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Copyright © 1997 The Johns Hopkins University Press. All rights reserved.

Eighteenth-Century Life 21.2 (1997) 157-175

Deaf Men on Trial: Language and Deviancy in

Late Eighteenth-Century France
Sophia Rosenfeld
The Transgressive Monster

What is a man who lacks the capacity to communicate through speech? In the
second half of the eighteenth century, the standard answer to this perennial
question about the moral, social, and psychological status of the deaf-mute
individual underwent a transformation. For centuries, explained the Abbé
Charles Michel de l'Epée in 1776, such people had been considered "comme
les monstres"--normal in appearance perhaps, but incapable of exercising
reason, memory, judgment, affection, or any of the mental activities generally
thought to separate humans from animals. 1 However, during the last two
decades of the Old Regime, in an effort to promote his own "natural" method
for educating the deaf, this Jansenist priest repeatedly challenged the
demonization of these unfortunate persons. 2 The deaf, he pointed out, might
never hear or speak, but they instinctively made use of the "natural and
primordial" gestural idiom that many philosophers--including Condillac,
Diderot, and Rousseau--had recently argued was the common language of all
humans before the invention of words. 3 Based on this hypothesis, Epée
concluded that his silent pupils were actually hommes de la nature, beings
extraordinarily similar to the men who first peopled the earth. Rather than
placing the deaf and mute at the margins of humanity, Epée thus proposed that
they were, in fact, representative of our primordial ancestors.

This analogy--between those individuals who were deaf and mute and the
presocialized humans of the state of nature--spawned a new fascination with
the hearing-disabled during the last decades of the eighteenth century. 4
Interviews with educated deaf people about their earliest memories promised to
reveal the true essence of the "isolated savage" and the origin of his ideas. 5
Moreover, Epée and his student, the Abbé Sicard, assured the public that visits
to their respective schools for the deaf in Paris and Bordeaux would allow
outsiders unprecedented insight into the natural path of human mental and
linguistic development. And not surprisingly, an Enlightenment audience
responded with enthusiasm to these invitations. In the 1770s and 1780s, many
of the great scientists and statesmen of Europe and the New World, including
Court de Gébelin, Lord Monboddo, John Adams, Emperor Joseph II, William
Jones, and Condillac himself, visited Epée's school to observe his innovative
pedagogical method rooted in sign language. His young deaf pupils were
paraded as objects of [End Page 157] public scrutiny before members of
learned societies, scientific commissions, and curious tourists; several of them
even published philosophical articles on their condition. In effect, the very
deformity that had once made the deaf so subject to denigration had, by the end
of the Old Regime, given them a new status: as exemplars of natural virtue and
pure thinkers untainted by the corrupted language of the present world.

This interest in the moral and intellectual example of the deaf only increased
during the Revolution and in its immediate aftermath. Not only did deaf people
continue to make public appearances, including visits to all three national
assemblies; they also routinely figured in revolutionary discourse as models for
the regenerated, "new men" of the future. For a range of revolutionary leaders,
from Prieur de la Marne to the Abbé Grégoire, the students at the Paris school
for the deaf offered evidence, at a time of reaction against an artificial and
arbitrary regime, of what an ideal citizen might be: honest, virtuous, sincere,
instinctively aware of his inherent rights, and completely lacking in any
knowledge of the residual prejudices and biases encoded in ordinary
conversation. 6 When, for example, the most well-known deaf person in
revolutionary Paris, Jean Massieu, was forced to testify in 1792 against a man
accused of stealing his wallet, he was lavishly praised in the press for having
"asked [the judge] for justice with all the pride that comes from innocence and
with all the ingenuity of a savage who, penetrated by the sacred laws of Nature,
was asking for vengeance against a man who had violated them." 7 A deputy
commented to the Convention several years later about this display: "What
could be more sublime, citizens, than the simplicity of the accounts of this man
of nature!... What a subject of reflection for philosophical men!" 8

Yet much to the dismay of legal theorists, political leaders, and educators alike,
this effort to equate the deaf with the idealized noble savage popularized earlier
by Jean-Jacques Rousseau proved difficult to maintain in practice. In reality,
most deaf people in France were not disciples of Epée or Sicard, but
impoverished and undereducated peasants or laborers. Furthermore, rather than
continually playing the role of exemplary citizens, ordinary deaf people often
acted in ways that society considered deviant and immoral. Thus when, in the
last years of the century, French courts found themselves facing what appeared
to be a rash of crimes committed by people who were both deaf and mute,
magistrates were forced to confront some cultural questions about the law and
human nature.


Before the late eighteenth century, the problem of crime and wrongdoing on
the part of the deaf had never warranted much intellectual attention, largely
because the transgressive actions of the deaf seemed simply to confirm their
supposed inhumanity or monstrosity. But in the context [End Page 158] of the
tumultuous political changes of the revolutionary era, including the reinvention
of the deaf as model citizens, these new criminal cases opened up a seemingly
inescapable series of moral and legal dilemmas. Against the backdrop of
legislative and philosophical debates on the legal status of individuals without
knowledge of any conventional language, a series of late eighteenth-century
trials involving deaf-mute men accused of crimes quickly evolved into causes
célèbres. Special legal journals like the Gazette des Tribunaux described the
circumstances and commented on the issues at stake. Defense lawyers
published their briefs (or mémoires judiciaires) to win public support for their
clients. Enterprising stenographers printed verbatim trial accounts for their own
profit. In short, these unusual cases spawned an entire literature.

Why did these crimes generate such fascination in the revolutionary era?
Public interest can be attributed partly to the vogue for anything concerning the
deaf. In an era of great enthusiasm for causes célèbres in general, such cases
had their own particular novelty and appeal. As the historian Sarah Maza has
recently pointed out, accounts of late Old Regime court cases often took on the
characteristics of contemporary theatrical spectacles, including complex plots,
hyperbolic gestures, and a tone of moral didacticism. 9 In the wake of the
celebrated Solar case of the late 1770s in which a poor, deaf orphan had to
resort to pantomime in the courtroom in order to reveal his true noble
parentage, trials centered around such silent victims came to have special
resonance as sentimental drames. 10 Yet fashion cannot fully explain why this
series of trials inspired such extensive commentary. As it turns out, cases in
which the deaf found themselves as defendants rather than victims also
provided lawyers and educators with a pretext for advancing public arguments
about certain key issues of the day. 11 Inevitably, as one early nineteenth-
century commentator put it, criminal cases involving the deaf tended toward
the "philosophical." 12 Moreover, as the literature surrounding these late
eighteenth-century trials makes clear, they offered concerned parties an
especially prime opportunity to grapple with the political implications of some
of the most radical claims of Enlightenment epistemology and moral theory. 13
Central to these cases were two major and unsettled questions. Does an
individual's ability to make moral judgments depend entirely upon being taught
the names and definitions that society has given to its moral values? And if so,
should a man be held responsible to society's laws if he (and I use these
masculine terms deliberately, as I have found no similar cases involving
women) is totally unfamiliar with the significance of the language in which
these laws are both embedded and inscribed?

