Saturday, 6 July 2019

A Revolutionary Prayer

 Anonymous engraving, produced chez Basset, Paris, 1794.
We should not assume  too readily that the Cult of the Supreme Being was all about central control and state-imposed religion.  Many individuals undoubtedly saw the decree of 18 floréal as an opportunity for genuine religious expression. It chimed with a current of  syncretic but deeply emotional deism, which married easily with Revolutionary commitment. Aulard in his great study of cult of reason collects together some of the favourable texts. Among them is this "Republican prayer" included by the progressive schoolmaster  Philippe Sérane, as part of his "Catechism of a Citizen", published in 1793.

Sérane's Catéchisme du citoyen -  copy offered for sale on ebay

Republican prayer

For the use of my pupils and already adopted by several educational establishments

I believe in an all-powerful Being, eternal, infinite in perfections, self-knowing and self-loving.

I believe that the stars, the earth with its planets and its animals, the elements of life and all that exists, are the work of a benevolent Creator.  I adore Him in my mind and in truth, and I offer to Him all my thoughts, words and deeds.

To obtain His all-powerful protection, I desire always to walk in his presence, to fulfil with worth the duties of my position; to employ for the service of the society, into which and for which I was born, all the strength of my body, all the light of my intelligence and all the virtues of my heart.

I promise to never do wrong to anyone, but to treat others as I would wish to be treated.  Thus I might make myself worthy of the bounty of He who every day overflows the universe with his gifts and makes the sun shine on the good and bad alike.

I wish to live and die a good republican, convinced that this form of government is the only one admitted by nature, since it is the only one conformable to the Rights of Man.

Receive, O My God, this saintly resolution, and give me the strength to fulfil it.

[At this point private prayers can now be added.]

Catéchisme du Citoyen à l'usage des jeunes Républicains français  Paris 1793, p.63-64

see  Aulard, Le culte de la raison et le culte de l'Être Suprême (1892), p.337-8

Jean-Jacques de Boissieu, Le grand Maître d'école, engraving of 1770

The author

Philippe Sérane, before the Revolution the abbé Sérane, was a tutor and "former teacher ("professeur") of history and eloquence" in Paris. His birth and death dates are not known, but he was not a young man at the start of the Revolution: according to the Mercure, he had 34 years teaching experience in 1787.   He was author of numerous textbooks of history and geography, the earliest of which date from late 1760s.  They include an appreciative dialogue on the "Newtonism" of Voltaire published in 1779. 

In 1770 Sérane was one of the founders of an Institution de la jeunesse, a secular elementary school, in Angers.  Details are given in his Tableau du globe (1770):  An association of gens de lettres in Paris,  all well qualified as schoolteachers and instituteurs,  decided to set up the school to offer a"physical, moral and Christian" education based on the best modern practice.  They enjoyed the approval of Sartine, but, for reasons of economy,  had decided to found their establishment in the provinces. The school opened in La Flèche in September 1768.  The large number of pupils then obliged a move to Angers, where they currently occupied prestigious premises in the Hôtel d'Anjou (Hôtel des ducs d'Anjou), rue du Figuier, in the centre of town.  Pupils were taken up to the age of 14 and  charged 600 livres per annum.  As pensionnaires they could either attend the local college or elect to be taught entirely within the school. These were very much young gentlemen - the school even provided them with daily visits from  a perruquier and a laundress. Religion was a central focus - there was confession every month, and fête days were devoted to religious study.   Sérane is identified as a "correspondent"; quite probably he acted as the school's agent - his name is given as contact in the prospectus which  appeared in the Mercure in 1772. 

It is not clear what eventually became of the school, but by 1787 Sérane was once again in Paris, writing on his own account and offering to take in private pupils.  In 1793 he is described as an "instituteur national" and his address is given as No 45 or 46, quai de Chaillot.  He was active into the 19th century -  the last of his books is recorded as  published in 1800.

In 1774, with a reissue in 1787, Sérane, published a work of education theory based (fairly loosely) on "the principles of Rousseau" and accompanied  by a set of essays written by one of his nine-year old pupils.  

He was from the first an enthusiastic supporter of the Revolution.  His L’Heureux naufrage of 1789, uses an imaginery utopia  to present the world's deliverance from tyranny by "an astonishing and happy revolution";   he is confident that penal laws will soon be promulgated which will ensure the tranquillity and happiness of all.  He later pestered the National Convention with various projects, including the design for a stamp to be used on currency and official documents:  In 1793, as well as producing his "catechism",  he took the opportunity to reissue his theory of education.- copies of which still languishing in the bookshop due to the death of the editor.  He did not trouble to make amendments, but merely added a list of errata to make the text more appropriate to Revolutionary times: for example: 

For  Plan of a civil and Christian education, read Plan of a reasonable and Republican education;  
For Young gentlemen, read Young people;  
For Our august religion, read The religion of Nature etc.

And, most interestingly, for the historian of Revolutionary deism:
For The mysteries of our august religion, and the reading of holy books; read The actions of the Son of Man, and the sublime doctrine  show in his parables and  modelled in his life.


Philippe Sérane,  L’Heureux naufrage où l’on trouve une idée de législation conforme à l'humanité, à la nature et au bien public, Paris, Impr. de Demonville, 1789

_____, Théorie d'une éducation républicaine : suivant les principes de J. J. Rousseau : présentée à la Convention, par le Citoyen Serane, instituteur national, quai de Chaillot, no.46.
Prospectus for the 1787 version, Journal Encyclopédique, vol. iii (1787) p.156-159

There is a bibliography of Sérane's works  in La France littéraire, vol.9

The School in Angers: 
_____, "Institution de la jeunesse, par une société de gens de lettres, à l'hôtel d'Anjou, à Angers", in Tableau du globe ou nouveau cours de geographie (1770), p.369-382.
Prospectus: Mercure, May 1772, p.198-201.

See Jurgen Oelkers, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (2014), p.191
In this book on Rousseau's education theory, Sérane is given as a typical example of a schoolmaster who refers to the authority of Rousseau in a general way without really implementing his ideas.

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