Monday, December 26, 2016

A Peek at Charlotte Mason's Early Life

A Peek at Charlotte Mason's Early Life

January 1st is Miss Charlotte Mason’s birthday (1842-1923). 

Between holiday cooking and company around our table, I nipped up to the chilly attic. This is where I managed to finish polishing a piece of writing for you, in time for the new year.     
The 1983 film "Jane Eyre" is one I like. 
At the mention of a penniless orphan-turned-governess in England’s 19th century, many think of Jane Eyre, the fictional heroine of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, a novel read and loved by successive generations.
Painting by Jules Trayer
I also think of a real-life penniless orphan-turned-teacher, a real-life heroine of mine. She was born near the time of the publication of Jane Eyre. Her life’s work greatly influenced and guided the new way thousands of parents and teachers educated their children in England. About 100 years later her distinctive philosophy of education found its way to America. Its happy revival has been guiding thousands of parents with this new way again. You might be one of these parents.

Miss Charlotte Mason says of herself that she was “rather lonely as a child.” In the book, The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondeley, there is no mention of neighborhood play with the urchins in the streets where the little girl Charlotte grew up. She had no brothers or sisters. Her mother and father hadn’t any either. Nor is there mention of grandparents. Without brothers, sisters and grandparents, without any cousins, aunts and uncles, to round out the family and make a merry party on holidays, her parents did an unusual thing for those days – they spent time with Charlotte. During an era when children were told to sit still, sit quiet, or go play, her parents were her companions.
Painting by George Calusen, a  resemblance to C.M.?
They read to her. Toys were not plentiful. In fact, she says, “I do not recollect any toys.” Mr. and Mrs. Mason had their sober priorities straight. Benjamin Franklin’s motto, “Wear the old coat, buy the new book” enters my mind. Because, of the few household things that could be counted were a handful of precious books.

Miss Mason remembered being a girl of 11 sitting near the fireside, watching and listening to her mother read aloud. She sat clasping her knees and listening as she had never listened since.*1

If, like me, you’ve read Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, North and South or have seen the British film, you’ve been introduced to the noise, grim, stench, and concrete of England’s northern industrial cities. Such were the cities of Charlotte Mason’s girlhood. In Liverpool where she grew up, the streets were narrow. The row-houses were cramped and narrow, too, fronted by pavement. The city was congested with the people who worked in the factories.

North & South
Charlotte’s father was a merchant and business-owner in Liverpool. He was proud of his contribution to free enterprise. But the city environment was hard on Mrs. Mason’s delicate health. (City-life was also a hardship of Margaret Hale’s mother in North and South.) Therefore, with her daughter Charlotte, Mrs. Mason spent much time living near the Isle of Man. Here Charlotte remembers wading in the waves of the seashore.
Painting by Walter Bonner Gash

A terrible thing happened in the years of 1848 and 49. A business crash left many of the Liverpool merchants with large financial losses. (A similar financial collapse, common of the times, is described in North and South.) By Charlotte’s 8th birthday the Masons, now very poor, were living in small furnished lodgings.*2

Margaret Hale, heroine of North & South

At this time Charlotte was home educated. Her father took some subjects, her mother others. They were glad to keep busy this way. Across the street from their narrow row-house was a curiously big house. It was set back behind a stone wall and shaded by large trees. I can imagine young Charlotte doing lessons in their front parlor in the light of its one window that overlooked the street. (I’ve been inside London’s Victorian row-houses). 

One day, perhaps through that parlor window, Charlotte and her mother caught a glimpse of a “tall lady with a dark shawl thrown scarfwise across her shoulders, a bonnet whose black strings floated, and a whole train of tiny children holding on to her skirts and following her.”*3 This lady was emerging from the big house’s shady footpath. Mrs. Mason found out through a friend that this lady was the mistress of a girl’s school nearby. It wasn’t long before Charlotte’s first thoughts of her vocation entered her mind. She got to know this mistress and took part in classes by aiding her in the girl’s school.

Dean found this photograph of a 19th century girl's school. 

The girls had professional fathers. Charlotte couldn’t help notice that they wore wrist watches and some even wore rings!

It was in this classroom that Charlotte was first struck with the misery of the schoolbook. The class was reading a textbook of English history. As Charlotte was reading Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley at home, the contrast of the two histories must have been blaring. Students ought to have well-written books, she thought. What a pity that England was a land of literary genius but so little good writing ever reached the classroom. The necessity for well-written books, books not combed and condensed by a textbook committee - and factual to the extent of leaving out the color of literary detail - stayed to the forefront of Miss Mason’s mind and heart all her life. She called these well-written books, living books because they are alive with the ideas. Their literary language sumptuously pads the facts. This writing contributes to (not squelches) a student’s sense of wonder and delight.

