THE VILLAGE SCHOOLMASTER
AS we all know,
education in France is non-sectarian, obligatory, and gratuitous.
How much store is set by the splendid educational opportunities
afforded every French child the following story will show.
Two years ago I was staying in Champagne with my friend
Mademoiselle M―, the middle-aged daughter of a former schoolmaster.
Not for the first time I enjoyed "harbour and good company" under
her hospitable roof, making acquaintance with a charming little
Mademoiselle M— occupied her own roomy house, which stood on
the outskirts of the little riverside town, a large fruit and
vegetable garden at the back making pleasant shade; a small annuity
and the letting of spare rooms completed her modest income, from the
sum-total something ever remaining for benevolence. In a small
way, indeed, mademoiselle was a veritable Providence to the waif and
stray. The late schoolmaster had left his daughter a library
of several hundred volumes, and the part of the house retained for
her own use was most comfortably furnished. But, knowing how
small are the emoluments of village pedagogues, I could not account
for the numerous works of art and objects of luxury seen on every
side. Every room seemed full of wedding presents!
One afternoon my hostess invited some neighbours to tea, and
I ventured a comment upon the exquisite tea-service and silver-gilt
plate set out in their honour.
"All gifts of pupils and pupils' parents to papa," was
mademoiselle's reply; "and when my visitors are gone I will show you
some other things. At the New Year and on his fête day, my
father always received handsome presents; you see, he had been
schoolmaster here so many years, and was so much beloved."
A list of the treasures now displayed or pointed out to me
would fill a page. All represented considerable outlay, and
all, be it remembered, were offered by small officials, artisans,
and peasants. I especially noticed a liqueur service of
elegant cut-glass, enclosed in a case of polished rosewood.
Another costly gift was an ormolu clock surmounted with figures,
that must have cost a hundred francs at least. The entire
collection, I should say, represented several thousand francs; in
each case we may be quite sure that these offerings involved, on the
part of the donors, no little self-sacrifice. Here, then, was
a palmary proof of the French peasant's progressiveness, of the high
esteem in which he holds education. Excessive thrift and
lavish generosity are not compatible, but next to his paternal acres
he evidently values the hard-won privileges wrested from
obscurantism and bigotry.
Immense is the change that has come over the village
schoolmaster since I first made his acquaintance in Anjou more than
a quarter of a century ago. The instituteur of the
village in which I was then staying with French friends received £30
a year, besides lodging and trifling capitation fees. Both
boys' and girls' schools were supported by the State, but,
unfortunately, the commune had been induced some years before to
accept a house and piece of land from some rich resident, the
conditions being that the school for girls should always be kept by
nuns. The consequence was that, as education at that period
was not strictly obligatory, boys were detained on the farm, the
numbers of scholars being only twenty, whilst the girls numbered
sixty. Under such circumstances the capitation fee was hardly
worth taking into account. What mattered much more was the
inequality of the instruction accorded, the schoolmasters possessing
certificates of proficiency, the nuns being free to teach provided
that they professed une lettre d'obédience, a kind of
character signed by the bishop.
This difference was evidenced in the prize distribution, in
which I was flatteringly invited to take part. Whilst the boys
received amusing and instructive books of history, travel, and
adventure, the girls got little theological treatises, the only
attractive feature about them being gilt edges and a gaudy binding.
Pitiable in the extreme was the position of a village
schoolmaster during the MacMahon Presidency, indigence being often
the least of his tribulations. The butt of clerical animosity,
speech, action, and manners of life ever open to
misinterpretation—such was his position. The marvel is that
candidates should be found for post so unenviable. Twenty-five
years strenuous fighting and endeavour have changed all this, and
popular education in France is now the first in the world.
For the victory belongs to the Third Republic, as a
retrospective glance will show. The ancien régime did
not deem the R's a common necessity. Like house-sparrows
depending upon stray crumbs, poor folks' children got here and there
a modicum of knowledge, Danton's "bread of the understanding."
In the more favoured provinces—Lorraine and Champagne, for
instance—were village schoolmasters fulfilling at the same time the
functions of grave-digger, sacristan, bell-ringer, and sometimes
combining with these a trade or handicraft. In the commune of
Angles, Hautes Alpes, the schoolmaster offered to shave all the
inhabitants for a consideration of two hundred livres yearly!
In very poor districts they were partly remunerated by meals taken
alternately at the houses of their pupils. For want of a
school-house, teaching, such as it was, had to be given in barns and
stables, and when spring came both master and pupils exchanged the
cross-row, strokes and pothooks for labours afield. These
wandering pedagogues were called maîtres ambulants. In
Provence schoolmasters were hired at fairs, as is still the case
with domestics, in Normandy.
One of the first preoccupations of Revolutionary leaders was
the village school. Tallyrand laid a plan of popular education
before the Constituant Condorcet drew up a scheme for the
Legislative Assembly. The Convention revised and matured the
respective systems of Barère, Lakanal, and others, but wars within
and without the frontier, and want of finances, stood in the way.
The noble project of non-sectarian, gratuitous, and obligatory
instruction was adjourned for a century.
Napoleon did not care to waste thought or money upon the
education of the people. The sum of 4,230 francs, just £170,
was deemed by him quite sufficient for such a purpose. The
Restoration magnanimously increased these figures to 50,000 francs,
the monarchy of July raised the sum-total to three millions, the
Second Empire to twelve million francs. The budget of the
Third Republic is a hundred and sixty million, municipalities and
communes adding a hundred million more. This sum does not
include the money spent upon the erection of schools, hundreds
having been built both in town and country.
Instructive it was to zigzag through remote regions twenty
years ago. I well remember an experience in the Burgundian
highlands about this time. I was staying at Autun in order to
be near my friends, the late Philip Gilbert Hamerton and his wife,
and one day journeyed by diligence to Château Chinon, whilom capital
of a little Celtic kingdom.
The five hours' ascent by splendid roads led through the very
heart of the Morvan, wooded hills, gloomy forests, and masses of
rock framing brilliant pastures and little streams. Amid these
thinly populated scenes, only a straggling village or two passed on
the way, one sign of progress met the eye—the village school in
course of erection. Of all French provinces Brittany was worst
off as regards schools. A generation ago travellers might
interrogate well-clad men and women, who, not understanding a
syllable of French, would shake their heads and pass on. At
Nantes in 1875-6 the following inscription would meet my eyes: "Écrivain
publique, 10 centimes par lettre" ("Public writer, a penny per
epistle"). Women servants who could read, much more write, in
that great, rich city were rare indeed. My hostess, widow of a
late préfet, kept a well-paid cook, also a housemaid.
The pair were both as illiterate as Hottentots.
All this belongs to the past. The noble dream of the
Convention has been realized in its entirety. The Ferry laws
of 1881 and 1882, for once and for all, have ensured for every boy
and girl born within the French dominions that greatest heritage, a
The following figures will show how the new state of things
has affected both pupils and pedagogues.
In every chef-lieu and commune numbering over 6,000
souls exists an upper and lower school for the people. The
former, called the école prima' supérieure, or collège
communal, was created so far back as 1833 by M. Guizot.
The Ferry decrees considerably increased the number of these upper
schools, as well as improving the condition of teachers. The
course of instruction in communal colleges is essentially practical,
being designed for those youths about to engage in commerce,
industry, or agriculture.
The maximum pay of schoolmasters in the primary school is
£104 a year, with allowance for lodging, making a sum-total of £136;
the minimum salary is £40, with £3 allowed for lodging. Women
teachers receive the same pay in elementary schools, but slightly
less in the communal colleges for girls. Masters and
mistresses alike must be provided with a certificate, the brevet
élémentaire sufficing for a post in the primary schools, the
brevet supérieure being necessary for the college communal.
It will be seen, then, that my Champennois acquaintances of half a
dozen years ago are in a very different position to the poor Angevin
pedagogue of 1876 with his miserable £30 a year. And from a
social point of view his advance has been far greater. Under
the reactionary MacMahon régime the instituteur was a
pariah, as I wrote at the time, "There is no one more liable to
censure and to political and social persecution; if not born a
trimmer, able to please everybody, he pleases nobody, and has a hard
time of it." If any reader doubts this assertion, I commend to
his notice the writings of the late Jules Simon.
THE evolution of
the French peasant is the history of modern France. In the
genesis of Jacques Bonhomme must be sought the origin of the Third
By bourgeois agency, in a single night the ancien
régime was swept into limbo, became the survival of an
irrevocable past. The legislators of the two Assemblies and
the Convention, with those of the present Palais Bourbon, belonged
to the middle and professional classes.
It was by peasant-born commanders that newly acquired
liberties were guaranteed, by recruits torn from the plough that the
combined forces of Europe were held at bay. To talk of "the
French peasant" is to express one's self loosely. Not for a
moment must we narrow the conception of Jacques Bonhomme to that of
our own Hodge, still, as fifty years ago, earning a weekly pittance,
and in old age depending on parish relief.
The French peasant possesses France. He may or may not
be in easy circumstances, happy, enlightened; he is neither the
degraded being portrayed by Zola and De Maupassant, nor perhaps the
ideal rustic of George Sand's fascinating page. We must know
him in order to get at the mean, to measure his qualities and
aptitudes. To appreciate him as a social and political force
personal acquaintance is not necessary; so much the history of the
salt thirty-five years teaches us. But for the invested
savings of the thrifty countryman, Thiers' task of liberating French
territory from the Prussian invader might have been indefinitely
prolonged. And since that terrible time, whenever the ship of
State has been in deadly peril Jacques Bonhomme has acted the part
of pilot bringing her safely to port, his rôle upon critical
occasions saving the Republic.
Readers of "La Terre" who do not know rural France must ask
themselves, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" The
peasant-born rulers, legislators, scientists, and litterati
of France, how are they to be accounted for? History affords
Recent examination of provincial archives shows us the slow
but steady evolution of the countryman. Rousseau's well-known
story of the peasant who, suspecting him to be a fiscal agent,
affected direst neediness, and on discovering his error repaired it
by open-hearted hospitality, was doubtless no exceptional case.
Despite exorbitant taxation and unimaginable hindrances alike to
material and moral advancement, here and there small owners and even
labourers educated their sons, dowered their daughters, and laid by
a little money.
In 1688 no less than forty-two sons of peasant proprietors
and day labourers attended the upper classes of the college of Le
Mans. In many communes, despite their fiscal and feudal
burdens, the inhabitants subscribed among themselves in order to pay
a schoolmaster. Many distinguished Frenchmen thus obtained
their first instruction, among these the erudite Mabillon, Villars,
the botanist of Dauphiné and Thénard, the eminent chemist, son of a
poor peasant. [p.218-1]
On this subject the testamentary documents and inventories preserved
in provincial archives are very illuminating.
Among the belongings of one day labourer in 1776 we find a
psalter and three books of "L'Imitation de Jésus Christ;" of
another, "Une Vie des Saints " and "Les Évangiles;" whilst a third
(Archives de l'Aube, 1772) was the possessor of two folios, viz. "L'Anatomie
de l'homme" and "Le véritable Chirurgien." A fourth possessed
a Latin dictionary, whilst musical instruments not infrequently
figure in these inventories. It will thus be seen that
anterior to the memorable Fourth of August the peasant was raising
himself and was awake to the value of instruction. He might
echo the refrain so popular in Auvergne—
"Le pauvre laboureur
Est toujours tourmenté,
Payant à la gabelle
Et les deniers un roi;
Toujours devant sa porte,
Garnison and sergent,
Qui crieront sans cesse,
Apportez de l'argent." [p.218-2]
But by dint of unimaginable thrift and laboriousness he
contrived to have something worth willing away.
Pre-revolutionary wills show a catholicity of sentiment undreamed of
in Zola's philosophy. A labourer in 1752, for instance, after
bequeathing the bulk of his little property to his children, leaving
four arpents [p.218-3]
of cultivable land to the village church, thereby assuring perpetual
masses for his soul and that of his wife, and remembers his
day-labourers and woman servant by gifts of money and clothes
(Archives de l'Aube).
