Charles Michel Epee, abbe de 1', a French instructor of the deaf and dumb, born at Versailles, Nov. 25, 1712, died in Paris, Dec. 23, 1789. He studied theology, and gave in his adhesion to the doctrines of the Jansenists, on which account his bishop refused him ordination, unless he would sign a certain formula of doctrine. This he would not consent to, and though admitted to deacon's orders, he was told that he need not aspire to any higher ordination. He then studied law and was admitted to the bar; but at this juncture his old friend M. de Bossuet, a Jansenist, having become bishop of Troves, offered him a canonry in his cathedral, and admitted him to priest's orders. Hardly was he established in what he hoped was his life work when his patron died, and was succeeded by an orthodox bishop, through whose influence he was suspended from the priesthood. Calling one day upon a neighbor, De l'Epee found that she had two daughters who were deaf and dumb, that a benevolent Epernay priest had endeavored to convey some ideas to them by pictures, but that he was dead, and there was no one who could teach them. He resolved to undertake their instruction, but was not aware that any works had been written upon the subject.
Some time after he accidentally obtained a copy of Bonet's Reduction de las letras, etc, in Spanish, and learned that language in order to read it. But the idea of using the natural signs and gestures to communicate information to the deaf mute was unquestionably original with him. (See Deaf and Dumb.) From 1755, the date of his first establishment of a school for deaf mutes, till his death in 1789, he supported the school entirely at his own expense. As it soon became large, and his patrimony was but small, he was compelled to exercise the most rigid economy. Even in his 76th year he deprived himself of fire in his own room in order to sustain his school, refusing to receive the children of those who were able to remunerate him, or to accept the gifts offered him by Catharine II. of Russia and Joseph II. of Austria. A bronze statue has been erected to the memory of De l'Epee at Versailles, and a bass-relief placed in the church of St. Sulpice by citizens of Sweden. In 1855 the centennial anniversary of the establishment of his school for deaf mutes was celebrated at Paris, and was largely attended by delegations from institutions for the deaf and dumb in other countries of Europe. De l'Epee wrote Institution des sourds et muets (2 vols., Paris, 1774), which was revised and republished in 1784 under the title La veritable maniere d'nstruire les sourds et muets.