The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

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

Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 310

"En hoexkens ende boexkens."

"Uncle Remus," IS.; "Nights with Uncle Remus,: 3s. 6d., by J. C. Harris (Routledge).

There is scarcely any need to tell readers who Uncle Remus is; he has been a friend at many an English fireside for several years. That his a treasure to the student of ethnology is well known; but we are not concerned with ethnology. Our question rather is "Why do children of all ages delight in these tales?" Some will meet this question by a summary "They don't"; but we may respectfully put this aside. "Brer Rabbit," "Jedge Bar," "The Mud-turkle Mister Man," and "Ole man Tarrypin" do make friends everywhere; and we have known five children round the fire, and 150 children in a large hall, kept far quieter than any Sunday Congregration for an hour-and-a-half by a succession of Plantation Legends (except indeed when the speaker has had to stop for a full quarter-of-a-minute to allow the shouts of laughter to subside).

The objections to the tales are -- first, that they are American, and anything American is bad. This silly dictum, which, of course, begs the question, cannot surely be repeated after a course of those brilliant short stories in which such writers as Cable, Stockton, and Howells excel. Secondly, the tales are in dialect which is hard to read. The answer to this is -- Read the tales aloud, and dialect becomes easy and natural.

But the objections are not put forward but the little ones; they are keen critics, but as they are cosmopolitan in taste, and will listen to the story of the fall of Troy without demanding and English author for it, the Americaphobia does not touch them; and again, as the stories are generally read to them, the dialect offends them not.

Now, it seems that the charm of the stories lies in their being new. Brer Rabbit was never such a villain before: the bear was never such a fool. We have no mere Æsop here; the animals have their characters tacked on to them; and the audience know that the fox will get the worst of it with the rabbit and the better of it with the rest; the tarrypin will come out of his tribulations well, for slow and sure wins the race. Thus the hearers are in the pleasant position of being certain about the end and uncertain about the means. It is an example of the the irony of Sophocles once more.

Again, the dialect has such a charm. "Lemme go," "you dunno wot trubble is," "I cotch a handful o' hard sense," "mighty biggity," are new to the ear, but they mean a good deal more than their Johnsonese equivalents, if they are emphasized well: a good reader will not fail if he adapts the dialect slightly.

Again, the animals are so full of animal life. The rabbit "fetches up on his behime legs," and children have seen him do it: he comes down the road "lippety-clippity, clippity-lippity," and they know the rabbit's elastic run. The elephant is not always suffering needle-pricks or spouting on tailors: he is "squushing" little animals, not out of ill nature but from sheer weight of body: the lion is not a roaring plunderer, but he is the king "sputing with the unicorn"; the dog is not a moralising servant of man, but a civilised interloper (Mister Dog) who gets the worst of it in his battles with the freer animal world, and he does not always bark, but we hear him (delightful phrase) "talkin' to 'isself way in the woods." In each touch there is a rough poetry, and we are bold enough to say that such touches are far more "educative" than the reams of nonsense rhymes, or of Walruses and Carpenters. "Alice in Wonderland" is deservedly popular; but compared with the "Negro Legends" it is as "Three Men in a Boat" versus Calverley, or as Miss Braddon versus George Eliot.

Again; human life is so far in the background. The animals have it all to themselves: man has not spoilt the world. "Mister man" he is, and "Miss Meadows and the gals" only enter the stories to throw a greater glare upon the freedom of the woods. Thus the moral, which is never absent, is so much more of a moral because it is not tacked on to some particular little human boy or girl; it is never copybook, but we find it -- no pill -- in the Heliconian honey of pure comedy.

Again; the stories lend themselves to quiet recitation. The wind does not moan round the house, but it "sez bizzy-bizzy-buzzoooo. . . . ."; the tortoise goes to the bottom "ker-chinkity-chunk"; the money in the box goes "clinky-link"; the drum sounds "diddy-bum, diddy-bum, diddy-bum-bum-bum"; and every story may be accentuated and fully explained to children six years old by a few simple movements of the hand. And children are born actors and know when gestures are natural.

These seem to us to be some of the reasons which make the stories so popular. We could wish that all children should know "The Tar-baby Story"' "How the Bear nursed the little Alligators"; "How Brer Rabbit broke up a Party"; "How Sis Cow killed the Lion"; and the children old in years but young in sympathy will have to go far before they can match the pathetic finish of the Nights -- "Christmas Eve."


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The freshest, most fascinating and intelligent books of instruction for children which I have ever come across are all of American origin. The only difficulty is the high price of American books as compared with ours. If an English publisher would bring them out he would indeed confer a boon upon mothers. I made the acquaintance of these books through reviews in an excellent magazine entitled Babyhood (published Fleet Street, London, as well as in New York); and have been able to obtain them in the course of a few weeks through the Army and Navy Stores. -- A set of Reading Books, "Seaside and Wayside," in three volumes, by Julia Wright; publisher, D. C. Heath, Boston, is perfect, because its aim is to present scientific facts in simple short Saxon words, and give living teaching; thus I found it evoked a real interest in reading in a child of nine, who simply could not and would not read from the "Primers" generally used. This interest has never flagged, but gone on increasing in the most satisfactory way. -- Lee and Shepherd, Boston, publish delightful books, such as "Miss West's Class in Geography"; "Child's Book of Health," most clear and instructive teaching upon the Body, by Baislett. Then a series by Jane Andrews (school edition, 50 cents) -- "Ten Boys who lived on the Road from Long Ago to Now"; "Seven Little Sisters who live on the Round Ball that floats in the Air"; and (very perfect) "The Stories Mother Nature told her Children."

E. A. G.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

I should like highly to recommend a little volume of prayers for children, entitled "The Star of Childhood," published by Rivingtons. Although compiled by a High Church clergyman, there is nothing in it to which any right-minded parent could take exception. It is very simple and natural in its language. -- Do present-day mothers know the old-fashioned Mrs. Barbauld's prose hymns? The language and ideas are most beautiful, leading the young child's thoughts most reverentially through nature up to the All-Father. An edition with very lovely pictures has been brought out by Messrs. John Murray, "Hymns in Prose for Children," price (about) 3s. 6d.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

We hope next month to give a short notice of some of the French and German educational journals which deal with home and school life.

Messrs. Hetzel & Co., of Paris, have kindly given permission to the Parents' Review to translate M. Legouvé's "Petit Traité de Lecture à haute voix," referred to in our April number.

Our readers will be glad to know that Mr. Arthur Burrell's paper on "Recitation, the Children's Art," which appeared in our March issue, has led to proposals from a well-known publishing house for the production of a work on similar lines. We look forward with pleasure to further help towards the carrying out of the author's welcome counsels of perfection.

Typed by Kati McCrone, Nov 2015