Rapin, Paul de (DNB00)
|←Raper, Henry (1799-1859)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 47
Rapin, Paul de
RAPIN, PAUL de (1661–1725), historian, generally styled ‘Rapin-Thoyras,’ was born at Castres on 25 March 1661. His father, Jacques de Rapin, seigneur de Thoyras, was an advocate practising in the chamber of the edict of Castres, one of the courts of judicature erected in pursuance of the edict of Nantes, for the benefit of the Huguenots. His mother, Jeanne de Pélisson, was daughter of a councillor in that court, and sister of Paul de Pélisson-Fontanier, the historian of the Académie Française (Cazenove, Rapin-Thoyras, pp. 85, 118). Rapin was educated at the academies of Puylaurens and Saumur. He showed more inclination for arms than letters, but, at his father's desire, adopted the study of the law, and was received as an advocate in 1679. In the same year the abolition of the courts of the edict obliged his father to remove to Toulouse, whither Rapin accompanied his family. He is stated to have pleaded only one cause as an advocate, and devoted his time to mathematics, music, and belles-lettres.
In 1685 the elder Rapin died, and two months after his death the edict of Nantes was revoked. The Rapin family retired into the country to avoid persecution. Paul, with his younger brother Salomon, made his way in March 1686 to London, where, thanks to the influence of his uncle Pélisson, he was favourably received by Barillon, the French ambassador. Rapin saw no prospect of employment under James II unless he became a catholic, and found himself harassed by the attempts of his uncle's friends to bring about the necessary conversion. To escape their urgency he went over to Holland and enlisted in a company of French refugees at Utrecht, commanded by his cousin, Daniel de Rapin. The company formed part of the army with which William of Orange landed in England in November 1688, and Rapin's account of the prince's expedition is therefore one of the most valuable parts of his history (ib. p. 143; History of England, translated by Tindal, ed. 1743, ii. 777). In 1689 he was made ensign in Lord Kingston's regiment of foot, which formed part of the force sent to Ireland under Schomberg. He distinguished himself at the siege of Carrickfergus, and was a few months later given a lieutenancy. Rapin fought at the battle of the Boyne, and was wounded at the unsuccessful assault on Limerick (27 Aug. 1690). Lieutenant-general Douglas, who became his patron, employed him temporarily as quartermaster-general, wished to take him to Flanders as aide-de-camp, and procured for him a company first in Kingston's regiment and afterwards in the Scots guards. Rapin took part in the capture of Athlone (30 June 1691), but was not present at the battle of Aughrim. In 1693 he was recalled to England, and was offered, at the Earl of Galway's recommendation, the post of governor to the Earl of Portland's eldest son, Lord Woodstock (Cazenove, p. 191). Rapin travelled with his pupil in Germany and Italy, and accompanied the Earl of Portland on his embassy to the court of Versailles in 1698 (ib. pp. 196–8). He resided also for some time at the Hague, where, in 1699, he married Marie Anne Testart, of a Huguenot family from St. Quentin, which had sought refuge in Holland. In June 1704 his pupil also married, and then, if not earlier, his employment as governor came to an end. Rapin was now stranded. On 1 Jan. 1700 William had granted him a pension of eleven hundred florins a year until he should obtain some office of greater value, but he never received any such appointment, and the pension ceased on the king's death (ib. p. 204). At the Hague Rapin enjoyed the company of men of learning (such as Beauval de Basnage and Jean Rou), and he was one of the leading members of a literary society called ‘La Féauté,’ which met at his house; but in 1707 his straitened circumstances obliged him to remove to Wesel. At Wesel he spent the rest of his life, which he devoted entirely to the study of history. In 1717 he was offered a post in the supreme court at Berlin, but refused on the ground of his insufficient knowledge of law; what little he knew he confessed he had forgotten in the thirty-two years which had passed since he abandoned his legal studies (ib. App. p. xvii). The first volumes of his history of England—in French—were published in 1723; the last two appeared and were completed in 1725, just before his death. ‘Though he was of a very strong constitution, yet a seventeen years' constant application to compose his history entirely ruined his health. About three years before his death he found himself quite spent, and frequently seized with violent pains in his stomach. He might have recovered if he would have relinquished his work, and unbent his mind for a time. Of this he was sensible, but could not resolve it as he ought. All he indulged himself in was not to rise before six o'clock, after which it was impossible for him to sleep or lie in his bed. As to his diversions, of which walking was the most usual, he was quickly tired of them, and, if his indisposition permitted, returned to his work, which was the cause of his illness and properly his sole delight’ (‘Some particulars of the Life of M. de Rapin,’ in History of England, ed. 1743, i. p. x). He died on 25 May 1725 at the age of sixty-four, and was buried at Wesel (Cazanove, pp. 326, 334).
Rapin left several daughters and a son, who became a Prussian official, was director of the colonies of French refugees at Stettin and Stargardt, and earned the praise of Frederick the Great. A great-grandson, Philippe de Rapin-Thoyras, fought in the German war of liberation, and became colonel of cuirassiers in the Prussian army.
