Madam How and Lady Why

A Walk Through the Glen: Kingsley's Lessons in Earth Lore, Volume 1

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

Copyright © 2019 by Anne E. White

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Foreword to the Series
Some Ways to Use This Book
Examination Questions
How Not to Use This Book
Lesson One: Preface
Lesson Two: The Glen, Part One (Chapter I)
Lesson Three: The Glen, Part Two
Lesson Four: The Glen, Part Three
Lesson Five: The Glen, Part Four
Lesson Six: The Glen, Part Five
Lesson Seven: The Glen, Part Six
Lesson Eight: Earthquakes, Part One (Chapter II)
Lesson Nine: Earthquakes, Part Two
Lesson Ten: Earthquakes, Part Three
Lesson Eleven: Earthquakes, Part Four
Lesson Twelve: Earthquakes, Part Five
Lesson 13: Volcanoes, Part One (Chapter III)
Lesson 14: Volcanoes, Part Two
Lesson 15: Volcanoes, Part Three
Lesson 16: Volcanoes, Part Four
Lesson 17: Volcanoes, Part Five
Lesson 18: Volcanoes, Part Six
Lesson 19: The Transformations of a Grain of Soil, Part One (Chapter IV)
Lesson 20: Soil, Part Two
Lesson 21: Soil, Part Three
Lesson 22: Soil, Part Four
Lesson 23: Soil, Part Five
Lesson 24: Soil, Part Six
Lesson 25: The Ice-Plough, Part One (Chapter V)
Lesson 26: The Ice-Plough, Part Two
Lesson 27: The Ice-Plough, Part Three
Lesson 28: The Ice-Plough, Part Four
Lesson 29: The True Fairy Tale, Part One (Chapter VI)
Lesson 30: The True Fairy Tale, Part Two
Lesson 31: The True Fairy Tale, Part Three
Lesson 32: The True Fairy Tale, Part Four
Lesson 33: On Wisdom and Foolishness

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 man . . ."

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 longlegs). 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: Preface


Most of this book is made up of conversations between a father and son. We do not meet them right away, however. Kingsley begins with a letter to young readers, and a challenge to keep their eyes wide open.

Special note about the vocabulary for this lesson: There are terms listed here which will be used throughout the book. However, it may be more useful to read the letter as it was written, and save explanation for future lessons.


mean, meanest: in this context, mean means skimpy, ungenerous

stupid: in this context, tedious and unappealing.

sententious: can mean "full of meaning," but also "moralizing"

heath, heathland, 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. A moor is an open area of uncultivated "upland" (a hilly area).

peewit: a small bird

bog: wet, muddy ground; a swamp. This particular bog must have been a peat-bog, because of the man cutting turf. Peat or turf is the partially decayed material 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. However, turf is sometimes used to mean grass or ground-covering plants, in the same way that we use it now.

grand prospect: wonderful view

Roman camp: the remains of an ancient Roman fort

whirled through Europe: that is, on a touring holiday

dupe: trick

wonderful: This word is now used almost always to mean "extremely good," in the same way as marvellous; but 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.

it is in your interest: it will help you

If you ask Him for a fish . . .: a saying of Jesus, meaning that God gives to us wisely and generously

that truly Divine mystery: a piece of knowledge belonging to God

lilies of the field. . .: another saying of Jesus

venom: poison

that tree: the "tree of Unreason" (explained further on)

upas: a tropical tree whose sap is used to poison arrows

faculties: powers of mind

antidote: something that stops the effects of poison or other illness

proof: safe


Part One

Dear Students,

When I was your age, there were no such children's books as there are now. Those which we had were few and dull, and the pictures in them ugly and mean: while you have your choice of books without number, clear, amusing, and attractive, as well as really instructive, on subjects which were only talked of fifty years ago by a few learned people, and very little understood even by them. So, if mere reading of books would make one wise, you ought to grow up much wiser than us old fellows. But mere reading of wise books will not make you wise: you must use for yourselves the tools with which books are made wise; and that is--your eyes, and ears, and common sense.

Now, among those very stupid old-fashioned children's books there was one which taught me exactly that; and therefore, I am more grateful to it than if it had been as full of wonderful pictures as all the natural history books you ever saw. Its name was Evenings at Home; and in it was a story called "Eyes and no Eyes;" a regular old-fashioned, prim, sententious story; and it began thus: --

"Well, Robert, where have you been walking this afternoon?" said Mr. Andrews to one of his pupils at the close of a holiday.

Oh--Robert had been to Broom Heath, and round by Camp Mount, and home through the meadows. But it was very dull. He hardly saw a single person. He had much rather have gone by the turnpike-road.

Presently in comes Master William, the other pupil, dressed, I suppose, as wretched boys used to be dressed forty years ago, in a frill collar, and skeleton monkey-jacket, and tight trousers buttoned over it, and hardly coming down to the ankles; and low shoes which always came off in sticky ground; and terribly dirty and wet he is; but he never (he says) had such a pleasant walk in his life; and he has brought home his handkerchief (for they had no pockets in those days much bigger than keyholes) full of curiosities.

He has got a piece of mistletoe, wants to know what it is; and he has seen a woodpecker, and a wheat-ear, and gathered strange flowers on the heath; and hunted a peewit because he thought its wing was broken, till of course it led him into a bog, and very wet he got. But he did not mind it, because he fell in with an old man cutting turf, who told him all about turf-cutting, and gave him a dead adder. And then he went up a hill, and saw a grand prospect; and wanted to go again, and make out the geography of the country from Cary's old county maps, which were the only maps in those days. And then, because the hill was called Camp Mount, he looked for a Roman camp, and found one; and then he went down to the river, saw twenty things more; and so on, and so on, till he had brought home curiosities enough, and thoughts enough, to last him a week.

Whereon Mr. Andrews, who seems to have been a very sensible old

gentleman, tells him all about his curiosities: and then it comes out--if you will believe it--that Master William has been over the very same ground as Master Robert, who saw nothing at all.

Whereon Mr. Andrews says, wisely enough, in his solemn old-fashioned way, --

"So it is. One man walks through the world with his eyes open, another with his eyes shut; and upon this difference depends all the superiority of knowledge which one man acquires over another. While many a vacant, thoughtless youth is whirled through Europe without gaining a single idea worth crossing the street for, Benjamin Franklin could not cross the Channel without making observations useful to mankind. The observing eye and inquiring mind find matter of improvement and delight in every ramble. You, then, William, continue to use your eyes. And you, Robert, learn that eyes were given to you to use."

Therefore I beg all good children to think over this story, and settle in their own minds whether they will be Eyes or No Eyes; whether they will, as they grow up, look and see for themselves what happens: or whether they will let other people look for them, or pretend to look; and dupe them, and lead them about.

Part Two

I say "good children;" not merely clever children, or prudent children: because using your eyes, or not using them, is a question of doing Right or doing Wrong. God has given you eyes; it is your duty to God to use them. If your parents tried to teach you your lessons in the most agreeable way, by beautiful picture-books, would it not be ungracious, ungrateful, and altogether wrong, to shut your eyes to those pictures, and refuse to learn? And is it not altogether wrong to refuse to learn from your Father in Heaven, the Great God who made all things, when he offers to teach you all day long by the most beautiful and most wonderful of all picture-books, which is simply all things which you can see, hear, and touch, from the sun and stars above your head to the mosses and insects at your feet? It is your duty to learn His lessons: and it is in your interest. God's Book, which is the Universe, and the reading of God's Book, which is Science, can do you nothing but good, and teach you nothing but truth and wisdom. God did not put this wondrous world about your young souls to tempt or to mislead them. If you ask Him for a fish, he will not give you a serpent. If you ask Him for bread, He will not give you a stone.

So use your eyes and your intellect, your senses and your brains, and learn what God is trying to teach you continually by them. I do not mean that you must stop there, and learn nothing more. Anything but that. There are things which neither your senses nor your brains can tell you; and they are not only more glorious, but actually more true and more real than any things which you can see or touch. But you must begin at the beginning in order to end at the end, and sow the seed if you wish to gather the fruit. God has ordained that you, and every child which comes into the world, should begin by learning something of the world about him by his senses and his brain; and the better you learn what they can teach you, the more fit you will be to learn what they cannot teach you.

[If you have read other books by Charles Kingsley, you will know that he occasionally "climbs on a soapbox" and begins to "preach and speech," often over the heads of his listeners. This is one of those occasions.]

The more you try now to understand things, the more you will be able hereafter to understand men, and That which is above men. You began to find out that truly Divine mystery, that you had a mother on earth, simply by lying soft and warm upon her bosom; and so (as Our Lord said), it is by watching the common natural things around you, and considering the lilies of the field, how they grow, that you will begin at least to learn that far Diviner mystery--that you have a Father in Heaven. And so you will be delivered (if you will) out of the tyranny of darkness, and distrust, and fear, into God's free kingdom of light, and faith, and love; and will be safe from the venom of that tree which is more deadly than the fabled upas of the East. Who planted that tree I know not, it was planted so long ago; but surely it is none of God's planting, neither of the Son of God: yet it grows in all lands and in all climes, and sends its hidden suckers far and wide, even (unless we be watchful) into your hearts and mine. And its name is the Tree of Unreason, whose roots are conceit and ignorance, and its juices folly and death. It drops its venom into the finest brains; and makes them call sense, nonsense; and nonsense, sense; fact, fiction; and fiction, fact. It drops its venom into the tenderest hearts, alas! and makes them call wrong, right; and right, wrong; love, cruelty; and cruelty, love. Some say that the axe is laid to the root of it just now, and that it is already tottering to its fall: while others say that it is growing stronger than ever, and ready to spread its upas-shade over the whole earth. For my part, I know not, save that all shall be as God wills. The tree has been cut down already again and again; and yet has always thrown out fresh shoots and dropped fresh poison from its boughs. But this at least I know: that anyone who will use the faculties God has given him may find an antidote to all its poison in the meanest herb beneath his feet.

There, you do not understand me; and the best prayer I can offer for you is, perhaps, that you should never need to understand me. But if that sore need should come, and that poison should begin to spread its mist over your brains and hearts, then you will be proof against it; just in proportion as you have used the eyes and the common sense which God has given you.

Narration and Discussion

Charles Kingsley was born in 1819, and the volumes of Evenings at Home were published a quarter-century before that. There were actually a few other entertaining books available in his childhood, including Swiss Family Robinson, Grimm's Fairy Tales, and Hoffmann's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King." However, here he seems to be singling out those that tell children about things they want to know, in ways that they will enjoy reading. Do you know of books like that? What makes a book "clear, amusing, and attractive, as well as really instructive," and not "twaddle," as Charlotte Mason called it?

How can learning from what is around us help us to think better about things we can't touch and see?

Do-It Challenge: Go on a "Master William" walk together, and see who can tell the most about what was seen and heard. Take notebooks if you like, or (even better) leave them at home this time so that you can use all your senses without distraction. Be careful, though, about what you bring back: some things are better left where they are.

Lesson Two: The Glen, Part One (Chapter I)


Kingsley starts his story with the same activity he described in the Preface: taking a walk on a "sad" and "dreary" day, but refusing to find it "dull." It is in this lesson that we first hear of "Madam How" and "Lady Why."

To get a sense of the setting, you will want to look at Where does the story take place? in the introduction to the book. Some of you will be familiar with moors, heathland, and glens; others will not. (The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is on the Free Reading List, and it is set on a moor in Yorkshire.)


glen: a long, narrow valley with gently sloping sides. Glens are associated particularly with Scotland, where their name originated, but they are found in other countries as well. An example in the United States is the Finger Lakes region of New York State.

moor, heather: see Lesson One

bottle heath: a plant found on the moors. Its Latin name is Erica retorta.

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

fairy: an imaginary being with magical powers. See the Discussion Question below.

mistress: feminine form of master

confound: confuse, mix up

pounds: units of English money

People, Places, Events

Hartford Bridge Flat (or Flats): A heathland in Hampshire, which became a military airfield during World War II and is still the site of a small airport.

Better with Pictures

daddy longlegs: often confused with spiders, these are another order of arachnids (the Opiliones) with only a single pair of eyes. They are also called Harvesters. Cellar spiders (Pholcidae) and crane flies are also sometimes called daddy longlegs.


Part One

You find it dull walking up here upon Hartford Bridge Flat, this sad November day? Well, I do not deny that the moor looks somewhat dreary, though dull it need never be. Though the fog is clinging to the fir-trees, and creeping among the heather, till you cannot see as far as Minley Corner, hardly as far as Bramshill woods--and all the Berkshire hills are as invisible as if it was a dark midnight--yet there is plenty to be seen here at our very feet. Though there is nothing left for you to pick, and all the flowers are dead and brown, except here and there a poor half-withered scrap of bottle heath; and nothing left for you to catch either, for the butterflies and insects are all dead too, except one poor old daddy longlegs, who sits upon that piece of turf, boring a hole with her tail to lay her eggs in, before the frost catches her and ends her like the rest:--though all things, I say, seem dead, yet there is plenty of life around you, at your feet; I may almost say in the very stones on which you tread.

And though the place itself be dreary enough, a sheet of flat heather and a little glen in it, with banks of dead fern, and a brown bog between them, and a few fir-trees struggling up--yet, if you only have eyes to see it, that little bit of glen is beautiful and wonderful,--so beautiful and so wonderful and so cunningly devised, that it took thousands of years to make it; and it is not, I believe, half finished yet.

How do I know all that? Because a fairy told it to me; a fairy who lives up here upon the moor, and indeed in most places else, if people have but eyes to see her. What is her name? I cannot tell. The best name that I can give her (and I think it must be something like her real name, because she will always answer if you call her by it patiently and reverently) is Madam How. She will come in good time, if she is called; and she will let us see her at her work, and, what is more, teach us to copy her.

But there is another fairy here likewise, whom we can hardly hope to see. Very thankful should we be if she lifted even the smallest corner of her veil, and showed us but for a moment if it were but her fingertip--so beautiful is she, and yet so awful too. But that sight, I believe, would not make us proud, as if we had had some great privilege. No: it would make us feel smaller, and meaner, and more ignorant than we had ever felt in our lives before; at the same time, it would make us wiser than ever we were in our lives before--that one glimpse of the great glory of her whom we call Lady Why.

But I will say more of her presently. We must talk first with Madam How, and perhaps she may help us hereafter to see Lady Why. For she is the servant, and Lady Why is the mistress; though she has a Master over her again--whose name I leave for you to guess. You have heard it often already, and you will hear it again, for ever and ever.

Part Two

But of one thing I must warn you, that you must not confound Madam How and Lady Why. Many people do it, and fall into great mistakes thereby,--mistakes that even children need not commit. But really great philosophers sometimes make this mistake about "Why" and "How"; and therefore it is no wonder if other people make it too, when they write children's books about the wonders of nature, and call them "Why and Because," or "The Reason Why." The books are very good books, and you should read and study them; but they do not tell you really "Why and Because," but only "How and So." They do not tell you the "Reason Why" things happen, but only "The Way in which they happen." However, I must not blame these good folks, for I have made the same mistake myself often, and may do it again: but all the more shame to me.

For see--you know perfectly the difference between How and Why, when you are talking about yourself. If I ask you, "Why did we go out today?" you would not answer, "Because we opened the door." That is the answer to "How did we go out?" The answer to "Why we did go out?" is, "Because we chose to take a walk." Now when we talk about other things beside ourselves, we must remember this same difference between How and Why. If I ask you, "Why does fire burn you?" you would answer, I suppose, being young, "Because it is hot"; which is all you know about it. But if you were a great chemist, instead of a student, you would be apt to answer me, I am afraid, "Fire burns because the vibratory motion of the molecules of the heated substance communicates itself to the molecules of my skin, and so destroys their tissue." That is, I dare say, quite true: but it only tells us how fire burns, the way or means by which it burns; it does not tell us the reason why it burns.

But you will ask, "If that is not the reason why fire burns, what is?" I do not know! That is Lady Why's business, who is mistress of Mrs. How, and of you and of me; and, as I think, of all things that you ever saw, or can see, or even dream. And what her reason for making fire burn may be, I cannot tell. But I believe on excellent grounds that her reason is a very good one. If I dare to guess, I should say that one reason, at least, why fire burns, is that you may take care not to play with it, and so not only scorch your finger, but set your whole bed on fire, and perhaps the house into the bargain, as you might be tempted to do if putting your finger in the fire were as pleasant as putting sugar in your mouth.

But if I could once get clearly into your head this difference between Why and How, so that you should remember them steadily in later life, I should have done you more good than if I had given you a thousand pounds.

Narration and Discussion

In your experience of stories and poems, what are "fairies?" How might Kingsley's meaning here be slightly different?

Year 4 (Form II Year A) students will also be reading Jean-Henri Fabre's Story Book of Science. Fabre is known for his harmas, a piece of uncultivated, undesirable land which he bought as a place to study nature, especially insects, without having to go too far afield. Is there a place nearby which looks barren and lifeless, but which might hold surprises if you look closer?

Do-It Challenge: Ask yourself (or someone else) a question, and try to sort out the "how" from the "why."

Lesson Three: The Glen, Part Two


The Father's talk has already become very serious! In the last lesson, he described Madam How and Lady Why as two fairies; but they now appear to have not only a great deal of power and wisdom, but (in the case of Madam How) the ability to hold a long, bitter grudge against anyone who mistreats Creation.


diligence: careful and continuous work

wanted: needed

fate: inescapable outcome

fudges: cheats on, takes shortcuts

have (one's) own: get back what belongs to one, or get revenge

fall into a passion: have a tantrum

crockery: dishes

bears a grudge: continues to feel ill will, resentment

famine: lack of food

pestilences: plagues, diseases

terrible: terrifying

resignation: giving up, seeing events as inevitable


Part One

But now that we know that How and Why are two very different matters, and must not be confounded with each other, let us look for Madam How, and see her at work making this little glen; for, as I told you, it is not half made yet.

One thing we shall see at once, and see it more and more clearly the older we grow; I mean her wonderful patience and diligence. Madam How is never idle for an instant. Nothing is too great or too small for her; and she keeps her work before her eye in the same moment, and makes every separate bit of it help every other bit. She will keep the sun and stars in order, while she looks after Mrs. Daddy Longlegs there and her eggs. She will spend thousands of years in building up a mountain, and thousands of years in grinding it down again; and then carefully polish every grain of sand which falls from that mountain, and put it in its right place, where it will be wanted thousands of years hence; and she will take just as much trouble about that one grain of sand as she did about the whole mountain. She will settle the exact place where Mrs. Daddy Longlegs shall lay her eggs, at the very same time that she is settling what shall happen hundreds of years hence in a star millions of miles away. And I really believe that Madam How knows her work so thoroughly, that the grain of sand which sticks now to your shoe, and the weight of Mrs. Daddy Longlegs' eggs at the bottom of her hole, will have an effect upon suns and stars ages after you and I are dead and gone.

Most patient indeed is Madam How. She does not mind the least seeing her own work destroyed; she knows that it must be destroyed. There is a spell upon her, and a fate, that everything she makes she must unmake again; and yet, good and wise woman as she is, she never frets, nor tires, nor fudges her work, as we say at school. She takes just as much pains to make an acorn as to make a peach. She takes just as much pains about the acorn which the pig eats, as about the acorn which will grow into a tall oak, and help to build a great ship. She took just as much pains, again, about the acorn which you crushed under your foot just now, and which you fancy will never come to anything. Madam How is wiser than that. She knows that it will come to something. She will find some use for it, as she finds a use for everything. That acorn which you crushed will turn into mould, and that mould will go to feed the roots of some plant, perhaps next year, if it lies where it is; or perhaps it will be washed into the brook, and then into the river, and go down to the sea, and will feed the roots of some plant in some new continent ages and ages hence: and so Madam How will have her own again.

Part Two

You dropped your stick into the river yesterday, and it floated away. You were sorry, because it had cost you a great deal of trouble to cut it, and peel it, and carve a head and your name on it. Madam How was not sorry, though she had taken a great deal more trouble with that stick than ever you had taken. She had been three years making that stick, out of many things, sunbeams among the rest. But when it fell into the river, Madam How knew that she should not lose her sunbeams nor anything else: the stick would float down the river, and on into the sea; and there, when it got heavy with the salt water, it would sink, and lodge, and be buried, and perhaps ages hence turn into coal; and ages after that someone would dig it up and burn it, and then out would come, as bright warm flame, all the sunbeams that were stored away in that stick: and so Madam How would have her own again. And if that should not be the fate of your stick, still something else will happen to it just as useful in the long run; for Madam How never loses anything, but uses up all her scraps and odds and ends somehow, somewhere, somewhen, as is fit and proper for the Housekeeper of the whole Universe.

Indeed, Madam How is so patient that some people fancy her slow-witted; and they think that, because she does not fall into a passion every time you steal her sweets, or break her crockery, or disarrange her furniture, therefore she does not care. But I advise you now, and still more when you grow up, not to get that idea into your head; for you will find that, however good-natured and patient Madam How is in most matters, her keeping silence and not seeming to see you is no sign that she has forgotten. On the contrary, she bears a grudge (if one may so say, with all respect to her) longer than anyone else does; because she will always have her own again.

Indeed, I sometimes think that if it were not for Lady Why, her mistress, she might bear some of her grudges for ever and ever. I have seen men before now damage some of Madam How's property when they were little boys, and be punished by her all their lives long, even though she had mended the broken pieces, or turned them to some other use. Therefore I say to you, "Beware of Madam How." She will teach you more kindly, patiently, and tenderly than any mother, if you want to learn her trade. But if, instead of learning her trade, you damage her materials and play with her tools, beware lest she has her own again out of you.

