An unknown revolutionary

Republican and anticlerical intellectual, theoretician of breedsGustave Flourens through the XIXe century, until he was cut down by a gendarme's saber at the start of the Commune. Portrait of a traveling revolutionary.

Gustave Flourens certainly remained the most sympathetic figure of the era., writes Edmond Lepelletier about a figure familiar to historians of the Second Empire and the Commune. Brutally ended by the saber of a gendarme five days after the proclamation of the Commune, the participation of Gustave Flourens (1838-1871) in this event was so brief that it could hardly take its place except in his martyrology.

THE Chris de Belleville

Of his action during the Prussian siege of Paris, under the government of the National defense (September 1870-February 1871), he made history in a fascinating book, Paris delivered, published the same day of his death. This work also allows us to understand how Flourens became a charismatic Chris de Belleville and national guards, often very young, who read it at the head of five of the battalions of the XXe arrondissement, who accompanied him during insurrectional attempts during this siege, and who even freed him when he was incarcerated.

A little earlier, he was one of the actors of the revolutionary movement at the end of the Empire, around the assassination of the journalist Victor Noir and the daily The Marseillaise to which both collaborated, then in absentia during the conspiracy trial Blois, when the war against Prussia was already underway. Earlier still, he had been traveling revolutionary in Türkiye, Greece and especially in Crete.

Would there be another Gustave Flourens? One might believe this by reading the notice dedicated to him by the Ethnographic Society, of which he was a member:

He threw himself with ardor into the most passionate politics. But we did not follow him on this fatal terrain where, distracted from the studies through which he could have rendered such great services, he found his death in the heart of the most dreadful civil war of modern times.

Well, no, there is not on the one hand the revolutionary and on the other the scholar or the intellectual. The title of Michel Pinault's book, Gustave Flourens: a revolutionary intellectual, clearly states this. But who was he then? As Karl Marx wrote,

this young crack-brained (fl) from Flourens is the son of late (late) Flourens, permanent secretary of the Academy (of sciences), who, throughout his life, almost 100 years (73, in reality), never ceased to interact with all the governments in place and was successively Bonapartist, legitimist, Orlanist, then new Bonapartist. He was still noted, during the last years of his life, for his fanaticism against Darwin.

His father, Pierre Flourens, was what Marx said, but also a member of the French Academy elected in 1840, to defeat Victor Hugo, and a good Catholic. Gustave Flourens was also the son of a loving mother, Aline Clément d'Aerzen, daughter of a general and baron of the Empire, with whom he maintained a very close correspondence; this is one of the important sources that Michel Pinault exploits. Here, the family transmission of history has taken place well.

Birth of racial anthropology

Born in the purple at the Natural History Museum, young Gustave made brilliant studies for the general examination and baccalaureate at the Louis-le-Grand college, then graduated. At the age of 22, in 1860, he was a tutor at the College de France, a collaborator of his father. Then at the age of 25, without having accomplished any scientific work, he was a replacement professor (for his father) and gave fifty lessons, still at the College de France, on the human races and thehistory of man.

Michel Pinault's book provides a lot of new information and analysis. The moment itself is fascinating, that of the birth of anthropology or ethnography. The theory(ies) of races were then in full development. The first lesson of Gustave Flourens was published in The Universal Monitor, crowds flocked to the Collge de France, laudatory articles appeared. The comments on the breeds received general agreement:

The Gauls represented the Arya type in all its purity: white complexion, blond hair, blue eyes. They were tall, they had broad heads, proudly carried by a high neck. They didn't write their story (); but no one equaled them in strength, in courage, in disregard of danger.

Michel Pinault details racism And anti-Semitism both words are convenient anachronisms in the lessons of Gustave Flourens and in the influences he suffered. He was criticized for not talking about God. Minister Duruy refused to prolong his replacement. Gustave Flourens confirmed not only his atheism, but also his anticlericalism, notably in a letter to the press, of which here are two sentences:

It is by using the ingenious, fruitful, sublime discoveries of the encephalic functions made by my father that jantized the god in the moral world, that I destroy the hypothesis of another life. A hypothesis which does not serve, as we habitually repeat, to improve man, but to stupefy him, to deprave him, by submitting him to the priests.

As we can see, already in 1864, he did not shy away from confrontation. Anticlericalism was a watchword of the Republicans at the end of the Second Empire, particularly among students. Naturally, Flourens participated, like so many others, in the newspaper The left Bank.

A jolly fellow against Versailles

A great connoisseur of intellectuals and scientists, author in particular of biographies of Frdric Joliot-Curie and Dmile Borel, Michel Pinault does not fail to recognize in Gustave Flourens the figure of a republican intellectual, fifteen years before the formation of thespeciesaccording to Christophe Charle.

In 1864, Gustave Flourens' academic career was over, but not his intellectual life. He still published Which is possible. Ottfrid and the first volume of Science of man. His life as a revolutionary had begun. let's hear Marx again in 1870:

He's a very nice boy. What dominates about him is theaudacity. But he still has a good scientific background. For a year, he gave courses in ethnology at the University of Paris, he was everywhere in Southern Europe, Turkey, Asia Minor, etc. Full of illusions and full of revolutionary fever, but a very jolly fellow with all that (but with a very pleasant guy), quite different from these men who take themselves seriously. He was proposed to be part of our Council (that of the International Workers' Association), which he attended twice as a guest.

Less than a year later, this jolly fellow roamed with others crack-brained in a crazy torrential output against Versailles and was assassinated, although a prisoner, by an insignificant gendarme who won an immediate Legion of Honor.

Thus ends his journey this good knight-errant whom the Revolution loved.

An important contribution, therefore, to this large book, the reading of which we can only recommend. It remains to be regretted that no serious publisher took charge of it. It would be more affordable and would have been better proofread before publication, which would have made it possible to correct some unpleasant errors. It is true that there are also some in the books of the great publishers.