Charles Praval: eighteenth-century French teacher in Dublin.

French language and culture formed an essential component of civilised life in eighteenth-century Ireland. Cultivated men and women, irrespective of religious or political allegiance, displayed an awareness of French fashions and cultural trends. From the early years of the century French was taught in private schools in Ireland and in families by tutors and governesses. By the last quarter of the eighteenth century an education which included French was within the range of the sons and daughters of middle income families in Dublin and in the provincial cities and towns. In 1775-6 French was introduced, with German, Italian and Spanish, as an optional extra subject at Trinity College Dublin.

The Huguenot diaspora coincided with the desire of an increasing number of members of the higher socio-economic levels in Irish society to learn to read, write and speak French for social and scholarly purposes. The Huguenot emigrants who came to Ireland and England without skills, or with skills which were not in demand, were able to teach French until a more favourable situation presented itself. The first French schools in the Huguenot community in Portarlington were run by ex-soldiers and tradesmen, who were natives of France and therefore felt qualified to teach the language. Of most interest, however, are the men and women who taught French as a full-time career, some of whom wrote textbooks for their students and for the wider market. Many opened French schools, but the majority, perhaps lacking the capital, were employed as French teachers in general schools, some dividing their time between several schools, or teaching private students in their homes in addition to teaching in a school. Not all taught in schools, some French teachers became resident governesses or tutors with a family, or visited at appointed hours for lessons.

Charles Praval seems to typify the successful and energetic professional French teacher in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Diversity was the key to a successful career. Clearly being in the right place at the right time with the right skills was a decided advantage. His career combines several elements of the teaching life; there was hardly an aspect of French language education in which he was not involved. Praval lived and worked in Dublin during the period 1773 to 1789. In his advertisements he describes himself as a Frenchman and claims to have a perfect knowledge of the English and Latin languages.

Strickland refers to him as a French artist and landscape draftsman who came to Dublin in 1773.[1] He exhibited three drawings at the Society of Artists Exhibition Rooms in William Street, one of which was an Indian fortification in New Zealand, another an arched rock in New Holland (Australia). In the catalogue to the exhibition he describes himself as ‘late draftsman to Mr Banks during his expedition around the world’.[2] Sir Joseph Banks’ expedition was the voyage of the Endeavour, commanded by Captain James Cook. Undertaken from 1768 to 1771, the Endeavour circumnavigated the world, exploring islands in the Pacific, ascertaining that New Zealand formed two islands, and discovering the eastern portion of Australia, New South Wales, and the infamous Botany Bay, named because of the amount of botanical specimens gathered there. Praval joined the expedition in 1770 at Batavia (now Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies when two of the artists aboard the Endeavour fell ill and died. He made the six-month return journey to England as a supernumerary.[3] Sir Joseph’s chief draughtsman, Sydney Parkinson’s account of the voyage was published in London in 1773.[4]

In 1773 Praval taught French and drawing at the Dublin Academy in Abbey Street. In February 1774 he moved from the Dublin Academy to Mr Egan’s, opposite the White-Hart Inn, Phrapper Lane, where he advertised the French Evening School ‘the only one of its kind in this city’.[5] In an advertisement for his school text, The rudiments of the French tongue, just published in March 1775, Praval’s address is given as 10 Bull Lane.[6] He is first listed in Wilson’s Dublin directory as a teacher of the French language in 1776 at Great Strand Street, then at 5 White Friar Street from 1777 to 1785; this corresponds with his most active period both as a teacher and author. In 1786-7 his address is at George’s Court and finally, from 1788 until his death in June 1789, at Platanus, Donnybrook Road.[7] He seems to have had no involvement with Trinity College although The syntax of the French language (1779) is dedicated to the ‘Right Hon. the Provost and Fellows of Trinity College Dublin’.[8] This dedication occurs just four years after the foundation of the first professorships of modern languages at Trinity College, so perhaps he cherished some hopes of appointment.

