The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 477
PARENTS' NATIONAL EDUCATION UNION THIRD ANNUAL CONFERENCE
REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS.
(Continued from page 474.)
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WEDNESDAY, May 10th.
The Chair was taken by the Rev. R. F. Horton, M.A., D.D. The Secretary, Miss Blogg, after making other announcements, read the following extracts:--
Extract from a letter from Miss Weston, of 13, Shimorka Banda, Kojimachika, Tokyo, Japan:--
"I have for a long time been wishing to see if we could not have some work going on in this country, with a similar purpose at least to those of the Parents' National Educational Union. Even if this be not possible or suitable at present in any formal way, yet I think a small circle of us (Japanese and foreign together), might work towards something similar. There is a great work to be done in bringing women to a sense of their true position, privileges, and responsibilities and I feel personally that something like this work would help to do much.
"My requests are the following:--
"That you will be so very kind as to send me as full particulars as you can of your principles and methods of working, especially concerning the Mothers' Educational Course. If I might ask you for a statement of some kind as regards their principles and actual origin and development of the work of the Union and some kind of historical sketch of its life, I hope I might be able to make use of it indirectly, if not quite directly, at some educational or private 'improvement' meeting.
"I do most earnestly claim your sympathy on behalf of Japanese womanhood, and not of that alone, but through that on behalf of all."
Extract from a letter from Mrs. Sandberg, Nyenstede, Amersfoort, near Utrecht, Holland:--
"Your teaching and principles as I found them in your letters, in the papers you were so kind as to send, and in Home Education, opened a new field of thought for me, and widened out all my thoughts about education. I think it was an exceedingly practical idea to insert a chapter on "The Teaching of the P.N.E.U.' Your Home Education fills me with enthusiasm and gratitude, and the inspiring principles which it contains will be of the greatest help to me in the education of my two little boys.
"Ever since my marriage, I tried to prepare myself for my task. I read several works that came to hand, but I found out soon that it is a difficult, nay, an almost impossible task, to prepare adequately for the education of children without help and advice, that regular instruction is needed, that mothers ought to unite and strive for this end.
"Being impressed with the necessity for active work, I wrote to several countries, and received many kind and explicit answers. Being able now to overlook what has been done in this respect in about six different countries (United States included), I have come to the conclusion that the best organized, and to my estimate, most helpful Union is the P.N.E.U. The papers you were so kind as to send are very useful, and made me understand your work. I think I have caught the spirit of the thing."
The Secretary stated that similar letters have also been received from Russia and Australia.
An address was then given by M. E. Sadler, Esq., who said:
[Sir Michael Ernest Sadler, 1861-1943, champion of the English public school system]
This, of course, is only another way of saying that the highest kind of original and inventive teaching is a form of artistic genius. We recognize it less easily than we otherwise should because a teacher of genius is an artist whose pictures are hardly ever signed. Like the builders of some of our old cathedrals, great teachers are apt to merge their name and the personality in the work they produce. It is enough for them if, in the outpouring of their genius, their influence passes out from them and produces fruit elsewhere.
Of course teachers of genius are rare. They come into existence, I suspect, in response to forces far more subtle than mere economic demand. They arrive, not because people are willing to pay them, but because in some, as yet unconscious, way the world needs them. But, to a degree which we do not always realize, there is an element of artistic power in all good teaching, and especially in the kind of teaching which we in this Union are most anxious to get for our children. And, if we have to do with anything beyond mechanical routine in the way of teaching, we ought to try our best to understand the conditions under which experiments in education have to be carried on. Otherwise we shall neither be able to comprehend the difficulties under which the work is being done for us, nor to appreciate its true excellence. We shall find that the whole question of early education is full of open questions. There is nothing settled about it. Hence its fascination. Hence, too, the extreme danger of our getting to believe that a group of merely provisional hypotheses (never regarded in any other light by the real workers who have framed them) have already hardened into a code of orthodox procedure. And any teacher of originality and talent will rejoice to be working for and with parents who understand that all these new experiments in home education have to be watched with ceaseless care, and changed, now in this regard and now in that, in order that they may follow the real needs of individual children and remain supple and elastic enough to fit the ever-changing facts and varieties of human growth. Parents, as well as teachers, should understand (and only great interest and watchfulness can make them understand) that for a rime all may be clear going at full steam ahead, but that suddenly we pass into an unexpected fog and that then the ship must go slow or she may be on the rocks. It is a great bond between parents and teachers when both share a common interest in the methods of early education. Of course, any teacher with the real gift shrinks from irrelevant praise, the counterpart of which is ignorant blame.
