A blog dedicated to providing quotes by and posts relating to one of the most influential (and quotable!) authors of the twentieth century, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). If you do not know much about GKC, I suggest visiting the webpage of the American Chesterton Society as well as this wonderful Chesterton Facebook Page by a fellow Chestertonian

I also have created a list detailing examples of the influence of Chesterton if you are interested, that I work on from time to time.

(Moreover, for a list of short GKC quotes, I have created one here, citing the sources)

"...Stevenson had found that the secret of life lies in laughter and humility."

-Heretics (1905)

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Charlotte Mason

[Since I have in more than one place heard people make reference to the educational theories of Charlotte Mason, I have included the following two articles on her work that were written by GKC for his column in the Daily News, which I believe they would enjoy.]


Daily News, May 13, 1905

As I said yesterday in a letter to the Editor of this paper, I am in favour of removing theological warfare from the official schools of the country. I do not take this view, like Mr. Harrold Johnson and others, merely because I think the national schools too important to be vexed and darkened with theological warfare. I take it because I think theological warfare much too important a thing to be cramped by the limitations of the national schools. I also think theological warfare much too jolly a thing, much too fresh and genuine a human pleasure to be mixed up with the machinery of mere instruction. Theology is not a thing for the dusty and mechanical hour of lessons. Theology is a thing for the free and uproarious half-holiday. Nobody need be under the smallest apprehension that the young will ever by any earthly process be prevented from coming to conclusions about the origin of the universe; you will no more keep your boys from making creeds than from making catapults. But although I think the problem of finding a good religion somewhat beyond the intellect and the animal spirits of our modern educationalists, and though for this reason I certainly agree with those who wish to clear the schools of the religious conflict, I cannot always agree with their tone in this matter. They seem too often to think that the theological conflict is inconsistent with our current education not because it is theological, but because it is a conflict. They seem to think that the religious question stands alone in educational matters as being a force tending to division and a problem evoking a violent variety of mind. They seem to think that, if once the religious question could be cleared out of the way, we could pursue our purely educational course with the same automatic efficiency, the same tacit and universal agreement, with which we can pursue the course of such material arrangements as policemen or drains. 

But this, at any rate, is an error. Education can never be efficient in the sense that drainage can be efficient; education can never be peaceful in any sense at all. The education question can never be settled; will never be settled. The fighting of the sects is not an accident in education; fighting and sectarianism are involved in the very nature of education itself. Education is a battle as much as Christianity is a battle; and for the same reason. For these two things are both things touching the soul, and since no view of the soul is self-evident, you can never be certain of any view being universal. And the wonder concerning the modern educationalists is not that they conduct a savage controversy about religious education. The wonder is that they are not conducting half a hundred savage controversies about every conceivable branch and phase of education. The wonder is not that there are a few angry letters or indignant meetings about the Bible and the Church- the wonder is that there are not petitions about spelling books and riots about calisthenics. The wonder is that men do not fight each other in the street about the right way to teach arithmetic. The wonder is that men do not die on a barricade in Picccadilly about the co-education of the sexes. 


There are a few educationalists who have always felt what may thus be called the religious character of education. And when I say that education has a religious character it is desirable to explain that I do not mean that it is a thing very peaceful and comforting, but, on the contrary, that it is a thing inevitably and rightly productive of rows. Of these educationalists none is more distinguished than Miss Charlotte Mason, whose exhaustive books on 'Home Education' and 'School Education' I happened to be turning over an hour ago. The reading of such books fills the mind with a sense of irony and even with a sense of alarm in connection with the constructive side of modern education. While the modern public, with a kind of crude courage and good-will, build schools and more schools, and yet more schools, votes grants, and more grants, and yet more grants, serves our education to everyone everywhere as if education were something as plain and homogeneous as so much cheese, inquirers of the type of Miss Mason are studying the first principles of education on which the good or ill of all this action rests with a care that may be called laboriousness and a calm that might almost be called scepticism. The contrast between the two spirits is odd and a little disquieting. The slow and deliberate theories are embodied in educational articles. The hasty and fleeting theories are embodied in enormous buildings of brick and stone. The more tested and less doubtful doctrines are printed in books which scarcely anybody reads. The less tested and doubtful theories are embodied in Acts of Parliament that everybody has to obey. Nothing can breed more strange doubts in the mind than the contemplation of so much responsibility in private and so much frivolity in public. We hear little but derision directed towards the old fathers and heresiarchs, who tore theories to shreds before they would proceed to the smallest practical reform, but if there be little doubt that they erred on one side I fancy there is even less doubt that we err on the other. No doubt it is a very legitimate and beautiful object to proceed rapidly from theory to execution; but to rush at the execution and then go on to the theory is not legitimate or beautiful; but it is the indwelling principle of modern politics and modern education. It is very fine to aim at having a thing established a week after it has been discovered to be good. But the aim of many advanced persons to-day is to have a thing established a week before it is discovered to be bad. 

