Élisée Reclus : biography
Élisée Reclus (15 March 1830 – 4 July 1905), also known as Jacques Élisée Reclus, was a renowned French geographer, writer and anarchist. He produced his 19-volume masterwork La Nouvelle Géographie universelle, la terre et les hommes ("Universal Geography"), over a period of nearly 20 years (1875–1894). In 1892 he was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal of the Paris Geographical Society for this work, despite his having been banished from France because of his political activism.
Reclus married and had a family, including two daughters.
He died at Torhout, near Bruges, Belgium.
- (1905), e-text online, Internet Archive
Reclus was born at Sainte-Foy-la-Grande (Gironde). He was the second son of a Protestant pastor and his wife. From the family of fourteen children, several brothers, including fellow geographers Onésime and Élie Reclus, went on to achieve renown either as men of letters, politicians or members of the learned professions.
Reclus began his education in Rhenish Prussia, and continued higher studies at the Protestant college of Montauban. He completed his studies at University of Berlin, where he followed a long course of geography under Carl Ritter.
Withdrawing from France because of political events of December 1851, he spent the next six years (1852–1857) traveling and working in Great Britain, the United States, Central America, and Colombia. Arriving in Louisiana in 1853, Reclus worked for about two and a half years as a tutor to the children of cousin Septime and Félicité Fortier at their plantation Félicité, located about 50 miles upriver from New Orleans. He recounted his passage through the Mississippi river delta and impressions of antebellum New Orleans and the state in Fragment d'un voyage á Louisiane, published in 1855.
On his return to Paris, Reclus contributed to the Revue des deux mondes, the Tour du monde and other periodicals, a large number of articles embodying the results of his geographical work. Among other works of this period was the short book Histoire d'un ruisseau, in which he traced the development of a great river from source to mouth. From 1867 – 1868 he published La Terre; description des phénomènes de la vie du globe in two volumes. During the Siege of Paris (1870–1871), Reclus shared in the aerostatic operations conducted by Félix Nadar, and also served in the National Guard. As a member of the Association Nationale des Travailleurs, he published a hostile manifesto against the government of Versailles in support of the Paris Commune of 1871 in the Cri du Peuple.
Continuing to serve in the National Guard, now in open revolt, Reclus was taken prisoner on 5 April. On 16 November he was sentenced to deportation for life. Because of intervention by supporters from England, the sentence was commuted in January 1872 to perpetual banishment from France.
After a short visit to Italy, Reclus settled at Clarens, Switzerland, where he resumed his literary labours and produced Histoire d'une montagne, a companion to Histoire d'un ruisseau. There he wrote nearly the whole of his work, La Nouvelle Géographie universelle, la terre et les hommes, "an examination of every continent and country in terms of the effects that geographic features like rivers and mountains had on human populations—and vice versa,"Sale, Kirkpatrick (2010-07-01) , The American Conservative This compilation was profusely illustrated with maps, plans, and engravings. It was awarded the gold medal of the Paris Geographical Society in 1892. An English edition appeared simultaneously, also in 19 volumes, the first four by E. G. Ravenstein, the rest by A. H. Keane. Reclus's writings were characterized by extreme accuracy and brilliant exposition, which gave them permanent literary and scientific value.
According to Kirkpatrick Sale:
In 1882, Reclus initiated the Anti-Marriage Movement, in accordance with which he and his wife allowed their two daughters to marry without any civil or religious ceremony. This action caused embarrassment to many of his well-wishers. The French government initiated prosecution from the High Court of Lyon against the anarchists and members of the International Association, of which Reclus and the influential Peter Kropotkin were designated the two chief organizers. Kropotkin was arrested and condemned to five years' imprisonment, but Reclus escaped punishment as he remained in Switzerland., originally published in Joyce Studies, Annual 6 (1995): 99-138
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