Madam How and Lady Why

Further Afield: Kingsley's Lessons in Earth Lore, Volume 2

by Charles Kingsley
Edited and with notes by Anne E. White

Further Afield: Kingsley's Lessons in Earth Lore, Volume 2

Copyright © 2019 by Anne E. White

This study guide represents a great deal of research, thought, and work. We offer it to be used freely, and hope it will be a blessing to many students, parents, and teachers. However, out of respect for this work, please honor our long-standing terms of use, and do not repost this or any of the AO curriculum anywhere else, in any form. This copyrighted material is free to use, not free to repost or republish. Please be conscientious in your desire to share AO, and link instead of copying.

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Foreword to the Series
Some Ways to Use This Book
Examination Questions
How Not to Use This Book
Lesson One: The Chalk-Carts, Part One (Chapter VII)
Lesson Two: The Chalk-Carts, Part Two
Lesson Three: The Chalk-Carts, Part Three
Lesson Four: Madam How's Two Grandsons, Part One (Chapter VIII)
Lesson Five: Madam How's Two Grandsons, Part Two
Lesson Six: Madam How's Two Grandsons, Part Three
Lesson Seven: Madam How's Two Grandsons, Part Four
Lesson Eight: Madam How's Two Grandsons, Part Five
Lesson Nine: The Coral Reef, Part One (Chapter IX)
Lesson Ten: The Coral Reef, Part Two
Lesson 11: The Coral Reef, Part Three
Lesson 12: The Coral Reef, Part Four
Lesson 13: Field and Wild, Part One (Chapter X)
Lesson 14: Field and Wild, Part Two
Lesson 15: Field and Wild, Part Three
Lesson 16: Field and Wild, Part Four
Lesson 17: Field and Wild, Part Five
Lesson 18: Field and Wild, Part Six
Lesson 19: The World's End, Part One (Chapter XI)
Lesson 20: The World's End, Part Two
Lesson 21: The World's End, Part Three
Lesson 22: The World's End, Part Four
Lesson 23: The World's End, Part Five
Lesson 24: The World's End, Part Six
Lesson 25: Homeward Bound, Part One (Chapter XII)
Lesson 26: Homeward Bound, Part Two
Lesson 27: Homeward Bound, Part Three
Lesson 28: Homeward Bound, Part Four
Lesson 29: Homeward Bound, Part Five
Lesson 30: Homeward Bound, Part Six
Lesson 31: Homeward Bound, Part Seven
Lesson 32: Homeward Bound, Part Eight
Lesson 33: Homeward Bound, Part Nine
Lesson 34: Homeward Bound, Part Ten

Foreword to the Series

Why is this not a lesson-book?

Alfred, Lord Tennyson apologized to children when he found out they hated having to read his poems in school as much as he himself had hated reading Latin poetry. Charles Kingsley might have felt the same diffidence or even repugnance about AmblesideOnline students being expected to read Madam How and Lady Why. He might have questioned the need to turn his 1869 bit of natural-history-theology-epistemology-for-amusement into a text on which one might be examined. Would he have been pleased or merely puzzled to think that children would be studying the book one hundred and fifty years later?

But we are using Madam How for school lessons, and we take our cue from Charlotte Mason and the Parents' National Education(al) Union. Until Mason's death, and for several years afterward, the book was a P.N.E.U. Form IIB staple, alternating with Arabella Buckley's Life and Her Children. Programme 117, in 1930, was the last term in which two chapters were scheduled; in the following term it seems to have been cut off without even finishing the book. Someone must have thought "good riddance to old nonsense."

What was the unique value of this book that kept it in the P.N.E.U. programmes for fifty years, long after its lessons on earthquakes and volcanoes seemed out of date? Why was it considered core reading even for students who knew nothing of the chines at Bournemouth?

Who was Charles Kingsley?

Charles Kingsley was born June 12, 1819, in Holne, Devon, England. His official occupations include clergyman, university professor, historian, and writer. From 1860 to 1869 he was Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge; but he resigned the professorship and spent the next four years as canon of Chester Cathedral. While he was there, he founded the Chester Society for Natural Science, Literature and Art, which played an important part in the creation of the Grosvenor Museum.

His books were published between 1849 and 1875. Westward Ho!, a novel which AmblesideOnline students read in Year 8, was one of his earliest books, published in 1855. Other books AO students will recognize are The Heroes: Greek Fairy Tales (1856) and The Water-Babies (1863). Madam How and Lady Why was published in 1869, when Kingsley was fifty years old. He died only six years later, in 1875.

Themes of the book

Though "earth lore" may progress and chalk-carts may disappear, Madam How contains several themes which are as relevant now, or even more so, than they were in 1869.

The first is a practical one: like Kipling's mongoose, we are to "run and find out"; or, perhaps, not run, but walk slowly enough to observe. Charles Kingsley, using the Father's dialogue with the Boy, attempts to connect the small, immediate, concrete things in front of us (and under us: under our feet, under the ground, under the sea) with the processes that have shaped and are shaping our planet. Can we come back from a walk, like "Master William" in Volume 1, Lesson One, with our minds (if not our pockets) full of wonders?

"Those who wish honestly to learn the laws of Madam How, which we call Nature, by looking honestly at what she does, which we call Fact, have only to begin by looking at the very smallest thing, pin's head or pebble, at their feet, and it may lead them--whither, they cannot tell."

"The chalk is here, and the caves are not; and 'Learn from the thing that lies nearest you' is as good a rule as 'Do the duty which lies nearest you.'"

The second theme is epistemology, or how we can know what we know, as illustrated by the rivalry between Synthesis and Analysis ("Madam How's two grandsons") in Volume 2. It reminds us of our need for a childlike humility about the things we think we know; but it also presents a challenge to us to use our minds and think scientifically, at least about the "hows" of the world.

"Therefore our true wisdom is never to fancy that we do comprehend: never to make systems and theories of the Universe (as they are called) as if we had stood by and looked on when time and space began to be; but to remember that those who say they understand, show, simply by so saying, that they understand nothing at all . . ."

"If we thought and searched over the Universe--aye, I believe, only over this one little planet called earth--for millions on millions of years, we should not get to the end of our searching. The more we learnt, the more we should find there was left to learn. All things, we should find, are constituted according to a Divine and Wonderful Order, which links each thing to every other thing; so that we cannot fully comprehend any one thing without comprehending all things: and who can do that, save He who made all things?"

A third theme is that of change, and the forces behind change (a lot of "How," with a bit of "Why"). Kingsley writes that "Everything round you is changing in shape daily and hourly, as you will find out the longer you live." Whether you subscribe to long or short views of time, and whether you sympathize more with Giant Analysis or his brother Synthesis, it is clear that great changes have taken place on the Earth. Water has dug out glens, "ice-ploughs" have carved valleys, and tiny sea creatures have formed limestone and coral reefs.

A fourth theme, springing from the others, is the belief that, no matter how the shaping of the world happened or how long it took, there was more behind it than just fairies with toolboxes (see Some Ways to Use This Book).

"But if we love and reverence and trust Fact and Nature, which are the will, not merely of Madam How, or even of Lady Why, but of Almighty God Himself, then we shall be really loving, and reverencing, and trusting God; and we shall have our reward by discovering continually fresh wonders and fresh benefits to humankind . . ."

A final theme is our human response. Kingsley presents this both in the practical sense of applying scientific knowledge to benefit others; and in spiritual terms as described above.

Why alter the book?

Charles Kingsley had a few blind spots, which included but were not limited to race and religion. He also had an unswerving but occasionally jarring belief in God's particular favour to England. (Scotland seems to have been included in that favour; Ireland, not so much.)

This edition of Madam How has attempted to focus on the "earth lore," and not the unnecessary distractions. An attempt has also been made to use more gender-equal language, since scientists are not (and never have been!) only "scientific men." A few changes were made to words that have altered in meaning since Kingsley's time.

I have also updated spelling, such as the use of "volcanoes" vs. Kingsley's "volcanos," and "coral reef" vs. "coral-reef."

Some Ways to Use This Book

Background Information

Who are "Madam How" and "Lady Why?"

Kingsley explains that Madam How is "a fairy" "who will let us see her at her work"; but Lady Why, also "a fairy," is someone "whom we can hardly hope to see," "so beautiful is she, and yet so awful (awe-ful) too." Madam How is the servant of Lady Why, and they have an unnamed Master over them both.

Who are the human characters in the book?

The Father is, more or less, Charles Kingsley. He has, apparently, a number of scientific friends, and spends a great deal of his time thinking about how things work--and why. It is his voice you hear speaking through most of the story.

The Boy seems to be unusually well-read for his age, remembers things such as particular rooms at the British Museum, has "a little knowledge of Latin," and asks many questions. However, his father often speaks to him as if he were a very young child, which some readers have found patronizing. This edition therefore omits references to "little man" and "your little head."

The Father often quotes the Boy indirectly, telling us what the Boy said or asked.

(Boy): When the Boy himself speaks in the story, his words appear like this.

Because Kingsley did not use quotation marks or differentiate the voices, other than by paragraphing, I have sometimes had to guess at which character was speaking. I have taken creative license by giving the Boy certain lines that might have been intended for the Father.

The Farmer is the only other human character to speak directly in the story, and he appears only in Volume 2, Lesson One.

Farmer: The Farmer's words appear like this.

Where does the story take place?

The "home place" of the family is the northeastern part of the English county of Hampshire. If you look on a map, you will see that Hampshire (sometimes written Hants) is located on the southern coast, on the English Channel. Its county town is the city of Winchester, known for its cathedral. Almost half of Hampshire is covered by two national parks (the New Forest and part of the South Downs). It would be useful to locate the neighbouring counties of Surrey and Berkshire.

The Father mentions that he was raised in Cornwall, in England's "West Country." He also refers to the county of Devon (or Devonshire), which borders Cornwall.

In the last two chapters of Volume 2, the Father and the Boy travel to County Kerry, Ireland; and then return by boat and by train, crossing through the counties of Somerset and Wiltshire. Their journey ends at the Reading Station in Berkshire (which would have been their closest railway connection).

Preparing a Lesson

Reading and Narration

"How injurious then is our habit of depreciating children . . . we wrongly suppose that children cannot understand what we understand ourselves; what is worse, we explain and we question. A few pedagogic maxims should help us, such as, 'Do not explain,' 'Do not question,' 'Let one reading of a passage suffice,' 'Require the pupil to relate the passage he has read.' The child must read to know; his teacher's business is to see that he knows." (Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education)

These are the basics of a Charlotte Mason lesson!

However, as some of us have found who have tried to jump in unprepared with Madam How and other unfamiliar books; especially those of us who tried not to "get between the child and the book" by reading without any explanation or illustration at all; it can be a frustrating and boring experience for both teacher and students.

Note the difference, though, between what Charlotte Mason called "getting up a lesson," meaning the teacher as lecturer; and the sample "Notes of Lessons" included in her books and in the Parents' Review. These outlines point to a more rounded approach: one which requires some preparation, but which is book- and learner-centric, rather than focused on the teacher. "One reading of a passage" does not necessarily mean an entire unbroken chapter before narration. "Do not question" and "do not explain" are not meant to keep us from including useful material to bring a lesson to life, or from emphasizing points that students need to remember, to "see that they know."

Miss Claxton and the Gnats

A P.N.E.U. teacher named Miss K. Claxton wrote a description of a session based on Life and Her Children, the book which alternated with Madam How and Lady Why. The group was made up of students she had never met before, and it was conducted as a demonstration class, so it was a bit unusual; but it still seems to be a good example of the way one might approach a Madam How lesson.

It began with an "Introduction/Warmup." The teacher asked the children what insects they were currently studying, and what they knew about the life cycle of those insects (this "asking" is important!). She stated the topic, "Two-Winged Insects, or 'Flies,'" and asked the children to name the kinds of flies that they knew. She got them fully engaged by having them look carefully at some live insects in a jar.

What we might call "Part One" consisted of a student (or students, it's not clear) reading aloud a passage of about 360 words on gnats. Narration followed, and then they looked at gnat life-cycle drawings.

"Part Two" began by reading a second passage of the same length. Miss Claxton showed them some empty pupa cases she had brought in, and then had them narrate the life story of the gnat. The "Conclusion" of the lesson, something that we might miss in a simple read-and-narrate routine, was a challenge to the students to look for gnat eggs and larvae when they went home.

For busy parents, or for students who read on their own, this may sound like too much of a production for everyday work. The point is that this kind of teaching is as faithful to Charlotte Mason's principles as is "open the book, read, narrate"; and if a certain amount of "this is why we care" saves a book from becoming drudgery, then it is not time mis-spent.

Vocabulary Lists

In attempting to provide helpful but not overwhelming vocabulary assistance, I tried to keep two things in mind. The first was the reading level of students using these volumes, who will typically be between nine and twelve years of age, and following Years Four and Five of the AmblesideOnline Curriculum (or AO for Groups, Form II, Years A and B). These are students who, for the most part, have had some experience with "meaty" books and with older vocabulary. In Year Four (Form II Year A), they will be reading Robinson Crusoe; in Year Five (Form II Year B), Oliver Twist. They will be beginning to read Shakespeare's plays and Plutarch's Lives. However, it is still normal for them to wonder about words like "venom" and "confound," and to miss the fact that "stupid" once had quite acceptable uses. The lists of definitions for these and other possibly unknown words are there to be used for quick reference, as needed. Key terms such as "glacier" and "chalk" are also included in the lists, and of course more time should be spent on those.

Bible and Poetry References

There are a few of these! Sources for Kingsley's quotes are included in the vocabulary lists.

Other Good Books . . . and Teacher's Stories

The Father often reminds the Boy of books they have looked at together, or names scientists whose work he has read but which the Boy won't appreciate until he is older. In the same way, we may feel inspired to add bits and pieces of "Remember that?" or "I saw one of those giant crabs . . ." A personal note can be helpful, especially if you have experience of places or topics described in the book. However, it is a good idea to, perhaps, err on the side of under-doing in this area.

Diagrams, Maps, and Illustrations

You will notice that this edition of Madam How contains no illustrations or maps. The original book includes occasional illustrations, most of which are easily replaced or supplemented (i.e. you could find other pictures of a daddy-long-legs). There are two illustrations in the last chapter ("Homeward Bound," in Volume 2) which are more integral to the text, and I have offered suggestions there for alternatives.

In the original chapter about volcanoes, a diagram was included, but not discussed much in the text. However, re-drawing such a diagram was required in the examination, suggesting that P.N.E.U. teachers did not skip over it. There is no reason to use nineteenth-century diagrams for this activity, so use any print, online, or field-trip resource you choose to explain the workings of volcanoes.

In the vocabulary sections titled "People, Places, Events" and "Better with Pictures," I have suggested possible word combinations for online image searches. If you have access to books or other materials with photographs, the suggested terms may also help you to search for images in an index. (Try both libraries and thrift stores for "coffee table books" on topics such as British scenery, coral reefs, rocks, caves, and glaciers. Libraries will often have other media as well.)

P.N.E.U. students were encouraged in their natural history programmes to "make the experiments where possible." There are only a few specific "experiments" suggested in the original book, aside from general encouragement to explore one's natural area. Do-It Challenges have been added for each lesson, and most require only basic materials. Families and groups using these volumes will undoubtedly find other creative ways to extend topics of special interest such as soil chemistry, life in a coral reef, earthquakes, whale biology, and fossils.

Three types of maps will be useful in the study of this book. The first is a general map of England (old or new will do), showing the county divisions and some of the physical features. (See Where does the story take place? in Background Information.) In Volume 2, a map of Ireland is used briefly; and as other places around the world (such as the Pyrenees, Chile, and Hawaii) are referred to, a globe or atlas would be helpful (online sources are also fine). The other two types of maps are those showing global patterns of volcanic activity, used in Volume 1, beginning in Lesson 13; and geological maps, used in Volume 2, beginning in Lesson 12. The map referred to in the text shows the types of rock formations in Great Britain; but you may wish to supplement this with maps of your own region.

Discussion Questions

Possible points for discussion, and suggestions for creative narrations, follow the lesson texts. These are, of course, optional.

". . . we are not anxious to develop his observing powers on little bits of everything, which he shall describe as opaque, brittle, malleable, and so on. We would prefer not to take the edge off his curiosity in this way; we should rather leave him receptive and respectful for one of those opportunities for asking questions and engaging in talk with his parents about the lock in the river, the mowing machine, the ploughed field, which offer real seed to the mind of a child, and do not make him a priggish little person able to tell all about it." (Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children)

One or Two Caveats

It goes without saying (but we have to say it) that everything suggested here, from readings to experiments to online searches, should be undertaken with prudence and discernment. Every activity carries certain risks, and it must be up to the students and their parents or teachers to choose those which are most appropriate.

Examination Questions

Here are possible questions for end-of-term examinations, drawn from original P.N.E.U. programmes. They are what Charlotte Mason would call "suggestive" of how the book was used by the P.N.E.U.. We might say that if Plutarch's Lives was commandeered to teach Citizenship, Madam How was used to teach Nature-zenship. Note the questions that ask the students what they have noticed themselves about water, or what they might see on a sea voyage. Charles Kingsley would undoubtedly be pleased that his command to keep one's eyes open was applied through this method of examination.

Programme 101, chp. I and II: What do you know about the work of water? Describe some of the work that you have seen.

Programme 114, chp. III and IV: Describe a volcanic eruption, and say what you know about the cause. Can you draw a diagram showing the inside of a volcano?

Programme 103, chp. V, VI, VII: What is a glacier? What do you know of the work of the ice-plough?

Programme 116, chp. VII and VIII: A) Describe a limestone cave, saying how it is made.

Programme 104, chp. VIII and IX: How are coral reefs made? Describe a coral island.

Programme 90, chp. X: 1. Show in what ways a hayfield is one the beautiful workshops of the world.

Programme 106, chp. XII: Describe some of the things you may see about whales, fish, and birds from a vessel at sea.

How Not to Use This Book

I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.
(Emily Dickinson)

Over the past two decades, I have watched determined and devoted homeschoolers do battle with Madam How and Lady Why, especially a) those who stumble over unfamiliar chines and glens, turf-cutters and chalk-carts, and then give up; or b) those who dive into every aspect of the volcanoes and sea-creatures, and attempt to chart and correct all the misinformation. I should also add c), those who are uncomfortable with Kingsley's interest in evolution, and d) those put off by his racist comments and unstinted praise of the British Empire. The d) category is the easiest to deal with, in creating this new edition of Madam How: The question of creation/evolution, old/young, when/how/why is more complicated, and must be left for discussion as the book is read (and afterwards).

How, then, to read Madam How? Not too seriously. Or at least, not as a detailed manual of science. Don't make the chines or the volcanoes your Slough of Despond (says one who has swum a few muddy laps). Remember, Kingsley didn't intend that. Despite his tendency to ramble and preach, he wrote his books with the intention that children would enjoy them. He also wrote this book, I think, as a lesson to grown-ups on their responsibility, and ability, to pass on their own knowledge and beliefs in whatever natural ways come to hand.

Do any of the experiments that seem practical. But remember that the goal, again, is as Kingsley describes in his preface: to step outside your own door and keep your eyes open.

May the travels, walks, and conversations included here inspire many more.

Thanks are due

I am most grateful to the AmblesideOnline learning community, and especially to those who read these lessons in their early stages and made helpful suggestions. You all know who you are.

Lesson One: The Chalk-Carts, Part One (Chapter VII)


Welcome back to those of you who are re-joining the Father and the Boy for a second year! For anyone just beginning, please use the material in the book's introduction to help you catch up.

This lesson opens, probably in spring, on a day when the Hampshire farmers are spreading locally-gathered chalk, as they have done for many years to reduce the acidity and raise the calcium level of their fields. The Father and the Boy are taking a walk nearby.


chalk: The first thing many of us associate with chalk is blackboard chalk (or sidewalk chalk); and that is not usually made from real chalk, but from gypsum or plaster of Paris. Natural chalk is a form of limestone composed of the mineral calcite (see Lesson Seven).

chalk-cart: as explained in the text, a horse-drawn cart used to collect chalk to add to the soil

where the copse was grubbed: where the trees were removed to make room for crops

barren: not able to grow anything

open these thirty years: the railway was built at that time, exposing the chalk to the surface

gig: two-wheeled cart

sour: acidic (see the Challenge for this lesson)

Madam How: see the introductory notes for this volume

empiric knowledge: knowledge gained through observation and experimentation

People, Places, Events

Odiham chalk-pit: This old chalk-pit has an interesting history, which you may wish to search out.

Better with Pictures

chalk cuttings and banks on the railway: a search for railway chalk cuttings will lead to some helpful photographs


Part One

What do you want to know about next?

(Boy): More about the caves, how they were made, and so forth.

Well, we will talk about that in good time: but now--what is that coming down the hill?

(Boy): Oh, only some chalk-carts.

Only some chalk-carts? It seems to me that these chalk-carts are the very things we want; that if we follow them far enough--I do not mean with our feet along the public road, but with our thoughts--we shall come to a cave, and understand how a cave is made.

But think--are not chalk-carts very odd and curious things? I think they are. To my mind, it is a curious question how people ever thought of inventing wheels; and, again, when they first thought of it. It is a curious question, too, how people ever found out that they could make horses work for them, and so began to tame them, instead of eating them; and a curious question (which I think we shall never get answered) when the first horse-tamer lived, and in what country. And a very curious, and, to me, a beautiful sight it is, to see those two noble horses obeying that little boy, whom they could kill with a single kick.

But, beside all this, there is a question which ought to be a curious one to you (for I suspect you cannot answer it). Why does the farmer take the trouble to send his cart and horses eight miles and more, to draw in chalk from Odiham chalk-pit?

(Boy): Oh, he is going to put it on the land, of course. They are chalking the bit at the top of the next field, where the copse was grubbed.

But what good will he do by putting chalk on it? Chalk is not rich and fertile, like manure, it is altogether poor, barren stuff: you know that, or ought to know it. Recollect the chalk cuttings and banks on the railway between Basingstoke and Winchester--how utterly barren they are. Though they have been open these thirty years, not a blade of grass, hardly a bit of moss, has grown on them, or will grow, perhaps, for centuries.

Part Two

Come, let us find out something about the chalk before we talk about the caves. The chalk is here, and the caves are not; and "Learn from the thing that lies nearest you" is as good a rule as "Do the duty which lies nearest you." Let us come into the grubbed bit, and ask the farmer--there he is in his gig.

Well, old friend, and how are you? Here is a boy who wants to know why you are putting chalk on your field.

Farmer: Does he then? If he ever tries to farm round here, he will have to learn for his first rule--No chalk, no wheat.

(Boy): But why?

Farmer: "Why" is more than I can tell, young squire. But if you want to see how it comes about, look here at this freshly-grubbed land--how sour it is. You can see that by the colour of it--some black, some red, some green, some yellow, all full of sour iron, which will let nothing grow. After the chalk has been on it a year or two, those colours will have all gone out of it; and it will turn to a nice wholesome brown, like the rest of the field; and then you will know that the land is sweet, and fit for any crop. Now do you mind what I tell you, and then I'll tell you something more. We put on the chalk because, beside sweetening the land, it will hold water. You see, the land about here, though it is often very wet from springs, is sandy and hungry; and when we drain the bottom water out of it, the top water (that is, the rain) is apt to run through it too fast: and then it dries and burns up; and we get no plant of wheat, nor of turnips either. So, we put on chalk to hold water, and keep the ground moist.

(Boy): But how can these lumps of chalk hold water? They are not made like cups.

Farmer: No: but they are made like sponges, which serves our turn better still. Just take up that lump, young squire, and you'll see water enough in it, or rather looking out of it, and staring you in the face.

(Boy): Why! one side of the lump is all over thick ice.

Farmer: So it is. All that water was inside the chalk last night, till it froze. And then it came squeezing out of the holes in the chalk in strings, as you may see it if you break the ice across. Now you may judge for yourself how much water a load of chalk will hold, even on a dry summer's day. And now, if you'll excuse me, sir, I must be off to market.

Part Three

(Boy): Was it all true that the farmer said?

Quite true, I believe. He is not a scientist--that is, he does not know the chemical causes of all these things; but his knowledge is sound and useful, because it comes from long experience. He and his forefathers, perhaps for a thousand years and more, have been farming this country, reading Madam How's books with very keen eyes, experimenting and watching very carefully and rationally; making mistakes often, and failing, and losing their crops and their money; but learning from their mistakes, till their empiric knowledge, as it is called, helps them to grow sometimes quite as good crops as if they had learned agricultural chemistry. What he meant by the chalk sweetening the land you would probably not understand yet, and I can hardly tell you either; for chemists are not yet agreed how it happens. But he was right; and right, too, what he told you about the water inside the chalk, which is more important to us just now; for, if we follow it out, we shall surely come to a cave at last.

Narration and Discussion

What do you think chalk might have to do with caves?

When the Father sees the chalk-carts, it makes him think of all kinds of related questions about wheels, and horses, and things that have nothing to do with chalk but which might be important for other reasons. One way to handle questions or ideas that you can't stop to think about right now is to put them in a "parking lot." This might be a notebook, a whiteboard, or a spot on the wall where you can stick up bits of paper. Then you can come back to them when you have more time.

The Father says that the farmers have a great deal of empiric knowledge. They have learned what to do by observing and experimenting. What are some things you have learned for yourself in this way?

Do-It Challenge: "Sweet and sour," or "alkaline and acidic." Do you know about the pH scale? It is a way to measure the sourness, or acidity, of any substance. Most measurement tools that you are familiar with begin with 1, or maybe 0, and go up or down from there: rulers, thermometers, and clocks, for example. However, the pH scale is a little different. The scale ranges from 0 to 14, and every number means ten times as much as the one before it. Pure distilled water, which does not taste at all sweet or sour (and so is neutral), is said to be halfway down the scale, with a pH of 7. Be careful on the next step, because your intuition might lead you wrong: substances that are sour, or more acidic, have a lower pH than 7. Those that are more alkaline (also called basic) have a higher pH. Something with a pH of 6 is ten times as acidic as the neutral pure water; and something with a pH of 8 is . . . can you figure it out? There are various ways you can test the pH level of different substances (such as foods), including using red cabbage juice or commercial litmus paper.

Most classroom pH experiments are designed for the upper grades, but there is no reason you can't go further if you like. Remember that the focus in the story was on types of soil, and how people add things to their gardens and fields so that they can grow particular plants. If your family farms or you have a garden, do you know the pH of your soil? Does it tend to be more acidic, or more alkaline? Soil that is slightly acid is not necessarily bad; it is actually better for some plants (can you find out which ones?).

(You may also know something about maintaining a healthy pH balance if you keep fish in an aquarium.)

Lesson Two: The Chalk-Carts, Part Two


In this lesson we move our imaginary telescope from a boy playing on grassy downs, all the way to a tiny grain of chalk heading to the sea.


turf: The word turf has two meanings in this book. There is the turf that is cut out of peat-bogs by turf-cutters (see Lesson 15); but turf here refers short ground-covering plants (such as grass).