The three trials that I will consider in this essay took place in different years--
1786, 1795, and 1800--and in different courtrooms. The defendants were
accused of varied crimes: attempted rape, manufacturing and using counterfeit
money, and breaking into a home for the purpose of theft. Their ages ranged
from late adolescence to middle age, and their relative ability to communicate
varied as well. Yet these trials had several features in common. In all of these
cases, the evidence against the accused [End Page 159] was prodigious. In all
three situations, the proceedings were described for the public in the style of
contemporary melodrama, with the verbal eloquence of skilled lawyers pitted
against the pantomime of the impoverished, handicapped protagonist at the
center of the drama. Finally, in all three cases, the defendant was ultimately
found not guilty. Why? Not because the defendant's behavior was exonerated,
but, rather, because his defense lawyer was successful in throwing into
question the interrelations among language, citizenship, and the law.

Yet the historical interest of these trials goes beyond the way they helped
establish new precedent in an arcane area of legal theory. What these cases
reveal is another, albeit gradual, shift in attitudes toward the deaf as members
of society. At three transitional moments in late eighteenth-century French
politics, the spokesmen for our deaf protagonists were forced to consider the
difficulties involved in incorporating the "uncivilized" and non- or quasi-
literate individual into a society that was increasingly rooted in a linguistic
social contract. Looked at diachronically, these cases illustrate how--and why--
the political theory of the French Revolution ultimately necessitated that the
silent, virtuous homme de la nature of the Enlightenment be recast, at the
opening of the nineteenth century, as a new kind of monster, deviant in all

I: The Caulier Case

When, in 1786, Joseph Caulier's case came before the Parlement of Paris, the
highest court in France, the poor, illiterate deaf-mute man had already been
condemned by a lower court in Péronne "to the whip, to branding, and to the
galleys for life." 14 To warrant this punishment, Caulier had been found guilty
half a year earlier of trying to rape or, at the very least, molest a terrified lady
from whom he was also begging money. According to the procureur who had
pieced together an account of the crime, Joseph Caulier had lived forty-two
years without getting into any kind of trouble, devoting all his energies to
supporting his single mother and numerous younger siblings. But one day in
the middle of the winter of 1785 when Caulier, like many other day laborers in
Northern France, was without work and traveling to neighboring villages in
search of subsistence, he accidentally found himself in a terrible, confusing
situation. Upon receiving a generous gift of alms from two ladies on the road,
the deaf man tried to express his thanks the only way he knew how: by taking
the arm of one of the women. This abrupt gesture had, however, unintended
consequences, for it upset the lady and caused her to fall to the ground. The
ensuing confusion, the procureur supposed, must have awakened Caulier's
suppressed desires; for the deaf man then ostensibly tried to "take advantage of
the disorderly state in which this women offered herself to his eyes" (p. 5).
Both women cried out, and a mounted policeman and a farm laborer quickly
came running to their aid. Fortunately, [End Page 160] no one was seriously
hurt. But Caulier, who had no way to explain himself, was tried with the aid of
a court-appointed curateur, and found guilty of attempted rape.

By the standards of the criminal system of the Old Regime, this harsh initial
verdict and sentence were hardly aberrant. According to the criminal code of
1670, Caulier could have been acquitted on grounds of irrationality, since the
deaf and mute were often categorized with madmen, drunks, children, animals,
and others whose incapacity to distinguish good from evil could excuse them
from criminal guilt. 15 But in the case of major crimes, Old Regime judges
were encouraged to discount all consideration of the individual's ability to
reason. In fact, historians have found that eighteenth-century French courts
rarely took the mental status of a defendant into account in any case, whether
he could hear or not. 16

Nevertheless, Caulier's case did not end in Péronne. Instead, the deaf man
found himself being defended (almost certainly pro bono and at the urging of
the magistrates in Péronne) by a variety of prominent Parisian avocats. The
lawyers arguing on behalf of Caulier did not dispute the facts of the case as
established by the lower court. Neither did they propose, as they might have,
that Caulier should have been acquitted based on his mental incapacity, that is,
his inability to make sound judgments of any kind. Yet they insisted that he
should not be held responsible for his crime.

In his mémoire judiciaire for Caulier, the chief barrister, an avocat au

Parlement named Hyver de Popincourt whom the Causes célèbres called a
rising star in his profession, relied upon the theory of natural law. There exist
two distinct kinds of laws, he explained: laws rooted in nature and laws based
upon social conventions. Sometimes their tenets coincided, but these two sets
of laws differed radically in the way that they were known to man:

Although these laws are equally sacred and equally respectable, there is
nevertheless a real distinction between them. Since natural laws are essentially
just and, as a famous author says, the natural object of our reason, they have
an authority over us that is independent of all else, and man experiences, from
birth onwards, a horror of the crimes that natural laws condemn.... The other
laws, in contrast, have as their source only the needs of society and the order
established by men...these laws are not naturally known; they can be known
only through their promulgation and through tradition.

(pp. 6-7)

Caulier, he concluded, as an "homme sorti des mains de la nature," should

certainly be expected to know and to abide by "his own laws": those
established in the state of nature (p. 7). But the lawyer argued that, by contrast,
there was no reason to think that the deaf man should have any sense at all of
conventional laws. As a general rule, de Popincourt insisted, a person deprived
of language had no way of knowing what society is, much less its specific
needs. To highlight this distinction, he posited the provocative thesis that
Caulier was as confused by "le tabeleau [End Page 161] de la société" as the
rest of us are by "le spectacle de la nature"; neither party has any way of
grasping the laws that drive it or the inconveniences that would result from
being without it.

But what did this theoretical argument mean in terms of this particular case?
During the incident in question, de Popincourt reminded the court, Caulier did
not violate any natural law. Both his ardor and aggression and the woman's
resistance conformed, according to this lawyer, to natural, instinctive human
penchants. The idea that such actions might constitute something forbidden
called rape could never have entered the deaf man's mind, for prohibitions
against forceful or unwanted sexual contact, as useful and as necessary as they
might be for social order, were a construct of society unknown in nature. For
simply following his instinct, de Popincourt thus asked rhetorically, "Does the
law dare condemn him [Caulier]?" (p. 11). Or, as the Causes célèbres put it,
"Can he, this unhappy man, be punished for having violated a law that he did
not know?" ("DXXVIIe Cause," p. 38).

It was the success of this unusual line of argument--that the duty of the
prelinguistic individual was only to the prelinguistic laws of nature--that made
this case worthy of public discussion. In effect, the defense used the case to
advance the radical position that a court must consider two distinct notions of
morality: the first being an artificial construct delineated by a series of
conventional terms, the second being an immutable set of values that exist
independent of their corresponding signs or names for them. More
significantly, the lawyer insisted that in contemporary society, the values
enshrined in these two legal systems often ran counter to one another. As de
Popincourt put it in the opening line of his defense: "What cause is more
interesting and more worthy of the attention of Magistrates than that where
nature finds itself in conflict with the law?" (p. 1). And the court agreed. By
allowing Caulier to remain responsible only to a natural and innate ethical
code, the case of the deaf man emphasized, on the eve of the Revolution, the
artificiality of a legal system built largely on the population's education in its
unnatural conventions.