Part Three

Some people think, again, that Madam How is not only slow-witted, but ill-tempered and cruel; that she makes earthquakes and storms, and famines and pestilences, in a sort of blind passion, not caring where they go or whom they hurt; quite heedless of who is in the way, if she wants to do anything or go anywhere. Now, that Madam How can be very terrible there can be no doubt: but there is no doubt also that, if people choose to learn, she will teach them to get out of her way whenever she has business to do which is dangerous to them. As for her being cruel and unjust, those may believe it who like. But you need not believe it, if you will only trust to Lady Why; and be sure that Why is the mistress and How the servant, now and forever. That Lady Why is utterly good and kind I know full well; and I believe that, in her case too, the old proverb holds, "Like mistress, like servant"; and that the more we know of Madam How, the more we shall be content with her, and ready to submit to whatever she does: but not with that unthinking resignation which some folks preach who do not believe in Lady Why. That is no resignation at all. That is merely saying

"What can't be cured
Must be endured,"

like a donkey when he turns his tail to a hailstorm. But the true resignation, the resignation which is fit for grown people and children alike, the resignation which is the beginning and the end of all wisdom and all religion, is to believe that Lady Why knows best, because she herself is perfectly good; and that as she is mistress over Madam How, so she has a Master over her, whose name--I say again--I leave you to guess.

Narration and Discussion

Why are some people afraid of Madam How? How can we become less afraid?

Explain how Madam How never wastes anything (even sunbeams).

Do-It Challenge: The Father says that the acorn that the Boy has crushed will find its way into the soil, and so on. What are ways to dispose of garbage that echo Madam How's work? What are some ways that do not? Find out about things you can do that cause less "damage to her property."

For deeper thought: Kingsley says that some people who say they are "resigned" to whatever happens (or whatever Madam How does); but he also compares that to turning one's tail to the storm (or putting one's head in the sand). How does knowing about Lady Why and her Master create "true resignation?"

Some students will have read George MacDonald's book At the Back of the North Wind, which was published two years after Madam How and Lady Why. MacDonald's North Wind appears to the boy Diamond as a beautiful woman; but he questions why she sometimes works in ways that seem cruel, such as blowing trees down and ships off course. Does the North Wind seem more like Madam How, Lady Why, or a combination of both?

Lesson Four: The Glen, Part Three


In this lesson, Kingsley uncovers "the history of the whole mystery" behind the making of the glen: Madam How's "soft spade, water."


ground, grounds: reasons, evidence

convulsions: violent movements (in this case, of the earth)

prodigies: strange or supernatural occurrences

fouls: gets polluted

spade: sharp-edged digging tool

harder spade, or rather plough: see the chapter "The Ice-Plough"

laid by: stopped using, laid aside

People, Places, Events

St. Paul's Cathedral: a famous church in London

Better with Pictures

This chapter originally included drawings of a small waterfall and a stream; you may wish to locate similar illustrations.


So now that I have taught you not to be afraid of Madam How, we will go and watch her at her work; and if we do not understand anything we see, we will ask her questions. She will always show us one of her lesson-books if we give her time. And even if we have to wait some time for her answer, you need not fear catching cold, though it is November; for she keeps her lesson-books scattered about in strange places, and we may have to walk up and down that hill more than once before we can make out how she makes the glen.

Well--how was the glen made? You shall guess it if you like, and I will guess too. You think, perhaps, that an earthquake opened it?

We must always look before we guess. Then, after we have looked a little, and got some grounds for guessing, then we may guess. And you have no ground for supposing there ever was an earthquake here strong enough to open that glen. There may have been one; but we must guess from what we do know, and not from what we do not.

Guess again. Perhaps it was there always, from the beginning of the world? Well, you have no proof of that either. Everything round you is changing in shape daily and hourly, as you will find out the longer you live; and therefore, it is most reasonable to suppose that this glen has changed its shape, as everything else on earth has done. Besides, I told you not that Madam How had made the glen, but that she was making it, and as yet has only half finished. That is my first guess; and my next guess is that water is making the glen--water, and nothing else.

You open your young eyes. And I do not blame you. I looked at this very glen for fifteen years before I made that guess; and I have looked at it some ten years since, to make sure that my guess held good. For most people do not, and cannot, see what lies under their own feet all day long; and if Lady Why, and He whom Lady Why obeys, were not very patient and gentle with mankind, they would have perished off the face of the earth long ago, simply from their own lack of understanding. I, at least, was very foolish in this case, for I had my head full of earthquakes, and convulsions of nature, and all sorts of prodigies which never happened to this glen; and so, while I was trying to find what was not there, I of course found nothing. But when I put them all out of my head, and began to look for what was there, I found it at once: and lo and behold! I had seen it a thousand times before, and yet never learnt anything from it, like the foolish man I was; though what I learnt you may learn as easily as I did.

And what did I find? The pond at the bottom of the glen.

You know that pond, of course? You don't need to go there? Very well. Then if you do, do you not know also that the pond is always filling up with sand and mud; and that though we clean it out every three or four years, it always fills again? Now where does that sand and mud come from? Down that stream, of course, which runs out of this bog. You see it coming down every time there is a flood, and the stream fouls.

Very well. "Then," said Madam How to me, as soon as I recollected that, "don't you see that the stream has made the glen, and the earth which runs down the stream was all once part of the hill on which you stand?" I confess I was very much ashamed of myself when she said that. For that is the history of the whole mystery. Madam How is digging away with her soft spade, water. She has a harder spade, or rather plough, the strongest and most terrible of all ploughs; but that, I am glad to say, she has laid by in England here.

(Boy): Water? But water is too simple a thing to have dug out all this great glen.

The most wonderful part of Madam How's work is that she does such great things and so many different things with one and the same tool, which looks to you so simple, though it really is not so. Water, for instance, is not a simple thing, but most complicated; and we might spend hours in talking about water, without having come to the end of its wonders. Still Madam How is a great economist, and never wastes her materials. She is like the sailor who boasted (only she never boasts) that, if he had but a long life and a strong knife, he would build St. Paul's Cathedral before he was done. And Madam How has a very long life, and plenty of time; and one of the strongest of all her tools is water.

Now if you will stoop down and look into the heather, I will show you how she is digging out the glen with this very mist which is hanging about our feet. At least, so I guess. For see how the mist clings to the points of the heather leaves, and makes drops. If the hot sun came out the drops would dry, and they would vanish into the air in light warm steam. But now that it is dark and cold, they drip, or run down the heather stems, to the ground. And whither do they go then? Whither will the water go,--hundreds of gallons of it perhaps,--which has dripped and run through the heather in this single day? It will sink into the ground, you know. And then what will become of it? Madam How will use it as an underground spade; just as she uses the rain (at least, when it rains too hard, and therefore the rain runs off the moor instead of sinking into it) as a spade above ground.

Narration and Discussion

Kingsley writes, "Everything round you is changing in shape daily and hourly, as you will find out the longer you live." Name some things you know of that have changed, or that you can see changing. (Start with your own body!) Can you think of anything that does not change?

"Water, for instance, is not a simple thing, but most complicated; and we might spend hours in talking about water, without having come to the end of its wonders." What do you know about water? If you have read A Drop of Water, by Walter Wick, talk about what you remember.

Do-It Challenge: Kingsley was right in emphasizing the value of the water that sinks into the ground. What is groundwater, and why is it important?

Lesson Five: The Glen, Part Four


The Father's explanation of Madam How's waterworks continues.


gravel: a collection of small stones or pebbles, either naturally occurring (such as you might walk on when you wade near the shore), or commercially produced from larger rock (and used for roads, in construction, etc.). Gravel-pits or sand-galls are naturally occurring deep hollows in the chalk, usually filled with sand and gravel.

quagmire: soft, miry ground that shakes under one's feet; quicksand

peaty: full of peat (see Lesson One)

geologists: those who study the earth and the formation of rocks

puddle the pond-head: dam up the pond

undermines: erodes, washes away (this process is called erosion and deposition)

at the bottom of the sea: The glen was once covered by water, so they are indeed standing on the "bottom of the sea."

chines: These Chines are steep-sided coastal gorges such as those at Bournemouth, on the south coast of England. The word "chine" is used again later in the book, 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."

pinnacles: high, pointed shapes

People, Places, Events

Upper Bagshot sand: part of the Bagshot Formation, a series of sands and clays in England. The Bracklesham beds, now called the Bracklesham Group, make up another similar formation.

New Forest: a very large forest in southern England

Finchampstead Ridges: a parklike area in Berkshire, now part of England's National Trust (an organization which preserves natural and historical sites)

King's Lynn: a seaport in Norfolk

Better with Pictures

How the flat moor ends suddenly in a steep rounded bank: an image search for glen will show examples


Part One

Now come to the edge of the glen, and I will show you the mist that fell yesterday, perhaps, coming out of the ground again, and hard at work.

You know of what an odd, and indeed of what a pretty form all these glens are. How the flat moor ends suddenly in a steep rounded bank, almost like the crest of a wave--ready, like a wave-crest, to fall over; and, as you know, falling over sometimes, bit by bit, where the soil is bare. Oh, yes; you are very fond of those banks. It is "awfully jolly," as you say, scrambling up and down them, in the deep heath and fern; besides, there are plenty of rabbit-holes there, because they are all sand; while there are no rabbit-holes on the flat above, because it is all gravel. Yes; you know all about it: but you know, too, that you must not go too far down these banks, much less roll down them, because there is almost certain to be a bog at the bottom, lying upon a gentle slope; and there you get wet through.

All round these hills, from here to Aldershot in one direction, and from here to Windsor in another, you see the same shaped glens; the wave-crest along their top, and at the foot of the crest a line of springs which run out over the slopes, or well up through them in shaking quagmires which are sometimes deep enough to swallow up a horse. Now the water of all these springs is nothing but the rain, and mist, and dew, which has sunk down first through the peaty soil, and then through the gravel and sand, and there has stopped. And why? Because under the gravel (about which I will tell you a strange story one day), and under the sand, which is what the geologists call the Upper Bagshot sand, there is an entirely different set of beds, which geologists call the Bracklesham beds, from a place near the New Forest; and in those beds there is a vein of clay, and through that clay the water cannot get, as you have seen yourself when we dug it out in the field below to puddle the pond-head; and very good fun you thought it, and a very pretty mess you made of yourself. Well: because the water cannot get through this clay, and must go somewhere, it runs out continually along the top of the clay, and as it runs it undermines the bank, and brings down sand and gravel continually for the next shower to wash into the stream below.

Now think for one moment how wonderful it is that the shape of these glens was settled by the particular order in which Madam How laid down the gravel and sand and mud at the bottom of the sea, ages and ages ago. This is what I told you, that the least thing that Madam How does today may take effect hundreds and thousands of years hence.

Part Two

But I must tell you I think there was a time when this glen was of a very different shape from what it is now; and I dare say, according to your notions, of a much prettier shape. It was once just like one of those chines which we used to see at Bournemouth. You recollect them? How there was a narrow gap in the cliff of striped sands and gravels; and out of the mouth of that gap, only a few feet across, there poured down a great slope of mud and sand the shape of half a bun, some wet and some dry, up which we used to scramble and get into the chine, and call the chine what it was in the truest sense, Fairyland. You recollect how it was all eaten out into mountain ranges, pinnacles, steep cliffs of white, and yellow, and pink, standing up against the clear blue sky; till we agreed that, putting aside the difference of size, they were as beautiful and grand as any Alps we had ever seen in pictures. And how we saw (for there could be no mistake about it there) that the chine was being hollowed out by the springs which broke out high up the cliff, and by the rain which wore the sand into furrowed pinnacles and peaks. You recollect the beautiful place, and how, when we looked back down upon it, we saw between the miniature mountain walls the bright blue sea, and heard it murmur on the sands outside.

So I believe we might have done, if we had stood somewhere at the bottom of this glen thousands of years ago. We should have seen the sea in front of us; or rather, an arm of the sea; for Finchampstead Ridges opposite, instead of being covered with farms, and woodlands, and purple heath above, would have been steep cliffs of sand and clay, just like those you see at Bournemouth now; and--what would have spoilt somewhat the beauty of the sight--along the shores there would have floated, at least in winter, great blocks and floes of ice, such as you might have seen in the tide-way at King's Lynn the winter before last, growling and crashing, grubbing and ploughing the sand, and the gravel, and the mud, and sweeping them away into seas towards the North, which are now all fruitful land. That may seem to you like a dream: yet it is true; and some day, when we have another talk with Madam How, I will show you that it was true.

Narration and Discussion

What are some ways that water can change the shape of the land?

Do-It Challenge: You can investigate erosion and deposition with some sand and water, either outside (such as on a beach or in a sandbox), or with the same materials brought indoors and used in a pan or container. Build a hill out of sand, in any size that is practical; and pour the water over the top, allowing it to run down the side. What happens to the sand that is moved by the water? As an extension to this investigation, think about materials you could add to the model to prevent such erosion. (Would rocks help?)

Lesson Six: The Glen, Part Five


The Father continues his case for the making of the glen by running water.


capital plan: very good idea

high tide: The tides are the twice-daily rising and falling of the sea. We say that the tide "comes in" or "goes out." 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.

hearsay: what someone says that someone else says

prove: test

gullies: channels carrying water, which can be either man-made (such as drainage ditches) or created naturally by streams

chalk: The first thing many of us associate with chalk is blackboard chalk, and that is not usually made from real chalk, but from gypsum or plaster of Paris. Natural chalk is a form of limestone.

limestone: a sedimentary rock often formed of bits of marine organisms such as foraminifera, which will be discussed in Volume 2. Sediment means bits of stuff (or matter) that drop to the bottom of liquid: for example, the last of a cup of cocoa that didn't stay mixed. Sedimentary rock is, likewise, formed from bits of mineral.

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 intense heat or pressure. Slate breaks easily into thin layers, so it has been used for roofing material and as a writing surface in schools.

leaves: pages

downs: also chalk down or downland, an open area of chalk hills

People, Places, Events

Bracknell's Bottom: one of the boggy areas near the town of Bracknell in Berkshire (it has since been drained)

Vale of Blackwater: The Blackwater River forms a boundary between the counties of Hampshire, Berkshire, and Surrey; and the valley surrounds the river.

wood like Coombs: Coombs Wood

Hartford Bridge Flat(s): the area where they have been walking (mentioned in Lesson One).

Devonshire: a county in the western part of England


Part One

But what could change a beautiful chine like that at Bournemouth into a wide sloping glen like this of Bracknell's Bottom, with a wood like Coombs many acres large in the middle of it?

Well now, think. It is a capital plan for finding out Madam How's secrets to see what she might do in one place, and explain by it what she has done in another. Suppose now, Madam How had orders to lift up the whole coast of Bournemouth only twenty or even ten feet higher out of the sea than it is now. She could do that easily enough, for she has been doing so on the coast of South America for ages; she has been doing so this very summer in what hasty people would call a hasty, and violent, and ruthless way; though I shall not say so, for I believe that Lady Why knows best. She is doing so now steadily on the west coast of Norway, which is rising quietly--all that vast range of mountain wall and iron-bound cliff--at the rate of some four feet in a hundred years, without making the least noise or confusion, or even causing an extra ripple on the sea; so light and gentle, when she will, can Madam How's strong finger be.

Now, if the mouth of that chine at Bournemouth was lifted twenty feet out of the sea, one thing would happen,--that the high tide would not come up any longer, and wash away the cake of dirt at the entrance, as we saw it do so often. But if the mud stopped there, the mud behind it would come down more slowly, and lodge inside more and more, till the chine was half filled up; and only the upper part of the cliffs would continue to be eaten away, above the level where the springs ran out. So gradually the chine, instead of being deep and narrow, would become broad and shallow; and instead of hollowing itself rapidly after every shower of rain, as you saw the chine at Bournemouth doing, it would hollow itself out slowly, as this glen is doing now.

And one thing more would happen,--when the sea ceased to gnaw at the foot of the cliffs outside, and to carry away every stone and grain of sand which fell from them, the cliffs would very soon cease to be cliffs; the rain and the frost would still crumble them down: but the dirt that fell would lie at their feet [instead of washing away]; and gradually make a slope of dry land, far out where the shallow sea had been; and their tops, instead of being steep as now, would become smooth and rounded; and so at last, instead of two sharp walls of cliff at the Chine's mouth, you might have--just what you have here at the mouth of this glen,--our Mount and the Warren Hill,--long slopes with sheets of drifted gravel and sand at their feet, stretching down into what was once an icy sea, and is now the Vale of Blackwater. And this I really believe Madam How has done simply by lifting Hartford Bridge Flat a few more feet out of the sea, and leaving the rest to her trusty tool, the water in the sky.

Part Two

That is my guess: and I think it is a good guess, because I have asked Madam How a hundred different questions about it in the last ten years, and she always answered them in the same way, saying, "Water, water, you foolish man." But I do not want you merely to depend on what I say. If you want to understand Madam How, you must ask her questions yourself, and make up your mind yourself, instead of taking things at hearsay or second-hand. The Bible says, "Prove all things: hold fast that which is good." So do you prove my guess, and if it proves good, hold it fast.

(Boy): And how can I do that?

First, by direct experiment, as it is called. In plain English--go home and make a little Hartford Bridge Flat in the stable-yard; and then ask Mrs. How if she will not make a glen in it like this glen here. We will go home and try that. We will make a great flat cake of clay, and put upon it a cap of sand; and then we will rain upon it out of a watering-pot; and see if Mrs. How does not begin soon to make a glen in the side of the heap, just like those on Hartford Bridge Flat. I believe she will; and certainly, if she does, it will be a fresh proof that my guess is right. And then we will see whether water will not make glens of a different shape than these, if it run over soils of a different kind. We will make a Hartford Bridge Flat turned upside down--a cake of sand with a cap of clay on the top; and we will rain on that out of our watering-pot, and see what sort of glens we make then. I can guess what they will be like, because I have seen them--steep overhanging cliffs, with very narrow gullies down them: but you shall try for yourself, and make up your mind whether you think me right or wrong. Meanwhile, remember that those gullies too will have been made by water.

Part Three

And there is another way of "verifying my theory," as it is called; in plain English, seeing if my guess holds good--that is, to look at other valleys--not merely the valleys round here, but valleys in clay, in chalk, in limestone, in the hard slate rock such as you saw in Devonshire--and see whether my guess does not hold good about them too; whether all of them, deep or shallow, broad or narrow, rock or earth, may not have been all hollowed out by running water. I am sure if you would do this you would find something to amuse you, and something to instruct you, whenever you wish. I know that I do. To me the longest railroad journey, instead of being tedious, is like continually turning over the leaves of a wonderful book, or looking at wonderful pictures of old worlds which were made and unmade thousands of years ago. When I travel, I keep looking, not only at the railway cuttings, where the bones of the old worlds are laid bare; but at the surface of the ground, at the plains and downs, banks and knolls, hills and mountains; and continually asking Mrs. How what gave them each its shape: and I will soon teach you to do the same. When you do, I tell you fairly her answer will be in almost every case, "Running water." Either water running when soft, as it usually is; or water running when it is hard--in plain words, moving ice.

Narration and Discussion

"To me the longest railroad journey. . . is like continually turning over the leaves of a wonderful book. . ." What does he mean?

"If you want to understand Madam How, you must ask her questions yourself, and make up your mind yourself, instead of taking things at hearsay or second-hand." Does that mean we shouldn't believe warnings such as "thin ice" without testing them for ourselves?

Do-It Challenge #1: If you tried the sand challenge in the last lesson, you can extend it again by adding other types of soil, as the Father explains above.

Do-It Challenge #2: Two of the three major types of rock were described in the vocabulary notes for this lesson. What is the third? You might want to have a look through any books you have on rocks.

For further study: Do you live near any valleys that may have been formed by running water? What can you find out about them?

Lesson Seven: The Glen, Part Six


Kingsley ends "The Glen" with a reflection on the mystery of Lady Why. In an earlier lesson, the Father says that the answer to "Why did we go out today?" is not "Because we opened the door," but "Because we chose to take a walk." He also points out that we understand "why" perfectly well when we are talking about ourselves. But the "why" of Lady Why is often less clear.


gravel-pit: not an industrial gravel pit, but the sand-galls found in that area (see Lesson Five)

chasm: deep open place, such as a canyon, or a gap between rocks

between this and our next talk: the answer to the "riddle" is given in Lesson Eight

when eyes and brain are turned again to dust: after death

infinite: without end

ere: before

Thou art worthy, O Lord . . .: a quote from Revelation 4:11

People, Places, Events

Matterhorn, or the Weisshorn . . .: famous mountains in Europe

Ambarrow, and Edgbarrow . . .: natural areas in Berkshire

Better with Pictures

You may want to look for pictures of "valleys thousands of feet deep, among mountains thousands of feet high."


Part One

About that moving ice, which is Mrs. How's stronger spade, I will tell you some other time; and show you, too, the marks of it in every gravel-pit about here. But now, I see, you want to ask a question; and what is it?

Do I mean to say that water has made great valleys, such as you have seen paintings and photographs of,--valleys thousands of feet deep, among mountains thousands of feet high?

Yes, I do. But, as I said before, I do not like you to take my word upon trust. When you are older you shall go to the mountains, and you shall judge for yourself. Still, I must say that I never saw a valley, however deep, or a cliff, however high, which had not been scooped out by water; and that even the mountain-tops which stand up miles aloft in jagged peaks and pinnacles against the sky were cut out at first, and are being cut and sharpened still, by little else save water, soft and hard; that is, by rain, frost, and ice. Water, and nothing else, has sawn out such a chasm as that through which the ships run up to Bristol, between Leigh Wood and St. Vincent's Rocks. Water, and nothing else, has shaped those peaks of the Matterhorn, or the Weisshorn, or the Pic du Midi of the Pyrenees. Just so water might saw out Hartford Bridge Flat, if it had time enough, into a labyrinth of valleys, and hills, and peaks standing alone; as it has done already by Ambarrow, and Edgbarrow, and the Folly Hill on the other side of the vale.

I see you are astonished at the notion that water can make Alps. But it was just because I knew you would be astonished at Madam How's doing so great a thing with so simple a tool, that I began by showing you how she was doing the same thing in a small way here upon these flats. For the safest way to learn Madam How's methods is to watch her at work in little corners at commonplace business, which will not astonish or frighten us, nor put huge hasty guesses and dreams into our heads. Sir Isaac Newton, some will tell you, found out the great law of gravitation, which holds true of all the suns and stars in heaven, by watching an apple fall: and even if he did not find it out so, he found it out, we know, by careful thinking over the plain and commonplace fact that things have weight. So do you be humble and patient, and watch Madam How at work on little things. For that is the way to see her at work upon all space and time.

