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Thuanus: The Making of Jacques-Auguste de Thou (1553-1617).

Thuanus: The Making of Jacques-Auguste de Thou (1553-1617). By Ingrid A. R. De Smet. Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance, 418. Geneva: Librairie Droz, 2006. 348 pp. De Thou was a famous man in his own day: offspring of France's judicial elite who rose to the position of President a mortier in the Parlement of Paris, a man whose house and library attracted Europe's finest minds, and author of the Historiae sui temporis, which earned him the title of 'father of modern history' in his lifetime. His standing has declined since then, with many scholars treating his Historiae as a primary source to be pillaged for anecdotes and historical evidence, but during his lifetime he was regarded primarily as a man of real influence. Indeed he became a high-ranking magistrate and politician in the second half of the 1580s, well before the first volume of his Historiae sui temporis was published (late 1603), so that he was many things in turn: historian, president, poet, patron, and peace-maker. De Smet's goal is to investigate how he constructed his personality as both magistrate and intellectual in the tumultuous times in which he lived.

De Thou left an autobiography, the Commentarii de sua vita, but like every other such work, these so-called Memoirs are a part of this process of self-construction, not an objective analysis of it. De Smet therefore turns to the full variety of sources about de Thou and his life, producing not a chronologically ordered continuous narrative, but a thematic study designed to shed light on important points. Chapter One focuses around the theme of reecriture, especially de Thou's use of poetry to project a carefully fashioned public and literary persona. Chapter Two uses his poetry and correspondence to show how he operated on the national and international scenes as both a writer and an officer of the French state, worthy to stand alongside Scaliger, Lipsius, and Casaubon. Chapter Three turns to the women in de Thou's life, both real and fictional, to show how they helped him shape his role in society, through marital politics, the poetry of love and mourning, and childbirth. Chapter Four focuses on the role of books and reading in de Thou's development and on his pursuit of knowledge in relation to both the political backdrop of the day and his network of educational and literary friendships. Chapter Five turns to the Historiae, not in order to provide a comprehensive analysis, but to anchor his magnum opus in his life world, where it contributed to defining his role on the national and international stages. The conclusion outlines de Thou's fall from favor, years that are not covered in his autobiography but that contribute nonetheless to the refining, then the shattering, of his public image.

The picture that emerges is complex. Throughout his life de Thou's self-construction remained embedded in his family and their web of alliances, in political circles, and in the world of scholarship in his day. He thought of himself as an inadequate courtier and a reluctant public servant, but as a loyal subject of France who wished only the best for his native land. He claimed that his basic values remained constant, but his friendships waxed and waned according to changes in his personal and political life. His dealings with Scaliger, Casaubon, and Lipsius gave him standing as a mediator in the Wars of Religion, but became a liability in the more rigorously Catholic environment that developed after the arrival of Marie de Medicis. The result is a conflicted psyche whose panoply of values included prudence, the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, but which remained unified and stable over time--a marked contrast to Montaigne's fragmented and multiple depictions of himself ("Si je parle diversement de moi, c'est que je me regarde diversement").

De Smet's is not the first, or the only, treatment of de Thou in modern times: she acknowledges generously her debt to Samuel Kinser's fundamental study, The Works of Jacques-Auguste de Thou (The Hague, 1966). Scholarly fashions change, however, and De Smet's study is very much of our day, bringing the concerns of scholarship at the beginning of the twenty-first century to one of the more intriguing figures of neo-Latin letters. Solidly based in unpublished material and primary sources, this is an engaging study that can provide a good model for how other figures in humanist scholarship can be treated. (Craig Kallendorf, Texas A&M University)
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Title Annotation:NEO-LATIN NEWS
Author:Kallendorf, Craig
Publication:Seventeenth-Century News
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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