Even dairymaids made their wills. Thus in 1685 a
certain Edmée Lambert, in the employ of Jacques Lajesse, estant
au liet malade, saine toutefois de bon propos, mémoirez et
entendement ("sick abed, but possessed of all her faculties"),
bequeaths a plot of ground and a crown (value from three to six
livres or francs) to her parish church, in order that perpetual
masses may be said for her soul; a panier à mouche [p.219-1]
to her master, for the trouble he had taken about her; "a second
panier à mouche to a young fellow-servant of the other sex," as
a token of friendship; "finally, the rest of her belongings, goods
and money, to the wife of a neighbour, "in consideration of her
goodwill and amity."
The testatrix being unable to write, the will was signed by
the curé in presence of two witnesses. These wills were always
drawn up by a notary and attested by two witnesses. "In
nomine Domini, Amen" was the invariable formula with which these
Equally instructive are marriage contracts. In 1611,
the brother of Jeanne Graveyron, on her marriage with a labourer,
gives her as dowry, five livres [p.219-2]
for the expenses of the wedding, thirty-five livres to keep, a bed,
bedstead with hangings and bedclothes, sundry kitchen utensils,
three new gowns, and a chest, fermant à clef (with lock and
key), containing personal and household linen. The daughter of
a labourer receives five measures of wine, four of wheat, and the
sum of ninety livres en dot et chancère [p.220]
pour tons ses droits paternels et maternels ("as a dowry,
paternal and maternal").
Such facts as these help us to understand the unique position
of the French peasant, no other country in the world showing his
compeer. From century to century, from generation to
generation, the rural population of France has been materially and
morally progressive. That at the present day sixty-three per
cent. of the inhabitants of communes numbering two thousand souls
and under should occupy houses of their own, bears out the first
position; that alike in statesmanship, arms, science, and letters
sons of peasants have risen to the first rank supports the latter.
Not all provinces show the same degree of intelligence and
well-being. Climate, soil, means of communication, differences
of tenure, affect the small farmer. Here we find comparative
wealth, there a struggle with inadventitious circumstances.
Thus the phylloxera brought about the temporary ruin of thousands,
the sum-total of loss reaching that paid into Prussian coffers after
the last war. There is indeed a gamut beginning with the
humble métayer but yesterday a hired labourer, and ending
with the wealthy owner of acres added to from year to year.
A contemporary novelist, in his sketches of rural life, draws
the mean between "La Terre" and George Sand's idylls. M. René
Bazin, in his "Terre qui meurt," however, writes with a purpose;
characterization plays a secondary part. This writer evidently
regards peasant property and peasant life as conditions on the wane.
And another well-known writer asserts that certain districts of
France are daily suffering more and more from depopulation. [p.221]
Year by year emigration citywards increases, and individualism, too,
is rather on the increase than otherwise.
Interrogated on this point, a large landowner in central
France thus lately expressed himself to me—
"I do not hold with M. René Bazin's views. On the
contrary, I rejoice that our young men show more initiative, more
readiness to quit the paternal roof and make their way elsewhere,
especially in the colonies; France has too long fostered inertness
and nostalgia. It is high time that our youth should manifest
more enterprize and independence."
The patriarchal order of things is not always ideal.
Thrift, too often taking the form of avarice, and paternal feeling
are among the peasant's foremost characteristics. Laborious
devotion to the patrimony of sons and successors is sometimes poorly
rewarded. Neither among the opulent nor toiling masses do
adulated children invariably prove dutiful. According to De
Maupassant and other writers of his school, exaggerated parental
fondness and self-sacrifice are frequently as pearls cast before
swine. The hoarder-up for sons and daughters in his old age
comes to be regarded as a burden. And in any case a burden
imposed by law, La dette alimentaire, Art. 205, 207 of the
Code Civil, not only obliges sons and daughters, but sons and
daughters in law, to support their parents and those of their
partners by marriage.
If Balzac, George Sand, and Zola have failed to portray the
French peasant as he is, how can a foreigner hope for success?
According to M. Octave Uzanne, Balzac, though a seer, an observant
genius, has here only partially succeeded; Zola in "La Terre," has
given us mere pitiful caricatures; George Sand, nineteenth-century
pastorals, vague, fanciful, imaginative.
I can only summarize the impressions of twenty-five years,
and speak of Jacques Bonhomme as I have found him.
It has been my good fortune and privilege to join hands with
the peasant folk of Anjou in the round, old and young footing it
merrily under the warm twilight heavens; to crown the little
lauréats, or prize-winners of communal schools; to witness
signatures and marriage registers in country churches; and to sit
out rustic wedding feasts, lasting four or five hours! Many
and many a time have I driven twenty miles across Breton solitudes,
my driver and sole companion being a peasant in blue blouse, his
bare feet thrust in sabots. Again and again has the small
farmer, or métayer, quitted his work in order to show me his
stock and answer my numerous and sometimes, I fear, indiscreet
questions. Often, too, have I sat down to the midday table
d'hôte of country towns on market days, the guests all belonging
to one class. Their Sunday suits of broadcloth protected by
the blue cotton blouse, sparing of words, swiftly degustating the
varied meal set before them, these farmers would put to and drive
home as soon as buying and selling were over, the attractions of a
fair proving no lure. And here, there, and everywhere on
French soil have I enjoyed rural hospitality. On the borders
of Spain, within a stone's throw of the new Prussian frontier, in
the vine-growing villages of Burgundy, and farmhouses of rich
Normandy, in scattered Cévenol homesteads, on the banks of the
Loire, the Marne, and many a beautiful river besides, in remote
Breton hamlets have I ever found cheery welcome and an outspread
board, humble or choice as the case might be. Whatever faults
he may or may not possess, the French peasant is hospitality itself.
I will here narrate a characteristic incident. A few years
since I revisited a little Norman town, and was anxious to call upon
a farmer and his wife living near who had shown me much kindness
when first staying in the neighbourhood. Not wishing to
surprise them at their midday meal, I lunched with my travelling
companion at a little inn, afterwards sitting on a bench outside
whilst our horse was being put to. A countrywoman, evidently a
farmer's wife, who was also awaiting her vehicle, sat near with her
"So you are going to see Madame C—?" she asked, after a
little chat; "an old friend of mine. But how sorry she will be
that you did not go to dinner!" she added; "that you should sit down
to table in an inn when you were only a mile and a half off!"
And true enough, our former hostess chided me with real
"You would have been so welcome to what we had," she said;
"not perhaps all that we should wish to set before friends, but,"
she added gaily, "when there is less to eat, one eats less, that is
The less was here, of course, used numerically, not standing
for a smaller quantity, but for fewer dishes.
A word here about the destitute and agèd poor. Whilst
in every French town we find handsome schools, generally a training
college for teachers, and museum as well, one suburban building to
which English eyes are accustomed is missing. The workhouse is
unknown. Asiles so-called, for homeless old people, and
orphanages for waifs and strays abound; these are the outcome of no
poor-law, instead the organization of Catholic charity, and entirely
under Catholic management, often mismanagement. Recent
revelations concerning the homes of the Bon Pasteur bear out this
It must not be inferred that the State is indifferent to its
least fortunate subjects.
Already in 1791 the care of the indigent and the infirm was
proclaimed a national charge by the Constituent Assembly. The
principle was not only upheld, but put into practice, by the
Convention; and, strange to say, many altruistic and hygienic
measures were carried out during the violent Hébertist period, among
these being the humane treatment of the insane, the teaching of the
blind by means of raised letters, and the deaf and dumb by lip
speech. In 1801 Napoleon, then First Consul, created a
Conseil général de l'Assistance publique, or body charged with
the administration of national relief. The budget devoted to
this purpose in 1904 reached the sum of 140 millions of francs, the
city of Paris alone spending fifty millions upon her sick, helpless,
and abandoned poor. But help can never be claimed by those
having children in a position to support them. In country
places, when such is not the case, and the matter is proved past
question, the commune acts the part of foster-parents, or, if a good
Catholic, the unfortunate burden on his fellows finds harbourage in
some orphanage of a religious house. I was once staying in an
Angevin village of a few hundred souls; only one inhabitant depended
upon communal aid. Peasant ownership and pauperism are
quarrelsome bedfellows. The small farmer may have to put up
with a shrewish daughter-in-law in his failing years. A
thousand times more endurable to his proud independent spirit the
Regan or Goneril of his own roof-tree than the soft-voiced sister of
a charitable house!
Dignity I should set down as the leading, the quintessential
characteristic of the French peasants; next to this quality, a
purely mental one—that of shrewdness, ofttimes carried to the point
of cunning; and thirdly must be put foresight, taking the form of
thrift. He is unique, a type apart. Jacques Bonhomme has
his faults and shortcomings with the rest of mortal born. He
may occasionally remind us of Zola's caricatures or De Maupassant's
scathing portraiture, rarely may we encounter George Sand's ideals.
But as a moral, intellectual, and social type, he stands alone, in
his person representing the homely virtues, the mental equilibrium,
the civic stability which, if they do not make, at least maintain,
the surpassing greatness of France.
RESTAURANT-KEEPING IN PARIS
THROUGHOUT a long
and varied experience of French life, I have ever made it my rule to
associate with all sorts and conditions of men. With no little
pleasure, therefore, I lately received the following invitation:—
"Our Marcel," lately wrote an old friend, "has just taken
over a large restaurant in Paris, and my husband and myself are
helping the young couple through the first difficult months.
Pray pay us an early visit when next here. We shall be
delighted to see you to déjeuner or dinner."
Madame J— mère, the writer of these lines, belongs to
a close ring, a marked class, to that consummate feminine type—the
French business woman. Search the world through and you will
not match the admirable combination, physical and mental powers
nicely balanced, unsurpassed aptitude for organization and general
capacity putting outsiders to the blush.
Well pleased with the prospect of fresh insight into
bourgeois life, a week or two later I started for Paris, my
first visit being paid to Marcel's restaurant. I had known the
young proprietor from his childhood, and Marcel he still remained to
What a scene of methodical bustle the place presented!
I was here in the region known as Le Sentier—that part of
Paris lying near the Bourse, made up of warehouses and offices, in
some degree answering to our own city.
It was now noon, the Parisian hour of déjeuner, for in
business quarters the midday meal is still so called, lunch being
adopted by society and fashionable hotels only. Marcel's
clientèle is naturally commercial and cosmopolitan. In
flocked Germans, Russians, Italians, Japanese, with, of course,
English. The Nijni Novgorod Fair could hardly be more of a
Babel. In a very short time the three large dining-rooms were
filled with well-dressed men and women of all nationalities; no
sooner one occupant throwing down his napkin than the linen of his
table being changed with what looked like legerdemain, a veritable
sleight-of-hand. That changing of napery for each guest
bespeaks the conduct of the restaurant. Here, indeed, and at a
few similar establishments in Paris, are to be had scrupulous
cleanliness and well-cooked viands of first-rate quality at the
lowest possible price.
One franc seventy-five centimes (one and five pence
halfpenny) is the fixed tariff both at déjeuner and dinner.
For this small sum the client is entitled to half a pint of a good
vin ordinaire, a hors d'oeuvre—i.e. bread and
butter with radishes, anchovies, or some other appetizing trifle—and
the choice of two dishes from a very varied bill of fare.
As I glanced at the list, I noted with some surprise that
many expensive meats were included—salmon, game, and poultry, for
instance. Monsieur J— père smilingly enlightened me on
"You should accompany me one morning at five o'clock to the
Halles," he said; "you would then understand the matter. Every
day I set out, accompanied by two men-servants with hand-trucks,
which they bring back laden—fish, meat, vegetables, eggs, butter,
poultry, and game. I buy everything direct from the vendors,
thus getting provisions at wholesale prices. Some articles are
always cheap, whilst others are always dear. I set one against
the other. Take soles, for instance: soles are always
high-priced in Paris, but at the markets the other day I bought up
an entire lot, several dozen kilos, and the consequence was that
they cost me no more than herrings!"
