Thou, Jacques Auguste De
history henry death french author
THOU, JACQUES AUGUSTE DE (1553-1617), sometimes known by the Latinized form TIMANUS, as his great history is by the name Thuana, was born at Paris on October 8, 1553. He belonged to a family of distinction in the Orleanais, of which the elder branch had, he tells us, been noblesse &epee, though he gives no particulars except of those who had for some generations been noblesse de robe. He and his were closely connected by birth, marriage, and friendship with several of those great legal families - the Harlays, the Huraults, the Brularts, the Lamoignons, and others - which for many generations furnished France with by far leer most valuable class of public men. The historian's father was Christophe de Thou, first president of the parlement of Paris, a man whose strong legal and religious prejudices against the Huguenots have rather obscured, in the eyes of historians, his undoubted ability and probity. Christophe's brothers, Adrien and Nicolas, were both men of mark, the former being also a lawyer, and the latter ultimately becoming bishop of Chartres, in which capacity he " instructed " Henry IV. at his conversion. De Thou's mother was Jacqueline Tuleu, dame de Cell. He was a delicate child, and seems by his own account to have been rather neglected by his parents ; perhaps it was for this reason that, though he grew stronger with age, he was destined for the church. He took minor orders, and obtained some benefices. It was, however, to the legal side of the ecclesiastical profession that he was devoted, and, after being at school at the College de Bourgogne, he studied law at Orleans, Bourges, and Valence, being at the last two places under the tuition of jurists no less celebrated than Hotman and Cujas. It was not, however, till he approached middle life that he definitely renounced the clerical profession, married, and accepted lay offices. Meanwhile he had travelled much and discharged important duties. In 1573, that he might profit by seeing foreign parts, he was attached to the suite of Paul de Foix, who was sent on a circular mission of compliment to the Italian princes, and with him De Thou visited Turin, Milan, Mantua, Venice, Rome, Florence, and many minor places. On his return he studied for four years, travelling to the Netherlands in the interval, and in 1579 to Germany. Two years later he was appointed to a royal commission in Guienne, and made the acquaintance of Henry of Navarre and of Montaigne. He had already become the friend of most of the eminent men of letters of the time, from Ronsard downwards, and was particularly intimate with Pierre Pithou, the soul of the future Satire Illenippee. De Thou, by all his sympathies, belonged to that later and better phase of the politique party which devoted itself to the maintenance of royalty as the one hope of France; and, when Henry III. was driven from his capital by the violence of the Guises and the League, De Thou followed him to Blois. After his renunciation of orders, he had been made, first, master of requests, and then president i nzortier, which was the highest dignity he ever attained. After the death of Henry III. he attached himself closely to his successor, and in 1593 was appointed (he was a great bibliophile) grand maitre of the royal library, in succession to Amyot, the translator of Plutarch and Longus. It was in this same year that he began his history, the composition of which was interrupted, not only by his regular official duties, but by frequent diplomatic missions at home and abroad. His most important employment of all was on the commission which, in face of the greatest difficulties on both sides, successfully carried through the negotiations for the edict of Nantes. Nor were his duties as a diplomatist interinitted by the death of Henry IV., though the Government of Marie de' Medici refused him the place of premier president which he desired, and hurt his feelings by appointing him instead a member of the financial commission which succeeded Sully. This appointment he rather strangely chose to think a degradation. It is, however, absurd to say that the affair, which he survived six years, had anything to do with his death. That, as far as it was hastened by any mental affliction, seems to have been rather due to grief at the death of his second wife, Gasparde de La Chatre, of whom and of his sons and daughters by her (his first marriage with Marie de Barbancon had been childless) he was extremely fond. His eldest son, Francois, Auguste, was the friend of Cinq Mars, and shared his downfall and fate. But this was a quarter of a century after De Thou's own death, which happened on May 7, 1617.
Although a distinguished ornament of France, De Thou has nothing to do, properly speaking, with French literature. Besides minor works in Latin (a poem on hawking, some paraphrases of the Bible, Szt.), lie wrote also in Latin the great history which has made his name known. Entitled Ilistorire Sui Temporis, it begins shortly before the author's birth (in 1546), and extends to 1607, ten years before his death. The first part, in eighteen books, was published in 1604; the second, third, and fourth appeared in 1606 and the two following years. The last part, which makes a total of 138 books, did not appear till 1620, under the care of the author's friends Rigault and Dupuy, whom he had named his literary executors. The first named likewise put final touches to De Thou's autobiography, which, also written in Latin, appears in French in most collections of French memoirs. It contains minute details of the author's life down to 1607, mixed with rather miscellaneous descriptions of interesting places which lie had visited (such as Mont St Michel, an eagle's eyrie in Dauphine, &c.); and its composition is said to have been partly determined by the obloquy cast by bigoted adherents of the papacy on the History. De Thou was indeed obnoxious to these on many grounds. He had helped to negotiate the edict of Nantes; he had opposed the acknowledgment n France of the decrees of Trent ; he had been a steady Anti-Leaguer ; and he was accused of speaking in the History itself of Protestants and Protestantism, not merely. with criminal mildness, but with something like sympathy. It is needless to say that these blots in the History have seemed beauties to later and more dispassionate students. There is no doubt that the charges of partiality on minor and mostly personal points are either disprovable or unimportant; and the whole seems to be as fair and as carefully accurate as at such a time was possible. On the other hand, the work is undoubtedly planned and executed on much too large a scale, and the inclusion of events in foreign countries, on which the author was often but ill-informed, has not improved it. But it is clearly and on the whole excellently written, and will always be, as far as any general contemporary history can be so called, the great authority for at least the French part of its subject and period. It was first published as a whole when, as above mentioned, the last part appeared in 1620, and it was several times reprinted. More than a hundred years later, in 1733, an Englishman, Samuel Buckley, working in part on the materials of Thomas Carte, produced at London what is recognized as the standard edition of the original, in 7 vols. folio. The standard French translation was made immediately afterwards by a group of literary men, the best known of whom were the Abbe Desfontaines and Prevost, the author of Manon Lescaut. A choice copy of the first edition of the first part, with the arms of Henry IV. on the binding, is in the British Museum library.