BRANDED ‘LE BLASPHÉMATEUR EUROPÉEN’ FOR HIS CONTROVERSIAL LA VIE DE JÉSUS.

A collection of 26 autograph letters and notes signed, with one letter by an amanuensis signed, to various recipients, in French.

Paris and Sèvres, 1853-1889 (and undated).

47 written pages, mostly 210 x 135 mm; neatly and legibly written in black ink; a few small marks and creases, generally very good.

£1250

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A fine collection of letters from Renan, providing an insight into the breadth of his academic pursuits, his publications, his contacts in France and abroad, and his personality.

The earliest letters, written to his friend Morel, ‘professeur de littérature’ at Liège, are from the period during which Renan was building his scholarly reputation: no. 1 mentions his first contribution to the Journal des Débats, then the foremost liberal newspaper in Paris. A letter to the orientalist and poet Guillaume Pauthier (1801-1873) (no. 5) shows Renan’s critical and philological faculties in its discussion of the Nestorian Stele in Chinese and Syriac.

Renan was appointed professor of Hebrew at the Collège de France in 1862 and the following year published his famous La Vie de Jésus, the first volume in his vast project L’Histoire des origines du christianisme. Asserting that Jesus’s life should be written like that of any historic person, the work attracted extraordinary attacks in France and abroad. Renan was branded ‘the European blasphemer’ by the pope, and hostile demonstrations at the Collège de France led to the suspension of his teaching. Renan’s fiery letter of 11 June 1864 (no. 10) – written by an amanuensis, perhaps on account of the evident agitation of the author – dates from this time and counters any claims that he has implicitly resigned from his chair. In a later letter of 1889 (no. 23), Renan writes of his desire for a good English translation of La Vie de Jésus, offering his wife’s superior knowledge of English by way of assistance.

Letters to Anthony Panizzi at the British Museum (no. 11), to the orientalist Stanislas Guyard (1846-1884) (no. 14), to the American reformer, minister and author of the Sacred Anthology Moncure Daniel Conway (1832-1907) (no. 16), and to M. Neubauer in Oxford (no. 17) give a snapshot of the extraordinary range of Renan’s philological and religious studies. And no. 25, regarding the accidental swapping of umbrellas, shows the author’s lighter side.


1. ALS to [Monsieur Morel]. Paris, 17 August 1853. pp. 4.

Regarding a medal awarded to Morel by the Académie de Bordeaux, with mention of Gustave Brunet of the Académie. Mentions Renan’s articles on ‘Hariri’ and ‘Religions de l’antiquité’ for the Journal des Débats and the Revue des Deux Mondes. Refers to the election of de Rougé (Emmanuel vicomte de Rougé, Egyptologist) as ‘très regrettable’. Sends respects to Madam Morel.

2. ALS to Monsieur Morel. Paris, 20 September 1853. pp. 2 + 1 blank + 1 bearing the address; small loss and tears where seal opened.

Sends the brochure Morel requested. Has had no reply from M. Brunet of Bordeaux. Renan is moving house to be nearer to the Bibliothèque and give his new address. Sends respects to Madam Morel.

3. ALS to [Monsieur Morel]. Paris, 8 May 1855. pp. 3 + 1 blank.

Renan is angry with himself for discovering Morel’s letter unanswered among a pile of proofs. He has been to see M. de Mars. Discusses a contribution to the Revue [des Deux Mondes?]. Has rarely been as busy as in the past few weeks but hopes his volume will be out within the month. Sends respects to Madam Morel.

4. ALS to [Monsieur Morel]. Paris, 9 January 1856. pp. 2.

Thanks Morel for his article on ‘les peuples sémitiques’ and praises it. Refers to Morel’s ‘histoire de l’imagination en France’. The Revue de Paris is in the throes of change and Renan will push for the publication of Morel’s ‘Ethnographie Belge’. Sends respects to Madam Morel.

5. ALS to [Guillaume Pauthier]. Paris, 26 September 1858. pp. 3 + 1 blank.

Thanks Pauthier for sending a copy of his ‘Inscription syro-chinoise de Si-ngan-fou’. Discusses the authenticity of the inscription. Renan was reserved in his judgement of it in the first and second editions of his Langues sémitiques. Questions Pauthier’s explanation of the word Olopea, giving his own theory, and several words in Syriac.

6. ALS to ‘Mon cher ami’. Paris, 16 January 1859. pp. 1 + 3 blank.

Thanks the recipient for his excellent article and hopes to discuss it when they meet.

7. ALS to ‘Monsieur le Ministre’. Paris, 25 May 1862. pp. 2 + 2 blank. Black bordered paper. ‘Renan’ written in red ink at head.

Renan will be away from Paris until 30 May on family business but will begin his class again on the Saturday if the Minister wishes.

8. ALS to ‘Cher Monsieur’. Paris, 18 March 1864. pp. 1 + 3 blanks. ‘E. Renan’ written in red ink at head.

Asks for a convenient time to meet with the Minister.

9. ALS to ‘Cher Monsieur’. Paris, 14 April 1864. pp. 1 + 3 blanks. ‘E. Renan’ written in red ink at head.

Sends the letter of M. Weber of which he had spoken, explaining that Weber was ‘professeur de Bréal à Berlin’ for two years.