As monsieur and madame the elder and myself chatted over our
excellent déjeuner, the young master was busily helping his
waiters, whilst his wife, perched at a high desk, made out the bills
and received money. Folks trooped in and trooped out; tables
were cleared and re-arranged with marvellous rapidity. Waiters
rushed to and fro balancing half a dozen dishes on one shoulder, as
only Parisian waiters can, meals served being at the rate of two a
"Next in importance to the quality of the viands," my
informant went on, "is the excellence of the cooking. We keep
four cooks, each a chef in his own department, no apprentices, or
gâte-sauces, as we call them. One of our cooks is a
rôtisseur, his sole business being to roast; another is a
saucier, who is entirely given up to sauce-making—"
Here my old friend stopped, my intense look of amusement
exciting his own, and, indeed, the matter seemed one for mirth, also
for a humiliating comparison. Since the utterance of
Voltaire's scathing utterance, England pilloried as the benighted
country of one sauce, how little have we progressed! In a
London restaurant how many sauces could we select from in sitting
down to an eighteenpenny meal? Probably two or three, i.e.
mint-sauce in May and apple-sauce in October, throughout the rest of
the year contenting ourselves with melted butter. Truly, they
manage these things better in France. I dare aver that here
the thrice-favoured diner could enjoy a different sauce on each day
of the year. Again, I could not help making another
comparison. The unhappy rôtisseur! What a
terrible sameness, that perpetual roasting from January to December!
The saucier, on the contrary, must be set down as a highly
favoured individual, having a quite unlimited field for the play of
fancy and imagination.
"The third cooks vegetables, and the fourth prepares soups
and stews. Pastry and ices, being in comparatively small
demand, are supplied from outside. We employ four waiters—"
Here, a second time, I could not resist an ejaculation of
surprise. At least a score of the nimblest, most adroit beings
imaginable seemed on duty, so lightning-like their movements that
each, in a sense, quadrupling himself, appeared to be in several
places at once. That marvellous adjusting of a dozen dishes,
the shoulder doing duty as a dumb waiter, is another surprising
feat, perhaps explained as follows: A friend of my own attributes
French nimbleness to a difference in the seat of gravity. Why
do French folks never slip on floors and stairs, however highly
polished? Because, he says, their centre of gravity differs
from our own. Be this as it may, French plates and dishes,
when overturned, are attracted to the ground precisely like Newton's
"Our waiters receive wages," my informant went on, "and of
course get a great deal in tips, sometimes a hundred francs to
divide between them in a day. Out of this, however, they have
to pay for breakages, and immense numbers of plates and dishes are
smashed in the course of the year."
If Frenchmen can keep their feet under circumstances perilous
to the rest of the world, they are naturally not proof against
shocks. And in these crowded dining-rooms the wonder is that
accidents were not constantly occurring.
Déjeuner over, Madame J— mère
accompanied me for a stroll on the boulevard. What a
difference between the Paris Sentier and the London City!
The weather was neither balmy nor sultry, yet the broad
pavement of the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle was turned into a veritable
recreation ground. Here, in the very heart of commercial
Paris, as in the Parc Monceaux or the Champs Élysées, ladies and
nursemaids sat in rows, whilst children trundled their hoops or
played ball. So long as out-of-door life is practicable,
French folks will not spend the day within four walls, this habit,
perhaps, greatly accounting for the national cheerfulness.
Delightful it was to see how old and young enjoyed themselves amid
the prevailing noise and bustle, the enormously wide pavement having
room for all. The boulevard is, indeed, alike lounge,
playground, and promenade. On the boulevard is focussed the
life of Paris, and, to my thinking, nowhere is this life more worth
studying than in the immediate neighbourhood of the noble Porte St.
As we strolled to and fro I had a very interesting and
suggestive conversation with Madame J―, senior, and as her share of
it throws an interesting light upon French modes of thought, I
venture to repeat a portion.
"Yes," she said, "my husband and myself are both well pleased
with our daughter-in-law. She brought our son no fortune—"
"No fortune?" I interrupted, incredulously.
"That is to say, no fortune to speak of, nothing to be called
a dowry. When advising Marcel as to the choice of a wife we
did not encourage him to look out for money; on the contrary, whilst
he could have married into moneyed families, he chose, with our
approbation, a portionless girl, but one well fitted by character
and education to be an aid and companion to her husband.
Suppose, for instance, that he had married a girl, say, with capital
bringing in two or three thousand francs a year. She would
have been quite above keeping the books and living in the
restaurant, and most likely would have needed her entire income for
dress and amusements. No, it is very bad policy for a young
man who has his way to make to look out for a dot. I
have always found it so, more than one young man of my acquaintance
having been ruined by a pretentious and thriftless wife. My
daughter-in-law, as you see, takes kindly to her duties and
position. She is amiable, intelligent, and simple in her
habits. With such a wife Marcel is sure to get on."
For the next few years this young couple will give their
minds entirely to business, foregoing comfort, ease, and recreation
in order to insure the future and lay the foundations of ultimate
fortune. By-and-by, when affairs have been put on a sure
footing, they will take a pretty little flat near. Monsieur's
place will be occasionally taken by a head waiter; madame's duties
at the desk relegated to a lady book-keeper. English and
French ideals of life differ. To the French mind any
sacrifices appear light when made in the interest of the
future—above all, the future of one's children. Doubtless by
the time this young restaurateur and his wife have reached middle
age they will have amassed a small fortune, and, long before old age
overtakes them, be able to retire.
Let no one suppose that sordidness is the necessary result of
such matter-of-fact views. Here, at least, high commercial
standard and rules of conduct go hand-in-hand with uncompromising
laboriousness and thrift; for in France the stimulus to exertion,
the lodestar of existence, the corner-stone of domestic polity, is
concern for the beings as yet unborn, the worthy foundation of a
The super-excellent education now received by every French
citizen is not thrown away. I found restaurant-keeping by no
means incompatible with literary and artistic taste—an intelligent
appreciation of good books, good pictures, and good music.
On our return to the restaurant for tea, we found the large
dining-rooms deserted except for three somnolent figures in one
corner. One waiter was enjoying his afternoon out; his
companions were getting a nap, with their feet on chairs. All
was spick and span—in readiness for the invasion at six o'clock.
Meantime, we had the place to ourselves.
In the midst of our tea-drinking, however, a
gentlemanly-looking individual, wearing a tall hat and frock-coat,
entered, and, after a short colloquy with the young master, passed
"You would never guess that gentleman's errand," Marcel said,
smiling as he re-seated himself at the tea-table.
"He looked to me like a rather distinguished customer," I
replied; "some Government functionary on half-pay, or small
Marcel smiled again.
"That well-dressed gentleman, then, supplies us with
tooth-picks, which his wife makes at home. He calls once a
month, and our orders amount to about a franc a day. I dare
say he and his wife between them make from thirty to forty francs a
week, and contrive to keep up appearances upon that sum. It is
an instance of what we call la misère dorée" ("gilded
Truly one lives to learn. That retailer of curedents,
in his silk hat and frock-coat, was another novel experience of
Parisian life—an experience not without its pathos. I shall
not easily forget the gentlemanly-looking man with his long
favoris and his odd industry. I add that the Paris City—i.e.
Le Sentier—since July last has followed English initiative,
warehouses and offices being now closed herein from noon on Saturday
till Monday morning.
HOURS IN VAL-DE-GRACE
"I HATE sights,"
wrote Charles Lamb, and with myself the speech touches a sympathetic
chord. I do not suppose that I should ever have visited the
Church of Val-de-Grace; certainly I should never have crossed the
threshold of the great military hospital as a sightseer. But a
few years ago an old and valued friend was invalided within its
walls, and I ran over to Paris for the purpose of seeing him.
The handsome Romanesque Church of Val-de-Grace was built in the
reign of Louis XIV., and the hospital occupies the site of an
ancient abbey, but Napoleonic memories are recalled at every step.
As you approach the Observatoire a bronze statue meets your
eyes—that of "Le brave des braves," the lion-hearted Ney, who fell
here on a December morning in the year of Waterloo.
"Soldats, droit au cœur!" ("Soldiers, straight at the
heart!") he shouted, his last word of command as he confronted his
companions-in-arms charged with his execution.
In front of the hospital stands another and much finer
statue—David d'Anger's bronze figure of Larrey, Napoleon's army
surgeon. "The most virtuous man I ever met with," declared the
Emperor at St. Helena, when handsomely remembering him in his will.
Larrey was not only a great surgeon and the initiator of many
modern methods, he was a great moral inventor. Attached to the
Army of the Rhine in 1792, he thereupon organized the first
ambulance service introduced in warfare, later adopted throughout
Europe. After serving in twenty-five campaigns, including the
expedition to Moscow, and narrowly escaping with his life at
Waterloo, Larrey died at the post of duty in 1842. The
inspection of a fever hospital in Algeria brought on an illness
which terminated his noble career.
It was a bright afternoon in April when I paid my first visit
to Val-de-Grace. What a contrast did that gloomy interior
present to the sunny, animated, tumultuous world without! In
spring and early summer the Paris boulevards have very little in
common with the crowded thoroughfares of other cities. The
stately avenues of freshly budded green, the children making a
playground of the broad pavement, the groups of loungers quaffing
their coffee or lemonade amid oleander and pomegranate trees, the
gaily moving crowds, make up a whole impossible to match elsewhere.
"The cheerful ways of men" are more than cheerful here. One
feels exhilarated, one knows not why. Inexpressibly dreary
seemed the vast building in which my friend had spent many months.
"Il n'est pas bien gai ici" ("It is not very lively here"),
was all he said, as we sat down for a chat. The French soldier
never complains. The commandant's windows overlooked the
garden, now showing freshly budded foliage; sparrows twittered
joyously among the branches, sunshine flooded the place, yet nothing
could well be more depressing.
Sick and disabled soldiers sunned themselves on the benches
or hobbled up and down the straight walks. Here was a
white-faced convalescent recovering from malaria contracted in
Algeria, there a victim to acute sciatica brought on by exposure in
the French Alps; a third had been stricken by sunstroke in Tonkin; a
fourth had succumbed to fatigue during the last autumn's manœuvres;
the majority, as was the case with my friend, having sacrificed
health to duty in times of peace. There was indescribable
pathos in the aspect of these invalided soldiers.
In French civil hospitals the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul
add a picturesque element. At Val-de-Grace the nursing staff
consists entirely of men. Each officer who pays a certain sum
for accommodation has a soldier told off to wait upon him, often
some conscript who has chosen hospital service instead of life in
barracks. Medical students frequently serve their term as
nurses or attendants, the interval being utilized practically.
Seminarists also prefer the hospital to the camp.
The commandant's room was furnished with Spartan simplicity,
but doubtless with all that he wanted—an iron bedstead, an armchair,
a second chair for a visitor, pegs for coats and dressing-gowns, a
toilet table with drawers, a centre table on which lay a few
newspapers, a somewhat shabby volume of Herbert Spencer translated
into French, and another volume or two. Pianos are out of
place in a hospital, otherwise I should most certainly have found
here that incomparable lightener of gloom and solitude, my friend
being an enthusiastic musician. His long convalescence had
now—alas! for the time being only—come to an end, and he was shortly
about to resume his post in one of the provinces.
"The winter months seemed long. How I should have got
through them without my comrade D—'s visits Heaven only knows," he
said, adding sadly, "I shall never be able to repay such
This brother officer, now stationed in Paris, had been a
school and college comrade. The pair were knit by brotherly
affection, addressing each other with the charming "thee" and "thou"
of the Quakers. The one was in fine health, and rapidly rising
in his profession; the other's equally hopeful career had been
checked by illness contracted in discharge of his duties. No
shadow dimmed their friendship.
The commandant went on to tell me how hardly a winter day had
passed without D—'s cheery visit. No matter the weather—rain
might be falling in torrents, sleet and snow might be blinding, a
fierce east wind might make the strongest wince—at some hour or
other he would hear the thrice welcome footsteps outside, in would
burst his friend with cheery handshake and enlivening talk.
