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This celebrated ecclesiastic and teacher was born in the province of Périgord, August 6, 1651. From an early age
he was remarkable for his industry, his amiable disposi• tion, and his thirst for knowledge. Up to the age of twelve his education was conducted at home; he was then sent to Cahors, and two years later to Paris, where his course of instruction was completed. Destined to the clerical office by his family, and inclined toward it by natural gifts and disposition, he entered the theological seminary of SaintSulpice, and won general esteem by his application, ability, and exemplary character. He was ordained priest at the age of twenty-four, and four years later he was placed over an institution in Paris designed for the instruction of young women who had renounced the Protestant faith. He spent ten years of his life as director of this institution, and it was while in charge of it that he wrote his excellent and famous treatise on the “ Education of Girls.”
After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Fénelon was placed at the head of a mission that was sent to Poitou to labor among the Protestant portion of the population. He fulfilled the trying duties of this office with gentleness and toleration; and such was the affability of his manners and the charm of his discourse that his labors were not unattended with success. In the words of Antonin Roche, “No person was more capable than he of rendering virtue attractive by that touching and effective language which ad
dresses itself to the heart and inspires confidence. To this precious gift he joined the merit of giving his instructions that simple, clear, and agreeable form that placed them within reach of all minds."
In 1689 he was appointed tutor to the young Duke of Burgundy, grandson of Louis XIV. This young prince was endowed with fine natural abilities, but possessed of an inordinate pride and a furious temper. This rendered Fénelon's task exceedingly difficult, but he discharged its duties with rare wisdom and surprising success. his skilful and affectionate instruction, the young prince developed the virtues of patience, self-control, and kindly consideration. As aids to his instruction Fénelon composed fables, compiled histories, and wrote fiction, particularly “ Telemachus," which holds a permanent place in the classic literature of France. A brilliant future was predicted for this young duke, but unfortunately death intervened to prevent its realization.
In 1695 Fénelon was elevated to the archbishopric of Cambray in recognition of his distinguished ability and service. He devoted himself conscientiously to the duties of his diocese. He led a life of great simplicity, and divided his time between the administration of affairs and the personal instruction of his flock. Though he had delighted the French court by his eloquence, and had embarrassed Bossuet by his learning and force of argument, yet he found pleasure in going through the villages of his diocese to teach the simple peasantry the catechism in language suited to their uncultured condition.
The later years of his life were rendered unhappy by theological controversies, by the displeasure of the king, and by the loss of his dearest friends. His disappointments and sorrows were grievous, but he bore them with touching resignation. “He died,” says Lamartine, “ like a saint and
poet, listening to the sweetest and sublimest hymns, which carried at the same time his imagination and his soul to heaven." His death occurred January 7, 1715.
Fénelon's “ Education of Girls," which was published in 1681, has the distinction of being the first systematic and comprehensive treatise ever written on the subject. It consists of thirteen chapters, the first two of which here follow without abridgment. From the remaining chapters such passages are given as will present Fénelon's views in tolerable completeness. As will be seen, he may be regarded as an advocate of the higher education of woman, “ fully recognizing the influence she exerts in the home and in society.” In this he belongs to the list of modern educational reform
But his views are somewhat limited by his belief that woman is intellectually inferior to man, and by his fundamental principle that her education should be restricted to the practical needs of domestic life. In addition to specific recommendations as to study and methods, the treatise is rich in general pedagogical principles of great insight and wisdom.
“We have today," says Paroz in his Histoire Universelle de la Pédagogie,“ educational works that are more complete and systematic, but this one will live because of its excellent spirit and beautiful style. In all ages and in every land it will be read with pleasure and profit. Of all the Catholic clergy who have engaged in educational work, Fénelon has perhaps approached nearest to the rational principles which form the basis of modern pedagogy. The order of nature has a place in his theology, and he knows how to reconcile the needs of temporal life with the spirit of Christianity. This characteristic will always assign him a high rank among educators.”
SELECTION FROM FÉNELON.
THE EDUCATION OF GIRLS.
The Importance of the Education of Girls.
I. Nothing is more neglected than the education of girls. Custom and the caprice of mothers frequently decide everything: people suppose that they ought to give but little instruction to this sex. The education of boys passes for one of the principal concerns of life through its relation to the public weal; and although scarcely fewer mistakes are made than in the education of girls, people are at least persuaded that much intelligence is needed to succeed in it. The cleverest people have endeavored to give rules in this matter. How many teachers and colleges we see! What expense for the printing of books, for the researches of science, for methods of learning the languages, for the choice of professors! All this great preparation often has more superficiality than solidity; but it indicates the high conception people have of the education of boys. As for girls, they say, it is not necessary that they be learned, curiosity renders them vain and affected; it is enough if they know how to govern some day their households, and to obey their husbands without question. People do not fail to refer to many women whom science has rendered ridiculous: after which they believe themselves justified in blindly abandoning girls to the management of ignorant and indiscreet mothers.
2. It is true that we should fear making ridiculous scholars. Women ordinarily have minds weaker and more inquisitive than men; thus it is not expedient to engage them in studies that might turn their heads. They are not to govern the state, make war, or enter the sacred ministry;
accordingly they can dispense with certain branches of knowledge which belong to statecraft, the art of war, jurisprudence, philosophy, and theology. The greater part of the mechanic arts does not suit them: they are constituted for moderate exertion. Their bodies, as well as their minds, are less strong and robust than those of men; in return, nature has given them industry, neatness, and economy, to occupy them tranquilly in their homes.
3. But what follows from this natural weakness of women? The more they are weak, the more important is it to make them strong. Have they not duties to perform, even duties which form the foundation of all human life? Is it not women that ruin or uphold families, that regulate all the details of domestic life, and that decide, consequently, what touches most closely the whole human race? In that way they have the principal part in the good or the bad manners of almost the entire world. A judicious, diligent, and pious wife is the soul of a great household; she introduces order there for temporal welfare and future salvation. Even men, who have all authority in public, can not, by their deliberations, establish any efficient good, if women do not aid them to execute it.
4. The world is not a phantom; it is the union of all the families : and who can govern them with a nicer care than women who, besides their natural authority and their diligence in the household, have still the advantage of being born painstaking, attentive to details, industrious, winning, and persuasive? Can men themselves hope for any happiness in life, if their most intimate relation, which is that of marriage, turns to bitterness? And what will become of the children, who are later to constitute the human race, if their mothers spoil them from infancy?
5. These, then, are the occupations of women, which are scarcely less important to the public than those of men,