The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Whatsoever things are true, honest, pure, lovely, just, and of good report - think on these thins.-S. Paul.
In a recent number of a popular magazine we came across this cruel libel. The writer observed, "The children who find any pleasure in learning are so few and far between that they may be passed over, and the fact may be taken for granted that the only time for pleasure to an ordinary child is when lessons are over for the day."
Not long ago, talking over the subject of "Children's Books," we incidentally mentioned the great delight and interest evinced by some very little people (under eight) in Kingsley's ever-fascinating story of "The Heroes," and a lady, turning round to her own children, of the mature ages ten to thirteen, remarked, "Oh, we should hardly call those sort of books 'stories;' we think them QUITE lesson-books-don't we, dears?" and forthwith proceeded to descant on the transcending charms of "Carrots," "Five Minutes Tales," &c., which she always read aloud in the children's hour.
Now, without for a moment disputing that these and kindred books are very delightful to child-readers, I do contend that there is not sufficient substance in them to nourish children's minds. Experience rather shows that, as the mind grows by what it feeds upon and assimilates, so the tendency of books which are written down to the (supposed) low level of little children is to deteriorate and atrophy their minds, and is also an insult to their mental powers.
Be it remembered, one is speaking chiefly of the books that a parent reads aloud, and not of those read by the children among themselves. A better exercise for an older child than to read to "the little ones" from some simple easy book can hardly be devised. Many charming child-stories will suggest themselves; and (pace to the aforesaid Mamma and author!) intelligent children can be so brought up that they will not recognise any difference between "lesson-books" and "story-books." The Mammas and Governesses have only themselves to blame if this be not the case. Children who have not had the silly phrase, "Oh! that's only a lesson-book," inoculated into them by foolish companions will take a far keener interest in reading "The World at Home," or Hughes's Standard Story-books, than they do in mere nursery tales.
"Come, children!" says another mother, taking up a book which lies beside her, "if you will sit still I will read to you." "All right," replies Ernest;"but let it be something sensible; don't read that book; I'll fetch my dear old star Reader." "Well, what do you call something sensible?" " Oh, a book that tells us all about forests, and animals, and travellers who discover--" "Yes," chimes in Freddie; "and I sinks sensies are men wot travel and shoots aminals. Those are my sensie stories." "Stories that have really happened," adds the eldest, Cathie, thoughtfully, "and not horrid fib-stories." "What do you mean by fib-stories?" " Stories made up that haven't really happened." "Then what kind do you like?" "Stories that are put in the form of not really true stores, but really are true, 'cos it teaches us to know things without being bothered with nasty things. When I was at--- they would make me listen to a book called 'The Cloister and the Hearth.' I could not understand it; it was all about 'Rome'(i.e. Roman Catholics) and running away, and somebody being stabbed, and angels coming down into the room, just like ghosts, and that kind of thing; not nice things, but all that sort of rubbish." "Well, which books do you care for?" "Like 'The World at Home.'" "But that is a lesson-book?" "Yes, mother, I know it is; we count it as a lesson, but we take it in as-you know-a nice little story being read to us to keep us quiet and occupied."
"Occupied" and "occupation"-these are the delightful terms little Cathie has learned from the kindergarten, where no tears are ever shed over spelling-books and the like; but all is happy, healthful ingathering of mental food and nourishment.
So, also, Freddie, after a few weeks' absence from "lessons," in consequence of illness, exclaimed on finding his exercise-book, "Oh, here is my dear old copy-book again!" and kissed it; and Ernest, seeing a map of the route in the S.E.R carriage, in which he was "having a little travel" to the seaside, would not be content without his"geography lesson"!
A map to Ernest is like a picture; opening a new book and being asked, "What place is that?" he looked carefully for a minute, and answered,"America," adding thoughtfully, "I know it by that isthmus." pointing to Panama.
Asking Cathie what are her favourite books? she replies, "Real stories, but not too dull-something laughable-stories of what really happens." "Froggie's Little Brother" has fascinated her("Water Gipsies," by L.T. Meade, is a similar book), and she likes to read aloud to her maid whilst she brushes her hair.
Boys of four and five will listen with breathless attention to H.M. Stanley's "In Darkest Africa," if carefully read to them, substituting simple words for hard ones, translating as one goes along, but reading fluently the while, letting one's eye run on ahead and missing out whole sentences, here and there, without apparent break.
A charming game called "Stanley's March across the Dark Continent for the Relief of Emin Pacha," accompanied by a splendid map, can be obtained at the Soho Bazaar, and another of "Quadruped Quartettes," in which the names of animals are printed in four languages; also "The Scotch Express," being a race between the three great railway routes to Edinburgh from London. "In Darkest Africa" has provided many an outdoor game; wayside bushes have been transformed into "jungles," puddles into rivers and lakes; whilst ever and anon an enthusiastic explorer will call out, "Come here! Miss Lodel, here is an object-lesson!"
