1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aubigné, Jean Henri Merle d'
AUBIGNÉ, JEAN HENRI MERLE D’ (1794-1872), Swiss Protestant divine and historian, was born on the 16th of August 1794, at Eaux Vives, near Geneva. The ancestors of his father, Aimé Robert Merle d’Aubigné (1755-1799), were French Protestant refugees. Jean Henri was destined by his parents to a commercial life; but at college he decided to be ordained. He was profoundly influenced by Robert Haldane, the Scottish missionary and preacher who visited Geneva. When in 1817 he went abroad to further his education, Germany was about to celebrate the tercentenary of the Reformation; and thus early he conceived the ambition to write the history of that great epoch. At Berlin he received stimulus from teachers so unlike as J. A. W. Neander and W. M. L. de Wette. After presiding for five years over the French Protestant church at Hamburg, he was, in 1823, called to become pastor of a congregation in Brussels and preacher to the court. He became also president of the consistory of the French and German Protestant churches. At the Belgian revolution of 1830 he thought it advisable to undertake pastoral work at home rather than to accept an educational post in the family of the Dutch king. The Evangelical Society had been founded with the idea of promoting evangelical Christianity in Geneva and elsewhere, but it was found that there was also needed a theological school for the training of pastors. On his return to Switzerland, d’Aubigné was invited to become professor of church history in an institution of the kind, and continued to labour in the cause of evangelical Protestantism. In him the Evangelical Alliance found a hearty promoter. He frequently visited England, was made a D. C. L. by Oxford University, and received civic honours from the city of Edinburgh. He died suddenly in 1872.
His principal works are—Discours sur l’étude de l’histoire de Christianisme (Geneva, 1832); Le Luthéranisme et la Réforme (Paris, 1844); Germany, England and Scotland, or Recollections of a Swiss Pastor (London, 1848); Trois siècles de lutte en Écosse, ou deux rois et deux royaumes; Le Protecteur ou la république d’Angleterre aux jours de Cromwell (Paris, 1848); Le Concile et l’infaillibilité (1870); Histoire de la Réformation au XVIième siècle (Paris, 1835-1853; new ed:, 1861-1862, in 5 vols.); and Histoire de la Réformation en Europe au temps de Calvin (8 vols., 1862-1877).
The first portion of his Histoire de la Réformation, which was devoted to the earlier period of the movement in Germany, gave him at once a foremost place amongst modern French ecclesiastical historians, and was translated into most European tongues. The second portion, dealing with reform in the time of Calvin, was not less thorough, and had a subject hitherto less exhaustively treated, but it did not meet with the same success. This part of the subject, with which he was most competent to deal, was all but completed at the time of his death. Among his minor treatises, the most important are the vindication of the character and aims of Oliver Cromwell, and the sketch of the contendings of the Church of Scotland.
Indefatigable in sifting original documents, Aubigné had amassed a wealth of authentic information; but his desire to give in all cases a full and graphic picture, assisted by a vivid imagination, betrayed him into excess of detail concerning minor events, and in a few cases into filling up a narrative by inference from later conditions. Moreover, in his profound sympathy with the Reformers, he too frequently becomes their apologist. But his work is a monument of painstaking sincerity, and brings us into direct contact with the spirit of the period.