The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Observations and Experiments in Education.

By Mrs. Southwood Hill
Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 577

No. II.

The mother was again restored to her child; her child--but oh! how altered! Scarcely was it possible to trace in him the pure and heart-gladdening being she had once known. The following extracts from her journal will give some idea of her operations, and of her remarks upon him and other children. They are loose fragments, and claim attention and derive value chiefly on account of the bare simple facts which they bring to light. It is some such data as these that the moral philosophers and the educators want. What would not either of them give for the true history of one human mind from birth to death! Blessed may that hand be (if such should ever exist) that, tearing down the veils which society hangs before the emotions of the heart, and those yet more impenetrable veils with which vanity shrouds our baser feelings from our own perception, shall expose all the heights and depths, the beauty and misery, of this our nature!

But, however difficult it may be to arrive at the arcana of our human souls, there is good hope of our getting glimpses of truth by studying children, beings not wholly sophisticated; and great joy is there in communication with those from whom occasionally burst forth such

       Glorious gleams of heavenly light,
       And gentle ardours from above,

as are sufficient to convince people whose intercourse with the world might lead them to a belief, contrary to the fact, that "man is made much lower than the angels."


July--B. is very fond of doing what he calls his journal, that is, repeating to me at night the deeds of the day. I find it of incalculable use. I learn therefrom the impression which things have made upon him; those impressions are strengthened and made manifest to himself by the act of speaking them out to me, and I am enabled to help him to compare himself with himself, and to direct him to further exertions.

Tonight, he and S. were playing in the garden, and he wheeled S. in his wheelbarrow. S. then tried to wheel him, but could not; whereupon N. began to scoff at S. "Never mind, S.," said B.; "once, do you know, I could not wheel this barrow full of cones; and, I dare say, next year you will be able to wheel me; and I shall be able to wheel the gardener's barrow full of weeds and rubbish: don't you think we shall, mamma?"

This little speech was delicious to me; it was what I wished--what I expected; his habit of self-observation had taught him the improvability of human beings; and so far from exulting in the superiority the moment gave to him over S., he was sobered by the reflection, that as yet he could not manage the gardener's wheelbarrow. Teach the being to be emulous of himself, and he will not be the victim of the emulation of others, but will be striving after perfection. I do not say to B., "You do so-and-so better or worse than C. or E." but always, "Can you manage so-and-so better than you did a month ago? How long has it taken you?" or "How long do you think it will take you to learn so-and-so?" The fact is that he scarcely ever thinks of comparing himself with others; but he seldom closes his eyes without planning for the morrow the perfecting of today's enterprise, or undertaking some new work which today's labours have suggested. So we are slowly and pleasantly climbing the ladder, step by step, without noting who is above or who is beneath us. Give "the love of excellence," and "the love of excelling" will not spring up and shadow the heart.

Nov.--I have invariably observed in children a taste for imitating the occupations of men. As babies almost, they have dinner and tea-parties; girls have dolls, and boys drive carriages ingeniously constructed of chairs: the carpenter, the glazier, the blacksmith's forge, what a charm all these have for children! and then, what book delights them so much as "Robinson Crusoe"? B. has made me read to him the "Family Robinson " over and over and over again, and he is ever wishing for a desert island. If my observation on this point be correct, namely, that the individual should pass through pretty nearly the same training as the species has done, the as-yet-undiscovered way of naturally developing the powers may be this by letting the child, in as far as it can, supply its own wants. There are many of the arts of life so simple as to be within the reach of the child's comprehension and execution.

May.--"This is my birthday--let us have a cake," said H. today. I had no idea of connecting the idea of feasting with that of a birthday. I proposed that the usual supper should be carried out into the wood. The children raised a turf throne for H., and strewed the place where we were to sit with bright flowers and fragrant ferns; and whilst the rays of the setting sun gilded the bark of the birches, N.'s guitar sung him to his golden rest. It was a beautiful scene, and touching. A dance concluded the evening's amusements. H. was the last to retire to rest, and when we were alone I said to him, "We have been very happy, dear H., and have rejoiced that it is your birthday--why should we do so? The angels sung when Christ was born, and men should sing when such men as Howard and Washington are born."

