Jonathan Carver, Voyage dans l'Amérique, 1784

Special Collections

Charles-Hippolyte de Paravey

490 documents
Printed books

On 4 November 1880, the library accepted a gift from the heirs of Charles-Hippolyte Paravey. The 490 works, including about a hundred brochures and reprints bound in volumes (i.e. about 270 19th-century works up until 1865, 185 from the 18th century, 30 from the 17th, 3 from the 16th) were listed and catalogued during the first semester of 1881, and integrated in the library by format.

Paravey was born in Fumay (in the present-day département of the Ardennes) on 25 September 1787 and died in Saint Germain en Laye en 1871. He studied at the Ecole centrale in Charleville-Mézières and was admitted to the École polytechnique in 1803, later studying at the Ecole d'application des Ponts et Chaussées (1806). As a young engineer under the French Empire, he worked in Mons, Brussels, Ghent, Arles, and Clermont-Ferrand. Lieutenant with the Engineers in 1813, he joined the Department of Civil Engineering in 1814 and retired in 1848. At the same time, he was deputy inspector of the École polytechnique in 1816, resisting government efforts to close the school down. He was a founder member of the Société asiatique in 1822. From the 1820s – and until the 1860s – he developed a theory on the history of civilisations, which he expounded in studies on the measurement of time, cosmology, the zodiac, linguistics and mythology. He considered that all civilisations originated in somewhere in the Near or Middle East, before the Deluge. Although he stayed within strict Catholic lines, true to the Biblical tradition, his extensive comparativism was original.

His intellectual roaming took him from ancient Egypt to the Americas, from the far North to the South Seas, from ancient Europe to Asia (especially China). He travelled widely in France and abroad, meeting and corresponding with European scholars. Over nearly half a century he regularly sent his studies to the Academy of Sciences, without ever becoming a member of the Institute, where he had many critics. He was a traditionalist, opposing Biot, Arago or Humboldt, and the materialists in general; he usually published in the Annales de la philosophie chrétienne, L'Université catholique or La France littéraire, artistique et scientifique (Lyons); the Journal asiatique accepted only two of his articles. He was deeply attached to the Pyrenees.

The Paravey collection forms a coherent whole: land and sea voyages, exploration, discoveries, missions, colonisation, geography, ethnography, manners and customs, archaeology, history of the continents, countries, archipelagos and islands of the Old and New Worlds form the bulk of a collection that is almost exclusively French, but includes numerous translations of Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch or German texts.
Paravey's copious marginal notes reveal the history of the collection and his working methods. Paravey annotated his books, sometimes making cutting comments about a text or author. A penchant for China and Chinese can be seen in frequent marginal notes in which he tried to translate a term from another civilisation into ideograms or phonetics. This collection gives a glimpse of a library that was read and used, a tool and a working document for a researcher on the fringe of the academic world, but typical of the scientific milieus of the first half of the nineteenth century.

Jean-Claude DROUIN, « Un esprit original du XIXe siècle : le chevalier de Paravey (1787-1871) », Revue d'histoire de Bordeaux et du département de la Gironde, 1970, p. 65-78.