What? you have a question more to ask?

Oh! I talked about Madam How lifting up Hartford Bridge Flat. How could she do that? Well, that is a long story, and I must tell it to you some other time. Meanwhile, did you ever see the lid of a kettle rise up and shake when the water inside boiled? Of course; and of course, too, remember that Madam How must have done it. Then think over between this and our next talk, what that can possibly have to do with her lifting up Hartford Bridge Flat.

Part Two

But you have been longing, perhaps, all this time to hear more about Lady Why, and why she set Madam How to make Bracknell's Bottom.

The only answer I dare give to that is: whatever other purposes she may have made it for, she made it at least for this--that you and I should come to it this day, and look at, and talk over it, and become thereby wiser and more earnest, and we will hope more humble and better people. Whatever else Lady Why may wish or not wish, this she wishes always, to make all of us wise and all of us good.

For what is written of her whom, as in a parable, I have called Lady Why?

"The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old.

"I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was." (Proverbs 8:22-23. Kingsley also includes verses 24-32, which you may wish to read now.)

That we can say, for it has been said for us already. But beyond that we can say, and need say, very little. We were not there, as we read in the Book of Job, when God laid the foundations of the earth. "We see," says St. Paul, "as in a glass darkly, and only know in part." "For who," he asks again, "has known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counsellor? . . . For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Therefore we must not rashly say, this or that is "why" a thing has happened; nor invent what are called "final causes," which are not Lady Why herself, but only our little notions of what Lady Why has done, or rather what we should have done if we had been in her place.

It is not, indeed, by thinking that we shall find out anything about Lady Why. She speaks not to our eyes or to our brains, like Madam How, but to that inner part of us which we call our hearts and spirits, and which will endure when eyes and brain are turned again to dust. If your heart be pure and sober, gentle and truthful, then Lady Why speaks to you without words, and tells you things which Madam How and all her scientists can never tell. When you lie, it may be, on a painful sick-bed, but with your mother's hand in yours; when you sit by her, looking up into her loving eyes; when you gaze out towards the setting sun, and imagine golden capes and islands in the clouds, and seas and lakes in the blue sky; and the infinite rest and peace of the far west sends rest and peace into your young heart, till you sit silent and happy, you know not why; when sweet music fills your heart with noble and tender instincts which need no thoughts or words; ay, even when you watch the raging thunder-storm, and feel it to be, in spite of its great awfulness, so beautiful that you cannot turn your eyes away: at such times as these Lady Why is speaking to your soul of souls, and saying,

"My child, this world is a new place, and strange, and often terrible: but be not afraid. All will come right at last. Rest will conquer Restlessness; Faith will conquer Fear; Order will conquer Disorder; Health will conquer Sickness; Joy will conquer Sorrow; Pleasure will conquer Pain; Life will conquer Death; Right will conquer Wrong. All will be well at last. Keep your soul and body pure, humble, busy, pious--in one word, be good: and ere you die, or after you die, you may have some glimpse of Me, the Everlasting Why: and hear with the ears, not of your body but of your spirit, humans and all rational beings, plants and animals, aye, the very stones beneath your feet, the clouds above your head, the planets and the suns away in farthest space, singing eternally,

'Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power, for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.'"

Narration and Discussion

"So do you be humble and patient, and watch Madam How at work on little things." What are some little things you have noticed that might help you understand bigger things?

What are some ways to learn about Lady Why?

Do-It Challenge: The Father says that one way to hear the voice of Lady Why is " when sweet music fills your heart with noble and tender instincts which need no thoughts or words." Choose a piece of music (perhaps from the composer you are studying), and make it yours by using art materials, dancing or moving to the music, or just by listening very closely so that you hear what it is "saying."

Lesson Eight: Earthquakes, Part One (Chapter II)


This chapter begins with a devastating question: why did God "kill" all those innocent people in South America?

Volumes have been written throughout history in an attempt to answer such questions. Kingsley's reply to the "why" question (though toned down for this edition) is, at least at first, unsympathetic; and he seems to move on almost too quickly into the "how" of earthquakes. But keep the "why" in mind, as it will be revisited.

The chapter is set soon after the November walk, because the Father mentions their conversation "the other day," and the London News article mentioned was published in late October.


cast accounts: do bookkeeping or arithmetic

affliction: pain, suffering

an earthquake might come any day: Kingsley is harsh in his criticism of the people of Arica. He is correct, however, in saying that the west coast of South America is vulnerable to earthquakes.

a boiler explosion: this was the era of steam-powered trains

they are caused by steam and other gases expanding: Yes . . . and no. See the discussion question below.

that riddle: from Lesson Seven

People, Places, Events

Arica: a city which was formerly part of Peru, now part of Chile. The earthquake referred to occurred in August 1868.

Pyrenees: a range of mountains between Spain and France

Better with Pictures

Kingsley's book included an illustration titled "Arica After the Earthquake," perhaps the one which the boy had been looking at in the news magazine. You can find similar pictures online by searching the words Arica earthquake tsunami 1868.


Part One

So, you have been looking at that drawing of the ruin of Arica in the Illustrated London News; and it has puzzled you and made you sad. You want to know why God killed all those people--mothers among them, too, and little children?

Alas, who am I that I should answer you that?

Have you done wrong in asking me? No, my dear child; no. You have asked me because you are a human being and a child of God, and not merely a cleverer sort of animal, an ape who can read and write and cast accounts. Therefore it is that you cannot be content, and ought not to be content, with asking how things happen, but must go on to ask why. You cannot be content with knowing the causes of things; and if you knew all the natural science that ever was or ever will be known to us, that would not satisfy you; for it would only tell you the causes of things, while your soul wants to know the reasons of things besides; and though I may not be able to tell you the reasons of things, or show you anything but a tiny glimpse here and there of that which I called the other day the glory of Lady Why, yet I believe that somehow, somewhen, somewhere, you will learn something of the reason of things. For that thirst to know why was put into the hearts of human beings by God Himself; and I believe that God would never have given us that thirst if He had not meant to satisfy it.

Meanwhile, I think--I only say I think--you know I told you how humble we must be whenever we speak of Lady Why--that we may guess at something like a good reason for the terrible earthquakes in South America. I do not wish to be hard upon poor people in great affliction: but I cannot help thinking that they have been staking their property and their lives upon the chances of no earthquakes coming, while they ought to have known that an earthquake might come any day.

Part Two

But you ask, "How ought they to have known that an earthquake would come?"

Well, to make you understand that, we must talk a little about earthquakes, and what makes them; and in order to find out that, let us try the very simplest cause of which we can think. That is the wise and scientific plan.

Now, whatever makes these earthquakes must be enormously strong; that is certain. And what is the strongest thing you know of in the world? Think . . .

(Boy): Gunpowder?

Well, gunpowder is strong sometimes: but not always. You may carry it in a flask, or in your hand, and then it is weak enough. It only becomes strong by being turned into gas and steam.

But steam is always strong. And if you look at a railway engine, and still more if you had ever seen--which God forbid you should--a boiler explosion, you would agree with me that the strongest thing we know of in the world is steam. Now I think that we can explain almost, if not quite, all that we know about earthquakes, if we believe that, on the whole, they are caused by steam and other gases expanding; that is, spreading out with wonderful quickness and strength. Of course there must be something to make them expand, and that is heat. But we will not talk of that yet.

Now do you remember that riddle which I put to you the other day?--"What had the rattling of the lid of the kettle to do with Hartford Bridge Flat being lifted out of the ancient sea?"

The answer to the riddle, I believe, is--Steam has done both. The lid of the kettle rattles, because the expanding steam escapes in little jets, and so causes a lid-quake. Now suppose that there was steam under the earth trying to escape, and the earth in one place was loose and yet hard, as the lid of the kettle is loose and yet hard, with cracks in it, it may be, like the crack between the edge of the lid and the edge of the kettle itself: might not the steam try to escape through the cracks, and rattle the surface of the earth, and so cause an earth-quake?

So, the steam would escape generally easily, and would only make a passing rattle, like the earthquake of which the famous joker Charles Selwyn said that it was quite a young one, so tame that you might have stroked it; like that which I myself once felt in the Pyrenees.

We will hear that story in the next lesson.

Narration and Discussion

Many families using this book will have more personal experience with earthquakes than Charles Kingsley did, and this is certainly a place in which you will want to interweave your own knowledge.

What is an earthquake? What is happening under the ground during a quake? Briefly: an earthquake happens when rock underground suddenly breaks along a fault. Ironically, Kingsley's insistence on steam as a creator of quakes may be more correct now because of recent drilling and "fracking." However, this is an opportunity to introduce the more current understanding that natural earthquakes are caused by stress and friction on the edges of tectonic plates, called fault lines. That stress releases energy, which travels through the earth's crust in waves and causes it to shake.

For further thought: Although the difficult "where was God when . . ." and "why did God . . ." questions will be discussed again, you may want to talk about them now. Students may find connections themselves with books such as Robinson Crusoe and Tennyson's poems.

Do-It Challenge: Steam power is an example of both thermal energy (the power of heat) and kinetic energy (the movement of particles). Some students may have read about James Watt's observation of the teakettle in Thirty More Famous Stories Retold, by James Baldwin; and they will read the same story this year in George Washington's World, by Genevieve Foster. They will also read about the dangerous power of steam in Fabre's Story Book of Science. The classic simple demonstration is to hold an inexpensive pinwheel over a source of steam, such as a kettle. (Be careful, and wear oven mitts.)

Lesson Nine: Earthquakes, Part Two


In this lesson, the Father tells his not-too-terrifying experience of a minor earthquake, which nevertheless made him pause to think about what could have happened if the quake had been more serious.


torrent: waterfall

hepaticas, gentian: wildflowers

azure: deep blue

Granite: Granite is an igneous rock containing four minerals: quartz, mica, feldspar, and hornblende. Kingsley says that granite is "of little use save to cut into building stone, because it is too full of quartz--that is, flint." He seems to mean "of little use" only in an agricultural sense, since granite is valued as a long-lasting building material.

It is of the Lord's mercies . . .: Lamentations 3:22

Better with Pictures

Pyrenees: see previous lesson


Part One

I was travelling in the Pyrenees; and I came one evening to the loveliest spot--a glen, or rather a vast crack in the mountains, so narrow that there was no room for anything at the bottom of it, save a torrent roaring between walls of polished rock. High above the torrent the road was cut out among the cliffs, and above the road rose more cliffs, with great black cavern mouths, hundreds of feet above our heads, out of each of which poured in foaming waterfalls streams large enough to turn a mill, and above them mountains piled on mountains, all covered with woods of box, which smelt rich and hot and musky in the warm spring air. Among the box-trees and fallen boulders grew hepaticas, blue and white and red, such as you see in the garden; and little stars of gentian, more azure than the azure sky. But out of the box-woods above rose giant silver firs, clothing the cliffs and glens with tall black spires, till they stood out at last in a jagged saw-edge against the purple evening sky, along the mountain ranges, thousands of feet aloft; and beyond them again, at the head of the valley, rose vast cones of virgin snow, miles away in reality, but looking so brilliant and so near that one fancied at the first moment that one could have touched them with one's hand. Snow-white they stood, the glorious things, seven thousand feet into the air; and I watched their beautiful white sides turn rose-colour in the evening sun, and when he set, fade into dull cold gray, till the bright moon came out to light them up once more.

When I was tired of wondering and admiring, I went into bed; and there I had a dream--such a dream as I dare say you may have had before now. Some noise or stir puts into your fancy as you sleep a whole long dream to account for it; and yet that dream, which seems to you to be hours long, has not taken up a second of time; for the very same noise which begins the dream, wakes you at the end of it: and so it was with me. I dreamed that some English people had come into the hotel where I was, and were sleeping in the room underneath me; and that they had quarrelled and fought, and broke their bed down with a tremendous crash, and that I must get up, and stop the fight; and at that moment I woke and heard coming up the valley from the north such a roar as I never heard before or since; as if a hundred railway trains were rolling underground; and just as it passed under my bed there was a tremendous thump, and I jumped out of bed quicker than I ever did in my life, and heard the roaring sound die away as it rolled up the valley towards the peaks of snow.

Still I had in my head this notion of the Englishmen fighting in the room below. But then I recollected that no Englishmen had come in the night before, and that I had been in the room below, and that there was no bed in it. Then I opened my window--a woman screamed, a dog barked, some cocks and hens cackled in a very disturbed humour, and then I could hear nothing but the roaring of the torrent a hundred feet below. And then it flashed across me what all the noise was about; and I burst out laughing and said, "It is only an earthquake," and went to bed again.

Next morning, I inquired whether anyone had heard a noise. No, nobody had heard anything. And the driver who had brought me up the valley only winked, but did not choose to speak. At last at breakfast I asked the waitress what was the meaning of the noise I heard in the night, and she said in French, "Oh, pshaw! It was nothing but an earthquake--there is one here about every six weeks." Now the secret was out. The waitress, I found, came from the lowland far away, and did not mind telling the truth: but the people of the place were afraid to let out that they had earthquakes every six weeks, for fear of frightening visitors away; and because they were very good people, and very kind to me, I shall not tell you what the name of the place is.

Part Two

Of course, after that I could do no less than ask Madam How, very politely, how she made earthquakes in that particular place, hundreds of miles away from any burning mountain? And this was the answer I thought she gave, though I am not so conceited as to say I am sure.

As I had come up the valley, I had seen that the cliffs were all beautiful gray limestone marble; but just at this place they were replaced by granite, such as you may see in London Bridge or at Aberdeen. I do not mean that the limestone changed to granite, but that the granite had risen up out of the bottom of the valley, and had carried the limestone (I suppose) up on its back hundreds of feet into the air. Those caves with the waterfalls pouring from their mouths were all on one level, at the top of the granite, and the bottom of the limestone. That was to be expected; for, as I will explain to you some day, water can make caves easily in limestone: but never, I think, in granite. But I knew that besides these cold springs which came out of the caves, there were hot springs also, full of curious chemical salts, just below the very house where I was in. And when I went to look at them, I found that they came out of the rock just where the limestone and the granite joined. "Ah," I said, "now I think I have Madam How's answer. The lid of one of her great steam boilers is rather shaky and cracked just here, because the granite has broken and torn the limestone as it lifted it up; and here is the hot water out of the boiler actually oozing out of the crack; and the earthquake I heard last night was simply the steam rumbling and thumping inside, and trying to get out."

And then I fell into a more serious mood. I said to myself, "If that stream had been a little, only a little stronger, or if the rock above it had been only a little weaker, it would have been no laughing matter then; the village might have been shaken to the ground; the rocks hurled into the torrent; jets of steam and of hot water, mixed, it may be, with deadly gases, have roared out of the riven ground; that might have happened here, in short, which has happened and happens still in a hundred places in the world." And when those thoughts came into my mind, I was in no humour to jest any more about "Madam How's boilers"; but rather to say with the wise man of old, "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed."

Narration and Discussion

Note about Kingsley's speculation on earthquakes in the Pyrenees: The Pyrenees are formed by the convergence (coming together) of two tectonic plates, the Iberian Plate and the Eurasian Plate. The instability caused by those plates is responsible for a great deal of seismic (earthquake) activity in that area.

You have seen the term "tectonic plates" in this book already. There are some big ideas around this topic that you can begin to explore. The first one comes from the idea of continental drift, which some students will understand easily by looking at the shapes of continents and thinking about how they might once have fitted into one another (this will be discussed as well in Volume 2). Students might want to discuss their ideas about what is under the continents.

Do-It Challenge: Find a tectonic plate map (online or in a book), and examine the plates that make up the lithosphere, or the "shell" of our planet. Why don't the plates match up exactly with the continents?

Lesson Ten: Earthquakes, Part Three


The Father expands on the unpredictable nature of earthquakes, and introduces the accompanying danger of great sea waves, or tsunamis.


eddy: move in a circle

teetotum: six-sided top used in games

smartly: sharply

the wash of a great sea wave: the Japanese word tsunami (harbour wave) is commonly used now

quays: piers, docks

the sea-bottom sank down: this is correct as far as it goes, although again Kingsley is missing the connection with tectonic plates

People, Places, Events

in the West Indies: in the Caribbean Sea

upon the coast of Peru this year: this refers to the events in Arica


Part One

You saw those pictures of the ruins of Arica, about which our talk began; and from them you can guess well enough for yourself what a town looks like which has been ruined by an earthquake. Of the misery and the horror which follow such a ruin I will not talk to you, nor darken your young spirit with sad thoughts which grown people must face, and ought to face. But the strangeness of some of the tricks which the earthquake shocks play is hardly to be explained, even by scientists. Sometimes, it would seem, the force runs round, making the solid ground eddy, as water eddies in a brook. For it will make straight rows of trees crooked; it will twist whole walls round--or rather the ground on which the walls stand--without throwing them down; it will shift the stones of a pillar one on the other sideways, as if a giant had been trying to spin it like a teetotum, and so screwed it half in pieces. There is a story told of the whole furniture of one house being hurled away by an earthquake, and buried under the ruins of another house; and of things carried hundreds of yards off, so that the neighbours went to court to settle who was the true owner of them.

Sometimes, again, the shock seems to come neither horizontally in waves, nor circularly in eddies, but vertically, that is, straight up from below; and then things--and people, alas! sometimes--are thrown up off the earth high into the air, just as things spring up off the table if you strike it smartly enough underneath. By that same law (for there is a law for every sort of motion) it is that the earthquake shock sometimes hurls great rocks off a cliff into the valley below. The shock runs through the mountain till it comes to the cliff at the end of it; and then the face of the cliff, if it be at all loose, flies off into the air.

You may see the very same thing happen, if you will put marbles or billiard-balls in a row touching each other, and strike the one nearest you smartly in the line of the row. All the balls stand still, except the last one, and that flies off. The shock, like the earthquake shock, has run through them all; but only the end one, which had nothing beyond it but soft air, has been moved; and when you grow old, and learn mathematics, you will know the law of motion according to which that happens, and learn to apply what the billiard-balls have taught you to explain the wonders of an earthquake. For in this case, as in so many more, you must watch Madam How at work on little and common things, to find out how she works in great and rare ones.

Part Two

Another terrible destruction which the earthquake brings, when it is close to the seaside, is the wash of a great sea wave, such as swept in last year upon the island of St. Thomas, in the West Indies; such as swept in upon the coast of Peru this year. The sea moans, and sinks back, leaving the shore dry; and then comes in from the offing a mighty wall of water, as high as, or higher than, many a tall house; it sweeps far inland, washing away quays and houses, and carrying great ships in with it; and then sweeps back again, leaving the ships high and dry, as ships were left in Peru this year.

Now, how is that wave made? Let us think. Perhaps in many ways. But two of them I will tell you as simply as I can, because they seem the most likely, and probably the most common.

Suppose, as the earthquake shock ran on, making the earth under the sea heave and fall in long earth-waves, the sea-bottom sank down. Then the water on it would sink down too, and leave the shore dry; till the sea-bottom rose again, and hurled the water up again against the land. This is one way of explaining it, and it may be true. For certain it is, that earthquakes do move the bottom of the sea; and certain, too, that they move the water of the sea also, and with tremendous force. For ships at sea during an earthquake feel such a blow from it (though it does them no harm) that the sailors often rush upon deck fancying that they have struck upon a rock; and the force which could give a ship, floating in water, such a blow as that, would be strong enough to hurl thousands of tons of water up the beach, and on to the land.

Tsunamis will be discussed further in the next lesson.

Narration and Discussion

"Earthquakes do move the bottom of the sea," as do underwater volcanoes; and these, along with events such as landslides, cause tsunamis. Tsunamis are not the same as tidal waves, however; tidal waves are caused by tides, or by wind, and their waves move in circles. The water in a tsunami flows straight, moving more like a flood. To learn about the effects of a tsunami on a village, you may want to read Pearl S. Buck's short novel about Japan, The Big Wave.

Do-It Challenge: Try the experiment described in this chapter, to see how force applied to one ball or marble travels through the rest.

You can also continue to learn more about plate tectonics, and what happens when the plates move around or bump into each other. Online videos (use search terms such as plate tectonics stress or types of stress in the earth's crust) are useful for demonstrating the different types of stress, although students at this level shouldn't be pushed to memorize the terminology.

The website for the magazine Nature contains an interesting lesson plan on "Plate Motions and Faults." If you cannot access the article, a short version of one of the activities is to use clay or dough (playdough, pizza dough, etc.) to model different kinds of stress: compression, tension, and shear; and different types of faults. Again, the details are not as important right now as just looking at what can happen.

Lesson Eleven: Earthquakes, Part Four


This lesson, although still discussing earthquakes, is also about perspective. How does the place where we stand affect our understanding?


this great sea wave: a tsunami

I fancy comes true sometimes: this may be a point for discussion afterwards. On what does Kingsley base his conclusions?

in foreign lands: There have been many earthquakes in Great Britain, though they have not caused the devastation experienced in other places. (An online search for earthquakes in England will bring up a chronological list, and some are described in the next lesson.)

That steam stretches . . .: See discussion questions for Lesson Eight.


But there is another way of accounting for this great sea wave, which I fancy comes true sometimes.

Suppose you put an empty rubber ball into water, and then blew into it through a pipe. Of course, you know, as the ball filled, the upper side of it would rise out of the water. Now, suppose there were a party of little ants moving about upon that ball, and fancying it a great island, or perhaps the whole world--what would they think of the ball's filling and growing bigger?

If they could see the sides of the basin or tub in which the ball was, and were sure that they the sides did not move, then they would soon judge by them that they themselves were moving, and that the ball was rising out of the water. But if the ants were so short-sighted that they could not see the sides of the basin, they would be apt to make a mistake, because they would then be like men on an island out of sight of any other land. Then it would be impossible further to tell whether they were moving up, or whether the water was moving down; whether their ball was rising out of the water, or the water was sinking away from the ball. They would probably say, "The water is sinking and leaving the ball dry."

