The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Theology in a Nursery, A.D. 1890.

(Leaves from a father's notebook)
Volume 1, 1890, pg. 732

"When all is done, Divinity is best."

Here are some of the questions they ask ("They" are four diminutive persons, the eldest of whom has seen only eight, the youngest only three summers):--

"Is God made of air, Papa?"

"No, dear."

That quick negation of mine is very bold, I reflect a moment after. What knowledge have I on the subject?

"Why do you ask?" I add.

"Because he can get in everywhere, Nurse says."

Another time:--

"Which do you like best, Papa, God or Jesus?"

"I hope I like them equally well, my daughter. Do not you?"

"No!" (promptly). "I like Jesus ever so much better, and -- Papa" -- (a pause) --


"Does -- anybody -- like the Holy Ghost?"

"Hush, dear, you must not ask such questions."

The lazy, shameful answer! Why should she not ask, and I not try to answer?

Next time the question comes from my three-year-old, whose speaking powers are very limited.

"Does Dod ever sut his eyes, Papa?"

"I hope he does, laddie, sometimes."

"Do oo" -- (this very slowly, and with a guilty blush) -- "do oo tink he sut em when I tored oo book?"

This is an indirect confession to me. The torn book lies beside us on the floor.

"I am quite sure he did, laddie, because (I take him on my knee) your own papa shut his."

A hot, red face is laid to mine. The little, white-souled child dares not yet look at me, but his heart is big with love and gratitude.

"Dear Papa! Dear Dod!" he says, and then (is he quite crazed, this little child?) he gives me two quick kisses. "One kiss for 'oo and one for Dod."

"Nurse," (as I stand in the doorway, I hear the question asked) "what is a imfidel?"

Nurse, dear old soul, who sees me, turns very red, and says, looking to me for corroboration, "An infidel is a wicked man, miss, who don't believe in God."

"Oh!" Great is the horror expressed by all, except my eight-year-old, and he says, stumbling a bit over the longer words, and also looking to me for confirmation of his statement,

"Papa always says we shouldn't call ignorant people wicked, nurse. An infidel, I should think, is an ignorant man, who doesn't know of God, and so doesn't believe in him.

"Who does he believe in, then?" asks Ruth, the next in age, rather clever -- and very orthodox. "Who does he think made the sky and the things we can't make with sheenery?"

"You should say mush-eenery, miss," corrects nurse, and then, following up Ruth's oratorial vein, she says, by way of dismissing the infidel, "Aye! and who does he think made light?"

Now this spoilt all.

"Light, nurse?" said Elsie, the sceptic, aged five, "why, anyone could make light wif a candle."

I could see that nurse considered herself set down by that remark, and, resolving to take her side, I entered.

"I've a question to ask about the infidel," I said; "who does he think made his -- thumb?" And, sitting down in their midst, I told them the story of Newton, to whom his thumb was sufficient proof of the existence of God. Little Elsie tossed her head, and, her thick utterance growing thicker, exclaimed, "I'se sure I don't fink my fumbs at all womferful. I should be quite comfurble wifout 'em."

"Would you?" I asked. "Will you let me tie them back for one hour, just till bedtime?" and, the little maid consenting, I fastened her two thumbs under the palms of her hands. She tripped off with a laugh, but, in less than fifteen minutes, she came to me:

"I'se so sleepy, Papa, I'se going to bed now. May I say my prayers to you?"

"Yes, daughter."

She knelt before me, and clasped her thumb-tied hands together. Her prayers consisted in the usual petitions and thanksgivings. To the latter she added a clause of her own, --

"I fank God also for my fumbs," and then -- she jumped into my arms with a great cry -- "Papa, papa, I want my fumbs! but I don;t want anyone but you and God to know it."

I pressed her to me, and whispered, "Elsie, Elsie, do you know what God and I want?" ("God and I." Well-a-day! Reader, remember I spoke to my little child.) "We want you to go back bravely to the nursery, and to say before them all that -- you cannot do without your thumbs. Will you?"

A long, long silence. Then, the proud tears welling, she looks up,

"Will you go wif me, Papa?"

"Yes." (I make a movement to rise.)

"Not yet, Papa."

"All right. Tell me when."

The thumb-tied hands are clasped about my neck; the golden head is laid upon my shoulder. A storm of grief shakes all the little body. Quick, loud sobs -- then slower, softer sobs -- then silence; and then the sliding motion of a tiny figure, and beside me stands my little child glorified: no tears now in the starry eyes, no pout on the soft lips; nothing to tell of the struggle gone through but a great whiteness, a stern seriousness, in the dear face.

"I'se going to humble Proudie." (Proudie is the name she has in the nursery).

"That's my brave daughter."

We go to the nursery together; together -- we go past the nursery.

"Stop, Papa!"

"Not now, dear. Let Papa do as he likes. We go together to the night-nursery. It is still empty. I undress my little child, and put her to bed myself. When she is within the sheets, I bend over her and whisper,

"You have humbled Proudie, dear, and God is satisfied." And I untie the thumbs.

