January 23 • 01:44 PM

Letter to my Heavenly Muse

May 30, 2018
My Dear Heavenly Muse,

When I consider whom you've inspired throughout your Chronicles of Time-Moses on Mt. Sinai, Michelangelo under the Sistine Chapel—I marvel at your hand upon Edwin Blashfield's shoulder while he stood on the balustrade of the Detroit Public Library.

Thank you for whispering "Jules Michelet" into the painter's ear, inspiring Blashfield to paint Jules into his Prose mural. I may never have met Michelet otherwise.

It's a pleasant surprise to become acquainted with a French writer who cherished his country's history, and wasn't a womanizer as many of Michelet's fellow writers of old.

Also, I'd never heard the term "Huguenot" which describes the religious traditions of Michelet's family tied to 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany. Yes, the place you inspired Martin Luther to nail his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door. There, he offered Christians another manner to worship within the Protestant Reformation.

John Calvin (1509-1564), a Frenchman and Huguenot, supported the Reformation. Calvin influenced his kinsmen to leave the Roman Catholic Church and embrace Christian worship from Biblical texts in a more personal relationship with God.

Unlike many Huguenots of that period who fled the violence from French Catholics and kings for refuge in the New World, the Michelets remained in France. Over a hundred years later, Jules was born in Paris in August 1798. His father was a printer, who, in his poverty, kept his son in school with high expectations. Michelet published his Introduction à l'histoire universelle in 1831. In 1838 he was appointed professor at the Collège de France, where he held the chair of History and Ethics. His "peculiar romantic and visionary qualities" made him one the most stimulating of all French historians.

Introduction à l'histoire universelle "featured his tendency to indulge in historical suggestions which, although associated with solid facts, are not always trustworthy. The Introduction à l'histoire universelle was in fact partly inspired by the anti-rationalist approach of the philosopher Vico who had proclaimed the triumph of the imagination over analysis."

In 1867 Michelet completed his massive study Histoire de France. Its content extends over 19 volumes. Michelet was perhaps the first historian to perceive and write a picturesque history of the Middle Ages. Many French readers still consider Histoire de France the most vivid account that exists.

"Its style, its emotional strength, and its powerful evocation make it a masterpiece of French literature. Michelet traced the biography of the nation as a whole, instead of concentrating on persons or groups of persons."

Hmmm…I like that word, "traced," Muse. I trace my history and the Protestant tradition of my ancestors. It all began with Luther. As my parents were, I am part of the whole from Germany, Ireland, Scotland, and Appalachia. Who knows (other than you), with 90% northern European DNA, we could be related to Michelet.

That would explain my passion for history. What do you think? Just what do you have in mind for my memories and perceptions?

I wait patiently for your reply.


—Iris Lee Underwood

Email Iris at

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