Abel Francois Villemain, a French author, born in Paris, June 9, 1790, died there, May 8, 1870. He completed his education at the imperial lyceum (the present Louis-le-Grand college), where, as well as at the Charlemagne lyceum, he subsequently occupied the chair of rhetoric. He obtained academical prizes for his Eloge de Montaigne (1812), and for two other essays, including Eloge de Montesquieu (1816). In 1816 he became professor of rhetoric at the Sorbonne, having since 1814 taken Guizot's place as teacher of modern history. For several years he was chief of the printing and publishing department in the ministry of the interior; and in 1818 he was appointed auditor in the council of state. He was elected to the French academy in 1821; and in 1827 he lost the former offices for opposing the revival of the censorship. His lectures at the faculty aided in paving the way for the July revolution; and in 1830 he was elected to the chamber of deputies and strenuously opposed the fatal ordinances of Charles X. In 1832 Louis Philippe made him a peer. In 1834 he became president of the council of education, and succeeded Arnault as perpetual secretary of the academy.
He was minister of education in 1839-40, and again under Guizot from the autumn of 1840 till the end of 1844. Subsequently he took little part in politics, excepting in occasional speeches in the chamber of peers (1846-7), and he altogether retired after the revolution of 1848. He refused allegiance to Napoleon III., and in 1852 he was removed from his chair at the Sorbonne, retaining only the title of honorary professor. In his younger days he had given a new impulse to literature and scholarship by the generous eclecticism of his criticisms, to historical studies by promoting the publication of Documents inédits sur Vhistoire de France, and to general culture by educational reforms, and by a reorganization of the public library; and in the last 20 years of his life he developed a remarkable literary activity in revising his former and preparing new works. They include Histoire de Cromwell (2 vols., Paris, 1819); La republique de Ciceron, a translation of Cicero's De Republica, from a palimpsest discovered in Rome in 1822 by Cardinal Mai (2 vols., 1823); Discours et melanges litteraires (1823; enlarged, 1860); Lascaris, ou les Grecs du quinzUme siécle, a historical novel (1825; new ed. by Gustave Masson, London, 1875); Nouveaux melanges historiques et litteraires (1827); Gours de litterature francaise (5 vols., 1828-38; enlarged, 6 vols., 1864); a celebrated Preface du Dictionnaire de Vacademiefrangaise (1835); Etudes de litterature ancienne et etrangere (1846; enlarged, 1859); Tableau de l'eloquence chretienne au. quatriémesiecle (1846; enlarged, 1857; later ed., 1861-'5); Etudes d'histoire moderne, comprising Lascaris, Discours sur l'etat de l'Europe au XVe siecle, Essai historique sur les Grecs depuis la conquête mussulmane, and Vie du chancelicr de l'Hopital (1846; enlarged, 1856; new ed., 1862); Souvenirs contemporains d'histoire et de litterature (2 vols., 1853-'5; new ed., 1859-62); Choix d'ètudes sur la litterature contemporaine (1857); La tribune moderne, the first part containing M. de Chateaubriand, sa vie, ses écrits, son influence litteraire et politique sur son temps (2 vols., 1858); and his elaborate Histoire de Gregoire VII., preceded by his lecture on the history of the papacy down to the 11th century (2 vols., 1872).