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Abbé Sicard's Demonstrations

Funding a large school for the Deaf has always been a difficult adventure. 18th century France was no different. Our hero, Abbé Sicard, had to find a way to appeal to the public for funds to augment the monies he was receiving from the French government. To this end,  Abbé Sicard developed a system of presentations, some on the road, to appeal to those with wealth to contribute to this important endeavor. As Abbé Sicard's greatest pupil (sorry Jean Massieu) our Laurent Clerc was an important part of this fund raising machine. This mechanism would later play an important part in the fundraising for the new school in Hartford, CT in 1816-17. On this page we collect and examine this fascinating spectacle.

Pope Pius VII Visit to Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris
February 25, 1805,

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Ferdinand Berthier (1803 -1886) later wrote that Pope Pius VII visited the Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris. Sicard addresses him with a speech, followed by the Statement of his method. Among his pupils shine two charming young deaf-mutes: one, Mademoiselle de Saint-Céran, compliments His Holiness in a loud and intelligible voice; the other, Miss Fanny Robert, compliments her in Italian. At the Le Clere printing works, the deaf-mute workers lay at the feet of the Sovereign Pontiff a Latin address which he has just printed himself. He then goes through the workshops, the dormitories, etc. Mlles Robert and de Saint-Céran are brought to the Tuileries by the Abbé Sicard.

On Saturday, February 25, 1805, the Sovereign Pontiff had himself taken to the establishment. Five cardinals, among whom was the Archbishop of Paris, Archbishop Jean-Baptiste de Belloy, a large number of Roman prelates and French bishops, ecclesiastics, functionaries, the first authorities, distinguished foreigners accompanied His Holiness. The Pope arrived at eleven o'clock with all his retinue, escorted by a detachment of mounted grenadiers of the guard and several companies of chasseurs à pied. The Sovereign Pontiff was received as he got out of the car by M. Brousse-Desfaucherets, de Montmorency, Bonnefous and Sicard, administrators of the house. Before going to the exercise room, he solemnly blessed the chapel of the school, where there were a large number of people whom he also blessed. At the end of this ceremony, the Holy Father was led by the members of the administration to the session hall, in the middle of which stood a seat in the form of a throne, surmounted by a canopy. The deaf-mute pupils of both sexes, under the supervision of their tutors and tutors, were grouped separately in front of the throne, on the two sides of the platform.

The presence of His Holiness, in this place consecrated to childhood and misfortune, in the heart of an institution entirely religious in the spirit in which it was founded and is maintained, aroused the most consoling interest, and this is in the midst of general tenderness that Abbé Sicard opened the session with this speech addressed to the Sovereign Pontiff:

“Most Holy Father, the happiness of possessing you in this asylum dedicated to restoring moral life to the unfortunate who were condemned never to enjoy it, had long been the object of the wishes of the administrators of this institution. But we would never have dared to carry our hopes so far, if, at the moment when the teacher of the deaf-mutes was announced to you, Your Holiness had not given them birth by this first movement of benevolence and interest: Yes! We will go! Yes, we will. You descend, Most Holy Father, even into this humble abode, and you bring there, as wherever your charity leads you, consolation, happiness and holy joy. No asylum of misfortune is foreign to your paternal tenderness; I will venture to say that this one was perhaps not entirely unworthy of your interest, by its aim and the motives which gave rise to it. It is Religion which caused the first idea to be conceived, and it is Religion again which fertilized in the mind which had conceived this thought so happy and so great. It was the desire to give birth to the idea of ​​Jesus Christ in the hearts of so many unfortunate people, and to initiate them into the mysteries of this holy belief, of which you are the first pastor and the supreme head, which set the heart ablaze. of one of the most religious priests of this capital. A boundless kindness, a measureless charity, a zeal equal to this charity: this was the character of the work of the illustrious Abbé de l'Épée, the sole inventor of this discovery, the most ardent propagator of this sublime work, to which he consecrated both his patriotism and all his strength, until the moment when he was called to go and receive in heaven the eternal prize of such great devotion. It is from his hands, Most Holy Father, that I received this sacred deposit; it is this apostolate that I endeavored to continue, by benefiting from its lessons, and by increasing the first means of instruction that its great age did not allow any more to carry to their last perfection; it is to attain this end that I employed the few resources which I had received from Providence. I worked tirelessly on it, and I have the consolation of being able to announce to Your Holiness that all difficulties have been overcome and that there is nothing so lofty in morals, in religion, even in human institutions, and even in the sciences, which I cannot reach and which I cannot reveal to my pupils.What happiness for me, Most Holy Father, to be called to try it today before your eyes! It is a reward of which I would not have dared to flatter myself, and of which it was feared for a moment that I would be deprived forever. The memory of that memorable day will remain eternally engraved in our hearts when Your Holiness did not disdain to appear in the midst of these children whom your presence makes so happy. He will always be for me a great subject of encouragement, and for them a source of continual emulation and instruction. When I have some great idea of ​​virtue to inspire in them, I will speak to them of the Holy Father. When I have to paint in their eyes the highest dignity, united with the most touching simplicity, the most eminent virtues embellished by the ceaselessly conquering charm of an utterly celestial goodness, I will speak to them of the Sovereign Pontiff. When I want to give them a fair idea of ​​an unalterable gentleness which gives birth to confidence and which combines so well with this sublimity of rank which commands the greatest respect, a divine assembly which commands admiration and which involves all hearts, I will speak to them again of the Holy Father.I will tell them all the marvels that your august presence has wrought in this capital; this triumph over all minds, without even fighting them; that profound veneration which has caused you to fall at your feet and await there the blessing of Your Holiness, not only the faithful children, but those whom the misfortune of their birth and those whom false lights had always kept on guard against the ascendancy of the good; one cannot resist that of charity when it shows itself in such attractive forms.They will hear all this, Most Holy Father, these children who will have already noticed, on this solemn day, the just application, and they will repeat it, in their language, to those who, in the future, will come, like them, receive the same instructions here. Thus will be formed in this establishment a sort of tradition, the chain of which will never be interrupted, of all the benefits which such an honorable visit will have brought us. Thus will continue the double prodigy which will strike your paternal gaze: Yes, the deaf-mutes will hear, for they will see the word; the mute will speak, you will see their gestures outline it. This is what I will try to convey to Your Holiness, in these exercises honored by your presence.”


Following this speech, Father Sicard develops the procedures of his method. A student draws various objects on the board, three others write around it, in three different languages: in French (Laurent?), in English and in Italian, the names by which each of these objects is designated. The simplicity of this teaching is of great interest to His Holiness. The teacher then exposes the processes which serve him to give knowledge of the elements of the proposal and he has the signs made. Jean Massieu's work on conjugations and on the various modes of tenses arouses no less interest. The famous deaf-mute performs all these signs with remarkable precision and accuracy. The Sovereign Pontiff deigns to open a book (the Lives of the Popes) whose homage she accepts; she points to a page that Massieu reads with lively pantomime. After which, another deaf-mute, Clerc, translates it into French.

Unfortunately we now lose interest since it is the last and only time Laurent Clerc is mentioned.


Toulouse Demonstration
July 24, 1809

It turns out that our abbe Sicard was a lover of poetry and came from the Toulouse area. Sicard was a member of the  Académie des Jeux Floraux of Toulouse. The  Académie owes its name to the Floral Games, festivals celebrated in Rome in honor of the goddess Flora, and to the five golden or silver flowers: the violet, the wild rose, the marigold, the amaranth and the lily which each May 3 was rewarded to the authors of the best poetry in French and Occitan. The one who receives three of these flowers bears the title of "master of the Games", while the members of the Academy are called "maintainers". Our abbe Sicard was a "MAITRES-ÈS-JEUX-FLORAUX" in 1809.

So, it would make very much sense that if Sicard was looking for a venue to display his method of teaching the Deaf and was going to showcase our own Laurent Clerc, this would be the place where he would do it. Here is the Hôtel d'Assézat in Toulouse.


