Childhood & Early Life
He was born on March 15, 1830, in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, Gironde located in south-west France to Jacques Reclus and his wife Zéline nee Trigant as one of their fourteen children.
His father was a pastor of a strict evangelical group while his mother was a primary school teacher. After his father left Sainte-Foy-la-Grande in 1831, he was raised by his grandparents in Laroche till 1838 after which he again started living with his family in Casteetarbes.
Many of his brothers achieved great heights in their respective professions including Élie Reclus and Onésime, who became geographer like him.
He completed his primary education in Rhenish Prussia and then enrolled at the Protestant college of Montauban in 1848 to pursue higher studies in theology along with his older brother Elie. However he had to leave Montauban because of defying teachers.
In 1849 he took up a teaching position for the Moravian brothers in Neuwied but resigned in January 1851 to study geography at the ‘University of Berlin’. Here he came under the guidance of Carl Ritter, who was considered the founder of modern geography and attended several lectures of the latter.
In 1851 Reclus published an essay titled ‘Development of Liberty in the World’, a manifestation of his mature thought process at such a young age.
Continue Reading Below
He returned to France and opposed the coup of Napoleon that took place on December 2, 1851, following which he and his older brother Elie took exile in London. Next six years he travelled and worked in Great Britain, the US, Columbia and Central America.
During 1852 he worked as a teacher first in London and then in Dublin and towards the end of the year he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. There he began working as a dockworker.
From 1853 for around 2 ½ years he worked as a tutor to one of his cousin’s children at their plantation Félicité located at a distance of around fifty miles upriver from New Orleans. ‘Fragment d'un voyage á Louisiane’, published by him in 1855 gives an account of his experience of passing through the Mississippi River Delta as also his perspective of the pre-war New Orleans.
His tenure at Louisiana marked an important phase in his life developing his social and political views that saw him strictly opposing racism and slavery and intensifying his views regarding inhumanity of capitalism.
In August 1855 he moved to Columbia where he stayed for 1 ½ years and endeavoured to establish an agricultural colony, but remained unsuccessful.
In 1857 he came back to France and stayed with his brother Elie in Paris. He started to contribute articles illustrating his geographical works in periodicals like ‘Revue des deux mondes’ and the ‘Tour du monde’ and gradually began to earn repute as a geographer. During this time he also lectured at the ‘Paris Geographical Society’ and became its member in July 1858.
The publishing firm Hachette inducted him in 1860 that helped him travel several countries to develop the ‘Guides Joanne’ (at present the ‘Guide Bleu’), a series of French-language travel guides issued by the publishing firm.
During the mid-60s he joined Michael Bakunin’s secret ‘International Alliance of Social Democracy’ and also the ‘League for Peace and Freedom’.
In 1861 he published ‘Voyage à la Sierra Nevada’ and the ‘Les Volcans et les Tremblements de Terre’ in 1864.
Continue Reading Below
He and Elie became members of the newly formed ‘International Workingmen’s Association’, also called the ‘First International’, in its Batignolles division in September 1864. He took part in the anarchist movement till his death.
During 1867-68 two volumes of ‘La Terre: description des phénomènes de la vie du globe’ were published by him that met with considerable success.
The ‘Siege of Paris’ that took place from September 19, 1870 to January 28, 1871, which led to capture of the city by the Prussian forces and setting up of the ‘German Empire’ and the ‘Paris Commune’ saw him serving the ‘National Guard’.
He issued a hostile manifesto in the ‘Cri du Peuple’ as an ‘Association Nationale des Travailleurs’ member supporting the ‘Paris Commune’ and opposing the government of Versailles.
On April 5, 1871, while carrying on with his service in the ‘National Guard’, which by that time revolted openly, he was imprisoned and sentenced to lifetime deportation on November 16. However the sentence was mitigated to perpetual banishment from France in January 1872 as a result of an international petition signed by many of his supporters including scientists like Charles Darwin.
He then settled in Clarens, Switzerland following a short trip to Italy and resumed his literary works.
He wrote his famous 19 volume masterpiece ‘La Nouvelle Géographie universelle, la terre et les hommes’ (‘Universal Geography’) from 1876 to 1894 with the help of several imminent individuals that included anarchist geographers like Dragomanov, Metchnikoff and Kropotkin.
He commenced the ‘Anti-Marriage Movement’ in 1882.
He was inducted as chair of comparative geography at the ‘University of Brussels’ in 1894.
He completed his other notable work ‘L'Homme et la terre’ encompassing 6 volumes in 1905.
Personal Life & Legacy
On December 14, 1858, he married Marries Clarisse Brian, a "mulatto" Senegalese woman. Their two daughters Magali and Jeannie were born in 1860 and 1863 respectively.
After the death of Marries Clarisse Brian in 1869, he informally married Fanny Lherminez the following year.
In 1874 Fanny Lherminez died and Reclus got married for the third time to Ermance Gonini in 1875.
He was a vegetarian and opposed meat-eating.
On July 4, 1905, he passed away due to a heart disease in Torhout, Belgium.