Jean Victor Duruy - Encyclopedia

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JEAN VICTOR DURUY (1811-1894), French historian and statesman, was born in Paris on the 11th of September 1811. The son of a workman at the factory of the Gobelins, he was at first intended for his father's trade, but succeeded in passing brilliantly through the Ecole Normale Superieure, where he studied under Michelet, whom he accompanied as secretary in his travels through France, supplying for him at the Ecole Normale in 1836, when only twenty-four. Ill-health forced him to resign, and poverty drove him to undertake that extensive series of school textbooks which first brought him into public notice.

He devoted himself with ardour to secondary school education, holding his chair in the College Henri IV. at Paris for over a quarter of a century. Already known as a historian by his Histoire des Romains et des peoples soumis d leur domination ( 2 vols., 1843-1844), he was chosen by Napoleon III. to assist him in his life of Julius Caesar, and his abilities being thus brought under the emperor's notice, he was in 1863 appointed minister of education. In this position he displayed incessant activity, and a desire for broad and liberal reform which aroused the bitter hostility of the clerical party. Among his measures may be cited his organization of higher education (" enseignement special "), his foundation of the " conferences publiques," which have now become universal throughout France, and of a course of secondary education for girls by lay teachers, and his introduction of modern history and modern languages into the curriculum both of the lycees and of the colleges. He greatly improved the state of primary education in France, and proposed to make it compulsory and gratuitous, but was not supported in this project by the emperor. In the new cabinet that followed the elections of 1869, Duruy was replaced by Louis Olivier Bourbeau, and was made a senator. After the fall of the Empire he took no part in politics, except for an unsuccessful candidature for the senate in 1876. From 1881 to 1886 he served as a member of the Conseil Superieur de l'Instruction Publique. In 1884 he was elected to the Academy in succession to Mignet. He died in Paris on the 25th of November 1894.

As a historian Duruy aimed in his earlier works at a graphic and picturesque narrative which should make his subject popular. His fame, however, rests mainly on the revised edition of his Roman history, which appeared in a greatly enlarged form in 7 vols. under the title of Histoire des Romains depuis les temps les plus recules jusqu'a la mort de Theodose (1879-1885), a really great work; a magnificent illustrated edition was published from 1879 to 1885 (English translation by W. J. Clarke, in 6 vols., 1883-1886). His Histoire des Grecs, similarly illustrated, appeared in 3 vols. from 1886 to 1891 (English translation in 4 vols., 1892). He was the editor, from its commencement in 1846, of the Histoire universelle, publiee par une societe de professeurs et de savants, for which he himself wrote a " Histoire sainte << " « d'apres la Bible," Histoire grecque," Histoire romaine," " Histoire du moyen age," " Histoire des temps modernes," and " Abrege de l'histoire de France." His other works include Atlas historique de la France accompagne d'un volume de texte (1849); Histoire de France de 1453 a 1815 (1856), of which an expanded and illustrated edition appeared as Histoire de France depuis l'invasion des barbares dans la Gaule romaine jusqu'a nos jours (1892); Histoire populaire de la France (1862-1863); Histoire populaire contemporaine de la France (1864-1866); Causeries de voyage (1864); and Introduction generate a l'histoire de France (1865).

A memoir by Ernest Lavisse appeared in 1895 under the title of Un Ministre: Victor Duruy. See also the notice by Jules Simon (1895), and Portraits et souvenirs by S. Monod (1897).

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