The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
"For Their Sakes I Sanctify Myself."

by Miss Simon.
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 170-178

So surely as our minds are strenuously set on one point of study, as surely do we find that other minds are working on similar lines. Since I fixed upon the subject for the present paper I have met this doctrine, shall I call it, of self-training in face of our life-work over and over again in almost every thoughtful address or article in magazine or newspaper. The thing is in the air once more. It always has been here, always will be, as is the matter of such things; but we do not feel it, or is it that these things do not assert themselves, either until some person in dire need sees, feels and insists upon our seeing and feeling with him. We are familiar with this fact in art, in science and in ethics. The world needed to enjoy the subtilties of a Turner. John Ruskin felt, saw, and he must needs make all the world see and feel. In science, needs and names rush in upon one as one writes. In ethics, it is the same. In education, even the present somewhat wearing Education Bill is no exception to this rule.

While pondering as to the form this paper must take, the Philomathic Society held its meeting in Liverpool, Sir Oliver Lodge being the guest of the evening. In his speech I found what I sought: the recognition of personal responsibility in all matters appertaining to human progress and development. I fear we are shirking just this burden of responsibility. We all work; in fact, the desire for work is almost at fever heat amongst us; but are we not unwilling to bear this burden, this necessary weight of responsibility? "I will do any amount of work you like, but I won't be responsible." Well, even if this is our danger, at any rate we see it, and in seeing the battle is half won, the victory is not far off.

But let me quote Sir Oliver Lodge's words: "Just as the land calls out for labour, and agriculture is hampered for lack of tending, personal care—so it is at present with the many avenues for development which are open to this nation. A great number of improvements are possible, are seen to be possible by those whose vision is fixed ahead; but they hang fire, and progress but slowly, because there are few who will take them up, few who will train themselves to take them up effectively. Training must be our watchword. Education is in the air, and it has a meaning deeper then people even yet suspect."

The speaker would be the last to claim originality for his thought—he is only directing our attention once more to the truth, contained in the spirit of the words, which I have chosen as the title for this paper—that spirit which flooded the mind of the first Man, Who, standing before His lifework, realized the relation between it and Him; for their sakes, for its sake, I sanctify, set myself apart.

Training, Sir Oliver Lodge declares, is to be our watchword; training, the putting of ourselves to school: the result—that illumination, which I have called the realizing of the relation which exists between ourselves and our work. That this training is as old as history needs no argument. The names of great leaders, whether in the dominion of thought or action, occur to us, and the same truth concerning each obtains, namely, that between the realization and its consequence, there interposes a time of training, a period of testing. Our own lives teach us this; and that just in so far as we have been obedient or disobedient to the Heavenly vision, our work has been an intelligent or an ignorant achievement. I use the word intelligent because it is the word I need; for I believe that if our work is done as we mean it to be done, because we have decided that it is the right way to do it, though, on reviewing it, we see it weak in places where we deemed it strong—even at times wrong where we meant it to be right; then I believe, nay, have proved that its strength has been greater than its weaknesses, its right-doing has over-topped its mistakes. But the happy-go-lucky workman who is now right by good luck, now wrong by the same irresponsible god outside the machine, the hay and stubble of his labour suggest anything rather than beauty and durability.

This attitude of the mind towards the work of life is the principle which underlies, which, indeed, is the raison d'etre of the Association to which we belong and whose interests have brought us together to-day. This fact is too obvious to require more than a passing mention.

Having, therefore, realized that, here are we and here is our work; how about the sanctifying, the setting apart of ourselves for it? The tool must be adequate and set apart for just the work it has to do. We do not paint a picture with the chisel of the sculptor; nor shall we, parents and teachers, paint our picture, or release the angel imprisoned within the block of cold and often stubborn marble unless we are adequate—set apart for just this task.