"Water, water, everywhere . . .": Kingsley has slightly misquoted The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but he is not the first person to have done so!

Lady Why: see the introductory notes for this volume

carbonic acid: carbon dioxide dissolved in water

wonderful: This word is now used almost always to mean "extremely good," in the same way as marvellous; but in older books both words also mean astonishing, something to wonder or marvel at. In the climactic scene of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Olivia exclaims "Most wonderful!" to express her astonishment at the turn of events.

marl: a type of rock made of clay and lime

what that is I must tell you afterwards: coral reefs are the topic of Lessons Nine through Twelve.

limestone: a sedimentary rock often formed of bits of marine organisms such as coral and foraminifera.

able to do exceeding abundantly . . .: Ephesians 3:20-21

People, Places, Events

River Itchen: a river in Hampshire which flows to the city of Southampton

Better with Pictures

chalk-downs at Winchester: search images for Winchester chalk downs. A chalk down or downland is an open area composed of chalk hills.


Part One

You can see now why the chalk-downs at Winchester are always green, even in the hottest summer: because Madam How has put under them her great chalk sponge. The winter rains soak into it; and the summer heat draws that rain out of it again as invisible steam, coming up from below, to keep the roots of the turf cool and moist under the blazing sun.

You love that short turf well. You love to run and race over the downs till you are hot and tired; and then to sit down and look at the quiet little old city below, with the long cathedral roof, and the tower of St. Cross, and the gray old walls and buildings shrouded by noble trees, all embosomed among the soft rounded lines of the chalk-hills; and then you begin to feel very thirsty, and cry, "Oh, if there were but springs and brooks in the downs, as there are at home!" But all the hollows are as dry as the hill tops. There is not a brook, or the mark of a watercourse, in one of them. You are like the Ancient Mariner in the poem, with

"Water, water, everywhere,
Yet not a drop to drink."

To get water, you must go down and down, hundreds of feet, to the green meadows through which the silver River Itchen glides toward the sea. There you stand upon the bridge, and watch the trout in water so crystal-clear that you see every weed and pebble as if you looked through air. If ever there was pure water, you think, that is pure. Is it so? Drink some. Wash your hands in it and try. You feel that the water is rough, "hard" (as they call it), quite different from the water at home, which feels as soft as velvet.

(Boy): What makes it so "hard?"

Because it is full of invisible chalk. In every gallon of that water there are, perhaps, fifteen grains of solid chalk, which was once inside the heart of the hills above.

Part Two

Day and night, year after year, the chalk goes down to the sea; and if there were such creatures as water-fairies--if it were true, as the old Greeks and Romans thought, that rivers were living things, with a Nymph who dwelt in each of them, and was its goddess or its queen--then, if your ears were opened to hear her, the Nymph of Itchen might say to you--

"So, child, you think that I do nothing but, in the words of Mr. Tennyson's beautiful song, "'I chatter over stony ways, In little sharps and trebles, I bubble into eddying bays, I babble on the pebbles.'

"Yes. I do that: but I only exist (like everything else, from the sun in heaven to the gnat which dances in his beam) on condition of working, whether we wish it or not, whether we know it or not. I am not an idle stream, only fit to chatter to those who bathe or fish in my waters, or even to give poets beautiful fancies about me. You little guess the work I do. For I am one of the daughters of Madam How, and, like her, work night and day, we know not why, though Lady Why must know. So, day by day, and night by night, while you are sleeping (for I never sleep), I carry, delicate and soft as I am, a burden which giants could not bear: and yet I am never tired. Every drop of rain which the south-west wind brings from the Caribbean Sea gives me fresh life and strength to bear my burden; and it has need to do so; for every drop of rain lays a fresh burden on me. Every root and weed which grows in every field; every dead leaf which falls in the highwoods of many a parish;--aye, every atom of manure which the farmers put on the land--foul enough then, but pure enough before it touches me--each of these, giving off a tiny atom of what we call carbonic acid, melts a tiny grain of chalk, and helps to send it down through the solid hill by one of the million pores and veins which at once feed and burden my springs. Ages on ages I have worked on thus, carrying the chalk into the sea. And ages on ages, it may be, I shall work on yet; till I have done my work at last, and levelled the high downs into a flat seashore, with beds of flint gravel rattling in the shallow waves."

She might tell you that; and when she had told you, you would surely think of the clumsy chalk-cart rumbling down the hill, and then of the graceful stream, bearing silently its invisible load of chalk; and see how much more delicate and beautiful, as well as vast and wonderful, Madam How's work is than that of humans.

That chalk may be going to make layers of rich marl in the sea between England and France. Or something may happen to it which has happened already to many a grain of lime. It may be carried thousands of miles away to help in building up a coral reef (what that is I must tell you afterwards). That coral reef may harden into limestone beds. Those beds may be covered up, pressed, and, it may be, heated, till they crystallize into white marble: and out of it, fairer statues be carved, and grander temples built, than the world has ever yet seen. And if that is not the reason why the chalk is being sent into the sea, then there is another reason, and probably a far better one. For, as I told you at first, Lady Why's intentions are far wiser and better than our fancies; and she--like Him whom she obeys--is able to do exceeding abundantly, beyond all that we can ask or think.

Narration and Discussion

If the downs are covered with green grass because of the spongy chalk underneath, why are there no springs and brooks there? Why must people go "down from the downs" to get to water?

How do the roots and weeds cause the chalk to "melt?"

The Father says that someday the river will have taken all the chalk away from the hills, and turned them into a flat seashore. Why isn't the chalk replaced as it is taken away? (You may not know the answer to this one yet, but see how far your reasoning can take you.)

Do-It Challenge: Is the water where you live "hard" or "soft?" You can find instructions online and in books for hard/soft water experiments, where you add different amounts of Epsom salts to containers of distilled water, and then add soap or detergent to see how well each one bubbles up.

Lesson Three: The Chalk-Carts, Part Three


All about caves! "Forthwith a door will open," says the Father, "and we shall walk in, and behold rivers and cascades underground, stalactite pillars and stalagmite statues, and all the wonders of the grottoes of Adelsberg, Antiparos, or Kentucky."


Ali Baba in the tale of the Forty Thieves: a folk tale included in the Arabian Nights or One Thousand and One Nights.

forthwith: without delay

stalagmites: mineral formations growing up from the floors of caves, or hanging down from their ceilings. Those that hang down, like icicles, are stalactites (and, as Kingsley says, sometimes they are so big that they resemble pillars). I was told on a cave tour many years ago that you can remember that because stalactites "stick tight" to the top of the cave. Another way to remember is that stalagmite has a "g" for ground, and stalactite has a "c" for ceiling.

phosphatic fossils: soft-tissue fossils preserved in phosphate

breccia: a type of rock made up of broken fragments of other rocks cemented together

font in the church: a stand made to hold water, used for baptisms

fault: this is the first time Kingsley has used the word fault, which is now a very important term in "earth lore" (earth science). He uses it here to mean a literal crack in the ground; but a fault line also refers to a crack between the Earth's tectonic plates.

festoons: garlands

shaft: something long and narrow

petrifies: turns to stone. (The process is called petrifaction.) In this case, Kingsley explains, the objects have not technically been turned to stone, but are covered in lime and "encrusted with stone."

nave: the central part of a church

Better with Pictures

Adelsberg, Antiparos, or Kentucky: these are all the locations of famous caves, which you can find pictured in books and online. "Adelsberg," located in Slovenia, is now called the Postojna Cave. Antiparos is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, and its cave is said to have the oldest stalactite in Europe. The U.S. state of Kentucky is home to Mammoth Cave National Park.

swallow-hole: a place where the earth has swallowed up a stream. Try the search terms British Geological Survey swallow holes.

travertine: a kind of rock formed by deposits from mineral springs

that dropping-well at Knaresborough: The water at this site is so full of lime that it turns anything left there into stone. People have amused themselves by hanging up toys, kitchen tools, and other artifacts, to watch them calcify.

Czirknitz Lake: Lake Cerknica (also Cercnika), in Slovenia. It is called "the lake that vanishes." If you are interested in finding out more, try searching for Europe's vanishing lake.


Part One

But you will say now that we have followed the chalk-cart a long way, without coming to the cave. You are wrong. We have come to the very mouth of the cave. All we have to do is to say--not "Open Sesame," like Ali Baba in the tale of the Forty Thieves--but some word or two which Madam Why will teach us; and forthwith a hill will open, and we shall walk in, and behold rivers and cascades underground, stalactite pillars and stalagmite statues, and all the wonders of the grottoes of Adelsberg, Antiparos, or Kentucky.

Am I joking? Yes, and yet no; for you know that when I joke I am usually most in earnest. At least, I am now.

(Boy): But there are no caves in chalk?

No, not that I ever heard of. There are, though, in limestone, which is only a harder kind of chalk. Madam How could turn this chalk into hard limestone, I believe, even now; and in more ways than one; but in ways which would not be very comfortable or profitable for us Southern folk who live on it. I am afraid that--what between squeezing and heating--she would flatten us all out into phosphatic fossils, about an inch thick; and turn Winchester city into a "breccia" which would puzzle geologists a hundred thousand years hence. So, we will hope that she will leave our chalk-downs for the Itchen to wash gently away; while we talk about caves, and about how Madam How scoops them out by water underground, just in the same way, only more roughly, as she melts the chalk.

Part Two

Suppose, then, that these hills, instead of being soft, spongy chalk, were all hard limestone marble, like that of which the font in the church is made. Then the rainwater, instead of sinking through the chalk as it does now, would run over the ground down-hill, and if it came to a crack (a fault, as it is called) it would run down between the rock; and as it ran it would eat that hole wider and wider year by year; and make a swallow-hole--such as you may see in plenty if you ever go up Whernside, or any of the high hills in Yorkshire--unfathomable pits in the green turf, in which you may hear the water tinkling and trickling far, far underground.

(Boy): But how is the swallow-hole sure to end in a cave?

Because it cannot help making a cave for itself if it has time.

Think: and you will see that it must be so. For that water must run somewhere; and so it eats its way out between the beds of the rock, making underground galleries, and, at last, caves and lofty halls. For it always eats, remember, at the bottom of its channel, leaving the roof alone. So it eats, and eats, more in some places and less in others, according as the stone is harder or softer, and according to the different direction of the rock-beds (what we call their dip and strike); till at last it makes one of those wonderful caverns--such a cave as there actually is in the rocks of the mountain of Whernside, fed by the swallow-holes around the mountain-top; a cave hundreds of yards long, with halls, and lakes, and waterfalls, and curtains and festoons of stalactite which have dripped from the roof, and pillars of stalagmite which have been built up on the floor below. These stalactites (those tell me who have seen them) are among the most beautiful of all Madam How's work; sometimes like branches of roses or of grapes; sometimes like statues; sometimes like delicate curtains, and I know not what other beautiful shapes. I have never seen them, I am sorry to say, and therefore I cannot describe them. But they are all made in the same way; just in the same way as those little straight stalactites which you may have seen hanging, like icicles, in vaulted cellars, or under the arches of a bridge.

The water melts more lime than it can carry, and drops some of it again, making fresh limestone grain by grain as it drips from the roof above; and fresh limestone again where it splashes on the floor below: till if it dripped long enough, the stalactite hanging from above would meet the stalagmite rising from below, and join in one straight round white graceful shaft, which would seem (but only seem) to support the roof of the cave. And out of that cave--though not always out of the mouth of it--will run a stream of water, which seems to you clear as crystal, though it is actually, like the Itchen at Winchester, full of lime; so full of lime, that it makes beds of fresh limestone, which are called travertine--which you may see in Italy, and Greece, and Asia Minor: or perhaps it "petrifies" the weeds in its bed, like the dropping-well at Knaresborough. And the cause is this: the water is so full of lime, that it is forced to throw away some of it upon everything it touches, and so encrusts with stone--though it does not turn to stone--almost anything you put in it. You have seen, or ought to have seen, "petrified" moss and birds' nests and such things from Knaresborough. Well, now you know a little, though only a very little, of how those "petrified" objects are made.

Now if you can imagine for yourself the amount of lime which one of these subterranean rivers would carry away, gnawing underground centuries after centuries, day and night, summer and winter, then you will not be surprised at the enormous size of caverns which may be seen in different parts of the world--but always, I believe, in limestone rock. You would not be surprised (though you would admire them) at the caverns of Adelsberg, which run, I believe, for miles in length. You would not wonder, either, at the Czirknitz Lake, near the same place, which at certain times of the year vanishes suddenly through chasms under water, sucking the fish down with it; and after a certain time boils suddenly up again from the depths, bringing back with it the fish, who have been swimming comfortably all the time in a subterranean lake.

Neither would you be surprised (if you recollect that Madam How is a very old lady indeed, and that some of her work is very old likewise) at that Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, the largest cave in the known world, through which you may walk nearly ten miles on end, and in which a hundred miles of gallery have been explored already, and yet no end found to the cave.

But we have been talking all this time about chalk and limestone, and have forgotten to settle what they are, and how they were made. We must think of that next time. It will not do for us (at least if we mean to be scientists) to use terms without defining them; in plain English, to talk about--we don't know what.

Narration and Discussion

In Volume 1, the Father tried to explain to the Boy how water had carved out the glen they were walking through. How is the making of a cave similar? How is it different?

Why is it important to know as much as you can about what? --that is, what something really is? What are some ways you can find out? (Philosophers sometimes ask, in a Lady Why sort of question, how much is-ness of a thing we can understand? If you break a rock to bits, will you find out what it is? The next lessons will discuss this further.)

Do-It Challenge: There are at least two petrifaction experiments described online, where you can create fossils with sponges or model petrified wood. You may find others that suit the materials you have available. Alternatively, you could look for activities around the formation of crystals, such as those using Epsom salts.

Lesson Four: Madam How's Two Grandsons, Part One (Chapter VIII)


At the end of the previous lesson, the Father says, "We have been talking all this time about chalk and limestone, and have forgotten to settle what they are, and how they were made." He realizes that he has described the things themselves, but has gotten away from not only the "why" but even the "how." It is time to backtrack a bit.

In the story that follows, the Father asks the Boy to think about not only how we know about things, but the ways in which we try to discover what those things are.


Analysis: What does it mean to analyze something? Kingsley says that "Analysis was to take to pieces everything he found, and find out how it was made." You can imagine Analysis as a little boy who takes the toaster and the telephone apart to see how they work.

Synthesis: Synthetic often means something artificial, such as "synthetic" fabric. An electronic synthesizer creates musical sounds without real instruments. But synthesis also means to combine different things to create something new.

Analysis was to teach men Science; and Synthesis to teach them Art: That is not to say that the study of science cannot make use of synthesis, nor that art cannot be scientific or analytical; but it does give us a place to start in understanding the two "giants."

conceit: self-importance, pride

stupid: Lacking wisdom and/or acting thoughtlessly or foolishly. In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll wrote that Alice felt "sleepy and stupid," which had less to do with her intelligence than it did with the mind-numbing effect of the hot afternoon. However, many people now avoid using the word.

stout: powerful

tyrannous: domineering; ruling as they willed

came to grief: got into trouble

sham: imitation, pretend

waxed: grew

weather-glass: a barometer using a hand or pointer to show what the weather would be. The hand pointing down indicated bad weather, so Synthesis nailed it upright to keep the rain away.

composing his epitaph: writing the words for his tombstone



You want to know, then, what chalk is? I suppose you mean what chalk is made of?

(Boy): Yes. That is it.

That we can only help by calling in the help of a very great giant whose name is Analysis.

(Boy): A giant?

Yes. And before we call for him I will tell you a very curious story about him, and his younger brother, which is every word of it true.

[We will not get back to talking about chalk until Lesson Six.]

Part One

Once upon a time, certainly as long ago as the first person, or perhaps the first rational being of any kind, was created, Madam How had two grandsons. The elder is called Analysis, and the younger Synthesis. (As for who their father and mother were, there have been so many disputes on that question that I think we may leave it alone for the present.) For my part, I believe that they are both, like St. Patrick, "gentlemen, and come of decent people"; and I have a great respect and affection for them both, as long as each keeps in his own place and minds his own business.

Now you must understand that, as soon as these two baby giants were born, Lady Why, who sets everything to do that work for which it is exactly fitted, set both of them their work. Analysis was to take to pieces everything he found, and find out how it was made. Synthesis was to put the pieces together again, and make something fresh out of them. In a word, Analysis was to teach men Science; and Synthesis to teach them Art.

But because Analysis was the elder, Madam How commanded Synthesis never to put the pieces together till Analysis had taken them completely apart. And if Synthesis had obeyed that rule of his good old grandmother's, the world would have been far happier, wealthier, wiser, and better than it is now. But Synthesis would not. He grew up a very noble boy. He could carve, he could paint, he could build, he could make music, and write poems: but he was full of conceit and haste. Whenever his elder brother tried to do a little patient work in taking things to pieces, Synthesis snatched the work out of his hands before it was a quarter done, and began putting it together again to suit his own fancy; and, of course, he put it together wrong.

Then he went on to bully his elder brother, and locked him up in prison, and starved him, till for many hundred years poor Analysis never grew at all, but remained shrunken, and stupid, and all but blind for want of light; while Synthesis, and all the hasty conceited people who followed him, grew stout and strong and tyrannous, and overspread the whole world, and ruled it at their will.

But the fault of all the work of Synthesis was just this: that it would not work. His watches would not keep time, his soldiers would not fight, his ships would not sail, his houses would not keep the rain out. So every time he failed in his work he had to go to poor Analysis in his dungeon, and bully him into taking a thing or two to pieces, and giving him a few sound facts out of them, just to go on with till he came to grief again, boasting in the meantime that he and not Analysis had found out the facts.

And at last he grew so conceited that he fancied he knew all that Madam How could teach him, or Lady Why either, and that he understood all things in heaven and earth; while it was not the real heaven and earth that he was thinking of, but a sham heaven and a sham earth, which he had built up out of his guesses and his own fancies.And the more Synthesis waxed in pride, and the more he trampled upon his poor brother, the more reckless he grew, and the more willing to deceive himself. If his real flowers would not grow, he cut out paper flowers, and painted them and said that they would do just as well as natural ones. If the hand of his weather-glass went down, he nailed it up to ensure a fine day, and tortured, burnt, or murdered everyone who said it did not keep up of itself. And he did many other foolish and wicked things.

Part Two

But Synthesis grew so rich and powerful that he grew careless and lazy, and thought about nothing but eating and drinking, till people began to despise him more and more. And one day he left the dungeon of Analysis so ill guarded that Analysis got out and ran away. Great was the hue and cry after him; and terribly would he have been punished had he been caught.

But, lo and behold, folks had grown so disgusted with Synthesis that they began to take the part of Analysis. Poor men hid him in their cottages, and scholars in their studies. And when war arose about him,--and terrible wars did arise,--good kings, wise statesmen, gallant soldiers spent their treasure and their lives in fighting for him. All honest folk welcomed him, because he was honest; and all wise folk used him, for, instead of being a conceited tyrant like Synthesis, he showed himself the most faithful, diligent, humble of servants, ready to do everyone's work, and answer everyone's questions. And among them all he got so well fed that he grew very shortly into the giant that he ought to have been all along; and was, and will be for many a year to come, perfectly able to take care of himself.

As for poor Synthesis, he really has fallen so low in these days, that one cannot but pity him. He now goes about humbly after his brother, feeding on any scraps that are thrown to him, and is snubbed and rapped over the knuckles, and told one minute to hold his tongue and mind his own business, and the next that he has no business at all to mind, till he has got into such a poor way that some folks fancy he will die; and they are actually digging his grave already, and composing his epitaph. But they are trying to wear the bear's skin before the bear is killed; for Synthesis is not dead, nor anything like it; and he will rise up again someday, to make good friends with his brother Analysis, and by his help do nobler and more beautiful work than he has ever yet done in the world.

Narration and Discussion

Kingsley says that all honest folk welcomed Analysis when he escaped his prison, because he was honest. ("Honest" can also mean hard-working and practical, like the people in Volume 1 who planted potatoes in a crater.) Does that mean that Synthesis was not honest?

Are there other ways of finding out what and how besides taking things to pieces?

Do-It Challenge: Create a conversation (written, acted out, or with puppets) between Synthesis and Analysis, or between people supporting those viewpoints. You can imagine them as two giant brothers (as Kingsley says); or give them some other form: professors arguing, people shopping, students in science class, or even animals having a disagreement about something they have found.

For further thought: Kingsley hoped that Synthesis and Analysis would someday work together. What would it take for that to happen?

Lesson Five: Madam How's Two Grandsons, Part Two


The Father continues his story of Analysis and Synthesis.


wonderful: astonishing and/or excellent

this bit of lime: a piece of limestone in the Father's study

matter: Matter is a very important concept in science. Generally, it means all "physical substance," that is, anything that actually takes up space; the stuff all around us.

force: strength or energy; something that pushes or pulls on other things

corpse: dead body

conjurer: magician

the matter of things: the parts of things, or the material of which they are made

form: Kingsley says that "form" means something more than just the shape things take. By using that word (which is most associated with the philosopher Plato), he seems to be talking about the essential nature or essence of things: for instance, what makes the apple-ness of an apple.

suet: animal fat

Better with Pictures

plum-pudding: a dessert eaten in the Victorian era and occasionally today (perhaps at Christmas). It is a sort of cake containing dried fruit, but it is steamed in a cloth bag ("boiled") rather than baked.


Part One

Now you must remember, whenever you have to deal with him, that Analysis, like fire, is a very good servant, but a very bad master. For, having got his freedom only of late years or so, he is, like young men when they come suddenly to be their own masters, apt to be conceited, and to fancy that he knows everything, when really he knows nothing, and can never know anything, but only knows about things, which is a very different matter.

However, Analysis is a very clever young giant, and he can do wonderful work as long as he meddles only with dead things, like this bit of lime. He can take it to pieces, and tell you of what things it is made, or seems to be made; and take them to pieces again, and tell you what each of them is made of; and so on, till he gets conceited, and fancies that he can find out some one Thing of all things (which he calls matter) of which all other things are made; and some Way of all ways (which he calls force); but when he boasts in that way, old Madam How smiles, and says, "My child, before you can say that, you must remember a hundred things which you are forgetting, and learn a hundred thousand things which you do not know"; and then she just puts her hand over his eyes, and Master Analysis begins groping in the dark, and talking the saddest nonsense.

Part Two

So beware of him, and keep him in his own place, and to his own work, or he will flatter you, and get the mastery of you, and persuade you that he can teach you a thousand things of which he knows no more than he does why a duck's egg never hatches into a chicken. And remember, if Master Analysis ever grows rude and conceited with you, just ask him that last riddle, and you will shut him up at once.

(Boy): And why?

Because Analysis can only explain to you a little about dead things, like stones--inorganic things, as they are called. Living things--organisms, as they are called--he cannot explain to you at all. When he meddles with them, he always ends like the man who killed his goose to get the golden eggs. He has to kill his goose, or his flower, or his insect, before he can analyze it; and then it is not a goose, but only the corpse of a goose; not a flower, but only the dead stuff of the flower. And therefore, he will never do anything but fail, when he tries to find out the life in things. How can he, when he has to take the life out of them first?

He could not even find out how a plum-pudding is made by merely analyzing it. He might separate the sugar, and the flour, and the suet; he might even (for he is very clever, and very patient too, the more honour to him) take every atom of sugar out of the flour with which it had got mixed, and every atom of brown colour which had got out of the plums and currants into the body of the pudding, and then, for all I know, put the colouring matter back again into the plums and currants; and then, for all I know, turn the boiled pudding into a raw one again,--for he is a great conjurer, as Madam How's grandson is bound to be: but yet he would never find out how the pudding was made, unless someone told him the great secret--that the cook boiled it in a cloth. This is Analysis's weak point--don't let it be yours--that in all his calculations he is apt to forget the cloth, and indeed the cook likewise. No doubt he can analyze the matter of things: but he will keep forgetting that he cannot analyze their form.

(Boy): Do you mean their shape?

No, I mean something which makes the shape of things, and the matter of them likewise, but which folks have lost sight of nowadays, and do not seem likely to get sight of again for a few hundred years. But don't worry about that too much for now.

Narration and Discussion

". . . during the first six or eight years of life, I would not teach them any botany which should necessitate the pulling of flowers to bits; much less should they be permitted to injure or destroy any (not noxious) form of animal life. Reverence for life, as a wonderful and awful gift . . . is a lesson of first importance to the child . . ." (Charlotte Mason, Home Education)

Analysis can "take a stone to pieces, and tell you of what things it is made, or seems to be made." Although a list of 33 chemical elements had been published in 1789, the periodic table of elements in its current form was just being recognized at the time Kingsley wrote Madam How. (The AO reading list for next year includes a book about the periodic table.) You will already recognize some of the elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, sodium, and iron.

In our time, Analysis has gone even further in breaking things into ever-smaller "bits," moving from molecules into atoms, into protons, neutrons and electrons, and even further. Do you think he is any better yet at knowing more than just "about things?"

Do-It Challenge: Kingsley uses the idea of a plum-pudding to illustrate the limits of what Analysis can do. If this isn't a familiar idea, imagine a muffin, made of flour, sugar, oil, baking powder, raisins, shredded carrots, walnuts, etc. Or even better--one made with blueberries. Even if you pick the blueberries out of the muffin, can you get all the colour that has come out of them back into the berries again? Kingsley says that Analysis might possibly be able to do that; but that unless Analysis knew that the muffin had been baked in a muffin-shaped pan, he might get lost guessing how it got its shape (we might say its muffin-ness); and forget to ask who was responsible for the muffin in the first place.

The challenge for this lesson is to make a snack that has an interesting shape (pretzels might be fun, or something frozen in a mold), and enjoy its "-ness" together. Or just snack on a fruit or vegetable, and talk about how you know it is an apple, or a carrot.

For further thought: Do you agree that Analysis is useless at studying living things? Why or why not?

Lesson Six: Madam How's Two Grandsons, Part Three


So far in our story, Analysis has been a bit of an upstart, arguing with his grandmother and tearing apart the "corpses" of flowers. The Father now tries to explain what Analysis was designed to do; but the Boy is still mistrustful.


carbonate of lime: another word for calcium carbonate, or calcite

carbonic acid: see Lesson Two

carbonic acid gas: carbon dioxide

carbon: a non-metallic element which is the fourth most abundant in the universe (after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen)

oxide: the form of something created by combining it with oxygen

calcium: one of the elements; a soft grey metal

oxygen gas: what we usually think of as oxygen

What is a metal?: Kingsley says that though we can describe what metal looks like (hard, shiny, etc.), and think we know what metal does and how it acts, we still can't say exactly what it is.

that leaf will take the carbon out of it . . .: through photosynthesis

blacklead: graphite

coke: a solid fuel made by heating coal without any air

Better with Pictures

quicklime, slaked lime: substances created as described here. Quicklime is calcium oxide, and it is used in industry (such as in making steel) and agriculture. Slaked lime is calcium hydroxide, also called pickling lime, which has a variety of uses including dentistry. When mixed with water, it is called (logically) limewater.


