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cease to visit Saint Cyr every day, sometimes at six in the
morning. She wrote for the directresses and for the pupils
counsels and regulations that fill several volumes. Nothing
which concerns "her children" is a, matter of indifference to
her. She devotes her attention to their meals, their sleep,
their toilet, as well as to their character and their instruc-
tion : —

' ' The affairs we discuss at Court are bagatelles ; those at
Saint Cyr are the more important. . . ." "May that establish-
ment last as long as France, and France as long ;is the world.
Nothing is dearer to me than my children of Saint Cyr."


It is not tenderness, it is well known, that characterizes
the soul of Madame de Maintenon ; but, at Saint Cyr, from
being formal and cold, which is her usual state, she becomes
loving and tender : —

" Forget nothing that may save the souls of our young
girls, that may fortify their health and preserve their form."

One day, as she had come to the school, as her custom was,
to consult with the nuns, a company of girls passed by raising
a cloud of dust. The nuns, fearing that Madame de Main-
tenon was annoyed by it, requested them to withdraw.
"Pray, let the dear girls be," replied Madame de Main-
tenon; "I love them even to the dust they raise." Con-
versely, as it were, the pupils of Pestalozzi, consulted on
the question of knowing whether they were willing always to
be beaten and clawed by their old master, replied affirm-
atively : they loved him even to his claws !

236. Her Pedagogical Writings. — It is only in our
day that the works of Madame de Maintenon have been
published in the integrity of their text, thanks to the labors
of Theophile Lavall6e. For the most part, these long and
interesting letters are devoted to education and to Saint Cyr.
These are, first, the Letters and Conversations on the Educa-
tion of Girls. 1 These letters were written from day to clay,
and are addressed, sometimes to the ladies of Saint Cyr, and
sometimes to the pupils themselves. "We find in them,"
says Lavall^e, " for all circumstances and for all times, the
most solid teaching, masterpieces of good sense, of natural-
ness, and of truth, and, finally, instructions relative to educa-
tion that approach perfection. The Conversations originated
in the consultations that Madame de Maintenon had during
the recreations or the recitations, either with the ladies or

1 Two volumes, 2d edition, 1861.


with the 3'oung women, who themselves collected and edited
the words of their governess."

After the Letters and Conversations comes the Counsels to
Young Women icho enter Society, 1 which contain general
advice, conversations or dialogues, and, finally, proverbs,
that is, short dramatic compositions, designed at once to
instruct and amuse the young ladies of Saint Cyr. These
essays are not admirable in all respects ; most often they are
lacking in imagination ; and Madame de Maintenon, though
an imitation of F6nelon, makes a misuse of indirect instruc-
tion, of artifice, and of amusement, in order to teach some
moral commonplaces by insinuation. Here are the titles of
some of these proverbs: The occasion makes the rogue;
Women make and unmake the home; There is no situation
more embarrassing than that of holding the handle of the fry-

Finally, let us note the third collection, the Historical and
Instructive Letters addressed to the Ladies of Saint Cyr. 2

It is to be regretted that, out of these numerous volumes,
where repetitions abound, there have not been extracted, in
a methodical manner, a few hundred pages which should
contain the substance of Madame de Maintenon's thinking:
on educational questions.

237. Interior Organization. — The purpose of the found-
ing of Saint Cyr was to assure to the two hundred and fifty
daughters of the poor nobility, and to the children of oflicers
dead or disabled, an educational retreat where they would be
suitably educated so as to be prepared for becoming either
nuns, if this was their vocation, or, the more often, good
mothers. As M. Gr6ard has justly observed, "the very
conception of an establishment of this kind, the idea of

1 'J' wo volumes, 1857. 2 Two volumes, 1860.


making France pay the debt of France, educating the chil-
dren of those who had given her their blood, proceeds from
a feeling up to that time unknown." 1

Consequently, children of the tenderest years, from six or
seven, were received at Saint Cyr, there to be cared for till
the age of marriage, till eighteen and twenty.

