The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
History As a Branch of Children's Education, Part 2

by G. Armitage-Smith, Esq., M.A.
Volume 10, no. 5, 1899, pgs. 282-

The scientific value of history has been illustrated, and it is seen that that aspect appeals most to the reasoning powers. History, on its literary side, appeals more to the imagination in realizing the past from descriptions. Whence comes much of the charm associated with old castles, ruined abbeys, quaint bits of architecture, sculptures, and museums, the interest attaching to the cities of Greece and Italy, to the pageants of civic life and many old observances, but in the restoration in the idea of a world long passed away--their associations are with ancient history, of which we would fain know something. We would put ourselves in relation to the people of centuries ago, and, for a time, live in their age and surroundings. By the aid of the imagination there is an intellectual recovery and a field of rare enjoyment is thus opened up.

To visit an old decayed English village such as Worsted, in Norfolk, is to recall the industrial England of long ago, with the populous villages and towns East of East Anglia, to compare the past and present of rural England and the manufactures of today with those of long ago. History is not taught merely from books, all such objects and visits are historical and highly educational. As geography should begin with the home, the local surroundings, walks and excursions, aided by very simple sketches and maps so as to make it reality, so the parent or teacher will find object lessons in history in abundance in their surroundings, and, by their aid, he may skillfully implant the principle of associating things with events which will give them a different life--a history in fact, and which will stimulate to further enquiry. Books come in to supplement, to connect, to fill in, and widen the interest thus awakened.

Pictures, maps, charts assist greatly in awakening the historical interest. They are recognized aids to realizing the present. By how much more do older persons enjoy the pursuit of a campaign if aided by pictures! "Our special artist" has become as necessary as our special correspondent. The sketch, be it never so slight, helps the imagination and strengthens the impression. Again, historical pictures rank among the most valuable records of the past, they have a vivid, living reality which is not always conferred by words. They become a text for the teacher, a basis for the verbal picture, a nucleus about which the story of a war, a religious movement, a decisive political event may gather. The picture may be imperfect, it gives only one episode, one point in time, but it may be sufficient to focus a period of history, it can often suggest what requires many pages to describe, and it helps by associations to fasten these details together. Pictures are invaluable, they are history condensed--made visible; only in a less degree are maps of districts useful to illustrate and call up the leading facts in space.

The appeal to the imagination in history gives emphasis to its literary side, which some regard as the important feature of history; they rather ignore the practical, scientific aspect and dwell upon the pleasure derived by a study of former ages, the culture and refinement it affords, the enjoyment and mental profit derived therefrom. There seems to be no need for conflict between the literary and the scientific view, nor any reason for exclusively adopting the one or the other. According to our cast of mind, we shall in after life give greater prominence to history as a mental enjoyment or as a lesson-book in practical affairs. It can and should be both. As regards the child, it is of importance to secure its interest, to train both its imagination and its reasoning powers. The former comes first in order of time, the practical application at a later period when social and political problems begin to occupy the mind. Imagination is most active in youth, the more serious side of historical study comes later; but that the application of its lessons may be able to be made in after life and that it may be regarded as a summary of valuable experiences, it is necessary to draw out lessons from it and accustom the young to see some of the consequences of actions and their bearing upon the time and our present life. They must learn to see connections in events, and to trace the causes and to apply them.

Biography is one of the most pleasing and useful forms of learning history. The life of a statesman like Wolsey, Pitt or Peel, of a reformer like [Richard] Cobden or [John] Bright, is a history of the great events of a period; it usually accentuates one side or other, but it shows the real forces in operation in a graphic manner and connects them with the actors in the public drama. Excellent little stories of the great makers of history are now written, and these lives afford perhaps the most instructive means of teaching young children both the events, and the lesson that men and women have a great power for good or evil, and that their actions live after them. No lesson is more powerful than one drawn from the life: here are found examples for imitation and for warning. The characters described in history and the results recorded in the deeds of heroes provide aids in forming good ideals; they awaken sympathy with the noble and good, and a condemnation of the evil and selfish. Biblical history abounds in such striking examples, they are the stock material of many sermons. The history of our own and other countries is full of them. The judicious teacher will find in them lessons of character and can make them pegs on which to hang the whole story of a movement. Children are quick at discriminating character, and a healthy sentiment may be created by the careful application of the narrations of a life.