10. Letter written by an amanuensis signed at the end by Renan to ‘Monsieur et savant Collègue’. Paris, 11 June 1864. pp. 4. Four lines crossed through.

Not having received an invitation to tomorrow’s session Renan will not be attending although he still considers himself ‘comme titulaire de la chaire de langues hebraïque, chaldaique et syriaque’. He is not resigning and he has not been removed. A decree had called Renan to functions incompatible with those of the College but he did not accept them. Mentions decrees of 1852 and 1863 and asks what becomes of their guarantees if implicit resignations are allowed. Protests at ‘toute atteinte portée à mes droits’.

11. ALS to Anthony Panizzi at the British Museum. Paris, 7 June 1866. pp. 1 + 1 blank. Pencil notes ‘French Author’ and ‘Ernest Renan’.

Asks Panizzi to pass his thanks to the Trustees for sending the second volume of ‘Inscriptions cunéiformes’ which can be sent to librairie Franck or librairie Klincksieck.

12. ALS to ‘Cher Monsieur’. Paris, 29 December 1866. pp. 1 + 3 blank.

Saw Édouard Bertin yesterday who welcomed the proposition. Invites the recipient to come and discuss the difficulties and how to solve them.

13. ALS to ‘Mon cher ami’. Paris, 7 April 1869. pp. 1 + 3 blank. Black bordered paper.

Refers to their conversation regarding the small role played by St Paul in the Latin world of the Middle Ages. Asks when St Paul began to be depicted with a sword in his hands.

14. ALS to ‘Monsieur Guyard’ [Stanislas Guyard]. Sèvres, 26 July 1872. pp. 2.

Asks whether the town of Toongoo where the Kaccayana appeared is in Ceylon; whether the text of the Dialogues cochinchinois is by Taberd; what format the dialogues take; and for the date of M. de Rosny’s Anthologie Japonaise. Asks Guyard to send a note of Janneau’s essays on the Cambodian language, and about Jesuit dictionaries.

15. ALS to ‘Mon cher ami’. Sèvres, 3 August 1872. pp. 1 + 3 blank.

Asks the recipient to send copies of Strauss’s work to M. Radau, editor of Revue des Deux Mondes and to the comte de Moncalieri.

16. ALS to ‘Monsieur’ [Moncure Daniel Conway]. Paris, 2 November 1874. pp. 2.

Thanks the recipient for sending his Sacred Anthology with which the author has rendered real service in showing the eternal truths of religion.

17. ALS to Monsieur Neubauer. Paris, 19 July 1878. pp. 2.

Asks Neubauer to copy the first 10-12 lines of the Hebrew translation of Averroes’s commentary on the Ardjuza of Avicenna as Renan wants to compare it to Armengaud’s translation. He thinks there is a copy at Oxford; there is not one at the Bibliothèque Nationale. Asks if they will be seeing each other this year. Is leaving for Florence in August.

18. ALS to ‘Cher confrère’. Paris, 20 November 1880. pp. 1 + 1 blank.

Sends his thanks for the 4th volume; he has the 5th already. The recipient can get any volumes he does not have of Renan’s Origines from Calmann Lévy.

19. ALS to ‘Cher Monsieur’. Paris, 15 November 1881. pp. 2 + 2 blank. Mounted on piece of paper.

Would have been very happy to give an account of Rhys Davids work but is too busy.

20. ALS to ‘Monsieur’. Paris, 4 November 1885. pp. 1 + 1 blank.

His Le prêtre de Nemi will appear on the 15th or 16th and Calmann Lévy can send a fragment to put into the Revue de Bretagne et d’Anjou.

21. ALS to ‘Monsieur’. Paris, 2 March 1886. pp. 2. On paper headed ‘Collège de France’.

Thanks the recipient for a copy of his work which will count among the most important archaeological works of the time.

22. ALS to Monsieur de St Arroman. Paris, 2 December 1887. pp. 1 + 3 blank. On paper headed ‘Collège de France’.

Sends a note from M. Luzel, librarian of Quimper.

23. ALS to ‘Monsieur’. Paris, 28 February 1889. pp. 3 + 1 blank.

Renan is ignorant of literary property and leaves such matters to Calmann Lévy. He is very keen to see a careful translation of his Vie de Jésus appear in England and suggests using the latest edition and that it be done by ‘un clergyman éclairé, dégagé des idées de l’orthodoxie’. He never reviews translations of his own works but offers the chosen translator his help and that of his wife ‘qui sait beaucoup mieux l’anglais que moi’.

24. ALS to ‘Cher Monsieur’. Paris, 15 May [no year]. pp. 1 + 1 blank. On black bordered paper. Pasted to a larger piece of blue paper. Small abrasion to bottom.

Will be very happy to see the recipient who is sure to find Renan around 10, 11 or midday.

25. ALS to ‘Mon cher ami’. [No place or date]. pp. 2 + 2 blank.

When going to collect his umbrella at the end of the session he found that his ‘affreux parapluie’ had gone and his friend’s fine one – which had distracted him during the ‘séance de l’histoire littéraire’, preventing him from following the reasoning of Raymond Lull – was left behind. Renan will keep it for his friend and it will give him the opportunity to see him again.

26. Autograph note signed, unaddressed. [No place or date]. pp. 1 + 3 blank. With cutting from a bookseller’s catalogue attached.

Will gladly see the recipient on Friday.

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