The young girls were divided into four classes, — the reds,
the greens, the yellows, and the blues. The blues were the
largest, and they wore the royal colors. Each class was
divided into five or six bands or families, of eight or ten
pupils each.

The ladies of Saint Cyr were ordinarily taken from the
pupils of the school. They were forty in number, — the supe-
rior, the assistant who supplied the place of the superior,
the mistress of the novices, the general mistress of the
classes, the mistresses of the classes, etc.

The capital defect of Saint Cyr is, that, as in the colleges
of the Jesuits, the residence is absolute and the sequestra-
tion complete. From her fifth to her twentieth year the
young girl belongs entirely to Saint Cyr. She scarcely
knows her parents. It will be said, perhaps, that in many
cases she has lost them, and that in some* cases she could
expect only bad examples from them. But no matter ; the
general rule, which interrupted family intercourse to the
extent of almost abolishing it, cannot obtain our approbation.
The girl was permitted to see her parents only three or four
times a year, and even then these interviews would last only
for a half an hour each time, and in the presence of a mis-
tress. There was permission to write family letters from
time to time ; but as though she mistrusted the natural im-
pulses of the heart, and the free outpouring of filial affection,
Madame de Maintenon had taken care to compose some models

1 M. Gre'ard, Me'moire sur Venseignement secondaire desfilles, 1882, p. 59.


of these letters. With more of reason than of feeling, Madame
de Maintenon is not exempt from a certain coldness of heart.
It seems that she would impose on her pupils the extraordi-
nary habits of her own family. She recollected having been
kissed only twice by her mother, on her forehead, and then
only after a long separation.

238. Distrust of Reading. — After the reforms of 1G92,
the instruction at Saint Cyr became a matter of secondary
importance. Reading, writing, and counting were taught,
but scarcel} T anything besides. Reading, in general, was
viewed with distrust : ' ' Teach girls to be very sparing as to
reading, and always to prefer manual labor instead." Books
of a secular nature were interdicted ; only works of piety
were put in the hands of pupils, such as the Introduction to a
Devout Life, by Saint Francois de Salles, and the Confessions
of Saint Augustine. " Renounce intellectual culture" is the
perpetual injunction of Madame de Maintenon.

" We must educate citizens for citizenship. It is not the
question of giving them intellectual culture. We must
preach family duties to them, obedience to husband, and care
for children. . . . Reading does more harm than good to
young girls. . . . Books make witlings and excite an in-
satiable curiosity."

239. The Study of History Neglected. — To judge of
the spirit of Saint Cyr, from the point of view of intellectual
education, it suffices to note the little importance that was
there given to history. This weut so far as to raise the
question whether it were not best to prohibit the study of
French history entirely. Madame do Maintenon consents to
have it taught, but only just enough so that "pupils may
not confuse the succession of our kings with the princes of
other countries, and not take a Roman emperor for an


emperor of China or Japan, a king of Spain or of England
for a king of Persia or of Siam." As to the histoiy of anti-
quity, it must be held in mistrust for the very reason — who
would believe it ? — of the beautiful examples of virtue that
it contains. "I should fear that those grand examples of
generosity and heroism would give our 3'oung girls too much
elevation of spirit, and make them vain and pretentious."
Have we not some right to feel surprised that Madame de
Maintenon is alarmed at the thought of raising the intelligence
of woman? It is true that she doubtless thought of the
romantic exaggerations produced by the reading of the Cyrus
the Great and other writings of Mile, de Scudery. Let us
add, besides, to excuse the shortcomings of the programme
of Saint Cyr in the matter of histoiy, that even for bo} T s in
the colleges of the University, the order that introduced the
teaching of history into the classes dates only from 1695.

240. Insufficient Instruction. — ' ' Our day," says Laval-
lee, "would not accept that education in which instruction
properly so-called was but a secondar}- matter, and entirely
sacrificed to the manner of training the heart, the reason, and
the character ; and an education, too, that, as a whole and in
its details, was wholly religious." The error of Madame de
Maintenon consists essentially in the wish to develop the
moral virtues in souls scarcely instructed, scarcely enlightened.
There was much moral discoursing at Saint Cyr. If it did
not always bear fruit, it was because the seed fell into intel-
ligences that were but little cultivated.

