« AnteriorContinuar »
downwards have confessed to the national infirmity; but it is quite conceivable that an ardent and excitable man should feel an exaggerated pleasure at having mastered the rudiments of any science, and should fancy himself richer than he is in it; and if he is generous with his tongue and likes to spread gaiety by the use of it, it is surely very hard to treat this as deliberate imposture; for that Frenchmen can think and investigate deeply is proved by many a literary monument and by many a great name in mathematics and physical science. The presumed difference between the two countries as to this feature may, after all, only amount to this, that with us the half-informed man is calculating and distrustful, and therefore silent; while the more loquacious Gaul is impelled by his fervid disposition to talk of that of which he knows a little without first ascertaining if there be anybody present who happens to know somewhat more. In the same way, if we carefully examine into his boastfulness, we shall find that it consists mainly of self-deception, and though selfdeception in a cold and sluggish temperament is a deliberate act, it is so nearly unavoidable when the warm blood and the fancy are allowed to play freaks, that a person of this kind is only in a remote degree responsible for his error. Then again as to the moral shallowness, it is said that the language of compliment, praise, condolence, and the like, is much exaggerated by them. But we ought to compare the many Frenchmen who make professions, not with the few Englishmen who do so, but with the rest of us who feel but little and say nothing, and then, the whole difference will be found to consist herein, that the Englishman knows how little he feels, while the Frenchman's temperament betrays him into a momentary delusion. But that they have amongst them plenty of those higher characters that can feel strongly is shown by the depth of the religious sentiment in the young French priest, by the sacrifices of the political enthusiast, by the love which the French boy has for his mother, by the unconsolableness which we have often witnessed in many a French widower, nay by the very crimes which arise out of a morbid intensity of feeling. One reason why they are charged with being superficial is greatly to their honour, we mean their love of clearness. It is all very well for a German who thrusts his head into some dark hole which would asphyxiate an English intellect, and who then tells us in mystical language what he has found there, to decry French superficiality ; but from the day when La Fontaine wrote his fable of the Animals and the Magic Lantern down to the present, the Frenchman is proud and has a right, to be proud of clearness as a national feature. What Voltaire said of the language, Ce qui n'est pas clair n'est pas
français, is equally true of the intellect of which it is the expression.
But it is said that the Frenchman is a terrible theorist, and an observer by no means trustworthy; when he travels, it is not to test the soundness of his suspicions, but to confirm a foregone conclusion, and if in any case the facts do not lend themselves to his theory, why the facts must suffer for it. What is all this but impatience under the sense of uncertainty ? Or again, What is it but impatience to put things in their place which makes him so remorseless in forcing every institution into the logical framework that he has prepared for it, refusing to see any of the exceptional cases which might spoil the uniformity of his plan? As to the contrast which they offer to ourselves in being at one time blindly revolutionary; and, then again, as blindly enamoured of a strong Government, the first of these conditions only shows the same disposition, and the second their consciousness of it, and their impetuous desire to keep themselves from the effects of impetuosity. This consciousness appears conspicuously in their education. Many Englishmen would be astonished at the scrupulous precautions employed by French teachers, and those neither clerical nor clerically disposed, in keeping out of the sight of the young student, passages in ancient authors, in which an English schoolmaster would not be able to detect the slightest dangerous tendency. Their discipline also, as we shall presently see, involves a continual surveillance by night and by day, in the many hours of study and the scanty intervals of recreation. But before we proceed to give an account of the machinery of their instruction it will be well to describe the end to which it is directed.
Every youth who is destined to be a lawyer, or a magistrate, or a medical man, is obliged before he qualifies for his special faculty to pass with success the examination for the Baccalauréatès-lettres. If destined to pass through the Polytechnic School into the body of Engineers, or through St. Cyr, or any other military or naval college, to obtain a commission in those services, he must first gain his diploma as a Bachelor ès-sciences. All Government appointments under the different Ministères are given to those only who can produce the one or the other diploma. Thus the tangible end of that education which is called in France l'Enseignement secondaire is to obtain a grade without which the professions and all civil and military positions of the same rank are as a rule inaccessible.
The pensions or private establishments * throughout France
* For the proportions of the pupils educated in the public and private schools Vol. 117. - No. 234.
are so far independent of the Government that they teach what subjects they please; but as the Baccalauréat is the end of nearly all instruction, there is generally a considerable conformity to the routine of the public schools. Every one who professes to set up a pension is subject to two strict but very sensible regulations; he must undergo an examination as to his personal fitness for the calling, and his house must be approved of as a wholesome building in a wholesome locality. But our immediate concern is with those institutions, which under the name of lycée and collège are more immediately under the influence of Government. Some collèges, indeed, partake very much of the character of private institutions; such, for instance, as those which are in the hands of the Jesuits, or those which like the Colleges Ste. Barbe and Chaptal are in the hands of private or semi-public companies. Others again are municipal, others are only smaller lyc and therefore subject to direct Government control.