Sicard's demonstration apparently recorded by the local newspapers at the time. Here we see Sicard using Laurent as part of his explanation of this teaching method for the Deaf. It is described as the "First public meeting in Toulouse, where the abbe Sicard produced his pupil Clerc". Was it the first demonstration in Toulouse? Or the first time Laurent was included? We will have to explore that further.


"All the members of the learned societies of Toulouse, the Directors and Professors of the Lycee and all the schools, all the members of the corps, whether ecclesiastical or civil, that have been invited to this session by Father Sicard." The Mayor (Le baron Raymond de Bellegarde) invited the ladies there. The Abbe reviewed his teaching methods, then, through Clerc (k), he made applications which aroused great enthusiasm.


Then, Mr. Prefet Desmousseaux (quite a big wig in France at the time) addressed the following questions to this deaf-mute:

  • What are the sentiments of a man of genius? 

Response: Feelings of admiration and astonishment for the works he has done or in his footsteps.

  • What feelings does he inspire when he has rendered great service to his fellows?

  Response: Feelings of attachment, love, recognition.

  • Who is the man here who inspires all of these feelings?Answer: He was the one who pulled me out of nothing, the one who put me in communication with society, and finally, the one who made me know God and his holy religion that I always ignored.

A thunderclap having been heard during the session, Clerc was asked if he had heard it. He replied no. He was asked what idea he had thunder. He repeated: Thunder is a great noise that is made in the heavens above and terrifies the earth, whether it is raining or going to rain.

  • Someone asked him: What is religion?

He replied: She is learning to know God and to render him the worship which is due to him.


Following this session, the journalist reports, Mr. le Prefet met for dinner Mr. Abbé Sicard and a major member of learned societies. Young Clerc was among the guests. He was asked the following new questions:

  • How do you define beauty?

He replied: Beauty is shining. Explode and please everything

  • What is [noise?

Reply: The noise is one body knocking against another, two opposing tunes which strike the pillow. It is also of confused sounds. You hear through the ears and I hear through the stomach.

M. d'Aguilar. theBaron e Margarit Melchior-Louis d'Aguilar 1755-1838 and Member of the Société des sciences de Montpellier, of the Académie des Belles-lettres de Toulouse and a  "maintainer" or member of the Académie des Jeux Floraux (Academy of Floral Games), addressed the following impromptu to Father Sicard:


“O new Promethee! O you whose genius,

By powerful magic,

Makes the word feel and knows how to paint the sound,

We admired your learned lessons,

And your profonde theory,

Always be human,

The Helpful Comforter,

The follower of the truth,

Of the deaf and the dumb the respectable Solon,

And the honor of this quote.

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June 1815

Flyer of A Public Lecture

We gave two a week, and they were generally attended by princes, members of both houses of parliament, and other personalities of both sexes, among them the Duke of Kent, the Duke of Orleans, (since Louis Philippe, ) and his grace, the Duchess of Wellington. I had hardly foreseen, at that time, the total defeat that Napoleon would suffer by the united armies of Europe, under the command of her illustrious husband, the Duke of Wellington. I had the mortification of being present in the chamber of lords when the prince regent came in person to announce to both chambers the battle of Waterloo and the flight of Napoleon. I was also a witness to the illumination of the city in the evening, and the joy this event caused the English! Under the command of her illustrious husband, the Duke of Wellington.


It was at the close of one of our public lectures that Mr. Gallaudet was introduced to me for the first time by Mr. Sicard, to whom he had previously been introduced by a member of Parliament. We cordially shook hands with him, and on being told who he was, where he came from, and for what purpose, and on being further informed of the ill success of his mission in England, we earnestly invited him to come to Paris, assuring him that every facility would be afforded him to see our Institution and attend our daily lessons. He accepted the invitation and said he would come in the ensuing spring. We did not see him anymore, as we left London soon afterward.

