by Elizabeth C. Goldsmith (Regular Contributor)
Stéphanie Félicité de Genlis, born in 1746, was a writer, accomplished musician, and tutor to the children of a member of the French royal family, the Duc d’Orléans. She was an innovative teacher, developing modern methods of applied and practical learning, in contrast to the conventional reading program in Latin and the classics. She wrote plays and fiction to help children reenact historical lessons and she taught her pupils botany by taking them on field trips.
Travel of all kinds became, in her view, one of the best forms of education. She herself had more opportunities to travel than she could ever have foreseen, beginning with an abrupt flight from Paris during the Revolution. In 1793 both her husband and her employer the Duc d’Orléans were guillotined. She fled to England and then Switzerland with one of her pupils, Mademoiselle d’Orléans. She then lived in Germany for a time before returning to Paris in 1800. After this she supported herself by writing essays, novels, plays, children’s literature, and memoirs.
While she was in Berlin she also wrote a practical guide for voyagers, aimed at readers who were new to travel, including women of all ages, such as mothers with young children. The little ‘Traveler’s Manual” was also a language textbook. Genlis published it as a bilingual guide in French and German. It was quickly reprinted with added translations of her ‘traveler’s dialogues’ in Italian, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian.
Not surprisingly, many of the dialogues instruct travelers how to deal with unpleasant surprises, such as illness, accident, or encounters with untrustworthy people. She also includes model letters for readers contemplating settling in for a lengthy stay abroad: notes to bankers, conversations with landlords, merchants, postal messengers, and stable masters. Her most detailed model dialogues are the ones dealing with questions about a country property to rent. To me, these dialogues inquiring about gardens, stonework, bedrooms, windows and and gates reflect her own dreams of the perfect country retreat, in an age when violence and danger must have seemed inescapable.
The manual includes some useful phrases to be used by conquering soldiers. The experience of having military personnel arrive in one’s home (or being a soldier invading a home) was common enough to warrant a model conversation. Here is one proposed phrase (wishful thinking, it seems to me):
– Don’t fear anything, we are Englishmen, Germans, Russians, Frenchmen etc. Our national character and the obedience we owe to our sovereign, are a double pledge of our generosity. A subdued enemy is considered by us as an unhappy friend.
And here are a few excerpts for more mundane occasions:
A Lady, with Children, arriving at an Inn:
-Is this cradle clean?
-Let us see if there are any bugs in it.
– Take it out into the passage, or yard and shake it out well, wash it well, and then bring it to me again.
Speaking to the hairdresser:
-Pray cut and curl my hair. Make the curls large so that it is is done sooner.
-First comb my hair. Gently!
-Make the irons hot. Is it too hot? Try it first on paper.
-This curl is not large enough.
-Where is the powder box and pomade?
-Please powder me. (Or, I do not wear powder.)
Phrases for getting to know strangers or describing them to others:
-Is he or she your friend?
-He is ill.
-He is going to be married.
-He is a widower.
-He has fought a duel.
-He was killed.
-He was wounded.
-Is he dangerously wounded?
-He has ruined himself.
-He is a gamester.
-Is she aimiable? Has she any talents? Is she rich?
In case of Fire:
-Fire! Fire! The house is on fire.
-Go and fetch the fire engine. Fill the buckets with water. Make a chain.
-Is the fire out?
-Do not be frightened madam, the fire has caught your gown. Do not move, stay where you are, lay down upon the floor, you must stop the fire with your hands.
-Lay upon that canopy, upon that bed, stop the fire with that pillow.
-The fire is stopt. My hands are burnt. Put honey or grated potatoes on them.
For further reading:
Manuel du voyageur, or, The traveller’s pocket companion: in six languages, consisting of familiar conversations in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, together with models of letters, notes, etc., by Stéphanie Félicité Genlis, comtesse de. London, 1816.
(There are several editions available on Google Books.)