Madam How and Lady Why

Year 4 Study Guide

by Katie Barr

Scientists, if they are doing their jobs, are constantly refining their theories. As a result, science books tend to go out-of-date fairly quickly. Charles Kingsley's book of natural history,Madam How and Lady Why, is kind of an exception in my opinion. Some of his geological ideas are now obsolete, but his philosophy of science still provides invaluable insight. I have been fascinated with Madam How and Lady Why since my oldest daughter and I first read it six years ago--I often find myself thinking about Kingsley's ideas as I read the news and other books on scientific topics.

I wanted to read the book with my younger kids this year, but also wanted to avoid having to wade through out-of-date portions with them. I went through the book making notes and finding supplementary information online. These notes are the result. I used them to inform myself so I could answer questions the kids might have. I also used some of the links to help the kids understand what we know today about earthquakes, volcanoes, etc. All links were valid as of May 2011. If you discover a broken link, please email me at My thanks to Cindy Gould and AmblesideOnline ( for providing some links.

(Page numbers at the beginning of a bullet point indicate pages in MHLW)

Ch. 1: The Glen

-- Setting: Winter on a moor east of London in England (Windsor-to-Aldershot-to-Hartford-Bridge-Flats-- see p. 17-- is east of London according to Google Maps).

-- Mountains and hills of England with topographical map (our interest is just inside Area 12, North Downs, in the county of Surrey):

-- P. 5-6 The difference between How and Why. Madam How is at work making and remaking natural things. Kingsley has personified the laws of nature. In MHLW, he attributes everything that is done in nature to Madam How, a fairy he calls "The Housekeeper of the Whole Universe". Madam How is employed by another fairy, Lady Why, who represents Wisdom. Both are under the authority of another Master, whom we can assume is God.

-- P. 6 Using his fairy terms, Kingsley discusses the Butterfly Effect--an idea put forth in Chaos Theory that "small differences in the initial conditions of a dynamic system may produce large variations in the long-term behavior of the system." (Wikipedia)

-- P. 6 Everything eventually reduces to its elements, which Madam How uses to make something else.

Glen: a narrow and deep mountain valley (Free Online Dictionary) Glens are similar to what we call canyons here in the Western United States.

-- P. 14 He talks about water erosion.

-- P. 17 Heath, fern

-- P. 18-19 Bournemouth Chines: Bournemouth is on the south coast of England; a chine is "a steep-sided river valley where the river flows through coastal cliffs to the sea." (Wikipedia)

-- A beautiful picture of a chine on the Isle of Wight, southeast of Bournemouth:

-- A great photo of a sandstone cliff in Bournemouth:

-- P. 20 brief allusion to the Ice Age

-- A glen in Scotland that was formed by a glacier:

-- The same glen in winter:

-- Another glen with interesting conical mounds and a towering tableland:

-- A webpage on an area of glens in the UK:

-- P. 22 Kingsley recommends we figure out the answers to our questions with experimentation and observation.

-- P. 22 He mentions Madam How "lifting Hartford Bridge Flats", but does not say how it was done. He will address this later.

-- P. 23 He suggests an experiment: start with a flat area of clay, top it with a layer of sand, then 'rain' on it with a watering can, and see what forms. Then try different soils, or put the clay on top of the sand.

-- Clay, chalk, limestone, slate--these are all different kinds of rock, or soil. Water erodes these as well.

-- P. 25 ". . . such a chasm. . ." a set of pictures of Avon Gorge in Bristol with the River Avon running through it):

-- P. 25 The Matterhorn, Weisshorn, Pic du Midi (pics easily found online)

Ch. 2: Earthquakes

-- P. 33 MHLW was published in 1869. This chapter begins with a discussion of the 1868 earthquake in Arica, Peru. When I read this with my kids, we talked about the 2011 Haiti earthquake as well as the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California. My husband and other relatives personally experienced the Loma Prieta earthquake.

