Madam How and Lady Why

Year 5 Study Guide

by Anne White

This biographical information has been adapted from the Wikipedia article "Charles Kingsley."

Who was Charles Kingsley?

Charles Kingsley was born June 12, 1819, in Holne, Devon, England. He was the son of an Anglican priest, and became a clergyman himself. His official occupations can be listed as clergyman, university professor, historian, and writer. In 1860, he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. In 1869 Kingsley resigned his professorship and, from 1870 to 1873, he was a canon (a higher priest) of Chester Cathedral. While in Chester he founded the Chester Society for Natural Science, Literature and Art, which played an important part in the establishment of the Grosvenor Museum.

His books were published between 1849 and 1875. Westward Ho!, a novel which you will read in later school years, was one of his earliest books, published in 1855. Other books you will recognize are The Heroes: Greek Fairy Tales (1856), 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.

What did he believe about God and creation?

Kingsley was sympathetic (favourable) to the idea of evolution and was one of the first to praise Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species. He stated that he had "long since, from watching the crossing of domesticated animals and plants, learnt to disbelieve the dogma of the permanence of species." Darwin added an edited version of Kingsley's closing remarks to the next edition of his book, stating that,"A celebrated author and divine (priest) has written to me that 'he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws.'"

What does he mean by "Madam How and Lady Why?"

In the first chapter, Kingsley attempts to explain what he means by using this personification. 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, though Lady Why has an unnamed Master over her as well.

"But of one thing I must warn you, that you must not confound Madam How and Lady Why. . . . 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 to-day?" you would not answer, "Because we opened the door." That is the answer to "How did we go out?" The answer to Why did we 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 a little boy, "Because it is hot;" which is all you know about it. But if you were a great chemist, instead of a little boy, 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;" which 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?" My dear child, 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."

"Some people think, again, that Madam How is not only stupid, but ill-tempered and cruel; that she makes earthquakes and storms, and famine 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. . . . 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. . . ."


Why does the second part of the book start with such a difficult chapter as "Madam How's Two Grandsons?"

Here is how Kingsley ends the previous chapter: "But I have just recollected that we are a couple of very stupid fellows. We have been talking all this time about chalk and limestone, and have forgotten to settle what they are, and how they were made. We must think of that next time. It will not do for us (at least if we mean to be scientific men) to use terms without defining them; in plain English, to talk about--we don't know what." He realizes that he has described the things themselves, but has gotten away from not only the "why" but even the "how." So he decides to backtrack a bit.

At the beginning of this chapter, the little boy and his father are taking a walk in a place where the ground is full of chalk and limestone (chalk is a form of limestone). To explain the "how and why" referred to earlier, he (typical of Charles Kingsley) casts it in the form of a story. After the story about the two grandsons, the father and son begin to pick up fossils and talk about them. By the time you get to the end of this chapter, you may feel as if you had stepped into the underwater world of The Water-babies.

Vocabulary for "Madam How's Two Grandsons"

Analysis  What does it mean to analyze something? Kingsley says that "Analysis was to take to pieces everything he found, and find out how it was made." You can imagine him as a little boy who takes the toaster and the telephone apart to see how they work. Kingsley says that thechief limitation of Analysis (besides getting too cocky thinking he knows more than he does) is that "he will never do anything but fail, when he tries to find out the life in things. How can he, when he has to take the life out of them first?"

Synthesis  Think of words you already know that are close to this word, such as "synthetic." It usually means something man-made, doesn't it? But it also means to combine things, to put different things together to create something new. "Synthesis was to put the pieces together again, and make something fresh out of them."

Chalk  The chalk you know best is blackboard chalk, and that is not usually made from real chalk--what you use is probably gypsum. Natural chalk is a soft white, gray, or buff limestone composed of the mineral calcite, made from the shells of foraminifers (foraminifera), which are single-celled planktonic animals with perforated chalky shells. (From Wikipedia) Chalk is resistant to weathering and slumping compared to the clays with which it is usually associated, thus forming tall steep cliffs (like the White Cliffs of Dover) where chalk ridges meet the sea. Chalk hills usually form where bands of chalk reach the surface at an angle, so forming a sharp slope--these are also called chalk downs. Because chalk is porous it can hold a large volume of ground water, providing a natural reservoir that releases water slowly through dry seasons.

What colour is real chalk?

"Many might consider all Chalk to be white in colour. While the greater majority may be white when fresh, when weathered it becomes grey with common red iron staining. There are also Red Chalks (Norfolk, Yorkshire and the North Sea) and Grey Chalks (the Chalk Marl or Craie Grise in France). In beds where Glauconite common it is greenish in colour." (From a helpful site about chalk:

What was chalk traditionally used for?

