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Charles-Forbes-René, Comte de Montalembert, Catholic publicist, historian, politician and orator, was born in London on 15 April 1810 and died in Paris on 13 March 1870. A year spent as a student in Fulham (1820) allowed him to become proficient in English, and his mother, née Forbes, was from an old Aristocratic Scottish family, to which the Irish Earls of Granard belonged. Charles went on to study philosophy and rhetoric at Collège Sainte-Barbe in Paris (1826-27), before accompanying his father, Marc René, who had been appointed French Ambassador in Stockholm (1828). On his return to France in 1829, Montalembert studied Law (1829), but soon, the eager young traveller set out on a tour of Ireland in September and October 1830. This visit transformed him from a budding political thinker into the leading figure of the Catholic Liberal Movement in France and a brilliant orator on constitutional liberties and the union of Catholicism, Freedom and Democracy. In 1830, Montalembert joined Lamennais, whose death is reported in volume VI (33), in founding the Catholic liberal journal, L'Avenir. Montalembert published three letters therein (1-18 January 1831), which were later merged to form the Lettre sur le Catholicisme en Irlande (Œuvres polémiques [. . .], Paris: Lecoffre, 1860, vol. 1: 127-67).
In a brilliant political career from 1830 onwards, he championed the cause of Irish, Polish, Greek and Swiss Catholics, both in the Legislative Assembly, to which he was elected as Deputy for Doubs (1848-57), and in the Académie française (1851-70). During the July Monarchy and the Second Empire, he became the leader of the Catholic militants, denouncing strongly Napoleon III's despotic regime in the 1850s as undermining morality and religion and decrying the French nation's voluntary subservience.
Based on manuscripts found at the Archives of La Roche-en-Bresnil and at the Archives de la Côte d'Or (Dijon), the first six volumes of Montalembert's notebooks provide an invaluable tool to the far too few scholars, alas, who study his thought nowadays. Volume II (1830-33, Paris: CNRS, 1990) is an especially rich document on the philosopher's formative period in Sweden and Ireland. It also provides much insight into the rigorous documentation undertaken in the 1830s for an aborted History of Ireland. By contrast, in the admission of the editors, volume VI was less spontaneously written and was planned as part of a whole intended for publication, with more precise dating of events. The structure of various sections is compared by Roger-Taillade to a series of chapters or dramatic scenes of the author's life (introduction 7). Yet, sufficient insight can be gained into Montalembert's psyche, as a family man and a political figure, both sensitive to public opinion and frustrated by adverse criticism. He frequently bares his soul and reveals his intimate reactions to the hostility of the French clergy (605), the hypocrisy of his bête noire, Napoleon III (631), and the desertion of French literati. Above all, he makes no bones of his distress and loneliness during his trial of [End Page 362] 1858, following the publication of "Un débat sur l'Inde au Parlement anglais" in the Correspondant (25 October 1858; vol. XV, 205-73).
The reader is fully aware of: the anxiety and stress that accompanied this public trial, "the most momentous day in [his] life" (621), a prosecution malevolently engineered by the Emperor, an "adventurer without a conscience" (631); Montalembert's admiration for his brilliant lawyers, Berryer and Dufaure (613); his unfair condemnation to six months' imprisonment and a fine of 3, 000 Francs (622); his despair at the silence of European liberal journals and at the indifference of the general public (628). He also voices his exhilaration upon his unexpected victory (643) in an appeal launched after he had rejected the Emperor's "perfidious" pardon (631). The detailed narrative of the 1858 trial sheds further light on a...