Tinco Lycklama and the “Ecole des langues orientales” in Paris

“Le baron Lycklama fut un savant et un lettré. Il connaissait et parlait toutes les langues d’Europe, avait des notions étendues sur les langues mortes et étonnait par la variété de ses connaissances en toutes choses.”

Bibliotheque imperiale en 1862 - source Le Magasin Pittoresque
La Bibliothèque Impériale à Paris en 1862 (source: Le Magasin Pittoresque)

This is what Jean Hibert, the mayor of Cannes, tells us in his funerary speech at the occasion of Tinco’s death (in December 1900, see source…). Tinco’s knowledge of languages may be exaggerated. Pending further research, we can assume that he was fluent in Dutch, French, English and German. He also gained solid notions of arabic languages and even Farsi. But, we also find in his travel diaries that Tinco required assistance from interpreters at many occasions.

A very interesting chapter in Tinco’s life is his time in Paris – and we still know extremely little about it. It is interesting, because it will provide us with answers to many question marks. What did he do in Paris? Who did he meet? What relationships did he develop? To what extent did it influence the course of his life?

Let’s remember that Tinco Lycklama set off from Paris for his “grand tour” (1865-1868), which took him via Russia and the Caucasus to Persia and the Middle East. In addition, Tinco writes that he spent the years prior to this trip mostly in Paris (rather than at home, in The Netherlands). Based on the records we currently hold, his time in Paris can be situated between the middle of 1861 (after quitting the university of Groningen) and early 1865 (the start of his travel). We’re researching many traces which will soon produce factual information.

One of the critical pieces of the puzzle about Tinco’s time in Paris may prove to be the “Ecole des langues orientales“.

On 30 March 1795, the French  Convention issued a decree which created a “public school, destined to teach living oriental languages, for the benefits of politics and commerce”. Thus, the “Ecole de langues orientales vivantes” was born, and it was located at the National Library.

From his private correspondence, we know that Tinco Lycklama attended this Ecole des langues orientales – based since 1862 at the Biblothèque Impériale, in the rue Richelieu. We currently don’t have documentary proof about the exact dates. In his own writings, Tinco refers profusively to articles and books written by teachers at this school. It is more than likely that Tinco knew them well. The number of students at this school was relatively small and the relationship between teachers and students must have been close. The teachers were eminent and reputed scholars with strong contacts with scientists and influential people around Europe. They were also involved in other learned societies which Tinco later associated with – such as the Société de Géographie and the Société d’Ethnographie.

Though Tinco Lycklama never refers to him, he must have been well acquainted with Charles Schefer – one of the iconic personalities in the history of the school. From 1857 onwards, Schefer was actually teacher of Persian, and in 1867 he became the director of the school and remained in that position until his death in 1898.

A better understanding of this institution, including its teachers and its scientific network amongst the orientalists of that day across Europe, may provide us with additional information about the life and work of Tinco Lycklama. We will focus research on the teachers involved with languages and sciences that were relevant to Tinco’s interests. This may take us also to Algiers, for instance. We have no records for this, yet, but Tinco affirms in his own writing that he made at least two trips to Algiers. This must have occurred during his time in Paris, and therefor it makes sense to look at who may have been involved in these trips. And, indeed, we do find a teacher of Algerian Arabic at the Ecole des langues orientales – the naturalized Irishman William McGuckin (baron de Slane). This is but one example, and only a hypothetical one. But, to discover the life of Tinco and to answer the many question marks, we’ll examine all these traces one by one.



Directors of the “Ecole des langues orientales”

(A full overview can be found on (the French version of) Wikipedia… Hereunder only an abstract of directors that Tinco may/must have met during his lifetime)


(Overview of relevant teachers during the time of Tinco’s studies at the Ecole…)



  • Tableau des Professeurs de l’Ecole des langues orientales depuis sa fondation. Published November 1883. Historical overview about the Ecole de Langues Orientales since its inception (1795) til 1883 – produced at the occasion of the international congress of orientalists at Leiden (NL) which was held in September 1883 (Sixième Congrès International des Orientalistes réuni à Leyde). The overview includes the teachers and directors of the school. (Source: Gallica/BnF)
  • Illustration and description of the Bibliothèque Impériale in “Magasin Pittorèsque”, 1862… Bibliotheque Impériale

Additional literature…

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