Taine and His Fate

Taine's reputation as a dogmatic, self-assured scientiste is the main reason for his unpopularity in the undogmatic, skeptical intellectual climate of today. Close study of his work shows that there is a fundamental lack of coherence and unity. By the end of his life, Taine was aware of this, and, since he accepted these classical criteria he judged himself to have failed in his aspirations. However, the reputation is false, and is based on the contingent mechanisms of reputation: on Taine's own reticence about his personal life, on the official nature of the sole biography, on the recasting of major works, on the tendency to take dogmatic, theoretical texts as privileged keys to the man. The lack of unity is real but it is the result of a dramatic, lifelong tension that underlies all Taine's activities, in criticism, in philosophy, in history. This personal intellectual conflict is present in the most apparently objective works and appears when one treats them chronologically, when one considers the life as a dramatic whole. The conflict is not solved nor are the opposing elements fused in a major work, but the nature of the struggle, both personal and exemplary, persistent and uncompromising, is what constitutes the interest of Taine today and justifies his rehabilitation. (CE)

Evans, Colin
Volume 1977-1978 Fall-Winter; 6(1-2): 118-28.