Promoting Natural & Cultural History
Timetables, reports, marks, receipts, listing of clothes, correspondence and other contemporary 1780s documents will form this second essay about the three Piper brothers – Carl Claes (1770-1850), Gustaf (1771-1857) and Eric (1772-1833). At this moment in time they had arrived after a 26-days journey from southernmost Sweden to École militaire de Colmar, accompanied by Andreas Norberg along with two servants and two other Swedish youngsters. A school where these young aristocrats came to stay from autumn in 1785 to spring 1788. Due to the rare selection of extant primary sources, it is possible to get a unique insight into their daily lives as well as the educational aims on such an elite school in France.
Five days after arriving to Colmar, the companion Andreas Norberg wrote a letter on 18th September in 1785 to the father, Carl Gustaf Piper, which gave information about practical matters and his view of the school. He noted: ‘The inspectors and teachers, all are wise, sensible and intelligent persons’. The three sons had by now also received their uniforms so they could be formerly enrolled in the education during a ceremony of ‘song, music and embracing’. Norberg’s final letter regarding the school to the father in Stockholm, was sent when he had returned back home to the Swedish manor house Krageholm on 26th October. By now, his views were not entirely positive due to that he regarded the two oldest sons as too experienced compared to the level of ‘imperfect education’, particularly in French and Latin. However, when it came to the moral and behavioural rules on the school he was enthusiastic: ‘Day and night they stand under continuous and secure supervision. Their health is improved by physical exercises and they learn to live together with a mix of people, due to that the number is no less than 49’.
Evidenced by lists of pupils in extant such documents, the majority of the enrolled came from a reasonably close-by geographical areas within a radius of 200 kilometres – ‘Zurich, Strasbourg, Berne, Lausanne, Karlsruhe, Belfort’. But student also came much longer distances, including: ‘Danemarc, Londres, St Petersbourg, New-Jersey en Amérique, Moscue and Stockholm’. The school was either named l’Académie de Colmar or Ecole militaire de Colmar, furthermore part of the establishment was reserved for girls and named l’Institut de Colmar.
The six-day school week started 7.00 or 8.00 am and continued up to 7.00 pm including 11 to 12 lessons all days, except for Thursday, which only had two lessons. A multitude of subjects was divided into four main areas, here listed to give an idea of the multifaceted education taking place with some variation over the years 1785 to 1788.
The grading of each and every student’s effort included not only all subjects listed above, but also physique et moeurs, which seems to have been seen of great importance. These personal characters were judged from four main aspects. Firstly, it was covering health, body-size, intelligence, goodness, behaviour, manner and way of living. The second view of looking at the individual student included braveness, virtues, godliness, how one regarded oneself, how his superior judged his character, how much liked he was among friends and finally the behaviour towards his servants. The third group was closely connected to the second, but here all involved were looking for possible negative reasonings of the student. Whilst the fourth and last group judged distinctions and marks of honours, leadership, diligence, advancement, promotions and prizes. Even from a 1780s perspective, such in-depth judgements of each and everyone’s personality must easily could have become fortuitous and unfair.
From a close study of the extant documents, the Piper brothers received their grades three times a year – in January, April and October – in all attended subjects and for physique et moeurs as described above. Furthermore, a written statement addressed to the father, Carl Gustaf Piper in Stockholm included notes about general behaviour and diligence during lessons and spare time alike. In this aspect the brothers were seen as very good, good or rather good. It may be assumed that all three followed the same curriculum, due to that one timetable only have been preserved for each term.
From the timetables it can be revealed that walking and shorter journeys were taken place as part of the education, but where they went is unknown. However, Colmar is situated between the low-altitude mountainous area of Vosges in the west and the River Rhine to the east, so here must have been plenty of opportunities for walking, riding tours on horseback and sailing by river boats alike. Just like the travel with a horse and carriage by the main road through the town was leading to Strasbourg, Mulhausen and other places. The extant list of clothing and accessories give further interesting details about the boys’ daily life. For the night they used nightshirts and nightcaps, ‘3 pairs of linen sheets’ for the beds and ‘3 dozen hand towels’ were also included. Regarding the students’ clothes, it is known via contemporary correspondence that some type of school uniforms – or more of a dress code – were in use. Judging by this list, these garments were blue, green and white in colour:
Additionally, in the young Piper brothers’ possessions were one pocket watch with gold chain each as well as a number of breeches, linen shirts, socks etc. The list also reveals that wigs were in use due to that it included: ‘3 powder shirts and 2 powder pouches’. Whilst an undated note for future purchases by les Comtes des Piper recorded necessary items as shirts and linen sheets, but also accessories as 6 combs and 3 broshes d’habits.
It must be taken into account that the young boys Carl Claes, Gustaf and Eric predominately had lived during their childhood in Stockholm in one of the wealthiest aristocratic families closely connected to the Royals. Their father, Carl Gustaf Piper at this time was the tenant in tail of the Piper family as owners of a several manor houses in Sweden, a Count and upper chamberlain since 1777 for Gustaf III’s consort Queen Sophia Magdalena. The boys childhood years must have been the most privileged, highly inspired by the then King’s admiration for everything French – art, theatrical plays, fashion and language. To let the sons study at École militaire de Colmar must have been regarded as a suitable choice during the mid-1780s for future success in life.
Original documents were written in Swedish and French. All quotes in this essay have been translated to English. This is the second and final essay about the Piper brothers educational years in Colmar.