-- 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake:

-- Wikipedia article:

-- Note: He goes into quite a bit of speculation about why--not how--the earthquake might have happened. I think it is a bit excessive, so I skipped some of it when reading with the kids. Kingsley's argument is that people that live in earthquake-prone areas really ought to protect themselves, or else move. "The wise man foresees the danger and hides himself," Proverbs 22:3, 27:12. I agree that this is wise, but it is not always possible.

-- P. 37 The simplest explanation is usually the correct one (an idea popularly known as Occam's Razor).

-- P. 38 He speculates on the likeliest explanation for earthquakes. Here are some links with modern explanations of earthquakes. Also, be sure to read the brief history of seismology to 1910 (first link). It explains different theories people used to believe. The historic context makes Kingsley's speculation a bit more clear:

-- An explanation of earthquakes in Yellowstone (scroll down to "Earthquakes"):

-- Skip p. 38-40 and begin again near the top of p. 42, ". . . as I had come up the valley. . ."

-- Exploring His Earth by Ann Voskamp (Ch. 7-9) deals with the earth's structure, earthquakes, and plate tectonics.

-- P. 46 Tsunamis discussed.

-- P. 52 Fen: low, flat, swampy land (we see something similar just off the highway in our neighborhood)

-- A picture of a fen:

-- P. 52 Bog: an area having a wet, spongy, acidic substrate composed chiefly of sphagnum moss and peat

-- Dersingham Bog:

-- Sunken forest:

-- Pholas: a bivalve mussel (The Free Dictionary)

-- P. 53 Change in the Earth is inevitable

-- Science fair idea:

Ch. 3: Volcanoes

-- Exploring His Earth by Ann Voskamp (P. 123-133) deals with volcanoes (and earthquakes).

-- P. 54-55 is more admonition to people who live near volcanoes and earthquake activity

-- Relationships between volcanoes and earthquakes:

-- P. 55 Sandwich Islands: an old name for the Hawaiian Islands

-- P. 55 Pele's Hair: Thin strands of volcanic glass drawn out from molten lava:

-- Charlotte Yonge tells the story of Kapiolani defying the volcano in A Book of Golden Deeds:

-- Friendly Islands: an old name for the Kingdom of Tonga

-- Fortunate Islands: legendary islands believed by the Greeks to be the gateway to Paradise.

-- P. 56 You can use the following map showing earth's plates and earthquake/volcano activity (along with an atlas) to locate regions listed on p. 56. The map will also help you identify areas of activity in the U.S.:

-- P. 57-59 Pacific Ring of Fire traced (he begins in the Bay of Bengal, which is outside the Ring, but quickly gets to Java and the Philippines and traces most of the rest of it.)

-- Map of Ring of Fire: Video: Ring of Fire

-- P. 61-66 This is my very favorite part of the chapter--Kingsley's description of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

-- P. 68-77 Definitions of cone, crater; and a description of an eruption

-- Videos of 2010 Icelandic eruption:

-- Volcanoes:

-- National Geographic lesson plan for Gr. 3-5 on earthquakes and volcanoes (plate tectonics):

Chapter 4: The Transformations of a Grain of Soil

-- P. 78 In 1529 in Mexico, the conquistador Cortes ordered one of his men, Montano, to lead a very dangerous expedition to retrieve 60 lbs of sulphur from Popocatepetl (Popo's Crater), which was used as gunpowder:

-- P. 79-80 The difference between soul/spirit and physical body

-- P. 81-83 Description of lava flow

-- Video of Kilauea (Hawaii) erupting:

-- Whinstone: any various hard, dark-colored rocks, esp. basalt and chert (Free Online Dictionary)

-- Slag: vitreous (glass-like) residue left by the smelting (melting or fusing) of metallic ore (Free Online Dictionary)

-- Cinder: a burnt or partially burnt substance that cannot be reduced to ashes but is incapable of further combustion (Free Online Dictionary)

-- Fascinating photo essay of volcanism and other geologic phenomena in Hawaii:

-- P. 85-96 Kingsley explains the rock cycle

-- Madeira: an island near Portugal

-- Lothians of Scotland: Lothian is a region in Scotland which includes Edinburgh and Dunbar (Wikipedia)

-- Rock cycle:

-- Advantages/fertile soil:

-- Advantages/mineral resources:

-- Advantages/geothermal energy:

-- Potash: a potassium compound often used in agriculture, being an ingredient in fertilizers (

-- Magnesia: also called periclase; magnesium oxide (

-- Silicates: types of rock that consist predominantly of silicon/oxygen; most of the Earth's mantle and crust are made up of silicate rocks

-- Carbonic acid gas: carbon dioxide gas (absorbed from the air by plants in photosynthesis) (

-- P. 88 Eruption of Skaptar Jokull in 1783 (and some other stories of volcanoes affecting the weather):

-- West India Islands: West Indies, a group of islands just to the east of South/Central America

-- Giant's Causeway/Fingal's Cave: Two corresponding areas of unique lava formations in Ireland and the Hebrides (near Scotland); they figure in legends about Finn McCool (Fionn Mac Cumhaill)'s_Cave's_Causeway

-- An example of a trap dyke in the Adirondacks of upstate New York:

-- Chalk:

-- An old geological map of the British Isles (volcanic--igneous--rock is labeled 'E' for "eruptive rocks" and is colored dark red):

-- Some very cool pictures of rock formations in the South of England (Wessex), and more geological maps of the British Isles and Europe:

-- Since we live in Texas, a geological map of our state (igneous rock shown in pink):

-- Virtual geology field trips:

-- Geological structures and landforms in Dallas County:

-- Madam How's ice plough: glaciers

-- Madam How's gentle spade: rain

Chapter 5: The Ice-Plough

I have several 'favorites' within Charles Kingsley's book, and The Ice-Plough is one of them. Until I read it, I incoherently viewed glaciers as nebulous chunks of ice somehow related to mountains.

Just as rain is Madam How's gentle spade, glaciers are her ice-ploughs. Great imagery. :)

-- Pictures of and information about limestone:

-- Scrapes on rock (also called striations) caused by glacial activity:

-- Rosenlaui Glacier in Switzerland:

-- P. 99 In 1891(?), the Rosenlaui Glacier melted more than it had done in many years and revealed Mr. Kingsley's piece of scraped limestone.

-- Please note that it is now illegal to remove stones or other artifacts from many nature areas worldwide, although it was not in Mr. Kingsley's time.

-- The rocks in Snowdon, Wales (Snowdonia Rocks) and lots of educational resources:

-- Picture of Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand:

-- Arial view of the same glacier:

-- More information than you ever wanted to know about glaciers:

-- P. 100 Uniformitarianism: Mr. Kingsley accepted the Theory of Evolution. Here he declares his uniformitarian position, "And so I treasure this, as a sign that Madam How's ways do not change nor her laws become broken; that, as that great philosopher Sir Charles Lyell will tell you, when you read his books, Madam How is making and unmaking the surface of the earth now, by exactly the same means as she was making and unmaking ages and ages since..." Uniformitarians believe that 'the present is the key to the past,' or that all geological changes in the past occurred as the result of the same natural laws and processes that change the Earth's face today. This is where "millions of years" comes from in the Theory of Evolution.

-- FYI: Young-Earth creation scientists generally take the position of Catastrophism, the idea that Earth's appearance is sometimes altered by sudden, violent, possibly worldwide events (ie., Noah's flood). Some catastrophists do not believe that the present is necessarily the key to the past, but that past catastrophic events may even have changed the geological and climactic 'habits' of the Earth, which would explain why the geologic column is jumbled in some areas.

-- Sir Charles Lyell: the foremost geologist in Kingsley's time. Lyell's book, Principles of Geology, popularized the uniformitarian viewpoint.