The idea of a French evening school is an interesting one and apparently an innovation in Dublin at the period. It was open every evening from 5 until 9 pm and French was the only language spoken during school hours. The evening school was for young gentlemen who were not free to attend during the day either because they were working, were apprentices, or because they attended schools which did not teach French. The evening school, teaching French after hours, must have attracted sufficient interest as Praval continued with it until at least 1787, when he taught three evenings a week, on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at his lecture room in George’s Court, Great George’s Street.[9]

While he claimed the French evening school to be the first of its kind in the city it was soon followed by others in Dublin and other towns and cities. Mr Walenbergh, who arrived in Dublin ‘from abroad’ in January 1776, taught French and Italian from 7 until 8 pm at his lodgings in Capel Street, in addition to teaching ladies and gentlemen in their homes.[10] In 1798 Robert Lowther of the Royal Military and Marine Academy in Summerhill, Dublin, offered ‘private tuition in appartments separate from the Public School, or in the evening’ to young gentlemen ‘who are engaged in business, and wish to improve themselves in the Classics, French or English languages, Arithmetic, Book-keeping, or any branch of Science, preparatory to the University, Army, Navy or East India Company’.[11] Evening classes were not only confined to the metropolis, but took place in the provincial cities and towns. At Mawhinney’s Latin and French school in Pottinger’s Entry, Belfast, an extra class was organised from 7 until 9 pm ‘for the convenience of those who cannot attend his other Classes at an earlier part of the day’, commencing on 19 October 1789.[12] In Cork in the early years of the nineteenth century, Dominick Jacotin carried on his evening academy from 6 until 8 pm in Patrick Street, where he taught French and Italian.[13] Praval appears to have been one of the first teachers to see the potential of an evening academy in the context of French for those who wanted extra tuition, or for those hoping to improve themselves in order to get a better situation.

For those French teachers who had the capital, directing a boarding school often seems to have been the ultimate career aim. Several started their careers teaching in student’s houses or in schools and as soon as the opportunity arose they moved to a house large enough to accommodate boarders and set up a school. In several instances husband and wife teams were involved in the running of these schools. Rev Thomas Willis’ celebrated school in Portarlington was run by Mr and Mrs Willis in 1784.[14] At White’s Old Merrion Lodge Academy, Dublin, Mr White ran the school for young gentlemen while Mrs White took care of the boys under six years old.[15] In 1798 Mrs Gautier ran a boarding school for young ladies at James’s Street, Dublin, while Mr Gautier ‘taught in respectable schools’.[16] On 1 July 1785, twelve years after his move to Dublin, Charles Praval took a lease for 63 years on the house and two-acre demesne of Platanus, on the road leading to Donnybrook, now Upper Leeson Street, at £100 per year, to be paid quarterly.[17] He prepared the four-storey house as a boarding school for twenty young ladies. The school was opened on 1 September 1785 and was under the care of his wife, Catherine Praval, while he continued with his evening school in George’s Court.[18] The Pravals must have made a success of the boarding school as there is evidence for its continued existence after Praval’s death until at least 1811 under the direction of his wife, and his daughter, Eliza.[19]

duncan-1821-platanus

Praval promised that his students would learn French in a very short time by taking advantage of his method of teaching. For those who were already instructed in the principles of the language he offered that they would ‘speedily acquire Facility in Speaking and Elegancy in Discourse’. Indeed he was ready to compare students who had attended his lessons for four or five months with students who attended a private master for nine months. He felt that ‘this assertion would appear pompous, if Praval had any other way to recommend himself to Publick Favour, than by proving thus the Solidity of his Establishment’.[20] Praval’s method of teaching French involved the constant use of the French language during school hours. He believed that ‘this continual Practice, united to the Lessons of the Master, is the true means of enabling his Pupils to speak in shorter Time than they possibly could do under the care of a private Master’.[21] By this method he claimed that some of his pupils learned to speak, read and write French in six months. French was the language spoken during school hours at his evening academy, and at the boarding school at Platanus French was the language of the house.[22]

Many schools emphasised that they taught French grammatically and while this was very necessary it was also desirable that the spoken language should be taught. In the schools where French formed a major component of the curriculum, as distinct from schools where French was taught as an extra, it was frequently the case that French was the language in everyday use. Peter Chartier had a French school for gentlemen boarders at his home in Waterford from about 1774 to 1788. His students were given the opportunity of conversing with the family in French.[23] At Carey’s Classical School in Dorset Street, Dublin, French was spoken by the boarders at meals and at playtime.[24]