The strain of poverty on the families of the Liverpool merchants took its toll on the well-being of Charlotte’s beautiful mother. In 1858 she died. Mr. Mason couldn’t bear it. Soon after, he died, possibly of a broken heart. At age 16 Charlotte was alone in the world. Without relatives and penniless, a friend of the family took her in. It was a frightening and depressing time. 

One thought stayed on Charlotte’s mind. Teaching was the thing to do.*4
Painting by James Charles
At age 18 (I will now refer to her as Miss Mason) she began her life work by becoming a student of the only teacher’s training college in England. In this London college, 1860 was a year of making friends. One friend remembered Miss Mason’s “earnest striving of the soul for light”.   

It might have been her lack of finances, but for her second year of study the college found a teaching post in Sussex for Miss Mason. Thus, she worked and continued her education by distance-learning. At age 19 Charlotte Mason was looked up to as headmistress by the little children of this village school. The school had no connection with the government. It was run by the Anglican church. Miss Mason kept in touch with her friends through letters during her working experience. She wrote to one friend how parents must be the happiest of people “to have God’s children lent to them . . . I love my children dearly.” In another letter she writes of her resolutions, “I mean to be so firm, so kind, so loving, so altogether admirable”.*5

The Colonial Training College of London awarded her a Certificate in 1863. Miss Mason kept a log book of her experiences at the Davison School (1861-73). At times the children were “disorderly”. Her aspirations for the building of a new school for girls was realized. It was much work but she was pleased at the girls’ interests in their lessons.

Miss Mason is said to have had a bad heart, although she carried on without a precise diagnosis. At the insistence that she must rest after an illness she spent time in London staying with a friend she made during her year at the teacher’s training college, observing this married friend’s curious children. Then she stayed with another married college friend in Ambleside. She became fond of taking long walks in the country. It was here, at her friend’s house (used both as a home and day school) that Miss Mason “first became familiar with the countryside she so deeply loved for the rest of her life”. One of the few photographs we have of Miss Mason was taken during this stay in Ambleside. It is black and white so I’ll mention that her friend said “her hair was of the darkest shade of brown. . . Her eyes were blue-grey, her height five feet four inches.” *6 My son Nigel did the meticulous job of tinting the old photograph to honor my request. (copyright on colorization)

During the years of being a classroom teacher Miss Mason explored books of philosophy and education. Why so much digging? She says, “I thought with the enthusiasm of a young teacher that education should regenerate the world”.*7 I can understand how she, being a Christian, could hold this high ideal. Consequently, with a close observation of children and her reading, she was struck with the realization that just as the body craves food so does the mind have its appetite to know. She asked herself. Is it necessary that we teach so many things to children? It was the children, with their “insatiable curiosity”*8 that showed her that this world is happily “so full of a number of things”*9 that it seems barely enough to satisfy a growing child who hasn’t become lethargic by boredom.  

And yet she noted that what is presented to a child will only feed his mind sufficiently to become knowledge when the child’s mind has “acted upon” it. Rather than "cram" he must ruminate, digest it, and make it his own.*10 Later, it was her insistence on the method of narration that would set the wheels of child’s mind in motion.
With Miss Mason’s study, experience, and spirit of dedication, came her next appointment. She was lecturer at a new teacher’s training college. Then, she became vice-principal of Bishop Otter College. She gave her all to this new position. But it proved too much for her health. It drained her of her last drop of energy. What a disappointment it must have been to suffer a “serious breakdown”*11 and be forced to give up.  

Following a typical remedy of the times, she visited Switzerland for a rest-cure. When she returned to England she had a bright idea. Because she had for years loved to explore the English countryside - by train and by footpath - and "had laid the crumbs of these journeys in a notebook," unknowingly collecting material for a book, she did just that. She wrote, The Forty Shires. Published in 1880 it was widely read. For the time being this was a relief to Miss Mason’s financial cares.

Lake District of England - Oh, to be sitting on this bench and walking through the shady footpaths.

In the light of its success she was asked to write a series of geography schoolbooks. “They took me 12 years and hundreds of books on travel, in fact all the travel there was then, went into the making of them.”*12 The British Museum Reading Room in London was her usual place of study. Years later these volumes would be re-issued as the Ambleside Geography Books and used in the curriculum of the day-school at Ambleside and in Miss Mason’s home correspondence course.