"Vor den Wissenden sich stellen
And, when our wishes have been met by the teacher's unsparing toil and devotion--by the unseen work which is spent in selecting and perfecting the right thing rather than in any display of mere industry--then we must be really and humbly grateful for the honour of being allowed to share in such work. Service like this lies beyond the terms of any written contract, and is on a very different plane from money payment or reward.
But in education, essential as is the personality of the teacher, the teacher is not all. Still less are mere schooling or lessons anything beyond a limited part of what we really mean by "education." In happy cases, nothing approaches the importance of a mother's influence, wisely and unselfishly used. Then there is the father's influence, too, but this, in the case of young children, is generally a bad second. Nor must we forget the great influence exerted on a child by what we may call the public opinion of his playmates, of his "set." And, besides this, consider the influence of the talk he hears at home, its tone and range, the drift of its praise and blame, the standard of its judgments, the beliefs which consciously or unconsciously underlie them, the unspoken assumptions involved in the opinions among which the child grows up. These are the subtle and penetrating influences which pass, through casual words and unpremeditated phrases, into the boy's inmost thoughts, which persuade him or repel (environment works both ways) and stain his mind with prepossessions. And it is not through words only that we are thus educated, that our attitude towards things is changed. Tone of voice, look, gesture teach as well. Most of all, as we grow up into the time of life when opinions begin to be consciously formed, are we affected by the intellectual and moral climate of our time. And so subtle is the action of mind on mind that a child is rained on by influences which are neither consciously exerted nor consciously sustained. The closer our analysis, the more do we discern new influences coming within the reach of our vision, showing that others, and yet others, lie behind, effective though unseen.
It is the sum of all these things, "flexible, changeable, vague, and multiform and doubtful," that we really mean by the word "education." This is the web which, so to say, gathers up and holds down upon each of us in turn all the influences which touch the springs of inherited tendencies and desires, which dispose the taste, fix the swing and balance of the judgment, form the sympathies, and range themselves as early associations in the background of our mind. And from all sides of science is showing us that every changing tint in the many-coloured web of circumstance leaves its mark for good or for evil upon the sensitive brain of a child; that everything matters; and that the first few years of a child's life, so far from being an unimportant time during which the ordinary nursemaid's company is good enough and any set of early lessons will suffice, are, on the contrary, of quite critical importance and full of irrevocable opportunities. It is because we are keenly conscious of the significance of all this that we have bound ourselves together in this Union, in order to try to understand a little more clearly the principles which should determine early education, and, more especially, that part of early training which has to do with the forming of habits and of character.
But it is just at this point that, in the experience of some of us, there arises a new and much greater difficulty than any of those which have presented themselves before. We begin making experiments in the education of our own children, and find the way dark and slippery. It begins to dawn on us that, in meddling with the old traditional ways of training children, we are playing for high stakes. Pioneers are necessary, but in education we may pioneer at great cost to ourselves and to our victims. The danger lies in our not being able to realize beforehand all the forces which are really at work in some traditional course of education which we are at first in the mind lightly to discard. We may be like a boy pulling a watch to pieces and then leaving out something when he tries to put it together again. So, perhaps, as we pass along this train of thought, our state of mind gradually changes in regard to educational experiments. We come, that is to say, to realize that the matter is much more serious than we thought it to be, much more complicated, much fuller of unseen perils. It is not that we question the immense importance of the matter, but, because it is so immensely important, we begin to shrink from doing perhaps irreparable mischief. It is just because so small a part of educational influences, rightly understood, are self-conscious or capable of exact analysis or modifiable by individual desire, that we begin to feel it so perilous a business to cut, as it were, jagged holes in this tightly stretched and subtly-woven environment, and so uncertain after all that our new patches will fit. We are bound in all the educational plans which we may form for our children, to consider the general practice of our generation. We cannot rightly educate a boy in isolation. In a very considerable degree we are practically forced to follow the trend and habits of education in our own country in our own time. Otherwise we incur the risk of putting a boy at a wholly wrong angle towards the ways of thought of those with whom he will have to grow up, and among whom he must live and work. It may be necessary, I admit, under the pressure of certain circumstances to go even as far as this, and deliberately to cut off a boy from the associations and professions of those who, in the ordinary course of things, have been his natural friends and acquaintances. But to do this is a very serious thing, so serious that we should not venture on it without fully counting the cost which it will involve.