Indoors, the game goes on in darkened rooms, while "Stanley and his black boy" grope about in the forest; thus overcoming natural timidity of the dark, and cultivating, besides, the delicacy of their sense of touch.
A bit of wood covered with luminous paint does good service as a "lantern," "glow-worm," or "lighthouse."
Lord Macaulay's "Spanish Armada" at a similar age will evoke an enthusiasm never aroused by the good little tales of the "infant's pap" description which are thought to be so suitable for the nursery shelves.
As for Kingsley's "Heroes," the grand heroic thoughts therein expressed in forceful Saxon are themselves an education, teaching the child to love the best English writers; from the perusal of such books he will not readily descend to inferior tastes. Children's tastes are more pure and accurate than those of their elders, where untampered with; and the exquisitely written fairy tales of Hans Andersen, so full of poetry and imagination, will please them better than the coarsely expressed and feebly written fairy books with which the market teems.
Quite little ones will evince, in a perfectly natural, childlike way, a lively interest in seeing photographs of, and hearing about, all the "funny" (i.e., interesting) places in foreign lands. For instance, a child of five to six will recognise models of the Forum at Rome, the Coliseum, the Arch of Titus, the Piazza in front of S. Peter's, with its cross-surmounted obelisk brought centuries ago to the Circus of Caligula from the City of the Sun in Egypt (where Joseph and Moses lived); round which the martyred Christians, clad in skins of beasts saturated with pitch, served as torches for Nero's midnight walks; ages later (when the Cross had triumphed) removed to its present position of veneration; and will love to hear how that very soil is formed of the ashes of the saints, and impregnated with the blood of martyrs "who loved not their lives unto death;" and again, of Bresca, the "disobedient sailor," who, when at the raising of that obelisk the ropes were giving way under the strain, broke the breathless silence, and at the risk of death cried, "Acqua alle funi!" (throw water on the ropes). The workmen acting on his advice, the monster moved and settled on its base, and Bresca was rewarded by the Pope's promise that henceforth his little native village of Bordighera should have the privilege of furnishing the Easter palms to S. Peter's!
Then, journeying on in spirit to Florence, they can make acquaintance with the city of Savanarola, of Dante, of Giotto the shepherd boy's Lily Tower, and the "Blessed" Angelico, who, in those stormy Middle Ages, lived in "such perpetual peace, realising a Paradise begun in the white-blossomed olive woods of the Val d'Arno; seeing angels walk under the cypress avenues, finding them at his bedside on waking, hearing their songs at vespers, and seeing their wings in the sunset glow" (Ruskin), and thence painting his lovely visions, never retouching them, for he believed they came straight from God.
A lovelier chapter could scarce be found than the eighth in Mrs. Oliphant's "Francis of Assisi," which pictures so graphically the tender-hearted simplicity of that gentle saint, and his childlike communings with his Father's creation, and tells us how from the humming-bees to the fierce wolf all came beneath his loving spell.
Hans Andersen's "Improvisator," Longfellow's poems on "Travels by the Fireside," "Amalfi" and "The Old Bridge at Florence;" George Eliot's "Romola," Mrs. Oliphant's "Makers of Florence," with the little book, before reviewed, "How Dante Climbed the Mountain," and Augustus Hare's varied "Walks" in Italy, may all be read with exceeding profit and delight, educating alike in religion, history, geography, and art.
But, as Kingsley wrote, "Mere reading of wise books will not make you wise men; you must use for yourself the tools with which books are made wise, and that is, your eyes, and ears, and common sense. Using your eyes or not using them is a question of doing right or wrong. God has given you eyes; it is your duty to God to use them. The more you try now to understand things, the more you will be able hereafter to understand men, and That which is above men."
There are many beautiful descriptions of our own English life, and character, and scenery, exquisitely written in "Adam Bede," Silas Marner," &c., which read aloud by a mother in the "translating" way before indicated cannot fail to educate her child and enlarge its horizon.
