I set out almost two ago to learn about the period of French history which began with the death of Louis XIV and ended with the ascension of Bonaparte. It is a period that was ignored in my formal schooling. After reading a few glosses, I decided to tackle Thomas Carlyle's History of the French Revolution.
Carlyle, born December 4, 1795, is often given the epithet "the greatest writer of the Victorian Era." This reputation is based on his essays; his semi-autobiographical Sartor Resartus; the French Revolution; his biography of Frederich the Great; and his series of lectures, later collected, Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History. The acclaim he received in his time often surprises modern readers, however, who may find his style florid, verbose and dramatically "over the top".
Carlyle's idea of the French Revolution is simple: It was the fault of -- and perhaps a judgment upon -- the weaknesses and foolishness of two kings (Louis XV and Louis XVI) and of the nobles whose job it was to maintain the French "ancient constitution". Once the rabble was let in, things had to run their course. In the England of 1835, at least, he was not alone in this opinion. People did not buy his History for new insights into the causes or events of the revolution. What was innovative about the book as history was that it attempted to dramatize the story while maintaining a strict adherence to documented descriptions of events. What Victorian readers made of Carlyle's frequent asides and pontifications, I do not know.
The style of Carlyle's writing is daunting in itself, but another factor made his History a difficult read for me: Carlyle wrote in the mid-1830s, when the events of the Revolution were recent history. Names, places and events that his first readers needed only to be reminded of were (literally) foreign to me. I frequently found it necessary to look up names and places (and occasionally unfamiliar words). Making careful notes proved useful.
This edition is the result of that note-taking. It is based on the Project Gutenburg text to which I have made the following changes:
Added a summary prepared by "Philo" for the 1857 American edition.
Restored the italics from a 19th-century edition.
Restored accented characters from a 19th-century edition.
In a few places, emended the text to conform to the 1857 edition.
Added marginal notes giving what I found to be the important elements of each paragraph.
Added footnotes to throw light on some of Carlyle's references. These notes are numbered. Links to them are shown between square brackets in the text (for example,  ).
Added brief biographical and explanatory notes on people and places, and occasionally on unusual words. Links to these notes are marked by a small question mark (?) following the name or word (for example, "Duc d'Aiguillon?").
I have tried to include a link every time a name is introduced in a new context. If you find something that you think needs an explanation but I have not provided it, one of the following probably happened:
A note was attached above in the text.
I didn't think it needed a note. Feel free to write telling me I was wrong.
I couldn't find any information. If you can provide some information that would help, please do so.
Added inline translations or explanations of foreign or difficult words and phrases. I've tried to keep inline notes to a minimum. Where they occur, they are between square brackets.
Modified the font to show Carlyle's own notes (inlined with the text) in a smaller size.
All annotations are mine and I claim a copyright from the year 2003. You may make any non-commercial use you wish of the material, however, with or without attribution. Keep in mind that I am not a scholar; that I have likely made many mistakes of commission and omission; and that I do not warrant that this edition is suited for any purpose whatever.
I want to thank Ken Goss, who loaned me his edition of the History and who patiently disabused me of certain notions concerning French language and history. Remaining errors are mine, not his.
April 4, 2004.