Hippolyte Taine Additional Biography

Biography

Except for his literary essays, Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine is not read much today. His notions of science are outdated and suspect, and he is unable to see that the vaunted objectivity of his methodology is no such thing. When Taine’s history of France is examined, it is clear that it is as subjective and determined by his biases as any other history would be. Taine would not have been very surprised by this judgment, since he believed that human beings were the products of their times. Yet he did fail to see the contradictions in his own methodology, that his brand of conservatism was temperamental and could not be explained only in terms of his time, place, and tradition.

It has been noted that Taine’s reputation since his death has steadily declined. Yet subsequent critics and historians owe Taine an enormous debt. For example, Taine reversed the excesses of Romanticism, with its lionizing of the individual, and perceived important facts about the relationship between the individual and society that naturalistic novelists explored with considerable brilliance. Nearly every critic who has covered the subjects and the periods that were at Taine’s command has felt compelled to deal with his ideas—if only to refute them. Finally, Taine merits study as one of the last men of letters who tried to integrate his insights into many different fields of study: psychology, literary criticism, aesthetics, art, philosophy, and history. In an era of specialization, his work is still an admirable example of the effort to grasp intellectual life in its entirety.

Bibliography

Eustis, Alvin Allen. Hippolyte Taine and the Classical Genius. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951. Focuses on Taine’s assessment of classical society and its artists, noting the importance the critic places on social conditions and on the production of high-quality art.

Gargan, Edward T., ed. Introduction to The Origins of Contemporary France, by Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974. Gargan’s long introduction provides important biographical information on Taine and a shrewd analysis of his position as a historian.

Goetz, Thomas H. Taine and the Fine Arts. Madrid: Playor, 1973. Extensive analysis of Taine’s writings on the fine arts, focusing particularly on those about sculpture and painting.

Gullace, Giovanni. Taine and Brunetiere on Criticism. Lawrence, Kans.: Coronado Press, 1982. Excellent analysis of Taine’s ideas about art in Philosophy of Art.

Kahn, Sholom Jacob. Science and Aesthetic Judgement: A Study in Taine’s Critical Method. New York: Columbia University Press, 1953. Extended scholarly examination of Taine’s writings on art, exploring ways he is able to balance the need for objective analysis with the more elusive art of judgment, especially value judgment.

Lombardo, Patrizia. “Hippolyte Taine Between Art and Science.” Yale French Studies 77 (1990). A worthwhile article.

Weinstein, Leo. Hippolyte Taine. Boston: Twayne, 1972. The only comprehensive introduction in English to Taine’s life and work. Chapters on his life, philosophy, method, and psychology, career as a literary and art critic, and role as a historian of France give a thorough summary and critique of Taine’s achievements and influence. Notes, an annotated bibliography, and an index make this an indispensable study.

Wellek, René. A History of Modern Criticism, 1750-1950. Vol. 4. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965. One of the most important sources for tracing the history of literary criticism and Taine’s place within it. Wellek discusses the significance of Taine’s History of English Literature and the way the critic deals with matters of style.