Sunday, February 19, 2017


Men Unlike Us

Lucien Febvre (1878-1956), Life in Renaissance France, tr. Marian Rothstein (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), p. 2 (footnote omitted):
Renaissance, Humanism, Reformation are not mere abstractions, personifications wandering over the heavens where the Chimera chases Transcendent Ideals. To understand these great changes we must recreate for ourselves the habits of mind of the people who brought them about.

Were those minds like our minds? I know that man's essential nature is unchanging through time and space. I know that old tune. But that is an assumption, and I might add, a worthless assumption for a historian. For him, as for the geographer, as we have had occasion to remark earlier, man does not exist, only men. His efforts are directed toward discerning the particular originality, the distinguishing marks, all that in which and by which those men differed from us, men who did not live or feel or behave as we do.
Id., p. 20:
Was man in the abstract the same? Possibly. I know nothing about him. He and the historian have little contact, for the historian is concerned with reality rather than abstractions. Concrete man, living man, man in flesh and blood living in the sixteenth century and modern man do not much resemble each other. He was a country man, a nomad, a rustic, and in all these we are far from him.
Id., p. 23:
These are the things we should try to remember when we wish to understand the "things of the sixteenth century." We must remember that we are all, like it or not, hothouse products; the man of the sixteenth century grew in the open air.
Id., p. 48:
Obviously the projection of the present, which has no special claim to eternity, into the past is not acceptable.
Id., p. 73:
We must banish the France of today from our minds.

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