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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Address by the Rev. H. L. Paget, Vicar of St. Pancras and Rural Dean.

Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 954-961


Friday, October 30th

At 10.30 a.m. (Mrs. Howard Glover in the chair), Mr. T. James Garstang read his paper on Mathematical Teaching and its place in Education. (This paper will appear later in the Review.)

At 11.45 a.m., Mr. R. C. Lehmann spoke on Living Books in the Teaching of History.

At 3 p.m., there was a short service at St. Mary Abbots, Kensington, and an address by the Rev. H. L. Paget, Vicar of St. Pancras and Rural Dean.

"When thy son asketh thee."—Deut. vi. 20.

What is more gratifying to the educationalist than a really spontaneous and eager question—the enquiry of a child who really wants to know? Nor are such questions by any manner of mean rare in the wide and varied areas over which childish speculation ranges with an almost feverish restlessness. The endless questions so apt to get on the nerves, as it is said, of the modern parent, the dangerous investigation by touch of the furniture and ornaments of a strange room—the voyage of discovery over a new house—the thorough scrutiny to which visitors and their apparel are submitted—in season and out of season, amusing or wearisome, the enquiry goes on, so typical and characteristic of childhood with its passion for getting at the meaning of anything that for a moment interests it-the why and the wherefore of anything that for a moment appeals to the taste, the fancy, the wonder, the admiration of the child.

It is not that our children fail to ask questions—they ask plenty—but the parent's secret woe, the teacher's inner grief, is the child's failure to ask certain questions which such people would very much like the child to ask, and which it seems unnatural that the child should not be asking.

One more or less forgets one's childhood; but one can remember pretty distinctly many years in which one still sat on the bench of the learner, and occupied the status of the pupil, and one can imagine the dull weight with which one's absence of interest, one's little desire to ask questions, must have pressed on the earnest and conscientious lecturers of Oxford and Cambridge. The slightest acquaintance with the work of a teacher is sufficient to make one recollect as a day for which one was very thankful, the day on which some earnest and impromptu question on a grave subject gladdened and revived the teacher's heart.

Would you not like to know? It is the very keynote of forlorn hope. It is piteous and pathetic. It seems already to have faced the failure it anticipates. It is so far removed from the happiness and the encouragement of a spontaneous enquiry, and enquiry like that on which God counts and reckons, to which He looks forward in our text—"What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God hath commanded you?"

"When thy son asketh thee!" The words occur not once nor twice in the earlier books of the Old Testament; they are repeated again and again. Your son is bound to ask. You can afford, it seems, to wait. There is no need for delicate and indirect suggestion. He will need no prompting on your part. He will want to know, and then you will have your opportunity; with all the vantage-ground of his spontaneous question, with all the help of his real curiosity, you will be able to tell him what surely you long to tell. With those eager little eyes fixed on yours, with that eager little face turned towards you, you will have the chance on which your heart is set. "Then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharoah's bondmen in Egypt; and the Lord brought us up out of Egypt with a mighty hand."

We all remember the celebrated scene in Dicken's novel [Dombey and Son]. Little Paul Dombey is sitting by the fire with its flickering light playing strangely on his face. Opposite him, stiff and formal, sits his father. "Father," asks little Paul, "What is money? What is this that grown-up people think and talk so much about? What is this that is named in such grave and reverent tones? What is this thing of impressive and supreme importance? This standard to which men and their actions are referred. Everyone seems to be thinking of it—speaking of it—wanting it—trying to get it. What is money?"

"Money," says his father in impressive tones, "Money is the greatest thing in the world."

I.

"When thy son asketh thee." It is religion, my brethren, not money that we are thinking of now. And I want you to consider with me for a few minutes, at the close of an interesting and absorbing week of conference, the life of a people of old time amongst whom the question of our text was bound to be asked and answered; the life of a people so penetrated with religion that the question what it all meant would spring unprompted to the lips of the child, and give the opportunity to the teacher which real desire to know affords. We may have perhaps to discount a little the language in which the Israelite's enthusiasm speaks of the religious training of the child. But there can be little doubt that at the beginning of the Christian era, the Jewish home stood out in glowing contrast from the home as pictured in the contemporary literature of the great classical nations. The child from birth to dawning manhood filled a place in the home-life, in the thoughts and aspirations of his parents, in their love and in their prayers such as we hardly find a trace of elsewhere. A great classical writer speaks in a well-known line of reverence due to little children. But that which was with him a protest against most prevalent abuse was an accepted maxim, it was a working principle, a foundational truth of the Jewish home. The tremendous idea of the priesthood of the Jewish people, of its place in the will and purpose of Almighty God, struck the keynote of the child's upbringing. The Messianic hope gave a touch of Divine distinction to the humblest birth. The horrors of child exposure, of infanticide, the relegation of the child's training to corrupt and dissolute slaves, were things undreamed of in the Jewish home.

Nor need we imagine a training of premature and unnatural solemnity, an awful and uninviting regime such as perhaps the modern mind is apt to conjure up. A great tradition has its lighter touches, a great destiny has its lighter vein. Solemn is not the same as ponderous. The child awoke to find itself already prized, already loved, already honoured; the subject of the highest of hopes, of the greatest of great expectations, born into a delightful world in which a beautiful and solemn religion was dominant, a life through which the golden thread of religion continuously ran. For religion was woven into the very fabric of the home life. It had behind it the quiet and unmeasurably strong sanction of centuries at least of unbroken use. Its secret was one with the secret of the smooth grass plot, the velvet lawn: "Sow it very carefully and roll it every morning for two or three hundred years." Its colours were matured and softened by age. Its roughnesses had yielded to the hallowing touch of centuries of pious tradition. It had lost the self-consciousness that is the bane of what is new—the tentativeness of experiment—the rawness of conflicting theories—the foreign flavour of a recent importation. Children are sensitive of all this. They whimper and fidget in arms that are afraid to hold them fast. They love old faces and old furniture. They love a firm and calm and confident touch; but the firm and calm and confident touch is not, as a rule, the touch that embarked on a new system of fingering last week.

Consider this, and remember how closely, how inseparably religion was woven into the daily life of the Jewish home. There were the solemnities of the Sabbath meal, there was the kindling of the Sabbath lamp, there was the religious setting apart of some portion of the dough at each baking; they are but instances, Edersheim tells us, of the sort of thing which the three-year old child, as he followed his mother about the house, was bound to notice. There were the little folded parchments attached to the door-posts and bearing on them the letters of the Sacred Name. Each who came in or went out would reverently touch them and then would kiss the fingers that had touched the Name of God; a beautiful symbol of God's guardianship of Israel's homes—"The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth for evermore."

And starlike in the domestic firmament, gemlike in the crown of the circling year, there came the recurrence of the great Jewish festivals, so magnificent and so homely, so solemn and so familiar; the festive illumination of the home in midwinter, symbolic of the restoration of the temple to God's service after Epiphanes, the ogre, the monster, had profaned and defiled it; the merry feast of Purim, with its recollection of our hairbreadth escape in the far-famed days of Esther and Ahasuerus; the feast of Tabernacles, with the pleasant days spent under the leafy arbours; for the elders the grave sense of a world in which, after all, we have no continuing city, for the little ones, perhaps mainly, the wonder and amusement of so strange and pleasant a change in the way of life! And the day of Atonement in which, though the child was spared the severity of the discipline, it felt, all the same, that its naughtiness was, after all, not a thing to be laughed at, but something that (side by side with graver reckonings of grown-up people) must be laid before the mercy-seat, owned up and confessed in the presence of One Who was gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repented Him of the evil!

Surely God was not out in His reckoning, He was not counting on what would not come when He foresaw that the child thus reared was bound sooner or later, aye, and sooner for choice, to ask the question on which the parent's opportunity hangs, the eager and spontaneous enquiry, "What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God hath commanded you?"

And do not let us, beloved, put things of this kind aside as merely pretty and touching, with a suspicion hanging about them of effeminacy and childishness; things that belong to the far-off infancy of a race that has now outgrown all this. We have, thank God, in the Book of Psalms, samples at least of that wealth of tradition, that fine and masculine strain of national memory and national aspiration into which Israel poured its heart, all that it remembered in the past, all that it hoped for or dreaded in the days to come. Nothing affronts one more, I think, than the suggestion that it is outside or in dim and vague connection with religion that one has to look for that which is clear in intelligence, or great in sentiment, or splendid in beauty. We cannot allow it to-day, to-day when we seem to see a typical spirit of modern time, one that has thrilled to every touch of intellectual movement, to every allurement of aesthetic culture, intense in its appreciation of all that literature and art can offer, finding at last the one really brilliant achievement of combined and consummate ability in a mediaeval cathedral, the one really splendid spectacle in a religious service, the one really surpassing music in the traditional melody, conserved and cultivated all down the ages of the Christian church. Turn, I beg you, to the Psalter and own that no education of old days had ever a finer music to march to, a music more conspicuous in those elements of order and of courage on which Plato insists, than the music of the great historic Psalms. "Nevertheless, when He saw their adversity, He heard their complaint. He thought upon His covenant and pitied them according unto the multitude of His mercies; yea, He made all those that led them away captive to pity them."

"As for His own people, He led them forth like sheep and carried them in the wilderness like a flock; He led them out safely that they should not fear, and overwhelmed their enemies with the sea." "They tempted and displeased the Most High God, and kept not His testimonies; but turned their backs and fell away like their forefathers, starting aside like a broken bow. He fed them with a faithful and true heart, and ruled them prudently with all His power."

Is a nurture weak and poor? Is an education wanting in intellectual aspiration that has, at the back of it, songs like those, songs to which, simplified yet not robbed of their strength, the very cradle of the Jewish child was rocked?

Solemn and bright, peaceful yet stirring, dominant yet not ungentle, exacting yet all the more beloved, with the calm assurance of an unbroken continuity, and the unconscious grace of a long tradition, the spirit of religion ruled the home of the Jewish child. It produced and still produces the sort of man to whom his religious heritage is all in all the sort of man who will quietly die in the defence of his faith. It is a subject, I think, not unworthy, however unworthily I may have treated it, of a place among the thoughts which have been filling your minds this week.

II.

There is little or no time left to draw any practical lessons of anything like immediate application for the guidance of our own lives, and the lives of those who are, I trust, dearer to us than ourselves. Such lessons undoubtedly there are, and they would carry us further than we dream at present.

Religious life in England is very unlike the life that I have attempted to describe. The movements of the sixteenth century constituted an upheaval on the largest possible scale, and among the many interests that suffered, none suffered more than those which we have been considering to-day. The grass is not yet green; still less have the flowers really taken root in the battle-fields of the English reformation. No one has written that history from a child's point of view, no one has described it as it might have touched the children. It was a great intellectual movement, a great struggle for spiritual freedom; but it is not hard to fancy the children at least feeling about it as little Wilhelmine felt about the Battle of Blenheim. For high above them, the winds of a perfectly unintelligible controversy were raging, the clouds poured out water, the air thundered, the arrows went abroad. What I suspect the children felt most was the ruin of their gardens, the wreckage of so much to which, for right or for wrong, had become significant and dear to them, the customs and ceremonies that knit home life with the life of the Church, the thousand things which made Church life attractive; the defacing of some shrine to which their little offerings used to go, the marring beyond recognition of some face which from the stained glass window or the sculptured rood used to regard them as they thought with a particular benevolence, some mystery—divorced alas it may be from the severities of truth—in which they took delight.

It is the difference between the restored cathedral and the really old; the old in which the children come and go; the old with baskets left outside it, not broughams; the old, as I saw Chartres the other day, with the unfathomable wealth of its ancient windows, as against the modern series of reckless and costly experiments in "stained glass"; the old with its priceless monuments worn by contact with work-a-days clothes, the modern with its recent statue and its request that visitors will not touch; the old with its exquisite pavement, more exquisite than ever in its surface scratched by the hobnails, and the modern on which you are requested not to walk.

It was indeed a famous victory, only it must have been more than usually difficult to make children fully appreciate it.

Nor is our own distracted controversial age favourable to the strong and subtle influences, the atmospheric conditions, which made a religion less tender and less tangible than ours, so potent and so prominent in the education of the Jewish child. Our own footsteps, alas, are apt to be uncertain. Our own ventures have the faintness of experiment. Our voices quaver. Our touch is uncertain and fails to reassure.

What can we do? We can at least try, God helping us, to give religion its proper, its predominant position, in the life of the home. We can try to set it in its place, to save it from that worst sort of obscurity, the obscurity of the obviously unreal. In the absence of so much that we regret and desiderate, the personal factor, the personal influence, assumes an importance which it is impossible to overrate.

Aye, and of the personal, that which is most personal of all, the heart that simply loves God, the soul that simply feeds on Jesus Christ.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

"A very special character was given to the service, as others may have told you, by the first lesson for that evening bring from the Book of Wisdom, the end of chap. vi. and most if not all of chap. vii. Of course, as you will know, that included the text which Thos. Aquinas has on his book in our specially beloved picture in the Spanish Chapel. I could hardly believe the lesson had not been specially chosen till I found afterwards that it was the proper one for October 30th.

H. W.

[We append this interesting note re the service. The text referred to is:—"I prayed and the spirit of wisdom came upon me; and I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones." The fresco referred to (painted by Taddeo Gaddi and Simone Memmi) forms the "educational creed" of the House of Education. It represents the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, on the Day of Pentecost, not only upon prophets, apostles and holy men and women, but upon the Captain Figures of the Seven Liberal Arts:—Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Music, Astronomy, Geometry, Arithmetic, Photographs (Nos 6722 and 4077, half-line each) may be obtained from Mr. G. Cole, 17, Via Torna Buoni, Florence.—Ed.]


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