Charles-Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, premier grand mayaniste de France
by Jean-Marie Lebon. xii+377 pages; illustrated throughout in black & white with 6 colour plates. French text. 145 Archaeological Lives
. Available both in printed and e-versions.
Printed ISBN 9781784910983. £30.00 (No VAT). Epublication ISBN 9781784910990. £19.00 (Inc. UK VAT)
Two hundred years ago, on September 8, 1814, in the northern French city of Bourbourg, a boy was born into a family of local entrepreneurs connected to the local political or judicial elite. The young Charles-Etienne Brasseur was lucky to spend days and days in the impressive library of Alexandre Nicolas Muchembled, the son of his godmother. The reading of exciting travel books there mapped out the course of his truly adventurous life to come. Although a rebellious schoolboy, he acquired a huge knowledge in many fields by his omnivorous reading of books and journals. He was also a very curious young man, delving into the private libraries of the local grand families, resulting in him contributing many historical articles to newspapers and learned societies. At the age of 24, while still in high school, he published his first novel.
This biography is the first to reveal insights into the many facets of the life of Brasseur; the extent of his secret activities for the Vatican; his advanced ideas regarding the dual phonetic and ideographic nature of Mayan writing, as early as 1843-44, and explicitly confirmed by him in May 1852, which he later dramatically rejected in 1870, thus failing to become the Champollion of Mesoamerica; his continuous attempts to preserve documents while crossing territories ravaged by civil wars; the immense value of the manuscripts he saved, like the Tzeltal vocabulary of Copanabastla or the Motul dictionary; his unique dedication in copying old manuscripts, with the help of his nephews, to be sent to other pioneers of Mayan studies in Europe and America; his short-lived pioneering work on the Huave (Wabis); details of his six expeditions to Mesoamerica, often in terrible conditions, as shown by his later severe ill health; his defence of the Indians against the academic community; details of the internal conflicts in the Quebec Catholic Church; and his ideas on certain geophysical events, such as the elevation of ocean beds and islands, which he wrongly dated to the time of the ancient Mayans, or the shifting of the Earth’s rotation axis.