Chalk was and is used to make quicklime and slaked lime, mainly used as mortar in buildings.

Where else might you find chalk, or a modern substitute for "real" chalk? (Partial list from Wikipedia)

In agriculture chalk is used for raising pH in soils with high acidity (making them more alkaline). (In the previous chapter of Madam How, a farmer calls this "sweetening the soil.")
In field sports, including grass tennis courts, powdered chalk was used to mark the boundary lines of the playing field or court.
In gymnastics, rock-climbing, weight-lifting and tug of war, chalk--now usually magnesium carbonate--is applied to the hands to remove perspiration and reduce slipping.
Tailor's chalk is traditionally a hard chalk used to make temporary markings on cloth, mainly by tailors. Nowadays it is usually made from talc (magnesium silicate).
Toothpaste also commonly contains small amounts of chalk, to serve as a mild abrasive.
Builders putty also mainly contains chalk as a filler in linseed oil.
Fingerprint powder

like the laws of the Medes and Persians  An expression meaning something that cannot be changed

teach your grandmother to suck eggs is a very old saying, meaning that a person is giving advice to someone else about a subject that they already know about (and probably more than the first person)

this bit of lime  a piece of limestone

shepherd's crown  An echinoid--a kind of fossil with five rays that make it look like a crown. Helpful website:

cockle  a bivalve seashell

Terebratula  A brachiopod. An online image search will show many examples.

Loch Fyne  the longest sea loch in Scotland

Dentalina  a fossil (an image search will show examples)

Atomies  the skeletons of the foraminifera

Globigerina  a genus of marine protozoans (one-celled organisms). An image search will show examples. There is also an illustration in Kingsley's book.
Pteropods  "Pteropods are tiny marine snails the size of a lentil that are eaten widely by many species that, in turn, are consumed by other animals, such as penguins." (Source:

Discussion Questions

1. If Analysis represents the scientific way of looking at things, and Synthesis represents a different view, what does Kingsley mean by saying that Synthesis snatched away what Analysis was doing, put it back together wrong, locked him up and starved him? Was there a time in history (that Kingsley was thinking of) when this may have been the case? How else could you find out about things besides actually examining them yourself?

2. Kingsley says that all honest folk welcomed Analysis when he escaped his prison, because he was honest. Does that mean that Synthesis is not honest? What are some of the other negative terms he uses to describe Synthesis at this point? What are the positive words he uses to describe Analysis? Can you think of a time in history when people began to value the "scientific" view of things?

3. Kingsley is not quite finished with Synthesis, though; he makes us feel a bit sorry for him in the next section, and says that "Synthesis is not dead, nor anything like it; and he will rise up again some day, to make good friends with his brother Analysis, and by his help do nobler and more beautiful work than he has ever yet done in the world." Does Kingsley value one over the other?

4. Kingsley uses the idea of a plum-pudding to illustrate the limits of what Analysis can do. If this isn't a familiar idea, imagine a muffin, made of flour, sugar, oil, baking powder, raisins, shredded carrots, walnuts, etc. Or even better--one made with blueberries. Even if you pick the blueberries out of the muffin, can you get all the colour that has come out of them back into the berries again? And unless you knew that the muffin had been baked in a muffin-shaped pan, you could spend a very long time trying to figure out how it got its muffin shape.

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

6. Draw the outline of a 1-inch by 1-inch piece of chalk (1 inch deep as well), or find an object with the same measurements. Could you fit forty thousand tiny shells into such a container? Could you fit forty thousand ANYTHING into it?

7. Why did Kingsley find it so absolutely amazing that "men are beginning now to believe that the chalk has never ceased to be made, somewhere or other, for many thousand years, ever since the Winchester Downs were at the bottom of the sea; and that "the Globigerina-mud is not merely a chalk formation, but a continuation of the chalk formation, so that we may be said to be still living in the age of Chalk?"

8. What "fossils" does Kingsley think future naturalists will find?


"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."

"Wherever you see a bit of blue, which is the mark for limestone, you may say, �There is a bit of old coral-reef rising up to the surface.'"

In this chapter, the father and son examine several specimens of fossilized coral. How does a present-day, living coral reef compare to its ancient counterpart, the source of these fossils; and what is an ancient coral reef doing in England? It takes awhile for Kingsley to get there, through detours about coconut crabs and such, but he does eventually get to an answer.

"The high limestone mountains which part Lancashire and Yorkshire--the very chine and backbone of England--were once coral-reefs at the bottom of the sea. They are all made up of the carboniferous limestone, so called, as your little knowledge of Latin ought to tell you, because it carries the coal; because the coalfields usually lie upon it. It may be impossible in your eyes: but remember always that nothing is impossible with God."