And how is this setting apart to be done? Where are we to begin? We have all at one time believed that the mere fact of two young creatures becoming parents is sufficient preparation, or shall I say inspiration?—nay! I almost fear this belief has survived when many less fatal delusions have suffered a well-deserved death. Only the other day I came across, in an otherwise helpful article on the wife and mother, this very fallacy. The writer shows us a mother gazing for the first time into the face of her new-born babe, and, so gazing, is anointed into the mystic kingdom of perfect motherhood. Not for one moment would I dare to speak otherwise than with deepest reverence of the effect of that first look into the face of her first-born, even upon the most thoughtless young mother, but it is only the beginning of this sanctifying, and need never go farther than a gracious, most sacred emotion. In many cases, however, I know it has been the unveiling of the heavenly vision, to which, being obedient, the whole afterlife of the mother has been a sanctifying process.

Here I find myself compelled to cease these pleasant generalizations, and come to closer quarters with my subject. This I do with extreme diffidence, as whatever I say regarding the attitude of parents towards this preparation of themselves for the sacred work to which they are consecrated, I still speak as an outsider, as one who looks on, not as one who knows. At the same time, the attitude of the teacher is, in so many respects, the counterpart of that of the parent that, by virtue of more than thirty years' study and practice, I am perhaps in a position at any rate to give the result of that observation to others, and, while shrinking from the didactic in its more aggressive forms, give some little help to both parents and teachers, not so much as to how they should train those committed to their charge, but as to how they—we—must train ourselves.

I spoke just now of the close relationship between the parent and the teacher in respect of this duty of self-culture—education, what you will; but is it not true that the parent is the teacher before everything else? I wonder whether fathers and mothers really mean it when they so often say that, never under any circumstances, could they have been teachers. Some do, I regret to say, and a nursery full of untaught little ones cries aloud in attestation of the truth of the assertion. But many say it because they have not yet realized themselves or their relation to the work they have undertaken. For the sake of argument, let us take the case of a young father and mother who have not yet looked themselves in the face; I do not mean each other, but themselves, and asked the question, "Am I prepared, trained for the work I have undertaken to do?" This question must be asked, yes, and answered too, by every father, mother and teacher for himself and herself, alone with God and his or her own separate individuality.

Suppose the reply be in the negative, then permit me parenthetically to ask what would be said of a surgeon or a physician who should have to ask himself this question after he had attempted an operation or stood baffled by the bedside of a patient?

Yet thousands of men and women have had no more training for the sacred office of teacher than that which dire necessity, or love for children provides. And who shall count the number of those who dare to enter into the holy estate of matrimony, give children to the house and life with no more training for the post of supreme teacher, other than that afforded by love for each other? God grant there be that; love, at any rate, is a holy thing, and teaches much.

But to return to the young mother who asks this question as she looks for the first time into the inscrutable face of her first-born, and is obliged to confess that she holds no certificate to prove herself to have had a training which will enable her to deal with the question now staring her in the face. She knows that it is not the child who needs the training so much as herself; the training of the child will arise out of her own consecration, sanctification for the work. And as she looks at, and feels the tiny presence beside her, the resolution is taken: "For thy sake I will sanctify myself." How to begin? I daresay you will not follow me, or rather, not quite agree with me, when I say that the first lesson the mother has to learn is the nature of love. Now, love is inherent, the very essence of motherhood. I shall, I know, be told that I have proved myself an outsider, for what can I know of mother-love? But let that pass!

Love at its highest, its noblest, is not so much an emotion as a quality. Emotion, that much abused, that almost undiscovered quantity, is the poetry of love, of every sentiment which is finest and most beautiful; but like poetry, it needs a restraining hand upon its expression, lest by its very inspiration it carry us beyond the real too far into the ideal.

Perfect love, or better, love made perfect, that quality we distinguished from mere emotion, which becomes the very breath of our life—our true self indeed—is not irresponsible, as is mere emotion. Emotion does not reason; can give no account of its act, all is untutored, unchallenged, and unrestrained. But a hand is laid on this free wild thing, and reason ascends the throne; the intellect asserts itself, and, having decided to act thus and thus, can satisfy the enquirer by rendering an account of the motive behind the act. This condition is not reached at once, on the spur of the moment, or even by a determined act of will; it is the outcome of long and patient self-culture, until that habit of mind is formed which enables us to take our stand without hesitation on the right side, and that instinctively; and, although avoiding all appearance of dogmatism or obstinacy, remain firm to our decision. Love thus perfected becomes the dominant factor, the essential element in our character; the result of experience, self-knowledge, and conviction: its outward and visible signs—clearness of insight, unswerving justice, infinite patience, and undying hopefulness.

