Joseph Vaissète

Joseph Vaissète
Born 1685
Gaillac, Albi, France
Died 10 April 1756
Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, France
Nationality French
Occupation Monk, scholar
Known for Histoire générale de Languedoc (General history of Languedoc)

Dom Joseph Vaissète (or Vaissette) (1685 – 10 April 1756) was a scholarly French Benedictine monk who wrote a history of Languedoc and a geography of the world as it was known in his day. Vaissette's Histoire générale de Languedoc is still considered a work of great erudition and value, often consulted by modern historians.[1] The Geography had its faults, but was the most detailed and accurate of its day.[2] Some names differ from modern usage. Thus he gives the name La Côte des Dents ("Coast of Teeth") to what is now the Côte d'Ivoire ("Ivory Coast").[3]


Vaissète was born at Gaillac in the diocese of Albi in 1685. His father was the procurer general of Albi. He attended school in his hometown, then moved to Toulouse for further studies, becoming a doctor of theology and a doctor of civil and canon law. He wanted to enter orders immediately, but at his father's request acted as his father's substitute as procureur general for some years before retiring from the world and taking up the monastic and scholarly life in 1711.[4]

At the age of 26, on 11 July 1711 he entered the Benedictine order in the Monastery of La Daurade, in Toulouse.[5] Soon after, he received the news of his father's death.[4] Vaissète's taste for history caused his superiors to call him to the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris in 1713.[5] In 1715 he was charged with co-authoring a history of Languedoc with Dom Claude de Vic.[2] The two authors were able to use the prior work of Dom Gabriel Marcland and Dom Pierre Auzieres, two learned and capable scholars who had separately worked in the province for several years, combing the libraries for material and making considerable progress in organizing the material, but who had not been able to continue due to their advanced age or other jobs.[6] The first volume of the Histoire générale de Languedoc appeared in folio in 1730. Dom de Vic died in 1734, leaving Dom Vaissette in sole charge of the great work, which he executed with success and which was published in four more volumes, the fifth appearing in 1745. Dom Vaissette published a four-volume universal geography in 1855.[2]

The character of Dom Vaissette combined simplicity and candour with spirit and erudition. He died at Saint-Germain-des-Prés on 10 April 1756. His co-worker Dom Bourotte was charged with finishing the history.[2] Dom Vaissette was buried in the chapel of Sainte Vierge with his fellow monk Dom Sensaric, who had died on the same day.[5]


Cover of the fourth volume of the abridged history

Dom Vaissette published a dissertation on the origins of the French in 1722, examining whether they descended from the Tectosages, a sept of the Volcae, or from the ancient Gauls of Germany.[7] This work was published in Paris anonymously, but there is no doubt that Vaissette was the author.[8]

The first volume of the Histoire générale de Languedoc, which appeared in 1730, starts with the second century of the Roman Republic. It covers the different expeditions of the Tectosages, the revolutions during which the province was submitted to the Romans, the arrival of the Visigoths, the creation by Charlemagne of the kingdom of Aquitaine with its capital in Toulouse, and the events up to the death of Charles the Bald.[6] In this and subsequent volumes, Dom Vaissette added learned notes on aspects of the history of Languedoc at the end of the book, taking the form of scholarly dissertations on specific subjects. His notes are followed by transcriptions of ancient inscriptions, charters and other records that support the history given in the volume. Finally, there is a general index of names and subjects.[9]

The second volume, published in 1733, continues the history for the next three centuries from the start of the reign of Louis the Stammerer in 877 up to the start of the troubles caused by the Albigensian heresy in 1165. It includes a history and genealogy of the Counts of Toulouse and other leading families, and the wars between these families. It records the participation of Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse in the First Crusade, of which he was one of the leaders, along with other noble families of the country. It also covers the establishment of several towns, many celebrated monasteries and the seats of the bishops.[9]

The third volume appeared in 1736 and the fourth in 1742, ending with the last opening of the Parliament of Languedoc in 1443, which functioned continuously since that time.[10] The fifth volume appeared in 1745, covering the next two centuries up to the death of Louis XIII in 1643, including the religious wars that lasted for almost a century. After the notes at the end of this volume, Dom Vaissette included additions, corrections and clarifications to the four previous volumes. Dom Vaissette had planned a sixth volume, which was advertised in the fifth.[11]

The abbot of Fontaines said that few general histories had been better written in the French language, and the erudition was profound and agreeable. The history was distinguished by the great impartiality with which it treated the Albigensians and other heretics who ravaged the province.[2] Without passion, the history presents the results of a study of all available information. The Jesuits, who had not shown the same moderation in their Histoire de l'église Gallicane (History of the Gallican Church), did not fail to criticize the work in their Journal de Trévoux.[2] Vaissette's erudite history continues to be respected and consulted by scholars to this day.[1]

Dom Vaissette's other works were, first, an abridged version of his History of Langedoc in six volumes, the first of which appeared in 1740. The abridgment may be enough for those who are not from the province, but the people of Langedoc would find it too dry and too slim. Second, a Universal geography in four volumes. While this has faults, it was viewed with reason at the time as the most detailed, methodical and accurate available. One could only reproach the author with a lack of detail on the commerce and the arts of the countries he describes.[2]



Parts of this article are based on a rough translation of the short biography in Louis-Mayeul Chaudon's Dictionnaire universel, historique, critique, et bibliographique of 1812.[2]

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