He understood my innuendo, and said, "That was a foolish speech of mine about the cake; to be sure, the best way of celebrating one's birthday is to give as much pleasure as one can on that day." "Why on that day more than all others?" I answered. "It is a bad thing to mark out particular days for the performance of duties, which it is required of us to perform every moment of our lives."

Oct--It would be interesting to discover the rules which govern children's apprehension of poetry. In general, that which they cannot understand, charms more than that which is within their comprehension. I think I have observed that it is sound which chiefly pleases them; after that, pathos; then, horror; and then, humour. H. and W. like better than any other poetry, Tennyson's "New Year's Eve"; then one of the Irish melodies, namely, "The Minstrel Boy to the wars is gone"; after that "Chevy Chevy Chace"; and last of all, the usual nursery doggerel. I remember when I was nine years old, by chance, reading Collins' "Ode to the Passions," and bursting with exquisite sensation when I came to the line--

       "And Hope enchanted smiled and waved her golden hair."

Some children are very poetical. B., when four years old, while walking in the wood at I -----, wished to gather some flowers for his mamma, who was going away. "There is no time, now," said some one who was present, "but you can send her a nosegay in a few days." "They will hang their heads," said he, " when mamma goes, they will cry, they will all wither and waste away." One evening, while watching the sun set, he said, "The sun sinks behind the deep hills." When four years old, he would amuse himself for hours, by drawing lines, and making stories about these lines; for instance: "Here is a steamboat, and here is a little boat, and it goes wave-wave-wave." But there is no good thing on this earth which may not be endospore by excess into bad. B.'s imagination often leads him into untruth. When three years old, he said so very gravely that, had you only looked at his countenance, and not heard his words, you would have felt sure he believed the truth, of what he was speaking--"Do you know, just now I saw a pig walking along the road with its bonnet on?" Every day, the habit of telling marvellous falsities grew upon him. My feeling was, that he had no intention to deceive; the images passed through his mind, and he wished to communicate them, and knew not yet how to do so but by saying, "I saw," "There was," and the like forms of expression. However, had he meant to cheat, it is a fearful thing to begin with a child upon the subject of untruth; and the plan we pursued from the beginning was, not to take the slightest notice of these effusions. To laugh at them, would have been fatal; to frown on them, scarcely less so; therefore, there was no other course left than to. remain deaf to them. Tempted on by his imagination, he still tells stories of this kind; but surely these stories are of a very different nature from those which are uttered in order to screen the teller from punishment. One cannot be too careful not to tempt children to tell untruth. Cowardice is the mother of all the vices, and her first-born is Lying. The falsehoods of children arise chiefly from our expecting from them feelings not suited to their age. It has been been truly said, that one part of the art of education is to lose time; so to contrive that no virtues which he has not, shall, by circumstances, be required of the child; to keep him in that simplicity of circumstances in which duty and perception of duty, and will and power harmonise. Now, how can we expect the child (short-sighted being, and living almost entirely through his senses) to comprehend the majestic beauty of Truth. Is it not one of the last things that the rational being begins to learn? Is not the love of truth that love which grows with our growth, and strengthens with our strength? Is not the man who has gone the nearest to the perfect worship of Truth the one who has gone the nearest to perfection? When one considers how difficult it is for the full-facultied man to see, much more to follow after, Truth, it will appear how almost impossible it is for the child to do either.

* * * * *

How rare it is to see children behave well at table! The over-indulged are for ever tasting and importunate, and sick or sulky, according as their wishes are granted or denied. The over-restrained, on the other hand, covet the good things in greedy silence, or obtain them by stealth. I knew one family in which this matter was beautifully managed; at table, no word was said on the subject of eating. No remark was made on the dishes. The children always fared like the rest of the company, and were perfectly unrestrained as to quantity. To my certain knowledge, these children never passed the bounds of moderation. They never thought of eating; it was daily as mechanical an operation as breathing.