The long invalid's day was broken, whiffs from the outer world
cheered the dreary place, warm affection gladdened the sick man's
heart. Despite weather, distance, and the obligations of an
onerous service, his comrade made time for a visit. Making
time in this case is no misuse of words. Only those familiar
with military routine in France can realize what such devotion
really meant. An officer in garrison has comparatively an easy
time of it to that of his fellow-soldier in the bureau, whose work
is official rather than active. These indefatigable servants
of the State, from the highest to the most modest ranks, receive
very moderate emoluments, and voluntaryism is not compatible with
military discipline. Little margin of leisure is left to the
As I have said, French soldiers never complain. With
them the post of duty is ever the post of honour. The
commandant's terrible illness had been brought on by the supervision
of engineering works on the Franco-Italian frontier during an Arctic
"Climate, climate!" he said. "There is the soldier's
redoubtable enemy alike in times of war and peace. I started
on this survey in fine health, and returned a wreck. You see,
I had come from the south, and the change was too sudden and too
great. I was often obliged to start with my comrades for a
long drive at dawn and in an open vehicle amid blinding snow.
At other times we had to take bridle-paths on horseback, often a
little girl acting as guide. You may be sure we comforted the
poor child with food and hot wine at the first auberge reached, but
these dales' folk are a hardy race. What is a dangerous ordeal
to others is a trifle to them. I lost my health in those
regions. Mais que voulez vous? A soldier does not
choose his post."
During the following days we took several drives, the
sunshine, the April foliage, the general animation imparting
temporary oblivion of past sufferings and anxiety concerning the
future. It was something to feel that he would shortly be at
work once more, and if his strength should finally give way—"Alors,
le repos éternel," he would say with a sad smile.
Devoted to music, eminently sociable, largely endowed with
the French aptitude—rather, I will say, genius—for friendship, no
man was ever more fitted to enjoy life. In earlier years, as a
comrade had said of him, il était la gaieté même ("he had
been gaiety itself "). In these pleasant hours abroad the old
self came back; a more delightful cicerone in Paris you could not
have. We did not spend our time in sightseeing, but in the
forenoon strolled through the markets, revelling in the sight of
flowers, fruit, and vegetables, or, after déjeuner, chatted
over a newspaper in some square or public garden, and a cup of
coffee or glass of sirop and water on the boulevard, taking a long
drive or turning into some place of popular entertainment. My
short stay passed all too quickly, but we met elsewhere in the
autumn, and again and again would the old self come back.
But such gleams of revived health and spirits were
transitory. After a brief resumption of service the commandant
retired on half pay, not too long having to wait for le repos
éternel, so much more welcome to him than valetudinarianism and
enforced inactivity, the Legion of Honour his sole in
lifetime—strange to say, that reward not entitling him to a
There is something appalling in the expeditionsness with
which one's friends are hurried into the tomb in France. Three
months after spending some days near the invalid, and a few days
only after receiving a note from him, came tidings of last illness,
death, and interment, twenty-four hours only separating the last
two. And some months later I learned that an officer on half
pay, no matter how distinguished, is not entitled to burial in that
part of a cemetery set apart for military men. Unless a site
is purchased beforehand, or by his representatives, a military
funeral is followed by interment in the common burial-ground.
And this is what happened in my friend's case—a circumstance, I
hardly know why, filling me with hardly less sadness than the news
of his death itself.
But that lonely far-off grave is ever carefully tended, for
flowers and shrubs brighten it. From time to time a tiny
nosegay gathered therefrom reaches the home of his unforgetting
MY JOURNEY WITH MADAME LA PATRONNE
THE gist of
French travel, to my thinking, lies in French companionship.
Native eyes help to sharpen our own, and native wit enlivens every
passing incident. Incomplete, indeed, had been my own survey
of rural France without such aid and stimulus, and to no
fellow-traveller do I owe more than to the patronne of a
popular hotel "east of Paris." Our journey, moreover, was made
under circumstances so novel and piquant that it stands by itself.
A wife at sixteen, afterwards mother of several children, and
co-manageress with her husband of a large establishment by the time
she was barely of age, Madame C—'s aptitude for business and
organization would have been remarkable in any other country.
With Julius Cæsar this clearheaded little Frenchwoman—at the time I
write of middle-aged—could do three things at once; that is to say,
she could add up figures whilst giving orders to cook or
chambermaids and answering miscellaneous questions put by English
tourists. Interruptions that would prove simply maddening to
other folks did not confuse or irritate her in the very least.
Equally admirable was her dealing with practical details, the
discriminating choice of subordinates, methodical conduct of daily
routine, the thoroughness of her supervision. Let it not for a
moment be presumed that hotel-keeping and attention to maternal
duties shut out other interests. To the utmost she had
profited by an excellent middle-class education, was well versed in
French classic literature, could enjoy good music and art, and on
half-holidays would take her children to the magnificent town
museum, pour former leurs idées, in order to cultivate their
minds. That books were more to her than mere pastime the
following incident will show.
We were one day discussing favourite authors, when she told
me that during a recent convalescence she had re-read Corneille's
plays right through, adding—
"And in each discovering new beauties; it is the same with
all great writers."
The patronne of the Écu d'Or was not only charming
company, but a devoted friend; and when a few years ago I wanted a
fellow-traveller, I luckily bethought myself of my actual hostess.
The proposal was accepted. Monsieur, ever solicitous of his
wife's pleasure, cheerfully undertook double duty for a fortnight,
and in high spirits we set off.
It was, I believe, Madame C—'s first journey as a tourist
since her wedding trip, often the only trip of a busy Frenchwoman's
life. Perhaps had she overrun Europe after the manner of the
modern globe-trotter, she would not have proved so genial and
informing a companion. No one can really love France or
appreciate French scenery like a native. A close and accurate
observer, Madame C—, whilst perpetually increasing her own
knowledge, was ever pointing out features I might otherwise have
missed. Again, when she criticized, it was without the
superciliousness of foreign observers. Meantime, the weather
was perfect. Never had the Burgundian landscape looked richer
or more glowing; never were travellers more enticingly beckoned
onward by vista after vista of vine-clad hills, sunlit valleys, and
blue mountain range.
The kind of freemasonry that binds professional bodies
together exists among members of what is called in France le haut
commerce, or more important commercial ranks. On arriving
at our destination in Savoy I soon discovered this, and that, as I
have said, however delightful French travel may be with a
sympathetic English friend, native companionship introduces a novel
and highly agreeable element. The mistresses of the Écu d'Or
and Lion Rouge now met for the first time, but their husbands had
corresponded on business matters, their callings were identical, and
general circumstances on a par. Children on both sides proved
a further bond of union. Intercourse was straightway put on
the footing of old acquaintanceship. As warm a welcome was
extended to myself, and such friendliness amazingly transforms the
atmosphere of a big hotel. Our hostess's husband being absent,
her time was more taken up than usual, and the greater part of our
own was spent abroad. We took our meals in the public
dining-room, ordering what we wanted as any other tourists would
have done. Yet somehow we seemed and felt at home. And
most instructive to me were the confabulations of the two ladies
when leisure admitted of tea or coffee in Madamle F—'s cosy little
bureau, or office and parlour combined. What most
struck me about these prolonged chats was the sense of parental
responsibility shown by these busy mothers. Madame C— had
three boys, Madame F— a marriageable daughter, the group forming an
inexhaustible topic. The various aptitudes and temperaments of
each child, the future, after most careful deliberation, marked out
for them, were discussed again and again. One remark my friend
of the Écu d'Or made about her two elder sons impressed me much,
evincing, as it did, a painstaking study of character from the
"My husband and I had wished to set up Pierre and Frédéric in
business together," she said, "but we find as they grow older that
natures so opposite as theirs would never harmonize. Some
young people are improved by coming into contact with their
antipodes, but the experiment would not answer with our boys.
I have watched them both narrowly, and am convinced that they will
be better apart."
No less circumstantial was the patronne of the Lion
Rouge regarding her eighteen-year-old Marie.
As I listened I got no mere glimpse, but real insight into
bourgeois ideals of the daughter, wife, mother, and very worthy
ideals they were. Marie's education had been, first and
foremost, practical. The practical element in a French lycée
for girls is much more conspicuous than in our own high schools, and
the lycée now has very largely supplemented the more restricted
education of the convent school. Especially insisted upon in
the curriculum are such subjects as book-keeping and domestic
management, both highly important to a girl destined for active
life. Trades as well as professions are often hereditary.
Mademoiselle Marie had just returned from a year's stay in an
English business house, and already took her turn at the desk.
In due time she would replace the young lady caissière, or
clerk, and most probably marry a hotel-keeper.
These maternal colloquies brought out more than one French
characteristic very forcibly. In forecasting the future of
their children, parents leave the least possible to chance. A
happy-go-lucky system is undoubtedly better suited to the
Anglo-Saxon temperament. The more methodical French mind does
not rebel against routine. Inherited prudence, an innate habit
of reasoning, avert such conflicts as under the same circumstances
would inevitably occur among ourselves.
After discussing sons and daughters, the two ladies would
discuss their husbands, or rather take each other—and myself—into
the happiest confidences. Madame C—, I knew well, owned a
partner in every way worthy of her; the same good fortune had
evidently fallen to Madame F—'s share. Hard were it to say
which of the two waxed the more enthusiastic on the topic.
Sentimentality is foreign to the national character, but these
matrons, mothers of youths and maidens, now became tearfully
eloquent. Glad indeed I felt that the master of the Lion Rouge
remained absent. The excellent man in person must have proved
a disillusion—have fallen somewhat short of his wife's description!
Many other suggestive conversations I heard in that little
parlour, but I must now relate by far the most interesting
particular of this journey —the incident, in fact, which made it
Like Falstaff, I ever—when possible—take my ease at mine inn.
Madame of the Écu d'Or had mentioned this little weakness to Madame
of the Lion Rouge, and accordingly the best rooms on the first floor
were assigned to us, the choicest wines served. During our
several days' stay we enjoyed not only the cordiality of
acquaintanceship, but all the comfort and luxury the hotel could
afford. What was my dismay, on applying for our bill, to learn
that none was forthcoming! Quite useless for me to
expostulate! Monsieur C— and Monsieur F— had transacted
business together; I was Madame C—'s friend. Both of us had
been received, and could only be received, on the footing of welcome
guests and old acquaintances.
Argument after argument I tried in vain. There remained
nothing for me to do but accept such generous hospitality in the
spirit with which it was accorded. To have acted otherwise
would have in the last degree outraged French susceptibilities.
And afterwards, when asking my travelling companion how best to show
my appreciation, her answer was characteristic.
"Send an English book, one of your own novels, to
Mademoiselle Marie; on no account anything more costly, or it would
look like payment in kind." Which advice I followed.
Nor was our journey in Dauphine without evidence of this
freemasonry. The patronne of the Écu d'Or seemed able
to traverse France like the guest of Arab tribes, viceregally
franked from place to place. As the sordid rather than the
generous qualities of their compatriots are insisted upon by French
novelists, such incidents are worth recording. On the whole,
too, I am told on excellent authority that hotel-keepers in France,
as a rule, do not make large fortunes. Their expenses are too
great, and, excepting in large commercial centres and health
resorts, their clientèle is not rich enough to admit of high
charges. Only by dint of incessant attention to business and
rigid economy can the bourgeois ideal be obtained—retirement,
a suburban villa, and a garden.
I here add that, apart from national cleverness and capacity,
I think two circumstances greatly account for the success of
commercial houses under feminine management. The first is the
admirable clearness with which arithmetic is taught and the
prominence given to book-keeping in girls' schools in France.