Vocabulary for "The Coral Reef"

Dudley  is a large town in the West Midlands, England. The main industries in Dudley included coal and limestone mining.

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

A medusa (plural: medusae) is a form of cnidarian in which the body is shaped like an umbrella, in contrast with the polyps. If you look up "Medusa (biology)" on Wikipedia, you will see illustrations of medusae done by biologist Ernst Haeckel.

Vignettes  images, drawings; Forbes' History of the British Star-fishes has many amusing illustrations as well as scientific diagrams. (You can find the book, with its illustrations, online.)

Feather stars  "Feather stars are also known as crinoids. They are characterized by radial symmetry. The body of a typical feather star is cup-shaped, their numerous feathery arms project from a central disc." (Source:

Slowworm  small burrowing legless lizard with tiny eyes, also called a blindworm

Zahara  The Sahara Desert. "Negroland" is not an actual place; Kingsley is referring to parts of Africa below the Sahara.

Atoll  The text describes an atoll (ring island); an image search will provide diagrams and photos.

Coconut crab (Birgus latro) the largest land-living arthropod in the world

Geological map  A map marked to show geological features. Rock units or geologic strata are shown by color or symbols to indicate where they are exposed at the surface. As you read this section, you may wish to search for "Geological map of Ireland," and then one of England, which will show you the same features that Kingsley is describing.

Discussion questions

1. "Only remember now, that there is nothing wonderful in the world outside you but has its counterpart of something just as wonderful, and perhaps more wonderful, inside you. Man is the microcosm, the little world, said the philosophers of old; and philosophers nowadays are beginning to see that their old guess is actual fact, and true." Do you agree with Kingsley? What are some of the amazing things inside you?

2. Is it possible to make a guess about something that is wrong, but not silly? Why is it sometimes harder to believe the truth about something than it is the made-up version? What example does Kingsley give?

3. Read Kingsley's description of a present-day, living coral reef, and try to visualize what he is describing--make a drawing if you like. Then compare with video footage or photographs. Did Kingsley create an accurate description?

4. "But how did the coral-reefs rise till they became cliffs at Bristol and mountains in Yorkshire?" Even if you are not clear on all the British geography, do you understand the basic idea of what Kingsley is describing? What effect would the earthquake(s) have had on the process of building up the islands?

5. "Were there any men in the world while all this was going on?" Do you agree with Kingsley's conclusion here?

"But even if it were so, and no created eye had ever beheld those ancient wonders, and no created heart ever enjoyed them, is there not One Uncreated who has seen them and enjoyed them from the beginning? . . . And was there not a Father in Heaven who was enjoying their enjoyment, and enjoying too their beauty, which He had formed according to the ideas of His Eternal Mind? . . . this world was not made for man alone: but . . . man, and this world, and the whole Universe was made for God; for He created all things, and for His pleasure they are, and were created."

"Field and Wild"

"Field and Wild" is a rambling, Charles-Kingsley kind of chapter. But it's actually easier reading than the previous two chapters, and many of us will find that it covers slightly more familiar "ground".

Because the AmblesideOnline schedule divides this chapter into six readings, I have done the same.

Part One

Section to be read:
From the beginning to "she is at work now making you." (pg 188-194)

Vocabulary for Part One

Oxeyes daisies, or their relatives

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

Nightjars  medium-sized nocturnal or crepuscular birds with long wings, short legs and very short bills

Six strong mowers  This refers to men mowing, not mowing machines

Discussion questions for Part One

1. Why can't the man and the boy take the horse and go on their trip as they had planned? When is "Midsummer?"

2. What will they do instead? List the first things to which the man called the boy's attention. Something to try: take a look what's right outside your own door. "If we cannot find something, even at starting from the open door, to teach us about Why and How, we must be very short-sighted, or very shallow-hearted."

3. Something to try at night or in a dark place: shine a flashlight on things that are green and red. Does the green look green? Does the red look red?

4. Kingsley says that he does not know why reds look black at night while greens stay green. Do you know? Can you find out?

5. The boy asks some big questions about the worth of machines and new technology (another side of Madam How). "But if the machine cuts all the grass, the poor mowers will have nothing to do." Kingsley gives his own enthusiastic opinion: "Not so. . . .There is plenty of other work to be done, thank God; and wholesomer and easier work than mowing with a burning sun on their backs. . . .You delight in machinery because it is curious: you should delight in it besides because it does good, and nothing but good, where it is used, according to the laws of Lady Why, with care, moderation, and mercy, and fair play between man and man. . . ..Oh that Madam How would teach them that machinery must always be cheaper in the long run than human muscles and nerves!" Has this been true in the past? Is it true now? How would you respond to Kingsley?

