Chapter 19 We are Educated by Our Intimacies Part III.––Vocation

Chapter 19
We are Educated by Our Intimacies Part III.––Vocation

I might trace the consummation of various other affinities in these two illustrious subjects, but space fails; I can only indicate the joy of pursuing the acquaintanceship, followed by the endless occupation for mind and heart, in that high intimacy which we call the Vocation of each of these men of genius.

Turner's Call to Ruskin.––Ruskin's 'career,' to use our own common and expressive figure, began when,––

"On my thirteenth (?) birthday, 8th February 1832, my father's partner, Mr. Henry Telford, gave me Rogers's Italy, and determined the main tenor of my life..... I had no sooner cast my eyes on the Turner vignettes than I took them for my only masters, and set myself to imitate them as far as I possibly could by fine pen shading. . . .

"My father at last gave me, not for a beginning of a Turner collection, but for a specimen of Turner's work, which was all––as it was supposed––I should ever need or aspire to possess, the 'Richmond Bridge, Surrey.'"

Again, anent his purchase of Turner's 'Harlech':--

"Whatever germs of better things remained in me, were then all centred in this love of Turner. It was not a piece of painted paper, but a Welsh castle and village, and Snowdon in blue cloud, that I bought for my seventy pounds." 

Sincere Work.––Not until he is twenty-two does he produce what he considers his first sincere drawing:––

"One day on the road to Norwood, I noticed a bit of ivy round a thorn stem, which seemed, even to my critical judgment, not 'ill-composed,' and proceeded to make a light and shade pencil study of it in my grey paper pocketbook, carefully, as if it had been a bit of sculpture, liking it more and more as I drew. When it was done, I saw that I had virtually lost all my time since I was twelve years old, because no one had ever told me to draw what was really there!"

Initiation.––Later, follows the story of his true initiation:––

"I took out my book and began to draw a little aspen tree, on the other side of the cart road, carefully. . . . Languidly, but not idly, I began to draw it; and as I drew, the langour passed away, the beautiful lines insisted on being traced, without weariness. More and more beautiful they became as each rose out of the rest and took its place in the air. With wonder increasing every instant, I saw that they composed themselves by finer laws than any known of men. At last the tree was there, and everything that I had thought before about trees nowhere. . .'He hath made everything beautiful in His time' became for me thenceforward the interpretation of the bond the human mind and all visible things."

Nature a Passion.––Let us intrude into the consummation of one more intimacy. Already the boy has made acquaintance with mountains; he is now to have his first sight of the Alps. He, his father, his mother, and his cousin Mary, went out to walk the first Sunday evening after their arrival on the garden terrace of Schaffhausen, and––

"Suddenly––behold––beyond! There was no thought in any of us for a moment of their being clouds. They were clear as crystal, sharp on the pure horizon sky, and already tinged with rose by the setting sun. Infinitely beyond all that we had ever thought or dreamed––the seen walls of lost Eden could not have been more beautiful to us; not more awful, round heaven, the walls of sacred death. It is not possible to imagine, in any time of the world, a more blessed entrance into life, for a child of such temperament as mine."

How shall we venture to trace the growth of that austere, most gracious and enthralling intimacy with Nature which was to Wordsworth the master-light of all his seeing? He unfolds to us––

     "The simple ways in which my childhood walked;
     Those chiefly that first led me to the love
     Of rivers, woods, and fields. The passion yet
     Was in its birth, sustained as might befall
     By nourishment that came unsought."

We cannot trace every step of the growth of this ethereal passion, but only take a phase of it here and there. The boy and some of his schoolfellows were boating on Windermere in the late evening, and they left one of their number, 'the Minstrel of the Troop,' on a small island:––

     "And rowed off gently, while he blew his flute
     Alone upon the rock––oh, then, the calm
     And dead still water lay upon my mind
     Even with a weight of pleasure, and the sky,
     Never before so beautiful, sank down
     Into my heart, and held me like a dream!
     Thus were my sympathies enlarged, and thus
     Daily the common range of visible things
     Grew dear to me: already I began
     To love the sun; a boy, I loved the sun,
     Not as I since have loved him, as a pledge
     And surety of our earthly life, a light
     Which we behold and feel we are alive;
     Not for his bounty to so many worlds––
     But for this cause, that I had seen him lay
     His beauty on the morning hills, had seen
     The western mountain touch his setting orb." 

