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Tomb of Volney, Père Lachaise cemetery (division 41), Paris

Constantin François de Chassebœuf, comte de Volney (3 February 1757 – 25 April 1820) was a French philosopher, historian, orientalist, and politician. He was at first surnamed Boisgirais after his father's estate, but afterwards assumed the name of Volney (which he had created as a contraction of Voltaire and Ferney).





He was born at Craon (Mayenne) of a noble family. Initially interested in Law and Medicine, he went on to study Classical languages, and his Mémoire sur la Chronologie d’Hérodote (on Herodotus) rose to the attention of the Académie des Inscriptions and of the group around Claude Adrien Helvétius. Soon after, Volney befriended Pierre Jean George Cabanis, the Marquis de Condorcet, the Baron d'Holbach, and Benjamin Franklin.

He embarked on his journey to the East in late 1782 and reached Ottoman Egypt were he spent nearly seven months. Thereafter, he lived for nearly two years in Greater Syria in what is today Lebanon and Israel/Palestine in order to learn Arabic. He returned to France in 1785 where he spent the following two years compiling his notes and writing his Voyage en Egypte et en Syrie, which was published in 1787, and Considérations sur la guerre des Turcs et de la Russie in 1788.

He was a member both of the Estates-General and of the National Constituent Assembly after the outbreak of the French Revolution. In 1791 appeared Les Ruines, ou méditations sur les révolutions des empires, an essay on the philosophy of history, containing a vision which predicts the final union of all religions by the recognition of the common truth underlying them all.

Volney tried to put his politico-economic theories into practice in Corsica, where in 1792 he bought an estate and made an attempt to cultivate colonial produce. Chassebœuf de Volney was thrown into prison during the Jacobin Club triumph, but escaped the guillotine; he was some time professor of history at the newly founded École Normale.

Later life

In 1795 he undertook a journey to the United States, where he was accused (1797) by John Adams' administration of being a French spy sent to prepare for the reoccupation of Louisiana by France. Consequently, he was forced to return to France in 1798. The results of his travels took form in his Tableau du climat et du sol des Etats-Unis (1803).

He was not a partisan of Napoleon Bonaparte, but, being a moderate Liberal, was impressed into service by the First French Empire, and Napoleon made him a count and put him into the senate. After the Bourbon Restoration he was made a Peer of France, upon recognition of his hostility towards the Empire. Chassebœuf became a member of the Académie française in 1795.

He died in Paris and was buried at the Père Lachaise.

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Claude-François Lysarde de Radonvilliers
Seat 24
Académie française

Succeeded by
Claude-Emmanuel de Pastoret


External links

See also


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