Emulation: Class, Gender, and Context
In 1837 the Emulation Society of the Jura, a learned society in the small town of Lons le Saunier, admitted the local tax collector, one M Bourdeloy, to membership. As his maiden contribution to the society's scholarly work, Bourdeloy composed a thirteen-page poem apostrophizing emulation. A short excerpt suffices to catch the flavour of the original:
Noble emulation, treasure of great souls,
You whose vivid flames warm
Still-virgin genius, awakening brilliance,
Germinating virtue, unfurling talents,
You fertilize our human dust,
Spreading limitless good and waves of enlightenment. . . .
Ah! When to endow your dear patrie,
We see you convoke the arts and industry,
Uncovering their secrets, provoking competition,
Who does not admire the fruits of your labour?
Who would not bless its prosperous influence?
The present applauds while the future hopes. . . .1
The poem continued in typical learned society fashion, full of gracefully worded flattery and carefully footnoted allusions to the scholarship of other members of the society. An appreciative audience of Lédonien bourgeois accepted the tax collector's poetic efforts and welcomed him among their ranks and into the local elite.
Poems addressing emulation, voluntary associations calling themselves emulation societies, and bourgeois Frenchmen describing themselves as emulators--all suggest that 'emulation' bore a significantly heavier burden of meaning for the nineteenth-century bourgeois than for the twentieth-century reader. The effort M Bourdeloy invested in devising thirteen rhymed and metred pages (the meticulous alexandrines are, unfortunately, lost in translation) was not expended in praise of mere____________________