are being called in question. The thread that runs through his historical works on antiquity appears defined as the task of history in his “Traité d’études”: « (…) Thus history, when it is properly taught, becomes a school of virtue for all men. It denounces vices, it unmasks false virtues, it exposes errors and false judgments, it dissipates the seductive prestige of wealth and all the vain splendour that enchants mankind (…). From the estime and the admiration which the most corrupt cannot deny to the great and fine actions with which she presents them, she establishes the conclusion that virtue is the true benefit for man, and that she alone makes it truly great and estimable ». The work of Rollin passed through many editions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Among the most important are those of François Guizot (1821-1826) and of the epigraphist Jean-Antoine Letronne (1821-1825), which demonstrate the regard that the nineteenth century retained for the historiography of the eighteenth. See also: Crevier, Jean Baptiste Louis.

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