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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


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A "collège" education followed by law studies

(This Musing provides supplementary information about the  education that Marc-Antoine Charpentier can be presumed to have received. For information his enrollment in the Law Faculty in 1662,
see my Musing on the law school register signed by Charpentier)

A brief summary of the type of studies that Marc-Antoine Charpentier had completed by the time he was eighteen will not only help us understand his mature years, it will also shed light on why his contemporaries considered him to be savant -- "savant" primarily in the compositional art, but also far more learned than the typical musician or composer.

Law studies, an open-sesame to a career in the Church

As a background to our understanding of the family politics underlying Marc-Antoine Charpentier's studies in a collège and his embarking on the three years of university studies that would lead to a doctorate in law, we can profit from Joseph Bergin's tableau of the typical education of seventeenth-century French prelates -- and of their subordinates in the Gallican Church.

Indeed, it was during his research for Crown, Church and Episcopate under Louis XIV (New Haven and London, 2004) that Bergin came upon Marc-Antoine Charpentier's inscription in the register of the law faculty. Although his chapter entitled "College, University and Seminary" (especially pp. 81-104) talks primarily about bishops and archbishops, Bergin points out that many of his findings apply not only to prelates and their relatives, but to cathedral canons as well. Since one of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's cousin by marriage was Sevin, bishop of Cahors, and since his paternal uncle, Pierre Charpentier, was a canon at the cathedral of Meaux, Bergin's observations can shed light on why Marc-Antoine -- although not a "younger son" -- may have been directed toward the law by his parents and/or guardian: "Younger sons destined for clerical careers were rarely without uncles or older relatives already in the church, whether bishops, canons, or mere curates. Family understandings ... usually placed some responsibility on those clerical shoulders for educating younger members in due course" (p. 84).

By the mid-seventeenth century, university studies -- either a doctorate in theology or a doctorate in law -- had become a prerequisite for advancement in the church (p. 81). Bergin's research revealed that, until the mid- to late-1660s, more future churchmen studied law than theology (pp. 93-95); and that the study of canon law far exceeded the study of civil law. "By choosing canon law for their degree, even those who were steering clear of theology were nevertheless committing themselves to a career in the church" (p. 96).

While there is no evidence to suggest that his uncle in Meaux or his Sevin cousins in Cahors shaped Marc-Antoine Charpentier's education in any way, the fact that he signed up to study with Jean Doujat, a respected scholar in canon law, suggests that, at nineteen, Marc-Antoine (or his guardians) was "committing himself to a career in the church" -- or was at least keeping open that possibility. That is to say, once Marc-Antoine had earned his doctorate in law, if he was fortunate enough to be offered a position as "agent" for a powerful churchman, he could take the requisite vows and be tonsured. If ecclesiastical fortune did not smile on him, he could still earn a livelihood in a post requiring an ability to "read" and "write' either canonical or civil law.

In this context, Bergin's observations about the role played by the Society of Jesus in educating churchmen are therefore very thought-provoking. The Jesuits were always on the lookout for talented young men to along; and if the collège where a youth began his studies was weak in the subject in which he excelled, arrangements would be made for him to continue his studies elsewhere: "Out of fifty-seven bishops for whom information survives, twenty-eight had been to a Jesuit college ..." (p. 86). "One of the features of these networks of colleges [principally those run by the Doctrinaires, the Jesuits, the Oratorians] was the possibility that individual students could be singled out, sometimes at an early age, for their ability or future prospects, and then 'forwarded' to better-placed or better-known institutions. ... The active 'sponsorship' of their brightest pupils (in the broadest sense) by the Jesuits, Oratorians and other orders cannot be underestimated" (p. 87).

Through their family friend, Marie Talon, the Charpentiers had close ties to the Jesuits. (See my Portraits around Marc-Antoine Charpentier, pp. 95-98.) It is therefore quite likely that at some point in his education the Jesuits either "singled him out" or ensured that he would be "forwarded" to an institution where his intellectual and musical talents would be nourished.

A "college education" in the 1650s and 1660s

For an overview of what was involved in Charpentier's "college education" -- that is, his ten years of study that culminated in his admission to the law faculty at nineteen -- we can scarcely do better than to consult Roland Mousnier's sketch of the course of study and the pedagogy of a Parisian collège and his tableau of the Paris law school, Les Institutions de la France sous la Monarchie absolue ( Paris: PUF, 1974), vol. 1, pp. 552 ff. (Another very useful publication is George Huppert's, Public Schools in Renaissance France, Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1984, passim.) A summary of the principal points in Mousnier's broadly-brushed tableau follows.

