LITERACY IN THE FRENCH

OLD REGIME

 

DIRECTIONS: The following question is based on the accompanying Documents 1-14. (Some of the documents have been edited for the purpose of this exercise.) Write your answer on the lined pages of the pink essay booklet.

This question is designed to test your ability to work with historical documents. As you analyze each document, take into account its source and the point of view of the author. Write an essay on the following topic that integrates your analysis of the documents. You may refer to historical facts and developments not mentioned in the documents.

THE QUESTION: Describe the variations in the levels of literacy in Old Regime France and trace these variations over time. Analyze the factors that promoted or discouraged the spread of literacy.

 

 Document 1

 LITERACY IN FRANCE

 Adapted from Francois furet and Jacques Ozouf, "Reading and Writing: Literqacy in France from Calvin to Jules Ferry, 1982."

 Document 2

 PERCENTAGE OF FRENCH VILLAGES WITH SCHOOLS, BY SELECTED REGIONS

(1730-1789)

 From pastoral visits, bishops' inquiries and reports by intendants, 1730-1789

Document 3

LITERACY IN FRANCE BY SOCIAL GROUP

 

 1680's

 1789

   Male Female Male Female
 Nobels and Profesionals  95% 60% 95% 85%
Artisans 50% 20% 80% 50%
Prosperous Peasants 20% 0% 45% 10%
Sharecroppers and Laborers 5% 0% 15%` 0%

 Document 4

 I found scattered farmhouses in Northern France. All are collected in villages: small towns and villages are everywhere in sight. This region contains the cream of French agriculture: the soil is excellent. The vast range of country is an unbounded plain, the whole scattered with rich meadows, vineyards, gardens and forests. Ready markets for every sort of produce are an incentive for improvement.

In contrast, in the south of France, the country is all hill or valley, farmhouses are everywhere scattered instead of being collected in towns and farming here is backward. The poor people who cultivate the soil here are sharecroppers, a miserable system that perpetuates poverty and excludes instruction. This unimproved, poor and ugly region of the country seems to lack communication, demand and activity of all kinds: nor does it yield on the average the half of what it might.

 Arthur Young, English agricultural expert, "Travels in France" 1770's - 1780's

 Document 5

 Although their souls are equally precious to God, an aristocratic young lady should receive broader instruction than a wine grower's daughter: a wine grower's daughter need only know what is absolutely essential for salvation, but aristocratic young ladies need further instruction. Wine growers' daughters will make themselves ridiculous by reciting verses, while poetry is good for aristocratic young ladies.

* * * *

Merchants' daughters should learn about exactitude in commerce, measures weights and the allowed profit. Neither poetry nor conversation is necessary for the daughters of the bourgeoisie; it is not a question of embellishing their minds.

 Francoise d'Aubigne, Marquise de Maintenon

Founder of a school for aristocratic women, Excerpts of letters, 1715

 Document 6

 The school procures immense benefits, spiritual as well as temporal, by instructing youth, because by this means a great number of children learn writing and arithmetic, which equips them to engage in commerce, which is the only resource they have for pulling themselves out of poverty.
 A French Bishop, Leter, 1737

 Document 7

 The unremitting and arduous physical labors to which peasants are destined for cultivation of the land and for hauling do not at all demand that they know how to read, and even less that they know how to write. As long as a peasant can form the letters of his name, he is skilled enough; and what he might know beyond that is of no utility whatever to him.
 A government official in southern France, Letter, 1738

 Document 8

 I know that one argues in favor of schools on the pretext of religion: saying that it is important that peasants know and understand on their own what they should believe. But shouldn't the guidance of their priests suffice for that? In all centuries and especially in ours, knowledge has made few good believers and has led many others astray.
 Excerpt from a government report, 1744

 Document 9

 Schools should not be open except on holidays and on Sundays after church during the summer and at night during the winter. Most people would then know nothing: hooray for that! They would know neither how to read nor how to write, but they would have arms accustomed to digging the earth: that would make workers and soldiers.

 Francois Quesney, a leading French Physiocrat

"Essay on Land Management" 1759

 Document 10

 Today, even the lower classes want to study. Laborers and artisans send their children to schools, and when they have received a wretched education, which has taught them merely to despise their fathers' trades, they fling themselves into the monasteries, become priests or officers of justice, and frequently turn out to be a danger to society. Schoolmasters teach reading and writing to people who should never have learned more than a little drawing or how to handle the plane or the file, and who now don't want to do this.... The good of society requires that the knowledge of the people not extend farther than its occupations. A man who sees beyond his own sad profession will never ply it with courage and with patience. Among the people, it is scarcely necessary to know how to read and write.

 A French aristocrat and jurist, "Essay on National Education or Planof Studies for Youth."

Presented to a provincial parlement, 1763

 Document 11

 It is not possible to form true worshippers of God and faithful subjects of the king without the help of instruction. Nor is it possible for priests to instruct in the faith those coarse inhabitants of the countryside who do not know how to read. We have the sorrow of seeing that these young people who do not know how to read forget soon after their first communion even the most elementary parts of religion that they had learned in their childhood.
 Priests writing to their archbishop, 1769

 Document 12

 All women should be prohibited from learning to write and even read. This would preserve them from loose thoughts, confining them to useful tasks about the house, instilling in them respect for the first sex.
 Restif de la Bretonne, A French author, 1777

 Document 13

 I have always found that it was better if there were no schools at all in the villages. A peasant who knows how to read and write leaves agriculture, which is a great evil.
 An intendant, Letter 1782

 Document 14

 A great part of the ills which we have suffered would not have existed or would not have been so lasting if the inhabitants of the countryside had been better instructed, had been able to read regularly the good or bad laws and to express their own clear observations on the good and evil which would result.... It would thus have been a great public benefit, a great service to the government, a great remedy against a crowd of abuses to teach the inhabitants of the countryside to read, to write, and to calculate with facility. The long winter evenings would make many peasants hardworking and studious. New agricultural knowledge could spread on from province to province. The proprietors and inhabitants of this parish think that it would be very useful if there were in each village a good schoolmaster capable of teaching children reading, writing, arithmetic, surveying, and measuring.
 Cahier (a list of grievances) of a village near Paris, 1789