Abel-François Villemain

Abel-François Villemain

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Abel-François Villemain (9 June 1790 – 8 May 1870) was a French politician
Politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

 and writer
Writer
A writer is a person who produces literature, such as novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, or other literary art. Skilled writers are able to use language to portray ideas and images....

.

Biography


Villemain was born in Paris and educated at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand
Lycée Louis-le-Grand
The Lycée Louis-le-Grand is a public secondary school located in Paris, widely regarded as one of the most rigorous in France. Formerly known as the Collège de Clermont, it was named in king Louis XIV of France's honor after he visited the school and offered his patronage.It offers both a...

. He became assistant master at the Lycée Charlemagne
Lycée Charlemagne
The Lycée Charlemagne is located in the Marais quarter of the 4th arrondissement of Paris, the capital city of France.Constructed many centuries before it became a lycée, the building originally served as the home of the Order of the Jesuits...

, and subsequently at the École Normale. In 1812 he gained a prize from the Academy with an essay on Michel de Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne
Lord Michel Eyquem de Montaigne , February 28, 1533 – September 13, 1592, was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, known for popularising the essay as a literary genre and is popularly thought of as the father of Modern Skepticism...

. Under the restoration he was appointed, first, assistant professor of modern history, and then professor of French eloquence at the Sorbonne
University of Paris
The University of Paris was a university located in Paris, France and one of the earliest to be established in Europe. It was founded in the mid 12th century, and officially recognized as a university probably between 1160 and 1250...

. Here he delivered a series of literary lectures which had an extraordinary effect on his younger contemporaries.

Villemain had the great advantage of coming just before the Romantic movement
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

, of having a wide love of literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

 without being an extremist. Most of the clever young men of the brilliant generation of 1830 passed under his influence; and, while he pleased the Romanticists by his frank appreciation of the beauties of English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

, Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

, and Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 poetry
Poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

, he did not decry the classics—either the classics proper of Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 and Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 or the so-called classics of France.

In 1819 he published a book on Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who overthrew the English monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth, and served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland....

, and two years later he was elected to the Academy. Villemain was appointed by the restoration government Chef de l'imprimerie et de la librairie, a post involving a kind of irregular censorship
Censorship
thumb|[[Book burning]] following the [[1973 Chilean coup d'état|1973 coup]] that installed the [[Military government of Chile |Pinochet regime]] in Chile...

 of the press, and afterwards to the office of master of requests. Before the revolution of July
July Revolution
The French Revolution of 1830, also known as the July Revolution or in French, saw the overthrow of King Charles X of France, the French Bourbon monarch, and the ascent of his cousin Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans, who himself, after 18 precarious years on the throne, would in turn be overthrown...

 he had been deprived of his office for his liberal tendencies, and had been elected deputy for Évreux
Évreux
Évreux is a commune in the Eure department, of which it is the capital, in Haute Normandie in northern France.-History:In late Antiquity, the town, attested in the fourth century CE, was named Mediolanum Aulercorum, "the central town of the Aulerci", the Gallic tribe then inhabiting the area...

. Under Louis-Philippe he received a peerage
Peerage of France
The Peerage of France was a distinction within the French nobility which appeared in the Middle Ages. It was abolished in 1789 during the French Revolution, but it reappeared in 1814 at the time of the Bourbon Restoration which followed the fall of the First French Empire...

 in 1832. He was a member of the council of public instruction, and was twice minister of that department, and he also became secretary of the Academy. During the whole of the July monarchy
July Monarchy
The July Monarchy , officially the Kingdom of France , was a period of liberal constitutional monarchy in France under King Louis-Philippe starting with the July Revolution of 1830 and ending with the Revolution of 1848...

 he was one of the chief dispensers of literary patronage in France, but in his later years his reputation declined. He died in Paris.

His wit was legendary; an anecdote has a fellow professor saying to him "I have discovered a french expression in Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

." Now this professor had been a revolutionary during the revolution, a follower of Napoleon during the Empire and a royalist during the restauration; Villemain answered quickly to him: "I found one too: <>"

Villemain's chief work is his Cours de la littérature française (5 vols., 1828–1829). Among his other works are: Tableau de la littérature au Moyen Âge (2 vols., 1846); Tableau de la littérature au XVIII siècle (4 vols., 1864); Souvenirs contemporains (2 vols., 1856); Histoire de Grégoire VII (2 vols., 1873; Engl. trans., 1874).

Among notices on Villemain may be cited that of Louis de Loménie
Louis de Loménie
Louis-Léonard de Loménie was a French scholar and essayist. He is best known for his biography of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, and also edited this author's complete works.-Life:...

 (1841), E. Mirecourt (1858), J.L. Dubut (1875). See also Sainte-Beuve
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve was a literary critic and one of the major figures of French literary history.-Early years:...

, Portraits (1841, vol. iii), and Causeries du lundi (vol. xi, "Notes et pensées").