Such thoughts as these, if they occur to us in our actual experience, may for a time give us pause in our zeal for great changes in the education of our children. For a time, they may even bring about in our minds a sharp reaction in favour of clinging as far as possible to all that is even tolerable in the old ways. But slowly we come back again to the conviction that we are bound, whether we like it or not, to readjust many of the methods of early education to the new needs of our time. The old mechanical methods become intolerable, when once we have begun to realize what home education may be made, and indeed is often made. The change in our points of view, which thus makes the old methods seems impossible, is due, not to personal idiosyncrasies of our own, but to the operation of larger causes which are slowly modifying our outlook on life and the future. Some of the foundations of our old traditional training have been deeply affected by the intellectual and other changes of our time; and it is our duty to consider how the walls can be strengthened or rebuilt so as to afford protection against dangers not less pressing than before, but coming from new quarters and in other forms. Now it may be that we perceive more fully than at first how difficult it is to translate educational theories into practice. It may be that we have come to realize, more vividly than we ever did before, what a gulf there is between what we should like and what we can actually get; and how much more sense there is in many traditional views about education than we were once disposed to believe. But, in spite of all this, our desire for reform is actually keener than ever and more practical. Those of us who have passed through the reaction which I have tried to describe, probably find ourselves less inclined than we were to generalize about educational reforms in a large way, but, at the same time, more eager and able than ever to welcome and carry out the really practicable improvements which are happily placed within our reach through the work of this Union and some other agencies. When once our eyes have been opened to the terrible waste of opportunity which is involved in so much of the customary kind of home-teaching, we can never willingly or happily go back to the old ways. And we rejoice to know that, through the labours of Miss Mason and of her colleagues, and by means of such admirable advice as we have received at this conference from Mrs. Boole and Mrs. Fisher, nothing less than a revolution has been brought about in many English home-schoolrooms.
And may I add that the experience which I have been trying to picture has other effects too? It shows us that, when we begin to talk in any serious way about moral education, we are really and necessarily raising some of the most mysterious and sacred questions to which the human mind can address itself. And we may feel that, for our own part, we will hold as firmly as we honestly can in the education of our children to the hopes and helps which lie at the heart of all moral training.
In conclusion, I should like to refer, if I may do so without rudeness, to four dangers against which special precautions should be taken by some of us in the present stage of our work.
First, the danger of overstimulating little children by yielding to the temptation of teaching them beyond their years; the danger of too much spur and too little bridle.
Secondly, the danger of overlooking the moral value of a certain degree of hardness and discomfort in a child's surroundings. If the will is going to gain strength, it must have something to thrust against.
Third, the danger of generalizing too hastily from the observation of too limited a number of children, and of thus forgetting how wonderfully children of the same age differ from one another in temperament, in aptitude, and in the studies to which they are prone.
Fourth, the danger of losing sight of the fact that we must keep the early education of our boys on something like the plane of the schools to which they will afterwards be sent. Probably many men, who, as little boys, were very well and intelligently taught at home, feel the truth of what Kinglake says in Eothen, that "It is a sad intellectual fall from your mother's dressing room to a buzzing school." Happily we know with what devotion and anxious care preparatory schoolmasters are now watching over and improving the education of little boys at their first school. But, unless the transition from home to public school is skilfully adjusted, there is much danger of a boy suffering unnecessary and hurtful discouragement at each of these two critical point in his educational career. I do not at all mean to suggest that we ought to press for any sudden or revolutionary change in the curriculum of our higher schools. In all countries the higher schools are a conservative influence, and rightly so. It is their duty to resist casually demanded change, because their function in history has always been to interweave the old tradition with the new ideals of life. But much good might result from closer conference and communication between the members of the Association of Headmaster of Preparatory Schools and the ladies and gentlemen who take an active interest in the Union, and it would be a useful outcome of this Conference if such a relation could be established between them.
