A zigzaggery, indeed, was this journey from Nimes to my Pyrenean valley. That metropolis of art and most heroic town, Montauban, I could not on any account miss. Toulouse necessarily had to be taken on the way to Ingres-ville, as I feel inclined to call the great painter's birthplace and apotheosis. But why write of Toulouse? The magnificent city, its public gardens, churches, superbly housed museums and art galleries, its promenades, drives and panoramas are all particularized by Murray, Joanne and Baedeker. Here, however, as elsewhere, are one or two features which do not come within the province of a guide-book.
The only city throughout France that welcomed the Inquisition was among the first to open a Lycee pour jeunes filles. In accordance with the acts of 1880-82 public day schools for girls were opened throughout France; that of Toulouse being fairly representative, I will describe my visit.
The school was now closed for the long vacation, but a junior mistress in temporary charge gave us friendliest welcome, and showed us over the building and annexes. She evidently took immense and quite natural pride in the little world within world of which she formed a part. Her only regret was that we could not see the scholars at work. Here may be noted the wide field thrown open to educated women by the above-named acts, from under-mistresses to Madame la directrice, the position being one of dignity and provision for life, pensions being the reward of long service.
The course of study is prepared by the rector of the Toulousain Academy, and the rules of management by the municipal council, thus the programme of instruction bears the signature of the former, whilst the prospectus, dealing with fees, practical details, is signed by the mayor in the name of the latter.
We find a decree passed by the town council in 1887 to the effect that in the case of two sisters a fourth of the sum-total of fees should be remitted, of three, a half, of four, three-quarters, and of five, the entire amount. Even the outfit of the boarders must be approved by the same authority. A neat costume is obligatory, and the number and material of undergarments is specified with the utmost minuteness. Besides a sufficient quantity of suitable clothes, each student must bring three pairs of boots, thirty pocket-handkerchiefs, a bonnet-box, umbrella, parasol, and so forth.
Such regulations may at first sight look trivial and unnecessary, but there is much to be said on the other side. From the beginning of the term to the end, the matron, whose province is quite apart from that of the head-mistress, is never worried about the pupils' dress, no shoes in need of repair, no garments to be mended, no letters to be written begging Mme. A. to send her daughter a warm petticoat, Mme. B. to forward a hair-brush, and so on. Again, the uniform obligatory on boarders prevents those petty jealousies and rivalries provoked by fine clothes in girls' schools. Alike the child of the millionaire and of the small official wear the same simple dress.
Children are admitted to the lower school between the ages of five and twelve, the classes being in the hands of certificated mistresses. The upper school, at which pupils are received from twelve years and upwards, and are expected to remain five years, offers a complete course of study, lady teachers being aided by professors of the Faculte des Lettres and of the Lycee for youths. Students who have remained throughout the entire period, and have satisfactorily passed final examinations, receive a certificate entitling them to admission into the great training college of Sevres or to offer themselves as teachers in schools and families.
The curriculum is certainly modest compared with that obligatory on candidates for London University, Girton College, or our senior local examination; but it is an enormous improvement on the old conventual system, and several points are worthy of imitation. Thus a girl quitting the Lycee would have attained, first and foremost, a thorough knowledge of her own language and its literature; she would also possess a fair notion of French common law, of domestic economy, including needlework of the more useful kind, the cutting out and making up of clothes, and the like. Gymnastics are practised daily. In the matter of religion the municipality of Toulouse shows absolute impartiality. No sectarian teaching enters into the programme, but Catholics and Protestants and Jews in residence can receive instruction from their respective ministers.
The Lycee competes formidably with the convents as regards fees. Twenty-eight pounds yearly cover the expense of board, education, and medical attendance at the upper school; twenty-four at the lower; day boarders pay from twelve to fifteen pounds a year; books, the use of the school omnibus, and laundress being extras. Three hundred scholars in all attended during the scholastic year ending July 1891.