Several governments made efforts during this period to spread basic education to the majority at least of their male subjects. The century progression encountered increasing competition from new and more realistic operatic forms, especially in countries whose cultural life was less influenced by courts and princes than that of Germany. Germany's leadership in the development of the orchestra warns us not to overestimate, in spite of the enormous prestige of Italian composers and performers, the importance of Italy in eighteenth-century music. Even in the first decades of the century Bach owed little, at least directly, to Italian influences; and in France an important and active school of native musicians struggled with some success against the threat of Italian supremacy. The eighteenth century saw the pre-eminence of French as the language of European scholarship, culture and polite society. Moreover France herself was now being influenced to a degree unknown for at least a century by foreign books, buildings, paintings and ideas.