Here we may notice the use of fiction in history. History should narrate truth. Can fiction, such as the historical novel, be in any sense an aid to truth? I think so, with proper selections and under proper guidance. Fiction kindles the imagination, awakens interest, and secures attention; it is the most pleasing form of narration and it need not sacrifice a truthful impression. Fairy tales have been condemned by some writers as hurtful to children's minds because they are not true. One pities the poor children thus denied one of the greatest joys of child life in being refused a story. They live much in imagination and make-believe (see Stephenson's Charming Nursery Rhymes); how can it be otherwise? The period of experience will come soon enough and give them retrospect--life will soon be real and earnest. Meanwhile the imagination can derive wholesome nourishment and confer much happiness in the world of unreality. The problem of true or false does not arise. After the age of fairy tales comes that of romance and adventure, and historic fact has been made the basis of many of the best works of this class. Well-selected stories are a gratification of the imaginative faculty; they may teach sound lessons and call forth sympathy with the good, useful, and true. The child reads them, not as history but as romance; there is no confusion of truth and falsehood. An impression is left which is good or evil (hence the need for careful selections), but the details, the conversations, and minor episodes are all treated as fictitious, and if any doubt exists, it is easily corrected by the teacher or parent, who, in fact, should seize this opportunity to relate the historic outline, or send them to read the passage in history on which the story or play is founded. I have known children after reading Quentin Durwood [Sir Walter Scott] take down the French History and read up the period of Louis XI., and discuss it with one another with interesting comments on the character of the monarch. Similarly The Talisman [Sir Walter Scott] leads them to ask questions about the Crusaders, Saxon times and manners, etc. What children remember is the characters of the leading actors, their part in the movement, its issue, and the general picture of the period. How much do we all owe to Scott for his graphic illustrations of periods of chivalry and romance, with their pageantry and their squalor. If we ask what is left to us of the novels we read with interest long ago, we shall find it is the characters and the pictorial vision of a period we never realized more fully than when we read his fascinating romances.

Take other illustrations: a tale like Silas Marner [George Eliot] gives a realistic impression of the weaver's life in England two generations ago, and awakens an interest in the workers of that class. Felix Holt [George Eliot] depicts the aspirations of humble reformers long before the many changes effected in our own time. Kingsley's Alton Locke gives an insight into a social movement of the forties as vivid and historic as his Westward Ho, which stimulates youth by its manly tone and healthy patriotic sentiment. There is a solid gain in such reading, a deposit or residuum of sound knowledge of the period which makes the drier history of facts more acceptable. And the awakened historic sense remains; there is an incentive to further enquiry in which the real predominates and is clearly marked off from the fictitious. I imagine we all owe much of our ideas of the characters of Caesar, Brutus, and Anthony, to Shakespeare: Caesar's own Commentaries give us an opinion of Caesar's character, methods, and aims; our Roman history adds to this; but the story of the play is responsible for the vividness of our ideas of the Romans. Of course, here comes the importance of seeing that the dramatist or novelist gives a just account of his characters, and the teacher's part is to secure this by judicious selection and explanation. But it would be better that a person should know only the Julius Caesar and Richard III of the stage than know nothing at all of such men. Fiction helps the patriotic sentiment, and, rightly selected, it is an aid to moral teaching. Types can be thus represented and instruction can be conveyed: there is a craving for the gratification of the imagination, it is part of our nature, and it is only the diseased who mistake illusions and hallucinations for realities; there is scope for the healthy imagination without confusing the ideal with the actual; all poetry and art, as well as the novel, are continually demonstrating this fact. The child is not to be left without guidance, and the teachers' part is in selection and explanation; it is for them to draw out and enforce the lesson, to find out what books are best adapted for each child, and to help the historic side by supplementing the poetic from the story of the actual life.

Some writers hold that the chief object of history is not either scientific or literary, but moral. The late Professor [James Anthony] Froude maintained this view, and this aspect of history is important, for on the moral training of the young depends the future of the world. As the child is father to the man, so men's destiny and that of their country will depend on the way in which the characters of the young are moulded. The whole end of education might be summed up in "character," which is a very comprehensive term. Incidentally, it has been shown how history as biography gives emphasis to character, touches the emotions and enlists the sympathies with the noble, the true and the good, while even historic fiction may be made to contribute to the same end. In history we are provided with the best records of virtuous lives, heroic examples, descriptions of self-sacrifice, courage and devotion, such as can stimulate to imitation in a humbler degree, call forth a splendid admiration, and help to raise in youth a loftier view of life.

Contrast the tendencies of well-told stories of brave and noble lives with the effects of a course of reading such as is provided by the worst form of our ephemeral publications, the sensational and morbid tales, the feeble and silly clippings and shreds which form so large a part of the popular mental diet. It is melancholy to think how time and faculty are frittered away by the scraps and trifles which are so extensively purveyed and consumed in this age of free education.

To cultivate a healthy taste for reading, and to educate children to find interest in good books, is one of the best means of preserving the purity of their minds, of strengthening the character by example and by warning, and of forming manly, vigorous and useful men and women.

Reading, like other acquisitions, may be abused, and it may become in its use either a blessing or a curse; all depends on its employment. Many lives are ruined or wasted by the craving for sensation engendered by the worst form of serial, and to some, the habit of reading becomes merely a way of killing time. Meanwhile in the records of the past there is a fund of literature which can educate and strengthen the minds of its readers, and provoke to good works by its influence upon the character.

On the bearing of the study of history upon morality, I may quote the eloquent words of the late Professor Froude. He says [in his essay The Science of History, 1864], "the address of history is less to the understanding than to the higher emotions. We learn in it to sympathise with what is great and good: we learn to hate what is base."

Again:--"One lesson, and only one, history may be said to repeat with distinctness; that the world is built somehow on moral foundations, that in the long run it is well with the good, in the long run it is ill with the wicked."

