French taught by Frenchman left memorable legacy

“There had been pious concern [at the University of North Carolina] that French taught by a Frenchman might inculcate immoralities. The university’s president, David Swain, recommended to the Board of Trustees that any tutor would have to be ‘an educated American.’ This nativist injunction may not have been unconnected with the sad tale of Charles Marey, who had taught French in Chapel Hill in the late 1830s. Marey was ‘a Frenchman born,’ as well as ‘a man of good accomplishments and handsome physique,’ whose ‘usefulness was ruined by his fondness for ardent spirits.’

“One day the president heard a great din in Marey’s classroom, entered to find him drunk and the class happily out of control. Swain is said to have grimly said, ‘Mr. Marey, I will take charge of this class. You are relieved, sir.’ To this, Marey loftily replied, ‘If you give this order as president of the university, I obey. But if you give it as David L. Swain, I demand satisfaction!’

“The former seems to have been the case, for Marey left Chapel Hill immediately. Reports drifted back that ‘he had been killed in a brawl in Charleston.’ ”

– FromConjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860″ by Michael O’Brien (2004)

 

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