" Our young women are not to be made scholarly. Women
never know except by halves, and the little that they know
usually makes them conceited, disdainful, chatty, and dis-
gusted with serious things."

241. Manual Labok. — If intellectual education was
neglected at Saint Cyr, by way of compensation great atten-


tion was paid to manual education. The girls were there
taught to sew, to embroider, to knit, and to make tapestry ;
and there was also made there all the linen for the house,
the infirmary, and the chapel, and the dresses and clothing
of the ladies and the pupils : —

" But no exquisite productions," says Madame de Mainte-
non, "nor of very elaborate design; none of those flimsy
edgings in embroidery or tapestry, which are of no use."

With what good grace Madame de Maintenon ever preaches
the gospel of labor, of which she herself gave the example !
In the coaches of the king, she always had some work in
hand. At Saint Cyr, the young women swept the dormitories,
put in order the refectory, and dusted the class-rooms. ' ' They
must be put at every kind of service, and made to work at
what is burdensome, in order to make them robust, healthy,
and intelligent."

" Manual labor is a moral safeguard, a protection against

"Work calms the passions, occupies the mind, and does
not leave it time to think of evil."

242. Moral Education. — "The Institute," said Ma-
dame de Maintenon, " is intended, not for prayer, but for
action." What she wished, above all else, was to prepare
young women for home and family life. She devoted her
thought to the training of wives and mothers. "What I lack
most," she said, "is sons-in-law!" Hence she was inces-
santly preoccupied with moral qualities. One might make
a, fine and valuable book of selections out of all the practical
maxims of Madame de Maintenon ; as her reflections on
talkativeness: "There is always sin in a multitude of
words ; " on indolence : " What can be done in the family of
an indolent and fastidious woman?" on politeness, ••which
consists, above all else, in giving one's thought to others ; "


on lack of energy, then too common among women of the
world : " The only concern is to eat and to take one's ease.
Women spend the day in morning-gowns, reclining in easy-
chairs, without any occupation, and without conversation ;
all is well, provided one be in a state of repose."

243. Discreet Devotion. — We must not imagine that
Saint Cyr was a house of prayer, a place of overdone devo-
tion. Madame de Maintenon held to a reasonable Christianity.
Piety, such as was recommended at Saint Cyr, is a piety that
is steadfast, judicious, and simple; that is, conformed to the
state in which one ought to live, and exempt from refine-

" The young women are too much at church, considering
their age," she wrote to Madame de Brinon, the first director
of the institution. ... " Consider, I pray you, that this is
not to be a cloister." 1

And later, after the reform had begun, this is what she
wrote : —

" Let the piety with which our young girls shall be in-
spired be cheerful, gentle, and free. Let it consist rather
in the innocence of their lives, and in the simplicity of their
occupations, than in the austerities, the retirements, and the
refinements of devotion. . . . When a girl comes from a
convent, saying that nothing ought to interfere with vespers,
she is laughed at ; but when an educated woman shall say
that vespers may be omitted for the sake of attending her
sick husband, everybody will commend her. . . . When a
girl shall say that a woman does better to educate her children
and instruct her servants than to spend the forenoon in
church, that religion will be heartily accepted, and will make
itself loved and respected." 2 Excellent advice, perhaps too

1 Lettrts historiqucs, Tome I. p. 48.
2 Lettres historiques, Tome I. p. 89.


little followed ! Madame de Maintenon here speaks the lan-
guao-e of good sense, and we are wholly surprised to hear it
from the lips of a politic woman who, not without reason, and
for her part in the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, has
the reputation of being an intolerant fanatic.

244. Simplicity in All Things. — The simplicity which
she recommended in religion, Madame de Maintenon de-
manded in everything, — in dress and in language : " Young
girls," she says, " must wear as few ribbons as possible."