Do you understand that? Then think what would happen if you pricked a hole in the ball. The air inside would come hissing out, and the ball would sink again into the water. But the ants would probably fancy the very opposite. Their little heads would be full of the notion that the ball was solid and could not move, just as our heads are full of the notion that the earth is solid and cannot move; and they would say, "Ah! here is the water rising again."

Just so, I believe, when the sea seems to ebb away during the earthquake, the land is really being raised out of the sea, hundreds of miles of coast, perhaps, or a whole island, at once, by the force of the steam and gas imprisoned under the ground. That steam stretches and strains the solid rocks below, till they can bear no more, and snap, and crack, with frightful roar and clang; then out of holes and chasms in the ground rush steam, gases--often foul and poisonous ones--hot water, mud, flame, strange stones--all signs that the great boiler down below has burst at last.

Then the strain is eased. The earth sinks together again, as the ball did when it was pricked; and sinks lower, perhaps, than it was before: and back rushes the sea, which the earth had thrust away while it rose, and sweeps in, destroying all before it.

Of course, there is a great deal more to be said about all this: but I have no time to tell you now. You will read it, I hope, for yourselves when you grow up, in the writings of far wiser men than I. Or perhaps you may feel for yourselves in foreign lands the actual shock of a great earthquake, or see its work fresh done around you. And if ever that happens, and you be preserved during the danger, you will learn for yourself, I trust, more about earthquakes than I can teach you, if you will only bear in mind the simple general rules for understanding the "how" of them which I have given you here.

Narration and Discussion

The Father says that he has given the Boy some "simple general rules for understanding the 'how'" of earthquakes. What would you say those are?

Some readers may assume that Charles Kingsley's ideas, such as the story about a floating ball covered with ants chatting about water levels, come straight from his vivid imagination and cannot be based on fact. But the phenomenon of land rising at continental margins after major earthquakes is quite true. Once again, the problem seems to be that Kingsley's understanding of "how" was focused on steam, rather than plate tectonics. "Uplift" in certain areas is seen where there have been multiple severe earthquakes, along active subduction margins, which means along the edges of continents (or islands) where subduction is occurring. (Subduction is the edge of one plate slipping into the earth's mantle, beneath another plate.)

For further thought: We may feel sometimes like the ants on a ball as we try to make sense of our perceptions about the earth, especially when we get a "tsunami" of opinion and information. How do we figure out what is true and what is important? (In Volume 2, we will read about the ongoing battle between two "knowledge brothers," Synthesis and Analysis.)

Do-It Challenge: The next thing to learn about earthquakes is how they are compared and measured. Scientists use tools called seismographs and seismometers to measure seismic activity (that is, earthquakes). You can find student-appropriate activities online by using search terms such as build a seismograph or make your own seismograph. Even if you skip the hands-on activity, take some time to learn about the Richter Scale and the Mercalli Scale (an older system of measurement that ranks earthquakes based on the damage they cause). You may want to look up some of the earthquakes you have heard of to see where they fall on the scale (search terms such as largest earthquakes by magnitude). For instance, the 1868 Arica earthquake has been estimated to fall between 8.5 and 9.0 on the Richter Scale, which is extremely severe; Arica comes sixth on a list of the worst-ever recorded earthquakes.

Lesson Twelve: Earthquakes, Part Five


In this short final lesson about earthquakes, the Boy worries about natural disasters coming close to home. The Father uses some hypotheses about nature to reassure him, although we may dispute his reasoning on why they do not need to worry much about earthquakes.

But some of us do. Some of us have experienced wildfires, hurricanes, or other natural disasters, or have known people who were affected by them. Others share a more general concern for the health of our whole planet. There are many things that can make us afraid, and they are not all unfounded.

To this, Kingsley offers a powerful reply: "Seas will roll where we stand now, and new lands will rise," but there is "One who does not move nor change."


the rocks are harder there than here: Kingsley is right that an earthquake's effects vary depending on the softness and thickness of the ground through which the waves travel. However, he seems to have it backwards: hard rock allows waves to travel faster, so they do not build up as much strength; and areas of softer rock can experience very severe earthquakes. There may have been other reasons why the earthquakes in the north were felt more sharply than those around Hampshire.

fault: This use of the word fault is very interesting and relates to the word unconformity which will be discussed in Volume 2. Imagine that you are a geologist examining a large rock wall with many layers, perhaps in a canyon. The lines of rock run in irregular directions, not always in straight lines. You point at one of the lines and ask, "is that a fault or an unconformity?" The answer is not based so much on the appearance of the line, such as how slanted it is, as it is on what caused that layer of rock to be irregular. Geologists test the rocks above and below the line for evidence of either erosion or friction. If the cause was erosion, the line is called an unconformity. But if the cause was friction, such as an earthquake, it is a fault.

buffer: something that weakens the impact of a force

ever and anon: forever

People, Places, Events

Norfolk and Cambridgeshire: counties in the eastern part of England which contain low-lying land, including fens (wetland areas; marshes)


Part One

But you do not seem satisfied yet? What is it that you want to know?

Oh! There was an earthquake here in England the other night, while you were asleep; and that seems to you too near to be pleasant. Will there ever be earthquakes in England which will throw houses down, and bury people in the ruins?

Well, I think you may set your heart at rest upon that point. As far as the history of England goes back, and that is more than a thousand years, there is no account of any earthquake which has done any serious damage, or killed, I believe, a single human being. The little earthquakes which are sometimes felt in England run generally up one line of country, from Devonshire through Wales, and up the Severn valley into Cheshire and Lancashire, and the south-west of Scotland; and they are felt more smartly there, I believe, because the rocks are harder there than here, and more tossed about by earthquakes which happened ages and ages ago, long before man lived on the earth. I will show you the work of these earthquakes someday, in the tilting and twisting of the layers of rock, and in the cracks (faults, as they are called) which run through them in different directions. I showed you some once, if you recollect, in the chalk cliff at Ramsgate--two set of cracks, sloping opposite ways, which I told you were made by two separate sets of earthquakes, long, long ago, perhaps while the chalk was still at the bottom of a deep sea.

Part Two

But even in the rocky parts of England the earthquake-force seems to have all but died out. Perhaps the crust of the earth has become too thick and solid there to be much shaken by the gases and steam below. In this eastern part of England, meanwhile, there is but little chance that an earthquake will ever do much harm, because the ground here, for thousands of feet down, is not hard and rocky, but soft--sands, clays, chalk, and sands again; clays, soft limestones, and clays again--which all act as buffers to deaden the earthquake shocks, and deaden too the earthquake noise.

Meanwhile, all that the steam inside the earth is likely to do to us is to raise parts of this island (as Hartford Bridge Flats were raised, ages ago, out of the old icy sea) so slowly, probably, that no man can tell whether they are rising or not. Or again, the steam-power may be even now dying out under our island, and letting parts of it sink slowly into the sea, as some wise friends of mine think that the fens in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire are sinking now.

Then remember that as that Norfolk shore has changed, so slowly but surely is the whole world changing around us. Hartford Bridge Flat here, for instance, how has it changed! Ages ago it was the gravelly bottom of a sea. Then the steam-power underground raised it up slowly, through long ages, till it became dry land. And ages hence, perhaps, it will have become a sea-bottom once more. Washed slowly by the rain, or sunk by the dying out of the steam-power underground, it will go down again to the place from whence it came.

Seas will roll where we stand now, and new lands will rise where seas now roll. For all things on this earth, from the tiniest flower to the tallest mountain, change and change all day long. Every atom of matter moves perpetually; and nothing "continues in one stay." The solid-seeming earth on which you stand is but a heaving bubble, bursting ever and anon in this place and in that. Only above all, and through all, and with all, is One who does not move nor change, but is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And on Him, and not on this bubble of an earth, do you and I, and all of us, depend.

Narration and Discussion

How does the understanding that all things change help the boy to deal with his fear of natural disasters? Why was it important for Kingsley to add the final two sentences?

Do-It Challenge: As this is the last lesson on earthquakes, you may want to list questions you still have about them, and try to find out the answers. This is a good time to watch a video, explore a nature website, or read a book or an issue of a magazine focusing on earthquakes and tsunamis.

Lesson 13: Volcanoes, Part One (Chapter III)


Kingsley expands the discussion of the Arica earthquake with the related topic of volcanoes. Some students may already know quite a lot about volcanoes, but others may not. Do some brainstorming to see what is already familiar. What are the biggest questions? Where can you go to find answers? Most books about volcanoes are (obviously) serious ones, but one fun story is The Finches' Fabulous Furnace, by Roger W. Drury.


volcano: a mountain or hill, usually cone-shaped, having an opening through which lava (melted rock), rock fragments, vapour and gas erupt through the earth's crust. Some volcanoes are said to be active, but others are dormant or inactive.

there will be earthquakes: Yes and no. The earthquakes related to volcanoes are caused, like the volcanoes themselves, by the pressure of magma, rather than by slippage along a fault (the cause of other earthquakes). These earthquakes are usually relatively minor, but they are considered to be predictors of a coming volcanic eruption. There are three different types of magma-related earthquakes; and it is also possible for a "tectonic" or non-magma earthquake to occur near or even under a volcano if there is a fault there.

the steam underground: Again, Kingsley focuses on steam, while most basic definitions of volcanic action (such as the one above) do not; it is the movement of magma which creates pressure and causes a volcano to erupt. However, he is correct that there is a type of volcano-related earthquake caused by hydrothermal fluids, or, in other words, water turning to steam which can be powerful enough to break rocks apart. This happens frequently at Yellowstone National Park in the United States.

melts up the old rocks: that is, magma

Pele's hair: volcanic glass fibers

it was a mighty giant, etc.: these are stories from Greek mythology

People, Places, Events

Keith Johnston: Alexander Keith Johnston (1804-1871), a Scottish geographer and cartographer (map-maker) who published various books of maps (and also created the first English-language globe).

Sandwich Islands: the name given to the Hawaiian Islands by James Cook in 1778

Kapi'olani: A Book of Golden Deeds, included in Free Reading for this year, includes the story "The Chieftainess and the Volcano," based on accounts of Kapi'olani's ascent of Kilauea in 1824.

Otaheite: Tahiti

Friendly Islands: Tonga

Peak of Tenerife: Mount Teide, on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It last erupted in 1909.

Better with Pictures

Vesuvius, etc.: you may wish to look at pictures of these volcanoes.

map which is called "Phenomena of Volcanic Action": Kingsley did not include this map in the book, but an image is available online for those who wish to follow the discussion in the text, or for comparison with current-day world maps of volcanic activity.


Part One

You are still asking me why the people in Peru and Ecuador should have expected an earthquake.

Because they had had so many already. For their towns are built, most of them, close to volcanoes--some of the highest and most terrible in the world. And wherever there are volcanoes there will be earthquakes.

(Boy): How does that come to pass? Does a volcano make earthquakes?

No; we may rather say that earthquakes are trying to make volcanoes. For volcanoes are the holes which the steam underground has burst open that it may escape into the air above. They are the chimneys of the great blast-furnaces underground, in which Madam How pounds and melts up the old rocks, to make them into new ones, and spread them out over the land above.

(Boy): And are there many volcanoes in the world?

You have heard of Vesuvius, of course, in Italy; and Etna, in Sicily; and Hecla, in Iceland. And you have heard, too, of Kilauea, in the Sandwich Islands, and of Pele's hair--the yellow threads of lava, like fine spun glass, which are blown from off its pools of fire, and which the Sandwich Islanders believed to be the hair of a goddess who lived in the crater;--and you have read the noble story of Kapi'olani, who went down into the crater and defied the goddess of the volcano, and came back unhurt and triumphant.

Part Two

But if you look at the map, you will see that there are many, many more. Get Keith Johnston's Physical Atlas from the schoolroom--of course it is there (for a schoolroom without a physical atlas is like a needle without an eye)--and look at the map which is called "Phenomena of Volcanic Action."

You will see in it many red dots, which mark the volcanoes which are still burning: and black dots, which mark those which have been burning at some time or other, not very long ago, scattered about the world. Sometimes they are single, like the red dot at Otaheite, or at Easter Island in the Pacific. Sometimes they are in groups, or clusters, like the cluster at the Sandwich Islands, or in the Friendly Islands, or in New Zealand. And if we look in the Atlantic, we shall see four clusters: one in Iceland, in the far north; one in the Azores; one in the Canaries; and one in Cape Verde.

And there is one dot in those Canaries which we must not overlook, for it is no other than the famous Peak of Tenerife, a volcano which is hardly burnt out yet, and may burn up again any day, standing up out of the sea more than 12,000 feet high still, and once it must have been double that height. Some think that it is perhaps the true Mount Atlas, which the old Greeks named when first they ventured out of the Straits of Gibraltar down the coast of Africa, and saw the great peak far to the westward, with the clouds cutting off its top; and said that it was a mighty giant, the brother of the Evening Star, who held up the sky upon his shoulders, in the midst of the Fortunate Islands, the gardens of the daughter of the Evening Star, full of strange golden fruits; and that Perseus had turned him into stone, when he passed him with the Gorgon's head.

[We will continue looking at the map in the next lesson.]

Narration and Discussion

Do-It Challenge: The most obvious and interesting thing to do in this lesson is to find a map of volcanic activity, and look for the patterns. ("Ring of Fire" is one phrase to look up.) Do you see similarity to the maps of tectonic plates you looked at in previous lessons?

Volcano Trivia: Find out where the word "volcano" comes from.

Lesson 14: Volcanoes, Part Two


This is a hands-on lesson, as students continue their examination of a world map showing volcanic activity.


perpetually: without stopping

People, Places, Events

Kamchatka: a peninsula in northeast Russia

Mount Saint Elias: the second-highest mountain in both Canada and the United States, on the border between the Yukon Territory and Alaska (Russian America)

British Columbia: the westernmost province of Canada, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. At the time Kingsley wrote this book, it was a British colony which had not yet joined Canada as a province.

Humboldt: Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), famous naturalist and geographer

Quito: refers to the country of Ecuador

when the volcano in St. Vincent . . .: this is the 1812 eruption of La Soufrière described by Humboldt, and painted by the English artist J.M.W. Turner.

Better with Pictures

Chile: the longest country in South America, bordered by the Pacific Ocean

Cumana: in Venezuela

Caracas: the capital and largest city of Venezuela

plains of Calabozo: in central Venezuela


Part One

But you will see, too, that most of these red and black dots run in crooked lines; and that many of the clusters run in lines likewise.

Look at one line: by far the largest on the earth. You will learn a good deal of geography from it.

The red dots begin on the east side of the Bay of Bengal. They run on, here and there, along the islands of Sumatra and Java, and through the Spice Islands; and at New Guinea the line of red dots forks. One branch runs south-east to the Friendly Islands, and to New Zealand. The other runs north, through the Philippines, through Japan, through Kamchatka; and then there is a little break of sea, between Asia and America: but beyond it, the red dots begin again in the Aleutian Islands, and then turn down the whole west coast of America, down from Mount Saint Elias (in what was, till lately, Russian America) towards British Columbia. Then, after a long gap, there are one or two in Lower California (and we must not forget the terrible earthquake which has just shaken San Francisco, between those two last places); and when we come down to Mexico we find the red dots again plentiful, and only too plentiful; for they mark the great volcanic line of Mexico, of which you will read, I hope, someday, in Humboldt's works.

But the line does not stop there. After the little gap of the Isthmus of Panama, it begins again in Quito, the very region which has just been shaken, and in which stand the huge volcanoes Chimborazo, Pasto, Antisana, Cotopaxi, Pichincha, Tungurahua,--smooth cones from 15,000 to 20,000 feet high, shining white with snow, till the heat inside melts it off, and leaves the cinders of which the peaks are made all black and ugly among the clouds, ready to burst in smoke and fire. South of them again, there is a long gap, and then another line of red dots--Arequipa, Chipicani, Gualtieri, Atacama,--as high as, or higher than those in Quito; and this, remember, is the other country which has just been shaken. On the sea-shore below those volcanoes stood the city of Arica, whose ruins we saw in the picture. Then comes another gap; and then a line of more volcanoes in Chile; and so the line of dots runs down to the southernmost point of America.

What a line we have traced! Long enough to go round the world if it were straight. A line of holes out of which steam, and heat, and cinders, and melted stones are rushing up, perpetually, in one place and another. Now the holes in this line which are near each other have certainly something to do with each other. For instance, when the earth shook the other day round the volcanoes of Quito, it shook also round the volcanoes of Peru, though they were 600 miles away. And there are many stories of earthquakes being felt, or awful underground thunder heard, while volcanoes were breaking out hundreds of miles away. I will give you a very curious instance of that.

Part Two

If you look at the West Indies on the map, you will see a line of red dots runs through the Windward Islands: there are two volcanoes in them, one in Guadaloupe, and one in St. Vincent (I will tell you a curious story, presently, about that last), and little volcanoes (if they have ever been real volcanoes at all), which now only send out mud, in Trinidad. There the red dots stop: but then begins along the north coast of South America a line of mountain country called Cumana, and Caracas, which has often been horribly shaken by earthquakes. Now once, when the volcano in St. Vincent began to pour out a vast stream of melted lava, a noise like thunder was heard underground, over thousands of square miles beyond those mountains, in the plains of Calabozo, and on the banks of the Apure River, more than 600 miles away from the volcano,--a plain sign that there was something underground which joined them together, perhaps a long crack in the earth. Look for yourselves at the places, and you will see that (as Humboldt says) it is as strange as if an eruption of Mount Vesuvius was heard in the north of France.

So it seems as if these lines of volcanoes stood along cracks in the rind of the earth, through which the melted stuff inside was forever trying to force its way; and that, as the crack got stopped up in one place by the melted stuff cooling and hardening again into stone, it was burst in another place, and a fresh volcano made, or an old one re-opened.

Narration and Discussion

Do-It Challenge: As noted above, the landscape artist J.M.W. Turner painted his conception of the eruption of La Soufrière in St. Vincent, and he also painted Mount Vesuvius. Other artists who painted volcanoes included Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole, and Andy Warhol. Japanese artists have also depicted volcanoes such as Mount Fuji. How many of these (and others) can you find? (Search terms might include volcano paintings by famous artists.)

Lesson 15: Volcanoes, Part Three


This lesson is all about one of the most famous volcanic eruptions of all time: Mount Vesuvius, in 79 A.D.


because then the steam is trying to escape: see the notes for the two previous lessons

Nether Pit: a fearful place beneath the earth (see Psalm 30:3)

cutter: boat

pumice: a light, porous type of igneous rock. Igneous means that it was formed by great heat, usually by a volcanic eruption. (Think of the words ignite, ignition.)

People, Places, Events

Mount Vesuvius: a volcano situated on the Gulf of Naples in Italy. It is most famous for its eruption in 79 A.D., as described here. Vesuvius erupted several times during Kingsley's lifetime and again shortly afterward, but it has been inactive since 1944.

Phlegraean Fields: an area of volcanic activity near the city of Naples

Lake Avernus: in Italian, Lago d'Averno

Roman admiral, called Pliny: Pliny the Elder

Monte Somma: in English, Mount Somma

Better with Pictures

Vesuvius: Kingsley included a drawing of Mount Vesuvius with the cloud hanging over it, and such drawings can be seen by doing a search for Victorian drawing Vesuvius Pompeii, or old photographs drawings Mount Vesuvius.

Pompeii, Herculaneum: There are many books, websites, videos, etc., that show the excavations and reconstructions in detail.

Crystal Palace, Pompeian Court: The Crystal Palace (1851-1936) was a large exhibition building in London.


Part One

Now we can understand why earthquakes should be most common round volcanoes; and we can understand, too, why they would be worst before a volcano breaks out, because then the steam is trying to escape; and we can understand, too, why people who live near volcanoes are glad to see them blazing and spouting, because then they have hope that the steam has found its way out, and will not make earthquakes any more for a while. But still that is merely foolish speculation on chance. Volcanoes can never be trusted. No one knows when one will break out, or what it will do; and those who live close to them--as the city of Naples is close to Mount Vesuvius--must not be astonished if they are blown up or swallowed up.

For what happened to that same Mount Vesuvius nearly 1800 years ago, in the old Roman times? For ages and ages, it had been lying quiet, like any other hill. Beautiful cities were built at its foot, filled with people who were as handsome, and as comfortable, and (I am afraid) as wicked as people ever were on earth. Fair gardens, vineyards, and olive-yards covered the mountain slopes. It was held to be one of the Paradises of the world. As for the mountain's being a burning mountain, who ever thought of that? To be sure, on the top of it was a great round crater, or cup, a mile or more across, and a few hundred yards deep. But that was all overgrown with bushes and wild vines, full of boars and deer. What sign of fire was there in that?

To be sure, also, there was an ugly place below by the sea-shore, called the Phlegraean Fields, where smoke and brimstone came out of the ground, and a lake called Avernus over which poisonous gases hung, and which (old stories told) was one of the mouths of the Nether Pit. But what of that? It had never harmed any one, and how could it harm them?

So they all lived on, merrily and happily enough, till, in the year A.D. 79 (that was eight years, you know, after the Emperor Titus destroyed Jerusalem), there was stationed in the Bay of Naples a Roman admiral, called Pliny, who was also a very studious and learned man, and author of a famous old book on natural history. He was staying on shore with his sister; and as he sat in his study, she called him out to see a strange cloud which had been hanging for some time over the top of Mount Vesuvius. It was in shape just like a pine-tree; not, of course, like one of our branching Scotch firs here, but like an Italian stone pine, with a long straight stem and a flat parasol-shaped top. Sometimes it was blackish, sometimes spotted; and Admiral Pliny, who was always curious about natural science, ordered his cutter and went away across the bay to see what it could be. Earthquake shocks had been very common for the last few days; but I do not suppose that Pliny had any notion that the earthquakes and the cloud had anything to do with each other. However, he soon found out that they had, and to his cost. When he got near the opposite shore some of the sailors met him and entreated him to turn back. Cinders and pumice-stones were falling down from the sky, and flames breaking out of the mountain above. But Pliny would go on: he said that if people were in danger, it was his duty to help them; and that he must see this strange cloud, and note down the different shapes into which it changed. But the hot ashes fell faster and faster; the sea ebbed out suddenly, and left them nearly dry, and Pliny turned away to a place called Stabiae, to the house of his friend Pomponianus, who was just going to escape in a boat. Brave Pliny told him not to be afraid, ordered his bath like a true Roman gentleman, and then went in to dinner with a cheerful face. Flames came down from the mountain, nearer and nearer as the night drew on; but Pliny persuaded his friend that they were only fires in some villages from which the peasants had fled, and then went to bed and slept soundly. However, in the middle of the night, the people in the house found the courtyard being fast filled with cinders, and, if they had not awakened the Admiral in time, he would never have been able to get out. The earthquake shocks grew stronger and fiercer, till the house was ready to fall; and Pliny and his friend, and the sailors and the slaves, all fled into the open fields, amid a shower of stones and cinders, tying pillows over their heads to prevent their being beaten down.