6. Why do you think that Madam How and Lady Why want the children to "go and play in the hay, and gather it up, build forts of it, storm them, pull them down, build them up again, shout, laugh, and scream till you are hot and tired?" (The answer is given in the next section.) Have you ever played in hay like this? (Have you done the same thing in snow, or autumn leaves?) You might enjoy reading or re-reading the chapter "Straw-Stack" in On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Part Two

Section to be read:
From "Making me?" to "Why, I have got I don't know how many." (pg 194-199)

Discussion questions for Part Two

1. Why is being unhappy bad for people's health? What kinds of unhappiness in children's lives does Kingsley name? How can we help our own bodies, minds and souls to grow like healthy plants? How can we help others?

2. What was making the "Midsummer hum?" What does the man wonder about the "hummers?"

3. "But why should there be so many kinds of living things? Would not one or two have done just as well?. . . .Why, indeed? Why should there not have been only one sort of butterfly, and he only of one colour, a plain brown, or a plain white?" Why do you think God made such a variety of creatures?

4. What is Madam How's alphabet, and how can we learn it?

5. The man takes the big question of how the world was made, and tries to narrow it down into a smaller example: how the hayfield was made. This discussion begins here and continues in the next section. Something to try: choose a small space ("one small square"), such as a corner of a yard or park, and see how many different plants you can count, even if you don't know their names.

Part Three

Section to be read:
From "Why not? Bring them here, and let us see." to "that is, sown with grass seeds." (pg 199-203)

Vocabulary for Part Three

Six kinds of clovers and vetches; and besides, dandelion, and rattle, and oxeye, and sorrel, and plantain, and buttercup, and a little stitchwort, and pignut, and mouse-ear hawkweed  These would be seen as weeds in the field, even though some of the plants are useful in themselves.

Moor or Moorland, also called Heath  Wikipedia definition: a type of habitat, found in upland areas, characterized by low growing vegetation on acidic soils and heavy fog. You may want to go a bit further into this (by finding pictures or recalling literary examples such as The Secret Garden).

Heath can refer to the moor itself, or to plants growing there such as heather.

Corn  In Britain, "corn" means wheat or other grain, not what North Americans call corn.

Discussion questions for Part Three

1. The father asks the son to compare the grasses inside the cultivated field to the very different vegetation on the moor outside its boundary. Why does the rich grass grow in the field, but not on the moor? Do you know of any similar places, where going from one side of a wall or fence is as different as "scrambling out of Europe into Australia?"

2. Discuss the following: "I want you to look and think. I want every one to look and think. Half the misery in the world comes first from not looking, and then from not thinking. And I do not want you to be miserable.

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

"You will be miserable if you do not learn to understand little things: because then you will not be able to understand great things when you meet them. Children who are not trained to use their eyes and their common sense grow up the more miserable the cleverer they are."

Part Four

Section to be read:
From "And where did men get the grass seeds from?" to "and lived quietly side by side for ages." (pg 203-209)

Vocabulary for Part Four

The Fens, also known as the Fenland(s), are a naturally marshy region in eastern England. Most of the fens were drained several centuries ago, resulting in a flat, damp, low-lying agricultural region. (Source: Wikipedia)

manufactory  factory

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

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

phosphates / bone-earth  the material left after the calcination of bone, consisting chiefly of phosphate of calcium (see ammonia)

heaths, and ling, and club-mosses, and soft gorse, and needle-whin, and creeping willows. . .  wild plants that grow on the moor. Needle-whin is also called needle-furze.

bramble  a prickly, scrambling, wild shrub

lea  an open area of grassy land

cow-wheat  a flowering plant. Its proper name is Melampyrum.

Discussion questions for Part Four

1. How do you know what sort of soil you have in a field or in a garden? What are some ways that farmers or gardeners might have been able to tell, even before they learned to do chemical or other scientific testing? Something to try: In some places you can buy a kit and test your own soil. (Follow-up question: what can you do if your soil is not very fertile, or is the wrong type for what you want to plant?)

2. "Fresh grass-stuff"--does that mean dumping cut grass on the field? What does it mean?

3. How does hay "turn into" milk and horseflesh?

4. How is a field like a factory?

5. Why do the cattle on the moor never get fat?

6. Why not just get rid of the moor, then, and turn everything into productive farm pasture?

Part Five

Section to be read: From "Another forest coming up from below?" to "even as wise as Sweep the retriever." (pg 209-214)

Vocabulary for Part Five

Every drain and grip(e)  In some online texts, the word has been transcribed "gripe"; this is a typo. A grip is a shallow ditch.

Withy or withe (plural withies)  a strong flexible willow stem used in thatching and for gardening

Discussion Questions for Part Five

1. How does the father illustrate "the great law of the struggle for existence?" (This is a key idea in the then-new philosophy of natural science that Charles Kingsley accepted and promoted.)