A class-teacher had given a fine lecture, in which she ex-
horted her pupils to make an "eternal divorce" with sin.
" Very well said, doubtless," remarked Madame de Mainte-
non ; " but, pray, who among our young ladies knows what
divorce is? "

245. Fenelon and Saint Cyr. — Michelet, speaking of
Saint Cyr, which he does not love, said : "Its cold governess
was much more a man than Fenelon." The fact is, that the
author of the Education of Girls gives a larger place to sen-
sibility and intelligence. It is not Madame de Maintenon
who said: " As much as possible, tenderness of heart must
be excused in young girls." It is not at Saint Cyr that these
maxims were practised. "Pray let them have Greek and
Roman histories. They will find in them prodigies of cour-
age and disinterestedness. Let them not be ignorant of the
history of France, which also has its beauty. • • • All this
serves to give dignity to the mind, and to lift the soul to
noble sentiments." Nevertheless, Fe^ielon's work was
highly esteemed at Saint Cyr. It appeared in 1687, and
Saint Cyr was founded in 1G8G. A great number of its
precepts were there observed, such as the following : " Fre-
quent leaves of absence should be avoided ; " " Young girls
should not be accustomed to talk much."


246. General Judgment. — In a word, if the ideal pro-
posed to the young women of Saint Cyr by Madame de
Maintenon cannot satisfy those who, in our day, conceive " an
education broader in its scheme and more liberal in its spirit,"
at least we must do justice to an institution which was, as
its foundress said, " a kind of college," a first attempt at
enfranchisement in the education of women. AVithout de-
manding of Madame de Maintenon what was not in her age
to give, let us be inspired by her in what concerns the
changeless education in moral virtues, and in the qualities
of discretion, reserve, goodness, and submission. "How-
ever severe that education may appear," says Lavall6e, "I
believe it will suggest better reflections to those who observe
the way in which women are educated to-day, and the results
of that education in luxury and pleasure, not only on the
fireside, but still more on society and political life, and on
the future of the men that it is preparing for France. I
believe they will prefer that manly education, so to speak,
which purified private morals and begot public virtues ; and
that they will esteem and regret that work of Madame de
Maintenon, which for a century prevented the corruption of
the Court from extending to the provinces, and maintained
in the old counts-seats, from which came the greater part of
the nobility, the substantial- virtues and the simple manners
of the olden time."

[247. Analytical Summary. — 1. The education of women
in the seventeenth century reflects the sentiment of the age
as to their relative position in society, their rights, and
their destiny. Woman was still regarded as the inferior of
man, in the lower classes as a drudge, in the higher as an
ornament ; in her case, intellectual culture was regarded as
either useless or dangerous ; and the education that was


given her was to fit her for a life of devotion or a life of
seclusion from society.

2. The rules of Jacqueline Pascal exhibit the effects of
an ascetic belief on education, — human nature is corrupt;
all its likes are to be thwarted, and all its dislikes fostered
under compulsion.

3. The education directed by Madame de Maintenon is
the beginning of a rupture with tradition. It was a move-
ment towards the secularization of woman's education, and
towards the recognition of her equality with man, with re-
spect to her grade of intellectual endowments, her intellectual
culture, and to her participation in the duties of real life.

4. The type of the higher education was still monastic,
both for men and women. No one was able to conceive
that both sexes might be educated together with mutual




248. The University of Paris. — Since the thirteenth
century, the University of Paris had been a centre of light
and a resort for students. Ramus could say: "This Uni-
versity is not the university of one city only, but of the
entire world." But even in the time of Ramus, in conse-
quence of the civil discords, and by reason also of the prog-
ress in the colleges organized by the Company of Jesus, the
University of Paris declined ; she saw the number of her
pupils diminish. She persisted, however, in the full light of
the Renaissance, in following the superannuated regulations
which the Cardinal d'Estouteville had imposed on her in 1452 ;
she fell behind in the routine of the scholastic methods. A
reform was necessary, and in 1600 it was accomplished by
Henry IV.