Part One

About this piece of limestone, however, Analysis can tell us a great deal. And we may trust what he says, and believe that he understands what he says.

(Boy): Why?

Think now. If you took your watch to pieces, you would probably spoil it forever; you would have perhaps broken, and certainly mislaid, some of the bits; and not even a watchmaker could put it together again. You would have analyzed the watch wrongly. But if a watchmaker took it to pieces, then any other watchmaker could put it together again to go as well as ever, because they both understand the works, how they fit into each other, and what the use and the power of each is. Its being put together again rightly would be a proof that it had been taken to pieces rightly.

And so it is with Master Analysis. If he can take a thing to pieces so that his brother Synthesis can put it together again, you may be sure that he has done his work rightly. Now he can take a bit of chalk to pieces, so that it shall become several different things, none of which is chalk, or like chalk at all. And then his brother Synthesis can put them together again, so that they shall become chalk, as they were before. He can do that very nearly, but not quite. There is, in every average piece of chalk, something which he cannot make into chalk again when he has once unmade it. What that is I will show you presently; and a wonderful tale hangs thereby.

Part Two

But first we will let Analysis tell us what chalk is made of, as far as he knows. He will say--Chalk is carbonate of lime.

(Boy): But what is carbonate of lime made of?

Lime and carbonic acid.

(Boy): And what is lime?

The oxide of a certain metal, called calcium.

(Boy): What do you mean?

That quicklime is a certain metal mixed with oxygen gas; and slaked lime is the same, mixed with water.

(Boy): So, lime is a metal. What is a metal?

Nobody knows.

(Boy): And what is oxygen gas?

Nobody knows.

(Boy): Well, Analysis stops short very soon. He does not seem to know much about the matter.

Nay, nay, you are wrong there. It is just "about the matter" that he does know, and knows a great deal, and very accurately; what he does not know is the matter itself. He will tell you wonderful things about oxygen gas--how the air is full of it, the water full of it, every living thing full of it; how it changes hard bright steel into soft, foul rust; how a candle cannot burn without it, or you live without it. But what it is he knows not.

(Boy): Will he ever know?

That is Lady Why's concern, and not ours. Meanwhile he has a right to find out if he can.

Part Three

But what do you want to ask Analysis next?

(Boy): What? Oh! What carbonic acid is.

He can tell you that. Carbon and oxygen gas.

(Boy): But what is carbon?

Nobody knows.

(Boy): Why, here is this foolish Analysis at fault again.

Nay, nay, again. Be patient with him. If he cannot tell you what carbon is, he can tell you what is carbon; which is well worth knowing. He will tell you, for instance, that every time you breathe or speak, what comes out of your mouth is carbonic acid; and that, if your breath comes on a bit of slaked lime, it will begin to turn it back into the chalk from which it was made; and that, if your breath comes on the leaves of a growing plant, that leaf will take the carbon out of it, and turn it into wood. And surely that is worth knowing--that you may be helping to make chalk, or to make wood, every time you breathe.

(Boy): Well; that is very curious.

But now, ask Analysis, "What is made of carbon?" And he will tell you that many things are carbon. A diamond is carbon; and so is blacklead; and so is charcoal and coke, and coal (in part), and wood (in part).

(Boy): What? Does Analysis say that a diamond and charcoal are the same thing?


(Boy): Then his way of taking things to pieces must be a very clumsy one, if he can find out no difference between diamond and charcoal.

Well, perhaps it is: but you must remember that, though he is very old--as old as the first person who ever lived--he has only been at school for the last three hundred years or so.

Narration and Discussion

Why does Kingsley say that "you may be helping to make chalk, or to make wood, every time you breathe?"

"A diamond is carbon, and so is blacklead." Are humans carbon? Look up a diagram of the composition of the human body.

Do-It Challenge #1: Create a model with a building toy such as plastic bricks. (You might want to take a photograph of it.) Can someone else take it apart, and then put it back together correctly?

Do-It Challenge #2: The Father mentions "oxygen gas" (or just oxygen): "--how the air is full of it, the water full of it, every living thing full of it; how it changes hard bright steel into soft, foul rust; how a candle cannot burn without it, or you live without it." Choose one of those things and show that it is true.

Looking at history: Kingsley makes the comment that Analysis "has only been at school for the last three hundred years or so." Madam How was published in 1869, so Kingsley is looking for something that occurred in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. If you look at a timeline of that era, you will notice pioneers of science such as Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo. How did their discoveries change people's beliefs about knowledge?

Lesson Seven: Madam How's Two Grandsons, Part Four


As the Father and the Boy continue their walk across the hills, the discussion shifts back to the topic of chalk and limestone, and then adds in some marine biology.


in the gravel: that is, in the gravel-pits (sometimes called sand-galls) common to that area. These are naturally occurring deep hollows in the chalk, usually filled with sand and gravel.

cockle: a bivalve seashell

tide: the twice-daily rising and falling of the sea. High tide is the time when the water rises to its highest point, or comes in as far as it can; and low tide is when it has "gone out" as far as it will go.

shrewd: clever

People, Places, Events

Loch Fyne: the longest sea loch in Scotland

Better with Pictures

shepherd's crown: An echinoid, which is a kind of fossil with five rays resembling a crown.

Terebratula (plural, Terebratulae): An order of the brachiopods (or "lamp shells," which are a type of marine invertebrate, which means a sea animal without a backbone.

Dentalina: a fossil

Foraminifera: the plural of Foraminifer, which is a single-celled planktonic animal with a chalky shell. The name is Latin for "hole bearers," because, as Kingsley says, the shells contained many holes.

atomies: the skeletons of the foraminifera

nautilus: a marine mollusk (or mollusk, outside North America)

cuttlefish: another marine mollusk

Globigerina: one of the Foraminifera


Part One

(Boy): But how is it that Analysis and Synthesis cannot take all this chalk to pieces, and put it together again?

Look here: what is that in the chalk?

(Boy): Oh! a shepherd's crown, such as we often find in the gravel, only fresh and white.

Well; you know what that was once. I have often told you:--a live sea-egg, covered with prickles, which crawls at the bottom of the sea. Well, I am sure that Master Synthesis could not put that together again: and equally sure that Master Analysis might spend ages in taking it to pieces before he found out how it was made. And--we are lucky today, for this lower chalk to the south has very few fossils in it--here is something else which is not mere carbonate of lime. Look at it.

(Boy): A little cockle, something like a wrinkled hazel-nut.

No; that is no cockle. Madam How invented that ages and ages before she thought of cockles, and the animal which lived inside that shell was as different from a cockle-animal as a sparrow is from a dog. That is a Terebratula, a gentleman of a very ancient and worn-out family. He and his kin swarmed in the old seas, even as far back as the time when the rocks of the Welsh mountains were soft mud. But as the ages rolled on, they got fewer and fewer, these Terebratulae; and now there are hardly any of them left; only six or seven sorts are left about these islands, which cling to stones in deep water; and the first time I dredged two of them out of Loch Fyne, I looked at them with awe, as I would on relics from another world, which had lasted on through unnumbered ages and changes.

But you will agree that, if Master Analysis took that shell to pieces, Master Synthesis would not be likely to put it together again at all; much less to put it together in the right way, in which Madam How made it.

(Boy): And what was that?

By making a living animal, which went on growing, that is, making itself; and making, as it grew, its shell to live in. Synthesis has not found out yet the first step towards doing that; and, as I believe, he never will.

(Boy): But there would be no harm in his trying.

Of course not. Let everybody try to do everything they fancy. Even if they fail, they will have learnt at least that they cannot do it.

Part Two

But now--and this is a secret which you would never find out for yourself, at least without the help of a microscope--the greater part of this lump of chalk is made up of things which neither Analysis can perfectly take to pieces, nor Synthesis put together again. It is made of dead organisms, that is, things which have been made by living creatures. If you washed and brushed that chalk into powder, you would find it full of little things like Dentalina, and many other curious forms. They are the shells of animals called Foraminifera, because the shells of some of them are full of holes, through which they put out tiny arms. So small they are and so many, that there may be, it is said, forty thousand of them in a bit of chalk an inch every way. In numbers past counting, some whole, some broken, some ground to the finest powder, they make up vast masses of England, which are now chalk downs; and in some foreign countries they make up whole mountains. Part of the building stone of the Great Pyramid in Egypt is composed, I am told, entirely of them.

(Boy): And how did they get into the chalk?

Ah! How indeed? Let us think. The chalk must have been laid down at the bottom of a sea, because there are seashells in it. Besides, we find little atomies exactly like these alive now in many seas; and therefore, it is fair to suppose these lived in the sea also.

Besides, they were not washed into the chalk by any sudden flood. The water in which they settled must have been quite still, or these little delicate creatures would have been ground into powder--or rather into paste. Therefore, learned people soon made up their minds that these things were laid down at the bottom of a deep sea, so deep that neither wind, nor tide, nor currents could stir the everlasting calm.

Ah! it is worth thinking over, for it shows how shrewd a giant Analysis is, and how fast he works in these days, now that he has got free and well fed;--worth thinking over, I say, how our notions about these little atomies have changed during the last forty years. We used to find them sometimes washed up among the sea-sand on the wild Atlantic coast; and we were taught in the old days to call them Nautili, because their shells were like Nautilus shells. Men did not know then that the animal which lives in them is no more like a Nautilus animal than it is like a cow.

For a Nautilus, you must know, is made like a cuttlefish, with eyes, and strong jaws for biting, and arms round them; and has a heart, and gills, and a stomach; and is altogether a very well-made beast, and, I suspect, a terrible tyrant to little fish and sea-slugs, just as the cuttlefish is. But the creatures which live in these little shells are about the least finished of Madam How's works. They have neither mouth nor stomach, eyes nor limbs. They are mere live bags full of jelly, which can take almost any shape they like, and thrust out arms--or what serve for arms--through the holes in their shells, and then contract them into themselves again, as this Globigerina does.

What they feed on, how they grow, how they make their exquisitely-formed shells, whether, indeed, they are, strictly speaking, animals or vegetables, Analysis has not yet found out. But when you come to read about them, you will find that they, in their own way, are just as wonderful and mysterious as a butterfly or a rose; and just as necessary, likewise, to Madam How's work; for out of them, as I told you, she makes whole sheets of down, and whole ranges of hills.

Narration and Discussion

What is the only true way to make a Terebratula? You might think about something more familiar: why are only oysters are able to grow natural pearls? What are "cultured pearls?" Has anyone invented a "cultured oyster?"

From what you have learned last year and this, how is it possible that a boy taking a walk in Hampshire could pick up something from the ground that was formed at the bottom of the sea?

Do-It Challenge: Draw the outline of a 1-inch (or 2.54 cm) cube; or find an object with the same measurements. Could you fit forty thousand tiny shells into such a container? Could you fit forty thousand anything into it?

Lesson Eight: Madam How's Two Grandsons, Part Five


How did the sea creatures form a bed of chalk at the bottom of the sea? Now some of the pieces begin to come together.


"Great anchors, heaps of pearl": from Shakespeare's Richard III

People, Places, Events

Alcide D'Orbigny: French naturalist (1802-1857)

Edward Forbes: a naturalist from the Isle of Man (1815-1854)

electric cable: construction of the transatlantic telegraph cable began in the 1850's

Better with Pictures

Pteropods: a group of tiny sea-snails and sea-slugs (Kingsley calls them "sea-moths," and they have also been called "sea-butterflies"). An illustration in the book shows Limacina and Hyalaea uncinata, but Hyalaea uncinata was re-named Cavolinia.

right whales: also called black whales

the great whalebone net which fringes their jaws: baleen, which is often mis-called "whalebone"


Part One

No one knew anything, I believe, about these mysterious little sea creatures, save that two or three kinds of them were found in chalk, till a famous Frenchman, called Alcide D'Orbigny, just thirty years ago, told the world how he had found many beautiful fresh kinds; and, more strange still, that some of these kinds were still alive at the bottom of the Adriatic, and of the harbour of Alexandria, in Egypt. Then in 1841, a gentleman named Edward Forbes found, in the Aegean Sea, "a bed of chalk," he said, "full of Foraminifera, and shells of Pteropods" forming at the bottom of the sea.

(Boy): And what are Pteropods?

What you might call sea-moths (though they are not really moths), which swim about on the surface of the water, while the right whales suck them in tens of thousands into the great whalebone net which fringes their jaws.

[As suggested in Better with Pictures, this would be a good time to browse images of tiny sea creatures, and whales as well.]

Part Two

But since then strange discoveries have been made, especially by the naval officers who surveyed the bottom of the great Atlantic Ocean before laying down the electric cable between Ireland and America. And this is what they found: that at the bottom of the Atlantic were vast plains of soft mud, in some places 2500 fathoms (15,000 feet) deep; that is, as deep as the Alps are high. And more: they found out, to their surprise, that the oozy mud of the Atlantic floor was made up almost entirely of just the same atomies as make up our chalk, especially Globigerinas; that, in fact, a vast bed of chalk was now forming at the bottom of the Atlantic, with living shells and sea-animals of the most brilliant colours crawling about on it in black darkness, and beds of sponges growing out of it. And, for reasons too complex to explain right now, people are beginning now to believe that the chalk has never ceased to be made, somewhere or other, for many thousand years, ever since the Winchester Downs were at the bottom of the sea; so, we may be said to be still living in the age of Chalk.

So there the little creatures have been lying, making chalk out of the lime in the sea-water, layer over layer, the young over the old, the dead over the living, year after year, age after age--for how long? Who can tell? How deep the layer of new chalk at the bottom of the Atlantic is, we can never know. But the layer of live atomies on it is not an inch thick, probably not a tenth of an inch. And if it grew a tenth of an inch a year, or even a whole inch, how many years must it have taken to make the chalk of our downs, which is in some parts 1300 feet thick? How many inches are there in 1300 feet? Do that sum, and judge for yourself.

One difference will be found between the chalk now forming at the bottom of the ocean, if it ever should become dry land, and the chalk on which you tread on the downs. The new chalk will be full of the teeth and bones of whales--warm-blooded creatures, who suckle their young like cows, instead of laying eggs like birds and fish. For there were no whales in the old chalk ocean; but our modern oceans are full of cachalots, porpoises, dolphins, swimming in shoals round any ship; and their bones and teeth, and still more their ear-bones, will drop to the bottom as they die, and be found, ages hence, in the mud which the live atomies make, along with wrecks of mighty ships,

"Great anchors, heaps of pearl,"

and all that humankind has lost in the deep seas.

Narration and Discussion

How does the lime in the sea water help the brachiopods to make chalk? More simply, where is all that chalk coming from?

How could the teeth and bones of sea mammals also make chalk? (A hint: what are your teeth and bones made of?)

Do-It Challenge: If you found the question about teeth and bones interesting, you may want to try either the classic vinegar-and-bones experiment or the "rubber eggs" trick. Either should be easy to locate in books of science experiments or online.

Lesson Nine: The Coral Reef, Part One (Chapter IX)


Sea-creatures and starfish may have bored "The Little Mermaid," but they are amazing and mysterious to the Father and the Boy.


like the snakes in Medusa's hair: in Greek mythology, Medusa had hair made of snakes. See Better with Pictures for the marine version.

Forbes' British Star-fishes: You can find History of the British Star-fishes online.

corallines: coralline algae

reef: a ridge just above or below the surface of the sea, made of jagged rock, coral, or sand

counterpart: something (or someone) in one place that does the same job as something (or someone) in another

Book of Kind: Kingsley seems to be referring to the topic of "Natural Kinds," in which philosophers attempt to divide objects in the world according to their characteristics, and debate how best to do that.

People, Places, Events

where the soils are worlds on worlds older than they are here: Dudley, a town in the Midlands region of England, is near the Wren's Nest Nature Reserve, famous for Silurian coral reef fossils.

Better with Pictures

this stone: An image search for Dudley crinoids or Silurian fossil crinoids will bring up photographs similar to the fossil being discussed.

starfish: I would suggest doing a search (print or online) for branched starfish, and exploring from there as your interest takes you. (Feather stars seem to be of particular current interest.) You will also want to compare these present-day living creatures with the fossil illustrations referred to elsewhere (such as the Silurian fossil crinoids).

Medusa's head: Gorgonocephalus, a genus of marine basket stars (or starfish)

coral insects; coral polyps (polyps): A polyp, in zoology, is one of two forms found in the phylum Cnidaria, the other being the medusa. Why polyp? The word sounds like the French and Greek words for octopus, because of its circle of writhing arms. A common name for polyps used to be coral-insects.

sea anemone: a colourful sea creature that looks like a flower


Part One

You want to know what I meant when I talked of a bit of lime going out to sea, and forming part of a coral island, and then of a limestone rock, and then of a marble statue. Very good. Then look at this stone.

(Boy): What a curious stone! Did it come from any place near here?

No. It came from near Dudley, in Staffordshire, where the soils are worlds on worlds older than they are here, though they were made in the same way as these and all other soils. But you are not listening to me.

(Boy): Why, the stone is full of shells, and bits of coral; and what are these wonderful things coiled and tangled together, like the snakes in Medusa's hair? Are they snakes?

If they are, then they must be snakes who have all one head; for see, they are joined together at their larger ends; and snakes which are branched, too, which no snake ever was.

(Boy): Yes; I suppose they are not snakes. And they grow out of a flower, too; and it has a stalk, jointed, too, as plants sometimes are; and as fishes' backbones are too. Is it a petrified plant or flower?

No; though I do not deny that it looks like one. The creature most akin to it which you ever saw is a starfish.

(Boy): What! one of the red starfishes which one finds on the beach? Its arms are not branched.

No. But there are starfishes with branched arms still in the sea. You know this book you have looked at before, Forbes' British Star-fishes? Do you recollect the drawing of the Medusa's head, with its curling arms, branched again and again without end? Here it is. Now look at this one; the feather star, with arms almost like fern-fronds. And in foreign seas there are many other branched starfish beside.

(Boy): But they have no stalks?

Do not be too sure of that. This very feather star, soon after it is born, grows a tiny stalk, by which it holds on to corallines and seaweeds; and it is not until afterwards that it breaks loose from that stalk, and swims away freely into the wide water. And in the sea there are several starfish still who grow on stalks all their lives, as this fossil once did.

Part Two

(Boy): How strange that a live animal should grow on a stalk, like a flower!

Not quite like a flower. A flower has roots, by which it feeds in the soil. These things grow more like seaweeds, which have no roots, but only hold on to the rock by the foot of the stalk, as a ship holds on by her anchor. But as for its being strange that live animals should grow on stalks: if it be strange, it is common enough, like many far stranger things. For under the water are millions on millions of creatures, spreading for miles on miles, building up at last great reefs of rocks, and whole islands, which all grow rooted first to the rock, like seaweeds; and what is more, they grow, most of them, from one common root, branching again and again, and every branchlet bearing hundreds of living creatures, so that the whole creation is at once one creature and many creatures. Do you not understand me?

(Boy): No.

Then fancy to yourself a bush like that hawthorn bush, with numberless blossoms, and every blossom on that bush a separate living thing, with its own mouth, and arms, and stomach, budding and growing fresh live branches and fresh live flowers, as fast as the old ones die: and then you will see better what I mean.

(Boy): How wonderful!

Yes; but not more wonderful than your finger, for it, too, is made up of numberless living things.

(Boy): My finger made of living things?

What else can it be? When you cut your finger, does not the place heal?

(Boy): Of course.

And what is healing but growing again? And how could the atoms of your fingers grow, and make fresh skin, if they were not each of them alive? There is nothing wonderful in the world outside you but has its counterpart of something just as wonderful, and perhaps more wonderful, inside you. A person is the microcosm, the little world, said the philosophers of old; and philosophers nowadays are beginning to see that their old guess is actual fact and true.

Part Three

(Boy): But what are these curious sea-creatures called which are animals, yet grow like plants?

They have more names than I can tell you, or you remember. Those which helped to make this bit of stone are called coral insects: but they are not really insects, and are no more like insects than you are. Coral polyps are the best name for them, because they have arms round their mouths, something like a cuttlefish, which the ancients called Polypus. But the animal which you have seen likest to most of them is a sea anemone. Look now at this piece of live coral--for coral it is, though not like the coral in a necklace. You see it is full of pipes; in each of those pipes has lived what we will call, for the time being, a tiny sea anemone, joined on to his brothers by some sort of flesh and skin; and all of them together have built up, out of the lime in the sea-water, this common house, or rather town, of lime.

(Boy): But is it not strange and wonderful?

Of course it is: but so is everything when you begin to look into it; and if I were to go on, and tell you what sort of young ones these coral polyps have, and what becomes of them, you would hear such wonders that you would be ready to suspect that I was inventing nonsense, or talking in my dreams. But all that belongs to Madam How's deepest book of all, which is called the "Book of Kind": the book in which only the very wisest are able to spell out a few words, not knowing, and of course not daring to guess, what wonder may come next.

Narration and Discussion

Tell about some of the creatures living under the sea.

Do-It Challenge #1: The California Academy of Sciences website has an activity called "Build a Coral Polyp" (using edible ingredients). If you cannot access the website, can you design such a model yourself?

Do-It Challenge #2: In an earlier conversation, the Father said, "'Learn from the thing that lies nearest you' is as good a rule as 'Do the duty which lies nearest you.'" Why don't we have to go under the sea to see wonderful things? Explore a space nearby, and find something to draw or write about that you have never noticed before.

Lesson Ten: The Coral Reef, Part Two


No difficult philosophy in this lesson: just a vivid description of life on a coral reef.


crinoid, stalked starfish: see previous lesson

brainstones: brain coral

pore: opening

the live flower-gardens of the sea-fairies: Kingsley may be thinking about his book The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby

lagoon: a shallow body of water separated from a larger one by a reef or barrier island

People, Places, Events

along the north-east coast of Australia: The Great Barrier Reef

Better with Pictures

coral reef: You may be tempted to look at photographs or videos right away, but read the description and try visualizing it yourself first.


Part One

Now we will go back to our story, and talk about how the crinoid was made, and how the stalked starfish, which you mistook for a flower, ever got into the stone.

(Boy): Then do you think me silly for fancying that a fossil starfish was a flower?

I should be silly if I did. There is no silliness in not knowing what you cannot know. You can only guess about new things, which you have never seen before, by comparing them with old things, which you have seen before; and you had seen flowers, and snakes, and fishes' backbones, so you made a very fair guess from them. After all, some of these stalked starfish are so like flowers, lilies especially, that they are called Encrinites; and the whole family is called Crinoids, or lily-like creatures, from the Greek word krinon, a lily; and as for corals and corallines, learned men, in spite of all their care and shrewdness, made mistake after mistake about them, which they had to correct again and again, till now, I trust, they have got at something very like the truth.

[omission for length; the omitted passage is found in Volume 1, Lesson 33]

Part Two

So now for the exquisite shapes and glorious colours. I have never seen them; though I trust to see them before I die; so, what they are like I can only tell from what I have learnt from reading.

(Boy): Then there are such things alive now?

Yes, and no. The descendants of most of them live on, altered by time, which alters all things; and from the beauty of the children we can guess at the beauty of their ancestors; just as from the coral reefs which exist now, we can guess how the coral reefs of old were made. And that this crinoid was once part of a coral reef, the corals in it prove at first sight.

(Boy): And what is a coral reef like?

You have seen the room in the British Museum full of corals, madrepores, brainstones, corallines, and sea-ferns?

(Boy): Oh yes.

Then fancy all those alive. Not as they are now, white stone: but covered in jelly; and out of every pore a little polyp, like a flower, peeping out. Fancy them of every gaudy colour you choose. No bed of flowers, they say, can be more brilliant than the corals, as you look

down on them through the clear sea. Fancy, again, growing among them and crawling over them, strange sea anemones, shells, starfish, sea-slugs, and sea-cucumbers with feathery gills; crabs and shrimps; and hundreds of other animals, all as strange in shape, and as brilliant in colour. You may let your fancy run wild. Nothing so odd, nothing so vivid, even entered your dreams, or a poet's, as you may find alive at the bottom of the sea, in the live flower-gardens of the sea-fairies.

There will be shoals of fish, too, playing in and out, as strange and gaudy as the rest,--parrot-fish who browse on the live coral with their beak-like teeth, as cattle browse on grass; and at the bottom, it may be, larger and uglier fish, who eat the crabs and shellfish, shells and all, grinding them up as a dog grinds a bone, and so turning shells and corals into fine soft mud, such as this stone is partly made of.

(Boy): But what happens to all the delicate little corals if a storm comes on?

What, indeed? Madam How has made them so well and wisely, that, like brave and good people, the more trouble they suffer the stronger they are. Day and night, week after week, the trade-wind blows upon them, hurling the waves against them in furious surf, knocking off great lumps of coral, grinding them to powder, throwing them over the reef into the shallow water inside. But the heavier the surf beats upon them, the stronger the polyps outside grow, repairing their broken houses, and building up fresh coral on the dead coral below, because it is in the fresh sea-water that beats upon the surf that they find the most lime with which to build.

And as they build, they form a barrier against the surf, inside of which, in water still as glass, the weaker and more delicate things can grow in safety, just as these very Encrinites may have grown, rooted in the lime-mud, and waving their slender arms at the bottom of the clear lagoon. Such mighty builders are these little coral polyps, that all the works of humans are small compared with theirs. One single reef, for instance, which is entirely made by them, stretches along the north-east coast of Australia for nearly a thousand miles.

Narration and Discussion

How is a reef made by coral?

Do-It Challenge #1: Read Kingsley's description of a coral reef, and try to visualize what he is describing--make a drawing if you like. Then compare with video footage or photographs. Did he create an accurate description?

Do-It Challenge #2: If you live near a museum, aquarium, or other site which offers a closer look at past or present marine life, especially that of a coral reef, try to arrange a visit (and take nature notebooks!).

Lesson 11: The Coral Reef, Part Three


What is life like on a coral island?


tide: see Lesson Seven

smith's forge: blacksmith shop

you may see mortar set: if you watched bricks being laid or stones put together with mortar, you would see the mortar "glue" become hard

a little new world: an ecosystem

nor any animals that cannot cross the sea: that is, unless human inhabitants have imported them

proboscis: the straw-like structure that allows butterflies to sip nectar

as the fox was . . .: in Aesop's fable of "The Fox and the Stork" (or "The Fox and The Crane").

People, Places, Events

Mr. Darwin: Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

Mr. Wallace: Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), sometimes called "the father of biogeography." The book referred to here, The Malay Archipelago, was published in 1869, the same year as Madam How.

Better with Pictures

atoll, ring-island: As Kingsley says, this is a ring-shaped island formed of coral, with a lagoon in the middle.

coconut crab: the largest land-living arthropod in the world, which can weigh up to nine pounds. There are videos online which give a better sense of how big these crabs are.


Part One

Every island throughout a great part of the Pacific is fringed round with its own coral reef, and there are hundreds of islands of strange shapes, and of atolls, as they are called, or ring-islands, which are composed entirely of coral, and of nothing else.