Laurent's Gratitude Speech
London, England
July 3, 1815

Laurent was in London with Sicard and Massieu giving demonstrations and lectures. During this demonstration Laurent was to have responded to a question from the audience about what gratitude is. Laurent was said to have replied "Gratitude is the remembrance of kindness received, the memory of a heart penetrated with a sense of profound respect and affection, and with measureless devotion."

Thus wrote Laurent Clerc on the 3d of July, 1815, when asked,"What is gratitude?"An audience composed of individuals of the highest standing in the social and political circles of England had assembled in London to listen to a lecture of the Abbe Sicard in exposition and illustration of the new French system of imparting instruction to the deaf and dumb. This system, originating with the Abbe de l'Epee, had been elaborated and improved by his successor, Sicard, in whose hands it had produced results,especially in the case of his now celebrated pupils, Massieu and Clerc, that excited the wonder and admiration of Europe.

Inspired by the occasion, by the presence of an assemblyso distinguished for rank,beauty,and intelligence,and more than all by the sight of his beloved instructor and benefactor, whose sad, patient eye, pale cheek, and slender form spoke of toil, suffering, and self-sacrifice, for which the decorations that shone on his breast gifts from the crowned heads of France, of Russia, and of Sweden could be but a slight and feeble acknowledgment, Laurent Clerc looked into the depths of his soul, analyzed the sentiments and emotions that took shape and being at the thought of Sicard, and gave to the world his beautiful definition of "Gratitude."

From "The Abbé de l'Epée, Charles-Michel de l'Epée, founder of the manual instruction of the deaf and other early teachers of the deaf"

by Holycross, Edwin Isaac. Held by Gallaudet University Library Deaf Collections and Archives, Washington, D.C.

Brighton, England
July 28th and 29th, 1815

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In the years proceeding Laurent's fateful meeting with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (hereby referred to as THG) in London, Laurent was working with Sicard and Massieu to master their techniques of fundraising. Today we will start with the famous venue in Brighton at the Old Ship Inn on July 28th and 29th of 1815 where Sicard, Massieu and Laurent demonstrated their techniques. Here is the poster for that event, which would have been similar to the one that THG would have seen in London.

Seems that Brighton was the place to be in 1815. I read that with the Reign of Terror began in September 1793 many French monarchists sold their property and fled to Brighton to take up residence. So it would make sense that our intrepid trio would look to the "Brighton Pipeline" (I just coined that) when they wanted to get Sicard out of town. That fateful meeting in London with THG changed lots of history. Our friend in England, Peter R. Brown (Deaf Historian and Tutor) provides us with photos of the present day at the inn.

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Also, Peter helps us with greater detail of our trio's experiences in Brighton. Peter provides us with some photos of "the Old Ship Hotel where Abbé Sicard, Laurent and Jean Massieu gave  two lectures over two afternoons. It is a shame to see the number of those attending was so low. (?) Interestingly, after Sicard's last talk on Saturday 29 July, the trio walked straight to the beach between Ship Street and Middle Street where they boarded a rowing boat free of charge. This carried them to the nearby anchored "Eliza", a 150-tonne packet boat with five (5) cabins, that would carry various packets and cabin passengers at twenty-four (24) shillings per person. Captained by Charles Lind, it departed Brighton around 8pm that evening and arrived at Dieppe between 7 to 12 hours later.













The journey time would often vary due to weather conditions and the nature of the packets aboard. Captain Lind was taken to Dieppe, France at the age of seven (7) by his mother to escape the persecutions of the Jacobites in Scotland (Rebellion of 1745). He came back to England in 1772, at the age of fifteen (15) and went to sea with a Captain Kellick of Brighthelmstone, becoming a Master Seaman at the age of twenty-three (23). He was taken prisoner of war between Dover and Calais by the French the Napoleonic Wars with his son George in 1805 while sailing with a cargo of salt from Liverpool to possibly London. Captain Lind was a prisoner of war in France for nine (9) years. I can imagine Sicard, at the age of seventy-two (72) years, complaining about having to clamber from the rowing boat up onto the ladder of the packet boat." Whether Laurent knew it or not, he was in some good hands with Captain Lind!

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