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, pg. 714

From A Mother's Notebook.

Translated from "La vie de la femme," by Adolf Monod:--

The help that you owe above all to this little child is the education, that child-bearing of the spirit (cet enfantement de l'esprit) which follows by right that of the body, and which none can dispute with you. -- Motherhood is a Ministry, and the first condition of a faithful minister is the disinterestedness. Do not say -- "Here is my boy, born of me, and for me;" but rather say -- "Here is a man born into the world, for the good of the world."

"What shall this little child become?" thus asks the earth, the heaven, hell -- bending as though suspended in an immense pause over the candle of this frail creature whose life has just been separated from your own. The reply (I say it reserving the divine action which exercises itself through human means), the reply depends above all upon the education, and the eudcation depends on the mother. ("He who is master of the education can change the face of the world," says Leibnitz.) . . One has often remarked that the decisive point in education is the starting-point. It is in the first years that the dominating direction lies concealed, which determines the entire course of the life. And the first years belong to the mother. Let us not grudge her these beginnings. If they are too important for strangers, they are also too delivate and altogether too laborious for a father; the aptitude, the freedom of spirit, the time, the patience -- we lack these; but all these God has given to the mother. No other discerns more surely the nature of her son, the strength and the wekaness of his character, the allowances she must make for his temperament, the measure of strictness and indulgence required for his humours, the precautions she must take in order to make him value her without spoiling him. No other better possesses the art of awakening his curiousity, of stimulating his ardour, of attracting his attention, of keeping his eyes open, and of initiating him by degrees into that practical knowledge of things which, being mkore living (vivante) than that of books, is also a greater factor in the development of his life. None other, in short, has a hand sufficiently gentle, and at the same time sufficiently firm, to give the newborn plant that original twist (ce pli originel), at the same time too strong for her to resist, and too tender for her to wish to do so, and wihch rules all his future growth. The greatest more power in the world is that which a mother exercises over her young child. Do not ask her for a systematic account of it, she acts by inspiration rather than by calculation, and perhaps has never said to herself what I now tell you; God is with her in the task, there is her secret . . . .

"As a general rule," says Michelet, "to which I know hardly an exception, superior men are always the sons of their mother." ("Du Prêtre, femme et famille," ch. iii., p. 3 fort interessant.) The maternal education is rendered doubly necessary by the tendencies of our public instruction. One often mourns that side by side with the precious resources it places at the disposal of all classes, it presents, to say the least, some grievous pit-falls, whether it be for the heart (about which it does not trouble itself) or for the spirit. . . Not only does it nourish self-love by an immodertate use of the principle of emulation, and does nothing to inculcate the body respect for duty (at least, by a significant misuse of language, one learns from it to invest with that sacred name the simplest literary tasks), but that which public instruction does with so much ability, labour, and sacrifice for the cultivation of the intelligence itself, is, at least, incomplete.

The faculties which depend upon memory are sharpened by a perpetual exercise, whilst those which relate to reflection (still more important) lie comparatively idle. By filling up too much all the moments of the pupil's time, by absorbing too much of his ardour in a halting and uneasy preparation, one deprives his spirit of the leisure, the spring, the movement which are requisite that he may assimilate that which he receives; and one accustoms him to content himself with a borrowed knowledge in which his own personality counts for nothing. Thus the development of the thoughts and character does not go on, or progresses badly; this flower of originality, as charming as it is vigorous, Nature has refused to none; but it falls before it can yield its fruit. One would say that a pitiless dead-level standard had been exacted for all minds and that thus man had disappeared in the child, because the child had been lost in the scholar.

For such a grave evil I know of no remedy save the counterpoise of family life and of home education -- the only one which knows how to penetrate into the "sinuosities" of the individual mind, and to lend itself to the individual tendencies. . . . Do not hurry to take the child from his mother; let her retain him as long as possible close to her. Then, when the time arrives for him to come in contact with public life, let his mother be allowed to intervene once more to maintain the rights of his body, of his spirit, of his individuality, that is to say of his manhood. . . .

The man has not all which he needs in order to form the spirit of manhood, because this spirit has a feminine element. I call it so, this inexpressible something of tenderness, of penetration, of instinct, which seizes upon, or which guesses the truth, by the opposing of that calm reason which takes count of things, to that strong will which takes count of itself. In this sense on can truly say that "no man of genius has been exempt from a feminine development." Do not hesitate to place the public instruction under the safe-guard of the family -- but of the family presided over by the mother -- that is the surest means of securing its advantages to your son, and at the same time delivering him from its perils.

A boy will doubt twice the wisdom of his father before he will once doubt his mother's heart. Is he at the age when, being no longer a child, and yet not being a man, a son escapes insensibly from his mother's surveillance, and inspires her with a new dread? By a faithful use of her influence in the past, she has gained the confience of this son, and this confidence assures her of the future.