Dear old nurse has not the most satisfactory way of answering questions put to her by these little ones. Take this: We were all seated in the garden -- I reading -- when I overhear the following dialogue:-

"What is Sunday, nurse?"

"There's a silly question, miss. Why, the Lord's Day, of course."

"Mamma's day is Tuesday, isn't it, nurse?"

"Mercy on us! How you do take things, miss! 'Tisn't that sort of day, of course."

And the good woman looks more shocked than words can tell. It is plain that the little girl, from what nurse says, indeed concludes that Sunday is reception-day in Heaven, a sort of at-home day, upon which the angels meet to drink afternoon-tea together. To nurse there is something so desperately wicked in this conception, that she comes up to me, all her kind face crumpled with perplexity, and says:

"Sir, Miss Elsie do have thoughts what is quite blasphemous. Will you be kind enough to explain to her what is signerfied by the blessed Sabbath?"

The acting of Bible stories was once all the vogue in our nursery. The last time on which it happened was not six months ago. Passing the children's playroom, then adjoining a room in temporary use by me, I heard one of them exclaim:

"No, no! There's no fun in playing Daniel in the lions' den, 'cause you have to be tame lions."

I started. This was new and hetorodox, but I resolved to take no notice of words thus overheard, and passed on to the further room. At first the noise made by my little ones was so great as to disturb me considerably, but suddenly it died out, being followed by one of those ominous silences. I went to seek the explanation of this circumstance, and found my three younger children standing inside the nursery fire-screen. They were playing (as they explained, turning three shining, blistered faces to me) "at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego."

One more story in which nurse plays a part:--

"What's that?" (Laddie looked up one sultry summer's day. It was thundering.)

"That's God, dear."

"Is it?" I was surprised that the child should look so little awed. About an hour afer a cartload of empty tin cans approached the house. At once Laddie made for the nearest window, calling to the others to follow suit in the words --

"Come 'long, quick, quick! God's coming down the street!"

So little do even thoughtful children regard God Omnipotent as a spirit that I find my eldest and wisest child looks upon Him as a sort of Rhodian Colossus. "Can God," the boy asks me today with reference to a dear relation who is leaving us; "Can God really be with us here, Papa, and with uncle in Africa, too?"

"Yes, my boy."

"How very big he must be!"

In the case of children having parents willing -- and patient enough -- to teach them what is called "Scripture" at home, I think this subject should not be a school one. I was sorry to find the following in a school notebook belonging to a young niece whose parents do not share my views in this matter:--

"Scripture, as everyone knows, is about the Bible. The blessed privledge of being aloud to read the Bible was for a long time denyed to we english, but now that is unerversel alover our iles."

Patient parents indeed are sorely needed. Some days ago an impatient mother roused my sad reflections. She was a young woman, holding a child in her lap. It was Sunday, and the bells were ringing far and near. The child, visited by one of those fancies which visit little children and great poets only, said suddenly --

"Are the bells singing 'Gentle Jesus', mother?"

"No, Ally."

"What are they singing?"

"They're not singing at all, Ally. They're ringing."

Now surely, surely, those bells were singing "Gentle Jesus." When bells ring out in Chrisitan lands, what else should they be singing? Do think of the cruelty of this mother's telling little Ally -- supposing she even could think it -- that bells rang only. The sad fact is that she had not the patience to follow up the child's train of thought.

What is to be said of those parents who let their little ones dogmatise? I would as little have a child insist that she belonged to any church as I would have her insist that she belonged to any school of politics. Read what was written by Pet Marjorie, Walter Scott's child-friend:--

"An Anniebaptist is a thing I am not a member of. I am a Pisplekan" (she meant and Episcopalian).

So little do even children of older years know the meaning of the words they employ in religious matters, or seek to find out their meaning, that (this I write from absolute knowledge) among the millions of children who in England and her colonies sing the hymn --

I know a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,

thousands learn with astonishment that the word "without" is not used here with its ordinary meaning of "lacking." I once quoted the line to a class of girls in an English public school -- girls several of whom had passed University examinations -- and there was not one of them who did not declare that she had always thought the word meant (to use their own expression) "minus." This had not in the least interfered with their admiration of the hymn!

Some puzzles we have all tried to work out for ourselves as children. I can well remember being puzzled in childish days to hear sometimes that Christ was nailed to the Cross, and sometimes that he was nailed to the Tree, my only notion of a tree being a large branched plant. It also perplexed me to hear of Christ's passion, passion, as I conceived it, being unbridled anger. The phrase, "A jealous God," was another thing that puzzled me. But that still puzzles me.

Elsa Esterre-Keeling.*


* I wish to say in a footnote that not one story in the above is invented. The form alone, "Leaves from a Father's Notebook," is fictitious. It suggested itself as being the one in which the stories -- many of which were told me by a father -- might be more gracefully retold. They seem to me a to bear on a subject so important and so fascinating that I cannot at all understand why no one, great, and good, and wise, has yet made a serious study of it, and given to the world the results of this study in book form. The subject I mean is Children's Theology.

Typed by happi, May 2017