The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Inspiration Gained from the Use of Many Books

by Mrs. Fred Reynolds
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 890-893

At 5 p.m. (Lady Campbell in the chair), Mrs. Franklin gave a résumé of Miss Mason's pamphlet dealing with Education by Books.

The discussion was opened by Mrs. Fred Reynolds' paper on The Inspiration Gained from the Use of Many Books.

"Why must we learn to read?"

It was a childish question asked in impatience and ignorance, but it set the hearer thinking.

Later on the answer was formulated somewhat after this fashion. "That our ears many be open to that which wise men have uttered. That we may hold converse with greater minds than ours."

Who does not know the thrill of mental exhilaration that follows a conversation with those intellectually our superiors? How every faculty has been quickened, how our mind has stood tense, alert, straining to reach the higher level of their understanding. It is the most stimulating of all mental exercises, yet comes to many of us so seldom.

But there is one form of converse with great minds which is open to all of us; although we cannot, alas, speak to them, we can listen; and they have much to tell.

It has particularly struck me in reading the lives of great men and women, how often in the description of their early years one of two things is stated. Either he, or she, born to people of intellectual surroundings, had the unequalled privilege of listening as a child, whilst great thinkers, poets, statesmen, or divines conversed of subjects supposed to be far above the little listening ears, or the child (not infrequently an only one) had the run of some quiet library where the most varied diet, histories, poems, romances, voyages, biographies of saints and sinners, was devoured and a great part of it digested by the little explorer.

It does not follow that every child turned loose in a library will necessarily become a great man, the books may have nothing to say to him, he may even be found converting them into forts and bridges on the floor. Nor would every child draw future mental powers from the discourse of wise men; he might occupy himself unconcernedly with the antics of a kitten, or fall asleep and wander through the land of dreams into a world all his own.

But given the right child, there is no education which equals the listening to a living voice, that "sound of music that is born of human breath," and next to this comes the voice long dead that speaks again from the living page.

The Child must have Books.

There was a time long years ago, when the words "the child must have food" conveyed no special meaning; food it must certainly have of a sort to satisfy its hunger; but anything refused-even scorned by its elders, was considered good enough for the child so long as it was food. Next came the age of abstention and simplicity. The child began to be catered for apart, but his food was now furnished with the strictest economy, the most wearying monotony, and, of intention, he did not always have enough. All that is long since changed, the child's bodily food must now be of the best, not necessarily elaborate nor desirably rich-but of the best.

The child's mental dietary has followed on somewhat similar lines, but in a retarded fashion.

First came the age of no real provision for childish needs; a rough-and-ready time when some picked up intellectual plums, and others went without even literary crusts. This was followed by the era of bread-and-milk literature; the dying cripples, and terrible "good" boys and girls, and cold has of incorrect "scientific" facts, and "historic" inaccuracies served out by pompous uncles and fathers to priggish Harrys and Emmas.

From this period we have not long emerged into the knowledge of the fact that the best literature is not too good nor great for the youngest learner.

The Child must have of the best.

Coleridge remarks somewhere that "wherever you find a sentence musically worded of true rhythm and melody in the words, there is something deep and good in the meaning too. For body and soul, word and idea, go strangely together here, as everywhere." For this reason, and because it is waste of time for him to read anything inferior.

The Child's Books must be well written.

And because the pictured idea appeals more strongly to a developing intelligence than the written one (it must not be forgotten that primæval man drew pictures first and wrote afterwards) his books must be illustrated. And because you cannot educate one side of a child's nature at once ignoring all others, for the right development of his artistic nature.

The Child's Books must be well illustrated.

The child then must have books: they must be well written and well illustrated. But the child must first learn to read? Not necessarily.

In fact, rather unconventional though it may appear, it is the opinion of many not unwise people that it is all the better in the child's early years if he is unable to read his books.

Let him turn with reverence their pages, and gaze wonderingly at their pictures, then "tell me what it says," he will demand, and the dearly-loved, altogether wonderful "grown-up," by preference his mother (she should if possible allow none to rob her of this sacred privilege), will make alive for him the written page, by the very inflections of her voice will help him to possess himself of its wonders. But the young mind as well as the young body requires varied diet.

The Child must have many Books.

Dr. Arnold says, "Whether the amount (of reading) be large or small, let it be varied in its kind and widely varied. If I have a confident opinion in any one point connected with the improvement of the human mind, it is on this."

This applies especially to the latter years when the child has learned to read, and passed from the nursery to the schoolroom. Does anyone here, I wonder, remember the sickening sense of rebellion with which the news was received that some hated history, geography, or grammar book-hated for the long years of its sameness and dead monotony—finished at last, shut to with a bang—was to be commenced all over again from the beginning.

Why was it? I wondered then and I wonder still. Books were not dear in those days, money was not spared in other ways; sashes were frequently renewed and so were dainty frocks—but a school book never.

Thoughtful men and women have altered this and mainly through the instrumentality of the Parents' Review School a new era has opened for our children.

The hated text-books of our youth with their "dry-as-dust" information grudgingly compiled from other larger text-books equally as dry as they, are becoming things of the past.

We want to make knowledge live for our children. So we get the latest books of travel, and they follow the adventures of real living men (we point out their portraits in the illustrated papers), not fabled Crusoes, and the children trace their journeyings on the map. We read the biographies of great men of our own and other countries; we look up the history of their times, we find out their geographical surroundings, and we marvel sometimes at the power shown in the children's remarks, their grasp of character, their clear insight into cause and effect.

Then through a close acquaintance with the standard works of our great novelists we give them an idea of the size of the world of men that lies all around them, and in contrast how small and insignificant a thing is their own home and its surroundings. We bring forward translations of foreign authors that they may make friends with men of other lands, and by-and-by, as their knowledge of language increases, they will meet old acquaintances in the original.

All the while, without knowing it, they are learning their own language, and learning it in all its complex purity and inherited greatness far better than at the leaden feet of dull grammarians. And last of all we give them poetry which gives wings to their imagination, and bids it fly heavenward.

I have purposely said nothing here concerning religious books. We have all The Book, and every true mother will know how to use it aright.

In conclusion I think Jean Paul Richter's beautiful warning concerning our daughters may be applied to all our children. "Take care through religion and poetry to keep their heads open to heaven; press the earth closely round the food-conveying roots of the plant, but let none fall into its blossom."

Miss E. C. Allen then read her paper on The Use of Narration in the "Parents' Review" School.

Proofread by Stephanie H. 2008