The second is concentration of purpose, a single aim. The
matron has in view her children and grandchildren; the paid
manageress her own independence. One and all have ever the
future before them. They bend their undivided energies to the
day's work, not for the sake of to-morrow's pleasure or relaxation,
but of ultimate to-morrows, or aspirations inseparable from national
character. Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice is not the
dream of the French bourgeois; instead, the modest
existence assurée, a life free from pecuniary anxiety, advancing
years spent in solvent dignity and comfort.
THE LYCÉE FÉNELON FOR GIRLS
A GENERATION ago
the education of French girls was far behind that of England and
Germany. I have no hesitation to-day in affirming its
superiority to both Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic systems.
My convent-bred contemporaries in France, nay, younger women
whose studies were but beginning when their own had long since
ended, would treat their education as a subject of gentle irony.
"What did I learn at the convent, you ask me?" said one dear
old friend to me some years since. "Absolutely nothing."
And another convent-bred friend, the other's junior by thirty
years, by this time a wife and mother, informed me that she was
sedulously applying herself to the study of history.
"Would you believe it?" she said, smiling, "in my convent
French history stopped short at the Revolution, for us it ended with
the ancien régime!"
The convent school was simply a school of manners. With
M. Turveydrop, the teachers' business was solely to polish, polish,
polish. A little French literature, a little music, perhaps a
little drawing, were thrown into the bargain. If pupils
quitted the place ignorant as they had come, they at least acquired
habits of self-possession, a faultless deportment, and scrupulous
attention to minutiæ of dress, speech, and behaviour.
What must be regarded as a drawback to the lycée will be
mentioned in its proper place.
When M. Hanotaux's work on contemporary France attains the
colophon, we shall be in a position to appraise the Third Republic
as an intellectual force. No sooner was French soil rid of the
invader, the army re-organized, the war indemnity had been paid into
German coffers, and on September 16, 1873, the last detachment of
Prussian troops saluted the tricolour on the frontier near Verdun,
than reforms began in earnest. The re-organization of the
army, the raising of the French colonial empire to the second in the
world, financial, municipal, and legislative reforms, were worthily
crowned by the great Educational Acts, or Ferry laws, of 1881 and
1882. Popular education as projected by the Convention eighty
years before now became a fact. Primary schools, lay,
gratuitous, and obligatory, were opened in every commune throughout
the country, and by the creation of the lycée for girls two rival
camps were brought together; in the noble words of Gambetta—"French
youths and maidens would henceforth be united by the intellect
before being united by the heart." The reign of smatterings
and polish, polish, polish was doomed.
The lycée de filles has no counterpart in England.
A foundation of the State, a dependence of the University of France,
a body subsidized alike by the Government and by municipalities,
every member of the various staffs is a civil servant. With
not a few Frenchmen, we are apt to rail at such instances of
centralization. The results are what we have to consider, and
the inspection and study of a lycée will eradicate many prejudices.
If a hard-and-fast rule of uniformity governs this
administrative department as any other, if voluntaryism is rigidly
excluded, it must be borne in mind what voluntaryism had cost the
country before the Ferry laws. Until 1881 both men and women
could teach provided only with the so-called lettre d'obédience,
or pastoral letter signed by the bishop—no certificate whatever of
competence, merely a testimony to good conduct and submission to
Under the stately ægis of the University of France, the
French girl is protected from incapacity, favouritism, or
misdirected patronage. The only title of admission to
professional chair or to an inferior post is tried capacity.
From the modestly paid surveillante, or supervisor of
studies, to madame la directrice, or the lady principal, and
certified lady teachers, the entire staff is responsible to the
vice-recteur of the Académie de Paris. Here I may mention
that there are sixteen académies in France, all affiliations
of the university, the head of the university being the Minister of
By the courteous permission of the vice-recteur of the
Sorbonne, I was lately not only enabled to see over the magnificent
Lycée Fenelon in Paris, but to be present during several lessons.
In this vast congeries of buildings, annexe after annexe having been
added to the ancient Hôtel de Rohan, five hundred and odd pupils
from six to seventeen are accommodated with thirty agrégées—that
is to say, ladies who have passed the examinations obligatory on
professors teaching in a lycée, or Faculté, or school of art,
science, or literature.
Unlike the lycée for boys, that for girls is exclusively a
day school. Pupils living at a distance can have a midday meal
and afternoon collation on the premises, but the State holds itself
responsible to parents no farther. Omnibuses do not collect
the children and take them home as is the case with convent schools.
A new experience was it to see little girls of twelve, or even
younger, deposit their pass ticket with the porter and run home
unattended as in England.
I was assured that the habit is on the increase, and as many
professional and middle-class families in Paris keep no servant,
great must be the relief of this innovation to over-worked mothers.
Indeed, the excessive supervision of children in France has ever, of
course, been a matter of money and circumstances.
An amiable young surveillante, or supervisor of
studies and playground, etc., acted as my cicerone, explaining
everything as we went along. Quitting the porter's lodge and
large waiting-room, we entered the recreation ground, a fragment of
the fine old garden in which contemporaries of Madame de Sévigné
once disported themselves, now noisy with romping children.
Class-rooms and refectories opened on to the gravelled spaces and
shady walks, here and there lady professors taking a stroll between
lesson and lesson.
Ascending a wide staircase, relic of former magnificence,
with elaborate iron hand-rail, we zigzag through the labyrinthine
congeries of buildings, now looking into one class-room, now into
another. In some of these, fine mouldings and ceilings remind
us that we are in what was once a splendid mansion of the
Renaissance. The sight of each room made me long to be a
schoolgirl again. Instead of receiving stones for bread and
thistles for figs, the use of the globes, Mangnall's questions, and
the like, a mere simulacrum of instruction, how delightful to be
taught by the competent, to be made to realize our great thinker's
axiom—knowledge is seeing!
In one class-room, or rather laboratory a young lady
professor was preparing her lesson on chemistry. Very
business-like she looked in along brown linen pinafore like a
workman's blouse, as she moved to and fro, now fetching a retort,
now some apparatus or substance for her demonstration. Great
prominence is given to the study of elementary science in the lycée
curriculum. Elsewhere we just glanced into a classroom where a
second science mistress was lecturing on physics with practical
illustrations. In yet a third room, a vase of freshly gathered
wild flowers betokened a forthcoming lesson on botany.
"Our pupils delight in their lessons on natural history,"
said my cicerone, as with natural pride she showed me the school
museum, a small but comprehensive collection of stuffed animals,
birds, and skeletons, scientifically classified, and constantly
enlarged by friends and scholars.
One feature that more particularly interested me was a small
room containing specimens of the pupils' work—delicately adjusted
scales and weights, thermometers, and other mechanical appliances
made by little girls unassisted. Here indeed was a proof
positive that with the young lycéenne—knowledge is seeing.
About twenty-five girls form a class, those attending the French
lesson I was permitted to hear being from eleven to thirteen.
Very much alive looked most of these little maidens, all wearing the
obligatory black stuff pinafore fastened round the waist, and having
long sleeves, many with their hair dressed à la infanta of
Velasquez—that is to say, hanging loose, and knotted on one side
with a ribbon; not a few still in socks! French girls, indeed,
often go bare-legged and in socks till they are almost as tall as
Dictation and grammatical analysis are subjects naturally
less attractive than chemical experiments or a lesson on field
flowers. More than once the lady professor was obliged to call
some laggard to order; one, indeed, she sharply threatened with
dismissal on account of inattention. But on the whole I should
say the class was a very intelligent one, and two or three girls of
eleven or twelve, called up for examination, showed a really
remarkable mastery of syntax.
An admirable English lesson, given by a thoroughly capable
French lady, was another interesting experience. Of the
twenty-five pupils, their ages being the same as those of the former
class, about a third, not more, showed lively interest in the study.
Two or three, indeed, made a not unsuccessful attempt to tell the
story of Whittington and his cat in English! One bright little
girl of twelve seemed ahead of all the rest. On the
disadvantage of employing French professors of modern languages in
lycées, both for boys and girls, there at first sight would seem to
be but one opinion. No amount of erudition and experience can
surely here atone for the sine quâ non of fitness, namely,
native idiom and accent, that vitality in language hardly less
individual and racial a matter than physical idiosyncrasy.
The exclusion of foreign professors from State schools became
law after the Franco-Prussian war, the measure being solely directed
against Germans. At the present time I believe the measure is
partly protective, in the interest of the excessive number of native
teachers, and partly pedagogic, viz. in the interest of the
scholars. And as a French friend writes on the subject "It is
my firm conviction that foreign professors should never be employed
unless they can speak French fluently and without accent.
Otherwise they are not respected by their pupils, and fail to
exercise the desired authority."
Where, indeed, would these be found? Is it not for a
similar reason that English professors of French and German are
engaged for our own public schools? What seems at the onset a
defect may therefore be a necessity.
The immense importance attached to the teaching of science
more than compensates for any linguistic drawbacks. The French
mind is naturally acquisitive and logical, instruction here so
directly appeals to natural aptitude, that great things may be
expected from the future. Already we find Frenchwomen coming
to the fore in scientific discovery, law, medicine, and literature.
The lycée fosters inclination for studies hitherto considered the
province of the other sex. In the programme before me I find
that students of the second division, i.e. girls from twelve
to seventeen, are taught the following subjects, two or three being
optional, and the complete course occupying five years: La morale,
moral science, general history, German or English (in departments
bordering on Spain and Italy, Spanish and Italian replace these),
domestic economy and hygiene, common law, natural history, physics,
chemistry, geometry and the elements of algebra. French
language and literature, drawing, solfeggio, with gymnastics,
needlework including cutting out, are added; also a dancing-class
and practical lessons in cookery, these being an extra charge.
In the preparatory class, i.e. for girls from six to twelve,
the fees amount to 200 francs, just £8 a year, with an extra charge
of £6 for pupils preparing their lessons under the supervision of a
répétitrice, or under-teacher; in the second division the
charges are from £10 to £12, the same sum as in the first being
charged for what is called the externat surveillé.
Before quitting the Lycée Fénelon I sent in my card to
madame la directrice, who received me most cordially, saying
that, with the permission of M. le Vice-Recteur, she should at any
time cordially welcome myself or friends. I mention this fact
to show how the principle of authority is insisted upon in every
administrative department of France.
"Take but degree away, untune that
And hark! what discord follows! Each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy."
In these words we have the key of that centralization so
incomprehensible to ourselves, but which works so satisfactorily in
France. The vast administrative machine moves apparently by
itself, unhinged by outward events however disturbing.
A boarding-house at St. Mande, within half an hour's distance
from the lycée, was opened in 1903. Here bathrooms, tennis
court, croquet ground, and other modernities are offered on moderate
As I was unable to visit this establishment, I will give some
particulars of a boarding-house for girl-students at Toulouse
visited some years since.
I arrived, unfortunately, during the long vacation, but a
young lady teacher in residence kindly showed me over the house, or
rather block of buildings, standing amid pleasant wooded grounds.
Although we were as yet only midway through September, from attic to
basement every corner was spick and span. In the vast
dormitory of the upper school, I was, alas! reminded of the lycée
for boys. Here were no less than thirty compartments or
cubicles containing bed and toilet requisites, whilst at the upper
end of the room, commanding a view of the entire length, was the bed
of the surveillante, or under-mistress. Sleeping or
waking, the lycéenne, like the lycéen, was here under perpetual
supervision. In other respects the arrangements seemed
The lycée of Toulouse, like those of other provincial cities,
is a dependence of the State, the department, and the municipality.
Thus, whilst the programme of studies is drawn up by the M. le
Recteur of the Toulouse Académie, the boarding-house just described
is authorized by the town council, and the prospectus is signed by
the mayor. Every detail, therefore, alike scholastic and
economic, must receive the sanction of these respective authorities.
How deep is the interest in secondary education the following
citation will demonstrate: "At a sitting of the Conseil Municipal of
December 29, 1887"—I quote from the prospectus of the
boarding-house—"it was decided that a graduated reduction should be
made for two, three, or four sisters, a fifth being received
entirely free of charge." It would be interesting to learn how
often this generous privilege has been enjoyed.
