L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia
Edmond de Nevers
Department of History
Journalist, lawyer, civil servant, and translator, was born Edmond Boisvert at Baie-du-Febvre, Canada East. He was educated at the Séminaire de Nicolet and at the University of Berlin. Called to the Quebec Bar in 1883, Boisvert appears to have taken a job as a provincial inspector of asylums rather than practice law. Shortly thereafter, he adopted the pseudonym Edmond de Nevers. In 1888 he left Canada for Germany. Brilliant and multilingual, he traveled extensively throughout Europe during the next several years and worked at the Agence Havas in Paris as a translator and writer. In 1895 he returned to North America, going first to Rhode Island, where his family had previously emigrated, then to Quebec City, where he had numerous friends and relatives. The following year he was back in Europe, but returned to Quebec in 1900 stricken with locomotor ataxy. He spent the next couple of years working as a publicist for the provincial Department of Colonization and Mines. Debilitated by his illness, he returned to Rhode Island sometime in late 1902 or early 1903 to die among his family. Deeply concerned by the destiny of his people, de Nevers' writing sought to grapple with French Canada's place on the North American continent and to awaken the pride and nationalism of his compatriots. His influential essay on L'avenir du peuple canadien-français (1896) ended with the prediction that Canada's annexation was inevitable. In many ways, he was Canada's answer to Alexis de Tocqueville. Indeed, like the author of Democracy in America, de Nevers was a liberal with marked conservative tendencies who devoted several years to analyzing American society. Fascinated by the United States, he published his monumental L'âme américaine in 1900 and translated Matthew Arnold's 1888 essays on Civilization in the United States into French. In late 1900 French literary critic Ferdinand Brunetière published a forty-page review of L'âme américaine in the prestigious Revue des deux mondes. He believed that the two volume essay was "un des plus intéressants qu'on ait publiés depuis longtemps sur l'Amérique." Despite his untimely death at the age of forty-four, Edmond de Nevers was exceptionally influential among the thinkers of his generation. Today, many scholars consider him to be French Canada's first modern intellectual.
© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College