The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 551-553
Robert Browning: English Men of Letters Series (Macmillan, 2/—net). Readers who take Browning seriously as a teacher whose lessons they set themselves to learn will be grateful for Mr. Chesterton's book. [Yes, this is G.K. Chesterton - the book is online here.—LNL] The amateur reader of Browning, who admires a poem and a passage here and there, but who criticizes from a height, will find this author irritating; his pages bristle with paradoxes, whimsicalities; and the reader who looks for a calm judicial attitude in the biographer, akin to his own, will avenge himself by saying, "young," "crude," and the like; but Mr. Chesterton puts himself at the feet of his author and looks up at "one greater than I." He gives us an appreciation. It is good to have written of Browning's "quiet life, which culminated in one great dramatic test of character"; and, again, to have written, "he displayed a very manly and unique capacity" of laughing at his own work without being ashamed of it. Again, "he was naturally magnanimous in the literal sense of that sublime word; his mind was so great that it rejoiced in the triumph of strangers." Speaking of the deception which Browning judged to be necessary in the matter of his marriage, the author's very just remark is, "it did not in the least degree break the rounded clearness of his loyalty to social custom." It is vexing to read such a sentence as, "These Browning poems do not merely treat of painting—they smell of paint"; and we doubt if Mr. Chesterton has fully caught the secret either of Browning's gaiety in play or of his passionate and comprehending love of painting and music. The greatness of the Renaissance men was an all-round greatness, and it was because he, too, was all-round in his sympathies and achievements that Browning knew how to interpret them. It seems to us a little far-fetched to compare the one great problem of Browning's life with that of Caponsacchi's; but it is quite true that, "this great moral of Browning, which may be called roughly the doctrine of the great hour," enters into many of the poems besides The Ring and the Book. We cannot follow Mr. Chesterton through his interwoven comments upon the life and work of Browning, but we are entirely grateful to him; many a book freer from faults is far less rich in suggestion, far less loyal in enthusiasm.
Mr. Chesterton says tacitly with M. Maeterlinck, "Je suis un lecteur assidu et un ardent admirateur de Browning qui est selon moi l'un des plus grande poètes que l'Angleterre ait sus. C'est pourquoi je le considere comme appartenant à la littèrature classique et universelle que tout le monde est censè connaitre." [Note: Academy and Literature. June 13]
Emerson's Essay on Beauty, edited by S. Cunnington (Norland Press, 1/6). The essay is printed in fine bold type, inviting to the eye. As for the notes and questions they are probably quite suitable and desirable, but our own feeling is that the reader, who is in a fit state of mental development to read a given modern author, should be left to deal with his author according to his own mind.
Adonais, edited by S. Cunnington (Norland Press), The above criticism applies even more strongly to the well-printed nicely got-up Adonais, by the same author and issued by the same publishers. Here Miss Cunnington gives us pages of parallel passages from other authors, containing or suggesting or amplifying every line of Keats' great poem. A suggestion of the same thought in Lycidas, In Memoriam, The Prelude, or what not, to which Keats gives another expression is delightful when it occurs spontaneously to the well-read reader; but, when the young student is set to get up this sort of thing, he is apt to get a meretricious and not delightful acquaintance with literature.
The Norland Readers, edited by E. Speight. The Norland Press is doing good work. The first of the Norland Readers is a delightful little book for picture, verse and tale. It is a gain for nursery as well as schoolroom children.
Tales from the Greek, by C. L. Thompson (Norland Press, 1/-). Miss Thomson has performed a difficult task very well, but we are not at all sure of the advisability of giving the tales of Eros and Psyche, Perseus and Andromeda and the rest, to young children in all grades of schools. It is a sort of rifling the future for children, who will come upon such tales by-and-by in some form which will be included in "literature," and we doubt if children of a lower grade are likely to get these Tales from the Greek into place as mental furniture.
The Celtic Wonder World, by C. L. Thomson (Norland Press, 1/-). Miss Thomson has succeeded in keeping the poetic feeling of these tales, and we think that they are more fit on the whole for English children, new to literature, than the Greek tales; and they should conduce to the dreamy wonder so blissful and profitable for children.
