He was obviously guided by a certain anguish even led astray by it-while he was writing a book or burning with a dark passion. In a passage of his Journal (which I have been unable to read, it is not accessible, but on this point I have obtained from others adequate details) he says that in the course of his labours it would happen that inspiration failed him: he then would go downstairs and out of his house, and enter a public urinal whose odour was suffocating. He breathed deeply, and having thus “approached as close as he could to the object of his horror,” he returned to his work. I cannot help recalling the author’s countenance, noble, emaciated, the nostrils quivering.
Georges Bataille on Jules Michelet (1946)
Preface to la sorcière
Photography of Jules Michelet by Félix Nadar Français : Photographie de Jules Michelet par Félix Nadar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Another thing which this History will clearly establish and which holds true in every connection, is that the people were usually more important than the leaders. The deeper I have excavated, the more surely I have satisfied myself that the best was underneath, in the obscure depths. And I have realised that it is quite wrong to take these brilliant and powerful talkers, who expressed the thought of the masses, for the sole actors of the drama. They were given the impulse by others much more than they gave it themselves. The principal actor is the people. To find the people again and put it back in its proper role, I have been obliged to reduce to their proportions the ambitious marionettes whose strings it manipulated and in whom hitherto we have looked for and thought to see the secret play of history.
Revered by Barthes, Michelet is subject of the first section of Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station. Everything I read, including the paragraph above suggests his work is truly exciting.