Yet it is important to note the effects of this reasoning on the legal position of
Caulier himself. On the one hand, natural law theory allowed the defense
lawyers to uphold the equation between the deaf man and the virtuous and
noble savage. On the other, in order to emphasize the gap between those
educated to understand the language of the law and those entirely out of its
purview, de Popincourt had to paint his defendant, whom he routinely called
"this unfortunate man," as intellectually dead. In one memorable passage, he
described his client thus:

Poor, without resources, his forehead continually bent towards the earth, he
knows only the soil he cultivates.... His arms, the tools that he uses, that is all
that interests him, that is all that captures his attention. All that he feels are his
needs; all that he knows is the necessity of providing for them, the right to
satisfy them. In effect, he has only those faculties that are absolutely
indispensable to him for his own individual conservation.

(p. 9)

[End Page 162]

The lawyer never tried to argue that Caulier lacked the capacity for knowledge.
Nor did he ever suggest that Caulier would not have benefited from some
education. Still, de Popincourt concluded that because ethical principles could
enter the mind only through spoken language and because the deaf man could
never hear, he would always exist in "a kind of moral nullity, which lowers
him, so to speak, to the level of beings without intelligence" (p. 8).

As a result of this mémoire and the consultation of several other prominent

barristers, the magistrates of the Parlement of Paris were persuaded to overturn
the Péronne ruling, thereby exempting the deaf man from the punishment that
was standard for hearing subjects. However, because they were convinced by
de Popincourt's portrait of Caulier's dangerous mental state, the magistrates
also condemned the forty-two-year-old man to live out the rest of his life in
Bicêtre, the notorious Parisian madhouse. The verdict's mixed message thus
neatly highlighted the collision of principles contained within the argument of
the defense.

These contradictions were not officially addressed during the first years of the
Revolution, a time when the harmony between natural law and revolutionary
legislation was widely touted and the supposedly analogic relationship between
the pure homme de la nature and the regenerated man of the Revolution
became a commonplace observation. Yet it is obvious that many larger
questions about language and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship only
grew in importance following the demise of the monarchy. Finally, in Year II,
after several years of generalized enthusiasm for the state-sponsored education
of deaf citizens, the fault lines established in the Caulier case were briefly
exposed anew. During that year of Terror, in the midst of a debate about the
need for additional schools for the deaf in France, the elderly Jacobin deputy
Nicolas Raffron dared to ask why, if the deaf were in fact naturally endowed
with virtuous dispositions and the most perfect language of all, they required a
long and complex education at the expense of the state. 17 The response of
Citizen Périer, the assistant to Epée's successor, the Abbé Sicard, exposed the
price that the deaf would have to pay for their recent gains. To make his case
for expanded educational opportunities for the deaf, he felt compelled to paint
their uneducated brethren in a sinister light. In language that would have
shocked the Abbé de l'Epée, Périer warned the members of Convention about
the true threat posed by the unsocialized deaf man:

The Deaf-Mute is a savage...always on the verge of becoming a monster. While

he is equipped with the faculty of thought, it remains inactive and unexercised
as long as one neglects to make him a man. Until that point, he knows no other
laws than those of nature, no other duties than those of procuring his own
pleasure...he is thus always on the verge of committing crimes, and no law can
justly reach him when he indulges in this way. 18

The Convention failed to come down firmly on the side of either Raffron or
Périer, and these issues were allowed to recede once again in Year III. [End
Page 163] Then, at the beginning of the Directory, inspired by the linguistic
anthropology of the Ideologues, as well as by several new cases involving
deaf-mute defendants, a government committee was established to consider the
questions that had only been touched upon in the course of the Caulier case. In
fact, this committee was asked to grapple with nothing less than the
relationship between language and citizenship. And as the linguistically
marginalized came to seem a threat to the idea of participatory and enlightened
republicanism in the aftermath of the Terror, the association of the natural with
the virtuous ceased to be so sure.

II: The Baudonnet Case

The decision of Pierre Vivé, a teacher of the deaf in Bordeaux, to publish the
transcription of his legal defense of one of his pupils in 1796, was also a
decision to enter into a larger debate. 19 In January of that same year, the
Directory's main legislative body, the Council of Five Hundred, had named a
commission to study the question of how to proceed against a deaf man
charged with a crime under the new jury system. 20 Neither the new law code
of 1791 nor that of 1795 had laid down specific and uniform guidelines on this
question, a situation that many legislators and legal theorists believed to be
dangerous for both the reputation and the effectiveness of the legal system as a
whole. Yet the committee named by the Council also proved unable to arrive at
a solution. After several months of discussion, the commission proposed once
again that the key element in the trial of a deaf person should be to determine,
with the help of an interpreter, whether the individual had committed the crime
in question with "discernment," that is, the ability to judge an action's
consequences. 21 But the resolution was subjected to hearty and extensive
criticism in the Council of Ancients from deputies Jean Guineau and Jean
Denis Lanjuinais, both of whom objected on philosophical as well as practical
grounds, especially when the defendant was unschooled. 22 In the argument
that followed, no consensus could be reached as to whether a deaf individual
could ever be expected to develop a sense of right and wrong, of virtue and
vice, of social responsibility, or of anything related to the duties of citizenship.
Neither could the members of the Council of Ancients come to any agreement
as to whether those ignorant of the conventional language of the law should
ever be subjected to a trial in a French court. As a result, the resolution was
temporarily shelved. But Vivé, who had been instrumental in encouraging the
Council of Ancients' decision to reject the initial resolution, did not want to
give up the matter. 23 Thus, when a new commission was established in the fall
of 1796, Vivé's publication of the proceedings and conclusion of the case,
along with the text of his argument on behalf of his pupil Louis Baudonnet,
marked an effort both to keep this issue alive and to affect the outcome of the
government's study. 24 [End Page 164]

The case in question concerned two young deaf men who had attempted,
during the desperate winter of 1795, to buy a few cakes with counterfeit
assignats, or paper money of their own creation. Both had immediately been
caught redhanded and arrested. One of the two had then died, despondent and
disoriented, in the local jail. The second--twenty-one-year-old Baudonnet--had,
however, survived to face a trial in the criminal tribunal of the Department of
the Gironde with his teacher, Pierre Vivé, serving as his chief defender and
advocate. 25

From the start, Vivé told his readers, he was convinced that the whole trial was
a mistake. Immediately after the arrests, he wrote to various legislators to ask
them to declare all deaf people immune from prosecution. The legislators
responded, however, that as the law currently stood, the deaf and mute had to
be judged by same rules and standards as ordinary citizens. So in April of
1795, Baudonnet found himself in a courtroom, undergoing a written
interrogation and offering, with chalk on a blackboard, such simple excuses as
"I was hungry; I wanted to eat" and "I did not know the law [against making
fake money]." 26

The Bordelais instructor used these responses as the cornerstone of his defense
without turning his back on the natural law strategy that had worked so
successfully in the Caulier case a decade earlier. Vivé repeatedly called
Baudonnet, despite his status as an advanced student in the Bordeaux school
and despite the rather sophisticated crime that he had ostensibly perpetrated, an
"élève de la nature." This fact was evident, Vivé insisted, from the man's
courtroom demeanor. In the words of his teacher, Baudonnet's "trusting and
sincere air" demonstrated "the innocence of his soul" (p. 8). Likewise, the
"artlessness" and the "laconism" of his naive responses to questions indicated
that his actions, however mistaken, had been undertaken without malice or
intent to harm either local merchants or the republic (pp. 12, 7). At every
opportunity, in fact, Vivé consistently reinforced the old Enlightenment idea of
the inherent, instinctive virtuousness of the gesticulating homme de la nature.