-- Grinding whole mountains into plains (a glacial plain in Iceland):,_Iceland.jpg

-- The Crimean Winter (pages 100-102): I think he is talking about a Crimea-like winter IN England. (Crimea is a republic near Ukraine on the Black Sea.) 1837-38 was a very severe winter for the British Isles, with many days of below-zero temperatures. The Thames River froze over.

-- A painting of the frozen Thames from the 1600s. This is not the same freeze Kingsley is talking about, but it is the same river:

-- There was a cool weather period in Europe, known as the Little Ice Age, from the 1300s to the late 1800s/early 1900s. Kingsley doesn't speak of this, but it seems relevant to me:

-- A portion of Perito Merino Glacier falls in Argentina

-- Sounds aboard an ice-breaker ship:

-- Frost and Fire by John Francis Campbell, available on Google Books:

-- The weight of ice and snow can damage trees:

-- Worst snowstorms in U.S. history. Be sure to scroll down and look at the picture of the Knickerbocker Snowstorm, in which a movie theater roof collapsed under the weight of 20 inches of snow:

-- Esquimaux in Arctic regions: the Yupik, Inuit and Aleutian peoples, also known as Eskimos, traditionally live in Siberia, Alaska, North Canada and Greenland. (scroll for pictures)

-- P. 104 definition of glacier: ". . . a river of ice, fed by a lake of snow. The lake from which it springs is the eternal snow-field which stretches for miles and miles along the mountain tops, fed continually by fresh snow-storms falling from the sky. That snow slides off into the valleys hour by hour, and as it rushes down is ground and pounded, and thawed and frozen again into a sticky paste of ice, which flows slowly but surely till it reaches the warm valley at the mountain foot, and there melts bit by bit."

-- moraine:

-- glacial river carrying silt (rock flour) into a lake:

-- Ullswater:

-- Windermere:

-- A discussion of the Ice Age at Answers in Genesis, which also contains some good pictures and diagrams of ice flow:

Chapter 6: The True Fairy-Tale

-- Lapland: a region in northern Finland and Sweden. The indigenous people of this area are known today as the Sami.

-- P. 121 ". . . at the mouth of the Lena and other Siberian rivers. . ." This very detailed PDF gives historical and geographical information on the River Lena. I had never heard of this river before MHLW, but it is one of Asia's major waterways, located in the Russian Federation. Its delta system is the largest in the world.

-- P. 121 Kingsley discusses various land bridges that existed before the Ice Age, as well as now-extinct animals that crossed into the northern hemisphere. The Ice Age idea has always been rather hazy to me, so I like to refer back to Answers in Genesis. This web page also deals with the propagation and extinction of woolly mammoths:

-- P. 122 ". . . the land was sinking . . ." This statement and its opposite is asserted several times in the book--the land was rising, the land was sinking. What does Kingsley mean? In the chapter on volcanoes, the land rises because of the addition of volcanic matter. Where earthquakes are concerned, tectonic shifts cause rising and sinking. This is called "uplift" and "subsidence". In this chapter, could he mean the press of ice sheets on land caused it to sink? When the ice sheets melted, perhaps there was a gradual release of the land. Also, erosion would cause sinking as well as rising because of gravel and sand redistribution. Also, rising sea levels (such as in a global warming or a global flood) would cause an illusion of sinking land. Hmm. There is so much to consider when pondering the causes of geological change. I could not find satisfying links for this question, but here are a couple of somewhat unsatisfying ones.

-- A global warming article from 2009:

-- ". . . mountains and valleys during the Flood were not the same height as they are today." -Answers in Genesis

-- P. 122 "And it grew wondrous cold. . ." poetry from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

-- P. 124 The arrival of man in England, France and Germany. "Perhaps they came into that icy land for fear of stronger and cleverer people than themselves; for we have no proof, my child, none at all, that they were the first men that trod this earth."

-- P. 125 Kingsley wonders at the difference between the wit of man and the wit of apes. I love that part.

-- Interesting archeological find (article published June 2011) at an ongoing dig site indicates very early human occupation of the Caucasus Mountains, which are between Europe and Asia. This mountain range is the location of Mount Ararat.