In those tender inbosomings of which she has known how to make him feel the need, and accustomed him to the habit, she reads down to the bottom of his heart; and a heart which one can read to the bottom, is almost a heart of which one is master. Passion speaks perhaps, and he is nigh to succumbing; but he must tell it to mother -- impossible! or he must keep silence, still more impossible! and the temptation is conquered.

Thou hast been faithful to him from the beginning, he will be faithful to thee unto the end!

Listen to the terms in which M. Depoisier (in a remarkable work "Sur l'nsutrction publique dans les états sardes") indicates the ideal which the educator of youth should set before him. "The child," he says, "is made to act after the principles of his own heart, to distinguish for himself between good and evil, between the true and the false, to prepare himself for the combat, to be in some degree the artisan of his own character, the arbiter of his future destinies. The great aim of instruction is then not to mark the pupils with the imprint of the professor, but to awaken that which is in them. Not to teach them to see with his eyes, but to teach them to use their own; not to give them a certain dose of knowledge, but to inspire them with a certain universal love, full of fervour for the truth; not to mould them into a too 'génante' exterior regularity, but to touch the hidden springs; not to burden the memory, but to vivify and to fortify the thoughts; not to bind them by the prejudices enrooted in our particular ideas, but to prepare them to judge impartially and conscientiously of everything which Providence may send across their path, and submit to their decision; not to exhibit our principles to them under the form of arbitrary laws, which have no other foundation but our word and our will, but to develop their conscience, their intelligence, their moral discernment, so that they may know how to discern and choose that which in all that is presented to them is just and good. In one word, the grand end of all teaching is to evoke, and at the same time to strengthen, in the child the intellectial and moral life -- because that is the life which one must seek for in every being who has been created in the image of God."

Contributed by VERA.


THE BEGINNING OF THE MORAL SENSE. -- It was when she was about eight and a half months old, that our little girl first showed signs of possessing a moral sense. We have from her birth acted on the principle of allowing her as much liberty as possible, therefore we let her crawl about freely. The bright fender was naturlaly a great attraction to her, but, for obvious reasons, we considered it desirable to keep her away from it. At first we simply removed her some distance off, but, with great pertinacity, she returned again and again to it. Then each time, before taking her away, we said, "Baby! No!" quietly, but in a a tone of authority. In a fortnight she had learnt her lesson. When she touched the fender, it was enough to say "Baby!" or "No!" She would generally hesitate a moment, then turn away with a cry of disappointment. Another time I tried simply looking steadily at her. It had the same effect. She crawled away with a whimper to her mother, and then turned round to watch me. She now, wherever she may be, carefully avoids fenders.

G. H.


May I take this opportunity, rather late in the day, of thanking those of your correspondents who so kindly answered by query as to how to manage my little son Ernest. It may interest mothers of growing sons to know that once in the country (he has been there since April) the boy's disposition seemed entirely to change; from a tiresome tease he became a sweet, helpful, gentle child; he has been out of doors all day, climbing trees, fishing, swimming, playing cricket, &c., and part of the summer has had the companionship of a clergyman's son, a manly well brought up little fellow of about his own age and size. But this is not all. Ernest was sent to board for six weeks at a school kept by a prim, unloving, and unlovable woman, a confirmed old maid. It was against his mother's wish, and the child himself suffered acutely in mind while under this rule, not of love, but of stern unbending duty. A sensitive, nervous, highly-strung disposition, impatient of control -- we do not know what he suffered. But who can fathom the mystery of pain? From that ordeal the child returned, softened, chastened, wonderfully changed -- and for the BETTER. To that school he will not return, but its discipline was the correction the child's nature required. He will look back in after years with gratitude to that time of trial. There were no punishments, the discipline was that of repression and restraint. I do not approve of it for all children; I only tell of its effect on one child with a nature a little difficult to manage and understand.

F. L. B.


I remember many years ago giving a little girl some lessos. She was a dear child and her lessons were no trouble to her, but one day she began in a very bad himour, and all went badly -- she was probably bodily uncomfortable, but I was young and inexperienced and did not think of that, but went on to the next of our lesson hours. Next morning the child came radiant and all went well, till in an evil moment I said, "We are getting on nicely today, it is much nicer to be good, is it not?" "No," she said, her face clouding over, "it is much nicer to be naughty." I was puzzled, but on looking back I can now understand that she was doing her best to have the previous day's ill humour forgotten, and that it was very annoying to her to think I remembered it. It is a mistake to make children self-conscious either with praise or blame very often, and better for them to think of what they are doing than of themselves.

M. W. C.

Typed by happi, Apr 2017