In the current number of the "Fortnightly Review" (September) is an account of the old Greek explorer Pytheas, who in 320 B.C. sailed round the Spanish and Gallic coasts to Kent, traversed Britain on foot, and visited the "Crystal Ocean," or Frozen Sea, where earth, water, air, and all things seemed to be intermixed in supernatural confusion, and where the ebb and flow of the tides were brought about by the immense sea monster who dwelt there and took six hours to draw in his breath and six hours to let it out. Of the Phenicians who, in the days of Herodotus, "long before Vasco de Gama was thought of," circumnavigated Africa, and described the sun as having been on their right hand, "a thing incredible." Of the discovery and colonisation of America by the Northmen, and of the statue Columbus found in the Canary Islands five hundred years later with its finger pointing westwards (as the ancients were wont to keep the routes in remembrance by erecting statues to serve as finger-posts to remind future generations). Ernest (aged six), when hearing this mentioned at luncheon, interrupted with eager question "Forgotten?" "Exactly so, America had been forgotten and was re-discovered by Columbus, though known to the ancients as Atlantis." Then, what interest gathers round that marvellous Cloud-King in Central Africa "Ruwenzori." and the mountains of the moon, known to the ancients, as were the "Fountains of the Nile" which Livingstone sought and almoust found; the little dwarfs and pigmies known to Herodotus, and re-found by M. du Chaillu and Stanley in spite of all the unbelieving scoffs!
Livingstone's "Last Journals" may be read with scarcely an omission, and the children taken from the picture of the lonely grave in the African forest (where he fain would lie) to that grave in Westminster Abbey, where beneath the forest of Gothic arches he rests, and as the sun glints through the many-coloured windows and falls in fretted shadow on the slab, they will read his prayer that "God's choicest blessing might rest on whosoever should strive to heal that great open sore of the world"--the slave-trade in Africa.
"Ellen, what are you going to do with your life?" This question, asked of a very young girl, proved to be the thought-kernel that influenced the whole future of the Mrs. Rainyard whose mission amongst the London poor by means of the Bible-women has been such an untold power for good, long after its author has passed away.
And so we must take every means to impress upon the minds of children the fact that they have been sent into God's world to do a work for God which nobody else can do; for "the weakest among us has a gift, however seemingly trivial, which is peculiar to him, and which, worthily used, will be a gift also to his race for ever" (Ruskin). Literature, such as we have described, is one of the most effectual means of enkindling this enthusiasm in their little hearts.
The Religious Tract Society publishes a good set of books upon the Children of other Lands ("Children of Madagascar," "of India," "in Chinese Homes"), which are calculated to arouse the sympathies of English children.
Lives of great men all remind us
And "Lives that speak" like those of Mackay of Uganda, Bishops Steere and Hannington, J.G. Paton of the New Hebrides, Bernard Palissy the Potter, will awaken a thrilling interest. And Lord Shaftesbury in "The children's Champion and the Victories he Won" (Nelson). (Palissy, Hannington, Livingstone, and Mackay can all be obtained in a penny form, well illustrated.)
No seed-thought is lost; everything we learn is for some purpose (whether from books or from experience), although years may elapse before it is called into service. Inspire, therefore, the children with the idea that all their "lessons" are to prepare them for fulfilling this life-work in the best possible way, and you give them a stimulus to exertion, and clothe their "dull studies" in beautiful and attractive froms, investing them with a new interest.* Educate their tastes--i.e., draw out their criticisms, their sympathies, and their observation. Encourage them to have individual tastes, and to express and cultivate them. Try and ascertain not only what subject strikes the, but how it strikes them.
The great aim of their teachers should be not to fill their minds with the usual "mental accomplishments," but to develop their reasoning capacities so that they will themselves desire knowledge and work in harmony with their masters for the purpose of attaining it.
In the "Book" column will be found a list of books we can thoroughly recommend to those parents who are willing to "read" upon these lines,--books suited to all ages of children. But a book of untold value and comfort to mothers themselves must not be passed over, for it throws a whole flood of transforming light upon the puzzles of everyday life.
It says: "Beyond all books, beyond all class-work at the school, beyond all special opportunities of what I call my 'education,' it is this drill and pressure of my daily task that is my great schoolmaster. My daily task, whatever it be, that is what mainly educates me. Any other culture is mere luxury compaired with what that gives. Yet--fool that I am!--this pressure of my daily task is the very thing that I so growl at as my 'drugery'! We can add this fact--and practically it is a very important fact to boys and girls as ambitious as they ought to be--the higher our ideals the more we need these foundation habits strong... It is the angel-aim and standard in an act that consecrates it... The universe is not quite complete without my work well done.
If my hand slacked,
The book bears the strange title of "The New Beatitude,--Blessed by Drudgery." VERA.
*Since these words went to press, Dr. William Duncan, in addressing the medical students at Middlesex Hospital, said: "Every hour spent on these subjects will be invaluable to you, not only now, but all your lives. Think of the immense strides that have been made in this department [of medicine] within the last few years, what new facts have been brought to light by the study of bacteriology, and what possibilities of magnificent discoveries still await deeper researches into the subject."
Typed July 2013