February 11

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 11, 1773).

“His French and English Rudiments, by the help of which a scholar may learn French with very little assistance from a master.”

In February 1773, Mr. Delile, a “Professor of the French Language” Boston, published an advertisement in which he confided to the public, especially the “Encouragers of LITERATURE,” that he had “always been desirous of meriting the esteem of the learned world … by the cultivation of the BELLES LETTRES.”  To that end, he issued a subscription proposal for printing several of his “performances” in the French language.  The two volumes would include the “French and English Rudiments” that he devised, an address that he delivered at “the Academy,” the school he operated, the previous December, and two “French Odes, in the manner of Pindar.”  In addition, he planned to add a “Latin discourse, on the arts and sciences, against several paradoxes of the celebrated Jean Jacques Rousseau.”

To further entice prospective subscribers to reserve copies, Delile elaborated on most of those items.  He declared that “the public favor’d him with the kindest testimony of their benevolence” after hearing his oration at the school, so much so that “many Gentlemen” had “earnestly requested a copy.”  Delile commodified that address, giving those gentlemen and others an opportunity to purchase that address.  For those not yet fluent in French, the “most eloquent fragments … will be translated into English.”  Delile also inserted two stanzas of the French odes, providing a preview for prospective subscribers and allowing them to judge the quality of the work.  In promoting the “French and English Rudiments,” he asserted that “a scholar” could consult that “performance” and “learn French with very little assistance from a master.”  Those “Rudiments” supplemented, but did not completely replace, working with a French tutor.

Delile was prepared to provide the necessary assistance to “those Gentlemen, who study under him” and others who wished to enroll in his classes.  He concluded his subscription proposal with an announcement that he “gives constant Attendance at the Academy” throughout the day and into the evenings on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Such an extensive schedule made it possible for pupils to attend lessons “as their business will admit of their leisure to attend.”  Even if Delile did not garner enough subscribers to make publishing his French and Latin “performances” a viable venture, he likely hoped that the enterprising spirit and commitment to belles lettres demonstrated in his subscription proposal would resonate with current and prospective pupils to convince them to make their way to “the Academy” for lessons.

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