And again:--"It (history) is a voice forever sounding across the centuries the laws of right and wrong. Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but the moral law is written on the tablets of eternity. For every false word or unrighteous deed, for cruelty and oppression, for lust or vanity, the price has to be paid at last, not always by the chief offender, but paid by some one. Justice and truth alone endure and live. Injustice and falsehood may be long lived, but doomsday comes at last to them, in French Revolutions and other terrible ways."

A brief allusion may be made in conclusion to the subject of industrial history. It is remarkable how little this side of history was studied until comparatively recent times. If those here who have reached middle life will ask themselves what they learned at school about the pursuits, modes of life, standard of living and comfort, educational enjoyments of the mass of the people, they will find it small in comparison with what they were taught of the doings of a few kings, nobles, and fighting men. They learned how one king [Henry I] died of eating lampreys, how a certain Duke [George Duke of Clarence] was drowned in a butt of malmsey; they probably mastered the battles in the Wars of the Roses, but they gathered little knowledge of the manner in which meanwhile the mass of Englishmen were living and working, the kinds of homes they occupied, their methods of industry, their rights and privileges, their earnings and modes of expenditure--in fact, the real life of the people of England. Now the problems of our times are largely industrial and social, and this class of problem will increase--labour conflicts, trade-unions, strikes, arbitration, factory-legislation, socialism, regulation of hours of labour, agricultural or other depression, the unemployed, old-age pensions, housing of the poor, etc. These are the questions now most pressing, and they may be expected to occupy continually more of public attention, for they flow from the economic changes of the last century, from the newer modes of industry and the improved education of the masses and the deeper social sentiment which seems to have been awakened.

That such questions may be safely handled, two things seem essential: (1) A fuller knowledge by teachers, by parents and legislators of human nature, since the relations and conduct of men are the subject-matter; and to such knowledge, psychology and ethics contribute light; (2) The evidence which the past can offer for dealing with similar problems, such experience as is gathered up by industrial and social history; there is an abundance of material for such knowledge. There has been much investigation of early English life and local institutions. Our Poor Law has a long and chequered history. Governments have made many efforts to regulate labour, prices, wages, interest, trading, expenditure, in various ways. The Guilds of the Middle Ages have an interesting record, and throw some light on modern labour questions; the rise of monopolies, trading companies, navigation laws, tariffs, colonial legislation, are all highly instructive. In these and other cases, history can help us greatly, though it cannot give us exact parallels because circumstances have changed. We can gain from its pursuit instruction which may enable us to avoid pitfalls in the present, and to choose the course most likely to attain the aim we have in view.

Modern general history is showing the effects of economic investigation. The social side of life is made more prominent in all recent works. It is becoming more recognized that the history of a nation includes other things besides military and political matters, important as these are. It will be found that not only does the study of this side of history provide excellent guidance in considering the newer problems of social reform, but that it is by showing what were the conditions of the masses in former centuries, and by expounding the growth of freedom, power and comfort, we can indicate the true methods of progress and counteract movements which are revolutionary and destructive in their tendency.

To gather up the points in this rather discursive paper. We ask how can the study of history help parents and teachers anxious to develop on sound lines the minds and character of the young committed to their care. The answer offered is, (1) By its record of experience, since by garnering the principles of action underlying human conduct which are narrated in history we can gather lessons for imitation and warnings for avoidance; (2) History has become more of a science, it yields generalisations, and it has been penetrated by the doctrine of evolution; it need not be less of literature because it is more scientific, we want general truths for guidance and prediction; science is finding these in all its departments, and if in history they only amount to probabilities this is a fact common to all attempts to deal with human conduct; probabilities have a value; (3) If "the proper study of mankind is man," next in interest to the study of living man is that of men who have lived, from whom we have inherited the present. We are agreed upon the practical advantages of such knowledge. How does this apply to the young? If they do not acquire the taste for it early, they may never apply themselves to the study. Education is to form the habits, to train children so that they will develop on the desired lines after they leave school. It is essential to form the habit early, and thus to learn to enjoy and to look naturally for information and guidance in experience and in good books. History shows the importance of facts and of accuracy; people and nations are often plunged into disastrous courses because they have never troubled to ascertain their facts. A habit of going to history for facts would prevent many catastrophes. We live in a hurried and superficial age; there is much that is shallow even in education, solid and real attainments do not always pay so readily as the more showy and attractive. People are too prone to accept ready-made opinions instead of arousing themselves to ask seriously "whether these things are so." There is too little solid thinking, too little trouble devoted to mastering facts and gaining the truth, enquiring into the causes and reasons. We want more depth and reality. Hence the importance of training the young to such habits, and inculcating in them a familiarly with the past such as will store their minds with materials and train their judgments that they may better discriminate between the true and the false, wise and unwise, useful and futile, whenever they are called upon to form opinions and to act in relation to current topics.

History, properly studied, does tend to strengthen the power of thought, of comparison; it leads to examination of evidence, it records the different aspects of a question. It tends to largeness of mind; we get into the way of looking for causes far-reaching, operating through long periods. Above all, history provides a constant monitor in human affairs as to the consequences of good and evil conduct. In various ways, the study of history contributes to the training of the mental and moral powers.

Proofread by LNL, June 2020