I know that, here, I am open to the charge of neglecting the very nature of our constitution, namely temperament. But what about temperament? Surely the calmer and more evenly balanced dispositions, as well as the emotional, are a matter of temperament, a condition for which we are no more responsible than we are for the fact of our being in the world at all. And we are met too often when discussing these things by the cant quotation, "No man can jump over his own shadow." Certainly not, nor do we wish him to waste time in attempting the feat. The acceptance of this creed of helplessness in the matter of temperament is fatal. The opposite attitude towards this birthright of ours is hardly less destructive, although more deserving of respect, as it almost always proceeds from a desire to take the building up of our character in a serious spirit. I mean the belief that our temperament is our enemy and must be subdued—well-nigh eradicated, at all costs. I wonder whether this is one of human nature's many guesses, wide of the mark, at the meaning of the "Fall"?

How much hard fighting, often unnecessary, this belief has caused some of us, it would be hard to say. But what is this inevitable factor in our complex constitution, which comes into the world with us, and on leaving it, is strong in death, and which, so far as poor weak eyes can see, will throughout eternity differentiate you from me, and us from every other of God Almighty's intelligences? Surely it is the material (spiritual, intangible), therefore so difficult of treatment with which each individual is endowed, and out of which he, the master of his fate, has, craftsmanlike, to mould his character. Therefore is it not of the first importance that we study what manner of persons we are? And having learnt ourselves, having realized what this thing is which is the motive power of all our words and actions, respect the discovery, look upon this thing as a friend to be understood, to be yoked to our intelligent will power, and as friend and servant to be treated with that patience and consideration the true friend and faithful servant deserve; not closing our eyes to its weaknesses, not cloaking its offences, but extending to it the same patient forbearance, the same generous consideration which friend must extend to friend and master to servant in the days when the clouds hang low, and failure, not success, threatens our work.

Under this treatment, the merely emotional love becomes the perfect. We all know how this untrained emotional temperament acts in the home and in the school. The parent or the teacher has discovered a grave fault in the child; the culprit is convicted of the offence, is reasoned with, admonished, declares his or her regret, "I am sorry, I will never do it again," the kiss of forgiveness is given and the episode closed. Oh, how easy this is for us, how ineffective with the little offender! We have an emotional nature, untrained, unprepared for the strain imposed upon judge and prisoner at the bar, so the case is hurried over, the sun shines again, skies are blue overhead, and peace, for a time, reigns in nursery and schoolroom.

I do not suggest modes of treatment in the training of our children, but urge with what power I have at my command, the necessity for preparedness on the part of parents and teachers. Even if I had to enter upon the question I could give little help. The case cited, the first of a type which presented itself, would be treated in many different ways by the competent teacher, father or mother, notably by that supreme teacher, the mother. For it is merely to state a truism to say that no competent parent or teacher would ever dream of training a number of children on the same lines.

We have all heard that heart-breaking moan from the parents of children who have gone wrong while other children of their family have gone right. "And they all had the same training." As I said somewhere else the other day, I have spent thirty-five years in trying to help girls to build up their own character, but I have yet to find any two girls who need the same kind of help.

How, therefore, can we look for anything less than failure if we attempt to give all the children of one family or school the same training? In this, of course, the supreme difficulty lies. The soil is ready to our hand, the possibilities, lying dormant within it, are infinite, but only he who has trained his eye to detect those possibilities and his hand to till the soil will reap the golden harvest.