"And the competition of species means, that each thing, and kind of things, has to compete against the things round it; and to see which is the stronger; and the stronger live, and breed, and spread, and the weaker die out. . . And Lady Why. . . takes care that Madam How kills nothing which ought not to die, and takes nothing away without putting something more beautiful and something more useful in its place. . . "

The man says that it is people's responsibility to "use their wits, and do by all the world what they have done by these pastures--change it. . . .making grass compete against heath." This was the view of the European settlers in North America, who fought to clear forests for farmland and roads. Canadian author Margaret Atwood wrote a poem called "Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer," where a frustrated farmer moans, "In the darkness the fields / defend themselves with fences / in vain: / everything / is getting in."

It is also the thought of Genesis 3:18-19: "Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." See also Genesis 1:28.

Some people disagree with this view of our place on the earth. They take a more romantic or earth-centered approach, and point to pollution, disappearing forests, and endangered species as examples of our selfishness. Is it possible for people to live with nature, rather than against it, trying to overcome it or change it? Or is that a necessary reality, the result of Genesis 2 and 3?

2. How does the father say that humans differ from animals? Of what does he warn the boy?

Part Six

Section to be read:
From "Not as wise as Sweep?" to end of chapter (pg 214-220)

Vocabulary for Part Six

the parish  the neighbourhood

Discussion Questions for Part Six

1. "But see what has happened--that just because dogs have learnt not to be selfish and to compete--that is, have become civilized and [238] tame--therefore we let them live with us, and love them. Because they try to be good in their simple way, therefore they too have all things added to them, and live far happier, and more comfortable lives than the selfish wolf and fox." Do you agree with Kingsley here, or is he giving domesticated animals more human qualities (such as the ability to "try to be good") than they actually have?

3. "They have learnt not to compete, but to help each other; not to be selfish, but to sacrifice themselves; and therefore they are strong." Do you agree that this is good advice? Can you think of any Scriptures that support this?

4. "But may I not compete for prizes against the other boys?" What is the man's response? Do you think that there is a good time and place for friendly competition? How about not-so-friendly? Should students be encouraged to compete with each other, in academics or in sports?

5. The man says that adults should "put away competition" (at least for prizes) and not "try to be better and wiser and more learned than everybody else." Is that something you often hear in today's world? Look up the story of Solomon (particularly the book of Ecclesiastes) and see how he handled (or mishandled) God's gift of wisdom.

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

"Try to live the true human life, which also is divine;--to be just and honourable, gentle and forgiving, generous and useful--in one word, to fear God, and keep His commandments: and as you live that life, you will find that, by the eternal laws of Lady Why, all other things will be added to you; that people will be glad to know you, glad to help you, glad to employ you, because they see that you will be of use to them, and will do them no harm. And if you meet (as you will meet) with people better and wiser than yourself, then so much the better for you. . . "

"The World's End"

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

Part One

Section to be read:
From the beginning to "louder every step we take."

Vocabulary for Part One

The old world  Europe

The new world  North America

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

cataract  waterfall, or rush of water

sea-moths  Pteropods (see "Madam How's Two Grandsons")

grampus  A cetacean (Grampus griseus) related to and resembling the dolphins but lacking a beaklike snout.

Discussion Questions for Part One

1. Kingsley says that the new world will be "rich and prosperous, civilized and noble, thousands of years hence." Why do you think he said this? Do you think he was right?

2. What was the great smooth patch in the lawn? What does the father say caused the scratches in it?

Part Two

Section to be read:
From "What a roar! Is there a waterfall there?" to "have been talking, we have got into the woods." (pg 226-230)

In this section, the father and son go out to see the flood up close.

Vocabulary for Part Two

parapet  a low, protective wall

firkin  small wooden barrel

turfs  In the summer time peat or "turf" is cut into blocks with a spade and set in stacks to dry, to be used later for fuel.

Discussion Questions for Part Two

1. What are some things that the flood waters washed down the mountain?

2. "But is it not cruel of Madam How to make such floods?" (If you have read George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind, you may find this closely echoes some of Diamond's conversations with the North Wind.)

3. How did the Irish farmer respond to the same question?

4. Do you know the story of how salmon go up-river to spawn?

5. How does Kingsley reckon that fish are "free food?"

6. For older students: You may want to read more about the argument for catastrophism vs. uniformitarianism.

Part Three

Section to be read:
From "Oh, what beautiful woods, just like our own." to "and they could not float over that." (pg 230-236)

In this section, the father and son explore the woods, and talk about the theory of continental drift. "It seems very wonderful, to be able to find out that there was a great land once in the ocean all by a few little heaths."

Vocabulary for Part Three

perpetual  continuous

Film fern, Hymenophyllum  An online image search will show both photographs and botanical drawings. There is also a drawing in the book.