Rapin's earliest historical work was a ‘Dissertation sur l'Origine du Gouverne- ment de l'Angleterre et sur la Naissance, le Progrès, les Vues, les Forces, les Intérêts et les Caractères des deux Partis des Whigs et des Torys.’ This lucid explanation of English politics, written for the instruction of foreigners, was printed at the Hague in 1717, and was immediately translated into German, Dutch, Danish, and English. It is reprinted in the English translations of his history (ed. 1743, ii. 796). Rapin's ‘History of England,’ which was also written for foreigners rather than for Englishmen, met with equal success. Six editions were published in French—the first, in 10 vols. 4to between 1723 and 1727; the sixth and best, edited by Lefébvre de Saint-Marc, in 1749, 16 vols. 4to (for a bibliography see Cazenove, pp. 261–76). Of the English translation and its different continuations, four editions in octavo and three in folio were published (ib. p. 270; Lowndes, Bibliographer's Manual, ed. Bohn, p. 2047). Rapin's ‘History’ begins with the landing of Julius Cæsar and ends with the accession of William and Mary. It was continued in French by David Durand (d. 1763), a Huguenot refugee, who was minister of the French churches in St. Martin's Lane and the Savoy. He added to Rapin's ‘History’ vols. xi. and xii. treating the reign of William III, published at the Hague in 1734–5. A thirteenth volume, attributed to a certain Dupard, appeared in 1736 (Cazenove, pp. 261–6). Thomas Lediard [q. v.] brought out in 1737 ‘The History of the Reigns of William III, Mary, and Anne, in continuation of the History of England by Rapin de Thoyras’ (folio). This ends with the accession of George II. Nicholas Tindal, whose translation of Rapin had been published in 1726–31 (15 vols. 8vo), added to it an account of the reigns of William, Anne, and George I (13 vols. 8vo, 1745–7). Tindal's translation became the standard version of Rapin for the English public, and was frequently reprinted. In 1736 a series of illustrations, consisting of portraits, monuments, and medals, was published to accompany it (‘The Heads of the Kings of England proper for Rapin and Tindal's “History of England,”’ engraved by George Vertue, 1736, fol.). A list of the illustrations in the folio edition of 1743, reputed the best, is given by Lowndes. Thanks to these embellishments and to its own very considerable merits, Rapin's ‘History’ remained, until the publication of Hume's, the standard history of England. Voltaire, who styles the author ‘the exact and judicious Rapin,’ says: ‘L'Angleterre lui fut longtemps redevable de la seule bonne histoire complète que l'on eût faite de cette royaume, et la seule impartiale qu'on eût d'un pays où l'on n'écrivoit que par l'esprit de parti: c'étoit même la seule histoire qu'on pût citer en Europe comme approchant de la perfection qu'on exige de ces ouvrages’ (Siècle de Louis Quatorze, ii. 393, ed. 1822; cf. Cazenove, p. 318). The history certainly shows throughout extensive researches, combined with a strenuous endeavour to be impartial and to arrive at the truth. Rapin's narrative is clear though rarely animated. He inserts occasional dissertations on controverted questions or points of interest, as, for instance, on the government of the Anglo-Saxons, the nature of the Salic law, and the history of Joan of Arc (i. 147, 446, 589, ed. 1743). He discusses the relative value of Camden, Buchanan, and other contemporary writers on the events of Elizabeth's reign, and criticises the authorities for the history of the civil war (ib. ii. 79, 347). Rapin also interrupts his narrative by inserting historical documents at length, such as the articles of accusation against Richard II, and the manifestos of Charles I and the parliament. He reprints Magna Charta and other charters of liberties, and gives a number of papers concerning the Spanish match and the impeachment of the Earl of Bristol in 1625. The publication of Rymer's ‘Fœdera,’ of which he makes great and constant use, supplied him with much important material, which previous historians had not used. To this he modestly attributed whatever merit his history possessed (Cazenove, p. 247). As each volume of Rymer appeared Rapin published in Le Clerc's ‘Bibliothèque Choisie’ an abridgment of its contents. These summaries were translated by Stephen Whatley and published under the title of ‘Acta Regia’ (4 vols. 8vo, 1726–7).
Rapin's work is severely criticised by Carte in the ‘Proposals’ for his own history of England, on the ground that Rapin omitted to consult the manuscripts in the state paper office, the journals of parliament, and other sources, which his residence in Germany made it impossible for him to utilise (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ii. 479, 486; see also viii. 266). Other criticisms are embodied in ‘A Defence of English History against the Misrepresentations of M. Rapin de Thoyras,’ 8vo, 1734. A portrait of Rapin is prefixed to most editions of his history and to Cazenove's ‘Rapin-Thoyras.’[The chief source of information for Rapin's life is the Lettre à M. .... concernant quelques particularités de la vie de M. de Rapin-Thoyras, written by his elder brother, Charles de Rapin Puginier. It appeared in the tenth volume of the History of England (ed. 1727), and is re- printed as a preface to the English translations (ed. 1743, i. vii.). Manuscript memoirs of the family of Rapin by the same author form the basis of M. Raoul de Cazenove's ‘Rapin-Thoyras, sa Famille, sa Vie, et ses Œuvres,’ Paris, 1866, 4to. M. Cazenove also prints a collection of Rapin's letters and specimens of his poetry and criticism.]