The charges both for school and boarding-house are about a
third cheaper in the provinces than in Paris. The curriculum
embraces the same subjects with occasional deviations. Thus,
at Toulouse, on account of geographical position, Spanish may
supplant German or English. Religious teaching in every lycée
is left entirely to parents.
LA MAISON PATERNELLE, OR REFORMATORY FOR YOUNG
WE are all
familiar with the advertisements of schoolmasters and private tutors
undertaking to control and amend idle or unruly lads.
Incorrigible ne'er-do-wells of our own upper classes are summarily
packed off to the colonies. Very different are French methods.
The Code Civil, based on Roman law, places drastic measures within
reach of French parents and guardians, and a brief account of the
system pursued in dealing with rich prodigals over the water will
not, perhaps, prove without interest. It is now many years
since I visited the great agricultural and industrial reformatory,
or colonie, as the place is euphemistically called, of
Mettray, near Tours.
A little removed from the vast congeries of dwellings,
workshops, and farm buildings stood a pretty Swiss châlet.
This, our guide informed my fellow-traveller and myself, was the
Maison Paternelle, another euphemism for what was in reality a
refined sort of prison. Thither, we learned, incorrigibly idle
or vicious lads of the better classes were sent for terms varying
from one to six months, and kept in strict confinement.
We were obligingly allowed to inspect the house, which
outside looked quite attractive, and within was what might be called
a gilded cage, a genteel prison; once the key turned upon a captive,
he was here as completely embastille as in the Bastille
itself! The cells varied in size, furniture, aspect and
decoration, carpets, curtains, a pretty view, and other luxuries
adorning those of what, for want of an exact term, I will call
first-class misdemeanants. But one feature characterized all.
In the door of each cell was a pane of glass admitting of perpetual
espial. Like Cain in Victor Hugo's fine poem, the prisoner was
ever followed by an inquisitional eye.
The key and the peep-hole somewhat discounted our cicerone's
glowing appreciation of the Maison Paternelle as a reforming
medium. We refrained, however, from criticism till
breakfasting with M. Demetz, the founder of Mettray, and the
originator of the Maison Paternelle. We had reached the
colonie soon after eight o'clock in the morning, and M.
Demetz, who lived in the midst of his children, as he called the
outcasts and prodigals, breakfasted at the early hour of ten.
In a simple yet elegant home, a charming hostess in the person of
the Countess, our host's daughter, and, unnecessary to add, a
déjeuner of many courses, all perfectly cooked, awaited us.
One saw at a glance that M. Demetz was a born apostle of
humanity; also that, although devoting himself to the humblest and
least admirable of his kind, he had consorted with choicest spirits.
Past middle age, refined in feature, of exquisite urbanity,
his face lighted up with rare enthusiasm when on the topic of his
Maison Paternelle. Eloquent as he became, neither my
friend, who was also a philanthropist and educationalist, nor myself
were won over to the peep-hole and the key. We quitted Mettray
smiling at what we deemed a good man's hobby.
We were wrong. The excellent M. Demetz has long since
gone to his rest, my travelling companion, Madame Bodichon, the
gifted foundress of Girton, has followed him to the grave. The
Maison Paternelle, founded forty-eight years ago, not only
exists, but has more than justified the confidence of its projector.
The tiny Swiss châlet is now replaced by a commodious house,
fitted up with all modern requirements, and having accommodation for
upwards of fifty inmates. What was formerly a tentative, a
modest enterprise, is now an important organization, managed by a
board of directors, and having a staff of university professors.
During the year 1900 no less than forty-six youths of wealthy
parents were consigned to Mettray for shorter or longer periods by
their parents and guardians. Methods have not changed with
conditions. The system pursued by M. Demetz in dealing with
idle or ill-conducted youths is still rigidly adhered to, its
efficacy being borne out by results.
For an understanding of French institutions we must
familiarize ourselves with the Code Civil. Here are the
clauses by virtue of which parents can thus sequestrate their
"Art. 375. A father having very serious grounds
for dissatisfaction concerning the conduct of his child, has at
command the following means of correction.
"Art. 375. If the child is under sixteen, a father can have
him put in confinement for a period not exceeding one month, and the
President of the Tribunal of his arrondissement will, at his
demand, deliver an order of arrest.
"Art. 377. From his sixteenth year until attaining his
majority, a child may be imprisoned for a period not exceeding six
months; his father must apply to the President of the Tribunal, who,
after conferring with the Procureur of the Republic, will either
deliver or refuse an order of arrest, and in the first case can
shorten the period of detention.
"Art. 378. In neither case is there any judicial formality or
written document necessary beyond that of the order of arrest, and a
declaration of the reasons thereof. A father is obliged to pay
all expenses of his son's food, or any other expense attached to his
These conditions must be strictly complied with by parents
sending their sons to the Maison Paternelle; but, as the
President's order for incarceration, the only document necessitated
by the proceedings, is burnt after each inmate's departure, no
unpleasant reminder can be brought against him. His name does
not figure on the criminal list. M. Demetz' idea was,
therefore, an ingenious application of the above articles of the
Code Civil, and the reports [p.259-1]
in my hands bear ample testimony to its success.
Before giving citations from these most curious reports, it
is necessary to describe M. Demetz' methods.
The keynote of his system is based upon the reflective
character of the French nation. "We reason more than we
imagine," writes the first living philosopher of France, [p.259-2]
"and what we imagine best is not the world of exteriors, but the
inner world of sentiment, and, above all, of thought."
An unremitting appeal to the reasoning faculty, persuasion,
kindness, and solitude—such are the influences brought to bear upon
insubordination, indolence, and vicious habits.
From the moment of arrival to that of departure, an inmate of
the Maison Paternelle sees no one but his attendant (the word
gardien being substituted for that of geôlier), his
professors, the chaplain, and the director. So complete is the
isolation of each prisoner that two brothers, confined at the same
time, have from first to last remained in ignorance of each other's
presence. Inmates are known to the household staff by numbers
only. The director alone knows each by name.
It was M. Demetz' opinion that a habit of reasoning is
induced by solitude. Hence his insistence on this point.
It must be borne in mind that the Maison Paternelle is
essentially an educational establishment. Incorrigible
idleness seems to be the principal cause of incarceration, and one
interesting fact testifies to M. Demetz' perspicacity as a
psychologist. "Whilst success has not always crowned our
efforts in cases of moral perversity," writes the director in his
last report, "from an intellectual point of view we have never
failed." In other words, reflection has proved an apt monitor,
where the head rather than the heart has been at fault. Of
twenty-six students going up in 1892, 1893, and 1894, eighteen
passed their examination of baccalauréat. A new-comer
is straightway conducted to one of the smallest and barest cells.
If he becomes violent or despairing, efforts are made to soothe and
encourage him; he is told that no constraint will be put upon his
inclination, but that as soon as he wishes to set to work professors
are at hand, who desire nothing better than to forward his progress.
When reflection brings a better mind, his cell is changed for one
more cheerful and comfortable, his improvement is furthered to the
utmost by those about him; exceptionally good conduct and extra
diligence are rewarded by excursions in the neighbourhood, and even
visits to the historic chateaux of Touraine. In addition to
the usual programme of studies, the youthful prisoner receives
religious instruction and lessons in gymnastics, swimming, fencing,
riding, and music. Every fortnight reports of health and
progress are sent to parents and guardians.
The expenses of such an establishment are necessarily high,
only professors of very special attainments being employed, and the
number of pupils varying from year to year. An attendant, or
gardien, moreover, is attached to each youth, this person's
business being to accompany him in his walks, supervise his conduct
generally, and serve his meals. Under the circumstances the
following fees will not seem excessive: An entrance fee of 100
francs (£4), 250 francs per month is paid for inmates preparing for
elementary examinations, and 300 for those aspiring to the
baccalauréat. A sum of 500 francs on account must be paid
on entry of a pupil. English and German or any other foreign
language, music, drawing, and dancing are extras; also books,
stationery, and drawing-materials are charged for. No uniform
is worn by inmates. Smoking is strictly forbidden, also the
possession of money. Each inmate walks out for an hour a day,
a payment of half a franc daily entitles him to a second hour's
walk. This charge helps to defray the salary of an attendant.
On the eve of his discharge, the penitent prodigal is taken
into the cellule de réintégration, i.e. the
prison-like cell of refractory inmates; he there signs a solemn
promise to refrain from evil or idle courses in the future.
The cellule de réintégration serves as a reminder that, if a
second time he is consigned to the Maison Paternelle, he must
expect severer treatment than before.
As might naturally be expected the majority of youthful
ne'er-do-wells in France, incorrigibly lazy, and the loafers are
sons of widows. Children as a rule are mercilessly—the word is
fit—spoiled in France, and especially is to be pitied the fatherless
lad, the "lord of himself, that heritage of woe." One mother
thus wrote to the director of Mettray: "I see but too well,
monsieur, that my own weakness has caused all the mischief, and that
I deserve to occupy a cell as well as my son. I beseech you,
come to my aid, help me to recover that authority I have allowed to
be set at defiance."
I will now give some brief extracts from the reports before
named; also from a paper on the subject contributed to the
Journal des Débats. [p.262]
Here is the letter of a fiery youth to his father on learning
of the paternal intentions—
"It has just come to my knowledge that you intend to shut me
up in a house of detention, in order that willy nilly I pursue my
studies. Take note of this. Before Heaven I swear never
to touch a pen for the purpose of work, never to open a book with
similar intention, so long as I remain a prisoner. However
hard to bear may prove incarceration, no matter to what indignities
or punishments I am subjected, my mind is made up my will is
indomitable. I have already acquired quite enough for the
fulfilment of an honourable career. I am, forsooth, to be
imprisoned, dishonoured? We shall see the result."
Six months later the young man thus addressed the director—
"On the eve of quitting the Maison Paternelle, I
cannot help sending you a few lines expressive of my gratitude.
"It is owing to you, monsieur, and to my professors here,
that I have now completed my studies, having learned more in six
months under this roof than I should have done in two years
"Rest assured, monsieur, that I carry away with me the best
possible remembrance of the Maison Paternelle; no apter name
could be given to this house. Here I have
learned—unfortunately, for the first time in my life—to reflect.
I have been taught to see the serious side of life and my
obligations as a social being. Thus I am deeply grateful for
all the care bestowed upon me, and the interest taken in my progress
by the professors. This is no adieu, merely an assurance of my
esteem and gratitude."
Another impetuous youth immediately after incarceration
writes as follows to the director—
"MONSIEUR LE DIRECTEUR,
"If I should say that I intend to work here and atone for the
faults of which I am accused, I should tell a lie, and lying I
"I will then tell you the truth, which is, that if I am not
sent home within six days I will destroy myself. Know,
monsieur, that I am capable of anything."
The above is dated May 18, 1887. The following bears
date August 13 of the same year:—
"MONSIEUR LE DIRECTEUR,
"Three months have now elapsed since I became an inmate of
the Maison Paternelle, and I do not know in what terms to
express my sense of indebtedness to you and of all the advantage I
have gained by my stay.
"Forget, I entreat you, Monsieur le Directeur, my first
letter. Rest assured that I bitterly regret having penned it.
As for myself, I shall never forget what I owe you. You have
made me a wholly different being. I am very sorry that you are
away just as I am leaving; but if I fail in my examination I promise
to come back."
The following, dated April 26, 1887, from another inmate, is
more curious still:—
"MONSIEUR LE DIRECTEUR,
"Notwithstanding the proposals of my parents and their wish
to see me go back to college, and having well considered the matter
and reflected on my past career as a student, I have decided to pass
the three months before going up for my examination at Mettray, the
only place in which I have really made good use of my time. I
trust that no objection will be made to my return, and beg for the
favour of an early reply.
"Pray give my grateful remembrances to my professors and the
I cannot refrain from a few more citations.
P. D. G. writes to the director in 1898, "Would you kindly
send me some photographs of the colonie and the Maison Paternelle
(three francs enclosed for the same), especially of the interior, in
which last year, alas! I spent four months, quitting it, thank God,
a reformed being. These photographs will remind me of a place
once inwardly cursed by me, but now a source of self-congratulation
since to Mettray I owe my bettered self."
