Venerable Pierre Toussaint Finds an Ingenious Way to Succor an Impoverished French Lady

October 5, 2023

His ingenuity in contriving means of assistance to others was remarkable. A French lady, who was much embarrassed in her circumstances by the depreciation of her small property and the failure of her rents, consulted Toussaint on the possibility of doing something for her support.

He suggested her teaching French. She said very frankly, that she was inadequate to it, that she had no grammatical knowledge.

“Madam,” he said, “I am no judge, but I have frequently heard it said that you speak remarkably pure and correct French.” This was really the case, for she had been educated in the best society.

“That is a very different thing,” she replied, “from teaching a language.”

Toussaint, after some moments of reflection, said, “Should you be willing to give lessons in conversing in French?” She replied that she should be quite willing.

He at once set about procuring scholars among his English friends, many of whom appreciated the advantage of free and familiar, and at the same time correct conversation, for their children; and thus pupils were not wanting for the lady, and she was able to support her family by these simple means till the sudden rise of her rents relieved her from her embarrassment. This method was quite an original idea of Toussaint’s at that time, though it has since been adopted even in our own language.

Hannah Sawyer Lee, Memoir of Pierre Toussaint: Born a Slave in St. Domingo, 2nd rev. ed. (Sunbury, Penn.: Western Hemisphere Cultural Society, 1992), 53–54.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 898


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