The duration of the course of study in a typical collège

The basic course of study lasted eight years. After having studied what was known as "grammaire," the student progressed to sixième, cinquième, quatrième, troisième, and finally to the "humanités." After that he moved on the final two years of study, known as the "première" or "rhétorique"
At this point, most students left school. In fact, the ones who stayed on for rhétorique were usually those "qui jugeaient nécessaire de conquérir licence et doctorat dans les facultés." These select few took a year of "philosophie," studying "la logique et la morale." During the second year of these supplementary studies, they studied "physique" and "métaphysique." At that point, they were awarded a "maître ès arts" and could be admitted to specialized faculties such as theology, law or medicine.

In other words, to be admitted to the Faculté de Droit, Marc-Antoine Charpentier almost certainly had passed the examinations for a maîtrise ès arts, and this accomplishment had been validated by the University of Paris. He clearly had done this by the summer of 1662, when he was still eighteen or had newly turned nineteen. This means that he had mastered the entire cursus of one of the Parisian collèges -- ten years of study. In other words, at the age of eight or nine, he had been enrolled in a collège, perhaps as a boursier, that is, a scholarship student, or perhaps as an externe or non-boarder (the less costly option).

The subjects studied, the pedagogy employed

The goal of the first six years was to "former le cœur de l'homme, d'exercer et entraîner son esprit" by means of "les humanités, les grands auteurs latins et grecs. Il s'agissait de s'en imprégner, de les imiter, de rivaliser avec eux, de les dépasser et, par de petits changements, de les renouveler. La métaphore des abeilles qui vont puiser le suc des fleurs en en font leur miel est constante chez les auteurs qui préconisent cet enseignement."

The pedagogical exercise used for beginners (and for more advanced classes as well) was the "prélection." Students listened as the teacher gave a "leçon magistrale" that would prepare them for studying the text. The teacher himself would read the text aloud, to bring out its meaning; and then he would explain the argument of the selected excerpt within the context of the whole. He would read a phrase in Latin, paraphrase it, and explain difficult passages; he would discuss the style, turn the phrases about, etc.

In the lowest classes, the attention was on the words themselves. But the focus gradually moved to syntax, and mythological allusions were explained. When the students had advanced to the "humanities" classes, style and speech rhythms were discussed. "Les humanités reposaient sur l'explication des poètes: beauté des formes, propriété et variété des termes, élégance et originalité de l'expression, éclat et couleur des images, musique des rythmes, qui déchaînent l'émotion, l'enthousiasme, ouvrent l'imagination du cœur."

"Rhétorique" brought the study of orators and historians, and the students learned elocution, composition, and oratory. They also analyzed the moral aspects of the text.

"Il semble que les régents ne dictaient pas mais qu'il parlaient. Les élèves prenaient des notes. Le texte des auteurs étaient présenté en feuilles, nu, sans note, avec de larges interlignes et des pages intercalaires blanches pour noter."

"Apres la prélection, venait le travail personnel de l'élève, la revue." The student studied both his notes and the texts themselves; he noted which passages were not clear to him, so they could be explained again; and he summarized the master's explanations. He copied down the author's text and learned it by heart before going to bed. Every morning the students would declaim the text with the appropriate gestures (this exercise was called the "recitatio"). Then they would re-do the prélection, with the master interrupting to ask questions about grammar, syntax, meaning, etc. All this had to be done with a clear and accurate pronunciation of Latin (Latin pronounced à la française, of course). "Tout l'enseignement était donné en latin. Les élèves parlaient le latin." They likewise wrote their compositions in Latin. In addition, they learned the art of letter-writing, and of writing poems and speeches.

We can therefore assume that Charpentier knew Latin quite well (and had mastered some Greek), and that he had studied the principal classical authors for about six years.