The day had come by this time, but not the dawn--for it was still pitch-dark as night. They went down to their boats upon the shore; but the sea raged so horribly that there was no getting on board of them. Then Pliny grew tired, and made his men spread a sail for him, and lay down on it; but there came down upon them a rush of flames, and a horrible smell of sulphur, and they all ran for their lives. Some of the slaves tried to help the Admiral upon his legs; but he sank down again, overpowered with the brimstone fumes, and so was left behind. When they came back again, there he lay dead, but with his clothes in order and his face as quiet as if he had been only sleeping. And that was the end of a brave and learned man--a martyr to duty and to the love of science.

Part Two

But what was going on in the meantime? Under clouds of ashes, cinders, mud, and lava, three of those happy cities were buried at once--Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Stabiae. They were buried just as the people had fled from them, leaving the furniture and the earthenware, often even jewels and gold, behind, and here and there among them a human being who had not had time to escape from the dreadful deluge of dust. The ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii have been dug into since; and the paintings, especially in Pompeii, are found upon the walls still fresh, preserved from the air by the ashes which have covered them in. When you are older you perhaps will go to Naples, and see in its famous museum the curiosities which have been dug out of the ruined cities; and you will walk, I suppose, along the streets of Pompeii and see the wheel-tracks in the pavement, along which carts and chariots rumbled 2000 years ago. Meanwhile, if you go nearer home, to the Crystal Palace and to the Pompeian Court, as it is called, you will see an exact model of one of these old buried houses, copied even to the very paintings on the walls; and judge for yourself what sort of life these people lived 2000 years ago.

And what had become of Vesuvius, the treacherous mountain? Half or more than half of the side of the old crater had been blown away, and what was left, which is now called the Monte Somma, stands in a half circle round the new cone and new crater which is burning at this very day. True, after that eruption which killed Pliny, Vesuvius fell asleep again, and did not awake for 134 years, and then again for 269 years: but it has been growing more and more restless as the ages have passed on, and now hardly a year passes without its sending out smoke and stones from its crater, and streams of lava from its sides.

Narration and Discussion

This story has inspired many writers and artists. Re-tell the events in any form you like, perhaps from the viewpoint of someone who saw the eruption.

Do-It Challenge: Mount Vesuvius is a stratovolcano, or composite volcano. How many types of volcanoes are there? That depends on your source! A quick search for "types of volcanoes" can yield anywhere from three major types to six or seven, and one book names twenty-six types! Oregon State University's "Volcano World" website says that six categories are probably enough to describe most of the world's volcanoes. That page also includes a note which Charles Kingsley would surely have appreciated, saying that humans invent a classification system, but Nature doesn't always follow our rules!

Imagine, for example, that you have a bag of buttons, a basket of different types of apples, or a container of crayons. (You can really do this if you like!) With buttons, for example, would you group them first by size and then by colour, or the other way around? How many categories do you think you would need to store the buttons in a craft room? How many would be too many?

Now try doing the same thing with volcanoes. What things about volcanoes might separate them into different groups? Would it make sense to describe them by their shape, their size, or what comes out of them?

Finally, look at the "official" systems for classifying volcanoes ("Volcano World" is one such site), and see how they compare to the groupings you came up with.

Lesson 16: Volcanoes, Part Four


What happens inside a volcano? Why do they have the shape that they do? This lesson, and the next, describe the how of volcanoes.


But most volcanoes . . .: see discussion questions below

"the path which no fowl knoweth . . .": Job 28:7-10

People, Places, Events

Java: a large island in Indonesia. The volcano referred to is Mount Papandayan.

Better with Pictures

the drawing opposite: the illustration showed the volcano Cotopaxi in South America; but it was meant as an example of the typical cinder cone volcano formation. Another well-known stratovolcano is Popocatépetl, in Mexico.


And now, I suppose, you will want to know what a volcano is like, and what a cone, and a crater, and lava are?

What a volcano is like, it is easy enough to show you; for they are the most simply and beautifully shaped of all mountains, and they are alike all over the world, whether they be large or small. Almost every volcano in the world, I believe, is, or has been once, of the shape which you see in the drawing opposite; even those volcanoes in the Sandwich Islands, of which you have often heard, which are now great lakes of boiling fire upon flat downs, without any cone to them at all.

They, I believe, are volcanoes which have fallen in ages ago: just as in Java when a whole burning mountain fell in on the night of the 11th of August, in the year 1772. Then, after a short and terrible earthquake, a bright cloud suddenly covered the whole mountain. The people who dwelt around it tried to escape; but before they could get away, the earth sunk beneath their feet, and the whole mountain fell in and was swallowed up with a noise as if great cannon were being fired. Forty villages and nearly 3,000 people were destroyed, and where the mountain had been was only a plain of red-hot stones.

In the same way, in the year 1698, the top of a mountain in Quito fell in in a single night, leaving only two immense peaks of rock behind, and pouring out great floods of mud mixed with dead fish; for there are underground lakes among those volcanoes which swarm with little fish which never see the light.

But most volcanoes as I say, are, or have been, the shape of the one which you see here. This is Cotopaxi, in Quito, more than 19,000 feet in height. All those sloping sides are made of cinders and ashes, braced together, I suppose, by bars of solid lava-stone inside, which prevent the whole from crumbling down. The upper part, you see, is white with snow, as far down as a line which is 15,000 feet above the sea; for the mountain is in the tropics, close to the equator, and the snow will not lie in that hot climate any lower down. But now and then the snow melts off and rushes down the mountain side in floods of water and of mud, and the cindery cone of Cotopaxi stands out black and dreadful against the clear blue sky, and then the people of that country know what is coming. The mountain is growing so hot inside that it melts off its snowy covering; and soon it will burst forth with smoke and steam, and red-hot stones and earthquakes, which will shake the ground, and roars that will be heard, it may be, hundreds of miles away.

And now for the words cone, crater, lava. If I can make you understand those words, you will see why volcanoes must be in general of the shape of Cotopaxi. Cone, crater, lava: those words make up the alphabet of volcano learning. The cone is the outside of a huge chimney; the crater is the mouth of it. The lava is the ore which is being melted in the furnace below, that it may flow out over the surface of the old land, and make new land instead.

And where is the furnace itself? Who can tell that? Under the roots of the mountains, under the depths of the sea; down "the path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen: the lion's whelp hath not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it. There He putteth forth His hand upon the rock; He overturneth the mountain by the roots; He cutteth out rivers among the rocks; and His eye seeth every precious thing"--while we, like little ants, run up and down outside the earth, scratching, like ants, a few feet down, and calling that a deep ravine; or peeping a few feet down into the crater of a volcano, unable to guess what precious things may lie below--below even the fire which blazes and roars up through the thin crust of the earth. For of the inside of this earth we know nothing whatsoever: we only know that it is, on an average, several times as heavy as solid rock; but how that can be, we know not.

How a volcano works will be continued in the next lesson.

Narration and Discussion

Kingsley admits that there are "flat" volcanoes, but believes that they must all once have been cone-shaped. If you completed the Challenge in the last lesson, or if you have looked at photographs of volcanoes, you will have seen that they come in a variety of shapes, and that their shape is related to the material that comes out of them. You might look especially at shield volcanoes (such as Mauna Loa in Hawaii, and Erta Ale in Ethiopia); and then write a response to Kingsley.

"We know nothing whatsoever": this may inspire some discussion! Do we know more about the inside of the earth than people did in 1869?

Do-It Challenge: You may want to research this lesson's topic a bit more by searching what happens inside a volcano. Some people have had the adventure of exploring inside the Thríhnukagigur Volcano in Iceland, and you can read about that by searching for Iceland inside the volcano tour.

Lesson 17: Volcanoes, Part Five


In this very straightforward lesson, the Father explains how volcanoes get their shape, and how craters are formed.


desolate: empty, sad-looking

turf: in this context, turf means grass rather than peat

honest: this is used in the sense of "make an honest living," meaning that the people were practical and hard-working

earthenware: a type of pottery

People, Places, Events

Eifel: a mountain range extending from western Germany into Belgium

Better with Pictures

lakes: one such lake is Crater Lake in Oregon, in the United States, a collapsed caldera (see Volcano-Speak, below) of Mount Mazama Volcano.


Part One

(Boy): Why is a volcano shaped like a cone?

For the same cause for which a molehill is like a cone, though a very rough one; and that the little heaps which the burrowing beetles make on the moor, or which the ant-lions in France make in the sand, are all something in the shape of a cone, with a hole like a crater in the middle. What the beetle and the ant-lion do on a very little scale, the steam inside the earth does on a great scale. When once it has forced a vent into the outside air, it tears out the rocks underground, grinds them small against each other, often into the finest dust, and blasts them out of the hole which it has made. Some of them fall back into the hole, and are shot out again: but most of them fall round the hole, most of them close to it, and fewer of them farther off, till they are piled up in a ring round it, just as the sand is piled up round a beetle's burrow.

For days, and weeks, and months this goes on; even it may be for hundreds of years: till a great cone is formed round the steam vent, hundreds or thousands of feet in height, of dust and stones, and of cinders likewise. For you will recollect that when the steam has blown away the cold earth and rock near the surface of the ground, it begins blowing out the hot rocks down below, red-hot, white-hot, and at last actually melted. But these, as they are hurled into the cool air above, become ashes, cinders, and blocks of stone again, making the hill on which they fall bigger and bigger continually. And thus does wise Madam How stand in no need of bricklayers, but makes her chimneys build themselves.

Part Two

(Boy): Why is the mouth of the chimney called a crater?

Krater is Greek for a cup. And the mouth of these chimneys, when they have become choked and stopped working, are often just the shape of a cup, or (as the Germans call them). Kessels, which means kettles, or cauldrons. I have seen some of them as beautifully and exactly rounded as if a cunning engineer had planned them, and had them dug out with the spade. At first, of course, their sides and bottom are nothing but loose stones, cinders, slag, ashes, such as would be thrown out of a furnace. But Madam How, who, whenever she makes an ugly, desolate place, always tries to cover over its ugliness, and set something green to grow over it and make it pretty once more, does so, often and often, by her worn-out craters. I have seen them covered with short sweet turf, like so many chalk downs. I have seen them, too, filled with bushes, which held woodcocks and wild boars. Once I came on a beautiful round crater on the top of a mountain, which was filled at the bottom with a splendid crop of potatoes. Though Madam How had not put them there herself, she had at least taught the honest Germans to put them there.

And often Madam How turns her worn-out craters into beautiful lakes. There are many such crater-lakes in Italy, as you will see if ever you go there. Many such deep clear blue lakes have I seen in the Eifel, in Germany; and many a curious plant have I picked on their shores, where once the steam blasted, and the earthquake roared, and the ash-clouds rushed up high into the heaven, and buried all the land around in dust, which is now fertile soil. And long did I puzzle to find out why the water stood in some craters, while others, within a mile of them perhaps, were perfectly dry. That I never found out for myself. But learned men tell me that the ashes which fall back into the crater, if the bottom of it be wet from rain, will sometimes "set" (as it is called) into a hard cement; and so make the bottom of the great bowl waterproof, as if it were made of earthenware.

(Boy): But what gives the craters this cup-shape at first?

While the steam and stones are being blown out, the crater is an open funnel, with more or less upright walls inside. As the steam grows weaker, fewer and fewer stones fall outside, and more and more fall back again inside. At last they quite choke up the bottom of the great round hole. Perhaps, too, the lava or melted rock underneath cools and grows hard, and that chokes up the hole lower down. Then, down from the round edge of the crater the stones and cinders roll inward more and more. The rains wash them down, the wind blows them down. They roll to the middle, and meet each other, and stop. And so gradually the steep funnel becomes a round cup.

You may prove for yourself that it must be so, if you will try. Do you not know that if you dig a round hole in the ground, and leave it to crumble in, it is sure to become cup-shaped at last, though at first its sides may have been quite upright, like those of a bucket? If you do not know, get a trowel and try this experiment.

Narration and Discussion

Volcano-Speak: A caldera is a term which is often confused with crater. A crater is a vent for volcanic activity. A caldera, on the other hand, is formed when a volcanic eruption has left an empty space or chamber under the ground, and the weight of the material above it collapses, creating a bowl-shaped depression in the earth. You may want to find out more about calderas such as Yellowstone and the Valles Caldera of New Mexico.

Do-It Challenge: If you have the opportunity, find some sand or dirt and try the digging experiment in the last paragraph.

For further thought: Kingsley, as he made plain at the beginning of the chapter, did not advise living in such high-risk areas. In his opinion, the choice was simple: move. But for many, there are benefits to living in volcanic areas that seem to outweigh the risks. A search for topics such as living with a volcano or living near an active volcano will explain why people stay. (One reason is that volcanoes can be used as sources of geothermal energy. The Finches' Fabulous Furnace, it seems, was not so far from reality.)

If you were offered the chance to live close to an active (or dormant-but-could-reawaken) volcano, would you take it?

Lesson 18: Volcanoes, Part Six


We have heard the story of the eruption of Vesuvius; but what is it actually like to see a volcano erupt?


volley: a number of bullets, arrows, or other projectiles shot or thrown all at once (in this case, a hailstorm of rocks)

The melted lava . . . never gets to the top: Some volcanic material does come straight out the top; but lava, gases, and ash erupt through vents as well, and create new hills and mountains.

I must tell you another time: Kingsley’s less-than-helpful answer here seems to be based not so much on having to explain what lava is, as how it is formed and where it comes from.

girandole of rockets: a spinning cluster of fireworks

shrouds: a type of sail

=leeward: sheltered

mean: of poor quality

artillery: guns, cannons

Better with Pictures

This chapter originally ended with a diagram of a volcano. A search for volcano diagram, volcano interior, or volcano interior diagram will provide a number of useful illustrations.


Part One

Now you ought to understand what "cone" and "crater" mean. And more: if you will think for yourself, you may guess what would come out of a volcano when it broke out "in an eruption," as it is usually called. First, clouds of steam and dust (what you would call smoke); then volleys of stones, some cool, some burning hot; and at the last, because it lies lowest of all, the melted rock itself, which is called lava.

(Boy): And where would that come out? At the top of the chimney? At the top of the cone?

No. Madam How, as I told you, usually makes things make themselves. She has made the chimney of the furnace make itself; and next she will make the furnace-door make itself. The melted lava rises in the crater--the funnel inside the cone--but it never gets to the top. It is so enormously heavy that the sides of the cone cannot bear its weight, and give way low down. And then, through ashes and cinders, the melted lava burrows out, twisting and twirling like an enormous fiery earth-worm, till it gets to the air outside, and runs off down the mountain in a stream of fire. And so you may see (as are to be seen on Vesuvius now) two eruptions at once--one of burning stones above, and one of melted lava below.

(Boy): And what is lava?

That, I think, I must tell you another time. For when I speak of it, I shall have to tell you more about Madam How, and her ways of making the ground on which you stand, than I can say just now.

Part Two

But if you want to know (as I dare say you do) what the eruption of a volcano is like, you may read what follows. I did not see it happen; for I never had the good fortune of seeing a mountain burning, though I have seen many a one which has been burnt--extinct volcanoes, as they are called.

The man who saw it--a very good friend of mine, and a very good scientist also--went last year to see an eruption on Vesuvius, not from the main crater, but from a small one which had risen up suddenly on the outside of it; and he gave me leave (when I told him that I was writing this book) to tell you what he saw.

This new cone, he said, was about 200 feet high, and perhaps 80 or 100 feet across at the top. And as he stood below it (it was not safe to go up it) smoke rolled up from its top, "rosy pink below," from the glare of the cauldron, and above "faint greenish or blueish silver of indescribable beauty, from the light of the moon." But more--by good chance, the cone began to send out, not smoke only, but brilliant burning stones.

"Each explosion," he says, "was like a vast girandole of rockets, with a noise (such as rockets would make) like the waves on a beach, or the wind blowing through shrouds. The mountain was trembling the whole time. So it went on for two hours and more; sometimes eight or ten explosions in a minute, and more than 1,000 stones in each, some as large as two bricks end to end. The largest ones mostly fell back into the crater; but the smaller ones being thrown higher, and more acted on by the wind, fell in immense numbers on the leeward slope of the cone . . ."

(making it bigger and bigger, as I have explained already to you); and of course, as they were intensely hot and bright, making the cone look as if it too was red-hot. But it was not so, he says, really. The colour of the stones was rather

"golden, and they spotted the black cone over with their golden showers, the smaller ones stopping still, the bigger ones rolling down, and jumping along just like hares." "A wonderful pedestal," he says, "for the explosion which surmounted it."

How high the stones flew up he could not tell.

"There was generally one which went much higher than the rest, and pierced upwards towards the moon, who looked calmly down, mocking such vain attempts to reach her." The large stones, of course, did not rise so high; and some, he says, "only just appeared over the rim of the cone, above which they came floating leisurely up, to show their brilliant forms and intense white light for an instant, and then subside again."

Try and picture that to yourselves, remembering that this was only a little side eruption, of no more importance to the whole mountain than the fall of a shingle off the roof is of importance to the whole house. And then think how mean and weak human fireworks, and even our heaviest artillery, are compared with the terrible beauty and terrible strength of Madam How's artillery underneath our feet.

Narration and Discussion

Volcanoes have inspired stories such as The Twenty-One Balloons (by William Pène du Bois) and Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth; and poems, such as Emily Dickinson's "A still--Volcano--Life--," "The reticent volcano keeps," and "On my volcano grows the Grass." Searching for poems about volcanoes will bring up a list. (Parents/teachers may want to choose one or two to read together.)

Do-It Challenge: If watching a volcanic eruption can put us in awe of Madam How's "artillery," how much more should we give credit to her "Master," the Creator! Could you write your own poem, song, or group reading about the glimpses of God we see through volcanoes?

[Important Note: This ends the Volcanoes chapter; but the following chapter continues the discussion of lava and its benefit to the earth.]

Lesson 19: The Transformations of a Grain of Soil, Part One (Chapter IV)


This is quite a short lesson, but it contains a deep philosophical question, and also a riddle which might turn out to be important.


divers and sundry: various

whinstone: Kingsley says that whinstones are lava, but they also refer to certain types of hard rock, particularly igneous rocks

the hoop . . .: hoops steered with sticks were popular Victorian toys

but what whinstones had gone to the making of it: there was no pot of broth that did not contain whinstones

People, Places, Events

the brave Spaniard: Francisco Montaño, who accompanied Cortez, is said to have done this in 1519


Part One

Why, you ask, are there such terrible things as volcanoes? Of what use can they be?

They are of use enough; and of many more uses, doubt not, than we know as yet, or ever shall know. But of one of their uses I can tell you. They make, or help to make, divers and sundry curious things, from gunpowder, to your body, and mine.

(Boy): What? I can understand their helping to make gunpowder, because the sulphur in it is often found round volcanoes; and I know the story of the brave Spaniard who, when his fellows wanted materials for gunpowder, had himself lowered in a basket down the crater of a South American volcano, and gathered sulphur for them off the burning cliffs. But how can volcanoes help to make me? Am I made of lava? Or is there lava in me?

I did not say that volcanoes helped to make you. I said that they helped to make your body; which is a very different matter, as I beg you to remember, now and always.

[Kingsley goes down a philosophical rabbit trail about whether or not we are our bodies, or whether we just use them and control them.]

Your body is no more you yourself than the hoop which you trundle, or the pony which you ride. It is, like them, your servant, your tool, your instrument, your organ, with which you work: and a very useful, trusty, cunningly-contrived organ it is; and therefore, I advise you to make good use of it, for you are responsible for it. But you yourself are not your body, or your brain, but something else, which we call your soul, your spirit, your life. And that "you yourself" would remain just the same if it were taken out of your body, and put into the body of a bee, or of a lion, or any other body; or into no body at all. At least so I believe . . . but there have always been, and always will be, a few people who cannot see that. They think that a man's soul is part of his body, and that he himself is not one thing, but a great number of things. They think that his mind and character are only made up of all the thoughts, and feelings, and recollections which have passed through his brain; and that as his brain changes, he himself must change, and become another person, and then another person again, continually. But do you not agree with them: but keep in mind this warning, that you are not to "confound the organ with the power," or the engine with the driver, or your body with yourself.

And then we will go on and consider how a volcano, and the lava which flows from it, helps to make your body.

Part Two

Now I know that the Scotch have a saying, "that you cannot make broth out of whinstones" (which is their name for lava). But though they are very clever people, they are wrong there. I never saw any broth in Scotland, as far as I know, but what whinstones had gone to the making of it; nor a Scotch boy who had not eaten many a bit of whinstone, and been all the better for it. Of course, if you simply put the whinstones into a kettle and boiled them, you would not get much out of them by such rough cookery as that. But Madam How is the best and most delicate of all cooks; and she knows how to pound, and soak, and stew whinstones so delicately, that she can make them sauce and seasoning for meat, vegetables, puddings, and almost everything that you eat; and can put into your veins things which were spouted up red-hot by volcanoes, ages and ages since, perhaps at the bottom of ancient seas which are now firm dry land.