Little German Folk, by M. Schramm (Norland Pres, 2/-). This is a really capital little book. Every page is occupied with some little incident of child life in idiomatic German, by a German, and at the head of each page is a charming picture which catches the quaintness of early German art. What is better—the pictures really illustrate the letterpress, so as to enable the teacher to describe them from the German text.
The Religious Instruction of Children at Home, by E. Barker (Wells, Gardner, Darton, 1/-). We notice this little book with hearty pleasure. In the first place it treats with great seriousness the mother's function of giving religious instruction to her children, and in the next it recognises that she must instruct out of full and deliberately gathered knowledge. Mrs. Barker gives us five lists of books for the instruction of children of various ages, some to be used by the mother, others for use in teaching the children. The author has been at the pains to have the titles of books and their prices certified by the publishers, a real kindness to her readers. We agree with Mrs. Barker that "it is impossible to carry on such instruction throughly without good assistance." She adds, "in choosing, the 'falsehood of extremes' has ever been in my mind." Again, "I have tried to keep the choice amongst books which are readable and first rate." The author's capital plan in each group is to begin with a few notes as to the use of the books, then follows the list, and then a descriptive notice of each book in the list. We are glad to see Edersheim's The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah given as the authority for the life of our Lord, and The Holy Gospels (illustrated) S.P.C.K., as a picture-book.
History of Western Europe, by J. Harvey Robinson (Ginn & Co., 7/6). Professor Harvey Robinson appears to us to have treated what he calls "so vast a theme" with singular judgment and sincerity. This is no mere mass of facts, but a serious and thoughtful attempt "to state matters truly and clearly, also to bring the narrative into harmony with the most recent conceptions of the relative importance of past events and institutions." The author saves space by omitting persons and events of secondary importance, and traditional anecdotes, and this space he gives to "institutions under which Europe has lived for centuries—above all, the Church," and "the life and work of a few men of indubitably first-rate importance in the various fields of human endeavour—Gregory the Great, Charlemagne, Abelard, S. Francis, Petrarch, Luther, Erasmus, Voltaire, Napoleon, Bismarck." The second chapter treats of Western Europe before the Barbarian invasion—the last, of Europe of to-day. We are grateful to Mr. Robinson for a book which should do much to introduce European History into the advanced classes of our schools. We know of nothing which covers the same ground in so compact a volume, and with such fairness and simplicity. There are some thirty-six capital historical maps, and a number of other interesting illustrations. We have noticed one or two Americanisms in spelling, but none in style.
The Sciences: a Reading Book for Children, by E.S. Holden (Ginn and Co., 2/6). Again America comes to the fore with a school-book after our own heart. The Sciences is a forbidding title, but since the era of Joyce's scientific dialogues, we have met with nothing on the same lines which makes so fit an approach to the sensible and intelligent mind of a child. This is what we call a "first-hand" book. The knowledge has of course all been acquired; but then it has been assimilated, and Mr. Holden writes freely out of his own knowledge both of his subject-matter and of his readers. The book has been thrown into the form of conversations between children—simple conversations, without padding. About 300 topics are treated of: Sand-dunes, Back-ice, Herculaneum, Dredging, Hurricanes, Echoes, the Prism, the Diving Bell, the Milky-way and—shall we say, everything else? But the amazing skill of the author is shown in the fact that there is nothing scrappy and nothing hurried in the treatment of any topic, but each falls naturally and easily under the head of some principle which it elucidates. Many simple experiments are included, which the author insists shall be performed by the children themselves. We wish we could quote the whole of the singularly wise preface a vade mecum to teachers—but we must content ourselves with a few words: "All natural phenomena are orderly; they are governed by law; they are not magical. They are comprehended by someone; why not by the child himself? It is not possible to explain every detail of a locomotive to a young pupil, but it is perfectly practicable to explain its principles so that this machine, like others, becomes a mere special case of certain well understood general laws. The general plan of the book is to awaken the imagination; to convey useful knowledge; to open the doors towards wisdom. Its special aim is to stimulate observation and to excite a living and lasting interest in the world that lies about us."
Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, November 2008
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