"Les élèves tenaient des cahiers de loci communes ou sentences, locutions, comparaisons, images, définitions, proverbes, maximes, fables, adages." They carefully selected these "commonplaces" that would serve them later when they were called to reflect upon one theme or another. "Cet enseignement avait des vertus. Il permettait l'acquisition de ce qu'il y a de plus beau et de meilleur dans l'humanité. Il aidait à la libération de ce qu'il y a de meilleur dans l'homme. Il exerçait à pénétrer au plus profond du cœur humain, même des ses replis le plus secrets. Il apprenait toute une méthode pour conduire l'esprit: sous les mots, chercher la pensée et ainsi fuire la psittacisme ["parroting" words, without understanding the ideas the words represent]; sous l'idée, chercher la réalité et ainsi écarter les formules creuses; sous la réalité, chercher les essences et ainsi éviter l'empirisme, ses limites et sa dispersion; poursuivre les rapports multiples entre les objets et les idées, trouver sous ces rapports un monde qui paraissait s'harmoniser et s'unifier à partir d'un centre unique, Dieu. Une recherche de Dieu s'opérait à partir des belles formes et à travers la beauté spirituelle des grandes âmes qui ont voulu s'exprimer par ces formes. -- Toute recherche peut échouer." There were, of course, drawbacks to this approach, so teachers tried to overcome them by livening up the more abstract lessons with practical exercises, for example the astrolabe, measuring devices, the compass, maps, etc.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier's use of "Aliquando bonus Homerus..." in the Beretta mass is strong evidence that he had compiled a book of commonplaces.

The Law Faculty and the intellectual formation of statesmen and administrators

Mousnier addresses the sort of education that was expected of future lawyers -- a category that, we now know, included Marc-Antoine Charpentier. There were, he says, no special schools to train magistrates or civil servants of all sorts. "Les hommes [que l'État] emploie dans ses conseils, ses Cours de justice, ses bureaux reçoivent d'ordinaire la formation commune des collèges, complétée ensuite par des études de droit. Tout le monde a une teinture de théologie, car la religion catholique, apostolique et romaine constitue un fonds commun, qui donne les vues d'ensemble nécessaires sur l'Univers, la destinée de l'homme, sa conduite en ce monde." Some high magistrates, he continues, hired preceptors so that their sons could be taught at home, but what the boys learned at home differed little from the curriculum of the collège -- be the collège a university school or be it run by a religious order.

"Les futurs magistrats fréquentaient plus encore les collèges des Jésuites, en particulier le Collège de Clermont à Paris, qui devint Collège Louis-le-Grand en 1682 ..., les collèges des Oratoriens, surtout celui de Juilly, les collèges des Doctrinaires. En fait, tous enseignent à peu près comme les collèges de l'Université de Paris, modo parisiensis."

"La plupart des futurs officiers et des grands commis poursuivaient des études de droit, quelques-uns des études de théologie. Turgot estimait que seuls les théologiens savaient raisonner."

Law studies -- including those at the Paris faculty, until Doujat began shaking up the moribund institution -- were often "médiocres." Many universities awarded the licence and doctorate in exchange for money. "Mais les étudiants trouvaient beaucoup de leçons données par des docteurs-répétiteurs qui étaient des gens de pratique, évêques, maîtres des requêtes, conseillers au Parlement, aumôniers de la Cour, avocats au Parlement." Ces "siffleurs" enseignaient soit chez eux, où il groupaient jusqu'à vingt élèves, soit en leçons particulières. À la faculté ou en répétitions, c'était presque toujours la même méthode: une demi-heure de dictée, une demi-heure d'explication de la dictée, une demi-heure d'interrogation et de discussion. Des méthodes imprimées donnaient des conseils pour le travail personnel: revoir la dictée et les notes prises au cours des explications, les rédiger, lire les textes citées, les étudier; lire ensemble les codes d'où ces textes étaient tirés et les livres des grands auteurs sur la question; se faire des cahiers d'extraits, méthodiquement classés. En somme tout ceci reposait sur un très bon principe: le recours perpétuel aux sources, leur étude personnelle et directe pour s'en pénétrer. L'enseignement était complété par des discussions, où les antagonistes argumentaient en forme: les disputes."

(In short, the pedagogy at the law school was a prolongation of the pedagogy of the collège. Thus a serious nineteen-year-old -- and we assume that Marc-Antoine Charpentier was serious -- would have felt quite a home in his new environment.)

French law -- that is, "droit civil" -- did not become part of the curriculum until 1679. In Marc-Antoine Charpentier's day studies focused on canon law and Roman law/customary law.

To become a "bachelier en droit, il fallait deux ans d'étude, subir un examen et soutenir une dispute de deux heures; pour devenir licencié, un an de plus, un examen et une dispute de trois heures; pour le doctorat, un an encore, une explication de texte et une dispute de quatre heures."

But Marc-Antoine Charpentier withdrew from the faculty without having done more than dip his toe into the deep waters of the law.