Jacques Auguste De (Thuanus Thou) - Encyclopedia

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JACQUES AUGUSTE DE THOU [THUANUS] (1553-1617), French historian, was the grandson of Augustin de Thou, president of the parlement of Paris (d. 1 544), younger son of Christophe de Thou, "first president" of the same parlement, who began to collect a number of books and notes for a history of France which he was never to write (d. 1582), and nephew of Nicolas de Thou, who was bishop of Chartres (1573-1598). In these family surroundings he imbibed a love of letters, a firm and orthodox, though enlightened and tolerant piety, and an attachment to the traditional power of the Crown. At the age of seventeen he began his studies in law, first at Orleans, later at Bourges, where he made the acquaintance of Hotman, and finally at Valence, where he had Cujas for his master and Scaliger as a friend. He was at first intended for the Church; he received the minor orders, and on the appointment of his uncle Nicolas to the episcopate succeeded him as a canon of Notre-Dame. But his tastes led him in a different direction; not content with a knowledge of books, he wished to know the world and men. During a period of ten years he seized every opportunity for profitable travel. In 1573 he accompanied Paul de Foix on an embassy, which enabled him to visit most of the Italian courts; he formed a friendship with Arnaud d'Ossat (afterwards bishop of Rennes and Bayeux and cardinal, d. 1604), who was secretary to the ambassador. In the following year he formed part of the brilliant cortege which brought King Henry III. back to France, after his flight from his Polish kingdom. He also visited several parts of France, and at Bordeaux met Montaigne. On the death, however, of his elder brother Jean (April 5, 1579), who was maitre des requetes to the parlement, his relations prevailed on him to leave the Church, and he entered the parlement and married (1588). In the same year he was appointed conseiller d'etat. He served faithfully both the effeminate, bigoted and cruel Henry III. and Henry IV., a sceptic and given to love-intrigues, because they were both the representatives of legitimate authority. He succeeded his uncle Augustin as president a mortier (1595), and used his new authority in the interests of religious peace, negotiating, on the one hand, the Edict of Nantes with the Protestants, while in the name of the principals of the Galilean Church he opposed the recognition of the Council of Trent. This attitude exposed him to the animosity of the League party and of the Holy See, and to their persecution when the first edition of his history appeared. This history was the work of his whole life. In a letter of the 31st of March 1611 addressed to the president Jeannin, he himself describes his long labours in preparation of it. His materials for writing it were drawn from his rich library, which he established in the Rue des Poitevins in the year 1587, with the two brothers, Pierre and Jacques Dupuy, as librarians. His object was to produce a purely scientific and unbiassed work, and for this reason he wrote it in Latin, giving it as title Historia sui temporis. The first 18 books, embracing the period from 1545-1560, appeared in 1604 (1 vol. folio), and the work was at once attacked by those whom the author himself calls les envieux et les factieux. The second part, dealing with the first wars of religion (1560-1572), was put on the Index librorum prohibitorum (Nov. 9, 1609). The third part (up to 1574), and the fourth (up to 1584), which appeared in 1607 and 1608, caused a similar outcry, in spite of de Thou's efforts to remain just and impartial. He carried his scruples to the point of forbidding any translation of his book into French, because in the process there might, to use his own words, "be committed great faults and errors against the intention of the author"; this, however, did not prevent the Jesuit Father Machault from accusing him of being "a false Catholic, and worse than an open heretic" (1614); de Thou, we may say, was a member of the third order of St Francis. As an answer to his detractors, he wrote his Memoires, which are a useful complement to the History of his own Times. After the death of Henry IV., de Thou met with another disappointment; the queen-regent refused him the position of first president of the parlement, appointing him instead as a member of the Conseil des finances intended to take the place of Sully. This was to him a distinct downfall; he continued, however, to serve under Marie de Medicis, and took part in the negotiations of the treaties concluded at Ste Menehould (1614) and Loudun (1616). He died at Paris on the 7th of May 1617.

Three years after the death of de Thou, Pierre Dupuy and Nicolas Rigault brought out, with pt. v., the first complete edition of the Historia sui temporis, comprising 138 books; they appended to it the Memoires, also given in Latin (1620). A hundred years later, an Englishman, Samuel Buckley, published a critical edition, the material for which had been collected in France itself by Thomas Carte (1733). De Thou was treated as a classic, an honour which he deserved. His history is a model of exact research, drawn from the best sources, and presented in a style both elegant and animated; unfortunately, even for the men of the Renaissance, Latin was a dead language; it was impossible for de Thou, for example, to find exact equivalents for technical terms of geography or of administration. As the reasons which had led de Thou to forbid the translation of his monumental history disappeared with his death, there soon arose a desire to make it accessible to a wider public. It was translated first into German. A Protestant pastor, G. Boule, who was afterwards converted to Catholicism, translated it into French, but could not find a publisher. The first translation printed was that of Pierre Du Ryer (1657), but it is mediocre and incomplete. In the following century the abbe Prevost, who was a conscientious collaborator with the Benedictines of Saint-Maur before he became the author of the more profane work Manon Lescaut, was in treaty with a Dutch publisher for a translation which was to consist of ten volumes; only the first volume appeared (1733). But competition, perhaps of an unfair character, sprang up. A group of translators, who had the good fortune of being able to avail themselves of Buckley's fine edition, succeeded in bringing out all at the same time a translation in sixteen volumes (De Thou, Histoire universelle, Fr. trans. by Le Beau, Le Mascrier, the Abbe Des Fontaines, 1734). As to the Memoires they had already been translated by Le Petit and Des Ifs (171 I); in this form they have been reprinted in the collections of Petitot, Michaud and Buchon. To de Thou we also owe certain other works: a treatise De re accipitraria (1784), a Life, in Latin, of Papyre Masson, some Poernata sacra, &c.

For his life may be consulted the recollections of him collected by the brothers Dupuy (Thvana, sive Excerpta J. A. Thuani per ff. P. P., 1669; reprinted in the edition of 1733), and the biographies by J. A. M. Collinson (The Life of Thuanus, 1807), and Duntzer, (De Thou's Leben, 1837). Finally, see Henry Harrisse, Le President de Thou et ses descendants, leur célèbre bibliotheque, leurs armoiries et la traduction francaise de J. A. Thuani Historiarum sui Temporis [sic] (1905). (C. B.5)

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