France was defeated by Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Orders from Berlin came to teach only German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. It suddenly lifted the spirit of patriotism and a love for their language in every heart. An atmosphere of regret and deep loss hung in the class. “We don’t value something when we have it, but repent when we lose it!” Today’s youth is involved in violence, bad politics, inter and intra group conflicts. Peace and tranquility have been lost somewhere. They do not have respect for the nation and our mother tongue at all. The need of the hour is the revival
of patriotic fervour among the youth.

Changes in the school on the last day of French Lesson

Usually, when school began, there was a great bustle, which could be heard out in the street – the opening and closing of desks, lessons repeated loudly and the teacher’s great ruler rapping on the table. But now there was unusual calm. The whole school seemed so strange and solemn. The only sound was the scratching of the pens over the paper. Even the Writing and History lessons were noiseless. M. Hamel had never explained anything with so much patience. All were sitting with seriousness, keen to grasp everything. The most surprising thing was that the back benches, that were always vacant, were occupied by the village elders­—old Hauser with his three-cornered hat, the former postmaster, the former mayor and several others. It was because they were sorry that they had not gone to school more. Secondly, it was their way of extending their profound sense of gratitude to M. Hamel for his forty years of faithful service and of showing respect for the country that was theirs no more.
That day M. Hamel had new copies for them, written in a beautiful round hand — France, Alsace, France, Alsace. They looked like little flags floating everywhere in the school-room.

Changes in Franz’s attitude.

When M. Hamel said, “My children, this is your last French lesson. The order has come from Berlin to teach only German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine…” These words were a thunderclap to Franz. Franz understood what they had put up on the bulletin board! Franz felt sorry for not learning his lessons, for seeking birds’ eggs, or going sliding on the saar! He feels that he will miss his school. He develops a liking for History and Grammar. For him, M. Hamel becomes a good teacher from a boring one. He is genuinely upset that M. Hamel will leave the country next day.

M. Hamel was an ideal teacher.

He had selfless dedication towards his teaching profession. He helped in the inception of school. He gave his forty years of faithful service. He was sitting motionless in his chair and gazing at
everything in that little school-room. After forty years, it must have broken his

heart to leave the country. But he was determined to teach till the very last moment. The thought of his departure; the thought that France was no longer a free country; the thought of missing his school, his pupils and the village folks made M. Hamel cry. As the church’s clock struck twelve, M. Hamel stood up in his chair. He said, “My friends, I-I-.” But something choked him. He could not go on. Then he turned to the blackboard, took a piece of chalk, and wrote as large as he could—“Vive La France!” which means “Long Live France”. Then he stopped and leaned his head against the wall, and, without a word, he made a gesture to all with his hand — “School is dismissed — you may go.”

Additional Points 

Franz started for school very late that morning. He was in great dread of a scolding because M. Hamel had said that he would question them on participles, and he did not know the first thing about them.
 Franz thought of running away and spending the day out of doors. It was so warm, so bright! The birds were chirping at the edge of the woods; and in the open field the Prussian soldiers were drilling. It was all much more tempting than the rule for participles. But Franz had the strength to resist the temptation, and hurried off to school.
 When Franz passed the town hall there was a crowd in front of the bulletinboard. For the last two years all bad news had come from there — the lost battles, the draft, the orders of the commanding officer. Franz wondered what matter could be now.
 As Franz hurried off to school, the blacksmith, Wachter, who was reading the bulletin, called after him, “Don’t go so fast, bub; you’ll get to your school in plenty of time!” Franz thought he was making fun of him.
 When Franz reached the school, he saw his classmates, already in their places, and M. Hamel walking up and down with his terrible iron ruler under his arm. So Franz was blushed and frightened as he was very late and did not learn the rule for participles.
 M. Hamel had put on his beautiful green coat, his frilled shirt, and the little black silk cap – all embroidered. He never wore such clothes except on inspection and prize days. It was in honour of the last lesson that he had put on his fine Sunday clothes.
 On the roof, the pigeons cooed very low. Franz thought to himself, “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons?” This means that the French language was as natural to them as cooing was to the pigeons. It was their mother tongue. It would not be easy to switch to the German language.
 After the writing and history lessons, the babies chanted their ba, be bi, bo, bu. The old Hauser, who had put on his spectacles and, holding his primer in both hands, was trying to spell the letters. He was crying; his voice trembled with emotion. It was so funny to hear him that all wanted to laugh and cry.
 When Franz was not able to answer the questions on participles and felt embarrassed, M. Hamel did not scold. Rather, he regretted that they had lost the opportunity to learn French. He blamed everyone in Alsace for not learning their mother tongue and putting off learning till tomorrow. He said, ‘We’ve all a great deal to reproach ourselves with.”
 M. Hamel said French was the most beautiful language in the world — the clearest, the most logical. They must guard it among themselves and never forget it, because when a people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language it is as if they had the key to their prison.
 M. Hamel blamed the parents as they were not anxious enough about the children’s lessons. They preferred to put them to work on a farm or at the mills, so as to have a little more money. M. Hamel blamed himself also. He often sent the children to water his flowers instead of learning their lessons.
And when he wanted to go fishing, he just gave them a holiday.