(Boy): A ring-island? How can an island be made in the shape of a ring?

Ah! it was a long time before we found out that riddle. Mr. Darwin was the first to guess the answer. These islands are each a ring, or nearly a ring of coral, with smooth shallow water inside: but their outsides run down, like a mountain wall, sheer into seas hundreds of fathoms deep. People used to believe, and reasonably enough, that the coral polyps began to build up the islands from the very bottom of the deep sea. But that would not account for the top of them being of the shape of a ring; and in time it was found out that the corals would not build except in shallow water, twenty or thirty fathoms deep at most, and men were at their wits' ends to find out the riddle.

Then said Mr. Darwin, "Suppose one of those beautiful South Sea Islands, like Tahiti, the Queen of Isles, with its ring of coral reef all round its shore, began sinking slowly under the sea. The land, as it sunk, would be gone for good and all: but the coral reef round it would not, because the coral polyps would build up and up continually upon the skeletons of their dead parents, to get to the surface of the water, and would keep close to the top outside, however much the land sank inside; and when the island had sunk completely beneath the sea, what would be left? What must be left but a ring of coral reef, around the spot where the last mountain peak of the island sank beneath the sea?"

And so Mr. Darwin explained the shapes of hundreds of coral islands in the Pacific; and proved, too, some strange things besides. He proved (and other men, like Mr. Wallace, whose excellent book on the East Indian islands you must read some day, have proved in other ways) that there was once a great continent, joined perhaps to Australia and to New Guinea, in the Pacific Ocean, where is now nothing but deep sea, and coral reefs which mark the mountain ranges of that sunken world.

(Boy): But how does the coral ever rise above the surface of the water and turn into hard stone?

Of course the coral polyps cannot build above the high-tide mark; but the surf which beats upon them piles up their broken fragments just as a sea-beach is piled up, and hammers them together with that water hammer which is heavier and stronger than any you have ever seen in a smith's forge. And then, as is the fashion of lime, the whole mass sets and becomes hard, as you may see mortar set; and so, you have a low island a few feet above the sea.

Then sea-birds come to it, and rest and build; and seeds are floated there from far lands; and among them almost always the coconut, which loves to grow by the seashore, and so groves of coconut palms grow up upon the lonely isle. Then, perhaps, trees and bushes are drifted there before the trade-wind; and entangled in their roots are seeds of other plants, and eggs or cocoons of insects; and so a few flowers and a few butterflies and beetles set up for themselves upon the new land. And then a bird or two, caught in a storm and blown away to sea, finds shelter in the coconut grove; and so a little new world is set up, in which (you must remember always) there are no four-footed beasts, nor snakes, nor lizards, nor frogs, nor any animals that cannot cross the sea.

Part Two

On some of those islands these creatures may live (indeed there is reason to believe they have lived) so long, that some of them have changed their forms, according to the laws of Madam How, who sooner or later fits each thing exactly for the place in which it is meant to live; till upon some of them you may find such strange and unique creatures as the famous coconut crab, which learned men call Birgus latro. A great crab he is, who walks upon the tips of his toes a foot high above the ground. And because he has often nothing to eat but coconuts, or at least they are the best things he can find, coconuts are what he has learned to eat, and after a fashion which it would puzzle you to imitate. Some say that he climbs up the stems of the coconut trees, and pulls the fruit down for himself; but that, it seems, he does not usually do. What he does is this: when he finds a fallen coconut, he begins tearing away the thick husk and fiber with his strong claws; and he knows perfectly well which end to tear it from, namely, from the end where the three eye-holes are, out of one of which you know, the young coconut tree would burst forth. And when he has got to the eye-holes, he hammers through one of them with the point of his heavy claw.

So far, so good: but how is he to get the meat out? He cannot put his claw in. He has no proboscis like a butterfly to insert and suck with. He is as far off from his dinner as the fox was when the stork offered him a feast in a long-necked jar. What then do you think he does? He turns himself round, puts in a pair of his hind pincers, which are very slender, and with them scoops the meat out of the coconut, and so puts his dinner into his mouth with his hind feet. And even the coconut husk he does not waste; for he lives in deep burrows which he makes like a rabbit; and being a luxurious crab, and liking to sleep soft in spite of his hard shell, he lines them with a quantity of coconut fiber, picked out clean and fine, just as if he was going to make coconut matting of it. And being also a clean crab, he goes down to the sea every night to have his bath and moisten his gills, and so lives happy all his days, and gets so fat in his old age that he carries about his body nearly a quart of pure oil.

That is the history of the coconut crab. And if any one tells me that that crab acts only on what is called "instinct," and does not think and reason, just as you and I think and reason, though of course not in words as you and I do: then I shall be inclined to say that that person does not think nor reason either.

Narration and Discussion

Do-It Challenge: Imagine that you have been shipwrecked on an uninhabited coral island. What would you see? How might you survive? Show your ideas in words or pictures. (In 1858, R.M. Ballantyne wrote such a novel, called The Coral Island. It is still available, but it contains language which many will find objectionable.)

For further thought: Do people live on coral atolls? Definitely! However, life on these islands is under threat from wave-driven flooding and issues with sea level. You may want to find out more about this.

Lesson 12: The Coral Reef, Part Four


This lesson concludes the "chalk" conversation and the topic of coral reefs. The main theme here is that of change: understanding that the shape of the land as we see it now was not always so.


crinoid: see previous lessons

Carboniferous limestone: a particular classification of limestone (i.e. from the Carboniferous period, which you should see on a geological map if you are using one)

turbot: a type of fish found in the Atlantic Ocean

conger: large eels

Dudley limestone: described in previous lessons

chine: Chines are first mentioned in Volume One, referring to steep-sided coastal gorges.The word chine is used again here in phrases such as "the very chine and backbone of England," and that is what it means: a spine or backbone. Chine is pronounced to rhyme with "spine."

Millstone grit: a hard type of sandstone found in the British Isles. Sandstone is a sedimentary rock formed from sand mixed with something else to hold it together such as clay. Sedimentary rock is that formed by particles laid down and pressed together.

coal which you see burnt now . . .: In Kingsley's day and until fairly recently, coal was commonly used to heat homes (along with peat, which is discussed elsewhere).

The earthquake steam . . .: As mentioned previously, Kingsley is more aware of the power of steam than he is of forces such as the shifting of tectonic plates, which can cause mountains to rise.

People, Places, Events

There are many places named on the geological map. (Can you find Galway Bay in Ireland, and Bristol and the Severn River in England? Later in this book, the Father and the Boy travel up the gorge of the Avon River, a tributary of the Severn, to Bristol.)

Severn River: for those unfamiliar with English geography, it would be helpful to look up map Severn River England. (It is a good idea to include England in the search, as there is also a Severn River in Canada.) However, please note that while this imaginary journey across an ancient sea includes the Severn Valley, it does not follow the present-day river, but cuts across what is now dry land.

Better with Pictures

geological map: Also called a geologic map: a special-purpose map showing rock formations or geologic strata (layers). The map being described in this lesson is one showing Ireland and England, and it is easy to find a current version online. Looking at an older map titled "Geological Map of the British Isles" may make it easier to get a sense of the mountains between Lancashire and Yorkshire. These are the Pennines, also called the Pennine Chain or Pennine Hills.



(Boy): Then were there many coral reefs in Britain in old times?

Yes, many and many, again and again; some whole ages older than this crinoid, a bit of which you see; and some again whole ages newer. But look: then judge for yourself. Look at this geological map. Wherever you see a bit of blue, which is the mark for limestone, you may say, "There is a bit of old coral reef rising up to the surface." But because I will not puzzle you with too many things at once, you shall look at one set of coral reefs which are far newer than this bit of Dudley limestone, and which are the largest, I suppose, that ever were in this country; or, at least, there is more of them left than of any others.

Part One

Look first at Ireland. You see that almost all the middle of Ireland is the same colour. It is one great sheet of old coral reef and coral mud, which is now called the Carboniferous limestone. You see patches of other colours rising out of it, like islands--and islands I suppose they were, of hard and ancient rock, standing up in the middle of the coral sea.

But look again, and you will see that along the west coast of Ireland, except in a very few places, like Galway Bay, the limestone does not come down to the sea; the shore is coloured to mark the ancient rocks and high mountains of Mayo and Galway and Kerry, which stand as barriers to keep the raging surf of the Atlantic from bursting inland and beating away, as it surely would in course of time, the low flat limestone plain of the middle of Ireland.

But the same coral reefs once stretched out far to the westward into the Atlantic Ocean; and you may see the proof upon that map. For in the western bays, in Clew Bay with its hundred islands, and Galway Bay with its Isles of Arran, and beautiful Kenmare, and beautiful Bantry, you see little spots the same colour as that in the middle, which are low limestone islands, standing in the sea, overhung by mountains far aloft. You have often heard those islands in Kenmare Bay talked of, and how some whom you know go to fish round them by night for turbot and conger; and when you hear them spoken of again, you must recollect that they are the last fragments of a great fringing coral reef, which will in a few thousand years follow the fate of the rest, and be eaten up by the waves, while the mountains of hard rock stand round them still unchanged.

Part Two

Now look at England, and there you will see patches at least of a great coral reef which was forming at the same time as that Irish one, and on which perhaps some of your schoolfellows have often stood. You have heard of St. Vincent's Rocks at Bristol, and the marble cliffs, 250 feet in height, covered in part with rich wood and rare flowers, and the Avon running through the narrow gorge, and the stately ships sailing far below your feet from Bristol to the Severn sea. And you may see, for here they are, corals from St. Vincent's Rocks, cut and polished, showing too that they also, like the Dudley limestone, are made up of corals and of coral mud.

Now, if ever you see St. Vincent's Rocks, recollect where you are, and use your imagination to paint for yourself a picture as strange as it is true. Fancy that those rocks are what they once were, a coral reef close to the surface of a shallow sea. Fancy that there is no gorge of the Avon, no wide Severn sea--for those were carved out by water ages and ages afterwards. But picture to yourself the coral sea reaching away to the north, to the foot of the Welsh mountains; and then fancy yourself, if you will, in a canoe, paddling up through the coral reefs, north and still north, up the valley down which the Severn River now flows, up through what is now Worcestershire, then up through Staffordshire, then through Derbyshire, into Yorkshire, and so on through Durham and Northumberland, till you find yourself stopped by the Ettrick hills in Scotland; while all to the westward of you, where is now the greater part of England, was open sea.

You may say, if you know anything of the geography of England, "Impossible! That would be to paddle over the tops of high mountains; over the top of the Peak in Derbyshire, over the top of High Craven and Whernside and Pen-y-ghent and Cross Fell, and to paddle too over the Cheviot Hills, which part England and Scotland." I know it! But so it was once on a time. The high limestone mountains which part Lancashire and Yorkshire--the very chine and backbone of England--were once coral reefs at the bottom of the sea. They are all made up of the Carboniferous limestone (so called from Latin words meaning that it "carries the coal"; because the coalfields usually lie upon it).

It may be impossible in your eyes: but remember always that nothing is impossible with God.

Part Three

(Boy): But you said that the coal was made from plants and trees; and did plants and trees grow on this coral reef?

That I cannot say. Trees may have grown on the dry parts of the reef, as coconuts grow now in the Pacific. But the coal was not laid down upon it till long afterwards, when it had gone through many and strange changes. For all through the chine of England, and in a part of Ireland too, there lies upon the top of the limestone a hard, gritty rock, in some places three thousand feet thick, which is commonly called millstone grit. And above that again the coal begins.

Now to make that 3,000 feet of hard rock, what must have happened? The sea-bottom must have sunk, slowly no doubt, carrying the coral reefs down with it, 3,000 feet at least. And meanwhile sand and mud, made from the wearing away of the old lands in the North must have settled down upon it. I say from the North--for there are no fossils, as far as I know, or sign of life, in these rocks of millstone grit; and therefore it is reasonable to suppose that they were brought from a cold current at the Pole, too cold to allow sea-beasts to live--quite cold enough, certainly, to kill coral insects, who could only thrive in warm water coming from the South.

Then, to go on with my story, upon the top of this millstone grit came sand and mud, and peat, and trees, and plants, washed out to sea, as far as we can guess, from the mouths of vast rivers flowing from the West, rivers as vast as the Amazon, the Mississippi, or the Orinoco are now; and so in long ages, upon the top of the limestone and upon the top of the millstone grit, were laid down those beds of coal which you see burnt now in every fire.

(Boy): But how did the coral reefs rise till they became cliffs at Bristol and mountains in Yorkshire?

The earthquake steam, I suppose, raised them. One earthquake indeed, or series of earthquakes, there was, running along between Lancashire and Yorkshire, which made that vast crack and upheaval in the rocks, the Craven Fault, running, I believe, for more than a hundred miles, and lifting the rocks in some places several hundred feet. Or the same earthquake may have heated and hardened the limestones simply by grinding and squeezing them; or they may have been heated and hardened in the course of long ages simply by the weight of the thousands of feet of other rock which lay upon them. Wherever you have pressure you have heat, and so the pressure of the upper rocks upon the lower is quite enough, some think, to account for the older and lower rocks being harder than the upper and newer ones.

(Boy): But why should the lower rocks be older and the upper rocks newer? You told me just now that the high mountains in Wales were ages older than Windsor Forest, upon which we stand: but yet how much lower we are here than if we were on a Welsh mountain.

I am afraid it must puzzle you still till we have another talk; or rather it seems to me that the best way to explain that puzzle to you would be for you and me to go a journey into the far west, and look into the matter for ourselves; and from here to the far west we will go, either in our imaginations or on a real railroad and steamboat, before we have another talk about these things.


(Boy): Were there any people in the world while all this was going on?

I think not. We have no proof that there were not: but also, we have no proof that there were; the early people of whom I told you lived many ages after the coal was covered up.

You seem to be sorry that there were no people in the world then.

(Boy): Because it seems a pity that there was no one to see those beautiful coral reefs and coal-forests.

But even if no created eye had ever beheld those ancient wonders, and no created heart ever enjoyed them, is there not one Uncreated who has seen them and enjoyed them from the beginning? Were not these creatures enjoying themselves each after their kind? And was there not a Father in Heaven who was enjoying their enjoyment, and enjoying too their beauty, which He had formed according to the ideas of His Eternal Mind?

Narration and Discussion

Why does it confuse the Boy to think about rocks higher up being newer than lower ones? The problem seems to be that he has also been told that the highest mountains are also the oldest ones. As the Father says, this question will have to wait for a promised "field trip."

Do-It Challenge #1: The main activity for this lesson will be looking at geological maps. Can you find one for your own part of the world?

Do-It Challenge #2: Try digging out a bit of your own local history. If you live in a built-up area, what or who occupied the land a hundred, two hundred, or three hundred years ago? What did they do to survive, or earn a living? If you live in a rural community, what is its history? Have waterways changed or valleys been flooded? How have railways and highways affected life there? If there is a local history museum, see if it has answers to these questions.

For further thought: If human life in your area has changed over the past century or two (or possibly even in the last generation!), is it not even more amazing that the natural world has been able to undergo such alterations? Or does the upheaval caused by natural disaster suggest that time is not such a key factor in change?

Lesson 13: Field and Wild, Part One (Chapter X)

"So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, 'Up we go! Up we go!' till at last, pop! his snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.'' (Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows)

Those of you following a typical school year calendar in the Northern Hemisphere are seeing short, dark days right now. However, in this story, it is near the end of June, and the sunshine is warm and bright: perfect for haying, but inconvenient for a planned adventure.


all the world is in the hayfield: in many places, Midsummer (near the end of June) is a time to cut hay.

the old horse: that is, the horse that would have pulled their carriage to the railway station in Berkshire

wait our leisure: wait for us to have the opportunity

moor: an open area of uncultivated hilly land

eaves: the edges or overhang of the roof

sorrel-flower, sorrel: also called "common sorrel"

oxeyes: daisies, or their relatives

nightjar: the lesser nighthawk; a nocturnal bird that catches insects "on the wing." It has a call which you might mistake for machinery!

grass: plants with jointed stems and long narrow leaves (you may wish to look up a more technical definition). Many of us associate grass only with lawns, but grass is also a crop grown to feed animals.

six strong mowers: people mowing, not mowing machines

scythe: a tool used to cut hay by hand

turned in: brought in to feed

People, Places, Events

Reading: a town in Berkshire, with a major railway station

Professor Tyndall: John Tyndall. From 1853 to 1887 he was professor of physics at the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

Better with Pictures

starling: a type of bird; the one described here is most likely the common starling. A cock starling is a male.



Where were we to go next?

(Boy): Into the far west, to see how all the way along the railroads the new rocks and soils lie above the older; and yet how, when we get westward, the oldest rocks rise highest into the air.

Well, we will go: but not, I think, today. Indeed, I hardly know how we could get as far as Reading; for all the world is in the hayfield, and even the old horse must go thither too, and take his turn at the hay-cart. Well, the rocks have been where they are for many a year, and they will wait our leisure patiently enough: but Midsummer and the hayfield will not wait. Let us take what God gives when He sends it, and learn the lesson that lies nearest to us. After all, it is more to my old mind, and perhaps to your young mind too, to look at things which are young and fresh and living, rather than things which are old and worn and dead. Let us leave the old stones, and the old bones, and the old shells, the wrecks of ancient worlds which have gone down into the kingdom of death, to teach us their grand lessons some other day; and let us look now at the world of light and life and beauty, which begins here at the open door, and stretches away over the hayfields, over the woods, over the southern moors, over sunny France, and sunnier Spain, and over the tropic seas, down to the equator, and the palm-groves of the eternal summer. If we cannot find something, even at starting from the open door, to teach us about Why and How, we must be very short-sighted, or very shallow-hearted.

Part One

There is the old cock starling screeching in the eaves, because he wants to frighten us away, and take a worm to his children, without our finding out whereabouts his hole is.

(Boy): How does he know that we might hurt him?

And how again does he not know that we shall not hurt him? we, who for five-and-twenty years have let him and his ancestors build under those eaves in peace? How did he get that quantity of half-wit into his little brain, and yet get no more? And why (for this is a question of Why, and not of How) does he labour all day long hunting for worms and insects for his children, while his wife nurses them in the nest? Why, too, did he help her to build that nest with toil and care this spring, for the sake of a set of nestlings who can be of no gain or use to him, but only take the food out of his mouth? Simply out of--what shall I call it?--Love; that same sense of love and duty, coming surely from that one Fountain of all duty and all love, which makes your father work for you. That the mother should take care of her young, is wonderful enough; but that (at least among many birds) the father should help likewise, is (as you will find out as you grow older) more wonderful by far. So there already the old starling has set us two fresh puzzles about How and Why, neither of which we shall get answered, at least on this side of the grave.

Part Two

Come on, up the field, under the great generous sun, who quarrels with no one, grudges no one, but shines alike upon the evil and the good. What a vivid picture he is painting now, with his light-pencils; for in them, remember, and not in the things themselves, the colour lies. See how, where the hay has been already carried, he floods all the slopes with yellow light, making them stand out sharp against the black shadows of the wood; while where the grass is standing still, he makes the sheets of sorrel-flower blush rosy red, or dapples the field with white oxeyes.

(Boy): But is not the sorrel itself red, and the oxeyes white?

What colour are they at night, when the sun is gone?

(Boy): Dark.

That is, no colour. The very grass is not green at night.

(Boy): Oh, but it is if you look at it with a lantern.

No, no. It is the light of the lantern, which happens to be strong enough to make the leaves look green, though it is not strong enough to make a geranium look red.

(Boy): Not red?

No; the geranium flowers by a lantern look black, while the leaves look green. If you don't believe me, we will try.

(Boy): But why is that?

Why, I cannot tell; and how, you had best ask Professor Tyndall, if you ever have the honour of meeting him.

Part Three

But now--hark to the mowing-machine, humming like a giant night-jar. Come up and look at it, and see how swift and smooth it shears the long grass down, so that in the middle of the swathe the grass seems to have merely fallen flat, and you must move it before you find that it has been cut off. Ah, there is a proof to us of what men may do if they will only learn the lessons which Madam How can teach them. There is that boy, cutting more grass in a day than six strong mowers could have cut, and cutting it better, too; for the mowing-machine goes so much nearer to the ground than the scythe, that we gain by it two hundredweight of hay on every acre. And see, too, how persevering old Madam How will not stop her work, though the machine has cut off all the grass which she has been making for the last three months; for as fast as we shear it off, she makes it grow again. There are fresh blades, here at our feet, a full inch long, which have sprung up in the last two days, for the cattle when they are turned in next week.

(Boy): But if the machine cuts all the grass, the poor mowers will have nothing to do.

Not so. They are all busy enough elsewhere. There is plenty of other work to be done, thank God; and wholesomer and easier work than mowing. You delight in machinery because it is curious: you should delight in it besides because it does good, and nothing but good, where it is used according to the laws of Lady Why, with care, moderation, and mercy, and fair-play between people. For example: just as the mowing-machine saves the mowers, the threshing-machine saves the threshers from rheumatism and chest complaints,--which they used to catch in the draught and dust of the unhealthiest place in the whole parish, which is the old-fashioned barn's floor. And so, we may hope, in future years all heavy drudgery and dirty work will be done more and more by machines, and people will have more and more chance of keeping themselves clean and healthy, and more and more time to read, and learn, and think.

Narration and Discussion

What questions does the Father come up with before they are even a short walk from home? Which ones are how, and which ones are why? Do you have how or why questions that puzzle you?

Do-It Challenge #1: Explore a natural spot close to your own home--perhaps something right outside the door! A tree? Some birds or insects? A puddle of water?

Do-It Challenge #2: Something to try at night or in a dark place: shine a flashlight on things that are green and red. Does the green look green? Does the red look red? The Father says that he does not know why reds look black at night while greens stay green. Do you know? Can you find out?

Do-It Challenge #3: (a bit of art history): The Impressionists were fascinated by the effects of sunlight on the landscape. Claude Monet, in fact, painted haystacks many times to see what they looked like in different seasons and at different times of day. Find out what you can, and perhaps try some light-inspired art yourself.

For further thought: The Boy questions the value of machines and new technology. "But if the machine cuts all the grass, the poor mowers will have nothing to do." The Father gives his own opinion: "You delight in machinery because it is curious: you should delight in it besides because it does good, and nothing but good, where it is used, according to the laws of Lady Why, with care, moderation, and mercy, and fair play between people . . ." Has this been true in the past? Is it true now? How would you respond?

Lesson 14: Field and Wild, Part Two


The Father and Boy go almost nowhere, talk a great deal, and seem to enjoy it all. This conversation will continue for several lessons!


the rest: So far in the book we have heard little about the boy's siblings or friends. However, it now appears that he has others to play with.

thrive: grow in health, flourish

mean: not necessarily unkind, as the word is used now; more in the sense of limited, stunted

You might study those gnats and flies: As Miss Claxton did! (See the introduction to this volume.)

which Madam How seems inclined to answer just now: Kingsley refers to the recently-published work on evolution, which he and others believed was simply a wider revelation of God's power.

Species, or Kinds of things: see Lesson Nine


Part One

But now we will talk about the hay: or rather do you and the rest go and play in the hay and gather it up, build forts of it, storm them, pull them down, build them up again, shout, laugh, and scream till you are hot and tired. You will please Madam How thereby, and Lady Why likewise.

(Boy): How?

Because Madam How naturally wants her work to succeed, and she is at work now making you.

(Boy): Making me?

Of course. Making a man of you, out of a boy. And that can only be done by the life-blood which runs through and through you. And the more you laugh and shout, the more pure air will pass into your blood, and make it red and healthy; and the more you romp and play--unless you overtire yourself--the quicker will that blood flow through all your limbs, to make bone and muscle, and help you to grow.

(Boy): But why does Lady Why like to see us play?

She likes to see you happy, as she likes to see the trees and birds happy. For she knows well that there is no food, nor medicine either, like happiness. If people are not happy enough, they are often tempted to do many wrong deeds, and to think many wrong thoughts; and, if by God's grace, they know the laws of Lady Why, and keep from sin, still unhappiness, if it goes on too long, wears them out, body and mind; and they grow ill and die, of broken hearts, and broken brains.

Children, too, who are unhappy; children who are bullied, and frightened, and kept dull and silent, never thrive. Their bodies do not thrive; for they grow up weak. Their minds do not thrive; for they grow up dull. Their souls do not thrive; for they learn mean, sly, slavish ways, which God forbid you should ever learn. It was well said by the wise man that, "The human plant, like the vegetables, can only flower in sunshine."

So do you go, and enjoy yourself in the sunshine; but remember this--you know what happiness is. Then, if you wish to please Lady Why, and Lady Why's Lord and King likewise, you will never pass a little child without trying to make it happier, even by a passing smile.

And now be off, and play in the hay, and come back to me when you are tired.

Part Two

Let us lie down at the foot of this old oak, and see what we can see.

(Boy): And hear what we can hear, too. What is that humming all round us, now that the noisy mowing-machine has stopped?

And as much softer than the noise of mowing-machine hum, as the machines which make it are more delicate and more curious. Madam How is a very skillful worker, and has eyes which see deeper and clearer than all microscopes; as you would find, if you tried to see what makes that "Midsummer hum" of which the haymakers are so fond, because it promises fair weather.

(Boy): Why, it is only the gnats and flies.

Only the gnats and flies? You might study those gnats and flies for your whole life without finding out all--or more than a very little--about them. I wish I knew how they move those tiny wings of theirs--a thousand times in a second, I dare say, some of them. I wish I knew how far they know that they are happy--for happy they must be, whether they know it or not. I wish I knew how they live at all. I wish I even knew how many sorts there are humming round us at this moment.

(Boy): How many kinds? Three or four?

More probably thirty or forty round this single tree.

(Boy): But why should there be so many kinds of living things? Would not one or two have done just as well?

Why, indeed? Why should there not have been only one sort of butterfly, and he only of one colour, a plain brown, or a plain white? And why should there be so many sorts of birds, all robbing the garden at once?

(Boy): Thrushes, and blackbirds, and sparrows . . .

And chaffinches, and greenfinches . . .

(Boy): And bullfinches, and tomtits.

And there are four kinds of tomtits round here, remember: but we may go on with such talk forever. Wiser men than we have asked the same question: but Lady Why will not answer them yet. However, there is another question, which Madam How seems inclined to answer just now, which is almost as deep and mysterious.

(Boy): What?

How all these different kinds of things became different.

(Boy): Oh, do tell me!

Not I. You must begin at the beginning, before you can end at the end, or even make one step towards the end.

(Boy): What do you mean?

You must learn the differences between things, before you can find out how those differences came about. You must learn Madam How's Alphabet before you can read her Book. And Madam How's Alphabet of animals and plants is Species, or Kinds of things. You must see which are like, and which unlike; what they are like in, and what they are unlike in. You are beginning to do that with your collection of butterflies. You like to arrange them, and those that are most like nearest to each other, and to compare them. You must do that with thousands of different kinds of things before you can read one page of Madam How's Natural History Book rightly.