The Calling of a Poet.––We may take one more look at this marvellous boy, who, become a man, held that every child, as he, is born a poet:––

               "My seventeenth year was come,
     . . . I, at this time,
     Saw blessings spread around me like a sea.
     Thus while the days flew by, and years passed on,
     From nature and her overflowing soul
     I had received so much, that all my thoughts
     Were steeped in feeling; I was only then
     Contented, when with bliss ineffable
     I felt the sentiment of Being spread
     O'er all that moves and all that seemeth still;
     O'er all that, lost beyond the reach of thought
     And human knowledge, to the human eye
     Invisible, yet liveth to the heart;
     O'er all that leaps and runs, and shouts and sings,
     Or beats the gladsome air; o'er all that glides
     Beneath the wave, yea, in the wave itself,
     And mighty depth of waters.
     . . . If I should fail with grateful voice
     To speak of you, ye mountains, and ye lakes
     And sounding cataracts, ye mists and winds
     That dwell among the hills where I was born.
     If in my youth I have been pure in heart,
     If, mingling with the world, I am content
     With my own modest pleasures, and have lived
     With God and nature communing, removed
     From little enmities and low desires,
     The gift is yours."

The Education of the Little Prig.––Before taking leave of the Prelude, may I introduce Wordsworth's sketch of the 'child-studied' little prig of his days––days of much searching of heart and of many theories the subject of education?––

            "That common sense
     May try this common system by its fruits,
     Leave let me take to place before her sight 
     A specimen pourtrayed with faithful band.
     Full early trained to worship seemliness,
     This model of a child is never known
     To mix in quarrels; that were far beneath
     Its dignity; with gifts he bubbles o'er
     As generous as a fountain; selfishness
     May not come near him, nor the little throng
     Of flitting pleasures tempt him from his path;
     The wandering beggars propagate his name,
     Dumb creatures find him tender as a nun,
     And natural or supernatural fear,
     Unless it leaps upon him in a dream,
     Touches him not. To enhance the wonder, see
     How arch his notices, how nice his sense
     Of the ridiculous; . . . . he can read
     The inside of the earth, and spell the stars;
     He knows the policies of foreign lands;
     Can string you names of districts, cities, towns,
     The whole world over, tight as beads of dew
     Upon a gossamer thread; he sifts, he weighs;
     All things are put to question; he must live
     Knowing that he grows wiser every day,
     Or else not live at all, and seeing too
     Each little drop of wisdom as it falls
     Into the dimpling cistern of his heart:
     For this unnatural growth the trainer blame,
     Pity the tree...
     Meanwhile old grandame earth is grieved to find
     The playthings, which her love designed for him,
     Unthought of: in their woodland beds the flowers
     Weep, and the river sides are all forlorn.
     Oh! give us once again the wishing-cap
     Of Fortunatus, and the invisible coat
     Of Jack the Giant-killer, Robin Hood,
     And Sabra in the forest with St George!
     The child, whose love is here, at least, doth reap
     One precious gain, that he forgets himself."'

Children have Affinities and should have Relations.––I cannot stop here to gather any more of the instruction and edification contained in those two great educational books, The Prelude and Præterita. It is enough for the present if they have shown us in what manner children attach themselves to their proper affinities, given opportunity and liberty. Our part is to drop occasion freely in the way, whether in school or at home. Children should have relations with earth and water, should run and leap, ride and swim, should establish the relation of maker to material in as many kinds as may be; should have dear and intimate relations with persons, through present intercourse, through tale or poem, picture or statue; through flint arrow-head or modern motor-car: beast and bird, herb and tree, they must have familiar acquaintance with. Other peoples and their languages must not be strange to them. Above all they should find that most intimate and highest of all Relationships,––the fulfilment of their being.