Yet Vivé clearly did not intend this case to be decided solely on Baudonnet's
character. Instead of limiting his defense to Baudonnet's status as a noble
savage or arguing that a natural man could have no conception of private
property (as de Popincourt might have done), Vivé emphasized the link
between linguistic sophistication and the rights and responsibilities of
citizenship. Baudonnet's ignorance of the law, Vivé argued, was rooted
specifically in the young man's isolation from language and speech, "that
admirable faculty, that brilliant and distinctive perquisite of the human species"
(p. 11). Writing on the assimilation of ideas by the deaf, Vivé maintained that
social mores and civic duties were among the last concepts to be understood,
since they depended upon the highest level of linguistic competency: the ability
to generalize one's ideas and to apply abstract terms to them. Thus despite
Baudonnet's relative maturity, Vivé reminded the audience, it was only natural
that the young man had no conception of either the symbolic value of the
words written on paper money or the meaning of certain complex terms central
to the [End Page 165] legal assessment of his case, including "counterfeiter"
and "informer" (p. 20). As a result of this profound ignorance, Vivé continued,
the young man could be expected to "grasp the natural implications of his
actions, but not the political implications"--the consequence of his actions for
the maintenance of social harmony (pp. 16-17). Thus Vivé concluded that only
after acquiring facility in the abstract language of conventional laws should an
individual be held responsible to them.

As an argument about the nature of a republican social contract, such logic

made good sense. But as this case illustrates, such thinking also marked the
beginning of a process whereby, in order to emphasize the civic importance of
education in the abstract principles of jurisprudence, lack of linguistic aptitude
was framed as a threat to the sanctity of the laws of the state. While the deaf
might have been granted the status of citizens and given a wealth of new
educational opportunities in Republican France, without an extensive
knowledge of the French language they could not be part of the compact that
made, obeyed, and enforced the laws of the community. They were, on the
contrary, a menace to them.
In the end, Baudonnet was acquitted by a unanimous jury. In Vivé's account,
this happy conclusion left the young deaf man tearful and joyous, and his rapid
and animated use of the language of signs provided the audience with a tender
and new spectacle to witness. But Vivé also left his readers with a moral point.
An acquittal, he announced, would surely mark the triumph of "Nature and
Justice" because it would confirm that it is natural for the deaf to be treated as
men apart (p. 23).

III: The Duval Case

Despite Vivé's efforts, however, the Directory remained unable to formalize the
status of the deaf person in relation to French civil or criminal laws. In August
of 1799 the Abbé Sieyès, in his capacity as President of the Directory, once
again pointed out this lacuna in the legal codes. 27 But it was not until the
winter of 1799-1800 that public attention became focused anew on this very
specialized but difficult legal situation.

That December, the popular playwright Jean-Nicholas Bouilly reintroduced

Parisian audiences to so-called Solar case of 1779 in a loosely fictional version.
Twenty years after the fact, Bouilly's highly successful dramatization of this
legal and familial battle--replete with a deaf character who communicated
exclusively in a pantomimed version of sign language--had a much more
profound impact on French culture than had the original case. By bringing the
public's attention to recent efforts to educate the deaf, L'Abbé de l'Epée, as the
sentimental play was called, helped secure the return of the politically suspect
Abbé Sicard to his post as head of the Paris school for the deaf in January
1800. 29 Bouilly's drama also encouraged a growing vogue for deaf and mute
characters on the stage, where they were increasingly cast as innocent victims
unable to express [End Page 166] themselves except through an idealized,
mimic sign language. 30 Most significantly, L'Abbé de l'Epée, by stimulating
new discussion regarding the validity of sign language as a means to convey
legal concepts, once again opened up important questions about the
relationship between the French language and French law and about the status
of the pre-linguistic homme de la nature. 31

Thus, in August 1800, when a new case concerning an uneducated, deaf

defendant came before a War Council in northern France on appeal after a
guilty verdict in a lower court, the ensuing trial garnered immediate public
attention largely because of its similarities to Bouilly's contemporaneous play.
The stenographer who published the transcription of the real courtroom
proceedings made this parallel explicit; in his preface to the actual court case,
he referred to the celebrated actress playing the deaf orphan, 33 and he peppered
his account of the trial with both talking and mimed roles and with apologies
for the difficulties of translating the sublime pantomime of the defendant into
words. For exactly as was customary in contemporary melodrama, the "plot" in
the legal case turned on the defense's attempt to recast the accused--François
Duval, a young, ignorant, deaf man who had been found hiding under the bed
in the home of a grocer in Candas following a botched burglary--as an innocent
victim of a cruel and arbitrary legal system.
Yet there was one aspect of the ensuing trial that distinguished it from both the
Bouilly play and from most earlier court cases involving deaf-mute individuals.
In this instance, the defense lawyer made no effort to depict Duval as the
embodiment of natural virtue or natural law. Thanks to Sicard--who was called
upon in his restored capacity as head of the Paris school for the deaf to serve as
Duval's sign language interpreter and advocate--the adolescent's defense was,
instead, focused on destroying the notion that moral values of any kind could
exist apart from society and its conventional language. 34

Sicard had already laid the groundwork for his own position in this case in a
series of widely noted essays and books. In his Elémens de grammaire
générale (1799), which was to go through many editions in the early nineteeth
century, Sicard emphasized parole as the basis of human superiority, the root
of all sociability and intellectual progress; and to make this point, he insisted
that man without speech was almost in the class of animals. 35 Similarly, in an
effort to increase state fiscal support of his school, Sicard and, in his absence,
the interim director Louis Alhoy, had repeatedly stressed the intrinsic
connection between moral and linguistic progress by pointing out the dangers
involved in leaving the deaf at home without access to education. 36 Then, in
his magnum opus of early 1800, the Cours d'instruction d'un sourd-muet de
naissance, Sicard had fleshed out this argument by detailing just how
impoverished and depraved the deaf were in their natural state, prior to
socialization or knowledge of a conventional sign system. "In effect," he asked
in the book's introductory essay, "what is a person who is deaf and mute from
birth, considered on his own terms and before an education has started to link
him, by whatever relationship [End Page 167] that may be possible, to the
large family to which, according to his exterior form, he belongs?" 37 Sicard's
answer was a devastating rebuke to all people who believed in the natural
goodness and instinctive abilities of humans: "He is a total nonentity in our
society, a living automaton...Lim-ited only to physical movements, he does not
even have, before the envelope in which his ability to reason is ripped open,
that sure sense of instinct that is the sole guide of other animals" (pp. vi-vii).
Furthermore, Sicard insisted, under the current "reign of laws, when the sacred
words of liberté and égalité are written everywhere," the deaf could not rely on
some vague, instinctive sense of right and wrong in order to function as
socialized citizens (p. xxv). Without instruction in the meaning of these
abstract terms, the isolated, uneducated homme de la nature not only remained
unable to exercise his rights or defend himself against injustice, oppression,
and tyranny. He also posed a constant threat to the rights of the rest of society.
As Sicard explained for the benefit of his literate audience:

Relating everything to himself; obeying all his natural needs with an impetuous
violence that no other considerations can reduce; satisfying all of his appetites
all the time; knowing no other limits than the inability to satisfy them
again...overturning all that stands in the way of his pleasure without being
hindered by the rights of others that he does not know, by laws that he ignores,
by punishments that he has not suffered: that is all the morality of this
unfortunate being.
(pp. xi-xii)

Now, in August 1800, in the context of his defense of Duval, Sicard simply
restated the findings of his Cours d'instruction from the opposite vantage point.
Under the guise of protecting the homme de la nature, Sicard used the same
logic to argue that the unsocialized, uneducated deaf person could not be
expected to participate in his own legal trial or in any other civic activity in a
meaningful way. The problem was not that the deaf person's gestural signs
were equivocal or inadequate to convey sophisticated ideas. On the contrary,
the trouble lay with the types of questions for which the law needed to establish
answers. Sicard orchestrated his "mute conversation" with Duval to show that
the young man was so "outside of civilization" and "excluded from sociability"
that he could not competently respond even to basic questions about his name
and age, much less "the degree of harm one does by stealing the possessions of
others." 38 Sicard chose to make no mention of innate moral notions or
instinctive natural laws in the process of his inquisition of Duval or in his
commentary on the case. He also pointed out that Duval should not be
considered "an imbecile" (p. 6). Instead, the director of the Paris school for the
deaf stressed the inability of a deaf person to understand either the
consequences of his actions for society or his abstract duties as a citizen--until
he could be integrated into the conventional language that, in effect, had
created these rights and responsibilities in the first place.

It was the job of the defense lawyer in this case, Citizen Maugeret, to assess the
political implications of this language gap. Despite Duval's obviously [End
Page 168] deceitful behavior that seemed to prove his grasp of the ideas of
private property and even shame (he had, after all, broken into the house
through a hole in the wall and then hidden under a bed in an effort to avoid
detection), the lawyer argued that Duval could not have understood the moral
consequences of his actions because they were neither visible nor palpable.
Maugeret took pains to state that he did not believe ignorance was an
acceptable excuse for exemption from "this convention, this social pact that we
call law" (p. 39). But with evidence derived from Sicard's Cours d'instruction,
the lawyer suggested that this case exposed the legal fiction inherent in the idea
of a nation's general will; if one accepted that society's laws were based solely
on a joint investment in a linguistic social contract, then those without a
command of the language of the law were necessarily excluded from both its
protections and, it should follow, its punishments. As such, the lawyer
proposed not only that the boy be found not guilty of the crime that he had
surely committed, but that it was wrong to put the boy on trial at all. Maugeret
suggested instead that Duval be sent directly to Sicard's school, where the deaf
adolescent could be integrated into a social body and "put back into the hands
of virtue" (p. 45).

According to the stenographer Breton, the reading of the final verdict--not

guilty--left the audience profoundly moved, cheering and weeping at the
vindication of the poor and physically expressive boy, much like the spectators
at Bouilly's play. But, in fact, this case reflected a moral logic that was far
removed from the dichotomies of absolute good and evil typical of
contemporary melodrama. Prior to the Revolution, when deaf people had been
acquitted of crimes that they had actually committed, it had generally been on
grounds of their perceived childlike or inferior intellectual abilities. In contrast,
Maugeret never tried to question the young man's mental competence and
capacity for reason or discernment. Instead, he argued that the law depended
upon a linguistic relationship between the state and the individual and, as such,
was not absolutely binding, but relative to an individual's ability to understand
the specific linguistic abstractions that served to construct its laws. Thus, with
Sicard's support, Duval's lawyer helped advance the establishment of a
permanent moral schism--both practically and theoretically--between those
educated to recognize and manipulate the language of the law and those unable
to do so. In such a society, it followed that one sector of the population became
invested in making and following the law by using its conventional
terminology and setting it in written terms. The other sector, ignorant of this
language, was not only excluded from both its rights and its responsibilities
because unable to participate in the social contract, but was, in fact, theorized
as a threat to the stability of the laws made by others.

Sicard's former colleague and collaborator, Julien Duhamel, spelled out this
argument in an essay of 1802 concerning the civic necessity of language
education: "Language is the first bond of society, and if this bond slackens, all
the others lose their force.... If one considers men as [End Page 169] citizens,
as members of a political society, it is ignorance of their Language that
explains ignorance of laws and of all social order, which is to say, the rights
and responsibilities of all towards society." 39 Duhamel's demonization of those
who misunderstand or fail to comprehend the dominant idiom as dangerous to
the general good was but the reverse side of Sicard's argument for their
immunity from both the benefits and punishments of the law. In retrospect,
such arguments mark the beginning of a shift in opinion among Enlightenment-
inspired intellectuals toward a conception of written French law as the only
meaningful source of authority. They also illustrate how the logocentrism of
modern, post-revolutionary political culture pushed the linguistically marginal
back into the realm of the potentially monstrous. Once again, the physically
defective became linked with the morally deviant.

Subsequently, the first decades of the nineteenth century brought many attacks
upon the conception of citizenship established by the verdicts of 1786, 1795,
and 1800. With the simultaneous demise of sensationalist epistemology and
republican politics after the turn of the century, these arguments for the defense
came to look reprehensible to most people on either side of the ideological
divide. By 1808, even Sicard felt compelled to apologize for his earlier claims;
regarding his Cours d'instruction of 1800, he wrote: "One will see that perhaps
I exaggerated a little regarding the sad condition of the deaf-mute in his
primitive state." 40 Gradually former colleagues followed suit. During the
Restoration, the educator Louis-François Jauffret faulted Sicard with having
systematically overdrawn, at the turn of the century, the "deplorable state" of
the deaf person. 41 The philosopher and philanthropist Joseph Degérando
referred to the novel defenses elaborated in the celebrated deaf-mute trials as "a
serious error...in the interest of humanity, philosophy, and we do not fear to
say, in the interest of morality itself." 42 In fact, opinion shifted so profoundly
in the ensuing years that the author of an 1829 book on the intellectual capacity
of the deaf felt compelled to comment on how far the pendulum had swung in
the other direction; no one would now suggest that man was an empty
receptacle for knowledge, the Abbé Montaigne maintained, and no one would
now dispute that some kind of natural moral sentiment was innate in everyone.