In addition to running his own evening academy and teaching at their French school at Platanus, Charles Praval was willing to take private students. This seems an excessive workload until the careers of other teachers are examined and it can be seen that certain teachers spread their talents very widely indeed. In terms of energy and diversity Praval is rivalled by Mr Lefebure in Cork in the 1790s. Lefebrure is first encountered in July 1789 when he was in charge of the French department at the Munster Academy, at 13 Grand Parade. In February 1792 he was employed as a French master at Mr Knowles’ Cork Academy of Languages in George’s Street.[25] In September of the same year Mr Lefebrure ‘at the particular request of his Friends’ opened an academy at his own house in George’s Street. It was called the Mercantile School and Academy of Languages and here he taught French while employing masters to teach Latin, Greek, English, Geography, Arithmetic and Mathematics. He stated that his private tuition was attended as usual.[26] In January 1793 Lefebure and his son taught French at Mrs Menzies’ boarding school, Cittadella, on the Blackrock Road. Mrs Menzies felt that ‘the Teachers attending that School require only to be named, to point out their excellence’. Even taking a little exaggeration into account for publicity, the Lefebures must have been highly thought of.[27] On 21 January 1794 Mr Lefebure’s own academy moved from George’s Street to Summerstown on the Kinsale Road, one mile from the city, where he accommodated twenty boarders. Mr Lefebure and his son continued with their private tuition in town.[28] Lefebure’s academy was still listed in Nixon’s Cork Almanack in 1798 at the Lough, although Mr Lefebure senior had died of apoplexy in 1797.[29]

Peter Chartier also showed a particular zeal for teaching in the 1770s and 1780s. In 1769 he taught French in Barrack Street, Limerick. He next appears in Waterford; he ran a boarding school for young gentlemen in his own house from about 1774, where he taught French and where French was the language of the house.[30] He was the French teacher at Mrs Long’s school in Waterford in 1777. Chartier is still listed as a French teacher in Goosegate Lane, Waterford in Lucas’ General Directory of 1788.[31] Plumb has identified a similar trend in England, displaying energy and diversity among teachers. He cites John Richardson who ran a school in Paradise Square, Sheffield, while his wife ran a girl’s school. Richardson operated a circulating library, conducted evening classes and a free Sunday school. He also draws attention to a dancing teacher and his sons who taught in 19 schools in East Anglia in 1784.[32]

praval-rudiments

Praval’s teaching was supplemented both financially and intellectually by the production of language learning texts and readers for his students and for the general market. In this endeavour he formed a working partnership with William and Henry Whitestone, printers and booksellers at 33 Skinner Row and 29 Capel Street, Dublin. The Whitestones published several books of French interest, such as La Bruyère’s Characters in an English translation in 1776 and in French in 1778, and the French textbooks of John Perrin. Praval’s first text, The rudiments of the French tongue was issued by them in 1775, followed by a second edition in 1779, The syntax of the French tongue in 1779 and The idioms of the French language in 1783.[33] (33)

The grammar books were well received and went into several subsequent editions around the country. The rudiments of the French tongue came out in a third edition, printed by George Burnett in 1802, and in a fourth edition, printed in Cork in 1809.[34] The syntax of the French tongue was reprinted in Dublin in 1802 and 1804 by George Burnett and his successor, Richard Burnet.[35] The idioms of the French language was reprinted in Dublin by George Burnett in 1794, and by William Porter in 1803 and 1810; it was reprinted in Cork by Anthony Edwards and Michael Harris in 1795.[36] In 1825 and 1833 respectively The idioms of the French language was ‘revised and augmented’ and The rudiments and syntax of the French language ‘improved and considerably enlarged’ by Adelbert Doisy, a teacher at the Belfast Academical Institution.[37] Two more textbooks by Praval are listed in the General catalogue of books 1791, French exercises (1770) and French grammar (n.d.), but no copies seem to be extant. Both were published in Dublin in duodecimo format at 3s.3d. and 2s.2d. respectively.[38] However, the date of 1770 for the publication of French exercises is puzzling as there is no evidence that Praval was in Dublin prior to 1773.

