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French Comteans:

Claude Bernard, Hippolyte Taine and Ernst Renan

Claude Bernard, 1813-1878
The French physiologist, Claude Bernard, was born near Villefranche in 1813. A pharmacist's assistant at Lyons, and failing in his ambition of a literary career, he studied medicine at Paris, and in 1841 became assistant at the Collège de France to Magendie, with whom he worked until his own appointment in 1854 to the chair of General Physiology, and whom he succeeded in 1855 as professor of Experimental Physiology. He was elected to the Academy in 1868, and died at Paris.

Bernard's earliest researches were on the action of the secretions of the alimentary canal, the pancreatic juice, the connection between the liver and nervous system, for which he received prizes from the Academy (1851-1853). Later researches were on the changes of temperature of the blood, the opium alkaloids, curarine, and the sympathetic nerves. His Leçons de physiologie expérimentale (1865) is a standard work.

Hippolyte Adolphe Taine, 1828-1893
The French critic, historian and philosopher, Hippolyte Taine, was born at Vouziers in Ardennes, April 21, 1828. He studied one year at Paris before turning author. He made his reputation by his critical analysis of La Fontaine's Fables (1853), followed by the Voyage aux eaux Pyrénées (1855). His positivism was expressed in his critical Les Philosophes françois du dix-neuvième siècle (1857) and also influenced his Philosophie de l'art (1881) and De l'intelligence (1870), in which moral qualities and artistic excellence are explained in purely descriptive, quasi-scientific terms.

Taine's greatest work, Les Origines de la France contemporaine (1875-1894) constitutes the strongest attack yet made on the men and the motives of the French Revolution of 1789. Taine died March 5, 1893. Derniers Essais appeared in 1895, and Carnets de voyage in 1897. His Notes sur l'Angleterre, an account of the English based on a stay of only ten weeks, appeared in 1871.

Ernst Renan, 1823-1892
The French philologist and historian, Ernst Renan, was born at Tréguier in Brittany. Until he was sixteen years old, Renan was trained by the church, wholly under clerical influences. He was one of the youths chosen in 1836 by the Abbé Dupanloup for the Catholic seminary of St. Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris. After three years, he was transferred to St. Sulpice and its branch at Issy. As a result of his study of Hebrew and of German criticism, traditional Christianity became an impossibility for him -- in 1845 he quitted St. Sulpice and abandoned all thoughts of the church as a viable profession.

With his eldest sister Henrietta's assistance and counsel he was enabled to follow out his purpose, a life of study untroubled by creeds. In 1850 he obtained a post in the Bibliothèque Nationale, and having become known through his Oriental studies, in 1860 he was one of a commission sent by the French government to study the remains of Phoenician civilization. In 1861 he was chosen professor of Hebrew in the Collège de France; but the emperor, inspired by the clerical party, refused to ratify the appointment. It was not until 1870 that he was established in the chair. In 1878 he was elected to the Academy.

His work as author began with a paper (1847), developed into his Histoire générale des langues sémitiques (1854). Averroès et l'Averroisme (1852) demonstrated his familiarity with the thought of the Middle Ages. He wrote frequent essays, later collected in his Études d'histoire religieuse (1856) and Essais de morale et de critique (1859). Renan's European reputation dates from the publication of the Vie de Jésus (1863), first in the series which its author regarded as his special work, the Histoire des origines du Christianisme. In the Vie de Jésus the combined weakness and strength of Renan's method were exaggerated to caricature. Of the volumes that followed, those on St. Paul (1869) and Marcus Aurelius (1882) are noteworthy. In completion of his life's task Renan undertook a history of the people of Israel (5 vols. 1887-194). Other works include books on Job (1858), the Song of Solomon (1860), Ecclesiastes (1882), Questions contemporaines, Dialogues philosophiques, Drames philosophiques, Souvenirs d'enfance (1883), L'Abesse de Jouarre (1888) and Ma Soeur Henriette (1865). Renan delivered the Hibbert Lectures, The Influence of Rome on Christianity, in London, in 1880.

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