-- Kent's Hole is in Torquay, Devonshire (SW England)

-- brecchia: rock composed of fine fragments embedded in sand or clay (Merriam-Webster)

-- Cave etchings:

P. 128 ". . . [prehistoric man] had the same wonderful and mysterious human nature as you. . ."

-- P. 129 Kingsley puts forth his "fairy" theory, that the "little people" were actual people smaller and weaker than the Picts and Scots and Gauls, and were driven underground.

-- The story of Corineus and Gogmagog, as told by John Milton:

-- P. 131 Neanderthal Man: The Neanderthal is a valley in Germany between Dusseldorf and Eberfeld. The famous Neanderthal Man, a prehistoric hominid skeleton, was found there. There are several theories regarding Neanderthals, some of which belie Kingsley's description! Kingsley published MHLW in 1869. Neanderthal Man was discovered in the 1850s:

-- P. 132 "Truth is stranger than fiction."

-- P. 134 "That you might wonder all your life long, God put you into this wondrous world." In the final pages of the chapter, Kingsley encourages the young reader to marvel at the true stories of nature-- they seem like fairy tales, but are much deeper and stranger than stories devised by man. I am willing to wade through the dated science in this book for passages like this one-- passages that give us a beautiful way of thinking--a philosophy--of science.

Ch. 7: The Chalk-Carts

(You may want to review The Transformation of a Grain of Soil before reading this chapter. I needed to do that for my own frazzled brain in order to understand some of what he says about chalk.)

-- Interesting website on chalk in the UK:

-- P. 138 The "ignoble army of noodles, who think nothing interesting or important but dinners, and balls, and races, and backbiting their neighbors . . ." Hee hee.

-- The Odiham Chalk Pits are in Hampshire, Southeast England, UK

-- copse: a small group of trees

-- grubbed: removed by digging

-- P. 139 "Learn from the thing that lies nearest you."

-- P. 141 Empirical knowledge: ". . . his knowledge is sound and useful because it comes from long experience." The farmer's knowledge came from careful observation.

-- Chalk, a type of limestone, "sweetens" soil, or raises its pH, making it less acidic. (eHow)

-- A great picture of the chalk grasslands in South England:,_Sussex,_UK.jpg

-- P. 142 The "silver Itchen" is a chalk stream. Chalk streams have unusual characteristics:

-- P. 145 Kingsley compares the chalk stream to the chalk-cart. They both carry chalk, but how differently they do it.

-- marl: lime-rich mud (Wikipedia). Here is a photo:

-- P. 146 A possible transformation: chalk into marl into coral into limestone into marble.

-- Whernside is in Yorkshire, Northern England

-- A swallow-hole is also known as a sink-hole:

-- P. 151 Cave formation; stalactites and stalagmites

-- The dropping-well at Knaresborough, now known as the Petrifying Well:

-- Proteus: cave salamander or olm

-- P. 153 The vanishing lake:

-- Mammoth Cave in Kentucky:"

-- P. 153-154 Cave adaptation: partial or total blindness, and, in the case of the ducks, lack of feathers. Interesting to note that the ducks quickly re-adjusted to life in the upper world--growing feathers and regaining their eyesight.

-- The cave at Caripe, Venezuela:

-- Guacharos, or Oilbirds:

-- P. 157 "It will not do for us (at least if we mean to be scientific men) to use terms without defining them."

Ch. 8: Madam How's Two Grandsons

This is my absolute favorite part of Madam How and Lady Why. Kingsley's ideas regarding analysis and synthesis changed the way I look at science. If you are only going to read one chapter in the book, this is it. [Editor's Note: Ch 8 is covered in Year 5, which is included in Anne White's study guide.]

AmblesideOnline's free Charlotte Mason homeschool curriculum prepares children for a life of rich relationships with God, humanity, and the natural world.
Share AO with your group or homeschool fair! Download our printable brochure