Charlotte Mason combined her high thinking with lowly living. She exercised her generous soul. I believe this was the fruit of her deeply held Christian beliefs. While living in the city she got involved in parish life of the Anglican church. As “district visitor” she saw the poor living conditions of the working-class. She sincerely sought to be a greater help. But how? If only she could offer parents (without seeming holier-than-thou) a “few principles which are the very gospel of education . . . that would enlighten and encourage them in bringing up their children.”*13 It was the new building fund of her church that gave her an idea. She couldn’t give money. Instead, she offered to give a series of lectures for the parish that winter as her contribution. (I assume a donation or a very small fee was collected.) Would people come? They did. In fact, she was happy to see much interest. Months later, gathering all her lecture notes in a book, she contacted a publisher. In 1886 these were published as Home Education.

Soon after, the author of the insightful Home Education, was approached with a cushy job-offer, that of governess to an aristocratic family. I would think the role might be easy on Miss Mason's health. But unlike the character Jane Eyre, governess was a role Miss Mason resisted. It was not her calling. Perhaps also, familiar with the Bronte sisters’ plight, she was well-aware of the hazards and loneliness of the job.

Wider horizons are part of Charlotte Mason’s story. But I break here for the sake of brevity. Copyright Karen Andreola, 2016 

Paperbacks we published. My old hardcovers copies.
Following publication of A Charlotte Mason Companion in 1998, paper-letters came my way giving testimony of Miss Mason’s principles changing lives. Only one letter, received by email, asserted Charlotte Mason couldn’t possibly have been a Christian. The writer made other demeaning, unsubstantiated, inferences. Dean wrote a gentlemanly reply. 
Published 1998.
This is one reason I appreciate the blog post by Art Middlekaulff where he states why a Charlotte-Mason-Education is the best way to evangelize children. His post "For Whose Sake?" is refreshingly clarifying.  
Wives & Daughters, Cranford, North & South. A winter supply.
To read about A Charlotte Mason Companion click here. 
If you like period-piece drama I recommend the British films based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels. I was gifted the DVD 3-film set. Found on Amazon here. 

I've read a handful of Mrs. Gaskell's novels and recommend them.     
Happy New Year friends,
Karen Andreola  

End Notes
*1 Essex Cholmondeley, The Story of Charlotte Mason, Charlotte Mason Foundation, 1960. p. 3
*2 & 3, Ibid, p. 4
*4 Ibid, p. 5
*5 Ibid, p. 7
*6 Ibid, p. 9
*7 Ibid, p.10
*8 & 10 Ibid, p. 11
*9 The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Child’s Garden of Verses
*11 The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 12
*12 Ibid, p. 14
*13 Ibid, p. 15

Monday, December 5, 2016

In One Little Sentence of Mary

In One Little Sentence of Mary

I stood at my ironing board  - it is just the right height - and practiced my 15 minute talk so many times that I started loosing my voice. Therefore, the day before the Christmas Tea I kept quiet. 

This is a gorgeous American patriotic painting of Christmas 1795.

I enjoyed the Tea. It was lovely to have some lady's chatter (a contented hum could be heard) and meet blog readers in person on December 1st. 

Here I share a little of my talk.  

Christmastime is a time of togetherness. Big suppers. Open-house parties. Recitals, etc. And yet, it is also time for solitary reflection. Especially when we are shuffling around regular chores to fit in the Christmas-y ones, we shuffle some more to keep Christ in Christmas.     

I found the best way to commune with Jesus is to open the pages of the Gospels. As simple as this is, it may take some doing if you are surrounded by young children and their ongoing urgent needs. But it is exactly because we are surrounded by people and chores needing our attention, that we also seek to make a little time for ourselves. To be alone with God. 

I went bananas over this gingerbread cookie pineapple a friend made me.
I like having a Bible on my kindle. In the early hours, in the dark hours of a winter's morning, the gentle light of my kindle brings me the Word. I can read while the Man-of-the-House is occupied in the next room. He starts his day earlier than I. 
Eloise examining an acorn in the cardigan Grandma knit.

A girl can glean much in 2 minutes of reading the Gospels while also sharing her deepest longings and cares. And in 5 to 8 minutes a whole chapter of the Gospels can be absorbed. The number of minutes is not of the essence. I bring up minutes here only because I am always amazed at how many of them I had just spent scrolling down my Facebook posts. On Facebook, 20 minutes disappears in thin air. I am trying to remedy this - such as having some Facebook-free days. 