magazin-a-la-mode

For his more advanced students Praval issued a monthly periodical, the Magazin à la mode, in 1777-8, and in 1780 compiled a collection of extracts from the writings of ‘Voltaire, Racine, Corneille, Crébillon, Rousseau et autre auteurs célébres’, Le Parnasse François, for which he wrote an introductory treatise on French poetry.[39] Both were published by the Whitestones. The publication of the Magazin à la mode, issued between May 1777 and April 1778, was significant from a teaching point of view. Written entirely in French it claimed that ‘les personnes qui apprennent le François trouveront une source inépuisable d’instruction, & celles qui le savent y verront avec plaisir un receuil choisi de sujets intéressants’.[40] The Magazin was advertised in the Hibernian Journal and the Waterford Chronicle in May 1777 to tie in with the publication of the first issue.[41] It was distributed throughout Ireland to subscribers and to bookshops for general sale.[42] Praval included reviews and extracts from newly published books in the Magazin. In the issue of July 1777 he reviewed James Cook’s Voyage vers le pole du sud et autour du monde 1772-5, a book that must have been of particular interest to him in the light of his own participation in the earlier voyage, from 1768 to 1771.

Clearly there was a market for French language textbooks and in this endeavour as in his many others Praval epitomised the successful French teacher. From the early years of the century French teachers produced their own textbooks. The textbooks and readers for the use of their students served as an arena where the teachers could parade their own skills and also supplement their income. A number of teachers ‘improved’ the texts in new editions of best-sellers. John Astruc, a teacher of French in Grafton Street and Glover’s Alley, Dublin, from 1762 to 1783, ‘corrected and greatly improved’ Nugent’s French and English dictionary. It was published in Dublin as Astruc’s French and English dictionary by James Williams in 1770 in duodecimo format at 3s.3d., and by Thomas Ewing in 1774 at the same price. Porny’s Grammatical exercises in English and French was ‘considerably improved’ in its seventh edition by William C. Leech, a teacher of French in Dorset Street; it was printed in Dublin for Patrick Wogan in 1794.

Charles Praval lived a busy life teaching, running two schools, taking private pupils and writing textbooks. Not all teachers were so energetic or so fortunate in their endeavours. On 26 March 1789 a group of teachers, clergy, booksellers and other interested persons instituted a new society, the first of its kind ‘for raising a Fund for the Relief of Distressed School Masters, School Mistresses and their families’ called originally the Abecedarian Society, but later renamed the Society for the Relief of Reduced Literary Teachers. The Society met on the first and third Thursday of every month at the Royal Exchange.[43] In 1799 the Society was incorporated by an Act of Parliament and received its definitive name: the Literary Teacher’s Society, which it has retained to the present day. Among the earliest members of the society was Eliza, Praval’s daughter.[44] On the committee of the society were such celebrated teachers as John McCrea (its founder), Samuel Whyte, Sisson P. Darling, David Bates, John Coyne, John Farrell, John Dumoulin, Elias M. Draffin, Revd. John Moore, Revd. James Whitelaw, Revd. Thomas Willis of Portarlington and Francis Amyot, King’s Professor and teacher of modern languages at Trinity College, Dublin.[45] A number of prominent Dublin booksellers had places on the committee, they included William Gilbert, William Sleator, Luke White and Robert Marchbank.

Members of the society paid one guinea per annum and when the funds were sufficient relief not exceeding one guinea per week could be paid to a member or his/her family who were in distress. When a member died, a sum not exceeding £10 could be given towards the funeral expenses. The society received no aid from government nor grant from parliament, and was supported entirely from membership fees.[46] From an examination of the membership of the society it would seem that only the more prominent teachers were members. Perhaps the payment of one guinea a year was more than some could afford, even to guard against penury in sickness and old age.