249. Statutes of 1600. — The statutes of the new uni-
versity were promulgated " by the order and the will of the
most Christian and most invincible king of France and
Navarre, Henry IV." This was the first time that the
State directly intervened in the control of education, 1 and
that secular power was set up in opposition to the absolute
authority of the Church.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries a reform had
been made in the University, by the Popes Innocent III. and
Urban V. The reformer of 1452, the Cardinal d'Estouteville,
acted as the legate of the pontifical power. On the contrary,
the statutes of 1G00 were the work of a commission named
by the king, and there sat at its deliberations, by the side of
a few ecclesiastics, magistrates, and even professors.

250. Organization of the Different Faculties. — The
University of Paris comprised four Faculties : the Faculties
of Theology, of Law, and of Medicine, which corresponded
to what we to-day call superior instruction, and the Faculty
of Arts, which was almost the equivalent of our secondary
instruction. 1

It would take too long to enumerate in this place the
different innovations introduced by the statutes of 1G00.
Let us merely say a word of the Faculty of Arts.

In the Faculty of Arts the door was finally opened to the
classical authors. In a certain degree the tendencies of the

1 "Formerly secondary schools were schools in which was given a more
advanced instruct ion then in the primary schools; and they were distin-
guished into communal secondary schools, or communal colleges, and into
private secondary schools or institutions. . . . To-day, secondary instruc-
tion includes the colleges and lyeees in which are taught the ancient lan-
guages, modern languages, history, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and
philosophy. Public instruction is divided into primary, secondary, and
superior instruction." — Littre.


Renaissance were obeyed. Nevertheless, the methods and
the general spirit were scarcely changed. Catholicism was
obligatory, and the French language remained under ban.
Frequent exercises in repetition and declamation were main-
tained. The liberal arts were always considered " the
foundation of all the sciences." Instruction in philosophy
was always reduced to the interpretation of the texts of Aris-
totle. As to history, and the sciences in general, no account
whatever was taken of them.

251. Decadence of the University in the Seventeenth
Century. — The reform, then, was insufficient, and the
results were bad. While the colleges of the Jesuits
attracted pupils in crowds, and while the Oratorians and
the Jansenists reformed secondary instruction, the colleges
of the University : remained mediocre and obscure. Save
in rare exceptions, there were no professors of distinc-
tion ; the education was formal, in humble imitation of that
of the Company of Jesus ; there was an abuse of abstract
rules, of grammatical exercises, of written tasks, and of
Latin composition ; there was no disposition to take an ad-
vance step ; but an obstinate resistance to the new spirit,
which was indicated either by the interdiction of the philoso-
phy of Descartes, or by the refusal to teach in the French
language ; in a word, there was complete isolation in im-

1 This refers to the University of Paris, which must be distinguished
from the Napoleonic University. " The latter was founded by a decree of
Napoleon I., March 17, 1808. It was first called the Imperial University,
and then the University of France. It comprises: 1. The faculties;* 2. the
lyce'es or colleges of the State; 3. the communal colleges; 4. the primary
schools. All these are under the direction of a central administration." —

* There are now five Faculties or institutions for special instruction, —
the Faculties of the Sciences, of Letters, of Medicine, of Law, and of Theol-
ogy. (P.)


movable routine, and in consequence, decadence, — such is a
summary history of the University of Paris up to the last
quarter of the seventeenth century.

252. The Restoration of Studies and Rollin (1661-
17-11). — We must go forward to the time when Rollin
taught, to observe a revival in the studies of the University.
Several distinguished professors, as his master Hersan, Pour-
chot, and still others, had prepared the way for him. There
was then, from 1680 to 1700, a real rejuvenescence of
studies, which was initiated in part by Rollin.

Latiu lost a little ground in consequence of a growing
recognition of the rights of the French language and the
national literature, which had just been made illustrious by so
main' masterpieces. The spirit of the Jansenist methods
penetrated the colleges of the University. The Cartesian
philosophy was taught in them, and a little more attention
was given to the explication of authors, and a little less to
the verbal repetition of lessons. New ideas began to infil-

Online LibraryGabriel CompayréThe history of pedagogy → online text (page 19 of 48)