Reclus, Élis

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(b. Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, France, 156 March 1830; d. Thourout, Belgium, 4 July 1905)


Reclus was the son Protestant paster, Jacques Reclus, and his wife, the former Zéline Trigant. After studing at Neuwied, Sante-Foy, and Montauban, he entered the University of Berlin in February 1851 to continue his study of theology but also attended the popular lectres of Carl Ritter in geography. Reclus subsequently rejected religion, but he remained a lifelong admirer of Ritter; the geographical writings of the two are quite similar, except that Reclus altered Ritter’ teleological explanations. Late in 1851 Reclus became embroiled in Political events at home and again went abord. He spent 1852–1857 in the British Isles, Louisiana, and Colombia, drawn to the last though admiration for Humboldt. Living in Paris after his return to France in 1857, Reclus occupied himself mostly wioth his geographical writings in the Revue des deux mondes and Guides Joanne and especially in the Preparation of La terre, the great geographical synthesis that established his fame. La terre shows the influence of Humboldt and Ritter and also bears similarity to the contemporary works of Oscar Peschel and George Perkins Marsh.

Banished in 1872 for his part in the Paris Commune, Reclus chose Switzerland as his land of exile and plunged immediately into his most grandiose project, a world geography. Originally planned as a five-or six volume work, it eventually appeared in nineteen volumes. Reminiscent of Ritter’ Erdkunde it was better organized and carried to completion. Also unlike Ritter, Recluse traveled widly, even returing to the Americas to improve his books with personal observations. Upon completion of thye Nouvelle geographie unierselle in 1894, Reclus removed to Brussels, newly established University Nouvelle. He then began writing his last grat work, L’ home et la terse an ambitious historical-geographyical synthesis, most his last years Recluse conceived great cartographic schemes, especially huge relief globes, which he hoped might be symbols of world unity and brotherhood. Of special interest was his proposal in 1895 to build a globe on the scale of 1:100,000(diameter about 420 feet), a project which was supped by A.R. Wallace and Partrick Gweddes but never came to fruition.


I. Original Works. Reclu’ mopst important geographical works are those which he referred to as his “trilogy” La terre 2 vols. (Paris, 1868–1869); Nouvelle geographie universelle 19 vols. (Paris, 1876–1894); and L’ home et la teere 6 vols. (Paris, 1905–1908). Good guides to his voluminous writings on geography and anarchism are the published catalogs of the Bibliotheque Nationale (Paris) and the International Institut voor Sociale Geschiednis (Amsterdam). Also useful are Hem Day, Essai de bibliographie de Elisee Reclus (Paris-Brussels, 1956); and the bibliography accompanying Jean Matiron’ Histoire du mouvement anarchist en France (1880–1914) (Paris, 1951). The best bibliography is a typescirpt, “Elisee Reclus, geographic et sociologie” (n.p.,n.d.), presumably orepared by reclue7rsquo; sister, Louise Dumesnil, in the department of printed books at the Bibliothèque Nationale.

The most significant collections of Reclues MSS are in Patris at the Institue Francais d’ Historie Sociale, Founds Elise e Re4clus; and especially at the Bibliography Nationale, dépt. des manuscrits, N.A.F. 22909–22919, correspondence et papires d’ Elise Recluse. Of fundamental importance ids his Correspondence 3 vols. (Paris, 1911–1925), arranged and edited by Louise Dumensnil Who left the collecti0n of MSS to the Bibliotheque National after her death in 1917.

II. Secondary Litrature. The most important biographical studies are Joseph Ishill, ed., Elisee and Elie Reclus; In Memoriam (Berkeley Heights, N.J, 1927); Max Nettlau, Elisee Recluse: Anarchist und Gelehrter (1830–1905) (Berlin, 1928), enl. Spanish ed., Eliseo Rectus, la vida de un sabio justo y rebelde, 2 vols. (Barcelona, 1929); and Paul Reclus, Les freres Elie et Elisee Rectus; on, du protestantisme a l’anarchisme (Paris, 1964). Perhaps the most important obituaries in geographical journals are by Patrick Geddes, in Scottish Geographical Magazine, 21 (1905), 490–496, 548–555; by Paul Girardin and Jean Brunhes, in Geographische Zeitschrift, 12 (1906), 65–79; by Peter Kropotkin, in Geographical Journal, 26 (1905), 337–343; and by Franz Schrader (Reclus’s cousin), in Geographie, 12 (1905), 81–86.

G. S. Dunbar