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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Francois Xavier Garneau; an appraisal Elliott, Gordon R.


Francois Javier Garneau was born in Quebec in 1809 and died there in 1866. He has attracted more attention than any other French Canadian historian, although he had first achieved a certain popularity as a nationalist poet. Following the publication of Lord Durham's report, Garneau wrote the Histoire du Canada depuis sa Découverte jusqu'à nos Jours. In doing so he awakened a great interest in the past and has been a principal source of French Canadian nationalistic thought to the present day. As the "historien national" he is always lauded and praised. This was not always the case. Garneau did not follow the pattern of a typical French Canadian boy. He was never educated in a Church school and in fact refused a classical education if he had to become a priest in order to obtain it. Following his formal education he was apprenticed to a Scottish notary who had a library of liberal thought and it was from the liberal thinkers of his day that Garneau formed his philosophy. In 1851 he went to Europe and for two years associated with liberals in England. On his return to Quebec, he worked with the patriote party. He probably began to write his history after Durham's insults to the French Canadian people and published his first edition over three years, 1845, 1846 and 1848. He was as scientific as possible, but was not objective. He wrote interestingly and well and his book was the first of the histories of French Canada to tell the whole story and to carry a theme. His is a history of war and politics and he ignored as much as possible the religious side of the picture. He was a liberal of the type dangerous to the Church at that time, and because he was anti-clerical, the Church opposed him. A second edition in 1852 was changed in style and improved in documentation, but was exactly the same in philosophy. No doubt Church criticism increased. Garneau knew the final results of facing Church antagonism and appears to have written his third edition and then given it to a priest who could remove all material which was doctrinally incorrect before publication in 1859. This third edition is improved again in style and documentation, and is even more nationalistic than the two earlier ones. Because he submitted the third edition to a "competent ecclesiastic" for expurgation, Garneau is lauded, and the third edition is considered to be the one containing his true thoughts. French Canadian historians believe that the act of submission signified conversion. The priest in fact removed much of Garneau's anti-clerical thinking, but could not remove it all without changing the entire work. Evidence remains in the third edition to show that Garneau had not changed his mind. These historians also ignore letters which help to show that Garneau did not change his mind, yet the same letters are used to indicate his qualities as an historian. Without evidence, French Canadian historians insist that Garneau changed his mind on doctrine. They probably feel it necessary to avoid using material suggesting that he had not. Garneau was a nationalistic historian who produced a cult of nationalist writers and prompted an awareness of a glorious past. To keep this awareness alive, French Canadian writers, virtually all Roman Catholic and nationalistic, ignore what is distasteful to them, presumably in order to promote his popularity and their own ends. Nobody seems to have carefully compared the second and third editions, nor to have combined the results of such a comparison with the evidence provided by the printed letters. Garneau's philosophy had been formed by education and experience and it did not change. There is little difference in the two editions except in style, documentation and emphasis; the philosophy, although diluted in the third edition, has not been entirely destroyed.

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