Yet these trials, by dismissing the possibility of the inherently moral homme de
la nature as a model for the ideal citizen, had already laid the groundwork for a
new kind of hierarchial politics that stressed the exclusive value of the
educated and the well-spoken to the functioning of the polity. The question of
the limits of citizenship for the deaf and mute inevitably reemerged in the
courtrooms of the next century. 44 And not surprisingly, defense lawyers
continued to argue for the legal immunity of their misbehaving clients by
associating them with the deviant. In one such case, to take a well-documented
example, the celebrated early nineteenth-century lawyer Charles Ledru cited a
long string of experts on the deaf in the hopes of winning an acquittal. What
did the experts think? That the deaf, including his client, were "inferior to
animals" and "beneath [End Page 170] the most uncivilized of savages." 45
The only label that the lawyer forgot was the one that Epée claimed had
dominated early appraisals: "comme les monstres."

University of Virginia

1. Institution des sourds et muets, par la voie des signes méthodiques; ouvrage
qui contient le projet d'une langue universelle, par l'entremise des signes
assujettis à une méthode (Paris: Nyon, 1776), p. 3. On European attitudes
toward the deaf prior to the Enlightenment, see Joseph Degérando, De
l'Education des sourds-muets de naissance (Paris: Méquignon l'Aîné Père,
1827), 1:9-31& 296-350; Ynez Violé O'Neill, Speech and Speech Disorders in
Western Thought Before 1600 (Westport & London: Greenwood, 1980); and
Jean-René Presneau, "Le Son 'à la lettre': l'éducation des sourds et muets avant
l'abbé de l'Epée," in Le Pouvoir des Signes, ouvrage édité à l'occasion de
l'exposition commémorant le bicentenaire de l'Institut national des jeunes
sourds de Paris, Chapelle de la Sorbonne, Paris, 13 décembre 1989-22 janvier
1990, ed. Alexis Karacotas (Paris: INJS, 1989), pp. 20-32.

2. In addition to the Institution, Epée laid out his pedagogical method in a

series of essays (cited in n. 3 below) written for public lectures at his Parisian
school for the deaf in the early 1770s. For more on his method and his
advocacy of what he called "methodical signs," see: Degérando, 1:451-503;
Jules Paul Seigel, "The Enlightenment and the Evolution of a Language of
Signs in France and England," Journal of the History of Ideas 30 (Jan.-Mar.
1969): 96-115; Christian Cuxac, Le Langage des sourds (Paris: Payot, 1983),
pp. 22-31; Harlan Lane, When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf (N.Y.:
Random House, 1984), pp. 42-66; Francine Markovits, "L'Enfant, le muet, le
savage," in L'Enfant, la famille et la Révolution française, ed. Marie-Françoise
Lévy (Paris: Olivier Orban, 1990), pp. 53-67; and Markovits, "Abbé de l'Epée:
du verbe intérieur au langage des gestes," in Le Pouvoir des Signes, pp. 34-54.
The most recent biography of Epée is Maryse Bézagu-Deluy's L'Abbé de
l'Epée: Instituteur gratuit des sourds et muets, 1712-1789 (Paris: Seghers,

3. Among the many mid-18th-century texts that consider the question of the
"natural" origin and development of a gestural language, see Etienne Bonnot de
Condillac, Essai sur l'origine des connaissances humains, ouvrage où on réduit
à un seul principe tout ce qui concerne l'entendement humain (Amsterdam,
1746); Denis Diderot, Lettres sur les sourds et muets, à l'usage de ceux qui
entendent et qui parlent. Adressée à M** ([Paris], 1751); Jean-Jacques
Rousseau, Discours sur l'origine et les fondemens de l'inégalité parmi les
hommes (Amsterdam, 1755) and Essai sur l'origine des langues où il est parlé
de la mélodie et de l'imitation musicale (Geneva, 1781). For Epée's reference to
the language of the deaf as the "natural and primordial" one, see his Institution
des sourds et muets, ou Recueil des exercices soutenus par les sourds et muets
pendant les années 1771, 1772, 1773 et 1774, avec les lettres qui ont
accompagné les programmes de chacun de ces exercices (Paris: Butard, 1774),

4. On the importance of the deaf and their language as models for late
Enlightenment and revolutionary political culture, see my dissertation, "A
Revolution in Language: Words, Gestures and the Politics of Signs in France,
1745-1804" (Ph.D. diss., Harvard Univ., 1996), chaps. 2-4.

5. The strategy of interviewing the deaf was adopted by both advocates of

sensationalism and proponents of innate ideas in the mid-18th century. This
citation comes from the dialogue between the Comte de Bissi and a deaf-mute
man reprinted in the Abbé de Fontenay's Esprit des livres défendus, ou
Antilogies philosophiques (Amsterdam & Paris: Nyon & Laporte, 1777), 1:54.

6. See, e.g., the comments on the deaf in Pierre-Louis Prieur, Rapport sur
l'établissement des sourds-muets, fait à l'Assemblée nationale, au nom des
Comités de l'extinction de la mendicité, d'aliénation des biens nationaux, des
finances et de constitution (Paris: Imprimé par les sourds-muets, 1791), and in
Abbé Henri-Baptiste Grégoire, Convention nationale. Instruction publique.
Rapport sur la nécessité et les moyens d'anéantir les patois et d'universaliser
l'usage de la langue française. Séance du 16 prairial, l'an deuxième de la
République (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, [1794]).

7. See the Journal encyclopédique 6, no. 22 (Aug. 1792): 246-49. On this

incident, see, too, "Variétés," Gazette des tribunaux et Mémorial des corps
administratifs et municipaux 5 (1 July-14 Oct. 1792): 59-62 & 155-58; and
"Discours de M. l'Abbé Sicard, instituteur des sourds-muets à Messieurs du
Tribunal de police correctionnelle," Tribut de la Société nationale des neuf
soeurs (14 July 1792): 60-64.

8. Thomas François Ambroise Jouenne-Longchamp, Rapport et projet de

décret sur l'organisation définitive des deux établissements fondés à Paris et à
Bordeaux pour les sourds et muets, présentés à la Convention nationale, le 16
nivôse an III, au nom des trois comités d'instruction publique, des finances et
des secours publics (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, [an III]), pp. 9-10.

9. On the similarities between dramatic spectacles and legal literature in the

late 18th century, see Sarah Maza, Private Lives and Public Affairs: the Causes
Célèbres of Prerevolutionary France (Berkeley: Univ. of California, 1993),
esp. pp. 66-67.

10. The Solar case generated an enormous printed literature of plaidoyers,

mémoires, open letters, and consultations by such prominent lawyers as Élie de
Beaumont, Tronson de Coudray, Moreau de Vormes, the Comte d'Aguesseau,
and Prunget des Boissières. For an overview of the case, see the long articles
entitled "Enfant sourd et muet abandonné, et ensuite, présenté pour le véritable
fils du Comte de Solar, que l'on soutient, d'un autre côté, être décédé" (vol. 55,
1779, pp. 3-240) and "Suite de la question d'état du jeune enfant sourd et muet,
trouvé à Cuvilly en Picardie, et de la question de son identité avec le jeune
enfant comte de Solar" (vol. 69, 1780, pp. 3-165) in Nicolas Le Moyne des
Essarts's Causes célèbres, curieuses et intéressantes, de toutes les cours
souveraines du royaume, avec les jugemens qui les ont décidées, a journal
which ran to 179 vols. before 1789.