Some girls are not morning-people. If not, then another space of time can be had. You may not feel optimistic. Perhaps you feel that nothing short of turning your day's set-of-hours upside down will enable you fit in time for yourself. May I console you? Less drastic measures will more-than-likely meet your needs. 

I remember something shared by an older woman-in-the-Lord. I was a young mother then. The writer mentioned that she kept a Bible open on her oak sideboard. This piece of furniture was next to the staircase in the center of her house - just where my sideboard was, coincidentally. Like me, she walked passed it often. She would pass her sideboard to carry clean wash upstairs, to set the table,  reach for a jar in her pantry, get to the broom closet. In the midst of her chores and energetic children, she would pause to read her Bible, where it rested on the sideboard, where she had left the satin ribbon between its pages. This gave her something to ponder privately during December's busy days. She could be mindful even if her mindfulness was centered upon a single verse or two.    

Baptist Meeting House built 1806 in Vermont. This is a color photograph. See the wreaths on the door?

If we draw near to God, He draws near to us - in a quiet corner - in a quiet way. If Facebook draws you, momentarily put your cellphone in the garage if you have to - where the Amish keep their phones - where you can't hear it ring. Why the Gospels? It is in the Gospels where we find an intimate theology. 

In the first chapters of Luke, Mary and Joseph are in the middle of an intimate theology. When the shepherds find Mary, Joseph and the baby lying in a manger, they report what wonderful, exciting things they had learned (seen and heard) from the angels.

How did Mary respond to this intimate theology? “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” Here we have a threefold exercise. It is part of the exercise of the spiritual life, really. All, in this one little sentence, “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” - - - we have: 

Memory,  Affections,  Intellect.
Of Memory? – Mary kept what she saw and heard. She reflected. She remembered, and remembered again. Mothers hold onto memories. Mary's memories were extra special ones. 

Of Affections? Some translations say Mary treasured all these things. She approached them with tenderness, reverence and praise. And her treasuring goes along with her Intellect. For, we see that Mary pondered them in her heart. She increased her understanding by lingering and meditating for a while. She wasn’t drawn away or distracted by Facebook or Pinterest's email announcements of new pins, as I can sometimes be.    

It is only as we take quiet moments to read the gospels, God’s perfect storybook of Christ, that by degrees Jesus becomes more and more dear to us. He becomes dear to us - not by emotional appeals –not by any loud orchestra - or beautiful Christmas choir. Although these uplifting experiences are appreciated as they add merriment to the season. Moreover, it is the impressions left by an accurate knowledge of Jesus that He becomes dear to us.  
Eloise straightening the cotton blanket Grandma knit her.

A girl who loves Jesus, does so, because God’s Word dwells in her heart richly.  

She is mindful of Him. 

She can love Jesus and serve others with a servant’s heart, because she’s read and pondered how much He first loved her.  

Charles Spurgeon talks about Mary's three-fold exercise this way. I underlined it in my devotional. “Let your memory treasure up everything about Christ which you have either felt, or known, or believed, and let your fond affections hold Him fast for evermore.”

There are many names for Christ our Lord. Here’s a few.

Prince of Peace
Morning Star
Lamb of God
Good Shepherd
Light of the World

What is the name most precious to me? 

It is the name the angles told the Virgin Mary to give her child. Jesus translated means Saviour. 

The Son of God was coming into the world in human form (incarnate deity) to save his people from their sins. To forgive Karen of her sins. For this, I will be forever grateful.  

Post Script
You know I like making doll quilts. I pre-ordered Kathleen Tracey's newest doll quilt book, Small and Scrappy at Amazon, and I look forward to it coming. 
A doll quilt I made for a special friend. This Raggedy Ann  was hand-sewn in Pennsylvania by a Sunday School teacher

I concocted another smoothie. We've been using our Vita Mix Blender for years. Many are the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. The raw smoothies and cream soups you've seen on this blog, have all been made with this powerful machine (that is easy and safe to clean). Its worth every penny. 

Beet-Blueberry Breakfast Smoothie - Yum 

Winter Purple Smoothie

Place these raw ingredients in Vita Mix in this order and whirl.

a whole orange (peeled, pitted)
tsp of lime (a squeeze)
a good handful of (washed, drained spinach, 3/4 C. loosely packed)
a small red beet peeled and cubed (or half a medium beet)
half C. frozen blueberries
Add a little water or juice from orange (1/4 C if needed.)
opt: I tsp. coconut oil 

To keep fingers from staining I peel a red beet over a strainer in the sink, under slow running water.

A Joyful Christmas Be Yours,
Karen Andreola