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The Chairman: I am sure that we must all have learned so much from Mr. Sadler's interesting address, that I only wish it has been my appointed privilege to move a vote of thanks to him. That task, however, is to be left in the hands of Mr. Phillpotts. But not being permitted to move a vote of thanks to Mr. Sadler, I may, perhaps, be permitted to criticize one point to which he referred. This will show the wisdom in appointing one to preside who is not a parent. Mr. Sadler, in enumerating the educational influences of the home life, put the mother's influence first, and said that the father's influence was something like a poor second. (Laughter.) That is, of course, very modest of Mr. Sadler--(hear)--and no doubt if Mrs. Sadler were present this evening she would be very gratified to hear the remark. (Renewed laughter.) But this is the point against which, if I may, I would wish to protest. Of course, Mr. Sadler was bound to say this, because he is a father. (Laughter.) But, really, I feel very strongly about this--and now I am not joking. I think that the father's influence is most important in education, and that if it is not--well, it ought to be. (Hear, hear.) One of the things which I rather regret to find in this Union is that there are not so many fathers as mothers among the members. (Hear, hear.) Of course I can speak more freely upon this point--not being in the category of parents--than Mr. Sadler, and, perhaps, any gentlemen on this platform. Fathers need educating in the education of their children. (A lady's voice, "Hear, hear," and loud laughter.) I feel that every mother's son of us loves his mother better than he loves his father. I cannot say precisely how it may be with the girls, but, for the boy, it is his father's example that most influences him in early life. The boy always want to be a man, and if his father smokes, the boy's one idea in life is to smoke also. (Laughter and hear, hear). We poor little ignorant boys have a kind of patronizing regard towards our mothers and female relatives generally. (Laughter.) And so I venture modestly to protest against Mr. Sadler's modesty in regard to this question, for I am persuaded, from what I know of him, that his influence over his children is as good as one could desire. (Laughter and hear, hear.)
When I was asked to take the chair on this occasion, I readily consented, because I wanted to say something. (Laughter.) The fact is--speaking to a number of English parents this evening--I feel that there is a point which I am burning to talk about. Perhaps I can best express it by telling you of the occasion which excited this desire. The other day I happened to be in a house with a little boy--about the height of this table--and his fond mother. She wished the little fellow to show his skill by reciting a little poem, and when the matter was suggested, I hoped that I was going to hear something edifying--a beautiful little hymn, or a harmless passage from Wordsworth for instance--and I assumed an attitude one would under such circumstances. (Laughter.) I ought to explain that my friend had recently come from the Cape, and I attribute the result of this little incident to that fact. Now, what was my horror when the little child began the recitation thus: "A is our Army that fights for our Queen; the very best Army that ever was seen"--(loud laughter)--and so the rhyme proceeded to enumerate things that were supposed to be the glory of our Empire. You can imagine what happened. To think that here was a poor little citizen being deliberately ruined, as far as a correct idea of his country was concerned! It filled me with dismay. "The very best army that ever was seen!" It is not the very best army that was ever seen. (Loud laughter.) For more than fifty years it has not had to measure its strength with anything but savages, and to say that it is the very best army that ever was seen--why it is simply monstrous. (Loud laughter.) Even if it were true, is it right to teach a little boy that because he is English he is to go round the world boasting that his army is the very best army that ever was seen--is it right? (Loud laughter) But to be serious, I think that to teach children such things is most demoralizing--to teach children to glory in things that are not our glories, while forgetting the annals high and noble of this beloved land. (Applause.) I feel that we live in a time in this country when, throughout the land, children grow up to admire things that ought not to be admired, and that often when there is a thing that really deserved to be admired, that thing is not talked about enough, or, perhaps, not at all, because it is not likely to prove sufficiently attractive in the house. (Hear, hear.) What Mr. Sadler says seems to me to be profoundly true, when he observes that you gather your character from the tone that is found in the home or school far more than from the instruction which you get. (Hear, hear.) You learn to admire or condemn things without being told--you learn this simply by the atmosphere of admiration or condemnation that exists in the home or school. And so you as parents--at least, I assume you or many of you to be parents--have a most important duty to perform in most rigorously excluding this false admiration for simply material prowess. If you can keep out of the home that demoralizing admiration, I think that you will have done more in the way of properly training your children for noble living than by any direct lesson you may give. (Hear, hear.)