I said just now that the first lesson we learn in the school in which we sanctify ourselves for this work, is a right conception of love. I ought to have said that it is the last as surely as it is the first; for, if perfect love finds its final expression in clearness of insight, unswerving justice, infinite patience and undying hopefulness, what more is needed to make us ready for service? Clearness of insight, that faculty which, like the physical eye, grows as we cultivate it, and which, in its perfection, means almost instinct, certainly sympathy, and all those illuminating qualities bordering on revelation of the unseen and spiritual. What a power in the hands of the wise and loving! Unswerving justice, that sterner grace, the judgment-seat before which the wrong-doer stands self-convicted, the righteous self-acquitted, for has not the clear-eyed insight of the judge detected the wrong and comprehended the right? Infinite patience, that heavenly tact which is never weary in waiting long for results, never hurrying, but never forgetting, willing to let our character develop on its own lines, but ever watching the development as the husbandman waits long for the fruits of the earth with that whole-souled, large-hearted patience, which is Nature's; and, as an atmosphere enveloping this, undying hopefulness. Perhaps, after all, this is the quality which is the most difficult of cultivation; for here, temperament has such a share in the matter that in the sanguine, buoyant nature, hopefulness becomes almost a vice. It certainly leads, when not trained to service, to carelessness, if not to indifference. I am not sure whether the irrepressible optimist be not a more hopelessly irritating subject than the weary, heavy laden and hopelessly depressing pessimist. However that may be, hopefulness must be sane and well-balanced, the radiant sunshine overcast at times, but always there, easily recalled, never mistaken for anything else; a steady light on a dark night, the inherent strength of a soul that knows in whom it has believed. We love people, how often, not for their virtues but because of their eternal, reasonable hopefulness; just because they are happy and we love to bask in the warmth of their sunny nature. Such an attitude towards our life work is surely worth striving after. Albeit the lessons are hard, and the education is never complete, for there is no finishing school here, the learning goes on to the very end, until the shadows lengthen, and the sun shall go down behind the hill and the labourer's task be done, well done, because we leave behind us those for whose sake we have sanctified ourselves;—others who, tenderly remembering our labours, continue the line of those who live for the future of the race, for the building up of a wider and mightier empire than the world has yet conceived, wherein peace and goodwill are no mere Christmas greeting, but a divinely ordered condition of life. As I write of labour ended, the goal reached, and the blessed succession of workers, the words of Matthew Arnold as he stood one autumn evening before the grave of his father in Rugby Chapel occur to me. Nothing could put more effectively what I have been trying to say this afternoon.

Thomas Arnold, perfect father and model teacher, lies at rest, "His work well done, his crown well won," and the son sees it all.

"There thou dost lie, in the gloom
Of the autumn evening. But ah!
That word, gloom, to my mind
Brings thee back, in the light
Of thy radiant vigour, again;
In the gloom of November we pass'd
Days not dark at thy side;

Seasons impair'd not the ray
Of thy buoyant cheerfulness clear.
Such thou wast! and I stand
In the autumn evening, and think
Of bygone autumns with thee.

O strong soul, by what shore
Tarriest thou now? For that force,
Surely, has not been left vain!
Somewhere, surely, afar,
In the sounding labour-house vast
Of being, is practised that strength,
Zealous, beneficent, firm!

Yes! in some far shining sphere,
Conscious or not of the past,
Still thou performest the word
Of the Spirit in whom thou dost live—
Prompt, unwearied, as here!
Still thou upraisest with zeal
The humble good from the ground,
Sternly repressest the bad!

Still, like a trumpet, dost rouse
Those who with half-open eyes
Tread the border-land dim
'Twixt vice and virtue; reviv'st,
Succourest!—this was thy work,
This was thy life upon earth.
—Thou would'st not alone
Be saved, my father! alone
Conquer and come to thy goal,
Leaving the rest in the wild.

We were weary, and we
Fearful, and we in our march
Fain to drop down and to die.
Still thou turnedst, and still
Beckonedst the trembler, and still
Gavest the weary thy hand.
If, in the paths of the world,
Stones might have wounded thy feet,
Toil or dejection have tried
Thy spirit, of that we saw
Nothing—to us thou was still
Cheerful and helpful and firm!

Therefore to thee it was given
Many to save with thyself;
And, at the end of thy day,
Oh faithful shepherd! to come,
Bringing thy sheep in thy hand."

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, December 2008