London Pride, St. Patrick's Cabbage  A word of caution: search images by "St. Patrick's Cabbage" rather than "London Pride," which has multiple meanings.

Queen Bess  Queen Elizabeth the First of England, who reigned 1558-1603

James the First  King of England from 1603-1625

poachers  Those who kill animals (including fish) illegally

gaol  British spelling of jail

Discussion Questions for Part Three

1. The father says that this region of Ireland is "the land of perpetual spring, where frost and snow seldom or never comes." How is that possible?

2. What does he mean by this: "They [the plants] had not got as far as Ireland before Ireland was parted off from England. And St. Patrick's cabbage, and a good many other plants, had not got as far as England." The boy then asks, "But why is it that this spurge, and St. Patrick's cabbage, grow only here in the west? If they got here of themselves, where did they come from? All outside there is sea; and they could not float over that." Can you suggest an answer?

Part Four

Section to be read:
From "Come, I say, and sit down on this bench" to "which make one think that so it must have been."

Vocabulary for Part Four

Mr. Wallace's new book The Malay Archipelago: the land of the orang-utan, and the bird of paradise. A narrative of travel, with studies of man and nature, by Alfred Russel Wallace, 1869

Azores  a group of volcanic islands in the north Atlantic

Labrador  the mainland part of the Canadian province of Newfoundland

Pyrenees  a range of mountains in southwest Europe

Biarritz  a city in southwestern France

Brittany  a region of France

Cape of Good Hope  a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa, close to the southern tip of the continent

Cape Heaths  An online image search will show examples of the many African species of this plant

Discussion Questions for Part Four

1. What do the spurge, St. Patrick's Cabbage, and the rest have to do with the legend of Atlantis?

2. What does the father mean by "Bio-geology?"

3. Are there any other explanations for the problem that he poses about how identical plants grow in various places?

Part Five

Section to be read:
From "And now I will tell you something stranger still" to" See! As we have been talking we have got nearly home: and luncheon must be ready"

The discussion of continental drift continues. This section is quite short so that the last scene (Part Six) can be read at one time.

Vocabulary for Part Five

Captain Mayne Reid's books  Thomas Mayne Reid (1818-1883), was an Irish-American novelist. "Captain" Reid wrote many adventure novels akin to those written by Frederick Marryat and Robert Louis Stevenson. (Wikipedia)

Zoological Gardens  the London zoo

Discussion Questions for Part Five

1. In this section, Kingsley takes the ideas he has previously introduced about similar plants appearing on different continents, and extends it to animals. Does this seem to make sense?

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

Part Six

Section to be read: From "Why are you opening your eyes at me" to the end.

This scene takes place at the boy's bedtime, still on holiday in Ireland. There is something he wants to do the next day, and he is determined to persuade his father that it is a good idea.

"Madam How can teach that as no one else can in earth or heaven: only, unfortunately for her scholars, she is apt to hit so hard with her rod, which is called Experience, that they never get over it. . . ."

Vocabulary for Part Six

That is only fun  You are only teasing me.

rollers  waves

Discussion Questions for Part Six

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

(A note for those who have read The Water-babies: does this passage remind you somewhat of the lessons that Tom learned underwater? "Nobody is so indulgent as Madam How: and she would be the dearest old lady in the world, but for one ugly trick that she has. She never tells anyone what is coming, but leaves them to find it out for themselves. She lets them put their fingers in the fire, and never tells them that they will get burnt.")

2. Discuss this passage: "Lady Why will teach you, but by something very different--by something which has been called--and I know no better names for it--grace and inspiration; by putting into your heart feelings which no man, not even your father and mother, can put there; by making you quick to love what is right, and hate what is wrong. . . .Because God is your Father in heaven, as I am your father on earth, and He does not wish His little child to be left to the hard teaching of Nature and Law, but to be helped on by many, many unsought and undeserved favours, such as are rightly called "Means of Grace;" and above all by the Gospel and good news that you are God's child. . . ."

3. Kingsley refers to verses in Proverbs 8 that tell us to seek out Wisdom. What does he warn will happen to those who neglect this?



"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. To answer any one question, you find you must answer another; and to answer that you must answer a third, and then a fourth; and so on for ever and ever."

In the last chapter of the book, the boy and his father leave Ireland and travel home by steamship and then by train. These sections are quite short, and you may wish to move more quickly through the readings than we have suggested.


Section to be read:
Original breaks:
Ch 12 Homeward Bound from beginning to "once joined on to that low island on our left."

Adjustment: Ch 12 Homeward Bound from beginning to "We must see about getting on board now, and under way."

Discussion Questions for Part One

1. How do you think that animals think? Have you ever had a pet or known an animal that seemed to think in almost "human" ways?