(Boy): But it will take so much time and so much trouble.

God grant that you may not spend more time on worse matters, and take more trouble over things which will profit you far less. But so it must be.

Narration and Discussion

"But why should there be so many kinds of living things? Would not one or two have done just as well?" Why do you think God made such a variety of creatures?

Why is being unhappy bad for people's health? How can we help our own bodies, minds and souls to grow like healthy plants? How can we help others?

Do-It Challenge: Why does Madam How and Lady Why want the children to "go and play in the hay, and gather it up, build forts of it, storm them, pull them down, build them up again, shout, laugh, and scream till you are hot and tired?" Have you ever played in hay like this, or done the same thing in snow, or autumn leaves? You might enjoy reading or re-reading the chapter "Straw-Stack" in On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

For further thought: Why is the Father so emphatic that the Boy should learn "Madam How's Alphabet," which he seems to define as the system of classification? Do you agree that we should learn to distinguish many species of things before we worry about how they came to be?

Lesson 15: Field and Wild, Part Three

"'What lies over there?' asked the Mole, waving a paw towards a background of woodland that darkly framed the water-meadows on one side of the river.

"'That? O, that's just the Wild Wood,' said the Rat shortly. 'We don't go there very much, we river-bankers.'" (Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows)


The Father explains the need to find out what something is made of before worrying about how it was made, using the hayfield itself as an example. (For this we need the help of the giant Analysis.)


felled: cut down

heath, heather: Heath can refer to the moor itself (you can "go out on the heath" or "on the moor"), or to plants growing there such as heather. See also Lesson 13.

furze: or gorse-bush. Gorse is one of the plants which grows on a heath.

fern: a non-flowering plant with feathery or leafy fronds, which reproduces by spores

bog: wet, muddy ground; swamp; or a peat-bog. Peat or turf is the partially decayed vegetation found in peat-bogs. In the summertime, it was cut into blocks with a spade and set in stacks to dry, to be used later for fuel.

bank: a wall of earth, embankment

Better with Pictures

mouse-ear hawkweed: Pilosella officinarum. It is considered an invasive species and a weed; but it does have medicinal properties.


Part One

You must learn the alphabet if you mean to read. And you must learn the value of the figures before you can do a sum. Why, what would you think of anyone who sat down to play at cards--for money too (which I hope and trust you never will do)--before he knew the names of the cards, and which counted highest, and so took the wrong ones?

(Boy): Of course he would be very foolish.

Just as foolish are those who make up "theories" (as they call them) about this world, and how it was made, before they have found out what the world is made of. You might as well try to find out how this hayfield was made, without finding out first what the hay is made of.

(Boy): How the hayfield was made? Was it not always a hayfield?

Ah, yes; the old story: was not the earth always just what it is now? Let us see for ourselves whether this was always a hayfield.

(Boy): How?

Just pick out all the different kinds of plants and flowers you can find round us here. How many do you think there are?

(Boy): Oh--there seem to be four or five.

Just as there were three or four kinds of flies in the air. Pick them and count: let us have facts. How many? What! a dozen already?

(Boy): Yes--and here is another, and another. Why, I have got . . . I don't know how many.

Why not? Bring them here, and let us see. Nine kinds of grasses, and a rush. Six kinds of clovers and vetches; and besides, dandelion, and rattle, and oxeye, and sorrel, and plantain, and buttercup, and a little stitchwort, and pignut, and mouse-ear hawkweed, too, which nobody wants.

(Boy): Why?

Because they are a sign that I am not a good farmer enough, and have not quite turned my Wild into Field.

(Boy): What do you mean?

Look outside the boundary fence, at the moors and woods; they are forest, the Wild--"Wald," as the Germans would call it. Inside the fence is Field--"Feld," as the Germans would call it. Guess why?

(Boy): Is it because the trees inside have been felled?

Well, some say so, who know more than I. But now go over the fence, and see how many of these plants you can find on the moor.

(Boy): Oh, I think I know already. I am so often on the moor.

I think you would find more kinds outside than you fancy. But what do you know?

(Boy): That beside some short fine grass about the cattle-paths, there are hardly any grasses on the moor save deer's hair and glade-grass; and all the rest is heath, and moss, and furze, and fern.

But you have forgotten the bog plants; and there are (as I said) many more plants beside on the moor than you might think. But we will look into that another time.

Part Two

At all events, the plants outside are on the whole quite different from the hayfield.

(Boy): Of course: that is what makes the field look green and the moor brown.

Not a doubt. They are so different that they look like bits of two different continents. Scrambling over the fence is like scrambling out of Europe into Australia. Now, how was that difference made? Think. Don't guess, but think. Why does the rich grass come up to the bank, and yet not spread beyond it?

(Boy): I suppose because it cannot get over.

Not get over? Would not the wind blow the seeds, and the birds carry them? They do get over, in millions, I don't doubt, every summer.

(Boy): Then why do they not grow?

Think about it!

(Boy): Is there any difference in the soil inside and out?

A very good guess. But guesses are no use without facts. Look!

[Kingsley veers off for a short sermon.]

I want you to look and think. I want everyone to look and think. Half the misery in the world comes first from not looking, and then from not thinking. And I do not want you to be miserable.

But shall I be miserable if I do not find out such little things as this?

You will be miserable if you do not learn to understand little things: because then you will not be able to understand great things when you meet them.

[back to the soil discussion]

(Boy): Oh, I remember now. I know now the soil of the field is brown, like the garden; and the soil of the moor all black and peaty.

Yes. But if you dig down two or three feet, you will find the soils of the moor and the field just the same. So perhaps the topsoils were once both alike.

(Boy): Then I suppose men must have altered the soil inside the bank.

Well done. But why do you think so?

(Boy): Because, of course, someone made the bank; and the brown soil only goes up to it.

Well, that is something like common sense. Now you will not say any more, as the cows or the butterflies might, that the hayfield was always there.

Narration and Discussion for Part Three

"Half the misery in the world comes first from not looking, and then from not thinking." Which would you say is worse?

Do-It Challenge: Find a place where there is a natural or human-made division such the embankment in the story. Describe what you see on each side, in as much detail as possible. (If you are working in a group, half could take one side and half the other.) What things are the same? What are different? What could account for the differences?

Lesson 16: Field and Wild, Part Four


Where did the farmland come from, and what is the difference between Field and Wild?


tilling it with the plough, to sweeten it: In Lesson One, the Farmer says that it is the chalk added, rather than the tilling itself, which "sweetens" the field. "Tilling" does not mean just ploughing, but also preparing the land for crops.

manuring: fertilizing

corn: grain (probably wheat in this area)

grass: In Lesson One, the Farmer spoke of growing wheat; but the field they are looking at now is planted in grasses, to be used as animal feed.

buttercups: a plant with small yellow flowers, which is pretty but not good for livestock to eat

churn: a tool for turning cream into butter

haggard: looking exhausted and unwell

manufactory: factory; a place where things are made

yard-stuff, tank-stuff, guano, bones: natural materials used as fertilizer

ammonia: A source of nitrogen for growing plants. (The three primary nutrients in fertilizer are nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.)

smelling-salts: the material used (often in movies) to bring fainting people around was a form of ammonia mixed with perfume. Sniffing ammonia is not a safe thing to do, so don't try this at home.

phosphates: material left after the calcination of bone, also needed by plants. They are a form of phosphorus, which is one of the most common elements in our environment.

People, Places, Events

The Fens, the Fenland(s): a marshy region in eastern England


(Boy): How did men change the soil in the field?

By tilling it with the plough, to sweeten it; and manuring it, to make it rich.

(Boy): And then did all these beautiful grasses grow up of themselves?

This land was tilled for corn, for hundreds of years, I believe. And just about one hundred years ago it was laid down in grass; that is, sown with grass seeds.

(Boy): And where did men get the grass seeds from?

Ah, that is a long story; and one that shows our forefathers (though they knew nothing about railroads or electricity) were not such simpletons as some folks think. The way it must have been done was this. Men watched the natural pastures where cattle get fat on the wild grass, as they do in the Fens, and many other parts of England. And then they saved the seeds of those fattening wild grasses, and sowed them in fresh spots. Often they made mistakes. They were careless, and got weeds among the seed--like the buttercups, which do so much harm to this pasture. Or they sowed on soil which would not suit the seed, and it died. But at last, after many failures, they have grown so careful and so clever, that you may send to certain shops, saying what sort of soil yours is, and they will send you just the seeds which will grow there, and no other; and then you have a good pasture for as long as you choose to keep it good.

(Boy): And how is it kept good?

Look at all those loads of hay, which are being carried off the field. Do you think you can take all that away without putting anything in its place?

(Boy): Why not?

If I took all the butter out of the churn, what must I do if I want more butter still?

(Boy): Put more cream in.

So, if I want more grass to grow, I must put on the soil more of what grass is made of.

(Boy): But the butter doesn't grow, and the grass does.

What does the grass grow in?

(Boy): The soil.

Yes. Just as the butter grows in the churn. So you must put fresh "grass-stuff" continually into the soil, as you put fresh cream into the churn. You have heard the farm workers say, "That crop has taken a good deal out of the land?"

(Boy): Yes.

Then they spoke exact truth. What will that hay turn into by Christmas? No idea? Into milk, of course, which you will drink; and into horseflesh too, which you will use.

(Boy): Use horseflesh? Not eat it?

No; we have not got as far as that. But every time the horse draws the carriage, he uses up so much muscle; and that muscle he must get back again by eating hay and corn; and that hay and corn must be put back again into the land by manure, or there will be all the less for the horse next year. For one cannot eat one's cake and keep it too; and no more can one eat one's grass.

So this field is a truly wonderful place. It is no ugly pile of brick

and mortar, with a tall chimney pouring out smoke and evil smells, with unhealthy, haggard people toiling inside.

Why do you look surprised?

(Boy): Because--because nobody ever said it was. You mean a manufactory.

Well, and this hayfield is a manufactory: only like most of Madam How's workshops, infinitely more beautiful, as well as infinitely more crafty, than any manufactory of human building. It is beautiful to behold, and healthy to work in; a joy and blessing alike to the eye, and the mind, and the body: and yet it is a manufactory.

(Boy): But a manufactory of what?

Of milk of course, and cows, and sheep, and horses; and of your body and mine--for we shall drink the milk and eat the meat. And therefore, it is a "flesh-and-milk manufactory." We must put into it every year yard-stuff, tank-stuff, guano, bones and anything and everything of that kind, so that Madam How may cook it for us into grass, and cook the grass again into milk and meat.

But if we give Madam How no material to work on, we cannot expect her to work for us. And what do you think will happen then? She will set to work for herself. The rich grasses will dwindle for want of ammonia (that is, smelling-salts), and the rich clovers for want of phosphates (that is, bone-earth; and in their places will come over the bank the old weeds and grass off the moor, which have not room to get in now, because the ground is coveted already. They need no ammonia nor phosphates--at all events they have none, and that is why the cattle on the moor never get fat. So they can live where these rich grasses cannot. And then they will conquer and thrive; and the Field will turn into Wild once more.

You should thank God for your forebears, when you look over that boundary mark. For the difference between the Field and the Wild is the difference between the old England of Madam How's making, and the new England which she has taught us to make, carrying on what she had only begun and had not time to finish.

Narration and Discussion

Plants need certain things to grow, such as sunlight, water, and soil. But what is it in the soil that the plants need? Find out what you can about soil nutrients and companion planting.

See if you can find out how much of the earth is farmable or arable. What have people done to improve land that was thought to be unusable?

Do-It Challenge: This time of year is not too early to be thinking about spring gardening! Go to a library, bookstore, or a store that sells tools and seeds, and plan what you will do this year. If outdoor gardening is not possible, look at indoor gardening kits, or books or videos that show you how to grow things in containers or indoors.

For further thought: If farmland is good, why not just turn all the moors and other wild places into cultivated land? This topic will be discussed in the next lesson.

Lesson 17: Field and Wild, Part Five


The pleasant walk takes on a slightly darker tone, as the Father attempts to deal with the question of competing species: as he puts it, "a great war between living things."


ling: pink heather

bramble: a prickly vine or shrub

down: see Lesson One

Withy or withe (plural withies): willow stem

People, Places, Events

the time of Henry the Eighth: he reigned 1509-1547

Better with Pictures

cow-wheat: Common cow-wheat, or Melampyrum pratense


Part One

That moor is a pattern bit left to show what the greater part of this land was like for long ages after it had risen out of the sea; when there was little or nothing on the flat upper moors save heaths, and ling, and club-mosses, and soft gorse, and needle-whin, and creeping willows; and furze and fern upon the brows; and in the bottoms oak and ash, beech and alder, hazel and mountain ash, holly and thorn, with here and there an aspen or a buckthorn (berry-bearing alder as you call it), and everywhere--where he could thrust down his long root, and thrust up his long shoots--that intruding conqueror and insolent tyrant, the bramble.

There were sedges and rushes, too, in the bogs, and coarse grass on the forest pastures--or "leas" as we call them to this day round here--but no real green fields; and, I suspect, very few bright flowers, save in spring the sheets of golden gorse, and in summer the purple heather. Such was old England--or rather, such was this land before it was England; a far sadder, damper, poorer land than now. For one person or one cow or sheep which could have lived on it then, a hundred can live now.

And yet, what it was once, that it might become again,--it surely would round here, if the people died out of it, and the land was left to itself once more. What would happen then, you may guess for yourself, from what you see happen whenever the land is left to itself, as it is in the wood above. In that wood you can still see the grass ridges and furrows which show that it was once ploughed and sown; perhaps as late as the time of Henry the Eighth, when a great deal of poor land, as you will read some day, was thrown out of tillage, to become forest and down once more. And what is the mount now? A jungle of oak and beech, cherry and holly, young and old all growing up together, with the mountain ash and bramble and furze coming up so fast beneath them, that we have to cut the paths clear again year by year.

Why, even the little cow-wheat, a very old-world plant, which only grows in ancient woods, has found its way back again, I know not whence, and covers the open spaces with its pretty yellow and white flowers. Humans had conquered this mount, you see, from Madam How, hundreds of years ago. And she always lets us conquer her, because Lady Why wishes us to conquer: only we must have a fair fight with Madam How first, and try our strength against hers to the utmost.

Part Two

So humans conquered the wood for a while; and it became cornfield instead of forest: but we were not strong and wise enough to keep what we had conquered; and back came Madam How, and took the place into her own hands, and bade the old forest trees and plants come back again--as they would come if they were not stopped year by year, down from the wood, over the pastures--killing the rich grasses as they went, till they met another forest coming up from below, and fought it for many a year, till both made peace, and lived quietly side by side for ages.

(Boy): Another forest coming up from below? Where would it come from?

From where it is now. Come down and look along the brook, and every drain and ditch which runs into the brook. What is here?

(Boy): Seedling alders, and some withies among them.

Very well. You know how we pull these alders up, and cut them down, and yet they continually come again. Now, if people were to leave this pasture for a few hundred years, would not those alders increase into a wood? Would they not kill the grass, and spread right and left, seeding themselves more and more as the grass died, and left the ground bare, till they met the oaks and beeches coming down the hill? And then would begin a great fight, for years and years, between oak and beech against alder and willow.

(Boy): But how can trees fight? Could they move or beat each other with their boughs?

Not quite that; but among these trees in a sheltered valley the larger and stronger would kill the weaker and smaller by simply overshadowing their tops, and starving their roots; starving them, indeed, so much when they grow very thick, that the poor little acorns, and beech mast, and alder seeds would not be able to sprout at all. So they would fight, killing each other's children, till the war ended--I think I can guess how.

(Boy): How?

The beeches are as dainty as they are beautiful; and they do not like to get their feet wet. So they would venture down the hill only as far as the dry ground lasts, and those who tried to grow any lower would die. But the oaks are hardy, and do not care much where they grow. So they would fight their way down into the wet ground among the alders and willows, till they came to where their enemies were so thick and tall, that the acorns as they fell could not sprout in the darkness. And so you would have at last, along the hill-side, a forest of beech and oak, lower down a forest of oak and alder, and along the stream-side alders and willows only. And that would be a very fair example of the great law of the struggle for existence, which causes the competition of species.

(Boy): What is that?

Madam How is very stern, though she is always perfectly just; and therefore, she makes every living thing fight for its life, and earn its bread, from its birth till its death; and rewards it exactly according to its deserts, and neither more nor less. And the competition of species means, that each thing, and kind of things, has to compete against the things round it; and to see which is the stronger; and the stronger live, and breed, and spread, and the weaker die out.

(Boy): But that is very hard.

I know it, my child, I know it. But so it is. And Madam How, no doubt, would be often very clumsy and very cruel, without meaning it, because she never sees beyond her own nose, or thinks at all about the consequences of what she is doing. But Lady Why, who does think about consequences, is her mistress, and orders her about forever. And Lady Why is, I believe, as loving as she is wise; and therefore we must trust that she guides this great war between living things, and takes care that Madam How kills nothing which ought not to die, and takes nothing away without putting something more beautiful and something more useful in its place; and that even if England were, which God forbid, overrun once more with forests and bramble-brakes, that too would be of use somehow, somewhere, somewhen, in the long ages which are to come hereafter.

And you must remember, too, that since people came into the world with rational heads on their shoulders, Lady Why has been handing over more and more of Madam How's work to them, and some of her own work too: and bids them to put beautiful and useful things in the place of ugly and useless ones; so that now it is our own fault if we do not use our wits, and do by all the world what we have done by these pastures--change it from a barren moor into a rich hayfield, by copying the laws of Madam How, and making grass compete against heath.

Part Three

But you look thoughtful: what is it you want to know?

(Boy): Why, you say all living things must fight and scramble for what they can get from each other: and must not I too? For I am a living thing.

Are you a plant?

(Boy): No.

Are you an animal?

(Boy): I do not know. Yes. I suppose I am. I eat, and drink, and sleep, just as dogs and cats do.

Yes. There is no denying that. No one knew that better than St. Paul when he told people that they had a flesh; that is, a body, and an animal's nature in them. But St. Paul told them--of course he was not the first to say so--that there was something more in us, which he called a spirit.

(Boy): Yes, I know that I have a spirit, a soul.

Better to say that you are a spirit. But what does St. Paul say? That our spirit is to conquer our flesh, and keep it down. That the person in us, in short, which is made in the likeness of God, is to conquer the animal in us, which is made in the likeness of the dog and the cat, and sometimes (I fear) in the likeness of the ape or the pig. You would not wish to be like a cat, much less like an ape or a pig?

(Boy): Of course not.

Then do not copy them, by competing and struggling for existence against other people.

Narration and Discussion

The Father says that it is people's responsibility to "use their wits, and do by all the world what they have done by these pastures--change it." This was the view of settlers who struggled to clear forests for farmland and roads. It is also the thought of Genesis 3:18-19: "Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Some people disagree with this view of our place on the earth; they point to pollution, disappearing forests, and endangered species as examples of human selfishness. Is it possible for people to live with nature, rather than against it?

How does the Father say that humans differ from animals? Of what does he warn the Boy?

Do-It Challenge: In some educational settings, the typical activity for a lesson on natural selection is to assign students the roles of predators and prey, and play a game of survival. In contrast, the challenge for this lesson is to "be a human" and to recognize the equal value of others, no matter what their outward circumstances (1 Sam. 16:7). Look up acts of kindness kids for some suggestions.

Lesson 18: Field and Wild, Part Six


The Father continues his cautions and warnings about following our "animal" natures, especially in the area of competition.


prosperity: financial success

solitary bees: Have you been taught that all bees live together in hives? The truth is quite the opposite: many solitary bees live in the ground.

parish: neighbourhood

when you become an adult . . .: a reference to 1 Corinthians 13:11


Part One

No wiser than pigs are worldly people who compete, and grudge, and struggle with each other, which shall get most money, most fame, most power over others. They will tell you that that is the true philosophy, and the true wisdom; that competition is the natural law of society, and the source of wealth and prosperity. Do not you listen to them. That is the wisdom of this world, which the flesh teaches the animals; and those who follow it, like the animals, will perish. Such people are not even as wise as Sweep the retriever.

(Boy): Not as wise as Sweep?

Not they. Sweep will not take away Victor's bone, though he is ten times as big as Victor, and could kill him in a moment; and when he catches a rabbit, does he eat it himself?

(Boy): Of course not; he brings it and lays it down at our feet.

Because he likes better to do his duty, and be praised for it, than to eat the rabbit, dearly as he longs to eat it.

(Boy): But he is only an animal. Who taught him to be generous, and dutiful, and faithful?

Who, indeed! Not we, you know that, for he has grown up with us since a puppy. How he learnt it, and his parents before him, is a mystery, of which we can only say, God has taught them, we know not how. But see what has happened--that just because dogs have learnt not to be selfish and to compete--that is, have become civilized and tame--therefore we let them live with us, and love them.

(Boy): But why have not all animals found out that?

I cannot tell: there may be wise animals and foolish animals, as there are wise and foolish people. Indeed there are. I see a very wise animal there, who never competes; for she has learned something of the golden lesson--that it is more blessed to give than to receive; and she acts on what she has learnt, all day long.

(Boy): Which do you mean? Why, that is a bee.

Yes, it is a bee: and I wish I were as worthy in my place as that bee is in hers. I wish I could act up as well as she does to the true wisdom, which is self-sacrifice. For whom is that bee working? For herself? If that was all, she only needs to suck the honey as she goes. But she is storing up the wax under her stomach, and bee-bread in her thighs--for whom? Not for herself only, or even for her own children: but for the children of another bee, her queen. For them she labours all day long, builds for them, feeds them, nurses them, spends her love and cunning on them. So does that ant on the path. She is carrying home that stick to build for other ants' children. So do the white ants in the tropics. They have learnt not to compete, but to help each other; not to be selfish, but to sacrifice themselves; and therefore they are strong.

(Boy): But you told me once that ants would fight and plunder each other's nests. And once we saw two hives of bees fighting in the air, and falling dead by dozens.

Do people not fight, and kill each other by thousands with sharp shot and cold steel, because, though they have learnt the virtue of patriotism, they have not yet learnt that of humanity? We must not blame the bees and ants if they are no wiser than people. At least they are wise enough to stand up for their country, that is, their hive, and work for it, and die for it, if need be; and that makes them strong.

(Boy): But how does that make them strong?

"How" is a deep question, and one I can hardly answer yet. But that it

has made them so there is no doubt. Look at the solitary bees--the governors as we call them, who live in pairs, in little holes in the banks. How few of them there are; and they never seem to increase in numbers. Then look at the hive bees, how, just because they are civilized,--that is, because they help each other, and feed each other, instead of being solitary and selfish,--they breed so fast, and get so much food, that if they were not killed for their honey, they would soon become a nuisance, and drive us out of the parish.

(Boy): But then we give them their hives ready-made.

True. But in old forest countries, where trees decay and grow hollow, the bees breed in them.

(Boy): Yes. I remember the bee tree in the fir avenue.

Well then, in many forests in hot countries the bees swarm in hollow trees; and they, and the ants, and the white ants, have it all their own way, and are lords and masters, driving the very wild beasts before them, while the ants and white ants eat up all gardens, and plantations, and clothes, and furniture; till it is a serious question whether in some hot countries people will ever be able to settle, so strong have the ants grown, by ages of civilization, and not competing against their brothers and sisters.

Part Two

(Boy): But may I not compete for prizes against the other boys?

Well, there is no harm in that; for you do not harm the others, even if you win. They will have learnt all the more, while trying for the prize; and so will you, even if you don't get it. But I tell you fairly, trying for prizes is only fit for a child; and when you become an adult, you must put away childish things--competition among the rest.

(Boy): But surely I may try to be better and wiser and more learned than everybody else?

Why try for that? Try to be as good, and wise, and learned as you can; and if you find another, or ten thousand others, superior to you, thank God for it. Do you think that there can be too much wisdom in the world?

(Boy): Of course not: but I should like to be the wisest person in it.

Then you would only have the heaviest burden of all on your shoulders.

(Boy): Why?

Because you would be responsible for more foolish people than anyone else. Remember what wise old Moses said, when someone came and told him that certain men in the camp were prophesying: "Would God all the Lord's people did prophesy!" Yes; it would have saved Moses many a heartache, and many a sleepless night, if all the people had been wise as he was, and wiser still.

[Kingsley climbs up higher on his sermon soapbox; this section is optional]

So do not compete with good and wise people, but simply copy them: and whatever you do, do not compete with the wolves, and the apes, and the swine of this world; for that is a game at which you are sure to be beaten.

(Boy): Why?

Because Lady Why, if she loves you (as I trust she does), will take care that you are beaten, lest you should fancy it was really profitable to live like a cunning sort of animal, and not like a true human being: to be just and honourable, gentle and forgiving, generous and useful--in one word, to fear God, and keep His commandments: and as you live that life, you will find that, by the eternal laws of Lady Why, all other things will be added to you; that people will be glad to know you, glad to help you, glad to employ you, because they see that you will be of use to them, and will do them no harm. And if you meet (as you will meet) with people better and wiser than yourself, then so much the better for you; for they will love you, and be glad to teach you when they see that you are living the unselfish and harmless life.

(Boy): And all this has come out of looking at the hayfield and the wild moor.

Why not? There is an animal in you, and there is a person in you. If the animal gets the upper hand, all your character will fall back into wild useless moor; if the person gets the upper hand, all your character will be cultivated into a rich and fertile field. Choose.

Now come down home. The haymakers are resting under the hedge. The horses are dawdling home to the farm. The sun is getting low, and the shadows long. Come home, and go to bed while the house is fragrant with the smell of hay, and dream that you are still playing among the haycocks.

Narration and Discussion

"Because dogs try to be good in their simple way, therefore they too have all things added to them, and live far happier, and more comfortable lives than the selfish wolf and fox." Do you agree with Kingsley here, or is he giving domesticated animals more human qualities than they actually have?

Why would it be very difficult to be the wisest person in the world? Look up the story of Solomon (particularly the book of Ecclesiastes) and see how he handled (or mishandled) God's gift of wisdom.

Do you think that there is a good time and place for friendly competition? How about not-so-friendly? Should students be encouraged to compete with each other, in academics or in sports?

Do-It Challenge: Choose two games, or versions of the same game, to play together: outdoor/sports, board, video, or card games are all good. One should be competitive, and the other co-operative. (Looking up co-operation games can be helpful.) Afterwards, talk a bit about what did (or didn't) make them fun. Was everyone able to be included?

Lesson 19: The World's End, Part One (Chapter XI)


The father and son are now on their long-promised journey to the southwest of Ireland. When they wake up the morning after their arrival, the region is in the middle of a brief but heavy flood.