Narration and Discussion

"'We're nothing but a fortuitous concatenation of atoms. The great Dr. Von Bemburg says so.' 'Don't quote that horrible Von Bemburg to me. He must have a bad case of chronic indigestion. He may be a concatenation of atoms, but I am not.'" (L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Ingleside)

Kingsley is going to explain how our physical bodies are, so to speak, a concatenation of atoms, or an amazing chemistry-lab of elements; but he wants to be sure first that we know that he knows we are also more than that. In the quotation above, Anne objects to the "we are just random atoms" viewpoint because it doesn't allow for her enjoyment of a new dress with a "swishy" taffeta petticoat. What other things about our human-ness make us more than just "atoms?"

The Riddle: You can't make soup from stones (unless you are the man in the folk tale). But, Kingsley says, everything we eat does have stones in it. How is that possible? The answer is found in Lesson 23.

Do-It Challenge: Take a "Master William" walk (see Lesson One), and try to use all your senses to enjoy the beauty of the world around you. (For fun, you might also make a pot of "stone soup.")

Lesson 20: Soil, Part Two


This short passage describes the effects of a lava stream or flow.


brazen: brass

People, Places, Events

Black Country of Staffordshire: an industrialized area where there were mines, smelting works, etc.

Sandwich Islands: Hawaii

in Hawaii . . .this very year: the Mauna Loa eruption of 1868


(Boy): This is very strange.

As all Madam How's doings are! And you would think it stranger still if you had ever seen the flowing of a lava stream. Out of a cave of slag and cinders in the black hillside rushes a golden river, flowing like honey, and yet so tough that you cannot thrust a stick into it, and so heavy that great stones (if you throw them on it) float on the top, and are carried down like corks on water. It is so hot that you cannot stand near it more than a few seconds; hotter, perhaps, than any fire you ever saw: but as it flows, the outside of it cools in the cool air, and gets covered with slag and cinders, something like those which you may see thrown out of the furnaces in the Black Country of Staffordshire. Sometimes these cling together above the lava stream, and make a tunnel, through the cracks in which you may see the fiery river rushing and roaring down below. But mostly they are kept broken and apart, and roll and slide over each other on the top of the lava, crashing and clanging as they grind together with a horrid noise. Of course that stream, like all streams, runs towards the lower grounds. It slides down glens, and fills them up; down the beds of streams, driving off the water in hissing steam; and sometimes (as it did in Iceland a few years ago) falls over some cliff, turning what had been a water-fall into a fire-fall; and filling up the pool below with blocks of lava suddenly cooled, with a clang and roar like that of chains shaken or brazen vessels beaten, which is heard miles and miles away.

Of course, woe to the crops and gardens which stand in its way. It crawls over them all and eats them up. It shoves down houses; it sets woods on fire, and sends the steam and gas out of the tree-trunks hissing into the air. And (curiously enough) it does this often without touching the trees themselves. It flows round the trunks (it did so in a wood in the Sandwich Islands a few years ago), and of course sets them on fire by its heat, till nothing is left of them but blackened posts. But the moisture which comes out of the poor tree in steam blows so hard against the lava round it that it can never touch the tree, and a round hole is left in the middle of the lava where the tree was. Sometimes, too, the lava will spit out liquid fire among the branches of the trees, which hangs down afterwards from them in tassels of slag, and yet, by the very same means, the steam in the branches will prevent the liquid fire burning them off, or doing anything but scorch the bark.

In many a case the lava rolls on and on over the downs and through the valleys, till it reaches the seashore, as it did in Hawaii in the Sandwich Islands this very year. And then it cools, of course; but often not before it has killed the fish by its sulphurous gases and heat, perhaps for miles around. And there is good reason to believe that the fossil fish which we so often find in rocks, perfect in every bone, lying sometimes in heaps, and twisted (as I have seen them) as if they had died suddenly and violently, were killed in this very way, either by heat from lava streams, or else by the bursting up of gases poisoning the water, in earthquakes and eruptions in the bottom of the sea. But we have not time to tell about everything.

Narration and Discussion

Find out about the three (or sometimes four) types of lava. Which type(s) does Kingsley seem to be describing?

Do-It Challenge: When scientists talk about lava, they often use the word viscosity. Viscosity describes how fast or slowly a particular liquid will flow, or its level of resistance (how much it tries not to flow). Liquid with a low viscosity, like water, flows quickly, while that with a high viscosity, like molasses or ketchup, flows slowly. One messy but fun way to demonstrate viscosity is to have a timed "race" between various types of liquid (you can find versions of this in various places online). The essential materials are several liquids and some kind of slanted surface to run the "race." You will need a large container or absorbent surface at the bottom to catch the liquids, unless you do it outside and in a place where the runoff won't damage the ground. (A ramp propped in the bathtub might work, if the liquids can go safely down the drain afterwards.)

Lesson 21: Soil, Part Three


We dig deeper into the mysteries of Madam How, volcanoes, and lava.


judge not according to the appearance: a saying of Jesus in John 7:24

good stuff: good soil

manure: used in a general way to mean fertilizer

corn: grain, such as wheat or barley

potash: a powder or "salt" containing potassium, used to improve crops. The word comes from "pot ash," because ashes were first used for that purpose. Kingsley is referring to our body's need for potassium.

magnesia: we would more commonly say magnesium

silicates: minerals

carbonic acid gas: carbon dioxide


Part One

And now you will ask me, with more astonishment than ever, what possible use can there be in these destroying streams of fire? And certainly, if you had ever seen a lava stream even when cool, and looked down, as I have done, at the great river of rough black blocks streaming away far and wide over the land, you would think it the most hideous and the most useless thing you ever saw. And yet there is One who told men to judge not according to the appearance. He said that about matters spiritual and human: but it is quite as true about matters natural, which also are His work, and all obey His will.

Now if you had seen, as I have seen, close round the edges of these lava streams, and sometimes actually upon them, or upon the great bed of dust and ashes which have been hurled far and wide out of ancient volcanoes, happy homesteads; rich crops, hemp and flax, and wheat; and vineyards laden with white and purple grapes, you would have begun to suspect that the lava streams were not, after all, such very bad neighbours. And when I tell you that volcanic soils (as they are called); that is, soil which has at first been lava or ashes; are generally the richest soils in the world--that, for instance (as someone told me the other day), there is soil in the beautiful island of Madeira so thin that you cannot dig more than two or three inches down without coming to the solid rock of lava; or what is harder even, obsidian (which is the black glass which volcanoes sometimes make, and which the old Mexicans used to chip into swords and arrows, because they had no steel)--and that this soil, thin as it is, is yet so fertile, that in it used to be grown the grapes of which the famous Madeira wine was made--when you remember this, and when you remember, too, the Lothians of Scotland (about which I shall have to say a little to you just now), then you will perhaps agree with me that Lady Why has not been so very wrong in setting Madam How to pour out lava and ashes upon the surface of the earth.

Part Two

For see--down below, under the roots of the mountains, Madam How works continually like a chemist in a laboratory, melting together all the rocks, which are the bones and leavings of the old worlds. If they stayed down below there, they would be of no use: while they will be of use up here in the open air. For, year by year--by the washing of rain and rivers, and also, I am sorry to say, by the ignorant and foolish waste of mankind--thousands and millions of tons of good stuff are running into the sea every year, which would, if it could be kept on land, make food for men and animals, plants and trees.

So, in order to supply the continual waste of this upper world, Madam How is continually melting up the underworld, and pouring it out of the volcanoes like manure, to renew the face of the earth. In these lava rocks and ashes which she sends up there are certain substances without which men cannot live--without which a stalk of corn or grass cannot grow. Without potash, without magnesia, both of which are in your veins and mine--without silicates (as they are called), which make the stems of corn and of grass able to stand upright--and very probably without the carbonic acid gas, which comes out of the volcanoes, and is taken up by the leaves of plants, and turned by Madam How's cookery into solid wood--without all these things, and I suspect without a great many more things which come out of volcanoes--I do not see how this beautiful green world could get on at all.

Narration and Discussion

What are some other natural objects (live or not!) that seem only pesky, dangerous, or useless? Try to find out at least one good thing about each; and if you can't, thank God for them anyway (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Some to start with: lightning; mosquitoes; ragweed.

Do-It Challenge: Kingsley refers to "the ignorant and foolish waste of mankind." He is not talking about garbage at this point, but about (it seems) our poor attention to soil conservation. Conservation means "keeping" or "preserving." Do you remember the challenge where you were to build a hill of sand and run water down it, to see how the dirt ran away? It was suggested that you add other materials to the model, such as rocks, to keep the "soil" in place. Think about other ways that people use to keep soil from blowing or washing away. (Might planting something help? Some students have built model hills and then added quickly-sprouting alfalfa seeds to demonstrate how plants anchor the soil.) A search for ways to prevent soil erosion will suggest common methods. (Have you ever heard of geotextiles?)

Lesson 22: Soil, Part Four


This passage continues the ideas from Lesson 21, that the products of volcanoes can be beneficial as well as destructive.


barren: it cannot grow anything

silt: this word is used more often as a noun than as a verb, but here it is a verb meaning to cover or spread, especially with fertilizer or mud

wafted: blown

estates: large agricultural businesses; plantations

People, Places, Events

the volcano of St. Vincent: see Lesson 14


Of course, when the lava first cools on the surface of the ground it is hard enough, and therefore barren enough. But Madam How sets to work upon it at once, with that delicate little water-spade of hers, which we call rain, and with that alone, century after century, and age after age, she digs the lava stream down, atom by atom, and silts it over the country round as if it were rich manure. So that if Madam How has been a rough and hasty workwoman in pumping her treasures up out of her mine with her great steam-pumps, she shows herself delicate and tender and kindly enough in giving them away afterwards.

Nay, even the fine dust which is sometimes blown out of volcanoes is useful to countries far away. So light it is, that it rises into the sky and is wafted by the wind across the seas. So, in the year 1783, ashes from the Skaptar Jokull, in Iceland, were carried over the north of Scotland, and even into Holland, hundreds of miles to the south.

So, again, when in the year 1812 the volcano of St. Vincent, in the Caribbean, poured out torrents of lava, after mighty earthquakes which shook all that part of the world, a strange thing happened (about which I have often heard from those who saw it) in the island of Barbados, several hundred miles away. For when the sun rose in the morning (it was a Sunday morning), the sky remained more dark than any night, and the dust went on falling till the whole island, I am told, was covered an inch thick; and the same thing happened in the other islands round. People thought--and they had reason to think from what had often happened elsewhere--that though the dust might hurt the crops for that year, it would make them richer in years to come, because it would act as manure upon the soil; and so it did after a few years; but it did terrible damage at the time, breaking off the boughs of trees and covering up the crops; and in St. Vincent itself whole estates were ruined. It was a frightful day, but I know well that behind that How there was a Why for its happening.

Ah! that I could go on talking to you of this for hours and days! But I have time now only to teach you the alphabet of these matters--and, indeed, I know little more than the alphabet myself; but if the very letters of Madam How's book, and the mere A, B, AB, of it, which I am trying to teach you, are so wonderful and so beautiful, what must its sentences be and its chapters? And what must the whole book be like? But that last none can read save He who wrote it before the worlds were made.

Narration and Discussion

You will remember from the story of Vesuvius (Lesson 15) that the cities around it were covered not by hot lava, but by a huge amount of volcanic ash. Volcanic ash, even in smaller amounts, can contaminate water supplies and have effects on people's health. It can also cause short-term changes in the weather (look up 1816, the "Year Without a Summer"), and, to a smaller extent, the overall climate.

So why does Kingsley mention the positive effects of volcanic ash? Oregon State University's "Volcano World" website has some suggestions for "good things volcanoes do," including the point that ash, unlike hard volcanic rock, can break down and benefit the soil quickly. Volcanic ash is used as an ingredient in soaps and cleaners, and also in cement.

Although we haven't really discussed the gases that come out of volcanoes, they also have a benefit that most of us don't think about: they produced, and continue to produce, the water in our oceans, and, more generally, our whole atmosphere. Charles Kingsley, it seems, was finally right about the "steam."

Do-It Challenge: You have probably learned many new words in the past term. Can you think of an indoor or outdoor game to help you review them? The simplest would be a Concentration game where the goal is just to match identical terms (crater, crater), perhaps adding illustrations to the cards. The next step up would be to make Concentration cards that match the terms with their definitions. There are other card and board games that you could adapt (including those using trivia cards); but maybe you can think of one that is quite different! (For a more active volcano-related game, you might want to look up directions for "The Floor is Lava," also called "Hot Lava.")

Lesson 23: Soil, Part Five


In this lesson, we finally move into the topic of soil itself, and the minerals it contains--which come from the remnants of volcanoes!


potash and magnesia and silicates: see previous lesson

atoms of lava . . .: refers back to the riddle in Lesson 19

more than one string to her bow: a musical metaphor which means she can do more than one thing, or do things in more than one way

flint: Flint is a form of chert (a sedimentary rock), found in chalk and limestone. As it breaks into pieces with sharp edges, it has been used by many cultures to make stone tools, especially knives and arrowheads. Flints may refer to such artifacts, rather than the rock itself. Kingsley says that quartz is the same as flint, which may be confusing. However, chert and flint (flint is a type of chert) are varieties of the mineral quartz. It's a bit like saying that Chocolate Labs are a type of Labrador Retriever but also a breed of dog.

engine chimney: steam engines were used to power farm machinery

People, Places, Events

Windsor Forest (and Great Park): this forested area covers the county of Berkshire but also extends into other counties, including northeastern Hampshire

Lowlands: a region of Scotland

the Lothians: three counties in the Lowlands of Scotland

Better with Pictures

Giant's Causeway, and Fingal's Cave in Staffa: Places in Scotland that are fun to look up if you have time. You might also look for images of Berwick Law, Stirling Crag (Abbey Crag), etc.

Wrekin, Caradoc, Lawley: large hills in the county of Shropshire

Geological Map of England and Ireland: There is an old map you can find in various places online, "Geological Map of the British Isles," which does colour the "eruptive rocks" in red. It may be more relevant, though, to examine a similar map of your part of the world.


But now I see you want to ask a question. Let us have it out. I would sooner answer one question of yours than tell you ten things without your asking.

(Boy): Are there potash and magnesia and silicates in the soil here? And if there are, where did they come from? For there are no volcanoes in England.

Yes. There are such things in the soil; and little enough of them, as the farmers here know too well. For we here, in Windsor Forest, are on the very poorest and almost the newest soil in England; and when Madam How had used up all her good materials in making the rest of the island, she carted away her dry rubbish and shot it down here for us to make the best of; and I do not think that we and our ancestors have done so very ill with it. But where the rich part, or staple, of our soils came from first it would be very difficult to say, so often has Madam How made, and unmade, and re-made England, and sifted her materials afresh every time.

But if you go to the Lowlands of Scotland, you may soon see where the staple of the soil came from there, and that I was right in saying that there were atoms of lava in every Scotch boy's broth. Not that there were ever (as far as I know) volcanoes in Scotland or in England. Madam How has more than one string to her bow, or two strings either; so, when she pours out her lavas, she does not always pour them out in the open air. Sometimes she pours them out at the bottom of the sea, as she did in the north of Ireland and the south-west of Scotland, when she made the Giant's Causeway, and Fingal's Cave in Staffa too, at the bottom of the old chalk ocean, ages and ages since. Sometimes she squirts them out between the layers of rock, or into cracks which the earthquakes have made, of which there are plenty to be seen in Scotland, and in Wales likewise. And then she lifts the earth up from the bottom of the sea, and sets the rain to wash away all the soft rocks, till the hard lava stands out in great hills upon the surface of the ground. Then the rain begins eating away those lava-hills likewise, and manuring the earth with them; and wherever those lava-hills stand up, whether great or small, there is pretty sure to be rich land around them.

If you look at a Geological Map of England and Ireland, and the red spots upon it, which will show you where those old lavas are, you will see how much of them there is in England, at the Lizard Point in Cornwall, and how much more in Scotland and the north of Ireland. In South Devon, in Shropshire--with its beautiful Wrekin, and Caradoc, and Lawley--in Wales, round Snowdon (where some of the soil is very rich), and, above all, in the Lowlands of Scotland, you see these red marks, showing the old lavas, which are always fertile, except granite, which is of little use save to cut into building stone, because it is too full of quartz--that is, flint.

Think of this the next time you go through Scotland in the railway, especially when you get near Edinburgh. As you run through the Lothians, with their noble crops of corn, and roots, and grasses--and their great homesteads, each with its engine chimney, which makes steam do the work of men--you will see, rising out of the plain, hills of dark rock. Sometimes they are in single knobs, like Berwick Law or Stirling Crag--sometimes in noble ranges, like Arthur's Seat, or the Sidlaws, or the Ochils. Think what these black bare lumps of whinstone are, and what they do. Remember they are mines--not gold mines, but something richer still--food mines, which Madam How thrust into the inside of the earth, ages and ages since, as molten lava rock, and then cooled them and lifted them up, and pared them away with her ice-plough and her rain-spade, and spread the stuff of them round; to make in that bleak northern climate, which once carried nothing but fir-trees and heather, a soil fit to feed a great people.

Narration and Discussion

Do-It Challenge: Find out more about your geographical and/or geological area. Is it an area of rich soil, or poor; and what have been the effects of that on the ways that people make their living, or on the ways they try to work with the land? Has soil erosion been a problem?

Do you live anywhere near batholiths, laccoliths, or volcanic plugs, which are other words for the lava remnants Kingsley describes?

Lesson 24: Soil, Part Six


Kingsley here continues his pattern of ending a chapter with meditation on "why," and on the things beyond.


molten: liquid

perchance: perhaps

"Like to the baseless fabric . . .": from Shakespeare's The Tempest

not yourself: this refers back to the philosophy of body vs. soul


Part One

And now think what a wonderful fairy tale you might write for yourself--and every word of it true--of the adventures of one atom of potash or some other salt, no bigger than a needle's point, in such a lava stream as I have been telling of. How it has run round and round, and will run round age after age, in an endless chain of change. How it began by being molten fire underground, how then it became part of a hard cold rock, lifted up into a cliff, beaten upon by rain and storm, and washed down into the soil of the plain, till, perhaps, the little atom of mineral met with the rootlet of some great tree, and was taken up into its sap in spring, through tiny veins, and hardened the next year into a piece of solid wood. And then how that tree was cut down, and its logs, it may be, burnt upon the hearth, till the little atom of mineral lay among the wood-ashes, and was shovelled out and thrown upon the field and washed into the soil again, and taken up by the roots of a clover plant, and became an atom of vegetable matter once more. And then how, perhaps, a rabbit came by, and ate the clover, and the grain of mineral became part of the rabbit; and then how a hawk killed that rabbit, and ate it, and so the grain became part of the hawk; and how the farmer shot the hawk, and it fell perchance into a stream, and was carried down into the sea; and when its body decayed, the little grain sank through the water, and was mingled with the mud at the bottom of the sea.

But do its wanderings stop there? Not so! Nothing upon this earth, as I told you once before, continues in one stay. That grain of mineral might stay at the bottom of the sea a thousand or ten thousand years, and yet the time would come when Madam How would set to work on it again. Slowly, perhaps, she would sink that mud so deep, and cover it up with so many fresh beds of mud, or sand, or lime, that under the heavy weight, and perhaps, too, under the heat of the inside of the earth, that mud would slowly change to hard slate rock; and ages after, it may be, Madam How might melt that slate rock once more, and blast it out; and then through the mouth of a volcano the little grain of mineral might rise into the open air again to make fresh soil, as it had done thousands of years before.

Part Two

For Madam How can manufacture many different things out of the same materials. She may have so wrought with that grain of mineral, that she may have formed it into part of a precious stone, and people may dig it out of the rock, or pick it up in the river-bed, and polish it, and set it, and wear it. Think of that--that in jewelry made of precious stones, or in the metal of a ring, there may be atoms which were part of a live plant, or a live animal, millions of years ago, and may be parts of a live plant or a live animal millions of years hence.

Think over again, and learn by heart, the links of this endless chain of change: Fire turned into Stone--Stone into Soil--Soil into Plant--Plant into Animal--Animal into Soil--Soil into Stone--Stone into Fire again--and then Fire into Stone again, and the old thing runs round once more. So it is, and so it must be. For all things which are born in Time must change in Time, and die in Time, till that Last Day of this our little earth, in which,

"Like to the baseless fabric of a vision, The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all things which inherit, shall dissolve, And, like an unsubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind."

So all things change and die, and so your body too must change and die--but not yourself. Madam How made your body; and she must unmake it again, as she unmakes all her works in Time and Space; but you, your Soul, and Life, and Self, she did not make; and over you she has no power.

For you were not, like your body, created in Time and Space; and you will endure though Time and Space should be no more: because you are the child of the Living God, who gives to each thing its own body, and can give you another body, even as seems good to Him.

Narration and Discussion

In an earlier lesson, we were told that Madam How never wastes anything. How does this story show her talent for "recycling?"

"Your body too must change and die--but not yourself." What does Kingsley mean? (Refer back to Lesson 19.)

Do-It Challenge: Choose an object--perhaps, as Kingsley suggests, a piece of jewelry, but anything made of natural materials will do--and imagine its history. If you are learning in a group, you could choose to present your work to each other in some creative format (such as a "family photo album," or a stick-puppet interview with the object!).

Lesson 25: The Ice-Plough, Part One (Chapter V)


This chapter opens a new conversation, which appears to take place during another walk on through the hills. It begins with the inspection of a special bit of limestone belonging to the Father; so we can assume that either he has brought it along on the walk, or that the first part of the chapter takes place before they leave the house.

Can you guess what Madam How's "ice-plough" is?


limestone: see Lesson Six

bath brick: an early version of today's scouring pads

as people have lived in Arctic regions: Even in Arctic regions there is a time of summer, but we will allow Kingsley to make his point.

People, Places, Events

Snowdon: the highest mountain in Wales

Highlands, Lowlands: in this book, Highland and Lowland usually refer to different parts of Scotland

Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875): Scottish author of Principles of Geology

Crimean Winter: the harsh winter of 1854-1855

Thames: a major river of England (pronounced Tems)

Better with Pictures

scratches or grooves: terms such as glacial scouring or pebble with glacial scratches will show photographs

Rosenlaüi glacier: there are a number of images online. A glacier is a slowly moving, very large mass of ice (see the Narration section).


