This is the first book on the genesis, impact and reception of the most-widely read History of England of the early 18th century: Paul Rapin Thoyras’ Histoire d’Angleterre (1724-27). The Histoire and complementary works (Extraits des Actes de Rymer, 1710-1724; Dissertation sur les Whigs et les Torys, 1717) gave practical expression to theorizations of history against Pyrrhonian postulations by foregrounding an empirical form of history-writing.
Rapin’s unprecedented standards of historiographical accuracy triggered both politically-informed reinterpretations of the Histoire in partisan newspapers and a multitude of adaptations that catered to an ever-growing number of readers. Despite a long-standing assessment as a “standard Whig historian”, Rapin fashioned the impartial persona of a judge-historian, in compliance with the expectations of the Republic of Letters. His personal trajectory illuminates how scholars pursued trustworthy knowledge and how they reconsidered the boundaries of their community in the face of the booming printing industry and the interconnected growth of general readership. Rapin’s oeuvre provided significant raw material for Voltaire’s and Hume’s Enlightenment historiographical narratives. A comparative foray into their respective different approaches to history and authorship cautions us against assuming a direct transition from the Republic of Letters into an Enlightenment Republic of Letters. To study the diffusion and the impact of Rapin’s works is to understand that empirical history-writing, defined by its commitment to erudition in the service of impartiality, coexisted with the histoire philosophique.
‘A full-scale bio-historiographical study of an important, and somewhat neglected, early
18th-century historian, examining the Histoire from virtually every imaginable
angle… It’s now heavily post-it noted and joining the select group of early
modern books that I actually keep at home and not the office.’
Daniel Woolf, Professor of History, Queen’s University