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Balzac on history

July 4, 2011

Though today is the 4th of July and it would be appropriate, I don’t have anything to post about United States history or pyrotechnics (but, luckily, other people do). Instead, I want to share a quote with no relation at all to the 4th of July. Well, it comes from someone who did have a lot to say about the July Revolution of 1830. Does that count? Bear with me here, I’m reaching.

Anyway, I’m currently reading (among other things) Collingwood’s The Idea of History and Balzac’s Béatrix. I mention Collingwood because in this passage, from the first paragraph of Béatrix, Balzac also comments on the philosophy of history:

Whoso would travel as a moral archaeologist, observing men instead of stones, would find images of the time of Louis XV in many a village of Provence, of the time of Louis XIV in the depths of Pitou, and of still more ancient times in the towns of Brittany. Most of these towns have fallen from states of splendor never mentioned by historians, who are always more concerned with facts and dates than with the truer history of manners and customs.

Balzac’s nostalgia is evident here, but it’s still something to ponder. I’ll just let it stand without (further) comment.

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