Part One

You want to know why I am so fond of that little bit of limestone, no bigger than my hand, which lies upon the shelf; why I ponder over it so often, and show it to all sensible people who come to see me?

I do so, not only for the sake of the person who gave it to me, but because there is written on it a letter out of Madam How's alphabet, which has taken wise men many a year to decipher. I could not decipher that letter when first I saw the stone. More shame for me, for I had seen it often before, and understood it well enough, in many another page of Madam How's great book. Take the stone, and see if you can find out anything strange about it.

(Boy): Well, it is only a bit of marble as big as my hand, that looks as if it had been, and really has been, broken off by a hammer.

But when you look again, you see there is a smooth scraped part on one edge, that seems to have been rubbed against a stone. Now look at that rubbed part, and tell me how it was done.

You have seen people often polish one stone on another, or scour floors with a bath brick, and you will guess at first that this was polished so: but if it had been, then the rubbed place would have been flat. But if you put your fingers over it, you will find that it is not flat. It is rolled, fluted, channelled, so that the thing or things which rubbed it must have been somewhat round. And it is covered, too, with very fine and smooth scratches or grooves, all running over the whole in the same line. Now what could have done that?

Of course, a person could have done it, if he had taken a large round stone in his hand, and worked the large channellings with that, and then had taken fine sand and gravel upon the points of his fingers, and worked the small scratches with that. But this stone came from a place where people had, perhaps, never stood before,--ay, which, perhaps, had never seen the light of day before since the world was made; and as I happen to know that no person made the marks upon that stone, we must set to work and think again for some tool of Madam How's which may have made them.

And now I think you must give up guessing, and I must tell you the answer to the riddle. Those marks were made by a hand which is strong and yet gentle, tough and yet yielding, like a human hand; a hand which handles and uses, in a grip stronger than a giant's, its own carving tools, from the great boulder stone as large as this whole room to the finest grain of sand. And that is ice.

That piece of stone came from the side of the Rosenlaüi glacier in Switzerland, and it was polished by the glacier ice. The glacier melted and shrank this last hot summer farther back than it had done for many years, and it left bare sheets of rock, which it had been scraping at for ages, with all the marks fresh upon them. And that bit was broken off and brought to me, who never saw a glacier myself, to show me how the marks which the ice makes in Switzerland are exactly the same as those which the ice has made in Snowdon and in the Highlands, and many another place where I have traced them, and written a little, too, about them in years gone by. And so I treasure this, as a sign that Madam How's ways do not change nor her laws become broken; that, as that great philosopher Sir Charles Lyell will tell you when you read his books, Madam How is making and unmaking the surface of the earth now by exactly the same means as she was making and unmaking ages and ages since; and that what is going on slowly and surely in the Alps in Switzerland was going on once here where we stand.

Part Two

It is very difficult, I know, for you to understand how ice, and much more how soft snow, should have such strength that it can grind this little stone, and even much more such strength as to grind whole mountains into plains. You have never seen ice and snow do harm. You cannot even recollect the Crimean Winter, as it was called then; and well for you that you cannot, considering all the misery it brought at home and abroad. That winter, the Thames was frozen over above the bridges, and the ice piled in little bergs ten to fifteen feet high, which lay, some of them, stranded on the shores, about London itself, and did not melt, if I recollect, until the end of May.

Ice and snow are to you mere playthings; and you long for winter, that you may make snowballs and play hockey and skate upon the ponds, and eat ice till you make your stomach ache. And I dare say you have said, on a bright cheery ringing frosty day, "Oh, that it would be always winter!"

You little knew for what you asked. You little thought what the earth would soon be like, if it were always winter,--if one sheet of ice on the pond glued itself on to the bottom of the last sheet, till the whole pond was a solid mass,--if one snow-fall lay upon the top of another snow-fall till the moor was covered many feet deep and the snow began sliding slowly down the glen from Coombs', burying the green fields; tearing the trees up by their roots; burying gradually house, church, and village; and making this place, for a few thousand years, what it was many thousand years ago. Good-bye then, after a very few winters, to bees, and butterflies, and singing-birds, and flowers; and good-bye to all vegetables, and fruit, and bread; good-bye to cotton and woollen clothes. You would have, if you were left alive, to dress in skins, and eat fish and seals, if any came near enough to be caught. You would have to live, in a word, as people have lived in Arctic regions, and as people had to live in England ages since, in the times when it was always winter, and icebergs floated between here and Finchampstead. Oh no: thank Heaven that it is not always winter; and remember that winter ice and snow, though it is a very good tool with which to make the land, must leave the land year by year if that land is to be fit to live in.

Narration and Discussion

What is a glacier? A glacier is formed when more snow falls than melts, not in a single winter, but over a period of years, causing snow metamorphism (see the next lesson); and at some point, the whole mass becomes heavy and thick enough to begin to move on its own. Kingsley defined a glacier as "a river of ice, fed by a lake of snow."

Some AO students live where there is snow in the winter; others do not. If you are living in the Northern Hemisphere and following a typical school-year schedule, you may be just finishing the winter season yourself, or (in some places) be already well into spring. What is your favourite time of year in your own region? What would happen if the other seasons (whatever they are) did not arrive? (If you are reading the Narnia books as Free Reading this year, you will know about "always winter but never Christmas!"

The Boy lives in a climate where the summers are warm, but not extremely hot, and the winters can have snow, but are not bitterly cold either (the average temperature in January and February is above freezing). Have you or has someone you know lived in or travelled through severe winter weather? Look up the Canadian ice storm of 1998 to see the damage caused by blizzards and ice-storms. My Side of the Mountain, which contains chapters about winter survival, is also on the list of optional books for this year; and next year (if you haven't already) you will probably read The Long Winter.

Do-It Challenge: The Father says that the scratches on his limestone rock were carved there by ice. Find an ice cube and a rock. Use the ice cube to scratch grooves in the rock. Record your observations.

It didn't work? Why not? What might have been different about the ice and the rocks in the story?

Note: AO students reading Minn of the Mississippi will have now arrived at Chapter 14, "When Water Runs Over Lawns and Things," which, coincidentally, covers the same topic as this series of lessons.

Lesson 26: The Ice-Plough, Part Two


The reading for this lesson has been kept short so that you can spend extra time finding out what you can about glaciers.


toil: hard work. Presumably Kingsley is referring to the energy needed to go mountain-climbing.

moraine: As the Father explains, a moraine is a mass of rocks and sediment (other material) deposited by a glacier.

strath: a strath is a valley which is wider than a glen

People, Places, Events

Professor Tyndall: John Tyndall (1820-1893) was well known as a professor of physics and as author of various scientific books, but was also an expert mountain-climber.

Better with Pictures

glacier: You will (of course) want to look for photographs of glaciers!


Part One

Now you must not ask me to tell you what a glacier is like, for I have never seen one; at least, those which I have seen were more than fifty miles away, looking like white clouds hanging on the grey mountain sides. And it would be an impertinence--that means a meddling with things which I have no business--to picture to you glaciers which have been pictured so well and often by gentlemen who escape every year from their hard work in town to find among the glaciers of the Alps health and refreshment, and sound knowledge, and that most wholesome and strengthening of all medicines, toil.

So you must read of them in such books as Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers by Dr. John Ball, and Sir Alfred Wills' Wanderings in the High Alps, and Professor Tyndall's different works; or you must look at them in photographs or in pictures. But when you do that, or when you see a glacier for yourself, you must bear in mind what a glacier means--that it is a river of ice, fed by a lake of snow. The lake from which it springs is the eternal snow-field which stretches for miles and miles along the mountaintops, fed continually by fresh snow-storms falling from the sky. That snow slides off into the valleys, hour by hour, and as it rushes down is ground and pounded, and thawed and frozen again into a sticky paste of ice, which flows slowly but surely till it reaches the warm valley at the mountain foot, and there melts bit by bit. The long black lines which you see winding along the white and green ice of the glacier are the stones which have fallen from the cliffs above. They will be dropped at the end of the glacier, and mixed with silt and sand and other stones which have come down inside the glacier itself, and piled up in the field in great mounds, which are called moraines; such as you may see and walk on in Scotland many a time, though you might never guess what they are.

Part Two

The river which runs out at the glacier foot is, you must remember, all foul and milky with the finest mud; and that mud is the grinding of the rocks over which the glacier has been crawling down, and scraping them as it scraped my bit of stone with pebbles and with sand. And this is the alphabet, which, if you learn by heart, you will be able to understand how Madam How uses her great ice-plough to plough down her old mountains, and spread the stuff of them about the valleys to make rich straths of fertile soil.

Nay, so immensely strong, because immensely heavy, is the share of this her great ice-plough, that some will tell you (and it is not for me to say that they are wrong) that with it she has ploughed out all the mountain lakes in Europe and in North America; that such English lakes, for instance, as Ullswater or Windermere have been scooped clean out of the solid rock by ice which came down these glaciers in old times. And be sure of this, that next to Madam How's steam-pump and her rain-spade, her great ice-plough has had, and has still, the most to do with making the ground on which we live.

Narration and Discussion

Notes on this lesson: Glaciers can be hard to understand, especially because we don't see them actively erupting, like volcanoes, or suddenly covering the land, like floods; they usually move just a little each day. The relationship between snow and ice is also confusing, especially when we are familiar with snow that melts and then freezes to become ice, but not with snow that becomes ice without melting.

"Did you know that Thomas à Becket was canonized as a snake? Rose Bell says he was . . . also that William Tyndale wrote the New Testament. Claude White says a 'glacier' is a man who puts in window frames!" (L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea)

One of the important questions about glaciers, as noted above, is how do snowflakes become ice without melting? This process is called snow metamorphism or firnification. Those who live with snowy winters know that something similar happens after multiple snowfalls: the snow closest to the ground, that which is under the greatest pressure both from other snow and from other forces such as people walking on it, changes its appearance, and sometimes does even become ice. A pioneer in glaciology, Gerald Seligman, said that of a flake from yesterday's snowfall, nothing soon remains except its "whiteness."

A new word you will come across is firn, meaning the granular snow, usually on the top of a glacier, which has not yet been compressed into ice. (Firn, in other words, is the snow in which the crystals have lost their sharp edges and are more spherical. This is not about temperature as much as evaporation and condensation.)

Do-It Challenge: A search for glacial pressure and marshmallows will bring up variations on an experiment that doesn't require snow! The essential supplies are marshmallows and something to "squish" them with. A less messy version involves putting several marshmallows into a jar, covering them with a round piece of cardboard slightly smaller than the diameter of the jar, and then weighing the cardboard down with anything that's handy. Look particularly at what happens to the marshmallows at the very bottom.

For further study: What are the differences between ice sheets, or continental glaciers, and alpine glaciers?

Lesson 27: The Ice-Plough, Part Three


This lesson begins with glaciers, but ends with icebergs, which are also part of the earth's "ice-plough."


gravel-pit: see Lesson Five

grub (verb): to clear land by digging something up, often by the roots

ploughshare: or plowshare; the main cutting blade of a plough

like building a large house upon a single brick: basing a whole conclusion on a tiny bit of evidence

People, Places, Events

Ascot, Sunningdale: places in Berkshire. Ascot is famous for its racecourse.

Trimmer: Joshua Trimmer (1795--1857), English geologist

St. Lawrence: river flowing through the eastern part of Canada

Better with Pictures

coast of Labrador: Look for icebergs coast Newfoundland Labrador.


Part One

Do I mean that there were ever glaciers here? No, I do not. There have been glaciers in Scotland in plenty. And if any Scotch boy shall read this book, it will tell him presently how to find the marks of them far and wide over his native land. But as you care most about this country in which you live, I will show you in any gravel-pit, or hollow lane upon the moor, the marks not of a glacier, which is an ice-river; but of a whole sea of ice.

Let us come up to the gravel-pit upon the top of the hill, and look carefully at what we see there. The lower part of the pit, of course, is a solid rock of sand. On the top of that is a cap of gravel, five, six, ten feet thick. Now the sand was laid down there by water at the bottom of an old sea; and therefore, the top of it would naturally be flat and smooth, as the sands at the seashore are; and the gravel, if it was laid down by water, would naturally lie flat on it again: but it does not.

See how the top of the sand is dug out into deep waves and pits, filled up with gravel. And see, too, how over some of the gravel you get sand again, and then gravel again, and then sand again, till you cannot tell where one fairly begins and the other ends. Why, here are little dots of gravel, six or eight feet down, in what looks the solid sand rock, yet the sand must have been opened somehow to put the gravel in.

You say you have seen that before. You have seen the same curious twisting of the gravel and sand into each other on the top of Farley Hill, and in the new cutting on Minley Hill; and, best of all, in the railway cutting between Ascot and Sunningdale, where upon the top the white sand and gravel is arranged in red and brown waves, and festoons, and curlicues like feathers. Yes, that last is a beautiful section of ice-work; so beautiful that I hope to have it photographed someday.

Part Two

Now, how did ice leave these twisted layers of gravel and sand in the gravel-pit? Well, I was many a year before I found out that, and I dare say I never should have found it out for myself. A gentleman named Trimmer was, I believe, the first to find it out. He knew that along the coast of Labrador, and other cold parts of North America, and on the shores, too, of the great river St. Lawrence, the stranded icebergs, and the ice-foot, as it is called, which is continually forming along the freezing shores, grub and plough every tide into the mud and sand, and shove up before them, like a ploughshare, heaps of dirt; and that, too, the ice itself is full of dirt, of sand and stones, which it may have brought from hundreds of miles away; and that, as this ploughshare of dirty ice grubs onward, the nose of the plough is continually being broken off, and left underneath the mud; and that, when summer comes, and the ice melts, the mud falls back into the place where the ice had been, and covers up the gravel which was in the ice.

So, what between the grubbing of the ice-plough into the mud, and the dirt which it leaves behind when it melts, the stones, and sand, and mud upon the shore are jumbled up into curious curved and twisted layers, exactly like those which Mr. Trimmer saw in certain gravel-pits. And when I first read about that, I said, "And exactly like what I have been seeing in every gravel-pit round here, and trying to guess how they could have been made by currents of water, and yet never could make any guess which would do." But after that it was all explained to me; and I said, "Honour to the man who has let Madam How teach him what she had been trying to teach me for fifteen years, while I was too dull to learn it. Now I am certain, as certain as I can be of any earthly thing, that the whole of these Windsor Forest Flats were ages ago ploughed and harrowed over and over again, by ice-floes and icebergs drifting and stranding in a shallow sea."

And if you say, as some people will say, that it is like building a large house upon a single brick to be sure that there was an iceberg sea here, just because I see a few curlicues in the gravel and sand--then I must tell you that there are sometimes--not often, but sometimes--pages in Madam How's book in which one single letter tells you as much as a whole chapter; in which if you find one little fact, and know what it really means, it makes you certain that a thousand other great facts have happened. You may be astonished: but you cannot deny your own eyes, and your own common sense. You feel like Robinson Crusoe when, walking along the shore of his desert island, he saw for the first time the print of a man's foot in the sand. How it could have got there without a miracle he could not dream. But there it was. One footprint was as good as the footprints of a whole army would have been. And so there are certain footprints in geology which there is no mistaking; and the prints of the ice-plough are among them.

Narration and Discussion

Sir Isaac Newton is quoted as saying, "In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God's existence." What are some of the footprints--or thumbprints--in the world that have astonished you?

Do-It Challenge: See what you can find out about iceberg scour (or scouring) marks. One place where such marks have been noticed is in the Canadian province of Manitoba, where the land is believed to have been covered thousands of years ago by the glacial Lake Agassiz.

Lesson 28: The Ice-Plough, Part Four


In detective stories, a crime is sometimes solved by noticing a single detail out of place and unaccounted for; for instance, a certain type of mud on someone's shoes. Of course, we can be misled by our own assumptions, or by missing an important piece of information. Still, we can often make "educated guesses."


knoll: a hill with a rounded top

covered in one vast sheet of snow and ice . . .; that ice-time: the next chapter will discuss the Ice Age

People, Places, Events

River Dee: a river in Aberdeenshire. The area is also called Deeside.

Frith of Forth: "Frith" is not incorrect, but "Firth" is more commonly used. Both words mean the opening of a river to the sea.

Balmoral: a Scottish castle and estate belonging to the Royal Family, which includes Birkhall

Alt-na-guisach: or Allt-na-giubhsaich; a private cottage where Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert liked to stay on holiday

Lochnagar: a mountain about five miles south of the River Dee

Better with Pictures

serpentine: rocks whose colour and texture resemble snakeskin

kame (also spelled kaim), toman (also spelled tomhan): a small hill


Part One

If you ever travel along the River Dee in Scotland, towards Balmoral, and turn up Glen Muick, towards Alt-na-guisach, you will observe standing on your right hand, just above Birkhall three pretty rounded knolls, which they call the Coil Hills. You may easily know them by their being covered with beautiful green grass instead of heather. That is because they are made of serpentine or volcanic rock, which (as you have seen) often cuts into beautiful red and green marble; and which also carries a very rich soil because it is full of magnesia.

If you go up those hills, you get a glorious view--the mountains sweeping round you where you stand, up to the top of Lochnagar, with its bleak walls a thousand feet perpendicular, and gullies into which the sun never shines, and round to the dark fir forests of the Ballochbuie. That is the arc of the bow; and the cord of the bow is the silver Dee, more than a thousand feet below you; and in the center of the cord, where the arrow would be fitted in, stands Balmoral, with its castle, and its gardens, and its park, and pleasant cottages and homesteads all around.

And when you have looked at the beautiful amphitheater of forest at your feet, and looked too at the great mountains to the westward, and Benaun, and Benna-buird and Benna-muicdhui, with their bright patches of eternal snow, I should advise you to look at the rock on which you stand, and see what you see there. And you will see that on the side of the Coils towards Lochnagar, and between the knolls of them, are scattered streams, as it were, of great round boulder stones--which are not serpentine, but granite from the top of Lochnagar, five miles away. And you will see that the knolls of serpentine rock, or at least their backs and shoulders towards Lochnagar, are all smoothed and polished till they are as round as the backs of sheep; then, if you understand what that means, you will say, as I said, "I am perfectly certain that this great basin between me and Lochnagar, which is now 3,000 feet deep of empty air, was once filled up with ice to the height of the hills on which I stand--about 1,700 feet high--and that that ice ran over into Glen Muick, between these pretty knolls, and covered the ground where Birkhall now stands."

And more:--When you see growing on those knolls of serpentine a few pretty little Alpine plants, which have no business down there so low, you will have a fair right to say, as I said, "The seeds of these plants were brought by the ice ages and ages since from off the mountain range of Lochnagar, and left here, nestling among the rocks, to found a fresh colony, far from their old mountain home."

Part Two

If I could take you with me up to Scotland,--take you, for instance, along the Tay, up the pass of Dunkeld, or up Strathmore towards Aberdeen, or up the Dee towards Braemar,--I could show you signs, which cannot be mistaken, of the time when Scotland was covered in one vast sheet of snow and ice from year's end to year's end; when glaciers were ploughing out its valleys, icebergs were breaking off the icy cliffs and floating out to sea; when not a bird, perhaps, was to be seen save sea-fowl; not a plant upon the rocks but a few lichens, and Alpine saxifrages, and suchlike--desolation and cold and lifelessness everywhere.

That ice-time went on for ages and for ages; and yet it did not go on in vain. Through it Madam How was ploughing down the mountains of Scotland to make all those rich farms which stretch from the north side of the Frith of Forth into Sutherlandshire. I could show you everywhere the green banks and knolls of earth, which Scotch people call "kames" and "tomans"--perhaps brought down by ancient glaciers, or dropped by ancient icebergs--now so smooth and green through summer and through winter, among the wild heath and the rough peat-moss, that the old Scots fancied, and I dare say Scotch children fancy still, fairies dwelt inside. These are all dreams and fancies--untrue, not because they are too strange and wonderful, but because they are not strange and wonderful enough: for more wonderful sure than any fairy tale it is, that Madam How should make a rich and pleasant land by the brute force of ice.

(You ask if there were any men and women in that old age of ice? That is a long story, and a dark one too; we will talk of it next time.)

Narration and Discussion

Why does the Father say that the Ice Age "did not go on in vain?"

Do-It Challenge: The Father finds it amazing that something beautiful, and even delicate, could be shaped by a large, rough tool such as the "ice-plough." In many cases, we do expect fine work to require tiny, precise tools--for instance, in dentistry! If you have done any paper-cutting crafts, you will appreciate the difference between large, clumsy scissors and small, sharp ones. Children who enjoy colouring are usually happy to leave their first oversized crayons and markers behind, as thinner ones make it easier to stay inside the lines.

Just for fun, choose an activity for which you would usually choose a small tool, and see what you can do with a larger one. You could try using a larger-than-expected brush (or some other tool) when painting; or a large needle and thick yarn for sewing. Or dig out the giant crayons for an art project. (Don't do anything dangerous--no dentistry.)

Lesson 29: The True Fairy Tale, Part One (Chapter VI)


This chapter takes place indoors, perhaps during the winter, as the Father shows the Boy some of his rock specimens, and tells him a bit about the Stone Age, and the Great Ice Age.


mortar: the mortar that holds bricks together is a mixture of sand plus a binder such as cement or lime, and water. However, Kingsley is describing a natural form of mortar.

scratlings: Kingsley is probably referring to the fairy creatures called "moss people" or "moss folk."

so long ago that no one can tell when: There is some disagreement about when the last Ice Age began, so we will settle for "the time just before that."

People, Places, Events

Lapland: the northernmost region of Finland

Better with Pictures

flint tools: searches for Stone Age flint tools, obsidian tools, or flint spearheads will bring up images similar to the one included in Kingsley's text

cave in Dordogne: A search for caves Dordogne should take you down some interesting trails.

Sicily, Italy, Malta, the coast of Africa, Straits of Gibraltar: it would be helpful to point these out on a map


Part One

You asked if there were people in England when the country was covered with ice and snow. Look at this, and judge for yourself.