The career of Charles Praval affords us a considerable insight into the working lives of the teachers of French in Ireland in the eighteenth century. A number of elements stand out as being progressive in the field of education, notably the provision of evening classes for those who were unable to attend school during the day and who wished to improve themselves. The existence of evening classes conducted by Praval and by teachers in Dublin and in other parts of the country signifies a desire on the part of parents that their children receive tuition in French even if the schools that they were attending did not provide it. Evening classes also offered an opportunity to those who had completed their schooling to learn and perfect the language. The emphasis on the oral method of language learning was a feature of the better schools. It is significant that teachers particularly advertised the fact that students would have an opportunity to speak French in normal everyday situations, in the playground, at meals etc., either with a native of France or with a person who had resided in France. This indicates that school French was not intended for reading only, but for conversation as well.

The provision of a French language periodical containing extracts from the latest French publications was an especially significant innovation. It went farther than a textbook or reader, and sought to encourage an advanced appreciation of the language and literature among learners. A market clearly existed for such a periodical as it was widely distributed by booksellers around the country. Diversity was the key to a successful career, combining private and school teaching and producing textbooks for the teacher’s own students and for the wider market. Elements of the teaching life were consistent in Dublin and in the provincial towns, although it is likely that there was more opportunity for teachers in the capital. The diversity of activities apparent among Irish teachers of French is paralleled by their counterparts in provincial England.

Eliza Praval’s involvement with the Literary Teacher’s Society pointed to a concern for the profession in general which sought to take care of its more needy members; a society which has lasted for over 200 years. The plight of reduced school masters and mistresses is known because of their literate status and their consequent appeals for help in the newspapers. The society was initiated at a time when the death or illness of a breadwinner meant destitution for a family. Teachers were in a vulnerable position in this regard, especially those in subordinate situations who owned no property. The Pravals were in a better financial position than most, with a boarding school in Donnybrook, yet they thought it prudent to subscribe to the society. After Charles Praval’s demise, his wife and daughter were able to continue to direct the boarding school for more than another two decades.

All images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

This article was first published in Dublin Historical Record, LII, no.2 (Autumn 1999), pp 126-37.

[1] Walter G. Strickland, A dictionary of Irish artists, 2 volumes (Dublin and London, Maunsel and Co, 1913), ii, pp 260-1.

[2] Society of Artists in Ireland index of exhibits, 1765-80, compiled by George Breeze (Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, 1985), p.23.

[3] I am very grateful to Julie Ann Godson for the reference to Charles Pravel in the Hakluyt Society archive, which she discovered during her research for The Water Gypsy: how a Thames fishergirl became a viscountess (FeedARead.com, 2014, new edition 2016).

[4] Sydney Parkinson, Journal of a voyage to the South Seas in HMS Endeavour (London, 1773; facsimile reprint London, Caliban Books, 1984).

[5] Freeman’s Journal, 5-8 Feb. 1784.

[6] Freeman’s Journal, 14-16 March 1785.

[7] Wilson’s Dublin directories (Dublin, William Wilson, 1776-1789). Freeman’s Journal, 6-9 June 1789.

[8] Charles Praval, The syntax of the French language (Dublin, W. & H. Whitestone, 1779).

[9] Volunteer’s Journal, 30 Dec. 1785. Wilson’s Dublin directories 1786-1787.

[10] Freeman’s Journal, 23-25 Jan. 1776.

[11] Dublin Evening Post, 27 Oct. 1798.

[12] Belfast News Letter, 13-16 Oct. 1789.

[13] Cork Courier, 20 Aug. 1794. D. Jacotin, Catalogue of the English, French and Italian Circulating Library (Cork, 1803). William West, Directory and picture of Cork and its environs (Cork, 1810). John Connor’s Cork directory for 1812 (Cork, 1812).

[14] Volunteer’s Journal, 9 July 1784.

[15] Dublin Evening Post, 25 May 1797.

[16] Hibernian Journal, 15 Aug. 1798. It is not clear if this Mr Gautier can be identified with the author of The idioms of the French language, published by subscription in Dublin in 1807, and supported by several of the leading French schools in the city.

[17] Registry of Deeds: 389/143/255914 (27 Mar. 1787); 464/27/293097 (18 Sept. 1792). Platanus is marked on William Duncan’s Map of the county of Dublin, 1821.

[18] Volunteer’s Journal, 5 Aug. 1785.

