K. van Strien (Hrsg.): Abraham Trembley et autres précepteurs suisses en Hollande

Abraham Trembley et autres précepteurs suisses en Hollande. Correspondances (1733–1801)

van Strien, Kees
Reading the Eighteenth Century
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Rezensiert für infoclio.ch und H-Soz-Kult von:
Marc Ratcliff, Psychology, University of Geneva

It has been difficult for historians to conceptualise the history of private education in the Dutch Republic since the classic work of John Baker1, who reported on Abraham Trembley's activity as a private tutor. The work of Kees van Strien, who has systematically analysed French-speaking Swiss preceptors in the Dutch Republic in the 18th century, provides valuable insights into this era. The author and editor of this historical source collection painstakingly examined archives for the numerous correspondences of the preceptors and a vast amount of archival sources, often of significant biographical and contextual value. These included parish and civil registers, account books, administrative documents, membership lists, visitors’ books, contracts, educational journals, travel diaries, notarial deeds, album amicorum, educational plans, university documents, and many others, all of which shed light on the many aspects of private education in the 18th century.

The book opens with a rich introduction about the importance of educational governors and preceptors in the changing political context of the United Provinces during the Age of Enlightenment. The role of the French language, supported by Huguenot immigration, was clearly crucial, fostering exchanges between Protestant elites in Holland and Romandy. Shared values, particularly religious and moral ones, and didactic concerns were paramount to the educational exchange. The recruitment of these governors and governesses, in what appeared to be a private education market between Holland and mostly French-speaking Switzerland, also benefited from the prevailing education theories, stemming in particular from Locke and Rousseau. The education market expanded in Europe with the fall of the Jesuits in 1767, and by the end of the century, public advertisements, such as in newspapers, had replaced the previous system of personal recommendations. Against this backdrop, the demand for governors, whether for children or young adults, increased over the century, compensating the elite for the poor quality of public schools.

In the main body of the text, transcribed letters, always taken from 5–10 different authors and different periods covering the last two-thirds of the century, are skillfully arranged according to the six themes presented in the introduction. The book’s organization is, therefore, thematic, allowing readers to situate the problem of preceptorship within the study of knowledge during the Enlightenment. These themes are: 1. The recruitment of governors, which was often based on recommendations; here, we note the importance of the procedures and instructions given to governors, as well as the theoretical aspect relating to models of education; 2. Life in the pupil’s home: this chapter contains a forceful description of the tasks and daily life of pupils; 3. Governors’ interactions with students in the changing university contexts of Leiden and Utrecht; 4. The educational journey to Switzerland, the Helvetian and Protestant version of the Grand Tour, which is illuminated by various perspectives and events and considers the roles of tourism and education; 5. Friends for life: preceptorship allowed many governors to forge strong friendships with pupils, their parents, and other governors; 6. Finally, the last chapter deals with women, particularly governesses from Romandie, who left to work in Holland or were looking for a position there.

Kees van Strien’s thematic organization of the book leaves space for a more micro approach to the exchanges, providing deftly arranged material for a large number of case studies. These include David-Rodolphe Conod’s negotiation of a governor’s contract; Abraham Trembley’s passion for the profession and practice of education, which starkly contrasts with his scientific objectivity; Jean-Nicolas-Sébastien Allamand’s efforts to deal with a recalcitrant student who did not want to study; Claude de Salgas’s discovery of university habits; Ami de Rochemont’s travel itinerary and expenses; Pauline Prades’s personality in her relations with her pupils; or the various governesses who succeeded one another in caring for Adolf van Pallandt’s daughters. These correspondences are often lively, recounting numerous facts, events, and attitudes that illustrate the modernity of these actors’ concerns. They also demonstrate how well-established elite education systems drove relations between Protestant states. Through these numerous letters and their thematic grouping, this book expands on the sometimes abstract question of education during the Enlightenment and illustrates the importance of exchanges and didactic values in French-speaking Protestantism. Most of these letters are written in French, with a few in English or translated from Dutch.

Kees van Strien made a number of interesting, even didactic choices, and since correspondence from the 18th century is dense and often touches on several subjects, some of the letters transcribed are extracts relating to the main topic. Likewise, to acknowledge when a new figure is introduced––and there are many––the editor summarizes the content of the epistolary exchanges.

Trembley, one of the stars of eighteenth-century natural science, is present alongside various little-known or unknown figures. The editor discusses many minores with a certain relief, so a vast series of actors and actresses, such as parents, grandparents, uncles, tutors, teachers, and friends, who gravitate around the governors and their pupils are summoned in these letters. Finally, we note that some governors, notably Allamand and Jacques Brez, were also naturalists, as was Trembley. It is regrettable that in this erudite account of the relations between governors and their students in the context of the University of Leyden’s diminishing importance, so little is said about the ascendant naturalist science movement of the 18th century, to which some governors subscribed, and which made Trembley, who serves as the book’s poster boy, famous.

However, this far from detracts from the book’s workmanship. This is a handy, well-polished edition that aptly synthesizes numerous archival sources, primarily from the Netherlands but also from France, Switzerland, and England. A large number of appendices enhances the edition to facilitate research; this includes a glossary, a list of governors and their pupils, two bibliographies of secondary literature and sources, two indexes of names, and a very useful index of family alliances of the Dutch elites of the period. Therefore, this important contribution to the history of French-language pedagogy in the Netherlands during the Enlightenment will also serve as a working tool for researchers dealing with knowledge in the 18th century.

1 John R. Baker, Abraham Trembley of Geneva, Scientist, and Philosopher (1710-1784), London 1952.

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