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Etienne Baluze

French scholar and historian (1630-1718)

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Baluze, ETIENNE, a French scholar and historian, b. at Tulle, December 24, 1630; d. in Paris, July 28, 1718. His education was commenced at the Jesuit college of his native town, where he distinguished himself by his intelligence, his constant devotion to study, and his prodigious memory. Obtaining a scholarship on the recommendation of his professors, he cornpleted his classical courses at the College of St. Martial, which had been founded at Toulouse, in the fourteenth century, by Pope Innocent VI for twenty Limousin students. Resolved to devote himself to the study of literature and history, Baluze set to work with great zeal, perseverance, and success. Critical and painstaking in the investigation of facts, he undertook to study the origins of the French nation, its customs, laws, and institutions, using for this purpose only genuine documents and original records instead of fanciful legends and fabulous stories, thus introducing a scientific spirit into historical research, philology, and chronology.

At the age of twenty-two he wrote a remarkable work of historical criticism. A Jesuit, Father Frizon, had just published a book, “Gallia purpurata”, containing the lives of the French cardinals, which met with great success until Baluze gave out (1652) his “Anti-Frizonius” in which he pointed out and corrected many errors made by Father Frizon. In 1654, Pierre de Marca, Archbishop of Toulouse, one of the greatest French scholars in the seventeenth century, appointed Baluze his secretary. Upon the death of his patron, in June, 1662, Baluze published the “Marta Hispanica”, a remarkable historical and geographical description of Catalonia. This work made him known to Colbert, who appointed him his librarian, a position he held for thirty years, many years, that is, after Colbert’s death. The excellent collection of manuscripts and books which was found in the latter’s library was the fruit of his care and advice. His own collection was also very important; it comprised about 1100 printed books, 957 manuscripts, more than 500 charters, and seven cases full of various documents. Baluze is to be ranked among those benefactors of literature who have employed their time and knowledge in collecting from all sources ancient manuscripts, valuable books, and state papers. He annotated them with valuable comments, being very well acquainted with profane and ecclesiastical history as well as with canon law, both ancient and modern.

The number of works Baluze published is considerable; we shall mention the most important among them: (I) “Marii Mercatoris opera” (1684), collated with manuscripts and enriched with notes illustrative of the history of the Middle Ages. (2) “Regum Francorum capitularia” (1677). This collection contains several capitularies never published before. Baluze corrected them with great accuracy and in his preface gave an account of the original documents and of the authority of the several collections of the capitularies. (3) “Epistolae Innocentii Papae III” (1682); not a complete collection, as Baluze was refused the use of the letters preserved in the Vatican. (4) “Conciliorum nova collectio” (1683), containing such pieces as are wanting in Labbe’s collection. (5) “Les vies des papes d’Avignon” (1693), in which he gave a preference to Avignon over Rome as the seat of the Popes. (6) “Miscellanea” (1680), of which Mansi published a new edition in 1761. (7) “Historia Tutelensis” (1717), or the history of Tulle. This was Baluze’s favorite work. He wrote it out of love for his native place, “ne in nostra patria peregrini atque hospites esse videamur”. It embraces a period of eight centuries, from the founding of the city (900), to the episcopate of Daniel de Saint-Aulaire (1702). The history of Tulle is divided into three books, the first dealing with the counts, the second with the abbots, and the third with the bishops.

In 1670, Baluze was appointed professor of canon law at the College de France, of which he became director in 1707, with a pension awarded by the king. But he soon felt the uncertainty of courtly favors. Having attached himself to Cardinal de Bouillon, who had engaged him to write the history of his family, he became involved in the cardinal’s disgrace. Baluze was accused of having used spurious papers in his patron’s interest. Consequently he received a lettre de cachet ordering him to retire to Lyons. Being expelled from the university and deprived of his personal fortune, he wandered from Rouen to Blois, from Blois to Tours, and later to Orleans, where he lived until 1713. After the peace of Utrecht, the family of Cardinal de Bouillon recovered the favor of the king, and Baluze was recalled, but never again employed as a professor or as a Director of the College de France. He lived far from Paris and was engaged in publishing St. Cyprian’s works at the time of his death. Baluze, together with Luc d’Achery, Mabillon, Sainte-Marthe, Ducange, Montfaucon, and others, gathered an immense quantity of rich materials which the historians of the nineteenth century, such as Sismondi, Guizot, Augustin and Amedee Thierry, Michelet, Henri Martin, Fustel de Coulanges, were to use with the greatest skill.


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