Margaret Fuller, Critic: Writings from the New-York Tribune, 1844-1846

By Judith Mattson Bean; Joel Myerson | Go to book overview

Instruction in the French Language

As every body, with any pretensions to culture, learns French here; the number of persons who offer themselves to teach that language is proportionately great. Still, among these, it must always be the fewest who can be of great value to the pupil. We are subject to such a throng of half-educated or uneducated foreigners, and, any one who speaks French, any how thinks it such an easy way of earning a few dollars, that the pupil is subject not only to learn of those who have no method or tact and thus make his acquaintance with the language unnecessarily slow and difficult, but to be infected with vulgarities and mauvais ton.1 It is well known what high value the French, in common with all polished nations, set upon a correct and graceful use of their tongue in speech. This was the branch, as we are told, in which the Roman matrons were the special instructors of their sons. From others they learned the arts and bodily exercises, but, from their mothers, to use their native tongue with eloquence, majesty, and persuasive eloquence. To this great art Americans are so indifferent; indeed often appearing to prefer slang, cant phrases, and abrupt or uncouth expressions and intonations; that is not so surprising they do not know, when studying a foreign tongue, whether they have for their master an accomplished litérateur or a barber. As, however, the French do not share this indifference, and want of culture both of ear and taste, they are subject, through their carelessness, to become ridiculous the moment they set foot in the city, which is, to the would-be elegants and lions of New York, the Zion of their hopes, the tabernacle of their faith.

We have the honor of recommending to them a teacher, Prof. J. P. Edwards, who, we are assured by competent judges, will lead them into no such dangers, and has, beside, an excellent, simple method, “joined to extraordinary patience and courtesy as a teacher.” A letter of recommendation which he brings hither,

____________________
1
mauvais ton: “bad tone.”

-384-

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