To return to England and England's place in the world. I wish, indeed, that we had poetry of a better order than "A is our Army that fights for the Queen"; I wish that we had some good natural poetry which might take possession of the children's hearts. And have we not some good poetry which children might learn? Could we not teach them a little more Wordsworth beyond "We are seven"? (Laughter.) If we teach children from the first to admire Wordsworth--for instance, his poetry on mental greatness, and plenty of other pieces which strike the right note if only made known when we are young--if we teach children such poetry, I believe a vast deal of good will result. (Hear, hear.) I believe, as William Watson said, "They best honour thee who honour only in thee what is best"; and to make the children honour what is really great is, I think, a task worthy of attention in every home. (Hear, hear.) We have to unite our forces to bring home the truth of things to our children when they are young, and if I may be permitted to leave that great principle with you this evening, I shall know that it is not in vain that I have occupied the chair on this occasion, and I shall feel that my position in this Union is stronger than it has ever been before. (Applause.)
Mr. J. Surtees Phillpotts (Headmaster, Bedford Grammar School): Ladies and gentlemen, I have been asked to propose a vote of thanks to Mr. Sadler for his most interesting address. There is one point about Mr. Sadler which is certainly a good point--whether he is here speaking, or whether we read him in print, he is always interesting. (Hear, hear.) I hope that many of you have read some of the beautiful books which Mr. Sadler has brought out on education. [Continuation Schools in England and Elsewhere; Moral Instruction and Training in Schools; etc.] It is a very difficult thing indeed to bring exactly to bear on children that which we wish in intellectual things, but I feel that if parents will interest their children and watch over them and teach them to obey, they will do an immense deal. Therefore I think it is a great saving thing for a boy, say, to have something--some little hobby that he is fond of and can turn to in his moments of leisure. (Hear, hear.) In teaching, as a rule, I think that our hours are too long, and if parents would only concentrate the children's attention for a short time, I feel that it would be a great deal better than making them work at their books for a long time. (Hear, hear.) Another great point, I think, is that the parent or teacher should get to know whether the child understands the things it is told or not, and I would like to emphasize this. Nothing, surely, can be more painful than to see a child being spoilt by its mother's excess of love--a love which comes in the way of the child receiving proper training. In educating the character of a child, I do not know that you can do better than educate the will. I seems to me that we must get the girl or boy to like--and to find pleasure in doing--what is the right thing, even though it be unpleasant, because that gives the child a grip of character which it is most important that it should have. It is not in the things that come easily that we find most pleasure and satisfaction. It is not the plaster cast by means of which the sculpture is made that gives the sculptor so much pleasure; but he likes to see that which is cut in the marble, that which he has cut in a thing which gave resistance--this it is which gives the sculptor most delight and peace at heart. I have much pleasure in rising to propose a hearty vote of thanks to Mr. Sadler for his interesting address, which I feel is another gift of his to the cause of education (Cheers.)
Mr. Henry Perrin: Ladies and gentlemen, it comes to me a little unexpectedly to be called upon to second this important vote of thanks, for I understood that I was to speak to a motion coming later in the evening. I need only say, however, how cordially I sympathize with what Mr. Sadler has said, and I feel that the Society owes a great deal to him for the work which he has done, not only in connection with the Conversazione, but also for the great amount of information which he has in many ways given us. I trust that he may live long to continue his unequalled and skilful work, and to bring his knowledge before our Society. I must not add more just now, but just say how pleased I am to second the vote of thanks. (Cheers.)
The vote was carried most cordially, and Mr. Sadler returned thanks.