[19] Wilson’s Dublin directories 1787-1788. Dublin Evening Post, 9 Jan. 1798. Registry of Deeds: 637/304/438606 (27 Jul. 1811).

[20] Saunder’s News Letter, 17-19 Oct. 1774.

[21] Freeman’s Journal, 5-8 Feb. 1774.

[22] Volunteer’s Journal, 5 Aug. 1785.

[23] Waterford Chronicle, 12-16 Dec. 1777.

[24] Volunteer’s Journal, 5 Jan. 1784.

[25] Hibernian Chronicle, 27 Jul. 1789. Cork Gazette, 4 Feb. 1792.

[26] Cork Gazette, 8 Sept. 1792.

[27] Cork Gazette, 9 Jan. 1793.

[28] New Cork Evening Post, 17 Oct. 1793. Cork Gazette, 23 Oct. 1793; 18 Jan. 1794.

[29] Nixon’s gentleman’s and citizen’s Cork almanack 1798 (Cork, J. Haly, 1798). Hibernian Chronicle, 20 Nov. 1797.

[30] Limerick directory (Limerick, John Ferrar, 1769). Waterford Chronicle, 12-16 Dec. 1777.

[31] Richard Lucas, General directory of the kingdom of Ireland 1788 (1788).

[32] J. H. Plumb, ‘The new world of children in eighteenth-century England’, Past and Present, 67 (May, 1975), pp 75-7.

[33] Freeman’s Journal, 14-16 Mar. 1775. Charles Praval, The rudiments of the French tongue (Dublin, printed for the author and sold by W. and H. Whitestone, 1775, 2nd ed. 1779); The syntax of the French tongue (Dublin, printed for W. and H. Whitestone, 1779); The idioms of the French language (Dublin, printed for W. and H. Whitestone, 1783).

[34] Charles Praval, The rudiments of the French tongue (Dublin, 3rd ed., George Burnett, 1802; Cork, 4th ed., printed by Edwards and Savage, 1809).

[35] Charles Praval, The syntax of the French tongue (Dublin, George Burnett, 1802; R. Burnet, 1804).

[36] Charles Praval, The idioms of the French language (Dublin, George Burnett, 1794; Cork, printed by A. Edwards and M. Harris, 1795; Dublin, William Porter, 1803; c.1810).

[37] Charles Praval, The idioms of the French language, revised and augmented by Adelbert Doisy (Dublin, John cumming, 1825); Charles Praval, The rudiments and syntax of the French language, improved and considerably enlarged by Adelbert Doisy (Belfast, Simms and McIntyre, 1833).

[38] General catalogue of books in all languages, arts and sciences that have been printed in Ireland and published in Dublin, from the year 1799 to the present time, 1791 (Dublin, printed by John Jones, 1791).

[39] Charles Praval, Magazin à la mode (Dublin, chez Guillaume Whitestone, May 1777 – April 1778). Le Parnasse François precede d’un traité sur la poësie françoise, par M. Praval (Dublin, de l’imprimerie de Guillaume et Henri Whitestone, 1780).

[40] ‘Those learning French will find an inexhaustible source of instruction, and those who know [the language] will have the pleasure of seeing a choice selection of interesting subjects.’

[41] Hibernian Journal, 14-16 May 1777. Waterford Chronicle, 20-23 May 1777.

[42] Máire Kennedy, ‘The distribution of a locally produced French periodical in provincial Ireland: the Magazin à la mode, 1777-1778’, Eighteenth-Century Ireland, 9 (1994), pp 83-98.

[43] Dublin Chronicle, 10 May 1791.

[44] Watson’s Gentleman’s and citizen’s almanack 1791-1800, sub Abecedarian Society, Society for the Relief of Reduced Literary Teachers, or Literary Teacher’s Society.

[45] Watson’s Gentleman’s and citizen’s almanack 1791-1801. Sandford Park School: Abecedarian Society or Literary Teacher’s Society records, no. 2, ledger 1789-1808; no. 4, transaction book 2.

[46] J. Warburton, J. Whitelaw and Robert Walsh, History of the city of Dublin, 2 volumes (London, printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1818), pp 884-5.

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