The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

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

Volume 1, June 1890, pg. 321

(This article appears in the CM Series, volume 5, around pg 214.)

The habit of casual reading, about which Sir John Lubbock says such wise and pleasant words, is a form of mild intellectual dissipation which does more harm than we realize. Many who would not read even a brilliant novel of a certain type, sit down to read twaddle without scruple. Nothing is too scrappy, nothing is too weak to "pass the time"! The "scraps" literature of railway bookstalls is symptomatic. We do not all read scraps, under whatever piquant title, but the locust-swarm of this class of literature points to the small reading power amongst us. The mischief begins in the nursery. No sooner can a child read at all than hosts of friendly people show their interest in him by a present of a "pretty book." A "pretty book" is not necessarily a picture book, but one in which the page is nicely broken up in talk or short paragraphs. Pretty books for the schoolroom age follow those for the nursery, and nursery and schoolroom outgrown, we are ready for "Mudie's"; the succession of "pretty books" never fails us; we have no time for works of any intellectual fibre, and we have no more assimilating power than has the schoolgirl who feeds upon cheese-cakes. Scott is dry as dust, even Kingsley is "stiff." We remain, though in another sense than that of the cottage dame, "poor readers" all our days. Very likely these strictures do not touch a single reader of the Parents' Review, and we are like a parson of the three-decker age inveighing against the ways of the thieves and drunkards who were not in the pews. But the mischief is catching, and the children of even reading parents are not safe. Guard the nursery; let nothing in that has not the true literary flavor; let the children grow up on a few books read over and over, and let them have none the reading of which does not cost an appreciable mental effort. This is no hardship. Activity, effort, whether of body or mind, is joyous to a child. We older people who went out of our "Robinson Crusoe" into our Scott did not find the strong meat too much for us. We wonder does any little girl in these days of many books experience the keen joy of the girl of eleven we can recall, crouching by the fireside, clasping her knees, and listening, as she had never listened since, to the reading of "Anne of Geierstein"? Somehow, the story has never been re-read; but, to this day, no sense impressions are more vivid than those of the masked faces, the sinking floor, the weird trial, the cold bright Alpine village -- and no moral impression stronger than that made by the deferential behaviour of Philip to his father. Perhaps the impression made later by the "Heir of Redclyffe" ranks next in intensity. But we must adapt ourselves to new conditions; "books for the young" used to be few and dull; now, they are many and delightful.

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We are in a bad way for epithets: there are hardly more than a dozen current amongst us; and, of these, one person has seldom more than one or two in everyday use. A cup of tea, a gown, a picture, a book, a person, -- is "nice," "perfect," "delicious," "delightful," "jolly," according to the speaker; not at all according to the thing spoken of. Adverbs help a little; a thing may be "nice," "how nice!" or "too awfully nice!" but the help is rather in the way of force than of variety. J. finds all agreeable things "too awfully nice!" while B finds the same things only "nice." As a rule, things and persons have each one distinctive quality; to see what that is in a flash, and to expresses it in the fittest word, is a small proof of genius, or of the highest culture. "That abysmal question, the condition of East London:" -- if one had not known that the speaker was a man of just perceptions and wide range of thought, intimately conversant with the with the questions of the day, that one phrase of a short conversation would have conveyed all that and more. The fitness of this use of "abysmal" stamped the speaker. Little children often surprise and amuse their elders by the fitness and elegance of their phraseology. We have only to foster this power of theirs, to put good words in their way, to treat the perpetual use of "jolly" or "delicious" as rather idiotic, and we are not only fitting our children to shine in society, but doing something to conserve the treasures of the beautiful mother-tongue of our inheritance. It might be worth while to hunt up good strong Saxon epithets for everyday use from the writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Milton alone is a treasure-trove. In the hymn beginning

"Let us with a gladsome mind,"

there are half a-dozen adjectives used with original force; perhaps half a-dozen peculiar to that hymn, in their use if not in their form. We cannot go about talking of the "golden-tresséd sun"; that is too good for us; but to get "gladsome" into our common speech is worth an effort. "Happy-making," again, in the wonderful "Ode to Time," -- could we have a fitter word for our best occasions? Perhaps our correspondents will send us lists of good epithets for "Notes and Queries."

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A generation ago, a great teacher amongst us never wearied of reiterating that in the Divine plan "the family is the unit of the nation": not the individual, but the family. There is a great deal of teaching in the phrase, but this lies on the surface; the whole is greater than the part, the whole contains the part, owns the part, orders the part; and, this being so, the children are the property of the nation, to be brought up for the nation as is best for the nation, and not according to the whim of individual parents. The law is for the punishment of evil-doers, for the praise of them that do well; so, practically, parents have very free play; but it is as well we should remember that the children are a national trust whose bringing up is the concern of all -- even of those unmarried and childless persons whose part in the game is the rather dreary one of "looking on."

"So grew my own small life complete,
As nature obtained her best of me --
One born to love you, sweet!"

And so of those parents who say,"In bringing up our own children as well as we know how, we fulfill our debt to the community." No doubt, "Nature obtains her best" of every parent who loves his own children and brings them up heedfully. But Browning's "best" was a power, and not a condition; a force which he put forth as light and leading for us all. "The family is the unit of the nation," but an aggregate of units does not compose a nation. The parts must cohere. Were heads of families in touch with heads of families all round, each helping all, and each helped by all, we should have an ideal national education, ideal progress in virtue and worth. It is impossible to estimate the impulse to be given to the truly "higher education" by the enthusiasm of many parents working together.

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We are grateful to our readers for the good help they are giving to our Notes and Queries, By-the-Way, and Book columns. They would be encouraged if they knew how many people say, "We turn to those pages first!" Still more will they be encouraged as they realise that they are doing something to advance the science of education. Nothing is trivial that concerns a child; his foolish-seeming words and ways are pregnant with meaning for the wise. It is in the infinitely little we must study the infinitely great, and the vast possibilities, and the right direction of education are indicated in the open book of the little child's thoughts. Nor need any friendly critic fear that parents will not observe the reticence due to their children. They know what to tell, and what to keep back; and it rests with them to give us educational problems, dark-sayings, truth at the bottom of a well of fictitious circumstances, when they wish questions to be discussed with which they would not have their children identified.

Typed by EllaJac, Oct 2015; proofread by lmichelleb, Jun 2016