(Boy): What is it? a piece of old mortar?

Yes. But mortar which was made by Madam How herself, and not by any human. And what is in it?

(Boy): A piece of flint and some bits of bone.

But look at that piece of flint. It is narrow, thin, sharp-edged: quite different in shape from any bit of flint which you or I ever saw among the hundreds of thousands of broken bits of gravel which we tread on here all day long; and here are some more bits like it, which came from the same place--all very much the same shape, like rough knives or razor blades; and here is a core of flint, the remaining part of a large flint, from which, as you may see, blades like those have been split off.

And here are other pieces of flint--pear-shaped, but flattened, sharp at one end and left rounded at the other, which look like spear-heads, or arrow-heads, or pointed axes, or pointed hatchets--even your young eyes can see that these must have been made by man. And they are, I may tell you, just like the tools of flint, or of obsidian, which is volcanic glass, made by people who do not have iron. There is a great obsidian knife, you know, in a house in this very parish, which came from Mexico [i.e. not an ancient one]; and your eye can tell you how like it is to these flint ones. But these flint tools are very old. If you crack a fresh flint, you will see that its surface is gray, and somewhat rough, so that it sticks to your tongue. These tools are smooth and shiny: and the edges of some of them are a little rubbed from being washed about in gravel; while the iron in the gravel has stained them reddish, which it would take hundreds and perhaps thousands of years to do. There are little rough markings, too, upon some of them, which, if you look at through a magnifying glass, are iron, crystallized into the shape of little sea-weeds and trees--another sign that they are very, very old. And what is more, near the place where these flint flakes come from there are no flints in the ground for hundreds of miles; so that men must have brought them there ages and ages since. And to tell you plainly, these are scrapers such as the Inuit in North America still use to scrape the flesh off bones, and to clean the insides of skins.

(Boy): But to what animal do the bones belong?

That is the question, and one which I could not have answered you if wiser men than I am could not have told me. They are the bones of reindeer--such reindeer as are now found only in Lapland and the half-frozen parts of North America, close to the Arctic circle, where they have six months of day and six months of night.

(Boy): But from where did these flints and bones come?

They came out of a cave in Dordogne, in the heart of sunny France,--far away to the south, where it is hotter every summer than it was here even this summer; from among woods of box and evergreen oak, and vineyards of rich red wine. In that warm land once lived people who hunted, amid ice and snow, the reindeer; and with the reindeer, animals stranger still.

Part Two

And now I will tell you a fairy tale: to make you understand it, I must put it in the shape of a tale. I call it a fairy tale, because it is so strange; indeed I think I ought to call it the fairy tale of all fairy tales, for by the time we get to the end of it I think it will explain to you how our forefathers got to believe in fairies, and trolls, and elves, and scratlings, and all strange little people who were said to haunt the mountains and the caves.

Well, once upon a time, so long ago that no one can tell when, the land was so much higher that between England and Ireland, and, what is more, between England and Norway, was firm dry land. The country then must have looked--at least we know it looked so in Norfolk--very like what our moors look like here. There were forests of Scotch fir, and of spruce too. There were oaks and alders, yews and sloes, just as there are in our woods now. There was buck-bean in the bogs, as there is in Larmer's and Heath pond; and white and yellow water-lilies, horn-wort, and pond-weeds, just as there are now in our ponds.

There were wild horses, wild deer, and wild oxen, those last of an enormous size. There were little yellow roe-deer, which will not surprise you, for there are hundreds and thousands in Scotland to this day; and, as you know, they will thrive well enough in our woods now. There were beavers too: but that must not surprise you, for there were beavers in South Wales long after the Norman Conquest, and there are beavers still in the mountain glens of the south-east of France. There were little water-rats too, who I dare say sat up on their hind legs like monkeys, nibbling the water-lily pods, thousands of years ago, as they do in our ponds now.

Well, so far we have come to nothing strange: but now begins the fairy tale. Mixed with all these other animals, there wandered about great herds of elephants and rhinoceroses; not smooth-skinned, mind, but covered with hair and wool. And with them, stranger still, were great hippopotamuses; who came, perhaps, northward in summer time along the sea-shore and down the rivers, having spread hither all the way from Africa; for in those days, you must understand, Sicily, and Italy, and Malta were joined to the coast of Africa: and so it may be was the Rock of Gibraltar itself; and over the sea where the Straits of Gibraltar now flow was firm dry land, over which hyenas and leopards, elephants and rhinoceroses ranged into Spain; for their bones are found at this day in the Gibraltar caves. And this is the first chapter of my fairy tale.

Narration and Discussion

". . . we must turn to the beginning of the book and head the first lined page "Prehistoric Periods." On this it is as well to write a list of the four periods--Palaeolithic or Old Stone, Neolithic or New Stone, Bronze, and Early Iron, explaining what is meant by each." (G.M. Bernau, "The Book of Centuries" in The Parents' Review)

When people first talked about the Stone Age, they divided it into two parts, the Paleolithic (older) and the Neolithic (newer) periods. The era of beavers and "woolly elephants" described here seems to predate the last Glacial Period; so that (if we follow the generally-accepted ideas of history) was a very, very long time ago. (Search for the Pleistocene Epoch and the Last Glacial Period for more information.)

The Paleolithic Period is believed to have ended as the last Ice Age was also ending (although some say we are still in that Ice Age, and it was only the last Glacial Period that ended); and this change in climate also caused great changes in lifestyle; so much so that some nineteenth-century scholars began to call the years of transition the Mesolithic (middle) Period. (Some also name a fourth period, the Chalcolithic, after the Neolithic.) Find out what else you can about the time called the Stone Age.

(Note: this is the generally-accepted "sequential" view of what is called our prehistory. Creationist historians suggest that the timeline was much shorter, and that some of these cultures may have existed side by side rather than sequentially.)

Do-It Challenge: Have you ever been to a historic site or museum where ancient flint or obsidian tools, or similar artifacts, were displayed? If you can visit such a place, take your "Book of Centuries" or other history notebook along, and add your drawings of them to the Paleolithic and Mesolithic sections. Use books or online resources if a visit is not possible. Some timeline books may not include the Mesolithic (also called Epipaleolithic) period between the Paleolithic and Neolithic; if yours does not, you will have to add it in.

Lesson 30: The True Fairy Tale, Part Two


The story of the "drowned land" continues. In some respects, this must remain Kingsley's "fairy tale," because we still cannot be sure which of his points are facts, and which ones are guesses. Let it remain the story of a time before and after, whenever those times might have been; and put our own focus on the ways that water (as liquid and ice) has shaped the world we see today.


the climate was getting colder . . .: the Ice Age (or Glacial Period) was beginning

the land was sinking: or perhaps, to think back to the ants on the rubber ball, the sea level was rising

"It grew wondrous cold . . .": lines from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

wits: intelligence, inventiveness

People, Places, Events

British Channel: the body of water between England and France


Part One

Now while all this was going on, and perhaps before this began, the climate was getting colder year by year--we do not know how; and, what is more, the land was sinking; and it sank so deep that at last nothing was left out of the water but the tops of the mountains in Ireland, and Scotland, and Wales. It sank so deep that it left beds of shells belonging to the Arctic regions nearly two thousand feet high upon the mountainside. And so,

"It grew wondrous cold, And ice mast-high came floating by, As green as emerald."

But there were no masts then to measure the icebergs by, nor any ship nor human being there. All we know is that the icebergs brought with them vast quantities of mud, which sank to the bottom, and covered up that pleasant old forest-land in what is called boulder-clay; clay full of bits of broken rock, and of blocks of stone so enormous, that nothing but an iceberg could have carried them. So, all the animals were drowned or driven away, and nothing was left alive perhaps, except a few little hardy plants which clung about cracks and gullies in the mountain tops; and whose descendants live there still. That was a dreadful time; the worst, perhaps, of all the Age of Ice; and so ends the second chapter of my fairy tale.

Part Two

Now for my third chapter. "When things come to the worst," says the proverb, "they commonly mend"; and so did this poor frozen and drowned land of England and France and Germany, though it mended very slowly. The land began to rise out of the sea once more, and rose till it was perhaps as high as it had been at first, and hundreds of feet higher than it is now: but still it was very cold, covered (in Scotland at least) with one great sea of ice and glaciers descending down into the sea, as I said when I spoke to you about the Ice-Plough.

But as the land rose, and grew warmer too, while it rose, the wild beasts who had been driven out by the great drowning came gradually back again. As the bottom of the old icy sea turned into dry land, and got covered with grasses, and weeds, and shrubs once more, elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, oxen--sometimes the same species, sometimes slightly different ones--returned to France, and then to England (for there was no British Channel then to stop them); and with them came other strange animals, especially the great Irish elk, as he is called, as large as the largest horse, with horns sometimes ten feet across. Enormous bears came too, and hyenas, and a tiger or lion (I cannot say which), as large as the largest Bengal tiger in India.

And in those days--we cannot, of course, exactly say when--there came--first, I suppose, into the south and east of France, and then gradually onward into England and Scotland and Ireland--creatures without any hair to keep them warm, or scales to defend them, without horns or tusks to fight with, or teeth to worry and bite. Whence they came we cannot tell, nor why; perhaps from mere hunting after food, or love of wandering. Perhaps they came into that icy land for fear of stronger and cleverer people than themselves; for we have no proof, none at all, that they were the first people that trod this earth. But be that as it may, they came; and so cunning were they, and so brave likewise, though they had no iron among them, only flint and sharpened bones, yet they contrived to kill and eat the mammoths, and the giant oxen, and the wild horses, and the reindeer, and to hold their own against the hyenas, and tigers, and bears.

And that is the strangest part to me of all my fairy tale. For what wits are, and why we have them, and therefore are able to invent and to improve--how that comes to pass, I say, is to me a wonder and a prodigy and a miracle, stranger than all the most fantastic marvels you ever read in fairy tales.

Narration and Discussion

Why does the Father say that "human wits" are the strangest part of his story?

Notes on this lesson: Kingsley's timeline of human arrival in Great Britain is possible, but not "carved in stone." A search for the timeline of ancient humans in Britain, particularly the one on the Natural History Museum website, will illustrate generally accepted ideas of who lived there, and how long ago. (The NHM site includes maps showing changes in the land itself, as well as Kingsley-evoking descriptions of hippos and lions).

Do-It Challenge: Find out more about the people who first lived in your part of the world. Where did they come from, and when? What brought them there? How did they live?

Lesson 31: The True Fairy Tale, Part Three


Did people ever live in caves? Kingsley explains why this might have been true.


breccia: a type of rock made up of broken fragments of other rocks cemented together; or the cementing material itself

stalagmite: a mineral formation in a cave

scratlings: see Lesson Twenty-Nine

cluricaune: or clurichaun. A fairy figure in Irish mythology, related to the leprechaun.

People, Places, Events

Baltic Sea: a sea in northern Europe which surrounds Denmark

Better with Pictures

Kent's Hole at Torquay: also called Kents (or Kent's) Cavern, in Devon (search for Kents Cavern)

kitchen-middens: a search for midden or shell middens may be helpful

elf-bolts: flint arrowheads also known as elf bolts, elf arrows, Thunderstones


Part One

You may find the flint weapons which people used long ago, buried in many a gravel-pit up and down France and in the south of England; but you will find none here, for the gravel here was made (I am told) at the beginning of the ice-time, before the north of England was sunk into the sea, and therefore long, long before men came into this land. But most of their remains are found in caves which water has eaten out of the limestone rocks, like that famous cave of Kent's Hole at Torquay. In it, and in many another cave, lie the bones of animals which the people ate, and cracked to get the marrow out of them, mixed up with their flint-weapons and bone harpoons, and sometimes with burnt ashes and with round stones, used perhaps to heat water, all baked together into a hard paste or breccia by the lime. These are in the water, and are often covered with a floor of stalagmite which has dripped from the roof above and hardened into stone. Of these caves and their beautiful wonders, I must tell you another day. We must keep now to our fairy tale.

But in these caves, no doubt, people lived; for not only have weapons been found in them, but actually drawings scratched (I suppose with flint) on bone or mammoth ivory--drawings of elk, and bull, and horse, and ibex--and one, which was found in France, of the great mammoth himself, the woolly elephant, with a mane on his shoulders like a lion's mane. So you see that one of the earliest fancies of this strange creature, called man, was to draw, as he sat in the cave scratching on ivory the figures of the animals he hunted; proving thereby that he had the same wonderful and mysterious human nature as you--that he was the kinsman of every painter and sculptor who ever felt it a delight and duty to copy the beautiful works of God.

Part Two

Sometimes, again, especially in Denmark, these people left behind upon the shore mounds of dirt, which are called there "Kjökkenmoddings"--"kitchen-middens" as they would say in Scotland, "kitchen-dirtheaps" as we should say here down South--and a very good name for them that is; for they are made up of the shells of oysters, cockles, mussels, and periwinkles, and other shore-shells besides, on which they fed; and mingled with them are broken bones of beasts, and fishes, and birds, and flint knives, and axes, and sling stones; and here and there hearths, on which they cooked their meals in some rough way. And that is nearly all we know about them; but this we know from the size of certain of the shells, and from other reasons, that these mounds were made an enormous time ago, when the water of the Baltic Sea was far more salt than it is now.

But what has all this to do with my fairy tale? This:--Suppose that these people, after all, had been fairies? I am in earnest. Of course, I do not mean that these folk could make themselves invisible, or that they had any supernatural powers--any more, at least, than you and I have; but this I do think, that out of old stories of these people grew up the stories of fairies, elves, and trolls, and scratlings, and cluricaunes, and ogres.

When stronger and bolder people, like the Irish, and the Highlanders of Scotland, and the Gauls of France, came northward with their bronze and iron weapons; and still more, when the Germans and the Norsemen, came, these poor people, with their flint arrows and axes, were no match for them, and had to run away northward, or to be all killed out. But stories of them, and of how they dwelt in caves, and had strange customs, and used poisoned weapons, and how the elf-bolts (as their flint arrow-heads are still called) belonged to them, lingered on, and were told round the fire on winter nights and added to, and played with half in fun, till a hundred legends sprang up about them, which used once to be believed by grown-up folk, but which now only amuse children.

And so ends my fairy tale. But is it not a wonderful tale? More wonderful, if you will think over it, than any story invented by man. But so it always is. "Truth," wise men tell us, "is stranger than fiction." Man makes fiction: he invents stories, fantastical enough. But out of what does he make them up? Out of a few things in this great world which he has seen, and heard, and felt, just as he makes up his dreams. But who makes truth? Who makes facts? Who, but God?

Narration and Discussion

If people who lived thousands of years ago shared our desire to turn nature into art, what other traits might they have had in common with us? Imagine, perhaps, "Cave Dweller Robert" and "Cave Dweller William" being lectured by an elder on the importance of observation.

If you have had a sudden bright idea for something new, can you trace it back to its beginning? Did you see or hear something that started you thinking about it? Where do you think ideas for stories, poems, art, and music come from?

Do-It Challenge: If you are working with a group, have each person write a word or a phrase on a slip of paper, and put them into a container. (You may choose a special theme, or not. If you are working on your own, you might choose a random word or phrase from a book.) Everyone should take one of the slips, and write for about ten minutes on that subject. You can share the results if you like, or keep them private. Alternatively, choose the same word or phrase for everyone; this shows how the same idea can speak to each of us in different ways. You can also use another format such as visual art.

For further thought: If those who come after us were to examine our "kitchen dirt-heaps," what conclusions might they come to about us?

Lesson 32: The True Fairy Tale, Part Four


The final short lesson in this chapter is a meditation on wonder and knowledge.


truth is as much larger than fiction: see discussion questions below

fancy: imagine

faculty: power, ability

sham: false, imitation

rooks, stares: crows, starlings


Then truth is as much larger than fiction, as God is greater than man; as much larger as the whole universe is larger than the little corner of it that any man, even the greatest poet or philosopher, can see; and as much grander, and as much more beautiful, and as much more strange. For one is the whole, and the other is one, a few tiny scraps of the whole. The one is the work of God; the other is the work of man.

Be sure that no-one can ever fancy anything strange, unexpected, and curious, without finding if he had eyes to see, a hundred things around his feet more strange, more unexpected, more curious, actually ready-made already by God. As your eyes open to the true fairy tale which Madam How can tell you all day long, you may discover that novels and story-books are scarcely worth your reading, as long as you can read the great green book, of which every bud is a letter, and every tree a page.

Wonder if you will. You cannot wonder too much. So that you might wonder all your life long, God put you into this wondrous world, and gave you that faculty of wonder which is at once the mother of sound science, and a pledge of immortality in a world more wondrous even than this. But wonder at the right thing, not at the wrong; at the real miracles and prodigies, not at the sham. Wonder not at the world of man. Waste not your admiration, interest, hope on it, its pretty toys and fashions, fine clothes, tawdry luxuries, silly amusements. Wonder at the works of God. Wonder where wonder is due, and worship where worship is due.

It is like a boy or girl who comes home from the theater, having thought it all wondrously glorious, and quite a fairyland; who slips tired into bed; and wakes next morning to see the pure light shining in through the delicate frost-lace on the window-pane, and looks out over fields of virgin snow, and watches the rosy dawn and cloudless blue, and the great sun rising to the music of cawing rooks and piping stares, and says, "The theatre last night was the fairyland of man; but this is the fairyland of God."

Narration and Discussion

"Truth is as much larger than fiction, as God is greater than man": This phrase is usually "Truth is stranger than fiction," from Lord Byron's poem Don Juan:

"'Tis strange -- but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction; if it could be told, How much would novels gain by the exchange! How differently the world would men behold!"

In Following the Equator, Mark Twain expanded on the phrase: "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." Does that fit with Kingsley's idea about "the real miracles and prodigies?"

"As your eyes open to the true fairy tale which Madam How can tell you all day long, you may discover that novels and story-books are scarcely worth your reading, as long as you can read the great green book . . ." Does that mean we should stop reading books?

Do-It Challenge: Take a "Master William" walk outdoors. Can you list a hundred different things around you? If you are learning with a group, someone might make a list ahead of time of things to look for (such as "something blue").

The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.
(Robert Louis Stevenson)

Lesson 33: On Wisdom and Foolishness


This passage is borrowed from the Volume 2 chapter "The Coral Reef." It is included here as an "intermission" between the volumes.


slowworm: Anguis fragilis; also called a blindworm

adder: a venomous snake

swallow: a kind of bird


(Boy): Father, do you think me silly for fancying that a fossil star-fish was a flower?

I should be silly if I did. There is no silliness in not knowing what you cannot know. No, I shall only call you silly if you do what some boys are apt to do--call other boys, and, still worse, servants or poor people, silly for not knowing what they cannot know.

(Boy): But are not poor people often very silly about animals and plants? The boys at the village school say that slowworms are poisonous; is not that silly?

Not at all. They know that adders bite, and so they think that slowworms bite too. They are wrong; and they must be told that they are wrong and scolded if they kill a slowworm. But silly they are not.

(Boy): But is it not silly to fancy that swallows sleep all the winter at the bottom of the pond?

I do not think so. The boys cannot know where the swallows go; and if you told them--what is true--that the swallows find their way every autumn through France, through Spain, over the Straits of Gibraltar, into Morocco, and some, I believe, over the Sahara Desert into southern Africa; and if you told them--what is true also--that the young swallows actually find their way into Africa without having been along the road before; because the old swallows go south a week or two first, and leave the young ones to guess out the way for themselves: if you told them that, then they would have a right to say, "Do you expect us to believe that? That is much more wonderful than that the swallows should sleep in the pond."

(Boy): But is it?

Yes; to them. They know that bats and dormice and other things sleep all the winter; so why should not swallows sleep? They see the swallows about the water, and often dipping almost into it. They know that fishes live under water, and that many insects--like May-flies and caddis-flies and water-beetles--live sometimes in the water, sometimes in the open air; and they cannot know--you do not know--what it is which prevents a bird's living under water. So, their guess is really a very fair one.

(Boy): But I do know of one old woman who was silly. She was a boy's nurse, and she gave the boy a thing which she said was one of the snakes which St. Hilda turned into stone; and told him that they found plenty of them at Whitby, where she was born, all coiled up; but what was very odd, their heads had always been broken off. And when he took it to his father, he told him it was only a fossil shell--an Ammonite. And he went back, and laughed at his nurse, till she was quite angry.

Then he was very lucky that she did not box his ears, for that was what he deserved. I dare say that, though his nurse had never heard of Ammonites, she was a wise old dame enough, and knew a hundred things which he did not know, and which were far more important than Ammonites, even to him.

(Boy): How?

Because if she had not known how to nurse him well, he would perhaps have never grown up alive and strong.

(Boy): But was she not silly?

No. She only believed what the Whitby folk, I understand, have some of them believed for many hundred years. And no one can be blamed for thinking as his ancestors did, unless he has cause to know better.

(Boy): Surely she might have known better?

How? What reason could she have to believe the Ammonite was a shell? It is not the least like cockles, or whelks, or any shell she ever saw. What reason either could she have to guess that Whitby cliff had once been coral-mud, at the bottom of the sea? No more reason than you would have to guess that this stone had been coral-mud likewise, if I did not teach you so,--or rather, try to make you teach yourself so.

No. I say it again. If you wish to learn, I will only teach you on condition that you do not laugh at, or despise, those good and honest and able people who do not know or care about these things, because they have other things to think of: like old John out there ploughing. He would not believe you--he would hardly believe me--if we told him that this stone had been once a swarm of living things, of exquisite shapes and glorious colours. And yet he can plough and sow, and reap and mow, and fell and strip, and hedge and ditch, and give his neighbours sound advice, and take the measure of a man's worth from ten minutes' talk, and say his prayers, and keep his temper, and pay his debts,--which last three things are more than a good many folks can do who fancy themselves a whole world wiser than John.

Narration and Discussion

"Which would you rather be if you had the choice--divinely beautiful or dazzlingly clever or angelically good?" (L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables)

Why should we have patience with people who know "less" about things than we do ourselves?


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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