I perceive that I shall have to defer the remarks I wish to make on Miss Mason's book, or, rather, on certain interesting particular propositions contained in it, until my article next Saturday. The points I wish to raise are (unlike mathematical points) things of considerable magnitude; and my treatment might be even more chaotic than usual if I split the matter in the middle. Suffice it, then, for the moment to say that I offer Miss Mason in this matter as one of those highly practical people who begin with theory. That is to say, she begins, not with movement, but with direction. She does not get into a cab to discuss where she will go. The modern educational and religious world might be compared to an omnibus gone astray, a lost omnibus- an awful thought. The passengers are all disputing about the direction of the omnibus- nay, about the very nature of the omnibus. Its colour changes like the opal. Now it is the ethereal blue of Bayswater- the colour that seeks heaven and St. John's Wood. Now, again, it is the fiery and republican red of Hammersmith. An omnibus in the city of dreams. 

Daily News, May 20, 1905

The City of London, perhaps the most picturesque and historical of all the suburbs of Battersea, is clearly visible across the bright blue void of this impeccable summer day. The great buildings which date from all the centuries, but chiefly from the comfortable civilization of the later 17th century, rise up in a rich confusion which even in the smallness of distance has something of the arrogant rationalism of the spirit and the age of Wren. There was something not without significance in the accident whereby the modern London was for all practical purposes built or inaugurated after the Great Fire, which came after the Great Plague, which again in its turn came but a short time after the last of the great wars of England. These large and violent judgments seem to belong to an older and more epic style of history, to a world whose achievements were like the Crusades, and their sorrows like the Black Death. They were the awful endings of a more awful age. And when they had passed men began to build again, solidly, comfortably, sometimes greatly; but never again with any fear or hope of heroic endings, never with any fierce colours in the windows, or any fiery fingers pointing at the sky. If a race of men could be left behind on the earth after the Day of Judgment they would build their cities as we have built modern London. They would build like men who had seen the end of the end of the world. They would build like men that had in some dark youth known the best there is and the worst there is, and still been able somehow to forget them. They would be the ultimate race of sceptics; they would be the men who have seen and yet have disbelieved. 

That rich confusion which marks London among all the cities of the earth is no doubt partly due to enduring elements in the English character and even to noble elements in it. It is traceable in part at least to our vagueness and our poetry, our ingrained love of liberty, our ingrained dislike of empire. And this English quality in it I sincerely hope that no improvements will every improve away. By all means let us be enthusiastic for the ideal of 'London, beautiful London, clean', etc. But let us include the ideal of London Londonish. But when this is allowed for, there remains a great mass of the anomalies and singularities of London administration which has a much simpler explanation, the simple explanation formerly given in the quaint word sin. There remains in London a large mass of respectable machinery, a large amount of property and power, a large number of claims, forms, privileges, and social arrangements, for which only one cause can possibly be assigned. And that is that the people of London firmly believe that the Day of Judgment has already occurred. 


Now, what we have said here of the problem of the English city may be said with exactly the same modifications of the problem of English education. We must not expect English education to be anything but English. So long as it is English we must not expect it to be pre-eminently rigid and logical. We must not be too impatient if there appears in it that sort of romantic messiness which appears in the streets of the English towns and the minds of the English statesmen. But, again, as in the case of London, when we have made full allowance for this, there remain mountains of waste and wickedness; mountains of folly and of sheer lying, which are not native to any nation but Limbo. We have in England allowed ourselves to slip from that vagueness which is valued because it is practical, to that vagueness which is valued because it is the very reverse. Having begun by loving compromises because they enabled us to do something, we have now come to loving compromises because they save us from doing anything. We have given up abstract ideals for the sake of practice, and now we give up practice for the sake of sheer idleness and indecision. Every European country recognizes that there was something valuable for its own purposes in the English indifference to precision; nobody objected to the English and their methods being rough and ready. The English are still rough. But they are no longer ready. 