Mr. T. G. Rooper, H.M.I., then said: Ladies and gentlement, one duty yet remains, and that duty falls to my lot. I have been asked to propose a vote of thanks to the Chairman for the extremely able way in which he has presided over us this evening. I venture to think that we shall all be thankful to him, and pleased at hearing his interesting and original remarks. I have been thinking over the episode of the little boy and the alphabet. I think that perhaps that little rhyme about the army indicated signs of decadence, and think that there is something a little boastful in it--(laughter)--especially when compared with what I used to say when I was a little boy. This is what I was taught -- "A is the Archer who shot at the Frog." (Loud laughter.) Now, you will notice the extreme modesty in that. (Renewed laughter.) It does not say that the frog was hit--(laughter)--it only modestly informs us that the poor frog was shot at. (Loud laughter). I am afraid that there may be a certain decadence, for it appears that the children of the race generally are getting boastful. I think that Mr. Sadler has dealt with an important question this night in the right manner, and I am quite sure that Miss Mason, had she been here, would have been extremely gratified to listen to the lecture which has so much interested us, because she agrees that it is our business to study the ideas, and not lose ourselves in the mere routine of the education of our children. There is such a thing as losing sight of the forest on account of the number of trees, and Miss Mason keeps us looking at the ultimate bearing of things, and I think it is that which parents should do particularly in regard to the training of their children. (Cheers.)
Mrs. Hart-Davis: I have been asked to second the vote of thanks to our Chairman, although I do not know why I should be the only lady to speak on this occasion. I am sure, however, that I shall be carrying you all with me when I second this vote of thanks. I remember that our Chairman to-night was present three or four years ago at one of our meetings, but he has never done such real work for us before as by taking the chair on such an occasion. I am sure that we are very grateful to him for presiding over this meeting so well to-night. (Hear, hear.) It must dawn upon you when we meet together like this how much the Union requires guiding and leading in the right direction, and how very important it is that we not only get hold of the best branch secretaries we can, but also the best men and women in our centres to guide our work. If you want to find, as I once did, a true ideal of what a home should be, stated in one page of a small book, I hope you may have the good fortune, as I had, of lighting upon a certain little book, written by a man who truly understood his subject. This little book describes what a home may be when properly looked after by a father and mother; it presents a religious ideal such as we are all striving to attain--all is most beautifully put, and in language clear. That idea will be found in Dr. [Robert Forman] Horton's little work, This Do. (Cheers.) We are all grateful to Dr. Horton for that book, as well as for his kindness in presiding over our meeting to-night. (Cheers.)
The vote was carried amid cheers.
The Chairman, in responding, said: Mrs. Hart-Davis expressed some wonder why she was the only lady called upon to speak, but to me it is quite plain, for, as an old friend, she was about the only one who was likely to say a good word for me. (Loud laughter.) I feel that I must congratulate you upon the enormous stride which this movement has taken since I last had an opportunity of speaking to the members of the Union. I ought, perhaps, to have referred at the commencement of the meeting to the record of steady progress which it contains. I think that we may, on that account, congratulate one another, and more particularly those connected with the working of the movement. We meet this evening under very happy auspices, and I hope that the Conference will continue in the same happy manner as the Conversazione this evening. (Cheers.)
THURSDAY MORNING, May 11th,
Lady Louise Loder (Brighton) presided. In opening the meeting her Ladyship said: It gives me very great pleasure to be able to take the chair on this occasion, though I feel many misgivings as to the fitness of the choice that the committee have done me the honour to make. I can only claim that I have the success of the Parents' National Educational Union very much at heart, and it is this which prompts me to speak a word in its defence to those who say that the world has got on very well so far without it, and that common sense teaches everything that is necessary. Common sense, I allow, teaches much, but I think it admits that it is sometimes prudent to listen to the specialist who makes a science of education.
The underlying principle of the Association is to make use of the impressionable childhood to educate unconsciously, and I should advise anyone interested to get a report of Dr. Schofield's and Mrs. Boole's excellent remarks on the subject at the first day of the Conference.
The Parents' National Educational Union aims--at facilitating parents' acquaintance with new theories and systems of teaching; at teaching them how to deal with hereditary tendencies; and at helping them to train themselves to assist the full development of their children and to give them that true education, which, in the cram and scramble of the present day, we are apt to forget, in the words of Professor Michael Foster, "that which brings forward together the powers of the whole being, body, mind and soul."
The danger of any association is to create theorists, and these unfortunately are very often its warmest advocates, but I think that the common sense of most people will prevent them from driving theories too hard in dealing with human beings, and my experience is, that in the matter of education, the children themselves only too often upset such theories.
The Parents' National Educational Union is, in my opinion, a most valuable association, even if it only suggests ideas, helps such ideas to take a definite shape, and gives us a object for a course of useful reading.
Proofread by LNL, May 2020
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