11. On the political uses of mémoires judiciaires in the 1770s and 1780s, see
Maza, pp. 140-41, 282, and David A. Bell, Lawyers and Citizens: The Making
of a Political Elite in Old Regime France (N.Y. & Oxford: Oxford Univ.,
1994), pp. 31, 175-76. Judging from the cases under consideration here, after
the Revolution lawyers continued, albeit under different circumstances, to use
their briefs to make specific political arguments.

12. See the comments proceeding the "Procès du sourd-muet Filleron," in

Causes criminelles célèbres du dix-neuvième siècle rédigées par une Société
d'Avocats (Paris: H. Langlois, 1828), 4:193-226.

13. For an overview of Enlightenment opinions regarding the origin of moral

judgments and the relationship between justice and law, see Lester G. Crocker,
Nature and Culture: Ethical Thought in the French Enlightenment (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins Univ., 1963).

14. Mémoire pour Joseph Caulier, sourd et muet de naissance, accusé de viol;
et Felix Loire, maître Mâcon, son curateur. Contre M. le Procureur-Général,
plaignant ([Paris]: Delaguette, 1786), p. 3. See too, "DXXVIIe Cause: Sourd et
muet de naissance, accusé de viol, et condamné aux galères à perpétuité par les
premiers juges," Causes célèbres 144 (1786): 37-54, and "Addition à la cause
du Sourd et Muet accusé de viol, rapportée dans le no. du 1er décembre 1786,"
Causes célèbres 146 (1787): 174-77, which provides the prosecution's account
of what happened as well. On the criminal court system of the Old Regime, see
Roland E. Mousnier, The Institutions of France under the Absolute Monarchy,
1598-1789, vol. 2: The Organs of State and Society, trans. Arthur Goldhammer
(Chicago & London: Univ. of Chicago, 1984), pp. 251-301.

15. See François Serpillon, Code criminel, ou Commentaire sur l'Ordonnance

de 1670 (Lyon: Les Frères Perisse, 1767), 2:903, and Daniel Jousse, Traité de
la justice criminelle de France (Paris: Debure Père, 1771), p. 574.

16. See Gérard Aubry and Yvonne Bongert, La Jurisprudence criminelle du

Chatêlet de Paris sous le règne de Louis XVI (Paris: Librarie générale de droit
et de jurisprudence, 1971), p. 233. Under the criminal code of 1670, questions
of procedure in the trials of deaf-mutes (i.e., the appointing of curateurs) were,
in fact, spelled out in much greater detail than questions of responsibility; this
suggests that the deaf were often treated as rational people in the context of Old
Regime courtrooms, much like foreign-language speakers who required
interpreters versed in French. See Jousse, Traité, pp. 697-99, and the article
"Muet" in Encyclopédie méthodique. Jurisprudence (Paris: Panckoucke; Liège:
Plomteux, 1786), 6:90-91.

17. Convention nationale. Observations sur les établissements proposés par les
Comités de secours et d'instruction publique, en faveur des sourds-muets.
Séance du 13 pluviôse l'an II (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, [1794]).

18. Citoyen Périer, Réponse aux Observations du citoyen Raffron, sur les
établissemens proposés par les Comités de secours et d'instruction publique,
en faveur des Sourds-Muets (Paris: Imprimerie des sourds-muets, [1794]), p. 8,
in Archives Nationales (Paris), F 15 2584.

19. See Cause célèbre; sourd-muet de naissance, convaincu d'avoir contrefait

des assignats au crayon et à la plume. Défendu par Pierre Vivé, second
Instituteur des Sourds-Muets, devant le Tribunal criminel du Département de
la Gironde, séant à Bordeaux (Paris: l'auteur and Morin, vendémiaire an V
[Oct. 1796]). Vivé's defense of his pupil was reprinted and praised in several
journals; see "Cause célèbre," L'Ami des Arts, Journal de la Société
philotechnique (29 Oct. 1796): 297-300, and "Tribunal criminel de la Gironde,
séant à Bordeaux. Précis de l'affaire de L. Baudonnet, sourd et muet de
naissance," Gazette des nouveaux tribunaux 14, no. 5 (1796): 150-58 and no. 6
(1796): 161-81.

20. See Antonin Debidour, ed., Recueil des actes du Directoire exécutif (Paris:
Imprimerie nationale, 1910), 1:535; Procès-verbal des séances du Conseil des
Cinq-Cents (Paris: n.p., pluviôse an IV), pp. 243-45; and Gazette nationale, ou
le Moniteur universel, no. 138 (14-18 pluviôse): 551.

21. Durand Borel de Bretizel, Corps législatif. Projet de résolution présenté au

Conseil des Cinq-Cents par Borel (de l'Oise) au nom de la commission chargée
d'examiner le message du Directoire exécutif, du 14 pluviôse dernier, sur le
mode de procéder à l'égard des sourds et muets prévenus de crimes. Séance du
25 ventôse an IV (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, an IV). See, too, the Procès-
verbal des séances du Conseil des Anciens (Paris: n.p., floréal an IV), pp. 37-

22. On Guineau's unpublished report of 6 July 1796, as well as on the

responses of other members of the Council to Borel's resolution, see the
Gazette nationale, ou le Moniteur universel, no. 293 (13 July 1796): 1172 and
no. 294 (14 July 1796): 1175-76, and the Procès-verbal des séances du Conseil
des Anciens (messidor an IV), pp. 154-59 & 174-75.

23. Vivé's advisory role in the spring of 1796 is mentioned in his essay,
"Notice historique sur l'école des sourds-muets de Bordeaux" (29 ventôse an
VI), an uncataloged MS in the Archives of the Institut National des Jeunes
Sourds (Paris).

24. See the letter from Pierre Vivé to Minister of the Interior Pierre Bénézech
(4 brumaire an V-October 25, 1796) in Archives Nationales, F15 2593.

25. On the organization of departmental criminal tribunals during the

Directory, see Jacques Godechot, Les Institutions de la France sous la
Révolution et l'Empire (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1951), pp. 414-

26. Cause célèbre; sourd-muet de naissance, convaincu d'avoir contrefait des

assignats, p. 8.

27. See the message from the Directory to the Council of Ancients calling its
attention "to the necessity of determining how to proceed legally against the
deaf or the mute or the deaf-mute accused of misdemeanors," in Archives
Nationales, C464, dossier 46, no. 33 (6 fructidor an VII) and in the Procès-
verbal du Conseil des Cinq-Cents (fructidor an VII), pp. 243-45.

28. L'Abbé de l'Epée, comédie historique en cinq actes (Théâtre français, 14

Dec. 1799) (Paris: André, an VIII).