Miss Charlotte Mason's books on Home and School Education of which I spoke last week (they are published, by the way, by Kegan Paul) are works deliberately intended to remedy this modern and English defect. I might almost say deliberately intended to err on the other side. Miss Mason attempts to draw up the whole plan and lay the whole foundations of her colossal subject; she can be arrestingly new, but she is not afraid where necessary to be old; she has the courage to be clever, but she has also, where necessary, the courage to be dull, In her belief in thoroughness and in the dogmatic finality she is almost as mediaeval as Herbert Spencer. She is, however, what Herbert Spencer with all his many merits certainly never was- a human being, a judge of life, a liver of life. When she talks about the child she has known the child; what is more important she has been the child. We cannot imagine in any of these pages, even the most detachable or scientific of them, coming across anything resembling that monstrous and amazing page, surely as mad as anything in the confessions of a maniac in Earlswood- that page in Spencer's diary in which he describes how he got some children from round the corner and found that he had a positive pleasure in their society, and that they aroused in him 'the philoprogenitive instinct'. Certainly nothing the babies could have said or done could have been so enormously babyish as the meditations of the philosopher. But Miss Mason, while having much more colour, is quite as clear. She begins at the beginning, and finds, as most people do who adopt that arduous course, that the beginning is the hardest. For at the beginning of every kind of serious inquiry sits a great, glaring dogma, and not unfrequently a mysterious dogma. First principles can never be simple. 

The main business of life (as it seems to me), and, therefore, the main business of education, resolves itself into one choice. It resolves itself into choosing between the sane paradoxes and the insane paradoxes. It resolves itself into choosing between the healthy and the morbid mysteries. As for un-mysterious or un-paradoxical mental positions, they need not trouble us. There are none. The fairies may or may not exist; but that the rationalists do not exist is self-evident. All that we can say in this dim and fantastic human life is that one highly disputable and somewhat grotesque statement ends in a man being a jolly old gentleman, the father of five children, while another highly disputable and somewhat grotesque statement ends in his being packed with disease inside and out. It is irrational to run after one woman: it is irrational to run after twenty. We can only say that one irrationality turns out right and the other turns out wrong. 

Now, Miss Mason is confronted with a contradiction or difficulty of this kind at the very outset of her discussion, a contradiction or difficulty which is quite astonishingly blinked by all the modern people who talk about education in the modern manner. I will quote the third of her educational first principles in her own words: 'The principle of authority on the one hand and obedience on the other are natural, necessary, and fundamental'. Of this doctrine it is enough to say that it is highly disputable, that it can be and is disputed (I believe by Mr. Bernard Shaw, whose name has not yet occurred in this article), and that it is quite obviously indispensable. But, as I say, the choice is between the paradox that works and the paradox that does not work. If a child wishes to set himself on fire, as every decent-minded child must, he has apparently to be prevented by being told to obey. It is no good telling him that it will hurt him, because, being a sportsman (and the image of God), he will risk that; and though it may be true (on Herbert Spencer's principle) that a burnt child dreads the fire, yet if the child has, in the course of his own experiments, been reduced to a fine fluffy ash, he may in that fluffier form find it difficult to exhibit marked prudence or any other of the acquired virtues. But here we have to choose between the two paradoxes. We have to choose between the paradox of the obedient child and the paradox of the broiled child. And however far from the first fresh simplicity of things being obedient may be, being broiled is, I think, even farther. 

Starting from such first principles, Miss Mason works out, step by step, a very full and fascinating theory of education. Her remarks on authority, in its relation to religion especially, are, I think the most original and important part of her work, but none of it is unimportant. But the whole comes most unquestionably back to the thing with which I started last week. We have no right to establish a system of religious education at present. But this is not because fighting a religious battle is wrong. Fighting a religious battle is not only right, it is the only thing ultimately worth doing. But we have no right to fix religious education, not because the religious battle is wrong, but because we have neither fought the battle nor won it. Under the present system we keep education theological, while we allow the rest of the world to be as secular as it likes. I should wish the education to be, as a matter of immediate justice, secular. And I should like the whole world to be theological. 

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