Taine, Hippolyte Adolphe

Taine, Hippolyte Adolphe tān, Fr. ēpôlētˈ ädôlfˈ tĕn [key], 1828–93, French critic and historian. A brilliant student, he gained recognition with the publication of his doctoral thesis, Essai sur les fables de La Fontaine (1853). His deterministic theories, which held that man was the product of heredity, historical conditioning, and environment, became the theoretical basis for the naturalistic school. His best-known works are Histoire de la littérature anglaise (1864; tr. History of English Literature, 1871–72); De l'intelligence (1870; tr. On Intelligence, 1871); and Les Origines de la France contemporaine (6 vol., 1876–93; tr. The Origins of Contemporary France, 6 vol., 1876–94). By his studies of the ancien régime, the French Revolution, and contemporary France he spread the idea of history as being concerned with the whole social life of any nation. In 1864 he began a 20-year career as professor of aesthetics and art history at the École des Beaux-Arts. Taine and his contemporary Ernest Renan were the most influential intellectual figures of their period. Although Taine has been attacked for sacrificing truth to his passion for formula and system, his learning, industry, and breadth of interest inspired scholars and critics of his time and later; his socio-historical method of analysis had considerable influence on philosophy, aesthetics, literary criticism, and the social sciences.

See study by L. Weinstein (1972).

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