* * * * *

Some things make an indelible impression on children. M. told me lately, that when she was a child, she was in the habit of giving her father a kiss at night, until once he told her that it was very troublesome of her to do so. Naturally, affectionate, this wounded and shocked her excessively; and she has never forgotten the feeling of that moment. By long years of similar coldness of feeling and of manners towards her, she has been chilled into indifference, reserve, and distrust of mankind. The contrary to the above is the case of N., who, when seven years old, was travelling in a stage-coach with her father. A lady, who did not perceive that her father was holding her, cautioned her against leaning against the coach door so strongly, that the child shrunk back. Her father said, in an accent "which has never been forgotten--"Do you distrust this arm?"

* * * * *

Yesterday I was witness to a suggestive scene. Mrs. T. is very anxious that her child should be religious; and no pains are spared to make him so. The boy (not four years old) was brought down to the dessert. In due time the nurse came in to take him to bed, when the following conversation ensued:--

Mamma: "Say your prayers, my darling." Boy: "I won't."
Mamma: "Oh, yes, now be good. Show Miss S. how prettily you can say your prayers." Silence; pouting lips. Mamma: "Come, now, you don't know what your grandmamma has for you! Boy: "What?" Mamma: "An orange!" Grandmamma: "There's Shamrock (the dog); now, make haste, or we'll get Shamrock to say pretty prayer." Mamma: "Yes, dear, now do, because of the orange, you know!"

Will it be believed that this chattering had the desired effect on the boy? Worked upon by greediness and vanity, he lisped the Lord's Prayer in a sulky, muttering manner, was called a good boy, and went to bed, but--without the orange. When he asked for it, "Tomorrow" was the answer. And this is teaching religion! And, after such education as this, we wonder that men are--what they are. Here are lessons in plenty! Here, in five minutes, are inculcated impressively, greediness, endospore surrender of the understanding, vanity, lying, and hypocrisy!


It is a misery to see a child a slave to its clean frock, and obliged to keep it clean at the expense of the exercise of its active enjoyments; it is a misery to see a child a willing slave, and content to sacrifice its play to vanity; and a third misery, to see a child unneat and slovenly. Between these various shoals, how few mothers know how to steer! One thing to be said for the poor mother is, that she has difficulties to encounter whichever way she turns, while there is little. or nothing in the institutions and customs of society to guide her or keep her out of them. In the first place, dress is so expensive that much labour is required in order to afford the means of procuring it. Secondly, the fashion of dress is inconvenient and ungraceful, in spite of the time, thought, labour, and money spent upon it. Why should not we have dresses woven into convenient and elegant shape, and avoid all the fitting, cutting, and sewing upon which many women waste their energies all their life long?

Against vanity about dress, the chief remedy is the substitution of love of excellence for love of excelling; the development of the intellect, also, will bring about a just appreciation of the value of dress when weighed against mental superiority. The plan adopted by S. answered very well to check the growth of vanity in that direction. C. was very vain of some jewels the gift of an injudicious relative), or, as she emphatically called them, her do-ills. Day after day she asked to wear them; day after day S. said "No" ; but finding that to refuse was of no use, she was puzzled what course to adopt, until it occurred to her to let one fire put another out. Accordingly, the next time C. applied to her for permission to wear her do-ills, she answered, "Certainly, wear them if you please; but you know these things are valuable because your mamma's dear friend gave them to you; they must neither be lost nor spoiled. If you have them on, therefore, you must remain in this room, and even, I think I should say, upon this chair, in order to be sure that they are safe." C. consented to the terms, and joyfully bedecked herself with her finery, and then stationed herself upon a chair. It was a fine evening in August, and the other children were out ; however, for two hours, C. persevered in sitting on the chair. At length she begged to have them taken off; and from that time to this (two years) the do-ills have never been mentioned, but with an uncomfortable feeling and a blush. In the same manner, by making lace and frills and embroidered finery preventives to play, the love of them has so far been got rid of that they rank lower as pleasures than active play does, and the simplicity of her dress prevents the habit of deriving Pleasure from her toilet; for anything beyond this we must look forward a few years.

Typed by happi, March 2016