Page images
PDF
EPUB

and penalties (la rigueur des peines) against deserters.' Moreover, he himself actively joined in the persecution; he denounced to the Secretary of State the would-be fugitives to foreign lands; he recommended that some of the leaders should be transported to Canada; and he complained of the remissness of the convert officials. Nevertheless there was some ground for the view that in his heart he believed that force was no remedy. In the same letters in which he approves of force he also recommends gentleness and patience :

It would be easy enough [he says] to make them all go to Confession and Communion; but what a show to make people confess who do not yet believe in the true Church, or in her power to forgive sins! And how are we to administer Jesus Christ to those who do not believe that they receive Him? I know very well that, when missionaries and soldiers are combined, the new converts go together to Holy Communion. These stern, obstinate spirits, embittered against our religion, are, for all that, cowardly and with an eye to their worldly interests. At the least pressure they will commit sacrileges without number; but the only result will be to drive them to despair or utter indifference to all religion. We should bring down upon ourselves a horrible curse if we contented ourselves with hurrying on a work with no real foundation, and brilliant only to those who viewed it from afar.

Accordingly he begged for certain graces from the Government. Their clergy must be equal in capacity and learning to the ejected pastors; the State must furnish supplies and competent teachers for their schools; there must be free distribution of New Testaments and books of Catholic piety, printed in large type; alms should be given to the well disposed, according to the excellent system of the Consistories. And Fénelon even brought down suspicion on his head by leaving out of his sermons the customary Invocation to the Virgin, and by proposing that some special prayers and Bible-reading should be added to the religious. services attended by the heretics.'1 Fénelon's mission lasted from December, 1685, to July, 1686, and was renewed for a few months in the next year, 1687.

1 St. Cyres, p. 27.

2. In this year, 1687, Fénelon published his first work. Though it had some connection with his labours at the Nouvelles Catholiques, it did not deal with any of the religious questions of the day. His friends, the Duke and Duchess of Beauvillier, had a large family of daughters. In their anxiety to bring them up well, they applied to Fénelon for guidance. The rules which he laid down for them grew into a treatise, which is now known to us under the title De l'Education des Filles.

To estimate this book at its just value we must bear in mind that the most enlightened thinkers of that age maintained that a woman's education should embrace nothing more than her catechism, sewing, singing, dancing and deportment, and correct speech. Their view was based on the inferiority of her sex: her whole duty consisted in keeping house and doing her husband's bidding. Fénelon contends that even these occupations require intelligence and training. To parody a later saying, he insists that we must educate our mothers. If we devote so much attention to the education of boys in order to fit them for the important work which they have to do in the world, how can we neglect the education of the women to whose care they are entrusted in their tenderest and most impressionable years? It is no argument to say that the feminine mind is naturally weak all the more reason for making it strong. But Fénelon takes higher ground. He is a firm believer in the dignity of woman, and he considers that the frivolity, vanity, and affectation of which she is constantly accused, and is so often guilty, are the result, not merely of her sex, but of her training. Give her a fair chance, such as, at least, her young brothers get, and she will no longer be a doll or a drudge, but a help meet for man.

The first part of his little work is devoted to early education generally-whether of boys or of girls. It will be sufficient here to remark that he insists on the importance of making lessons pleasant. They must be short, with frequent intervals of play: the actual things about which the children are learning must be brought before their eyes and put into their hands (object-lessons); the books must be

[graphic]

nicely printed and bound, with plenty of beautiful pictures. Above all, the teacher must be kind and gentle, so as to win the pupils' confidence and love.

Next he deals with the teaching of girls in particular. He observes that the great aim should be to strengthen their character-to correct their many little weaknesses.

They are born actresses: tears cost them nothing: their emotions are lively, their intelligence narrow. They are excited about their dress: a hat, a ribbon, a lock of hair a bit higher or a bit lower-these are serious matters in their eyes. They should be taught that it is a much greater honour to be good than to have nice hair and nice frocks.

Beauty, in fact, is of little use, 'except for the purpose of marriage'! Not that Fénelon despised attractions. He even lays down rules for dress, which he would have designed on the lines of the drapery of the ancient statues : simplicity and dignity should be the dominant notes. The programme of studies which he drew up, though far in advance of those days, may seem to us meagre enough. Spanish and Italian are forbidden, because the books written in those languages are dangerous and unsuitable for women. But he permits the study of Greek and Roman history, and ' even the history of France, which also has its beauties.' Works of poetry and eloquence are recommended, but great care is to taken in the choice of them. A little law should also be taught for instance, the difference between a will and a deed of gift, the nature of contracts, what goods are movable and what immovable-but nothing that would encourage chicanery, to which women are so prone.