This chapter about Ireland is unusual "travel writing," in that we get no tourist details about food, music festivals, or shamrocks. What we do hear about is the outdoors: the mountains, the marks of glaciers, the bogs, and the ocean. The Boy, unlike some children, seems to be fully tuned in and appreciative of the Father's itinerary.


corrie: A round hollow in a hillside. The word comes from Scottish Gaelic and Old Irish words that mean "cauldron."

glass: spyglass (or binoculars)

cataract: waterfall, or rush of water

mackerel: a type of fish

loch: lake

moraine: a mass of rocks and sediment deposited by a glacier

chisel: a hand tool used to cut and shape wood or other material

People, Places, Events

World's End: There are several places called "World's End," but Kingsley seems to mean it more generally. Ireland can be considered to be on the edge of the Old World. (See Ireland below.)

The Old World: Europe, Asia, and Africa

The New World: North and South America

the Gulf of Mexico, between the Bahamas and Florida: for students in North America, England and Ireland may seem far removed not only in time but in place. It would be good to have a look at a globe or a map, and see that the continents are (relatively speaking) not so far apart.

Better with Pictures

Ireland: If you look at a map of Ireland, you will see County Kerry in the southwest corner, bordered by the counties of Limerick and Cork to the east, the River Shannon to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Kerry is home to Killarney National Park, and to the country's most westerly point, the tip of the Dingle Peninsula (perhaps what Kingsley meant by World's End). The region has an unusually wet and mild climate, allowing for the growth of plants like strawberry trees (wild arbutus) and tree ferns. Try searching for Irish bogs Kerry turf.

grampus: a whale related to and resembling the dolphins

bottle-nose: a member of the beaked whale family

Now look at the cracks and layers in it: You can find similar markings by searching for glacial striae, especially adding Great Britain.


Part One

Hullo! hi! wake up. Jump out of bed, and come to the window, and see where you are.

(Boy): hat a wonderful place!

So it is. Don't you recollect that when we started I told you we were going to Ireland, and through it to the World's End; and here we are now safe at the end of the Old World, and beyond us the great Atlantic, and beyond that again, thousands of miles away, the New World, which will be rich and prosperous, civilized and noble, thousands of years hence, when this Old World, it may be, will be dead; and little children there will be reading in their history books of Ancient England and of Ancient France, as you now read of Greece and Rome.

(Boy): But what a wonderful place it is! What are those great green things standing up in the sky, all over purple ribs and bars, with their tops hid in the clouds?

Those are mountains; the bones of some old world, whose poor bare sides Madam How is trying to cover with rich green grass.

(Boy): And how far off are they? How I should like to walk up to the top of that one which looks quite close.

You will find it a long walk up there; three miles, I dare say, over black bogs and banks of rock, and up corries and cliffs which you could not climb. There are plenty of cows on that mountain: and yet they look so small, you could not see them, nor I either, without a glass. That long white streak, zig-zagging down the mountain side, is a roaring cataract of foam, five hundred feet high, full now with last night's rain; but by this afternoon it will have dwindled to a little thread; and to-morrow, when you get up, if no more rain has come down, it will be gone. Madam How works here among the mountains swiftly and hugely, and sometimes terribly enough; as you shall see when you have had your breakfast, and come down to the bridge with me.

(Boy): But what a beautiful place it is! Flowers and woods and a lawn; and what is that great smooth patch in the lawn just under the window? Is it an empty flower-bed?

Ah, thereby hangs a strange tale. We will go and look at it after breakfast, and then you shall see with your own eyes one of the wonders which I have been telling you of.

(Boy): And what is that shining between the trees?


(Boy): Is it a lake?

Not a lake, though there are plenty round here; that is salt water, not fresh. Look away to the right, and you see it through the opening of the woods again and again: and now look above the woods. You see a faint blue line, and gray and purple lumps like clouds, which rest upon it far away. That is the great Atlantic Ocean, and those are islands in the far west. The water which washes the bottom of the lawn was but a few months ago pouring out of the Gulf of Mexico, between the Bahamas and Florida, and swept away here as the great ocean river of warm water which we call the Gulf Stream, bringing with it out of the open ocean the shoals of mackerel, and the porpoises and whales which feed upon them. Some fine afternoon we will run down the bay and catch strange fishes such as you never saw before; and very likely see a living whale.

(Boy): What? such a whale as they get whalebone from, and which eats sea-moths?

No, they live far north, in the Arctic Circle; these are grampuses, and bottle-noses, which feed on fish; not so big as the right whales, but quite big enough to astonish you, if one comes up and blows close to the boat. Get yourself dressed and come down, and then we will go out; we shall have plenty to see and talk of at every step.

Part Two

Now, you have finished your breakfast at last, so come along, and we shall see what we shall see. First run out across the gravel, and scramble up that bank of lawn, and you will see what you fancied was an empty flower-bed.

(Boy): Why, it is all hard rock.

Ah, you are come into the land of rocks now: out of the land of sand and gravel; out of a soft young corner of the world into a very hard, old, weather-beaten corner; and you will see rocks enough, and too many for the poor farmers, before you go home again.

(Boy): But how beautifully smooth and flat the rock is: and yet it is all rounded.

What is it like?

(Boy): Like--like the half of a shell.

Not badly said, but think again.

(Boy): Like--like--I know what it is like. Like the back of some great monster peeping up through the turf.

You have got it. Now look at the cracks and layers in it. They run across the stone; they have nothing to do with the shape of it.

(Boy): Yes: but here are cracks running across them, all along the stone, till the turf hides them.

Look at them again: those are not cracks, they do not go into the stone.

(Boy): I see. They are scratches; something like those on the elder-stem at home, where the cats sharpen their claws. But it would take a big cat to make them.

Do you recollect what I told you of Madam How's hand, more flexible than any human hand, and yet strong enough to grind the mountains into paste?

(Boy): I know. Ice! ice! ice! But are these really ice-marks?

On the place where we now stand, over rich lawns, and warm woods, and shining lochs, there lay, once on a time, hundreds, it may be thousands, of feet of solid ice, crawling off yonder mountain-tops into the ocean there outside; and this is one of its tracks. See how the scratches all point straight down the valley, and straight out to sea. Those mountains are 2,000 feet high: but they were much higher once; for the ice has planed the tops off them. Then, it seems to me, the ice sank, and left the mountains standing out of it about half their height, and at that level it stayed, till it had planed down all those lower moors of smooth bare rock between us and the Western ocean; and then it sank again, and dwindled back, leaving moraines (that is, heaps of dirt and stones) all up these valleys here and there, till at the last it melted all away, and Ireland became fit to live in again. We will go down the bay someday and look at those moraines, some of them quite hills of earth, and then you will see for yourself how mighty a chisel the ice-chisel was, and what vast heaps of chips it has left behind.

Narration and Discussion

Why do you think the Father chose this particular area to help the Boy learn more about Madam How and Lady Why?

Do-It Challenge: Write the Boy's diary for today; or write a postcard or letter home from Ireland. He might add an illustration or two! You may wish to extend this activity, adding a new letter or perhaps an "artifact" for each of the six lessons based on this chapter.

Lesson 20: The World's End, Part Two


The Father and the Boy go out to see the flood up close.


parapet: low, protective wall

purple loosestrife: a plant native to Europe and Asia, but which is an invasive species in North America

firkin: small wooden barrel

spawn: lay eggs

political economy: the subject of economics

turnips and grass and oil-cake: cattle-feed

strata: layers

glacier: a very large, slowly moving mass of ice

glen: a long, narrow valley with gently sloping sides

Better with Pictures

Matterhorn: a high mountain in the Alps


Part One

Now then, down over the lawn towards the bridge. Listen to the river, louder and louder every step we take.

(Boy): What a roar! Is there a waterfall there?

No. It is only the flood. And underneath the roar of that flood, do you not hear a deeper note--a dull rumbling, as if from underground?

(Boy): Yes. What is it?

The rolling of great stones under water, which are being polished against each other, as they hurry toward the sea. Now let's go up on the parapet of the bridge. Look and see Madam How's rain-spade at work. Look at the terrible yellow torrent below us, almost filling up the arches of the bridge, and leaping high in waves and crests of foam.

(Boy): Oh, the bridge is falling into the water!

Not a bit. You are not accustomed to see water running below you at ten miles an hour. Never mind that feeling. It will go off in a few seconds. Look; the water is full six feet up the trunks of the trees; over the grass and the king fern, and the tall purple loosestrife--

(Boy): Oh! Here comes a tree dancing down!

And there are some turfs which have been cut on the mountain. And there is a really sad sight. Look what comes now.

(Boy): One--two--three. Why, they are sheep.

Yes. And a sad loss they will be to some poor people in the glen above.

(Boy): And oh! Look at the pig turning round and round solemnly in the corner under the rock. Poor piggy! He ought to have been at home safe in his sty, and not wandering about the hills. And what are these coming now?

Butter firkins, I think. Yes. This is a great flood. It is well if there are no lives lost.

(Boy): But is it not cruel of Madam How to make such floods?

Well--let us ask one of these men who are looking over the bridge.

(Boy): Why, what does he say? I cannot understand one word. Is he talking Irish?

Irish-English at least: but what he said was, that it was a mighty fine flood entirely, praised be God; and it would help the potatoes and oats after the drought, and set the grass growing again on the mountains.

(Boy): And what is he saying now?

That the river will be full of salmon and white trout after this.

(Boy): What does he mean?

That under our feet now, if we could see through the muddy water, dozens of salmon and sea-trout are running up from the sea.

(Boy): What! up this furious stream?

Yes. What would be death to you is pleasure and play to them. Up they are going, to spawn in the little brooks among the mountains; and all of them are the best of food, fattened on the herrings and sprats in the sea outside. They are Madam How's free gift, which does not cost people a farthing, save the expense of nets and rods to catch them.

(Boy): How can that be?

I will give you a bit of political economy. Suppose a pound of salmon is worth a shilling; and a pound of beef is worth a shilling likewise. Before we can eat the beef, it has cost perhaps ten pence to make that pound of beef out of turnips and grass and oil-cake; and so, the country is only two pence a pound richer for it. But Mr. Salmon has made himself out of what he eats in the sea, and so has cost nothing; and the shilling a pound is all clear gain.

Part Two

But now, look again at the river. What do you think makes it so yellow and muddy?

(Boy): Dirt, of course.

And where does that come from?

(Boy): Off the mountains?

Yes. Tons on tons of white mud are being carried down past us now; and where will they go?

(Boy): Into the sea?

Yes, and sink there in the still water, to make new strata at the bottom; and perhaps in them, ages hence, someone will find the bones of those sheep, and of poor Mr. Pig too, fossilized.

(Boy): And the butter firkins too. What fun to find a fossil butter firkin!

But now lift up your eyes to the jagged mountain crests, and their dark sides all laced with silver streams. Out of every crack and cranny there aloft, the rain is bringing down dirt, and stones too, which have been split off by the winter's frosts, deepening every little hollow, and sharpening every peak, and making the hills more jagged and steep year by year. When the ice went away, the hills were all scraped smooth and round by the glaciers, like the flat rock upon the lawn; and ugly enough they must have looked, like great brown buns. But ever since then, Madam How has been scooping them out again by her water-chisel into deep glens, mighty cliffs, sharp peaks, such as you see aloft, and making the old hills beautiful once more. Why, even the Alps in Switzerland have been carved out by frost and rain, out of some great flat. The very peak of the Matterhorn, of which you have so often seen a picture, is but one single point left of some enormous bun of rock. All the rest has been carved away by rain and frost; and someday the Matterhorn itself will be carved away, and its last stone topple into the glacier at its foot.

Narration and Discussion

Explain how Madam How's "water-chisel" is still at work.

Do-It Challenge: see Lesson 19.

For further thought: "But is it not cruel of Madam How to make such floods?" What do you think about that? If you have read George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind, you may find this echoes some of Diamond's conversations with the North Wind.

Lesson 21: The World's End, Part Three


The Father and the Boy continue their walk, and discuss the plant life of County Kerry.


"Health to the oak of the mountains . . .": these are lines from Kingsley's own poem "Elegiacs."

furze, heather: these are shrubs, so it is not clear why the Boy lists them with the trees

wild arbutus: see Ireland in Lesson 19

perpetual: continuous, never-ending

warrant: guarantee

there are no toads or snakes in Ireland: this is pretty much true, although there is one kind of toad, the Natterjack. (There are frogs.)

People, Places, Events

Queen Bess: Queen Elizabeth the First, who reigned from 1558-1603

James the First: King of England from 1603-1625

Better with Pictures

trees growing out of rocks: You can find more about this by searching by terms such as tree growing on boulder or trees growing out of rocks.

Film fern, Hymenophyllum: a fern with very thin, translucent leaves

London Pride, St. Patrick's Cabbage: Kingsley treats all the plants of this type as if they were the same. However, the Irish variety of the plant is Saxifraga spathularis. The Spanish plant (the one from the Pyrenees) is Saxifraga umbrosa. The garden plant called London Pride is a hybrid of the two.


Part One

See, as we have been talking, we have got into the woods.

(Boy): Oh, what beautiful woods, just like our own.

Not quite. There are some things growing here which do not grow at home, as you will soon see.

(Boy): How strange, to see trees growing out of rocks! How do their roots get into the stone?

There is plenty of rich mould in the cracks for them to feed on--

"Health to the oak of the mountains;
he trusts to the might of the rock-clefts.
Deeply he mines, and in peace feeds on the wealth of the stone."

(Boy): How many sorts of trees there are--oak, and birch, and nuts, and mountain-ash, and holly, and furze, and heather.

And if you went to some of the islands in the lake up in the glen, you would find wild arbutus--or "strawberry tree."

(Boy): How long and green the grass is, even on the rocks, and the ferns, and the moss, too. Everything seems richer here than at home.

Of course it is. You are here in the land of perpetual spring, where frost and snow seldom or never come.

(Boy): Oh, look at the ferns under this rock! I must pick some.

Pick away. I will warrant you do not pick all the sorts.

(Boy): Yes. I have got them all now.

Not so hasty: there is plenty of a beautiful fern growing among that moss, which you have passed over. Look here.

(Boy): What! that little thing a fern!

Hold it up to the light, and see.

(Boy): What a lovely little thing, like a transparent sea-weed, hung on black wire. What is it?

Film fern, Hymenophyllum.

Part Two

But what are you staring at now, with all your eyes?

(Boy): Oh! that rock covered with green stars and a cloud of little white and pink flowers growing out of them.

Aha! I hoped you would be clever enough to notice that.

(Boy): What is it, though?

You must answer that yourself. You have seen it a hundred times before.

(Boy): Why, it is London Pride, that grows in the garden at home.

Of course it is: but the Irish call it St. Patrick's Cabbage; though it got here a long time before St. Patrick; and St. Patrick must have been very short of garden-stuff if he ever ate it.

(Boy): But how did it get here from London?

No, no. How did it get to London from hence? For from this country it came. I suppose the English brought it home in Queen Bess's or James the First's time.

(Boy): But if it is wild here, and will grow so well in England, why do we not find it wild in England too?

For the same reason that there are no toads or snakes in Ireland. They had not got as far as Ireland before Ireland was parted off from England. And St. Patrick's Cabbage, and a good many other plants, had not got as far as England.

(Boy): But why?

Why, I don't know. But this I know: that when Madam How makes a new sort of plant or animal, she starts it in one single place, and leaves it to take care of itself and earn its own living--as she does you and me and everyone--and spread from that place all round as far as it can go.

[The story of St. Patrick's Cabbage will continue in the next lesson.]

Narration and Discussion

The Father says that this region of Ireland is "the land of perpetual spring." How is that possible?

Why do you think there are so many kinds of fern in that area, especially "film fern?"

Do-It Challenge: see Lesson 19.

Lesson 22: The World's End, Part Four


The Father's little story about St. Patrick's Cabbage turns out to have greater implications, as it has left botanical trails intertwined with geological ones.


Atlantis, Atlantic land: a mythical land beneath the sea

slate: a type of rock that begins as a sedimentary rock formed from clay or volcanic ash, but which then becomes metamorphic. Metamorphic rock is that which has been changed in structure due to heat or pressure. Slate breaks easily into thin layers, so it has been used for roofing material and as a writing surface in schools.

Biogeology: the study of the interactions between the biosphere (the living world) and the lithosphere (the earth's crust and its upper mantle). In other words, what do plants have to do with rocks?

People, Places, Events

Pyrenees: mountains between France and Spain

Azores: a group of volcanic islands; an autonomous (self-governing) region of Portugal

Cape of Good Hope: the southern tip of Africa

Labrador: the mainland part of the Canadian province of Newfoundland

Biarritz: a city in southwestern France

Brittany: a region of France

Better with Pictures

Great spurge, Irish spurge, wood spurge: The "family name" of spurge plants is Euphorbia. There are many members of the family (over 2,000!), including the poinsettia; but a search for wood spurge and Irish spurge should suffice.

ling: pink heather (mentioned in Lesson 17)

butterwort: Pinguicula, a carnivorous (insect-eating) plant

Kerry bogs: see Ireland in Lesson 19

Cape heath: Its Latin name is Erica capensis.


Part One

So St. Patrick's Cabbage got into this south-west of Ireland, long, long ago; and it was such a brave, sturdy little plant that it clambered up to the top of the highest mountains, and over all the rocks. But when it got to the rich lowlands to the eastward, in County Cork, it found all the ground taken up already with other plants; and as they had enough to do to live themselves, they would not let St. Patrick's Cabbage settle among them; and it had to be content with living here in the far-west--and, what was very sad, had no means of sending word to its brothers and sisters in the Pyrenees how it was getting on.

(Boy): What do you mean? Are you making fun of me?

Not the least. I am only telling you a very strange story, which is literally true.

Part Two

Come, and sit down on this bench. You can't catch that great butterfly, he is too strong on the wing for you.

(Boy): But oh, what a beautiful one!

Yes, orange and black, silver and green, a glorious creature. But you may see him at home sometimes: that plant close to you, you cannot see at home.

(Boy): Why, it is only Great Spurge, such as grows in the woods at home.

No. It is Irish spurge which grows here, and sometimes in Devonshire, and then again in the west of Europe, down to the Pyrenees. Don't touch it. Our wood spurge is poisonous enough, but this is worse still; if you get a drop of its milk on your lip or eye, you will be in agonies for half a day.

(Boy): But why is it that this spurge, and St. Patrick's cabbage, grow only here in the west? If they got here by themselves, where did they come from? All outside there is sea; and they could not float over that.

Come, I say, and sit down on this bench, and I will tell you a tale,--the story of the Old Atlantis, the sunken land in the far West. Old Plato, the Greek, told legends of it; and now it seems as if those old legends had some truth in them, after all. We are standing now on one of the last remaining scraps of the old Atlantic land.

Look down the bay. Do you see far away, under, the mountains, little islands, long and low?

(Boy): Oh, yes.

Some of these are old slate, like the mountains; others are limestone; bits of the old coral reef to the west of Ireland which became dry land.

(Boy): know. You told me about it.

Then that land, which is all eaten up by the waves now, once joined Ireland to Cornwall, and to Spain, and to the Azores, and I suspect to the Cape of Good Hope, and what is stranger, to Labrador, on the coast of North America.

(Boy): Oh! How can you know that?

Listen, and I will give you your first lesson in what we may call Bio-geology.

(Boy): What a long word!

If you can find a shorter one I shall be very much obliged to you, for I hate long words. But what it means is, telling how the land has changed in shape, by the plants and animals upon it. You know the common pink heather--ling, as we call it?

(Boy): Of course.

Then that ling grows, not only here and in the north and west of Europe, but in the Azores too; and, what is even more strange, in Labrador. Now, as ling can neither swim nor fly, does not common sense tell you that all those countries were probably joined together in old times?

(Boy): Well: but it seems so strange.

So it is; and so is everything. But, as the fool says in Twelfth Night--

"A long time ago the world began, With heigh ho, the wind and the rain."

And the wind and the rain have made strange work with the poor old world ever since. And that is about all that we, who are not very much wiser than Shakespeare's fool, can say about the matter.

Part Three

But again--the London Pride grows here, and so does another saxifrage very like it, which we call Saxifraga Geum. Now, when I saw those two plants growing in the Western Pyrenees, between France and Spain, and with them the beautiful blue butterwort, which grows in these Kerry bogs--we will go and find some--what could I say but that Spain and Ireland must have been joined once?

(Boy): I suppose it must be so.

Again. There is a little pink butterwort here in the bogs, which grows, too, in Devonshire and Cornwall; and also in the south-west of Scotland. Now, when I found that too, in the bogs near Biarritz, close to the Pyrenees, and knew that it stretched away along the Spanish coast, and into Portugal, what could my common sense lead me to say but that Scotland, and Ireland, and Cornwall, and Spain were all joined once? Those are only a few examples. I could give you a dozen more. For instance, on an island away there to the west, and only in one spot, there grows a little sort of lily, which is found I believe in Brittany, and on the Spanish and Portuguese heaths, and even in northwest Africa. And that Africa and Spain were joined not so very long ago at the Straits of Gibraltar, there is no doubt at all.

(Boy): But where did the Mediterranean Sea run out then?

Perhaps it did not run out at all; but was a salt-water lake, like the Caspian, or the Dead Sea. Perhaps it ran out over what is now the Sahara, the great desert of sand, for that was a sea-bottom not long ago.

(Boy): But then, how was this land of Atlantis joined to the Cape of Good Hope?

I cannot say how, or when either. But this is plain: the place in the world where the most beautiful heaths grow is the Cape of Good Hope! You know I showed you Cape heaths once at the nursery gardener's at home.

(Boy): Oh yes, pink, and yellow, and white; so much larger than ours.

Then it seems (I only say it seems) as if there must have been some land once to the westward, from which the different sorts of heath spread south-eastward to the Cape, and north-eastward into Europe. And that they came north-eastward into Europe seems certain; for there are no heaths in America or Asia.

(Boy): But how north-eastward?

Stand with your face to the south and think. If a thing comes from the south-west--from there, it must go to the north-east--towards there. Must it not?

(Boy): Oh yes, I see.

Now then--The farther you go south-west, towards Spain, the more kinds of heath there are, and the handsomer; as if their original home, from which they started, was somewhere down there.

(Boy): More sorts! What sorts?

How many sorts of heath have we at home?

(Boy): Three, of course: ling, and purple heath, and bottle heath.

And there are no more in all England, or Wales, or Scotland, except--well, listen. In the very farthest end of Cornwall there are two more sorts, the Cornish heath and the Orange-bell; and they say (though I never saw it) that the Orange-bell grows near Bournemouth.

(Boy): Well. That is south and west too.

So it is: but that makes five heaths. Now in the south and west of Ireland all these five heaths grow, and two more: the great Irish heath, with purple bells, and the Mediterranean heath, which flowers in spring.

(Boy): Oh, I know them. They grow in the rhododendron beds at home.

Of course. Now again. If you went down to Spain, you would find all those seven heaths, and other sorts with them, and those which are rare in England and Ireland are common there. Around Biarritz, on the Spanish frontier, all the moors are covered with Cornish heath, and the bogs with Orange-bell, and lovely they are to see; and growing among them is a tall heath six feet high, which they call there bruyère, or Broomheath, because they make brooms of it: and out of its roots the "briar-root" pipes are made. There are other heaths about that country, too, whose names I do not know; so that when you are there, you fancy yourself in the very home of the heaths: but you are not. They must have come from some land near where the Azores are now; or how could heaths have got past Africa, and the tropics, to the Cape of Good Hope?

(Boy): It seems very wonderful, to be able to find out that there was a great land once in the ocean all by a few little heaths.

Not by them only! There are many other plants, and animals too, which make one think that so it must have been.

Narration and Discussion

The Boy asks, "But why is it that this spurge, and St. Patrick's cabbage, grow only here in the west? If they got here of themselves, where did they come from? All outside there is sea; and they could not float over that." Can you suggest an answer?

Do-It Challenge: see Lesson 19.

Lesson 23: The World's End, Part Five


In this short lesson, Kingsley takes the idea he has previously introduced about similar plants appearing on different continents, and extends it to animals. Vocabulary for Part Five

puma: it is not clear why Kingsley calls a puma (or mountain lion) a cat of which nobody is afraid. (The name puma is also used to mean a panther or cougar.) It is true that pumas do not prey on humans, but they will attack when they feel threatened.

home: the place where they are staying.

People, Places, Events

Zoological Gardens: the London zoo

tropic forests of America: the rainforest

Better with Pictures

sarsaparilla: Smilax ornata, or Jamaican sarsaparilla


And now I will tell you something stranger still. There may have been a time--some people say that there must--when Africa and South America were joined by land.

(Boy): Africa and South America! Was that before the heaths came here, or after?

I cannot tell: but I think, probably after. But this is certain, that there must have been a time when figs, and bamboos, and palms, and sarsaparillas, and many other sorts of plants could get from Africa to America, or the other way, and indeed almost round the world. About the South of France and Italy you will see one beautiful sarsaparilla, with hooked prickles, zigzagging and twining about over rocks and ruins, trunks and stems: and when you do, if you have understanding, it will seem as strange to you as it did to me to remember that the home of the sarsaparillas is not in Europe, but in the forests of Brazil, and the River Plate.

(Boy): Oh, I have heard about their growing there, and staining the rivers brown, and making them good medicine to drink: but I never thought there were any in Europe.

There are only one or two, and how they got there is a marvel indeed. But now--If there was not dry land between Africa and South America, how did the cats get into America? For they cannot swim.

(Boy): Cats? People might have brought them over.

Jaguars and pumas are cats, and so are the ocelots or tiger cats.

(Boy): Oh, I saw them at the Zoological Gardens.

But no one would bring them over, I should think, except to put them in the zoo.

(Boy): Not unless they were very foolish.

No, those jaguars and pumas have been in America for ages: and there are those who will tell you--and I think they have some reason on their side--that the jaguar, with his round patches of spots, was once very much the same as the African and Indian leopard, who can climb trees well. So, when he got into the tropic forests of America, he took to the trees, and lived among the branches, feeding on sloths and monkeys, and never coming to the ground for weeks, till he grew fatter and stronger and far more terrible than his forefathers. And they will tell you, too, that the puma was, perhaps--I only say perhaps--something like the lion, who (you know) has no spots. But when he got into the forests, he found very little food under the trees, only a very few deer; and so, he was starved, and dwindled down to the poor little sheep-stealing rogue he is now, of whom nobody is afraid.

(Boy): But do you think it is all true about the pumas and jaguars?

I don't say that it is true: but only that it is likely to be true. In science we must be cautious and modest, and ready to alter our minds whenever we learn fresh facts; only keeping sure of one thing, that the truth, when we find it out, will be far more wonderful than any notions of ours.

See! As we have been talking, we have got nearly home: and luncheon must be ready.

Narration and Discussion

What is the evidence that the Father gives for the idea that the continents must once have been joined? Does it sound reasonable, or not? If his evidence does not hold up well, does it necessarily follow that the continents were not joined?

"In science we must be cautious and modest, and ready to alter our minds whenever we learn fresh facts; only keeping sure of one thing, that the truth, when we find it out, will be far more wonderful than any notions of ours." How is this a good summary of the book so far?

Do-It Challenge: Find some optical illusions (in books or online), and try to figure out how they work. For instance, have you ever seen drawings of straight lines that appear to be wavy, or circles that appear to be different sizes? For further study: M.C. Escher is one artist known for optical illusions and visual impossibilities.

