Old magazine time again. We have quite a pile of Les Bonnes Lectures (Good Reading) from 1909 which I had never given much attention to, until today. Since it’s April, I started browsing through the April edition to see what good people were reading about 102 years ago.
Les Bonnes Lectures announces itself to be a ‘revue mensuelle pour la conservation et l’accroissement de la Foi’ – ‘a monthly review aimed at consolidating and expanding your religious faith’. Now that’s a good intention if ever I heard one. And in case you doubted the claim, the inside front cover has testimonies verifying that Les Bonnes Lectures does what it says on the tin from two vicars, one priest and a curé. To ensure there’s no let-up in your attention, page 2 sees the headline: Un Fléau National – A national calamity. What could this be? A table of figures is presented, taken from the most recent census, showing that 1,804,710 households are childless, 2,966,171 only have one child, 2,661,978 a mere two, and it continues to the last two figures of 34 households with 17 children, and 45 with 18 or more. (I had to go off for a cup of tea at this point, imagining myself with another 15 alongside my existing 3 kids!) If I were a good mathematician I would probably be able to work out the average family size for 1909 from the full table. At a guess, I would put it around 7 or 8 children.
So, is it the large family size which is the calamity? Au contraire, it’s the small families and the selfishness – égoïsme – of the parents who don’t produce at least a dozen offspring. Personally I would have thought poverty had a lot more to do with it.
The rest of the magazine seems to be equally outspoken. There are a few pages warning of the dangers of reading ‘La mauvaise presse’ – gutter press. Alongside the tyranny of these bad newspapers, ‘l’autocratie de Louis XIV était un jeu d’enfant’ (i.e. living under Louis XIV was like a walk in the park compared with 1909). There is an article by Marie-Ange warning how the Devil makes work for idle hands (and it’s stressed that this is originally a German saying); a poem about St Joan of Arc; a sermon about St Philip; a story (Tante Noisette ou le Drapeau Sauvé – Aunt Hazelnut or the defence of the flag); the fourth part of a series on the moral education of children; a legend called Le Jardin du Roi (the King’s garden); a fable warning against pride – La Violette Ambitieuse (the vain violet); two improving tales for children, and finally another sermon.
The last couple of pages have an advert for a pilgrimage to Rome organised by the Ligue des Femmes Françaises and some other adverts. What did advertisers think readers of Les Bonnes Lectures were after? Honey sweets, music for songs especially written for Christian families, medicine for indigestion, sewing machines, powders to relieve rheumatism and seed catalogues. Well, you’d need to plant a lot of veg to feed your 18 children!
Appearances can be deceptive. The magazine is dull looking with a drab blue cover and a serious sort of picture on it. There is only one more illustration in it, until you get to the adverts, and that’s a picture of St Dominic on the children’s page. But it’s full of strong opinions, powerful sentiment, original interpretations and a lot of good intentions. Whether you agree with the viewpoints or not, it actually is a pretty good read.
Daily snippets for 26 April
Today’s Saint: St Alida
Famous French person born this day: in 1798 Eugene Delacroix, painter
Famous French person who died this day: in 1893 controversial athlete Violette Morris
Today’s word: la famille nombreuse – large family