A grateful father thus expresses himself: "I am happy to
inform you, Monsieur le Directeur, that after quitting the Maison
Paternelle our René passed three months in Germany, returning
with a considerable knowledge of German (un bagage sérieux
d'allemand). He now attends the Lycée Jeanson, and is
first of thirty-seven in the fourth class. Thus you see that I
have every reason to be thankful for the pains taken with my son
whilst in your hands."
Many "old boys" send donations towards improvements of the "Paternelle,"
as they affectionately call their former prison, and one showed his
attachment to the place by visiting it in later years accompanied by
It would seem as if idleness and its corrective, the faculty
of reflection, were in part hereditary. In any case the son of
a whilom inmate was placed in the Maison Paternelle by his
No less interesting than the letters just cited, selections
from a vast number, are the monographs or character sketches drawn
up by M. Gilbert, Préfet des Études. A perusal of these
carefully drawn-up human documents suggest the inquiry, How far
might the individualizing of criminals work out reform?
A distracted father begged the director to receive his son, a
lad who had been expelled from college after college, and who had
proved refractory alike to threats and entreaties.
Here is the youth's description from a psychological point of
view: "He belonged to that class of pupils who delight in nothing so
much as preventing others from work and upsetting order in a
class-room. Intelligent, but idle and trifling, our new
inmate, on arriving, decided—merely to annoy his father—on preparing
for the mercantile instead of the classical baccalauréat.
The mere notion that such a decision displeased his parents and
professors was enough for him; one severe reprimand and a punishment
relatively severe had no effect whatever. So long as he had
his way he would be satisfied.
"But we must carefully analyze such natures, in order to deal
with them efficaciously. Idleness and a propensity to trifling
were this lad's chief faults. Before finally making up our
minds that he should be humoured, we set him to work on preparations
for the classical degree. At first all went well, his progress
surprised even himself. On a sudden he declared his intention
of seeking a fortune in the colonies. Of what good, therefore,
to waste his time over Latin and Greek? Again he lapsed into
idleness and inertia. The effect of a course of punishments
was as that of a douche upon an enervated system. 'Such
treatment was exactly what I needed,' he owned; and, strange to
say—who would believe the fact without personal experience?—from
that moment he worked strenuously, and became attached to his
professors. In the end he made up his mind to present himself
as a candidate for the baccalauréat of science and letters,
and to the joy and infinite amazement of his parents passed the
The young man—for by this time he might be so called—thus
wrote to the director: "For the first time in my life I am quite
happy, because, for the first time also, I have made my parents
happy. Since passing my examination I am treated so
differently. I am almost afraid that my head will be thereby
Many other instances of successful treatment might be
adduced, not only disinclination to work, but vicious habits,
dissipation, addiction to bad company, gambling, and other vices
having yielded to M. Demetz' methods. I will now, however, say
a few words about the resource of less wealthy parents, another and
very different place of detention to which minors can be consigned
by virtue of Articles 375, 376, 377, and 378 of the Code Civil.
This is Citeaux, near Nuits, in the Cote d'Or, an agricultural and
industrial penitentiary which, at the time of my visit some years
ago, although a State establishment, was entirely controlled by
priests. This, I believe, is now changed.
At Citeaux there is no separate organization for youths of
the middle ranks. Twenty pounds a year only is the sum charged
for board and lodging, and these paying inmates fare precisely the
same as youthful vagrants or first offenders, but are not set to
On the occasion of my visit, a hundred of the thousand
inmates were middle-class boys with whom their parents could do
nothing. And here, as at Mettray, a large percentage of these
young good-for-nothings were sons of widows!
My driver, who was in the habit of conducting visitors to the
colonie, as Citeaux is also called, told me that he had
lately taken thither a widow lady with her son, a youth of
seventeen; also another widowed mother with an unruly lad somewhat
younger. The mother of the first-named incorrigible declared
it her intention to keep him in the reformatory till he should
become of age, unless he turned over a completely new leaf. My
conductor further informed me that he was employed in the printing
press, and looked miserable enough.
It is hardly to be expected that results at Citeaux would
bear comparison with those of Mettray. In the former place a
lad can have no individual treatment; in the latter, he is in the
hands of experienced specialists—in fact, he is a case diagnosed and
treated according to the most advanced theories of moral and mental
science. The subject awakens much speculation.
THE FAMILY COUNCIL
I. ITS ORIGIN AND HISTORY
with any certitude determine the origin of that extra-legal tribunal
in France, known as the Conseil de Famille, a domestic court
of justice accessible alike to rich and poor and at nominal cost,
occupying itself with questions the most momentous as well as the
minutest, vigilantly guarding the interests of imbecile and orphan,
outside the law, yet by the law rendered authoritative and binding.
From the Middle Ages down to our own time, noble and roturier,
wealthy merchant and small shopkeeper, have taken part in these
conclaves, the exercise of such a function being regarded both as a
civic duty and moral obligation. One object and one only is
kept in view, namely, the protection of the weak. The law is
stript of its cumbrous machinery, above all, deprived of its
mercenary spirit. Not a loophole is left for underhand dealing
or peculation. Simplicity itself, this system has been so
nicely devised and framed that interested motive finds no place in
it. Questions of property form the chief subject of inquiry
and debate, yet so hedged round by precautions is the fortune of
minor or incapacitated that it incurs little or no risk. And
in no other institution is witnessed to the same extent the
uncompromising nature of French economy. Justice here rendered
is all but gratuitous.
According to the best authorities, this elaborate code of
domestic legislation is the development of mediæval or even earlier
customs. Under the name of l'avis de parents, we find
family councils alike in those provinces having their own legal
systems, or coutumes, and those strictly adhering to Roman
law. By little and little such usages were formalized, and so
gradually becoming obligatory, in the fact, if not in the letter,
were regarded as law. The extra-legal character of the family
council is one of its most curious features.
Among the oldest documents referring to the subject is an
edict of the fifteenth century, signed by René, father of Margaret
of Anjou. The presiding judge is herein forbidden to appoint
any guardianship till he has heard the testimony of three syndics,
as well as of the child's relations, concerning the trustees
proposed, their circumstances, position in life, and reputation.
The syndics, be it remarked, were rural and municipal functionaries,
replaced in 1789 by State-paid juges de paix.
Intermediaries between the law and the people, the syndics were
elected by vote, their term of office generally lasting a year.
The coutumes of Brittany and Normandy took especial
care to define and regulate the family council. Thus an edict
of 1673 ordains that six relations on the paternal, and as many on
the maternal, side of any orphan or orphans, shall assist the judge
in selecting trustees. A clause of the Breton Code enjoined
that consultation should be held as to the education of the minors
in question, "the profession, whether of arms, letters, or
otherwise, for which they should be trained, the same to be decided
according to their means and position."
In the Nivernais, the family council consisted of seven
members; in the Berri, of six; in the Orléannais, of five. The
Parliament of Bordeaux in 1700 fixed the number at six, as in the
These facts show the importance attached to the function
before the Revolution. Up to that period it was an elastic
system based upon usage and tradition rather than law; the family
council now underwent minute and elaborate revision at the hands of
successive bodies of legists; finally embodied in the Code
Napoleon, it has undergone little modification to our own day.
One of the most curious documents in this history is the
rescript drawn tip by Napoleon III. and his ministers at the Palace
of St. Cloud, June, 1853. Following the statutes regulating
the position of all members of the Napoleonic House, we have here
the Imperial Family Council, as permanently and finally organized.
The Emperor decided its constitution beforehand, once and for all.
In other ranks of life such an assembly is called together when
"The Conseil de Famine," runs the ordonnance,
"shall be presided over by the Emperor in person, or some
representative of his choosing; its members will consist of a Prince
of the Imperial family also chosen by the Emperor, of the Minister
of State, the Minister of Justice, the Presidents of the Senate, the
Legislative Body, and the Council of State, the first President of
the Court of Cassation, of a Marshal of France or General of
Division named by the Emperor."
As we proceed in this inquiry, we see how utterly at variance
are autocratic principles with the real spirit of this domestic
legislation. A body thus framed was a mere vehmgericht,
not dealing certainly with life and death, but with personal liberty
and fundamental rights of the individual. Thus this Imperial
assembly could declare any member of the family incapable of
managing his affairs—in other words, shut him up as a lunatic.
All the powers vested in the Conseil de Famille were in this
case without a single guarantee to the individual whose interests
The origin of this truly patriarchal system is doubtless
twofold. Although not directly traceable to Roman law, the
family council must be considered as partly an outgrowth of that
source. In certain cases legal decisions concerning the
property or education of minors in ancient Rome were guided or
modified by the advice of near relations. But there was no
obligation on the part of the magistrate; his decision was final.
On the other hand, the spirit of the domestic conclave is
eminently Gallic. We find the same spirit animating French
life at the present day. In France, "the family" does not only
mean the group of father, mother, and children who gather round a
common board. La Famine rather conveys the notion of a
clan, the members of which are often settled within easy reach of
each other, their entire lives spent, not merely as kinsfolk, but as
neighbours. To realize this aspect of French society we must
live in the country.
"The entire system under consideration," writes a French
lawyer to me, "is based upon the bonds which unite, or ought to
finite, the members of a family. It is a development, and not
one of the least happy, of the patriarchal spirit. Its general
tendency is excellent, and the rules framed for practical use are
admirably drawn up and adjusted. Further, this legislation is
in perfect harmony with our national character and our theories
concerning children generally. We love children, perhaps, too
well, since so often we spoil them by excess of tenderness."
Regard for the welfare of children and of property underlies the
constitution of the Conseil de Famille; the same motives,
therefore, that actuate minds in the present day were uppermost
II. ITS CONSTITUTION
The family council may be described as the guardian of guardians. It
is an assemblage of next-of-kin, or in default of these, of friends,
presided over by a justice of the peace, called together on behalf
of orphans, of mentally incapacitated or incorrigible minors (see
Art. 388 and 487 of the Code Civil). It is composed of six
members exclusive of the juge de paix, namely, three next of
kin on the paternal and three on the maternal side; in default of
these their place may be filled by friends. Natural children,
according to the law have no relations; in their case, friends or
relations of the father acknowledging them, are eligible. No one who
has forfeited civil rights by imprisonment can form part of the
council; members must be of age and where two are equally fit, the
elder is selected in preference to the younger.
Here follow some clauses that strongly bring out the Napoleonic
distrust and contempt of women. From end to end of the Code Civil
we discern this spirit. The woman, the wife, the mother, is
relegated to the status of minor, imbecile, or criminal. Thus, no
married woman can join a Conseil de Famille except the mother
or grandmother of the ward whose interests are in question; the
same rules hold good with regard to guardianship.
Friends taking the place of kinsfolk are always named by the juge
de paix, and cannot be accepted simply from the fact of offering
Unnaturalized foreigners, or French people who have accepted another
nationality, are ineligible for the family tribunal. Nor can those
take part in the deliberations who at any time have had a lawsuit
with parents of the minor in question.
So much for the constitution of the family council. We will now
proceed to its formalities. Here it is necessary to say a word about
the juge de paix, whose name occupies a prominent place in
this history. "French law," writes a legist in his commentary on the
Conseil de Famille, "constitutes the juge de paix
natural protector of the minor."