29. According to Bouilly, Napoleon and Josephine were in attendance at the

second performance of L'Abbé de l'Epée; and when the audience cried out that
Sicard should be allowed to return to Paris, Napoleon agreed, making Sicard a
free man and the play extremely popular. Bouilly himself commented, "All
these circumstances, which followed as if by magic, made my play a
fashionable success." See Mes recapitulations. Deuxième époque: 1791-1812
(Paris: Janet, 1835), 2: 195. However, Bouilly may well have written and
staged this play not only to capitalize on the fame of Epée and his successor,
but also with the deliberate intention of helping secure Sicard's return to his
post in Paris. On Bouilly's activities on behalf of Sicard, see the Procès-
Verbaux des Séances de la Société Philotechnique (Archives de la Sorbonne
[Paris], ms. 1937-1938). Ultimately, the publicity surrounding Bouilly's play
made Sicard's public sessions that much more central to the tourist's experience
in Paris in the first years of the 19th century. As Bouilly later claimed in
defense of his play, "it surrounded the Institution of the Deaf-Mutes more than
ever with public admiration and universal recognition" (Journal de Paris [7
prairial an X]: 1527-28).

30. Bouilly's play encouraged direct imitations, such as Antoine Année's and
N. Gersin's L'Erreur reconnue (Théâtre Louvois, 1803), as well as many other
dramas involving deaf and/or mute protagonists. On the importance of miming
and mute characters in early 19th-century melodrama, see Peter Brooks, The
Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama and the Mode of
Excess (New Haven & London: Yale Univ., 1976), pp. 56-80.

31. The problem of sign language in the courtroom had been addressed by all
the lawyers in the first trial of the Solar case in 1779-81, as well as by the judge
who overturned the original verdict in 1792. However, the second verdict had
drawn little notice in the middle of the Revolution, and it was only after L'Abbé
de l'Epée opened in 1799 that this issue resurfaced. In light of the controversy
surrounding Bouilly's play, Jean-François Eude, the judge who had decided the
case in 1792, claimed that he felt compelled to issue a public explanation of his
earlier decision and to argue once again that sign language should be excluded
from courtrooms because it was inadequate for explaining abstract, legal
concepts. See his Rapport du Procès Solar, fait le 5 juin 1792 et jours suivans,
à l'audience publique du second tribunal criminel, établi par la loi du 14 mars
1791, et séant à Paris au Palais de justice, par J.-F. Eude, juge au même
tribunal, sur l'appel de la sentence définitive rendu au Châtelet de Paris le 8
juin 1781 (Paris: Baudouin, [1800]). See, too, the anonymous article
"Mélanges. Cause célèbre. Affaire du petit sourd et muet de l'Abbé de l'Epée,"
La Décade philosophique (3ème trimestre, an VIII): 284-94.

32. See the Procès de François Duval, sourd et muet de naissance, accusé de
vol avec effraction et attroupement; jugé et acquitté par le deuxième Conseil de
Guerre de la dix-septième Division, sous la curatelle du citoyen Sicard;
recueilli littéralement par J. B. J. Breton, sténographe (Paris: Desenne, an
VIII-1800). On the function of special tribunals such as the Conseil de Guerre
during the Consulate and Empire, see Godechot, pp. 534-35.

33. The actress in question was Caroline Van Hove, later Mme Talma, who
claimed in her Etudes sur l'art théâtral (Paris: Henri Feret, 1836), to have spent
six months studying with Massieu and other pupils of Sicard in anticipation of
playing her role as a deaf boy (p. 267). It is important to note that sign
language was still being depicted, on the stage, as a form of transparent
pantomime and was, therefore, still considered to be the special province of
women of great sensibility.

34. Sicard was assisted in this capacity by Massieu and other pupils, who
translated Sicard's methodical and written signs into natural pantomimic ones
for the benefit of the uneducated Duval. This was not the first time that either
Sicard or Massieu had been called upon to play this role. See, for example, the
description of the trial of a 15-year-old student of Sicard's named Letertre, who
was accused of stealing linens from Sicard's school in 1795, in the Gazette des
tribunaux 12, no. 5 (February 1795): 146-51.

35. Elémens de grammaire générale, appliqués à la langue française (Paris:

Bourlotton, an VII-1799).

36. After his release, Sicard argued in his letters to the Minister of the Interior
and in other public relations materials that lack of schooling was dangerous for
the morality of the deaf and that school-sponsored work, as a means of
socialization, was essential for their moral health. See his "Plan d'organisation
morale ou d'instruction par l'Institution nationale des sourds-muets de
naissance" (an IX) in Archives Nationales, F15 2590, and the uncataloged
brochure, Institution nationale des sourds-muets de naissance. Ecole et pension
de Paris (1800) in the Archives of the Institut National des Jeunes Sourds. See
too Alhoy's warning about the moral danger of letting deaf students remain at
home as "strangers to society [and] to its needs" in his "Eclaircissements sur le
projet d'assurance pour l'entretien des écoles nationales des sourds-muets" (an
VII) in the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, ms. 771, dossier 69,

37. Sicard, Cours d'instruction d'un sourd-muet de naissance, pour servir à

l'éducation des sourds-muets, et qui peut être utile à celle de ceux qui
entendent et qui parlent (Paris: Le Clère, an VIII), p. vi. For most of the 1790s,
Sicard indicated that he was at work on this account of the lessons he used to
educate Massieu; and many similar comments about the uneducated deaf can
be found in Sicard's earlier essays, especially those published under the
auspices of the Institut National or the Magasin encyclopédique in 1795 and

38. Procès de François Duval, pp. 7, 6, & 14.

39. Mémoire tendant à faire établir deux chaires au Collège de France; l'une
d'analyse de l'esprit humain, et l'autre de langue française (Paris: Remont and
Desray, germinal an X-1802), pp. 13-14.

40. "Avertissement de l'Auteur," in Théorie des signes pour l'instruction des

sourds-muets, dédiée à S. M. l'Empereur et Roi, suivie d'une notice sur
l'enfance de Massieu (Paris: Imprimerie de l'Institution des sourds-muets,
1808), p. xii.

41. "Considérations sur l'intelligence des sourds-muets de naissance," extract

from La Ruche provençale. Recueil littéraire (n.d. [c. 1820]), pp. 64-79, in the
Archives of the Institut National des Jeunes Sourds.

42. De l'Education, 1: 125. In this work, Degérando insisted that the privation
of speech was not necessarily an indicator that one lacked the capacity to
differentiate between good and evil. To this end, he reproduced excerpts from
both U.-R.-T. LeBouvyer-Desmortiers's Mémoire ou considération sur les
sourds-muets de naissance (Paris, 1800) and Pierre Desloges's Observation
d'un sourd et muet sur 'Un Cours élémentaire d'éducation des sourds et muets,'
publié en 1779 par M. l'abbé Deschamps (Paris, 1779) and recounted his own
conversations with deaf people, all of which indicated that natural sentiments,
family feelings, an understanding of property, and some religious sense were
not dependent upon either education or linguistic abilities (see note C, pp.125-
35: "Sur la capacité qu'ont les sourds-muets, de discerner le bien et le mal,
avant d'avoir reçu l'usage de nos langues").

43. Recherches sur les connaissances intellectuelles des sourds-muets,

considérés par rapport à l'administration des sacremens (Paris: A. Le Clère,

44. There were many well-publicized trials involving deaf-mute men

throughout the 19th century, in France and elsewhere. To my knowledge, no
study of them exists.

45. "Procès du Sourd-Muet Filleron," pp. 215 and 218.