Section to be read:
Original breaks:
from "What, that long bank of stones, with a house on it?" to "up those cliffs in columns of white foam."

Adjustment: from "Well, and what have you been doing?" to "up those cliffs in columns of white foam."

Vocabulary for Part Two

peat-bogs  wet spongy ground of decomposing vegetation; has poorer drainage than a swamp. The peat (peat moss) is cut, dried, and used (traditionally) for fuel, or in gardening.

moraine  A mass of rocks and sediment deposited by a glacier

Christmas Sound  a bay on the south coast of Terra del Fuego

Gar-fish  Now often spelled garfish

Discussion Questions for Part Two

1. How does the man know that the island was once joined to the cliff?

2. Why wouldn't a moraine be "built" in the sea?

3. Tell what you know of the garfish.


Section to be read:
from "Hoch!" to "gannets swooping round and round."

Vocabulary for Part Three

gannets  large black and white seabirds with yellow heads

Discussion Questions for Part Three

1. What things about the whale surprised the boy?


Section to be read:
from "Oh! one has fallen into the sea!" to "And how the mackerel flew out of the water!"

Vocabulary for Part Four

Guillemot, murre, marrock  Names for a kind of large auk

Discussion Questions for Part Four

1. The father repeatedly brings up the issue of cruelty to animals. What is his solution? How does the boy respond?


Section to be read:
from "Yes. You are a lucky boy to have seen that." to "because you went on board at night."

Vocabulary for Part Five

fluke  either half of the triangular tail of a whale

the second volume of Madam How's Book of Kind  not literally another book--he means something like "advanced natural history theory"

Dr. Flower  Sir William Henry Flower (1831-1899) was an English comparative anatomist and surgeon. Flower became a leading authority on mammals, and especially on the primate brain. He supported Thomas Henry Huxley in an important controversy with Richard Owen about the human brain, and eventually succeeded Owen as Director of the Natural History Museum. (Source: Wikipedia)

narwhal  a medium-sized toothed whale that lives year-round in the Arctic

right whales  three species of large baleen whales. "They are called "right whales" because whalers thought the whales were the "right" ones to hunt, as they float when killed and often swim within sight of shore." (Wikipedia)

baleen  Baleen whales are characterized by having baleen plates for filtering food from water, rather than having teeth.

manati  also spelled manatee

M. Agassiz  Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807-1873) was a paleontologist, glaciologist, geologist and a prominent innovator in the study of the Earth's natural history.

Discussion Questions for Part Five

1. "This is all very funny: but what is the use of knowing so much about things' teeth and hair?" How does the father respond?

2. They pass the mouth of the Severn and Avon; and they follow the great strait between the Mendips and the Welsh mountains, called the Severn sea. Can you find the places referred to on a map?


Section to be read:
from "Oh! Where have we got to now?" to "villas, high over your head."

Discussion questions for Part Six

1. Find the Avon river on a map of England. Why is Stratford-on-Avon famous?

2. "But what is the tide? And why does it go up and down? And why does it alter with the moon, as I heard you all saying so often in Ireland?" Can you explain what you know about this?

3. "But why is the sandstone two worlds newer than the limestone?" Can you draw a picture of what the boy might have seen? If you have trouble, try searching for photos of the cliffs in the Avon Gorge. (There are even a couple of videos on You-tube.)


Section to be read:
from "And what is that in the air? A bridge?" to "from Bristol right into the Somersetshire flats."

Vocabulary for Part Seven

Suspension Bridge  The Clifton Suspension Bridge, opened in 1864.

This sketch  Refers to an illustration in the book

the sketch of the rocks between this and home  Diagram appearing in the book

Discussion questions for Part Seven

1. The father says, "Yes: it was a clever trick to get those chains across the gulf, high up in air: but not so clever a trick as to make a single stone of which those piers are built, or a single flower or leaf in those woods." What does he mean? Do you agree?


Section to be read:
from "There. We are off at last" to "We are in the Box Tunnel."

Vocabulary for Part Eight

blue lias, lias rock  a type of rock composed of alternating layers of bluish shale or clay and grey argillaceous limestone

boss  an exposed rounded mass of igneous or metamorphic rock--like a bump

oolite  A small round calcareous grain found, for example, in limestones

Box Tunnel  a railway tunnel in Western England, between Bath and Chippenham, dug through Box Hill, and is one of the most significant structures on the Great Western Main Line. (Wikipedia) Interesting website:


Section to be read:
"There is the light again:" to "described in it, close on our right."

