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Chapter Two Spectacular Histories In 1836, the right-wing critic Alfred Nettement launched a series of articles attacking new trends in historical writing in the legitimist Gazette de France.1 Although one could imagine a great deal that would displease a reactionary such as Nettement in the writing of the left-leaning Romantic historians, Nettement's reviews cast the question not in terms of politics, but in terms of vision.2 The problem with the historiography of Prosper de Barante and Jules Michelet was not that it spoke out in favor of the Revolution or that it lent support to the July Monarchy regime, but that it transformed the past into what he called, in a review of the recently released fifth edition of Barante's Histoire des dues de Bourgogne de la maison de Valois, "a series of pictures."3 In the eyes of the critic, historiography had come to look dangerously like the kinds of popular entertainment that were turning the past into a spectacle. History, Nettement warned in a review of Michelet's Histoire de I. During the Restoration, the Gazette de France had strongly supported the Bourbon monarchy. Under the July Monarchy, it opposed the government from the right. From 12,400 subscribers at the beginning of the July Monarchy, its readership declined to 5,500 by 1837. The rise of various gazettes in the provinces during this period may have contributed to this decline. Claude Bellanger et a!., eds. Histoire generate de Ia presse franfaise, vol. 2 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1969), 127. 2. In Between History and Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), Lionel Gossman observes that "Romantic historiography was intimately associated with the moderately liberal and nationalist aspirations of the period immediately following the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars" (153). 3· Alfred Nettement, "Etudes litteraires," review of Histoire des dues de Bourgogne de Ia maison de Valois by Prosper de Barante, Gazette de France, January 3, 1837, 4· 64 The Spectacular Past France, should only give way "with great reserve to that passion for the picturesque that threatens to change literature into a vast panorama."4 Nettement's fears of the panoramization of the past articulated one side of a debate that raged through the historiographic discourse of the time, opposing the picturesque school of Romantic historiography, epitomized by Barante and Michelet, to the philosophic school that looked to Voltaire as a model. As Nettement's reviews make clear, this debate turned on the question of the visual. For the picturesque historians, visual description through verbal imagery offered new insight into the material world of the past, replacing dry argument with a re-creation of the reality of the past. For Nettement and the "philosophic" historians, such a visual approach abdicated moral responsibility and could too easily lend itself to populist passiOn. This debate was more, however, than a war of words. At the same time that the verbal descriptions of the Romantic historians were turning historical texts into a "series of pictures," actual images began to occupy an increasingly large place on the French historiographic horizon. Fueled by developments in printing and engraving technology, new forms of historical illustration brought the image from the margin to the center of the historiographic experience during the r83os and r84os. Indeed, the fifth edition of Barante's Histoire des dues de Bourgogne, which occasioned Nettement's vituperative review, was illustrated by such leading artists of the era as Eugene Delacroix, Paul Delaroche, and Alfred and Tony Johannot . Illustration served as the primary means through which a great deal of the historiographic production of the nineteenth century, including that of the Romantic historians, became known to the public.5 Aggressively marketed , illustrated editions offered publishers the chance to repackage existing texts as well as the opportunity to reach new markets. To study the 4· Alfred Nettement, "Etudes litteraires," review of Histoire de France by Jules Michelet, Gazette de France, October I2, I836, I. 5. Studies of illustrated historiography that have informed my understanding include Stephen Bann, The Clothing of Clio (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, I 984), 32-5 3; Marie-Claude Chaudonneret, "Les representations des evenements et des hommes illustres de Ia Revolution fran. I' edit (po••t>. J'n•l• Ct>OfV 1c ~stln de •trrhfflltr •&.an, ..- LIWt-•u tdfle n:t 1 ...... hnptft • et nur d.t•• I'IM•Iohc. Swt le tutl•n••• J':~nh (•rwti u• tu•t,.lllt de ta•t d'l-11•.-•t• qiM C'OIHpoK•I lfftfl...


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