Mr. Frelinghuysen to Mr. Brulatour.
Washington, July 21, 1883.
Sir: I inclose herewith a copy of a letter (with its inclosure) from Mr. John C. Lowrie, secretary of the board of foreign missions of the Presbyterian Church, in relation to a decree of the French Government concerning primary schools at Gaboon. Mr. Lowrie states that similar regulations have been published at Kangwe, on the Ogove River. The object of this decree is to enforce the use of the French language exclusively in that part of Africa. The secretary states that the board has reason to fear that this policy will seriously embarrass the benevolent work in which it is engaged in that region, of which education is an important element. The self-sacrificing agents of the society usually use the vernacular languages of the country as a medium of instruction, and they have reduced two of the languages to written form, prepared grammars and vocabularies and translated the Scriptures, all of which, with some small books, have been printed. Through their schools and [Page 273] these books they hope to extend the benefit of Christian education amongst the native African tribes in their own every-day speech, for to most of these tribes both English and French must remain foreign tongues, known to but few. In the service of the board engaged in prosecuting this praiseworthy work are twenty-three self-sacrificing American citizens, men and women, aided by some of the natives who have been trained as teachers. The enforcement of the decree will evidently embarrass the prosecution of the benevolent and self-imposed task of the board, in leading into civilization the natives whom they are endeavoring to educate. It would seem that a mild application of the decree would lead sooner to the result aimed at by France than a strict and literal enforcement of its provisions, and that by first educating the natives in their own tongues and training their minds by study in a dialect familiar and easy to them, the way would be prepared for acquiring the French language more easily and with less distaste to the pupil than were his untrained mind immediately directed to the study of a foreign tongue.
You will confer with Mr. Challemel Lacour on this subject, with a view of obtaining any concessions which may properly be granted modificatory of the decree, and which may relieve the hardship otherwise to be suffered by the agents of the society, who are engaged in a work which cannot fail to obtain the sympathy and approval of the French Government.
I am, &c.,