Honnêtes hommes et gentilshommes : L'éducation classique des garçons et la formation du soi masculin au Bas-Canada à l’âge des révolutions (1791-1840)

Type of resource
Honnêtes hommes et gentilshommes : L'éducation classique des garçons et la formation du soi masculin au Bas-Canada à l’âge des révolutions (1791-1840)
The author explores the construction of masculinity in Lower Canada (1790-1840) by examining the role played by Franco-Catholic and Anglo-Protestant classical education institutions in Montreal and Quebec City. Lower Canadian schools participated in networks of migrations, communications and exchanges that linked the two sides of the Atlantic. The author points out that the presence of European-educated teachers and the use of European textbooks transformed these schools into places where new ideas were disseminated and where the issues of their time were reflected. Between the transnational and the local, two classical educations based on different European traditions emerged in Lower Canada. Both had different conceptions of the self, which had specific repercussions on their pedagogy. The author explains that idealism remained dominant in the Catholic petits séminaires, in keeping with the apostolic responsibilities of the religious communities who ran them. Humanistic education went hand in hand with moral and religious instruction of boys. British materialism prevailed in the English-language schools. The author points out that even though the daily life of these institutions was still imbued with Christian culture, they were more open to the empiricist pedagogical revival inherited from the Enlightenment. The religious morality and Catholic self of the petits séminaires were contrasted with the secularized morality and naturalistic self of the English schools. The author contends that liberal or not, the objective remained for all teachers to shape male subjects capable of governing themselves to a certain degree. Moreover, the two traditions were similar in many other respects. Despite the transformations in the discourses on the mechanisms of the human mind during the eighteenth century, the masculine codes valued in these schools were still rooted in a pre-industrial ideal of patrician virility. The educational content urged boys to emulate the great men of antiquity. Self-control was the guarantee of manly behaviour and accompanied a strictly marital and procreative conception of sexuality. In essence, the author points out, the schoolmasters sought to educate future pater familias, heads of households who were masters of themselves and their desires, and this, at a time when the homoerotic ambiguity present in many Greco-Roman literary works, as well as intimacy between boys, were increasingly problematized. The archetype of the patrician allowed the classical masters to express the intellectual transformations of the Enlightenment into a cultural language already familiar to the elite. Classical culture represented a common cultural denominator for the colonial elite, transcending confessional, and linguistic differences. Nevertheless, classical education had to adapt also to the demands of rising middle-class parents, who wanted their children to enjoy the prestige associated with the knowledge of the Greco-Roman humanities, but who also wanted their sons to acquire useful knowledge. The author argues that the training of the man capable of taking part in the affairs of the city occupied a large place in the educational ambitions of all the schools. The emphasis was on training clerics or orators in the Catholic collèges, while commerce was more prevalent in the Protestant schools. Finally, reflecting the political turmoil of the times, the training of autonomous and faithful subjects was a shared educational concern in all the schools. The petits séminaires were inspired by the Jesuit model of the Ancien Régime. Moreover, especially in Montreal, many of the professors were French priests who had found refuge in Canada after fleeing the French Revolution. The Anglo-Protestant institutions were founded by graduates of British universities, well versed in common sense philosophy and constitutionalist discourse. The schools articulated loyalty to the Crown in contrasting ways. Loyalty was understood in French institutions through the idea of sacred obedience in the collèges, while constitutionalist and imperial patriotism prevailed in the English institutions.
PhD dissertation
McGill University
# of Pages
McCutcheon, Shawn. “Honnêtes hommes et gentilshommes : L’éducation classique des garçons et la formation du soi masculin au Bas-Canada à l’âge des révolutions (1791-1840).” PhD dissertation, McGill University, 2021. https://escholarship.mcgill.ca/concern/theses/xs55mh93x.
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