Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine was a philosopher, psychologist, historian, and critic. Taine and Ernest Renan were the leading French positivistic thinkers of the second half of the nineteenth century. As a result of Taine’s great independence of mind, his life was not always comfortable. Discriminatory treatment from the authorities of the Second Empire led to his withdrawal from teaching from 1852 to 1863, when he was appointed an examiner at Saint-Cyr.
The next year he became a lecturer at the École des Beaux Arts; from his lectures there came his famous Philosophie de l’art, At the intervention of the Catholic clergy, a French Academy award for his Histoire de la littérature anglaise was denied him, and he was elected to the academy only in 1878, after the fall of the Second Empire. By that time he had antagonized both liberals and Bonapartists by his ruthless destruction of the revolutionary and Napoleonic legends.
Nevertheless, his influence was great and diversified. His positivistic and physiological approach to psychology was adopted by Théodule Ribot, Pierre Janet, and others, and his opposition to centralization and to revolutionary experiments attracted Catholic traditionalists such as Paul Bourget and Maurice Barrès, who, however, ignored his severe condemnation of the old regime and his outspoken sympathies for Protestant and parliamentary England.