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Élisée Reclus (March 15 1830July 4 1905), also known as Jean Jacques Élisée Reclus, was a renowned Frenchmarker geographer, writer and anarchist. He produced his 19-volume masterwork over a period of nearly 20 years: La Nouvelle Géographie universelle, la terre et les hommes (1875 – 1894). In 1892 he was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal of the Paris Geographical Society for this work, despite his having been banished from France because of his political activism.


Reclus was born at Sainte-Foy-la-Grandemarker (Girondemarker). He was the second son of a Protestant pastor and his wife. From the family of fourteen children, several, including his brother and fellow geographer Onésime Reclus, went on to achieve renown either as men of letters, politicians or members of the learned professions.

Reclus began his education in Rhenish Prussia, and continued higher studies at the Protestant college of Montaubanmarker. He completed his studies at University of Berlinmarker, where he followed a long course of geography under Karl Ritter.

Withdrawing from France because of political events of December 1851, he spent the next six years (1852 – 1857) traveling and working in Great Britainmarker, the United Statesmarker, Central America, and Colombiamarker. Arriving in Louisianamarker in 1853, Reclus worked for about 2 1/2 years as a tutor to the children of Septime and Félicité Fortier at their plantation Félicité, located about 50 miles upriver from New Orleansmarker. He recounted his passage through the Mississippi river deltamarker and impressions of antebellum New Orleans and the state in Fragment d'un voyage á Louisiane, published in 1855.

On his return to Parismarker, Reclus contributed to the Revue des deux mondes, the Tour du monde and other periodicals, a large number of articles embodying the results of his geographical work. Among other works of this period was the short book Histoire d’un ruisseau, in which he traced the development of a great river from source to mouth. In 1867 – 1868 he published La Terre; description des phénomènes de la vie du globe, in two volumes.

During the 1870 siege of Paris, Reclus shared in the aerostatic operations conducted by Félix Nadar, and also served in the National Guard. As a member of the Association Nationale des Travailleurs, he published a hostile manifesto against the government of Versailles in support of the Paris Commune of 1871 in the Cri du Peuple.

Continuing to serve in the National Guard, now in open revolt, Reclus was taken prisoner on April 5, and on November 16 was sentenced to deportation for life. Because of intervention by supporters from England, the sentence was commuted in January 1872 to perpetual banishment from France.

After a short visit to Italymarker, Reclus settled at Clarens, Switzerlandmarker, where he resumed his literary labours and produced Histoire d’une montagne, a companion to Histoire d’un ruisseau. There he wrote nearly the whole of his work, La Nouvelle Géographie universelle, la terre et les hommes. This compilation was profusely illustrated with maps, plans, and engravings. It was awarded the gold medal of the Paris Geographical Society in 1892. An English edition appeared simultaneously, also in 19 volumes, the first four by E. G. Ravenstein, the rest by A. H. Keane. Reclus’s writings were characterized by extreme accuracy and brilliant exposition, which gave them permanent literary and scientific value.

In 1882 Reclus initiated the Anti-Marriage Movement, in accordance with which he allowed his two daughters to marry without any civil or religious ceremony. This action caused embarrassment to many of his well-wishers. The French government initiated prosecution from the High Court of Lyonmarker against the anarchists and members of the International Association, of which Reclus and the influential Peter Kropotkin were designated the two chief organizers. Kropotkin was arrested and condemned to five years’ imprisonment, but Reclus escaped punishment as he remained in Switzerland.

Élisée Reclus
In 1894, Reclus was appointed chair of comparative geography at the University of Brusselsmarker. He contributed several important articles and essays to French, Germanmarker and English scientific journals.

Reclus was admired by many prominent 19th century thinkers, including Alfred Russell Wallace,
George Perkins Marsh and
Patrick Geddes,

Henry Stephens Salt, and Octave Mirbeau.
James Joyce was
influenced by Reclus' book La civilisation et les grands fleuves historiques.

Shortly before his death, Reclus completed L'Homme et la terre, in which he added to his previous greater works by considering humanity's development relative to its geographical environment.

Reclus died at Torhoutmarker, near Brugesmarker, Belgium.

Reclus advocated nature conservation and opposed meat-eating and cruelty toanimals. He was a vegetarian. As a result, his ideas are seen by some historians as anticipatingthe modern social ecology and animal rights movements.


  • "The Progress of Mankind" (Contemporary Review, 1896)
  • "Attila de Gerando" (Revue Géographie, 1898)
  • "A Great Globe" (Geograph. Journ., 1898)
  • "L’Extrême-Orient" (Bulletin Antwerp Géographie Sociétie, 1898), a thoughtful study of the political geography of the Far East and its possible changes
  • "La Perse" (Bulletin Sociétie Neuchateloise, 1899)
  • "La Phénice et les Phéniciens" (ibid., 1900)
  • "La Chine et la diplomatie européenne" (L'Humanité nouvelle series, 1900)
  • "L'Enseignement de la géographie" (Institute Géographie de Bruxelles, No 5, 1901)

See also


Further reading

  • Fleming, Marie, The Geography of Freedom: the Odyssey of Élisée Reclus, Montréal [etc.]: Black Rose Books, 1988
  • Dunbar, Gary S., "Elisée Reclus; A Historian of Nature", Hamden, Connecticut, USA: Archon Books, 1978
  • Ishill, Joseph, Élisée and Élie Reclus, Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, USA: The Oriole Press, 1927
  • Cahiers Pensée et Action, Élisée Reclus, savant et anarchiste, Paris -Bruxelles, 1956
  • Hélène Sarrazin, Élisée Reclus ou la passion du monde, La Découverte, Paris, 1985
  • Joël Cornuault, Élisée Reclus, géographe et poète, fédérop, Eglise-Neuve d'Issac, 1995
  • Roger Gonot, Élisée Reclus, Prophète de l'idéal anarchiste, Covedi, 1996
  • John P. Clark, "The Dialectical Social Geography of Élisée Reclus", in Andrew Light and Jonathan M. Smith, eds., Philosophy and Geography 1: Space, Place, and Environmental Ethics (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1997), pp. 117-142. [79192]
  • Joël Cornuault, Élisée Reclus, étonnant géographe, Périgueux: Fanlac, 1999
  • Crestian Lamaison, Élisée Reclus, l'Orthésien qui écrivait la Terre, Orthez: Cité du Livre, 2005
  • Joël Cornuault, Élisée Reclus et les Fleurs Sauvages, Bergerac: Librairie La Brèche, 2005
  • Joël Cornuault, Les Cahiers Élisée Reclus, Bergerac: Librairie La Brèche 1996 – 2006
  • Philippe Pelletier, la géographie innovante d'Élisée Reclus, les Amis de Ste Foy et sa région, n°86, 2005
  • "An Anarchist on Anarchy" by Élisée Reclus (1884)

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