This is not a bewildering programme, because, in all these and more directions, children have affinities; and a human being does not fill his place in the universe without putting out tendrils of attachment in the directions proper to him. We must get rid of the notion that to learn the 'three R's' or the Latin grammar well, a child should learn these and nothing else. It is as true for children as for ourselves that, the wider the range of interests, the more intelligent is the apprehension of each.

Education not Desultory.––But I am not preaching a gospel for the indolent and proclaiming that education is a casual and desultory matter. Many great authors have written at least one book devoted to education; and Waverley seems to me to be Scott's special contribution to our science. Edward Waverley, we are told, 'was permitted in a great measure to learn as he pleased, when he pleased, and what he pleased.' That he did please to learn and that his powers of apprehension were uncommonly quick, would appear to justify this sort of education. But wavering he was allowed to grow up, and 'Waverley' he remained; instability and ineffectiveness marked his course. The manner of his education and its results are thus shortly set forth:––

"Edward would throw himself with spirit upon any classical author of which his preceptor proposed the perusal, make himself master of the style so far as to understand the story, and, if that pleased or interested him, he finished the volume. But it was in vain to attempt fixing his attention on critical distinctions of philology, upon the difference of idiom, the beauty of felicitous expression, or the artificial combinations of syntax. 'I can read and understand a Latin author,' said young Edward, with the self-confidence and rash reasoning of fifteen, 'and Scaliger or Bentley could not do much more.' Alas while he was thus permitted to read only for the gratification of his amusement, he foresaw not that he was losing for ever the opportunity of acquiring habits of firm and assiduous application, of gaining the art of controlling, directing, and concentrating the powers of his mind for earnest investigation––an art far more essential than even that intimate acquaintance with classical learning which is the primary object of study."

Waverley but illustrates, what Mr. Ruskin says in plain words; that our youth––whatever we make of it––abides with us to the end:––

"But so stubborn and chemically inalterable the laws of the prescription were, that now, looking back from 1886 to that brook shore of 1837, whence I could see the whole of my youth, I find myself in nothing whatsoever changed. Some of me is dead, more of me is stronger. I have learned a few things, forgotten many. In the total of me, I am but the same youth, disappointed and rheumatic." 

Strenuous Effort and Reverence.––We have seen in Ruskin and Wordsworth the strenuous attention––condition of receptiveness––which made each of them a producer after his kind; and whosoever will play the game, whether it be cricket or portrait painting, must learn the rules with all diligence and get skill by his labour. It is true, 'the labour we delight in physics pain,' but it is also true that we cannot catch hold of any one of the affinities that are in waiting for us without strenuous effort and without reverence. A bird-lover, one would say, has chosen for himself an easy joy; but no: your true bird-lover is out of doors by four in the morning to assist at the levée of the birds; nay, is he not in Hyde Park by 2.30 a.m. to see––the kingfisher, no less! He lies in wait in secret places to watch the goings on of the feathered peoples, travels far afield to make a new acquaintance in the bird-world; in fact, gives to the study of birds attention, labour, love, and reverence. He gets joy in return, so is perhaps little conscious of effort; but the effort is made all the same.

Comradeship has Duties.––To take one more instance of an affinity––comradeship. Most of us have serious thoughts about friendship; but we are apt to take comradeship, fellowship, very casually, and to think it is sufficiently maintained if we meet for parties, games, picnics, or what not. Public school boys generally learn better; they know that comradeship means much cheerful give-and-take, chaff, help, unsparing criticism; if need be, the taking or giving of serious reproof; loyalty each to each, plucky and faithful leading, staunch following, truth-speaking; the power to see others put first without chagrin, and to bear advancement without conceit, Here, too, are calls for attention, labour, love and reverence; but, again, labour is swallowed up in delight

The Angel troubles the still Pool––One more point. We are steadfast to the affinities we take hold of, till death do us part, or longer. And here let me say a word as to the 'advantages' (?) which London offers in the way of masters and special classes. I think it is most often the still pool which the angel comes down to trouble: a steady unruffled course of work without so-called advantages lends itself best to that 'troubling' of the angel––the striking upon us of what Coleridge calls 'the Captain Idea,' which initiates a tie of affinity.

