Louis Médard (1768-1841)
Louis Médard, a merchant, was of Protestant origin and bequeathed his extensive library, created in his lifetime, to his native city of Lunel (in the Hérault region), in order to promote and develop schooling for his fellow citizens. The generous gift was the beginning of the Médard Museum in the city.
A family of merchants
The Médard family, originally from Aigues-Mortes and settled in Lunel in the late 17th century. The grand-father, Louis Médard, bought the Mas du Pont-de-Lunel (farmhouse), a post house 4 km away from the town, where the road to Nîmes crosses over the Virdoule, and where Jean-Jacques Rouseau said he stayed overnight in 1737.
The Protestant Médard family renounced their faith in 1685 – its members proved to be legalist ‘new converts‘, the christenings, marriages and burials were celebrated by the priest of the Catholic parish in Lunel. But the Médards secretly remained Protestant, contracting marriages only with originally Protestant families. Such unions contributed to keeping the family Protestant, strengthening its financial power and prompting its upward mobility.
Louis Médard the merchant
Young Louis Médard had a classical education and followed religion courses with Pastor Rabaut Saint Etienne in Nîmes in 1783. He was a gifted student at the College in Nîmes and was given the works of Virgil by a friend of his father’s – it was the first book in his collection.
Upon his father’s death he became an apprentice canut (silk worker) in Lyon where he perfected his skills in making fabrics of silk, silver and gold. Louis Médard kept his apprentice contract all his life and pasted it as an introduction to a Bible in his library; thus, probably asserting the vocational value of work.
Back in Lunel he created his own successful trading company, the Médard-Parlier establishment, specialised in silk and indiennes (printed calico). Médard travelled all over France and Europe looking for the best printed cloth manufacturers. In Anvers, in September 1807 when he was 39, under the aegis of pastor Rabaut-Ponier, he married Jeanne-Jacqueline-Sara Fillietaz, the daughter of a merchant of Swiss and Protestant origin.
When he definitely settled in Montpellier in 1818, Médard promoted the development of Protestant charities, i.e. he took part in organising the Protestant Biblical society in the city and supported Protestant schools.
The generous bibliophile
As he did not have children Louis Médard decided to bequeath his library, then considered the most extensive in the Herault region, to the city of Lunel, saying: ‘May it increase in my native city the number of good citizens useful to their country with the help of a new College.’
Religious books represented a sizeable share. Médard collected books not only because they were rare, but for their contents: he loved the virtues extolled by Christianity, but also collected specifically Protestant books.
Médard arrogated to himself the moral right of censorship, in fact he did not want to encourage spreading ‘dangerous’ reading. In a locked cabinet called ‘Hell’ he kept erotic and sentimental books, but also political books and controversial books against Catholicism. This ‘product’ of Protestantism and Enlightenment, advocated religious tolerance and unity centred on a shared moral obligation: ‘Love men as yourself, take part in the general benefit and do all you can for the happiness of every individual, such is the ultimate virtue.’
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