There are seventy-four lycées in France, differing greatly in numbers, but all subject to the same rule as to hours of study, the subjects to be taught in each class, and the proportion in which they are to be studied, the punishments, the exemptions, and so forth. All these laws emanate from the central authority, the Minister of Public Instruction, and are transmitted through the rectors of the several academies, which are the centres of educational districts, to the proviseur of each lycée, or the principal of each collège, placed within its control. Among the other authorities external to the lycée we must reckon the Inspectors who yearly visit them, and report upon them to the Minister, and the Inspectors of each Academy. The internal officers of the lycée may be divided into the governing and the teaching class. The former consists of the proviseur or chief, the censeur or second in command, and the économe or bursar. In certain points of detail these three form a council and exercise a joint authority; but in the matters of daily routine the censeur is the person who exercises the chief power. The Professors have nothing further to do with the school than to teach the class assigned to them, and those who delight in uniformity will be pleased to learn that throughout all France, and for all the forms in the school, the hours of class, that is, for professorial attendance, are from eight to ten in the morning, and from half past two to half past four in the afternoon. In the younger forms all the subjects are
respectively, we quote the statement of M. Jules Simon :— Nous avons 30,000 élèves dans les 75 lycées de l'Empire, 32,000 dans les 245 colléges communaux ; en tout, 62,000 élèves. Les établissements libres, laïques, et ecclésiastiques, en comptent 75,000, auxquels il faut peut-être ajouter 20,000 élèves, qui forment la population de 123 petits séminaires.'
confided to one and the same Professor for every fifty boys; but from the fourth form upwards, there is one for Greek, Latin, and French; another for history and geography, and another for arithmetic and mathematics.
As a class the Professors are a highly respectable body of men, and a large proportion of them are men of a considerable eminence in their respective pursuits. Besides the ordinary training of the lycée and the examination for the diploma, and the licence, they have had to follow courses of the Ecole Normale, and those of the higher rank who are called Professeurs Agrégés have undergone a still further trial of their fitness. Quite distinct, both in standing and capacity from the professors, are those who are now called Maîtres répétiteurs, but are still better known under their old name of Maîtres d'études, under whose direct supervision the boarders of the school eat, drink, sleep, work, and play. But their functions will best be understood if we take an imaginary pupil of twelve years old and endeavour to identify ourselves with him from his first day of entrance upon a scene which will last for him with very little change during the eight remaining years of his boyhood.
He has passed through his examination of admission into the division of grammar, and finds himself en sixième. Thus he has had the good fortune to escape the three classes of the elementary division, the preparatory, the eighth, and the seventh, and he has before him six classes more, each of which will take him sometimes a year, or sometimes two to pass through, and the vista of which spreads itself before his eyes as the fifth, the fourth, the third, the second, the class of rhetoric, and the class of philosophy
At five o'clock on the morning of the 2nd of October, Master Alphonse Podevin is rattled by a drum from his slumbers, and after such a toilet as one expects from young Frenchmen of twelve, he descends along with the rest of his dortoir into one of the Salles d'études, in which a subdivision of his cour is required to assemble.
The Cour will consist at most of one hundred and fifty boys, who will meet during the intervals of play—that is, in their own refectory, or their own playground or court; but at the present they are divided, .say into three fifties, each occupying its own room, and under its own Maître d'études, or, in schoolphrase, Pion. Whether the latter word is derived from Espion must depend upon the sort of feeling which it is probable that the pupil entertains towards this functionary—a matter of which we shall be able to judge better in the sequel. After a prayer calculated to last three minutes—not repeated parentally by the 2 D2
master in the name of his pupils and himself, but by the boy whose turn it happens to be—they begin to learn by heart. They have two hours before them—that is, till half-past seven; and the thing to be learnt in this particular class will probably be a piece of Lhomond's Latin Grammar, and the imperishable Greek Grammar of Burnouf, and a fable of Phædrus. As the time advances they are heard these lessons by the Maitre d'études, who draws up the results on that most indispensable of all French institutions, the Cahier. An Englishman need not have travelled far to remember it well, with its unwholesome, blotchycomplexioned pages, looking as if they were in a prison behind their manifold bars and cross-bars. Nothing reminds one so strongly of the French fashion of tabulating everything, and marshalling even the most trivial facts under heads and categories, as the ubiquity of this implement. And is it not this love of classification and generalization which lies at the root of more than half the errors into which an intelligent nation has fallen in practical matters ? But the cahier is irritating us into digressions and reveries : let us return to the Salle d'études.
At half-past seven, half an hour is allowed for breakfast; at eight all the professors are at their post; and all the day-scholars, whether from their own home or from private schools, join their respective classes, into which they have been subdivided on account of their excessive number. This arrangement was formerly made in order that no professor might have to cope with a larger class than sixty at the utmost, but now the subdivision has been carried much further; thus, in Louis le Grand, which is one of the most frequented of the Lycées, the forms are often divided into three portions, of which the chief professor will take one, and the two Professeurs suppléants the two others. M. Podevin's professor is seated in the centre of the room, surrounded by forms rising tier over tier, and he commences, according to the plan drawn up for him by Government, by hearing those whom the Maître d'études has marked down as defaulters. The rest of the time is taken up with viva voce translation, to be afterwards written down as a version in the hours of study, or with the dictation of sentences, which are to appear the next day in a Greek or Latin dress. Ten o'clock comes, and the externes march out to the beat of drums, while the internes, to the same music, are paraded into the salle d'études, to remain two hours more under the inspection of M. Pion. This time he has nothing to do but to watch them, for they are occupied with the exercises and written translations. Yes,' says the English parent, but if they encounter a difficulty, or if he finds them too much addicted to dictionary, which is always a strong symptom of the neglect