Note on this lesson: The idea of continental drift was discussed, but not widely known or accepted when Madam How was published (it pre-dated Alfred Wegener's (literally) groundbreaking work). Geologist Charles Lyell had suggested certain types of continental movement years earlier; but Kingsley may have also read the work of Evan Hopkins, and seen some speculative maps about an ancient super-continent, along with articles by a few other geologists. The problem is that such continental breakup might account for fossils in strange places, but not later animals such as pumas; but Kingsley does not appear to be bothered by this.

Lesson 24: The World's End, Part Six


In this final "Ireland" section, we see the Father and the Boy (for the first time?) in a typical parent-child dialogue. The Boy wants to be part of something that sounds like fun, but the Father thinks not.


rollers: waves

cutter: boat

"Whoso is simple let him turn in hither": Proverbs 9:4

"Come, eat of my bread . . .": Proverbs 9:5

"Counsel is mine . . .": Proverbs 8:14-18


Part One

Why are you opening your eyes at me like the dog when he wants to go out walking?

(Boy): Because I want to go out. But I don't want to go out walking. I want to go in the yacht.

In the yacht? It does not belong to me.

(Boy): But I know everybody is going out in it to see such a beautiful island full of ferns, and have a picnic on the rocks; and I know you are going.

Then you know more than I do myself.

(Boy): But I heard "them" say you were going.

Then "they" know more than I do myself.

(Boy): But would you not like to go?

I might like to go very much indeed; but as I have been knocked about at sea a good deal, and perhaps more than I intend to be again, it is no novelty to me, and there might be other things which I liked still better: for instance, spending the afternoon with you.

(Boy): Then am I not to go?

I think not. Don't pull such a long face: but be a man, and make up your mind to it, as the geese do to going barefoot.

(Boy): But why may I not go?

Because I am not Madam How, but your father.

(Boy): What can that have to do with it?

If you asked Madam How, do you know what she would answer in a moment, as civilly and kindly as could be? She would say--Oh yes, go by all means, and please yourself, my boy. My world is the Paradise which the Irishman talked of, in which "someone might do what was right in the sight of his own eyes, and what was wrong too, as he liked it."

(Boy): Then Madam How would let me go in the yacht?

Of course she would; or jump overboard when you were in it; or put your finger in the fire, and your head afterwards; or eat Irish spurge, and die like the salmon; or anything else you liked. Nobody is so indulgent as Madam How: and she would be the dearest old lady in the world, but for one ugly trick that she has. She never tells anyone what is coming, but leaves them to find it out for themselves. She lets them put their fingers in the fire, and never tells them that they will get burnt.

(Boy): But that is very cruel and treacherous of her.

My boy, our business is not to call hard names, but to take things as we find them. Now shall I, because I am your father, tell you what Madam How would not have told you? When you get on board the yacht, you will think it all very pleasant for an hour, as long as you are in the bay. But when you get beyond that headland, you will find the great rollers coming in from the Atlantic, and the cutter tossing and heaving as you never felt before, under a burning sun. And then you will begin to feel a little sick; and then very sick, and more miserable than you ever felt in his life; and wish a thousand times over that you were safe at home, even doing sums in long division.

(Boy): Of course, I do not wish to be sick: only it looks like such beautiful weather.

And so it is: but don't fancy that last night's rain and wind can have passed without sending in such a swell as will frighten you, when you see the cutter climbing up one side of a wave, and running down the other; Madam How tells me that, though she will not tell you yet.

(Boy): Then why do "they" go out?

Because "they" are accustomed to it. They have come hither all round from Cowes, past the Land's End, and past Cape Clear, and they are not afraid or sick either. But shall I tell you how you would end this evening?--at least so I suspect. Lying miserable in a stuffy cabin, on a sofa, and not quite sure whether you were dead or alive, till you were bundled into a boat about twelve o'clock at night, when you ought to be safe asleep, and come home cold, and wet, and ill, and lie in bed all tomorrow.

(Boy): But will they be wet and cold?

I cannot be sure; but from the look of the sky there to westward, I think some of them will be. So do you make up your mind to stay with me this afternoon. But if it is fine and smooth tomorrow, perhaps we may row down the bay, and see plenty of wonderful things.

Part Two

(Boy): But why is it that Madam How will not tell people beforehand what will happen to them, as you have told me?

[The boy has unwittingly opened the gates to a sermon. It's a good one, though.]

Now I will tell you a great secret, which, alas! everyone has not found out yet. Madam How will teach you, but only by experience. Lady Why will teach you, but by something very different--by something which has been called--and I know no better names for it--grace and inspiration; by putting into your heart feelings which no-one, not even your father and mother, can put there; by making you quick to love what is right, and hate what is wrong, simply because they are right and wrong, though you don't know why they are right and wrong; by making you teachable, modest, reverent, ready to believe those who are older and wiser than you when they tell you what you could never find out for yourself: and so you will be prudent, that is provident, foreseeing, and know what will happen if you do so-and-so; and therefore what is really best and wisest for you.

(Boy): But why will she be kind enough to do that for me?

For the very same reason that I do it. For God's sake. Because God is your Father in heaven, as I am your father on earth, and He does not wish His child to be left to the hard teaching of Nature and Law, but to be helped on by many, many unsought and undeserved favours, such as are rightly called "Means of Grace"; and above all by the Gospel and good news that you are God's child, and that God loves you, and has helped and taught you, and will help you and teach you, in a thousand ways of which you are not aware, if only you will be wise, and listen to Lady Why, when she cries from her Palace of Wisdom, and the feast which she has prepared, "Whoso is simple let him turn in hither"; and says to him who wants understanding-- "Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled." "Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom; I am understanding; I have strength. By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth. I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me. Riches and honour are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness."

Narration and Discussion

What, in the Father's opinion, would Madam How say to the Boy's going on the boat trip? Why would she permit it? Why does the Father hold a different opinion?

"Madam How will teach you, but only by experience. Lady Why will teach you, but by something very different . . ." What is Lady Why's way of teaching?

Have you ever experienced sea-sickness (or motion-sickness)? It is caused by conflicting messages between what you see (or think you see) and the messages that your brain receives from your inner ear. One suggestion for preventing motion sickness on a ship is to go up on deck and focus on the horizon. In a moving vehicle, similarly, it might help to sit by a window and focus on the scenery. Why do you think these strategies work? (Peppermint and ginger have also been found to help with upset innards.)

Do-It Challenge #1: If the Father and the Boy rowed "down the bay" and had their own picnic lunch together, what do you think they might have taken along? Pack some food and have an outdoor (or indoor) picnic.

"'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'cold tongue cold ham cold beef pickled gherkins salad french rolls cress sandwiches potted meat ginger beer lemonade soda water--'

"'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstasies: 'This is too much!'" (Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows)

Do-It Challenge #2: If you have been writing letters/postcards from the Irish holiday, you may want to add to those now, as the term and the chapter end. You might include the imaginary picnic. (The journey is not over, however.)

For further thought: For those who have read The Water-Babies: does this passage remind you of the lessons that Tom learned underwater?

"I am the ugliest fairy in the world; and I shall be, till people behave themselves as they ought to do. And then I shall grow as handsome as my sister, who is the loveliest fairy in the world; and her name is Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby. So she begins where I end, and I begin where she ends; and those who will not listen to her must listen to me, as you will see." (The Water-Babies)

Lesson 25: Homeward Bound, Part One (Chapter XII)


As the Father and the Boy prepare to travel home from Ireland, the Father has a surprise.


lose his shooting: miss out on the chance to go along on a hunting trip

eroded: gradually washed away or carved out, by water or wind

Better with Pictures

Christmas Sound: a bay on the south coast of Tierra del Fuego, at the southern end of South America. The point of mentioning it here (as also for Possession Bay) is to show images of ice cliffs; so you may want to look up Captain Cook Christmas Sound to see the illustrations being described.

Possession Bay: a bay on the island of South Georgia, in the southern Atlantic Ocean. See above.


Part One

Come: I suppose you consider yourself quite a good sailor by now?

(Boy): Oh, yes. I have never been ill yet, though it has been quite rough again and again.

What you call rough! But as you are grown such a very good sailor, and also as the sea is all but smooth, I think we will have a sail in the yacht to-day, and that a tolerably long one.

(Boy): Hurray! But I thought we were going home; and the things are all packed up.

And why should we not go homewards in the yacht, things and all?

(Boy): What, all the way to England?

No, not so far as that; but these kind people, when they came into the harbour last night, offered to take us up the coast to a town where we will sleep, and start comfortably home to-morrow morning. So now you will have a chance of seeing something of the great sea outside, and of seeing, perhaps, the whale himself.

(Boy): I hope we shall see the whale. The men say he has been outside the harbour every day this week after the fish.

Part Two

Now, come along, and bundle into the boat, if you have done bidding everyone good-bye; and take care you don't slip down in the ice-groovings, as you did the other day.

There, we are off at last.

(Boy): Oh, look at them all on the rock watching us and waving their handkerchiefs; and Harper and Paddy too, and little Jimsy and Isy, with their bare feet, and their arms round the dogs' necks. I am so sorry to leave them all.

Not sorry to go home?

(Boy): No, but--They have been so kind; and the dogs were so kind. I am sure the dogs knew we were going, and were sorry too.

Perhaps they were. They knew we were going away, at all events. They know what bringing out boxes and luggage means well enough.

(Boy): Sam knew, I am sure; but he did not care for us. He was only uneasy because he thought Harper was going, and he should lose his shooting; and as soon as he saw Harper was not getting into the boat, he sat down and scratched himself, quite happy. But do dogs think?

Of course they do; only they do not think in words, as we do.

(Boy): But how can they think without words?

That is very difficult for you and me to imagine, because we always think in words. They must think in pictures, I suppose, by remembering things which have happened to them. You and I do that in our dreams. But we must see about getting on board now, and under way.

Part Three

Well, and what have you been doing?

(Boy): Oh, I looked all over the yacht, at the ropes and curious things; and then I looked at the mountains, till I was tired; and then I heard you and some gentleman talking about the land sinking, and I listened. There was no harm in that?

None at all. But what did you hear him say?

(Boy): That the land must be sinking here, because there were peat-bogs everywhere below high-water mark. Is that true?

Quite true; and that peat would never have been formed where the salt water could get at it, as it does now every tide.

(Boy): But what was it he said about that cliff over there?

He said that cliff on our right, a hundred feet high, was plainly once joined on to that low island on our left.

(Boy): What, that long bank of stones, with a house on it?

That is no house. That is a square lump of mud, the last remaining bit of earth which was once the moraine of a glacier. Every year it crumbles into the sea more and more; and in a few years it will be all gone, and nothing left but the great round boulder-stones which the ice brought down from the glaciers behind us.

(Boy): But how does he know that it was once joined to the cliff?

Because that cliff, and the down behind it, where the cows are fed, is made up, like the island, of nothing but loose earth and stones; and that is why it is bright and green beside the gray rocks and brown heather of the moors at its foot. He knows that it must be an old glacier moraine; and he has reason to think that the moraine once stretched right across the bay to the low island, and perhaps on to the other shore, and was eroded by the sea as the land sank down.

(Boy): But how does he know that the land sank?

Of that, he says, he is quite certain; and this is what he says.--Suppose there was a glacier here, where we are sailing now: it would end in an ice cliff, such as you have seen a picture of in Captain Cook's Voyages. You recollect the pictures of Christmas Sound and Possession Bay?

(Boy): Oh yes, and pictures of Greenland and Spitzbergen too, with glaciers in the sea.

Then icebergs would break off from that cliff, and carry all the dirt and stones out to sea, perhaps hundreds of miles away, instead of letting it drop here in a heap; and what did fall in a heap here the sea would wash down at once, and smooth it over the sea-bottom, and never let it pile up in a huge bank like that. Do you understand?

(Boy): I think I do.

Therefore, he says, that great moraine must have been built upon dry land, in the open air; and must have sunk since into the sea, which is gnawing at it day and night, and will someday eat it all up, as it would eat up all the dry land in the world, if Madam How was not continually lifting up fresh land, to make up for what the sea has carried off.

Narration and Discussion

How do you think that animals think? Have you ever had a pet or known an animal that seemed to think in almost "human" ways?

Why does the man on the boat believe that the island was once joined to the cliff?

Do-It Challenge #1: Go for a nature walk, and look (or listen) particularly for things that are puzzling. Maybe there is a certain tree that is the only one of its kind around: is it the last of an old forest, or was it planted later? Why do hundreds of crows settle on trees around sunset? What is the name of that bird that trills near the pond? Why do squirrels make a sound like quacking when they are angry?

Do-It Challenge #2: If you like, you can continue the Boy's travel letters or diary through this final chapter. Is there a souvenir he might collect from his day on the yacht?

Lesson 26: Homeward Bound, Part Two


The travelers do some whale-watching from the yacht.


rollers: see Lesson 24

carbonic acid: carbon dioxide

Better with Pictures

whale: We are not told exactly what type of whale they are looking at, although we know it is "thirty to forty feet long." The Father has previously mentioned grampus and bottlenose whales, so it may be one of those species. Try looking up Ireland whale watching Atlantic.

terns, gulls, gannets: seabirds

guillemot, murre, marrock: Names for a kind of large auk (bird).


Part One

We are now well outside the harbour, and running across the open bay; and lucky for you that there are no rollers coming in from the Atlantic, and spouting up those cliffs in columns of white foam.


(Boy): Ah! Who was it that coughed just behind the ship?

Who, indeed? look round and see.

(Boy): There is nobody. There could not be in the sea.

Look--there, a quarter of a mile away.

(Boy): Oh! What is that turning over in the water, like a great black wheel? And a great tooth on it, and--oh! it is gone!

Never mind. It will soon show itself again.

(Boy): But what was it?

The whale: one of them, at least; for the men say there are two different ones about the bay. That black wheel was part of his back, as he turned down; and the tooth on it was his back-fin.

(Boy): But the noise, like a giant's cough?

Rather like the blast of a locomotive just starting. That was his breath.

(Boy): What! as loud as that?

Why not? He is a very big fellow, and has big lungs.

(Boy): How big is he?

I cannot say: perhaps thirty or forty feet long. We shall be able to see better soon. He will come up again, and very likely nearer us, where those birds are.

(Boy): I don't want him to come any nearer.

You really need not be afraid. He is quite harmless.

(Boy): But he might run against the yacht.

He might: and so might a hundred things happen which never do. But I never heard of one of these whales running against a vessel; so I suppose he has sense enough to know that the yacht is no concern of his, and to keep out of its way.

(Boy): But why does he make that tremendous noise only once, and then go under water again?

You must remember that he is not a fish. A fish takes the water in through his mouth continually, and it runs over his gills, and out behind through his gill-covers. So the gills suck-up the air out of the water, and send it into the fish's blood.

(Boy): Yes, I know.

But the whale breathes with lungs like you and me; and when he goes under water he has to hold his breath, as you and I have.

(Boy): What a long time he can hold it.

Yes. He is a wonderful diver. Some whales, they say, will keep under for an hour. But while he is under, mind, the air in his lungs is getting foul, and full of carbonic acid, just as it would in your lungs, if you held your breath. So he is forced to come up at last: and then out of his blowers, which are on the top of his head, he blasts out all the foul breath, and with it the water which has got into his mouth, in a cloud of spray. Then he sucks in fresh air, as much as he wants, and dives again, as you saw him do just now.

(Boy): And what does he do under water?

Look--and you will see. Look at those birds. We will sail up to them; for Mr. Whale will probably rise among them soon.

Part Two

(Boy): Oh, what a screaming and what a fighting! How many sorts there are! What are those beautiful little ones, like great white swallows, with crested heads and forked tails, who hover, and then dip down and pick up something?

Terns--sea-swallows. And there are gulls in hundreds, you see, large and small, gray-backed and black-backed; and over them all two or three great gannets swooping round and round.

(Boy): Oh! One of the gannets has fallen into the sea!

Yes, with a splash just like a cannon ball. And here he comes up again, with a fish in his beak. If he had fallen on your head, with that beak of his, he would have split it open.

(Boy): What a noise! It is quite deafening. And what are those black birds about, who croak like crows, or parrots?

Look at them. Some have broad bills, with a white stripe on it, and cry something like the moor-hens at home. Those are razor-bills.

(Boy): And what are those who say "marrock," something like a parrot?

The ones with thin bills? they are guillemots, "murres" as we call them in Devon; but in some places they call them "marrocks," from what they say.

(Boy): And each has a little baby bird swimming behind it. Oh! there: the mother has cocked up her tail and dived, and the little one is swimming about looking for her! How it cries! It is afraid of the yacht.

And there she comes up again, and cries "marrock" to call it.

(Boy): Look at it swimming up to her, quite happy.

Quite happy. And do you not think that anyone who took a gun and shot either that mother or that child would be both cowardly and cruel?

(Boy): But they might eat them.

These sea-birds are not good to eat. They taste too strong of fish-oil. They are of no use at all, except that the gulls' and terns' feathers are put into girls' hats.

(Boy): Well they might find plenty of other things to put in their hats.

So I think. Yes: it would be very cruel, very cruel indeed, to do what some do, shoot at these poor things, and leave them floating about wounded till they die. But I suppose, if one gave them one's mind about such doings, and threatened to put the new Sea Fowl Act in force against them, and fine them, and show them up in the newspapers, they would say they meant no harm, and had never thought about its being cruel.

(Boy): Then they ought to think.

They ought; and so ought you. Half the cruelty in the world, like half the misery, comes simply from people's not thinking.

Narration and Discussion

What do you know about whales? What other questions do you have? You may have ocean-related books or magazines with information about whales; or you may even know someone with a special interest in them who can answer your questions.

You might also wish to ask, "What do we think we know about whales that is inaccurate?" As an example, some books and movies show whales spouting water out of their blowholes. But blowholes function much like human nostrils: they are used for breathing air, not shooting water. However: the expelled warm breath may condense (turn to water) in the cooler outside air, and splash back into the water. If the whale already has water sitting on its blowhole, that can also be forced up into the air and splash down with the condensed water vapour.

Do-It Challenge #1: Is this the "ocean" version of a nature walk? Add some notes or a drawing to the Boy's diary or letters.

Do-It Challenge #2: Read the story "How the Whale Got His Throat" in Just-So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. How much of this story do you think is fact, and how much just for fun?

For further thought, and thought, and thought: "Half the cruelty in the world, like half the misery, comes simply from people's not thinking." What are some ways we can do better?

Lesson 27: Homeward Bound, Part Three


More whales and more seabirds on the first day of the trip home; and a not-quite-as-pleasant steamer on the second.


mackerel: a type of fish

astern: to the rear

geyser: a hot spring which blows water and steam into the air

fluke: half of the triangular tail of a whale

two hind feet: scientists believe that the whale used to be a land animal

the second volume of Madam How's Book of Kind: not literally another book--something like "advanced natural history theory"

more whales: porpoises are small toothed whales, closely related to dolphins

. . . clotted hair, whalebone: baleen; see Lesson Eight

steamer: the steamship on which they will travel part of the way home

when we went to Ireland: on the journey there

People, Places, Events

Severn, Avon: rivers in England; the steamship that the father and son are travelling on is headed for Bristol (see map used in Lesson 12)

Mendip Hills or Mendips: a range of limestone hills, south of Bristol and Bath in the county of Somerset

Better with Pictures

porpoise: a small, toothed whale

sperm-whale, bottle-nose, right whales: three species of large baleen whales

narwhal: a medium-sized toothed whale, known for its single tusk


Part One

(Boy): But what are all the birds doing?

Look at the water, how it sparkles. It is alive with tiny fish, "fry," or

"brett" as we call them in the West, which the mackerel are driving up to the top.

(Boy): Poor little things! How hard on them! The big fish at them from below, and the birds at them from above. And what is that? Thousands of fish leaping out of the water, scrambling over each other's backs. What a curious soft, rushing, roaring noise they make!

Aha! The eaters are going to be eaten in turn. Those are the mackerel themselves; and I suspect they see Mr. Whale, and are scrambling out of the way as fast as they can, lest he should swallow them down, a dozen at a time. Look out sharp for him now.

(Boy): I hope he will not come very near.

No. The fish are going from us and past us. If he comes up, he will come up astern of us, so look back. There he is!

(Boy): That? I thought it was a boat.

Yes. He does look very like a boat upside down. But that is only his head and shoulders. He will blow next.


(Boy): Oh! What a jet of spray, like the geysers! And the sun made a rainbow on the top of it. He is quite still now.

Yes; he is taking a long breath or two. You need not look so worried. His head is from us; and when he goes down, he will go right away.

(Boy): Oh, he is turning head over heels! There is his back fin again. And--Ah! was that not a slap! How the water boiled and foamed; and what a tail he had! And how the mackerel flew out of the water!

Yes. You are a lucky boy to have seen that. I have not seen one of those gentlemen show his "flukes," as they call them, since I was a boy on the Cornish coast.

(Boy): Where has the whale gone?

Hunting mackerel, away out at sea. But did you notice something odd about his tail, as you call it--though it is really not a tail?

(Boy): It looked as if it was set on flat, and not upright, like a fish's. But why is it not a tail?

Just because it is set on flat, not upright: and scientists say that those two flukes are the "rudiments"--that is, either the beginning, or more likely the last remains--of two hind feet. But that belongs to the second volume of Madam How's Book of Kind, which you have not yet studied.

Part Two

Look here! Here are more whales coming. Don't be frightened. They are only little ones, mackerel-hunting, like the big one.

(Boy): What pretty smooth things, turning head over heels, and saying, "Hush, Hush!"

They don't really turn clean over; and that "Hush" is their way of breathing.

(Boy): Are they the young ones of that great monster?

No; they are porpoises. That big one is, I believe, a bottle-nose. But

if you want to know about the kinds of whales, you must ask Dr. Flower at the Royal College of Surgeons [an authority on mammals], and not me: and he will tell you wonderful things about them.--How some of them have mouths full of strong teeth, like these porpoises; and others, like the great sperm whale in the South Sea, have huge teeth in their lower jaws, and in the upper only holes into which those teeth fit; others like the bottle-nose, only two teeth or so in the lower jaw; and others, like the narwhal, two straight tusks in the upper jaw, only one of which grows. And strangest of all, how the right whales have a few little teeth when they are born, which never come through the gums; but, instead, they grow, all along their gums, an enormous curtain of clotted hair, which serves as a net to keep in the tiny sea-animals on which they feed, and let the water strain out.

(Boy): You mean whalebone? Is whalebone hair?

So it seems. And so is a rhinoceros's horn. A rhinoceros used to be hairy all over in old times: but now he carries all his hair on the end of his nose, except a few bristles on his tail. And the right whale, not to be done in oddity, carries all his on his gums.

(Boy): But have no whales any hair?

No real whales: but the manatee, which is very nearly a whale, has long bristly hair left.

(Boy): This is all very funny: but what is the use of knowing so much about things' teeth and hair?

What is the use of learning Latin and Greek, and a dozen things more which you have to learn? You don't know yet: but wiser people than you will tell you that they will be of use some day. Now there is luncheon ready. Come down below; and by the time you have eaten your dinner we shall be very near the shore.

Part Three

Here you are on the deck of the steamer, after a good night's rest. And not the least bit seasick?

(Boy): Not a bit: but the cabin was so stuffy and hot, I asked to come on deck. What a huge steamer! But I do not like it as well as the yacht. It smells of oil and steam, and--

And pigs and bullocks too, I am sorry to say. Don't go forward above them, but stay here with me, and look round.

(Boy): Where are we now? What are those high hills, far away to the left, above the lowlands and woods?

Those are the shore of the Old World--the Welsh mountains.

(Boy): And in front of us I can see nothing but flat land. Where is that?

That is the mouth of the Severn and Avon; where we shall be in half an hour more.

(Boy): And there, on the right, over the low hills, I can see higher ones, blue and hazy.

Those are an island of the Old World, called now the Mendip Hills; and we are steaming along the great strait between the Mendips and the Welsh mountains, which once was coral reef, and is now the Severn Sea; and by the time you have eaten your breakfast we shall steam in through a crack in that "coral reef"; and you will see what you missed seeing when we went to Ireland, because we went on board at night.

Narration and Discussion

Do-It Challenge: You may want to add to the Boy's travel diaries with some comments about the things he saw on the ocean, or about the steamer. Alternatively, imagine that he meets up with another boy or girl who is travelling with a parent (or maybe a governess?). Where have they been, and where are they going? Use maps if it helps.

For further thought: The Boy says, "This is all very funny: but what is the use of knowing so much about things' teeth and hair?" The Father responds, "What is the use of learning Latin and Greek, and a dozen things more which you have to learn?" What is the purpose of learning and knowing? How would you answer?

Lesson 28: Homeward Bound, Part Four


As the steamer leaves the Atlantic and enters England's river system, the Father brings back the old topic of rocks, hills, and mountains.


sandstone: see Lesson 12

Trias: of the Triassic Period

People, Places, Events

Reading: the railway station in Berkshire

Better with Pictures

gorge of the Avon: search for Avon river gorge. The Geology section of the Avon Gorge website is a good place to start! It will be very useful to find good images of this area, as the Father asks the Boy to look closely at the rock walls as they are travelling up the river.

Suspension Bridge: The Clifton Suspension Bridge, opened in 1864 (so quite new at that time!)


Part One

(Boy): Oh! Where have we got to now? Where is the wide Severn Sea?

Two or three miles beyond us; and here we are in narrow little Avon.

(Boy): Narrow indeed. I wonder that the steamer does not run against those rocks. But how beautiful they are, and how the trees hang down over the water, and are all reflected in it!

Yes. The gorge of the Avon is always lovely. Look! there is something curious.

(Boy): What? Those great rusty rings fixed into the rock?

Yes. Those may be as old as Queen Elizabeth's or King James's reign.

(Boy): But why were they put there?

For ships to hold on by, if they lost the tide.

(Boy): What do you mean?

It is high tide now. That is why the water is almost up to the branches of the trees. But when the tide turns, it will all rush out in a torrent which would sweep ships out to sea again, if they had not steam, as we have, to help them up against the stream. So sailing ships, in old times, fastened themselves to those rings, and rode against the stream till the tide turned, and carried them up to Bristol.

(Boy): But what is the tide? And why does it go up and down? And why does it alter with the moon, as I heard you all saying so often in Ireland?

That is a long story, which I must tell you about some other time.

Part Two

Now I want you to look at something else: and that is, the rocks themselves, in which the rings are. They are very curious in my eyes, and very valuable; for they taught me a lesson in geology when I was quite a boy: and I want them to teach it to you now.

(Boy): What is there curious in them?

This. You will soon see for yourself, even from the steamer's deck, that they are not the same rock as the high limestone hills above. They are made up of red sand and pebbles; and they are a whole world younger, indeed some say two worlds younger, than the limestone hills above, and they lie upon the top of the limestone. Now you may see what I meant when I said that the newer rocks, though they lie on the top of the older, were often lower down than they are.