The family council is convoked by the juge de paix on his own
account or at the request of friends or relations of the minor;
summonses to attend may be sent out in two forms, either by a simple
notice or by a cédule or obligatory request. In the former
case, attendance is optional; in the latter, refusal without valid
excuse exposes the offender to a fine of fifty francs. But what is a
valid excuse? "Accident, sickness, absence," writes a commentator. In fact, any obstacle which the juge de paix holds
insuperable. With him rests the responsibility of the fine, also the
composition of the council, and here may be noted one of the
extraordinary precautions taken. As the rural magistrate is supposed
to know his neighbours, deliberations must take place within his
especial jurisdiction. No minor's affairs can be settled except
under presidency of the juge de paix of his or her district. Again, the sittings take place at the official residence, and in
case of differences of opinion the juge de paix is entitled
to the casting vote, another instance of his importance. Again, he
must be no mean interpreter of the law. All kinds of knotty
questions and legal niceties are brought out at these family
Thus, upon certain occasions, the point has been raised—Can a
Conseil de Famille be held on a Sunday or religious festival? Lawyers have been much exercised upon this point, no trivial one to
rural magistrates. In country places important events are almost
invariably put off till the resting day, and, as a rule, the matter
has been decided in the affirmative.
Here we light upon a curious piece of Revolutionary legislation. A
commentator on the question of Sunday family councils cites the law
of 17 Thermidor, An. VI., according to which all State offices and
public bodies vaquent les décadis jours de fetes rationales.
The sittings are considered private, and no publicity is given to
the subjects under debate. Occasionally some member of the minor's
family not taking part in the council may be present. The
greffier, or clerk of the juge de paix, is also in
attendance, but no one else.
The non-responsibility of members summoned to deliberate is strictly
recognized by law; for instance, if a properly constituted family
council has decided upon investments which ultimately prove
disastrous, neither individually nor collectively are they held
responsible. If, however, on the other hand, connivance with
intention to defraud is proved, they are proceeded against in the
The legal expenses attendant upon this domestic legislation are
restricted to the minimum. Minutes are registered by the juge de
paix at a cost of from one to ten or fifteen francs; certain
important transactions require a fee of fifty francs.
There remains one more point to be noted under the head of
constitution of a Conseil de Famille. I allude to what in
French legal phraseology is called "homologation," in other
words, the formal legalization of any decision arrived at by this
body. Certain verdicts require this to be rendered valid and
binding, others do not. Among the first are those relating to the
sale or transference of a minor's estate, to the dismissal of a
minor's guardian, to the dowry and marriage contract of son or
daughter of any one deprived of civil rights. The nomination of
trustees, the refusal or acceptance of legacies, the details of
guardianship generally, i.e. education, bringing up of wards, and
many other measures, do not require this process of homologation;
they are valid and binding without formal legalization.
III. ITS FUNCTIONS
The family council, in its care of the fatherless child, is
anticipatory. Thus we find a special provision of the code. The
Civil makes special provision for a man's posthumous offspring. No
sooner does he die leaving a widow enceinte than it is her duty to
summon a family council for the purpose of choosing what in legal
phraseology is called a curateur a l'enfant à naître, or a
curateur au ventre. Duly elected, this guardian is authorized to
undertake the entire management of her late husband's property,
rendering a full account of his stewardship on the birth of the
child. This trusteeship of children as yet unborn awakens mixed
feelings. Without doubt cases in which the head of a family has left
no directions of the kind, may necessitate such precautions. At the
same time do we not trace clearly here the subordination of women as
derived from Roman law? "We must acknowledge," writes a learned
commenter, [p.276-1] "that
the curateur à l'enfant à naître is named solely in the
interest of a man's heirs, a result, as pointed out elsewhere, due
to an adhesion to Roman law; Article 393 has crept into our code
probably without due weighing of consequences on the part of the
legislator." The curateur's duty is also to verify the
condition of the wife daps la mesure des convenances, also
the birth of a legitimate child. When we reflect that the legal
heirs of a defunct person are his next of kin, we can easily
understand the offensiveness of this law to an honourable,
delicate-minded woman; at the same time we are bound to admit that
such precautionary measures would in our own country prevent the
scandal of a "Baby claimant." French law, sometimes for good,
certainly sometimes for evil, interferes with private life much more
than in England.
When we come to the subject of minors and orphans, we appreciate the
enormous power vested in the family council. The appointment of
trustees and guardians, when not made by parents, rests entirely
with this assemblage; [p.276-2]
also in its hands is a power requiring more delicate handling still,
namely, the withdrawal of paternal authority. Here we meet with
points recalling the Society for the Protection of Children, founded
some years ago by the Rev. Benjamin Waugh. As will be seen, however,
the family council holds entirely aloof from criminal cases,
concerning itself with civil affairs only, first and foremost with
the disposition of property. "From the earliest time," writes a
learned commentator, "minors have been regarded (by French law) as
privileged beings, placed under the protection of society
French legists have doubtless done their best for the foundling, the
illegitimate, the disowned. Especially within recent times has the
lot of these waifs and strays been ameliorated by the law. Terrible
was their condition formerly as revealed in early records, also in
statutes and legal commentaries. During the Middle Ages, when,
according to a French writer, "Roman law fully exercised its
disastrous influence, foundlings were deposited at church doors, sex
and age of each child were inscribed in a book called the 'Matricule' (Lat. matricula), they were reared in convent or nunnery,
and, when sufficiently grown, sold by auction. These wretched
little beings were chiefly offered for sale in the large cities and
purchased by the poor for a mere trifle, these often disfiguring or
even maiming their chattels so as to excite public compassion. It
was not till 1640 that St. Vincent de Paul founded the first
foundling hospital in France. A century before, the ordonnance
of Moulins had obliged the communes of that jurisdiction to maintain
all abandoned children found within their limits. In 1599, the
Parliament of Paris had moved in the same direction, ordaining that
the charge of foundlings should fall upon the parishes to which they
It is the honour of the Republic to have established orphanages in
all the cities and larger towns. By a law, moreover, of 15 Pluviose,
An. XIII., a kind of family council was appointed for the children
of the State. The conseil de tutelle discharged the functions
of a conseil de famille. This trusteeship lasts till the
majority or marriage of the individual.
We now come to a class only a degree less unfortunate. I allude to
the acknowledged children of irregular connections, the
illegitimate. French law, as we know, is very merciful to parents
who will atone for such lapses. Marriage, no matter the age of the
offspring, legitimizes. A natural child is thereby put on precisely
the same footing as if born in wedlock.
In all other cases the law stands by him, in so far as possible,
protecting and promoting his interests. "If there is a human being
in the world requiring legal guardianship," writes a commentator
before mentioned, "it is without doubt the illegitimate, friendless
from the cradle, having no relations, none to look to but him to
whom he owes his birth. The care and maintenance of natural children
is the duty, the obligation of every father. If no provision were
made by law to this effect, such provision would have to be made." The Code Civil has, in so far as possible, regulated the
position of natural children. A family council, however, summoned on
their behalf cannot be composed in the ordinary way, the
illegitimate having neither kith nor kin. The relations of the
father acknowledging them, friends of both father and mother are
accepted, and the legal guardianship is framed on the same
principles as that of children lawfully begotten. Volumes have been
written on this subject, legists differing as to the right of a
natural child to what is called legal or confessed guardianship,
tutelle légale, i.e. paternal, or tutelle dative, i.e.
appointed by the family council. When difficulties arise, the matter
is settled by the Cour de Cessation.
After minors, orphans, and illegitimates come the interdis,
or individuals pronounced incapable of managing their affairs. These
are imbeciles, maniacs, and persons condemned for criminal offences. Here the Code Napoléon, now known as the Code Civil,
amended the sterner Roman clause, according to which a deaf mute was
placed on a level with idiots. A dispute on this question having
arisen at Lyons in 1812, the Cour de Cessation decided that a
deaf mute giving evidence of intelligence, although unable to read
and write, must be pronounced compos mentis.
In the case of insanity, a family council is summoned as a
preliminary measure, a judicial sentence being required before
depriving the individual in question of his liberty. An instance of
the kind came some time ago under my own notice. The conseil de
famille had agreed as to the necessity of seclusion, the
tribunal decided otherwise. It will thus be seen that, except in
case of a veritable conspiracy of relations, friends, and juge de
paix, the extensive powers of this domestic court are hemmed
round with guarantees. Again, we must bear in mind a fact constantly
insisted upon by French legists, namely, that we are here dealing
with a conseil d'avis, a consultation acknowledged by the law
and responsible to the law, not with legislation itself.
A final class coming under the wardship of the family council
consists of the incorrigible and the spendthrift—in French
phraseology le prodigue, a subject treated in the foregoing
Any guardian, having great matter for complaint against his ward, is
empowered to summon a family council in order to pass the
disciplinary measure called la réclusion, in other words, a term of
modified imprisonment (Code Civil, Art. 468. De la
Without doubt the most important function of the family council is
the choice of guardians, the tutelle dative as opposed to the
tutelle légale, the former being accorded by this body, the
latter being the natural guardianship of parents. The tutelle
légale is obligatory, no father being at liberty to reject the
duty. So also is the tutelle dative; no individual selected
by a family council as guardian and being related to the family of
the minor is at liberty to refuse the charge; it is as much
incumbent upon any French citizen as military service or the payment
of taxes. This is a most important point to note.
A few exemptions are specified in the code. Thus, the father of five
legitimate children is exempt, also persons having attained the age
of sixty-five, or being able to prove incompetency from illness. The
following also may refuse: ministers and members of the legislative
body, admirals, generals, and officers in active service, préfets
and other public functionaries at a distance from the minor's home.
The conseil de famille having named a guardian, also names a
tuteur subrojé, or surrogate, whose office is not in any way
to interfere with the trustee, but to examine accounts and watch
over the interests in question.
On the subject of tutorial sphere and duty the law is explicit to
minuteness. Generally speaking, he is expected to act as a father
towards his own child, having care of his ward's moral and
intellectual education, protecting his or her interests, in fact,
filling the place of a second father. Whilst entrusted with the
management of affairs as a whole, certain transactions lie outside
his control. Thus he is not at liberty to accept a legacy for his
ward without the consent of the conseil de famille. This
precautionary measure requires explanation. Sometimes the reversion
of property may mean very heavy legal expenses, an enjoyment of the
same being a prospect too remote to be counted upon. An instance of
this has come under my own observation. A boy, son of French friends
of mine, was left the reversion of an estate, the life interest being
bequeathed to another. His parents somewhat reluctantly accepted the
charge, paying a little fortune in legal fees and duties for
property most likely to come to a grandson. No family council would
have authorized such a course in the case of a minor.
Again, the guardian cannot purchase any part of his ward's estate or
belongings. Nor can he reinvest stocks and shares without
authorization. On the expiry of his charge, that is to say, on the
marriage or coming of age of the minor, the property in trust has to
be surrendered intact, all deficits made up from his own.
On this subject a French lawyer wrote to me, "It is extremely rare
that any ward has occasion to complain of his or her guardian. During a legal experience of twenty-five years, no serious matters
of the kind have come under my notice. Nevertheless, my practice lay
in a part of France where folks are very fond of going to law. It
will occasionally happen that some elderly trustee persuades his
young ward to marry him; these gentlemen have not perhaps been
over-pleased with their success in the long run. They are too much
of a laughing stock." Legal coming of age, l'émancipation,
brings the guardian's task to a close. According to French law there
are two kinds of emancipation, the formal and the tacit; these
matters, however, lie beyond the scope of my paper.
The functions of the family council are fully set forth in the
Code Civil; to understand its scope and spirit we must study the
commentators. "Le Repertoire de jurisprudence general," compiled by
Victor and Armand Dalloz, was first published in 1836, but remains
the standard book of reference on legal questions. A handy and
admirable digest of the conseil de famille is to be found in
the "Traitée," by J.-L. Jay (Bureau des Annales des Juges de Paix,
Paris, 1854). Unfortunately, this book is out of print, and only to
be picked up on the quays or at bookstalls.
In conclusion, I cite the words of a friend before quoted, an
experienced French lawyer, no learned commentator, but a
hard-working practitioner. "The excellence of such a system," he
wrote, "is proved by one fact, namely, the very small number of
lawsuits arising therefrom. Very rarely it happens that a ward has
any reason to complain of his trustees."
We must bear in mind that inadmissibility to the charge of
trusteeship is a disgrace, almost on a footing with the forfeiture
of civil rights. Hence the high character of French trustees
The family council is not often introduced into novels, an omission
difficult to understand.