Pavie, Theodore Marie (1811–1896)

By: Betje Black Klier

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1995

Theodore Pavie, celebrated French travel writer and Orientalist, was born in 1811, the son of Louis Pavie. He visited Canada, the United States, and Texas in 1829 and 1830. He spent the winter in Natchitoches, Louisiana, with his uncle Charles Roque Pavie, a veteran of early Napoleonic campaigns and the battle of New Orleans, and his aunt, Marianne Rouquier Pavie, at their plantation on the Red River. In February 1830 Theodore trekked down the Old San Antonio Road with Charles to the post of Nacogdoches, under the command of José de las Piedras, a journey he describes in detail in his first book, Souvenirs atlantiques ("Atlantic Memories"). Twenty copies were published in 1832 by his father, Louis Pavie, a printer in Angers, France. In 1833 Souvenirs atlantiques was published in Paris in two volumes, to which Theodore added a novella, "Le Lazo," set in Nacogdoches and embellished with details of Texas local color: a cypress-shingled, bamboo-floored mud hut, a pet parrot, Mexican cavalrymen wearing long blue coats, gray felt hats trimmed with eagle feathers, and spurs with oversized rowels. Pavie kept both travel journals and sketchbooks, including a dozen views of Louisiana and Texas. He corresponded regularly with his family in France and described his social life in Natchitoches and meeting the great chief of the Cherokees, with whom he smoked a pipe.

Joseph (1714–1790) and Marie Jeanne Couasse Pavie of La Rochelle (on the Atlantic coast of France) had founded the family dynasty of printers, scholars, and adventurers. Several of their twenty children and one grandchild settled in Natchitoches. Étienne and Joseph Pavie arrived in the mid-eighteenth century to trade with friendly East Texas tribes. They also served in the militia under Athanase de Mézières. After Étienne was murdered in 1787, Joseph moved to New Orleans, where another brother, fleeing the French Revolution, joined him around 1794. Pierre Pavie became the parish priest in Natchitoches and stayed until he was recalled after the Louisiana Purchase. Their nephew, Charles, arrived around 1806 and became a very successful cotton broker. He lived first in the Magnolias, at the corner of Washington and Pavie Street, later named for him. Charles Pavie was a friend of John Durst, David Burnet, John Sibley, and many leaders of the Texas Revolution. Louis Victor, another son of Joseph and Marie Jeanne Pavie, moved to Angers and established a press. During the French Revolution, when he fled to Spain, his wife, Mane Fabre Pavie, was imprisoned at the chateau of Amboise. Republican troops smashed their presses in retaliation for his Royalist printing activities. Louis Victor died in 1794, but Madame Pavie and her son, Louis, rebuilt the presses, along with a modest fortune that permitted the sons of Louis, Theodore and Victor, to travel.

In 1826 Theodore and Victor accompanied their father's close friend, romantic sculptor David d'Angers, to London, where they met Sir Walter Scott. In 1829 Victor accompanied the sculptor to Weimar to prepare a bust of Goethe, while Theodore visited North America. Athletic and adventurous Theodore then visited revolution-ravaged South America in 1832–33. The first of seventy-three articles that he published in the Revue des Deux Mondes describes his winter crossing of the Cordillera of the Andes-on foot through the snow, carrying his share of the supplies and his saddle. Both Theodore Pavie and his older brother were friends of the leading figures of French romanticism, poet-novelist-politician Victor Hugo, artist Eugène Delacroix, and critic C. A. Sainte-Beuve; they are frequently cited in correspondence of the Romantic period. After visiting North and South America, Theodore went to Paris to live and study languages. He mastered English, Spanish, Italian, German, and Portuguese, before several Oriental languages, including Chinese, Hindustani, Hebrew, and Sanskrit. Pavie traveled to the Orient in 1839–40 and brought back many texts and folktales, including "Les Babouches du Brahmane," from which Delibes wrote the opera Lakmé. Pavie translated from Sanskrit fragments of the Indian epic, the Mahabharata. He taught Sanskrit at the College de France from 1852 to 1857, resigned, and returned with his wife to Anjou, where they owned a small château. Pavie spent his last forty years there and never traveled again. After his wife died, he taught history of religion for two years at the Catholic university at Angers. Many of the details of his life are known from the biography he wrote of his brother Victor. Having no children, he left his estate to his nieces and nephews and founded a school for girls to be run by nuns. He died in May 1896.

Herbert Eugene Bolton, ed. and trans., Athanase de Mézières and the Louisiana-Texas Frontier, 1768–1780 (2 vols., Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark, 1914). Herbert Eugene Bolton, Texas in the Middle Eighteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1915; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970). Alexis Crosnier, Theodore Pavie: le voyageur, le professeur, l'écrivain, l'homme et le chrétien (Angers: Lachèse, 1897). Elizabeth Shown Mills, Natchitoches: Abstracts of the Catholic Church Registers of the French and Spanish Post of St. Jean-Baptiste des Natchitoches in Louisiana, 1729–1803 (New Orleans: Polyanthos, 1977). André Pavie, Médaillons Romantiques (Paris: Émile-Paul, 1909). Theodore Marie Pavie, Victor Pavie: sa jeunesse, ses relations littéraires (Angers: Lachèse et Dolbeau, 1887). Theodore Pavie, Souvenirs atlantiques: Voyage aux Etats-Unis et au Canada (Angers: L. Pavie, 1832).
  • Peoples
  • French
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Authors and Writers

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Betje Black Klier, “Pavie, Theodore Marie,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1995