(Boy): But how do you know that they lie on the limestone?

Look into that corner of the river, as we turn round, and you will see with your own eyes. There are the sandstones, lying flat on the turned-up edges of another rock.

(Boy): Yes; I see. The layers of it are almost upright.

Then that upright rock underneath is part of the great limestone hill above. So the hill must have been raised out of the sea, ages ago, and eaten back by the waves; and then the sand and pebbles made a beach at its foot, and hardened into stone; and there it is. And when you get through the limestone hills to Bristol, you will see more of these same red sandstone rocks, spread about at the foot of the limestone-hills, on the other side.

(Boy): But why is the sandstone two worlds newer than the limestone?

Because between that sandstone and that limestone come hundreds of feet of other rock, which carry in them all the coal in England. Don't you remember that I told you that once before?

(Boy): Oh yes. But I see no coal between them there.

No. But there is plenty of coal between them over in Wales; and plenty too between them on the other side of Bristol. What you are looking at there is just the lip of a great coal-box, where the bottom and the lid join. The bottom is the mountain limestone; and the lid is the new red sandstone, or Trias, as they call it now: but the coal you cannot see. It is stowed inside the box, miles away from here.

Part Three

But for now, look at the cliffs and the downs; and the woods and villas, high over your head.

(Boy): What is that in the air? A bridge?

Yes--that is the famous Suspension Bridge--and a beautiful work of art it is. Ay, stare at it, and wonder at it, of course.

(Boy): But is it not wonderful?

Yes: it was a clever trick to get those chains across the gulf, high up in the air: but not so clever a trick as to make a single stone of which those piers are built, or a single flower or leaf in those woods. The more you see of Madam How's masonry and carpentry, the clumsier mere human work will look to you.

But now we must get ready to give up our tickets, and go ashore, and settle ourselves in the train; and then we shall have plenty to see as we run home: more curious, to my mind, than any suspension bridge.

Narration and Discussion

The father says, "Yes: it was a clever trick to get those chains across the gulf, high up in air: but not so clever a trick as to make a single stone of which those piers are built, or a single flower or leaf in those woods." What does he mean? Do you agree?

Could you make a sketch of the way that the rock layers are described? Try to imagine wooden boards stacked up in layers against a big tree, with some of them standing at such a steep angle as to be almost vertical. Understanding this will be helpful with the next lesson.

Do-It Challenge: When the landscape artist J.M.W. Turner was still a teenager, he acquired the nickname "Prince of the Rocks" because of his fascination with the Avon Gorge. See if you can find some of the paintings he made of this area.

Lesson 29: Homeward Bound, Part Five


The Father now gets into some heavy geological concepts. Make the best sense you can of the landscape as he describes it: we are not able to look out the same train window!


slates: long, flat pieces of slate rock

that notch is the gorge of the Avon: if you have made a drawing as described below, you might want to draw a steamship in the "notch," to get a sense of the size of the landscape

unconformably: unconformable, non-conformity, unconformity are very important terms in earth science. See the note below.

amphitheater: an outdoor event space with the performance area at the bottom, surrounded by rising tiers of seats

Better with Pictures

this sketch . . . of a boy piling slates: You could look for Kingsley's sketch in a copy of Madam How, but it's easy to model if you have a supply of books. Cushions would work too. Choose a solid object like a piece of furniture, and lay the books one at a time against it, overlapping them a bit. The first book must be almost vertical, the next one slightly less so, and so on. Each "slate" has a small but definite peak, but the rest of it soon disappears under the "slate" next to it. The last one you place should be almost horizontal. The point is that the first one placed will be higher in altitude than the later ones, even though they came later; but that the first one, again, may be lying under some of the later ones.

the sketch of the rocks between this and home: Sketch an image based on the demonstration with the books. Draw one large "rock," labelled A; and add eight layers of "slate" piled against it, labelled B through I. "B," as Kingsley says, should be drawn with a notch or dip in its top. "F" should be a long, gentle slope, almost horizontal and flowing into "E"; but "G" has one of the highest points of all. "C" and "I" should be coloured black; "D," "F," and "H" can be shaded in another colour. Kingsley says that "A," the original "rock," should be drawn with "twisted" or wavy lines running across it, to represent sandstone. Finally, mark the direction away from the first "rock" as eastward, the way that the train travels in this story.

high hills round Bath: try searching for countryside around Bath England. Kingsley has not really mentioned Bath yet, but it will come up in the next lesson.


Part One

Now we are settled in the train. And what do you want to know first?

(Boy): More about the new rocks being lower than the old ones, though they lie on the top of them.

Well, look here, at this sketch I made of a boy piling slates against a rock, the way I saw you doing in Ireland. And I thought to myself--"That is something like Madam How's work."

(Boy): How?

Why, see: the old rock stands for the mountains of the Old World, like the Welsh mountains, or the Mendip Hills. The slates stand for the new rocks, which have been piled up against these, one over the other. But, you see, each slate is lower than the one before it, and slopes more; till the last slate which you are putting on is the lowest of all, though it overlies all.

(Boy): I see now. I see now.

Then look at the sketch of the rocks between this and home. It is only a rough sketch, of course: but it will make you understand something more about the matter.

Part Two

Now. You see, the lump marked A, with twisted lines in it. That stands for the Mendip Hills to the west, which are made of old red sandstone; very much the same rock (to speak roughly) as the Kerry mountains.

(Boy): And why are the lines in it twisted?

To show that the strata, the layers in it, are twisted, and set up at quite different angles from the limestone.

(Boy): But how was that done?

By old earthquakes and changes which happened in old worlds, ages on ages since. Then the edges of the old red sandstone were eaten away by the sea--and some think by ice too, in some earlier age of ice; and then the limestone coral reef was laid down on them, "unconformably," as geologists say--just as you saw the new red sandstone laid down on the edges of the limestone; and so one world is built up on the edge of another world, out of its scraps and ruins.

Then do you see B, with a notch in it? That means these limestone hills on the shoulder of the Mendips; and that notch is the gorge of the Avon which we have steamed through.

(Boy): And what is that black above it?

That is the coal, a few miles off, marked C.

(Boy): And what is this D, which comes next?

That is what we are on now. New red sandstone, lying unconformably on the coal. I showed it to you in the bed of the river, as we came along. We are here in a sort of amphitheater, or half a one, with the limestone hills around us, and the new red sandstone plastered on, as it were, round the bottom of it inside.

(Boy): But what is this high bit with E against it?

Those are the high hills round Bath, which we shall run through soon. They are newer than the soil here; and they are (for an exception) higher too; for they are so much harder than the soil here, that the sea has not eaten them away, as it has all the lowlands from Bristol right into the Somersetshire flats.

Narration and Discussion

An unconformity is a break in the rock record of a particular place, shown by an unexpected change in the sequence of strata or rock layers. Missing or out-of-sequence layers could be caused by erosion, or by events such as earthquakes. A non-geologic example of unconformity in strata might be an imaginary bedroom in which a child never picked up his or her old toys and clothes from toddlerhood through the teenaged years. If nothing had ever been interfered with, you would expect to find board books and little shoes closest to the floor, basketball shoes and chemistry projects on the top. However, the point of unconformity is that "an event must have happened," even if we can only guess at what that was. For instance, one day when the child is ten years old, he or she digs around looking for an old teddy bear, and some of the preschool toys end up on top. Or he or she spends a few years in another location, so there are no artifacts from that time at all--a situation which might be puzzling to a bedroom-floor archaeologist. For geologists, observing that a layer of rock seems missing or out of sequence, out of place, might be a clue to an ancient catastrophic event. (A catastrophe can mean simply a large, unexpected change.)

Do-It Challenge: Follow the directions given in the text.

Lesson 30: Homeward Bound, Part Six


The travelers stop in Bath, buy fruit, and talk strata. This lesson is short, which gives you a bit of extra time to find out what you can about Nicolaus Steno (see the Do-It Challenge).


this little bit of paper: the diagram created in the previous lesson

boss: an exposed rounded mass of rock, often formed of one type of rock pushing up from another type

lias: this could refer specifically to the Lias Group, a rock formation which runs through western Europe and the British Isles; but Kingsley more likely uses it here to mean hard limestone

oolite: more commonly, oolith. A type of rock formed by circular layers of mineral surrounding a core. Most commonly formed by limestone.

Aquae Solis--the waters of the sun: Kingsley uses the word Solis rather than Sulis, which is the name you may find if you are looking up information on Bath.

People, Places, Events

Bath: the largest city in the county of Somerset, with a history dating back to Roman Britain.


Part One

There. We are off at last, and going to run home to Reading, through one of the loveliest rail lines (as I think) of old England. And we will geologize on the way home, with this little bit of paper to show us where we are.

(Boy): What pretty rocks!

Yes. They are a boss of the coal measures, I believe, shoved up with the lias, the lias lying round them. But I warn you I may not be quite right: because I never looked at a geological map of this part of the line, and have learnt what I know, just as I want you to learn, simply by looking out of the carriage window.

Look. Here is lias rock in the side of the cutting; layers of hard blue limestone, and then layers of blue mud between them, in which, if you could stop to look, you would find fossils in plenty; and along that lias we shall run to Bath, and then all the rocks will change.

Part Two

Now, here we are at Bath; and here are the fruit-women, waiting for you to buy.

(Boy): And oh, what strawberries and cherries!

Yes. All this valley is very rich, and very sheltered too, and very warm; for the soft south-western air sweeps up it from the Bristol Channel; so, the slopes are covered with fruit-orchards, as you will see as you get out of the station.

(Boy): Why, we are above the tops of the houses.

Yes. We have been rising ever since we left Bristol; and you will soon see why. Now we have bought quite enough fruit, so away we go.

(Boy): Oh, what high hills over the town! And what beautiful stone houses! Even the cottages are built of stone.

All that stone comes out of those high hills, into which we are going now. It is called Bath-stone, freestone, or oolite; and it lies on the top of the lias, which we have just left. On our diagram it is marked F.

(Boy): What steep hills, and cliffs too, and with quarries in them! What can have made them so steep? And what can have made this little narrow valley?

Madam How's rain-spade from above, I suppose, and perhaps the sea gnawing at their feet below. Those freestone hills once stretched high over our heads, and far away, I suppose, to the westward. Now they are all gnawed out into cliffs,--indeed gnawed clean through in the bottom of the valley, where the famous hot springs break out in which people bathe.

(Boy): Is that why the place is called Bath?

Of course. But the Old Romans called the place Aquae Solis--the waters of the sun; and curious old Roman remains are found here, which we have not time to stop and see.

Narration and Discussion

The Father says, "I have learnt what I know . . . simply by looking out of the carriage window." Does he seem to have learned much this way?

Do-It Challenge: This is a good time to learn something about Nicolaus Steno, the "father" of stratigraphy (or the science of the meaning behind the layers in rocks). In his honour, you could make some stratigraphic food: lasagna, layer cake, layered Tex-Mex dip . . . even a sandwich in layers.

Lesson 31: Homeward Bound, Part Seven


The railway journey continues through Wiltshire.


oolite: see previous lesson

mangold: a vegetable

coprolite: fossilized animal dung which has had most of its original material replaced by mineral deposits

fens: marshes

The Scouring of the White Horse: a book by Thomas Hughes, the author of Tom Brown's Schooldays

he does not look like a horse from here: When Kingsley wrote this, it was quite true. Very soon afterwards, however, the image of the horse was restored.

People, Places, Events

Chippenham: a market town in Wiltshire with a history pre-dating Roman times

Wootton Bassett: now called Royal Wootton Bassett; another town in Wiltshire

"Swindon spire": refers to Christ Church in Swindon, Wiltshire

Oxford Clay, Coral Rag: rock formations

Devizes, Warminster: towns in Wiltshire

Westbury: the town in Wiltshire known for the White Horse

Cambridge: famous university city in the eastern part of England

Vale of White Horse: a region between the Berkshire Downs and the River Thames, named after the legendary "White Horse"

Better with Pictures

Box Tunnel: a marvel of nineteenth-century engineering, built from 1836-1841. Look for Wiltshire Hills railway tunnel.

White Horse Hill: a hill on Salisbury Plain, east of Westbury, which has the figure of a horse carved into it, claimed to commemorate the place where King Alfred fought the Danes in 878 A.D.


Part One

Now look out at that clear limestone stream running to meet us below, and the great limestone hills closing over us above. How do you think we shall get out from among them?

(Boy): Shall we go over their tops?

No. That would be too steep a climb, for even such a great engine as this.

(Boy): Then there is a crack which we can get through?

Look and see.

(Boy): Why, we are coming to a regular wall of hill, and--

And going right through it in the dark. We are in the Box Tunnel.

Part Two

There is the light again.

(Boy): How long it seemed before we came out!

Yes, because you were waiting and watching, with nothing to look at: but the tunnel is only a mile and a quarter long after all, I believe. If you had been looking at fields and hedgerows all the while, you would have thought no time at all had passed.

(Boy): What curious sandy rocks on each side of the cutting, in lines and layers.

Those are the freestone still: and full of fossils they are. But do you see that they dip away from us? Remember that. All the rocks are sloping eastward, the way we are going; and each new rock or soil we come to lies on the top of the one before it. Now we shall run downhill for many a mile, down the back of the oolites, past pretty Chippenham, and Wootton Bassett, towards "Swindon spire."

(Boy): What beautiful green fields; and such huge elm trees; and orchards; and flowers in the cottage gardens!

Aye, and what crops, too: what wheat and beans, turnips and mangold. All this land is very rich and easily worked; and hereabouts is some of the best farming in England.

(Boy): But what rock are we on now?

On rock that is much softer than that on the other side of the oolite hills: much softer, because it is much newer. We have got off the oolites on to what is called the Oxford Clay [H on the diagram]; and then, I believe, on to the Coral Rag [H or I on the diagram], and on that again lies what we are coming to now.

Do you see the red sand in that field? Then that is the lowest layer of a fresh world, so to speak; a world still younger than the oolites--the chalk world.

Part Three

(Boy): I see the hills now. Are they chalk?

Yes, chalk they are: so, we may begin to feel near home now. See how they range away to the south toward Devizes, and Westbury, and Warminster, a goodly land and large. At their feet, everywhere, run the rich pastures on which the Wiltshire cheese is made; and here and there, as at Westbury, there is good iron-ore in the greensand, which is being smelted now, as it used to be in the Weald of Surrey and Kent ages since. I must tell you about that some other time.

(Boy): Are there coprolites here?

I believe there are: I know there are some at Swindon; and I do not see why they should not be found, here and there, all the way along the foot of the downs, from here to Cambridge.

(Boy): But do these downs go to Cambridge?

Of course they do. We are now in the great valley which runs right across England from south-west to north-east, from Axminster in Devonshire to Hunstanton in Norfolk, with the chalk always on your right hand, and the oolite hills on your left, till it ends by sinking into the sea, among the fens of Lincolnshire and Norfolk.

(Boy): But what made that great valley?

I am not learned enough to tell. Only this I think we can say--that once on a time these chalk downs on our right reached high over our heads here, and far to the north; and that Madam How pared them away, whether by icebergs, or by sea-waves, or merely by rain, I cannot tell.

(Boy): Well, those downs do look very like sea-cliffs.

So they do, very like an old shore-line. Be that as it may, after the chalk was eaten away, Madam How began digging into the soils below the chalk, on which we are now; and because they were mostly soft clays, she cut them out very easily, till she came down, or nearly down, to the harder freestone (oolite) rocks which run along on our left hand, miles away; and so she scooped out this great vale, which we call here the Vale of White Horse; and further on, the Vale of Aylesbury; and then the Bedford Level; and then the Fens.

(Boy): Is this the Vale of White Horse? Oh, I know about it; I have read The Scouring of the White Horse. There is the White Horse Hill. But where is the horse?

I can see a bit of him: but he does not look like a horse from here, or indeed from any other place; he is a very old horse indeed, and a thousand years of wind and rain have spoilt his anatomy a good deal on the top of that wild down.

(Boy): And is that really where Alfred fought the Danes?

As certainly as I believe that Waterloo is where the Duke fought Napoleon. Yes: you may well stare at it with all your eyes, the noble down. It is one of the most sacred spots on English soil.

(Boy): Ah, it is gone now. The train runs so fast.

So it does; too fast to let you look long at one thing: but in return, it lets you see so many more things in a given time than the slow old coaches did.

Narration and Discussion

Is the tortoise or the hare more observant? Can you learn more by seeing more things in a short time (as in a train or a car), or by going slowly (as in a horse-drawn coach, or on foot)?

Do-It Challenge: Take a walk in which you go quickly during the first half, then go very slowly for the rest. What are the advantages of each?

Lesson 32: Homeward Bound, Part Eight


More talk about coprolites, and how scientists can do good in the world.


coprolites: see previous lesson

manure: often used generally to mean "fertilizer"

"these are not that": the father seems to be making a distinction between the usual definition of coprolites and another sort of phosphatic debris.

chiffonier: French word for "ragpicker" or junk collector

People, Places, Events

Henslow: John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861) was an English clergyman, botanist and geologist.


(Boy): I am so tired of looking out of the window. It is all the same: fields and hedges, hedges and fields; and I want to talk.

Fields and hedges, hedges and fields? Peace and plenty, plenty and peace. However, it may seem dull, now that the grass is cut; but you would not have said so two months ago, when the fields were all golden-green with buttercups, and the whitethorn hedges like crested waves of snow. But what shall we talk about?

(Boy): I want to know about coprolites, if they dig them here, as they do at Cambridge.

I don't think they do. But I suspect they will someday.

(Boy): But why do people dig them?

Because they are rational, and want manure for their fields.

(Boy): But what are coprolites?

Well, they were called coprolites at first because some folk fancied they were the leavings of fossil animals. But these are not that; and all we can say is, that a long time ago, before the chalk began to be made, there was a shallow sea in England, the shore of which was so covered with dead animals, that the bone-earth (the phosphate of lime) out of them crusted itself round every bone, and shell, and dead sea-beast on the shore, and got covered up with fresh sand, and buried for ages as a mine of wealth.

(Boy): But how many millions of dead creatures, there must have been! What killed them?

We do not know. No more do we know how it comes to pass that this thin band (often only a few inches thick) of dead creatures should stretch all the way from Dorsetshire to Norfolk, and, I believe, up through Lincolnshire.

(Boy): But who found out all this about the coprolites?

There was a clergyman named Henslow, now with God, honoured by all scientists, a kind friend and teacher of mine, loved by every little child in his parish. His calling was botany: but he knew something of geology. And some of these Coprolites were brought to him as curiosities, because they had fossils in them. But he (so the tale goes) had the wit to see that they were not, like other fossils, carbonate of lime, but phosphate of lime--bone earth. Whereon he told the neighbouring farmers that they had a mine of wealth opened to them, if they would but use them for manure. And after a while he was listened to. Then others began to find them in the Eastern counties; and then another man, as learned and wise as he was good and noble--John Paine of Farnham, also now with God--found them on his own estate, and made much use and much money of them: and now tens of thousands of pounds' worth of valuable manure are made out of them every year, in Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, by digging them out of land which was till lately only used for common farmers' crops.

(Boy): I should like to be a scientist, if one can find out such really useful things by science.

Well, there is no saying what you might find out, or of what use you may be to others. A scientist, however dull and dirty the work may seem at times, is like one of those "chiffoniers," as they call them in Paris--people who spend their lives in gathering rags and sifting refuse, but who may put their hands at any moment upon some precious jewel. And not only may you be able to help your neighbours to find out what will give them health and wealth: but you may, if you can only get them to listen to you, save them from many a foolish experiment, which ends in losing money just for want of science.

Narration and Discussion

Why do coprolites make good fertilizer?

What is the practical reason Kingsley gives for the study of science? Can you think of any examples of this?

Do-It Challenge: Choose someone in the field of medicine (past or present) who used science to save lives. Find out what you can about their work, and share it with someone else. (One to try: Joseph Lister.)

Lesson 33: Homeward Bound, Part Nine


The train crosses the Thames, and the conversation turns back, once again, to the ways that water shapes the land.


adept: an adept is a master or professional at something

lasher or weir: a low dam built across a river to raise the level of water upstream or regulate its flow

estuary: the mouth of a large river

our section: the diagram from previous lessons

remnants: leftover bits

People, Places, Events

Thames: (pronounced tems) the longest river in England

Basildon, Hurley, Pangbourne: places in Berkshire (so you can guess that they are now close to home)

Better with Pictures

Chilterns, Chiltern Hills: chalk cliffs in southeast England


Part One

And now, look out again. Do you see any change in the country?

(Boy): What?

Why, there to the left. There are high hills there now, as well as to the right. What are they?

Chalk hills too. The chalk is on both sides of us now. These are the Chilterns, all away to Ipsden and Nettlebed, and so on across Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and into Hertfordshire; and on again to Royston and Cambridge, while below them lies the Vale of Aylesbury; you can just see the beginning of it on their left.

(Boy): But how are we going to get through the chalk hills? Is there a tunnel as there is at Box?

No. Something much prettier than a tunnel and something which took a great many years longer in making.

We shall soon meet with a very remarkable and famous old gentleman, who is a great adept at digging, and at landscape gardening likewise; and he has dug out a path for himself through the chalk, which we shall take the liberty of using also. And his name, if you wish to know it, is Father Thames.

(Boy): I see him. What a great river!

Yes. Here he comes, gleaming and winding down from Oxford, over the lowlands, past Wallingford; but where he is going to it is not so easy to see.

(Boy): Oh, what hanging woods, and churches; and such great houses, and pretty cottages and gardens--all in this narrow crack of a valley!

Ay. Old Father Thames is a good landscape gardener, as I said. There is Basildon--and Hurley--and Pangbourne, with its roaring lasher. Father Thames has had to work hard for many an age before he could cut this trench right through the chalk, and drain the water out of the flat vale behind us. But I suspect the sea helped him somewhat, or perhaps a great deal, just where we are now.

(Boy): The sea?

Yes. The sea was once--and that not so very long ago--right up here, beyond Reading. This is the uppermost end of the great Thames valley, which must have been an estuary--a tide flat, like the mouth of the Severn, with the sea eating along at the foot of all the hills. And if the land sank only some fifty feet,--which is a very little indeed in this huge, ever-changing world,--then the tide would come up to Reading again, and the greater part of London and the county of Middlesex would be drowned in salt water.

(Boy): How dreadful that would be!

Dreadful indeed. God grant that it may never happen.

Part Two

Now here we are at Reading. There is the carriage waiting, and away we are off home; and when we get home, and have seen everybody and everything, we will look over our section once more.

But remember, that when you ran through the chalk hills to Reading, you passed from the bottom of the chalk to the top of it, on to the Thames gravels, which lie there on the chalk; and on to the London clay, which lies on the chalk also, with the Thames gravels always over it. So that, you see, the newest layers, the London clay and the gravels, are lower in height than the limestone cliffs at Bristol, and much lower than the old mountain ranges of Devonshire and Wales, though in geological order they are far higher; and there are whole worlds of strata, rocks and clays, one on the other, between the Thames gravels and the Devonshire hills.

(Boy): But how about our moors? They are newer still, you said, than the London clay, because they lie upon it: and yet they are much higher than we are here at Reading.

Very well said: so they are, two or three hundred feet higher. But our part of them was left behind, standing up in banks, while the valley of the Thames was being cut out by the sea. Once they spread all over where we stand now, and away behind us beyond Newbury in Berkshire, and away in front of us, all over where London now stands.

(Boy): How can you tell that?

Because there are little caps--little patches--of them left on the tops of many hills to the north of London; just remnants which the sea, and the Thames, and the rain have not eaten down. Probably they once stretched right out to sea, sloping slowly under the waves, where the mouth of the Thames is now.

Narration and Discussion

Do-It Challenge: Find out more about a river, or other geographic features, in the region where you live. Those who have read Minn of the Mississippi may want to compare what they learned there.

Lesson 34: Homeward Bound, Part Ten


This final introduction leads not to a conclusion, but to another open door.


constituted: made

comprehend: understand


There, we are rumbling away home at last, over the old heather-moors. How far we have travelled--in our fancy at least--since we began to talk about all these things, upon that foggy November day, and first saw Madam How digging at the sand-banks with her water-spade. How many countries we have talked of; and what wonderful questions we have got answered, which all grew out of the first question, "How were the heather-moors made?" And yet we have not talked about a hundredth part of the things about which these very heather-moors ought to set us thinking.

But so it is. Those who wish honestly to learn the laws of Madam How, which we call Nature, by looking honestly at what she does, which we call Fact, have only to begin by looking at the very smallest thing, a pin's head or pebble, at their feet, and it may lead them--whither, they cannot tell. To answer any one question, you find you must answer another; and to answer that you must answer a third, and then a fourth; and so on, forever and ever.

(Boy): Forever and ever?

Of course. If we thought and searched over the Universe--aye, I believe, only over this one little planet called earth--for millions on millions of years, we should not get to the end of our searching. The more we learnt, the more we should find there was left to learn.

[Kingsley allows himself one last sermon]

All things, we should find, are constituted according to a Divine and Wonderful Order, which links each thing to every other thing; so that we cannot fully comprehend any one thing without comprehending all things: and who can do that, but He who made all things?

Therefore our true wisdom is never to fancy that we do comprehend: never to make systems and theories of the Universe (as they are called) as if we had stood by and looked on when time and space began to be; but to remember that those who say they understand, show, simply by so saying, that they understand nothing at all. All we can do is, to keep up the childlike heart, humble and teachable, though we grew as wise as Newton or as Humboldt; and to follow, as good Socrates bids us, Reason whithersoever it leads us, sure that it will never lead us wrong; unless we have darkened it by hasty and conceited fancies of our own, and so have become like those foolish ones of old, of whom it was said that the very light within them was darkness.

But if we love and reverence and trust Fact and Nature, which are the will not merely of Madam How, or even of Lady Why, but of Almighty God Himself, then we shall be really loving, and reverencing, and trusting God; and we shall have our reward by discovering continually fresh wonders and fresh benefits to humankind; and find it as true of science, as it is of this life and of the life to come--that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Narration and Discussion

"To answer any one question, you find you must answer another; and to answer that you must answer a third, and then a fourth; and so on, forever and ever."

Do-It Challenge: What questions do you still have about geology and the other topics from these lessons? Do you think they could go on forever and ever?

"By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spell-bound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea." (Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows)


Kingsley, Charles. Madam How and Lady Why: Or, First Lessons in Earth Lore for Children. London: Bell and Daldy, 1870. Internet Archive, 30 Nov. 2019,

Kingsley, Charles. Madam How and Lady Why: Or, First Lessons in Earth Lore for Children. New York: Macmillan, 1884/1885. Internet Archive, 30 Nov. 2019,

Anne E. White has shared her knowledge of Charlotte Mason's methods through magazine columns, online writing, and conference workshops. She is an Advisory member of AmblesideOnline and the author of Minds More Awake: The Vision of Charlotte Mason, as well as books in the Plutarch Project series.

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