On the whole, we may conclude that Fénelon did much for the education of women, though he did not do all.

He stood far ahead of all other contemporary reformers. . Gaps there are, and contradictions and extravagances. Fénelon is open to the charge, so often brought against the Jansenists, of first teaching girls to think for themselves, and then forbidding them to express their thoughts. Within his own life

time, his correspondent and admirer, Mme. de Lambert, was already chafing at its narrowness. And it was long before another disciple, Mme. de Rémusat, broadened his timid

conception of a housewife, busied with much serving in the back ground, into the worthier ideal of a wife, whose glory it was to be the mother and the consort of a citizen, ready, though herself holding no cards in the game of life, to sit as a counsellor beside the players, to share in their victories, and console their defeats. Yet it was from the education of girls that these later reformers started; from Fénelon they learned to turn all their knowledge into character, all their wisdom into virtue."

The Duke de Beauvillier was able to make an ample return for the excellent advice given to him in the Education des Filles. In 1689 he was nominated governor of the little Duke of Burgundy, grandson of Louis XIV., and his first action was to secure the appointment of Fénelon as preceptor.

It was indeed a great promotion from the Nouvelles Catholiques to the charge of the education of the heir to the throne. During the long years spent by Fénelon in the former task, he had not however neglected to make friends at Court. Besides the Duke and Duchess de Beauvillier, he had become acquainted with Madame de Maintenon whose influence was already supreme with the king and who was soon to become his wife. With Bossuet he was on most intimate terms; and no one more highly approved of his selection than the great Bishop of Meaux. Louis XIV. is certainly deserving of high praise for his choice of two such men as Bossuet to teach his son, and Fénelon to teach his grandson. Yet in the former case the plan had resulted in utter failure. Bossuet had laid aside his sermons, his funeral orations, and his theological controversies, and bad devoted himself entirely for ten long years to the instruction of the dauphin. But the pupil was not worthy of the master. The intellectual distance between them was too great to be bridged over. No doubt it would have been wiser to have selected some commoner type of mind to train up the sluggish and vulgar son of the great king. Fénelon was more fortunate in his pupil, and the pupil, too, more fortunate in his master. The Duke of Burgundy was a far superior character to his father. He was, indeed, of a fierce

1 St. Cyres, p. 70.

and even savage disposition; his temper was violent and he was obstinate, but on the other hand his intelligence was of a high order, his memory was excellent, and he had a lively sense of the ridiculous. It was by appealing to this last, as well as by real kindness, that Fénelon was able to obtain control over his young charge; and he also took care to make the prince see at once the relative position of teacher and pupil. The result was soon perceptible. Burgundy made rapid progress in his studies, and what was better still, he became gentle and affable. A tender affection grew up between the two which lasted until the younger was so prematurely cut off. Indeed Fénelon ultimately came to have too much influence over the duke, who depended more and more on his 'Mentor' for spiritual and even political direction.

6

In 1695, Fénelon was nominated to the Archbishopric of Cambrai. He had, therefore, sacrificed only half the time devoted by Bossuet to the education of the dauphin. We must bear in mind that Burgundy was still a mere boy when his dear preceptor was taken from him. It is not fair to lay upon Fénelon the blame of the failure which followed. Early in 1702 the duke was sent to the army in Flanders. On his road he called at Cambrai, and, to his great delight, was allowed to see the archbishop. But the king had given orders that the interview should not be in private. To-day, after five years of separation,' wrote Fénelon, I have seen my lord Duke of Burgundy, but God has seasoned this blessing with very great bitterness.' The prince went through the indecisive campaigns of 1702 and 1703 with some credit. Then for five years he was kept at the Court. His position there was a difficult one. His father, the dauphin, was completely in the hands of a set of profligate favourites, at the head of whom was the infamous Vendôme. Burgundy's gloomy disposition and austere manners continually annoyed this cabal, who did their best to undermine his popularity. Strangely enough, their conduct does not seem to have reached the ears of the king. When, after the terrible defeats of Blenheim (1704) and Ramilies (1706), he resolved to make a supreme effort

[merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »