AmblesideOnline AO Parents' Review Articles AmblesideOnline.org

The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
______________________________________
Books

Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 968-973


The Story of my Life, by Helen Keller (Hodder and Stoughton, 7/6). (First notice). This is the autobiography of a young lady who, when she was nineteen months old, had a severe illness, in which she lost sight and hearing, and, consequently, speech. She never recovered the lost senses; and here, we should say, was a soul almost inviolably sealed, to which there was no approach but through the single sense of touch; and yet this lady's book, written with her own unaided hands (she used a typewriter), with hardly any revision, should rank as a classic for the purity and pregnancy of the style, independently of the vital interest of the matter. How was the miracle accomplished? Helen Keller was born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, a little town of Alabama. Of her childhood she says herself that, save a few impressions, "the shadows of the prison-house" enveloped it. But there were always roses, and she had the sense of smell; and there was love—but she was not loving then. When she was seven Miss Sullivan came to her. This lady had herself been blind for some years and had been at the Perkins Institute, founded by that Dr. Howe who liberated the intelligence of Laura Bridgman. But Miss Sullivan was no mere output of any institution. She is a person of fine sanity and wholesomeness, trusting to her personal initiative; and aware from the first that her work was to liberate the personality of her little pupil and by no means to superimpose her own. "Thus I came up out of Egypt," says Miss Keller of the arrival of her teacher, and the voice which she heard from Sinai said, "Knowledge is love and light and vision." And then follows that amazing and enthralling epic which opened the doors of the child's mind, while the word love opened those of the closed heart. Thenceforth many new words every day came with crowds of ideas; and it is not too much to say that this imprisoned and desolate child entered upon such a large inheritance of thought and knowledge, of gladness and vision, as few of us of the seeing and hearing world attain to. The instrument in this great liberation was nothing more than the familiar manual alphabet, followed in course of time by raised books and Braille. Like all great discoveries, this discovery of a soul was, in all its steps, marked by simplicity. Miss Sullivan had little love for psychologists and all their ways; would have no experiments; would not have her pupil treated as a phenomenon but as a person. "No," she says, "I don't want any more Kindergarten materials . . . I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think, whereas if the child is left to himself he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things, and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences." We need not say how absolutely we are in agreement with Miss Sullivan; nor how strongly we recommend that this wise and delightful book (to which this lady contributes a long appendix) should be read by every thoughtful parent. It is a great thing to have a study of education as it were de novo, in which we see the triumph of mind, not only over apparently insuperable natural obstacles, but over the dead wall of systematised education—a more complete hindrance to many a poor child than her grievous defects proved to Helen Keller.

Mankind in the Making, by H. G. Wells (Chapman and Hall, 7/6). Here is another book of very great importance to all those persons concerned in the making of mankind—primarily to parents and teachers. These essays have already attracted much attention as they appeared from time to time in The Fortnightly Review and The Cosmopolitan. Mr. Wells poses as an "incautious outsider" who brings his opinion to bear on questions that, most of us will agree, are left far too much to specialists. He conceives of a "New Republic" where many things will be otherwise; and, further, that those who enlist themselves as new republicans, must stedfastly set themselves to bring about the new order. A book so radical, in the sense that it goes to the roots of things existing, must stir up conflict, and out of conflicting opinions we hope truth will emerge. The author writes from a standpoint which we all take unconsciously, though we have not the wit to know it or to say it; not liberty, duty, fraternity, religion, is the master-thought of his thinking, but—Births! And he is right, for every man who does honest work, be it the building of a house or the painting of a picture, works for posterity. But how do we set about this work for posterity which is the high calling and vocation of us all, whether we be wedded or single? Here Mr. Wells has many things to say full of insight and instruction—things inspired by that direct gaze at the subject which gives what we call an original view. Indeed we could wish that the author had not read any psychology; for here and there we find a little effort to square life with theory, and the outcome is husk; but, by and by, we are at a kernel of vital thought all his own. The chapter on 'The Problem of the Birth Supply' contains much matter for thought. Such a sentence, for instance, as "the morality of first-born children should indicate that a modern woman carries no instinctive system of baby management about with her in her brain," gives us pause. The chapter on 'Wholesale Aspects of Man Making' is melancholy but not hopeless reading. The author believes that every infant is the business, not only of his own belongings, but of every man and woman; and in the energy of that faith there is hope. The chapter on 'The Beginning of Mind and Language' throws a strong light on the duties of motherhood, and the passage dealing with the first set of toys for an infant is worthy of the attention of mothers. We do not know why "a ball and a box made of china" should be included, but the author writes with knowledge, so we take these toys on trust. But it is when we get to the teaching of English that we feel ourselves in intense sympathy with Mr. Wells. We, too, know what it is to come across "books of the 'Eric' or 'Little by Little' type, mean, goody-goody thought dressed in its appropriate language," and we know the poverty of mind that results from this manner of reading. The teaching of the English language is taken up again with other matters in the chapter on Schooling. The author, in his desire to make fair concessions, is, we think, too liberal to pedagogy; children absolutely do not want even such of the elaboration of teaching as Mr. Wells concedes. Give them books and things and the minimum of intelligent guidance, and they will get education. But it is truly an amazing piece of insight on the part of this "incautious outsider" to perceive that the question of text-books for school use is too large and too vital for the already heavy-burdened head master or mistress. It is a question that lies at the root of all education. We ourselves have laboured strenuously at it for a dozen years or more and have, we think, arrived at a fair working solution; but much remains to be done. Everyone should read Mr. Wells' vital and illuminating book. There are chapters that we have not space to touch upon, and must close with the authors' own summary of contents—"the discussion of the quality of the average birth and of the average home, the educational scheme, the suggestions for the organisations of literature and a common language, the criticism of polling and the jury system, and the ideal of a republic with an apparatus of honour."

Cities, by Arthur Symons (Dent and Co., 7/6). A book about Cities by Mr. Arthur Symons is an admission into his intimacies for which we are thankful. A city is no mere congeries of buildings, people, industries and the rest, in his eyes. He perceives and feels with curious intensity what we must needs call the personality of a city, and he loves his cities or he hates them as they deserve. Sometimes one feels his hatred to be a little virulent, as when he writes of Naples, for example, or of Moscow. Having read his account of these, we are not possessed of much information; any shilling guide-book would do more for us; but we know; we do not love, but we are intimate. When the author loves a city, as he loves Rome or Venice for example, he gives us, again, the privilege of entrée. We may have read tomes about these cities, and have lived in them for months, but here is more than we knew—a veil is lifted and we see face to face. There is a certain moral value in Mr. Symons' way of looking at cities from the interior as it were. We take the more heed as to how we are expressing ourselves, for as surely as gesture, carriage and clothes express a person, does each of their cities express a people. We wonder what we shall leave behind us to match in honesty and beauty those mediaeval cities to which we give a personal love. The cities to which Mr. Arthur Symons gives us the privilege of his personal introduction are Rome, Venice, Naples, Seville, Prague, Moscow, and four others. The illustrations are delightful—for the most part reproductions of old engravings, shadowing forth the spirit of the city after the same manner as does the text. The book is delicately written and, even where we do not agree, we enjoy.

*Great Masters, with an introduction and descriptive text by Sir Martin Conway, four parts (Heinemann, 5/—each). The Great Masters is a singularly interesting publication. The descriptive letterpress, and possibly the selection of subjects, is by Sir Martin Conway (Slade Professor of Art, Cambridge)—a sufficient guarantee; while the photogravures, of which each part contains four, appear to us to excel anything of the kind that has yet been accomplished. Looked at from a little distance, each picture has all the characters—softness, delicacy, depth of tone—of a fine old line engraving. The selection is interesting; so far as the work has appeared, each great master appears to be represented by a single work, and picture and master alike are chosen according to no rule but the "sweet will" of the editor. This will be a recommendation to some of us who weary a little of ordered series. The reason for the selection of a picture is never quite obvious, nor is to be found in any hundred of the best pictures, but in every case the editor is justified of his choice. Thus, from Vandyke, we have, not any of the familiar Stuart pictures, but that most princely boy who became William II, Prince of Orange, the father of our William III. "Mrs. Carnac" represents Reynolds, and the stately carriage and billowy grace of the figure show cause why. We can imagine no more delightful Christmas present than one of these Parts.

* Parts I and II may be seen at the Office, 26, Victoria Street, London, S.W.

Under Cheddar Cliffs a Hundred Years Ago, by Edith Seeley (Seeley and Co., 5/-). Miss Seeley has given us a thing to be thankful for; a strong religious tale, vigorous in character drawing, written in vigorous English, free from goody-goody sentiment and religious cant. We cannot say the book is equal throughout, there are weaker and stronger passages, and what is worse, prosy passages; but the general impression left by the book is one of strength. Most of us know a little of the mission of Hannah More and her sister Patty among the Cheddar Cliffs—how the ladies found savages and left Christians; but not every writer would have understood the strength of character of these same savages, and how the Gospel story, a new thing to them, would seize them with might if it caught them at all. Mrs. Westover, that shrewd widow of a well-to-do farmer, is a subtle and able study.

The Seashore, by W. Furneaux (Longmans, 6/—net). Mr. Furneaux's The Seashore is as indispensable to the young naturalists as are his other handbooks. His chapter on a marine aquarium, advising, first, jars or earthenware pans of any kind in which to keep the spoils of the sea, until the recognised aquarium is arrived at, is a sample of the practical advice and instruction, given in an easy and pleasant style, of which the book is full. "Natural history is a living study," says Mr. Furneaux, "and its devotee is one who delights in observing the growth and development of living things, watching their habits, and noting their wonderful adaptation to their environments." This is the point of view for the young naturalist to start with. The three hundred illustrations introduce us to a number of curious and fascinating sea-creatures, while the text indicates in a pleasantly natural style what to look for, where to look for it, and a great deal about it—just the information we all want at the seaside.

The Master Musicians: Chopin, by J. C. Haddon (Dent & Co., 3/6). Messrs. Dent's series of Master Musicians is a real boon. Mr. Cuthbert Haddon tells us that he has purposely avoided the sentimental gush which has been so largely written about Chopin, and has endeavoured "to tell the story of his life simply and directly, to give a clear picture of the man and to discuss the composer," an intention which seems to us to have been fairly fulfilled. The compositions appear to be discussed slightly, but with care and justice, and indeed with fulness enough to satisfy the amateur student. The exquisite nocturnes receive full appreciation and are recognised as distinctive of the composer. The format of the book is charming—a generous page, pleasing type, and suitable binding.

The Child "Wonderful," by W. J. Stacey (Cassell & Co., 2/6). Mr. Walter Stacey has given us in Child "Wonderful" the old, old story of Christmas as told to children, in six pleasant talks, which Mr. Greybeard holds in the dusk with the little boy and the little girl. We think Mr. Stacey's "talks," reverent as his language is, might have been more successful if he had remembered that the words of the Bible itself have infinite charm for children. The coloured illustrations from his pencil are exceedingly interesting, being a reproduction of a life to-day in the unchanging East. The picture of Jesus in the Temple "hearing them and asking them questions" will abide with the children and, we think, delight them, as will all the pictures, though to us, brought up on the traditions of Italian art, the Eastern headdress of the Virgin Mary, as well as other Eastern traits in the pictures, is a little startling.

The Golliwog's Circus, by F. R. and B. Upton (Longmans, 6/-). The Golliwog is with us again. The humour of the pictures is unfailing, and Sarah and Midget and Peg are once more irresistible as they work out the Golliwog's new idea of getting up a circus. We are not sure what Miss Bertha and Miss Florence Upton have not outdone themselves this time in making of verses and of pictures. "Great fun" will be the verdict of the nursery.

Lost in Blunderland, by Caroline Lewis (Heinemann, 2/6). The further adventures of Clara is, like its predecessor, Clara in Blunderland, a political skit full of extravagantly good fun. Clara, of course, is Mr. Balfour, and we need not explain who her "Aunt Sarum" is. Pictures and text add to each other in catching the situation; and the situations and the personages are those that have occupied us all during the year that is nearly past. But these travels of Clara are not for the child. The adept who knows his newspaper and is quick to pounce upon allusions will find a harvest of Christmas joy in this really clever political skit.

New Editions.

I. Boswell's Life of Johnson (two vols, 3/6 each). We are heartily grateful to Messrs. Newnes and Co. for producing Boswell's Life of Johnson in two particularly charming volumes of their Thin Paper Classics. Well might the great Boswell speak of (on the title page of the First Edition) "the whole exhibiting a view of literature and literary men in Great Britain for near half-a-century." That is precisely what we get in these amazing pages, and all easy and entertaining as tea-table gossip. We get two admirable portraits, one of Johnson and one of Boswell, and an invaluable, indeed indispensable index. We earnestly hope that Messrs. Newnes and Co. may see their way to give us a series of the great biographies (the copyright in which is expired) in the same charming form. The need for such a series seems to us really urgent. We have endless series of short lives of all manner of persons ranging from kings to candlestick makers; these are good enough as far as information goes, but do not count at all "for example of life and instruction in manners."

II. Tennyson's In Memoriam, with analysis and notes by C. Mansford (Swan, Sonneschein, 2/-). In Memoriam is one of the few poems in the reading of which one is glad to have an occasional hint from a judicious guide. The casual reader does not perceive that the great poem has certain characters in common with The Prelude; for example, that is to say, it is the history of the poet's mind, in this case, for the shorter period between three Christmases. Mr. Mansford is the judicious guide one would desire. This is really a handy pocket volume and might well become a friend.

III. Little Peter, by Lucas Malet (Methuen, 3/6). (Fourth edition). Little Peter is charming. He is a French little Peter who lives on the edge of a pine forest and has a charcoal burner for his friend and a philosopher, who knew how everything should be done, for his father and his mother had learned the patience of the saints.

The Quiver (Cassell and Co., 7/6). The Quiver has its usual list of well-known contributors and exceptionally good pictures. It is impossible to enumerate all the contents, or even those of particular interest in this big volume. A talk with Miss Louisa Twining is particularly noticeable. As a gift to the servants' hall the volume would be both interesting and profitable. Do we take enough trouble to supply our servants with worthy reading?


Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, July 2008