Vocabulary for Part Nine

mangold  Either another name for Swiss Chard (a leafy green vegetable), or mangold wurzel, a root vegetable grown as fodder for animals

Oxford clay The Oxford Clay Formation is a Jurassic marine sedimentary rock formation underlying much of southeast England, from as far west as Dorset and as far north as Yorkshire.

greensand  In Great Britain, greensand usually refers to specific rock strata of Early Cretaceous age.

coprolites  Often refers to fossilized animal dung, but in the next section, the father gives another definition. ". . . .all we can say is, that a long time ago, before the chalk began to be made, there was a shallow sea in England, the shore of which was so covered with dead animals, that the bone-earth (the phosphate of lime) out of them crusted itself round every bone, and shell, and dead sea-beast on the shore, and got covered up with fresh sand, and buried for ages as a mine of wealth."

Vale of White Horse  a geographically distinct region, lying between the Berkshire Downs and the River Thames, named after the prehistoric Uffington White Horse (something else to look up!). (White Horse Hill is mentioned in the next section.)

Scouring of the White Horse  Richard Doyle, a cartoonist and illustrator of Punch satirical magazine fame, illustrated the 1859 book The Scouring of the White Horse by Thomas Hughes, the author of Tom Brown's Schooldays. The book mentions both the horse and the Blowing Stone. (Wikipedia)

Discussion Questions for Part Nine

1. Can you find the places mentioned on a map? The last few sections will mention many places in England, especially relating to the River Thames, so it would be good to have a map handy.


Section to be read:
from "There is the White Horse Hill." to "as I hope you will some day."

Vocabulary for Part Ten

coprolites  See Part Nine

hop-lands  places where hops are grown

hops  Hops are the female flower clusters of a hop species, Humulus lupulus. They are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer.

phosphorus  A multivalent nonmetallic element of the nitrogen family that occurs commonly in inorganic phosphate rocks and as organic phosphates in all living cells. The vast majority of phosphorus compounds are consumed as fertilizers.

Discussion Questions for Part Ten

1. What does the father mean here by "ghosts?"

2. What makes the lower lands so unusually rich? (and therefore ideal for growing hops and tobacco)


"I should like to be a scientific man, if one can find out such really useful things by science."

"Child, there is no saying what you might find out, or of what use you may be to your fellow-men."

Section to be read:
from "There was a clergyman named Henslow" to "Why we are crossing him again!"

Vocabulary for Part Eleven

Henslow  John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861) was an English clergyman, botanist and geologist. He is best remembered as friend and mentor to his pupil Charles Darwin. "In 1843 he discovered nodules of coprolitic origin in the Red Crag at Felixstowe in Suffolk, and two years later he called attention to those also in the Cambridge Greensand and remarked that they might be of use in agriculture. Although Henslow derived no benefit, these discoveries led to the establishment of the phosphate industry in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire; and the works proved lucrative until the introduction of foreign phosphates." (Wikipedia)

coprolites  See Part Nine

manure  refers here to any kind of fertilizer (an older meaning of the word)

superphosphate  In the 1840s, scientists found that coprolites could be dissolved in sulfuric acid to produce what became known as superphosphate. (Wikipedia)

Chiltern Hills  The Chiltern Hills form a chalk escarpment in South East England. They are known locally as "the Chilterns". A large portion of the hills was designated officially as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1965. (Wikipedia)

Father Thames  The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest river in the United Kingdom.

Discussion questions for Part Eleven

1. Why do coprolites make good fertilizer?

2. What are the practical reasons Kingsley gives for the study of science? Can you think of any examples of this? (Suggestions: Archimedes; Benjamin Franklin; Thomas Edison; Adelaide Hunter Hoodless)


Section to be read:
from "Yes; he winds more sharply than a railroad can." to end of book

Vocabulary for Part Twelve

Berkshire  a historic county in the South East of England

Basildon  a civil parish in Berkshire. It comprises the villages of Upper Basildon and Lower Basildon, named for their respective heights above the River Thames.

Hurley  a village and civil parish in Berkshire.

Pangbourne  a large village and civil parish on the River Thames in Berkshire.

lasher  a weir

weir  a low dam built across a river to raise the level of water upstream or regulate its flow

Discussion questions for Part Twelve

1. Discuss this: "More terrible changes of land and water have happened, and are happening still in the world: but none, I think, could happen which would destroy so much civilization and be such a loss to mankind, as that the Thames valley should become again what it was, geologically speaking."

2. Discuss this: "What wonderful questions we have got answered, which all grew out of the first question, How were the heather-moors made? And yet we have not talked about a hundredth part of the things about which these very heather-moors ought to set us thinking. But so it is, child. 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. To answer any one question, you find you must answer another; and to answer that you must answer a third, and then a fourth; and so on for ever and ever."

"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; and find it as true of science, as it is of this life and of the life to come--that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, what God has prepared for those who love Him."

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