The Highest Relationship.––Neither The Prelude nor Præterita lends itself to the study of the highest Relationship, the profoundest Intimacy, which awaits the soul of man. I think I cannot do better than close with an extract from a little book1  which tells the spiritual history of Brother Lawrence, a lay Brother among the barefooted Carmelites, at Paris, in the seventeenth century.

"The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was upon the 3rd of August, 1666. He told me that God had done him a singular favour in his conversion at the age of eighteen. That in the winter, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flower and fruit appear, he received a high view of the Providence and Power of God, which has never since been effaced from his soul. That this view had perfectly set him loose from the world, and kindled in him such a love for God, that he could not tell whether it had increased in about forty years that he had lived since. That he had been footman to M. Fieubert, the treasurer, and that he was a great awkward fellow who broke everything. That he had desired to be received into a monastery, thinking he would there be made to smart for his awkwardness and the faults he should commit, and so he should sacrifice to God his life, with its pleasures: but that God had disappointed him, he having met with nothing but satisfaction in that state. . . .That with him the set times of prayer were not different from other times; that he retired to pray according to the directions of his Superior, but that he did not want such retirement, nor ask for it, because his greatest business did not divert him from God . . . . That the greatest pains or pleasures of this world were not to be compared with what he had experienced of both kinds in a spiritual state; so that he was careful for nothing and feared nothing, desiring but one only thing of God, viz., that he might not offend Him . . .That he had so often experienced the ready succours of Divine Grace upon all occasions, that from the same experience, when he had business to do, he did not think of it beforehand; but when it was time to do it he found in God, as in a clear mirror, all that was fit for him to do. That of late he had acted thus, without anticipating care; but before the experience above mentioned he had used it in his affairs. When outward business diverted him a little from the thought of God, a fresh remembrance coming from God invested his soul, and so inflamed and transported him that it was difficult for him to contain himself, that he was more united to God in his outward employments than when he left them for devotion in retirement."

     "I want,––am made for,––and must have a God,
     Ere I can be aught, do aught;––no mere Name
     Want, but the True Thing, with what proves its truth,––
     To wit, a relation from that Thing to me
     Touching from head to foot––which Touch I feel,
     And with it take the rest, this Life of Ours!,'
          ––Browning.

An Educational Manifesto

"Studies serve for Delight, for Ornament, and for Ability."

Every child has a right of entry to several fields of knowledge.
Every normal child has an appetite for such knowledge.
This appetite or desire for knowledge is a sufficient stimulus for all school work, if the knowledge be fitly given.

There are four means of destroying the desire for knowledge:––
     (a) Too many oral lessons, which offer knowledge in a diluted form, and do not leave the child free to deal with it.
     (b) Lectures, for which the teacher collects, arranges, and illustrates matter from various sources; these often offer knowledge in too condensed and ready prepared a form.
     (c) Text-books compressed and recompressed from the big book of the big man.
     (d) The use of emulation and ambition as incentives to learning in place of the adequate desire for, and delight in, knowledge.

Children can be most fitly educated on Things and Books. Things, e.g.––
     i. Natural obstacles for physical contention, climbing, swimming, walking, etc.
     ii. Material to work in––wood, leather, clay, etc.
     iii. Natural objects in situ––birds, plants, streams, stones, etc,
     iv. Objects of art.
     v. Scientific apparatus, etc.

The value of this education by Things is receiving wide recognition, but intellectual education to be derived from Books is still for the most part to seek.

Every scholar of six years old and upwards should study with 'delight' his own, living, books on every subject in a pretty wide curriculum. Children between six and eight must for the most part have their books read to them.

This plan has been tried with happy results for the last twelve years in many home schoolrooms, and some other schools.

By means of the free use of books the mechanical difficulties of education––reading, spelling, composition, etc.––disappear, and studies prove themselves to be 'for delight, for ornament, and for ability.'

There is reason to believe that these principles are workable in all schools, Elementary and Secondary; that they tend in the working to simplification, economy, and discipline.


1The Secret of the Presence of God, Masters