April 14, 2023

A message from Miss Mason

Excerpts from the Parents' Review

A message from Miss MasonA message from Miss Mason

A tradition of gatherings

Conferences and regular gatherings of educators for inspiration, discussion, and encouragement have been a regular feature of the Charlotte Mason movement. As early as 1897, the Parents’ Review, the journal which Mason edited, published accounts of the Parents' National Educational Union (PNEU) conferences which many of its staff, authors, and readers attended. These conferences were organized and hosted out of the PNEU’s London office of the Organising Secretary, The Honourable Henrietta Franklin. Entire lectures given at these conferences, along with the lively discussions about them, found their way into the pages of this journal. Other times, brief notes from a talk appeared. Impressions of the conference from attendees or past students were also featured. While these records of the PNEU conferences house a wealth of information, encouragement, and insight on a wide variety of topics, perhaps some of the most valuable are the lectures and letters which Miss Mason herself contributed. Because poor health or other occupations frequently made her physical presence impossible, Mason’s papers were often read at the conferences by various friends or delegates. While conference attendees at the time surely felt the lack of her presence, it is hard not to be thankful in the present day since the original manuscripts from her lectures were inserted into the Parents’ Review in their complete form unlike some speakers of whose talks the Parents’ Review is forced to say “there were insufficient notes.” Many of these lectures were also later used as chapters of Charlotte Mason's six volume series on education, but some notes were more brief and are only available, as far as we know now, in these issues of the Parents' Review.

Below you'll find excerpts from the welcoming remarks at the twelfth annual PNEU conference in June 1908 which were then published in the July issue of the Parents' Review. The annual gathering was held (for the first time) in Bristol, England, at the Fine Arts Academy from June 12-16th. It began on a Friday afternoon and ended on Tuesday, which perhaps reflects the organization's commitment to making the gathering accessible to as many as possible (Vol. XIX. No. 7, p.481-482). The conference's motto and theme was a line from Shelley: "I love all that thou lovest, Spirit of Delight." The first remarks below come from the chairman of the executive, Lord Lytton, who then passed the proverbial mic to Henrietta Franklin, the secretary at the time and close friend of Charlotte Mason who read a letter from Miss Mason herself to the attendees gathered for the conference.

"I love all that thou lovest, Spirit of Delight." ~Shelley

The remarks below are invaluable because they give us a sense of our own historical distance from the world where Charlotte Mason's relational philosophy first began and the need for educators today to continue to work to understand her context deeply in order to best implement her principles and practices well in our own time. At the same time, these excerpts give a warm sense of a continuity. Educators today join a swathe of mothers, fathers, teachers, and thinkers throughout the past century and beyond asking many similar questions and finding inspiration and insight from the same source. The Centenary gathering in Ambleside fits firmly within the PNEU tradition and, more than a hundred years after the 1908 conference, gathers a diverse group of thoughtful educators all striving to give their children or students a rich education and a full life.

Welcome from Lord Lytton

Everything below is directly quoted from the Parents' Review. A few headings are added for clarity, and notes for context are inserted in brackets.

"I wish first of all, with your permission, to read a telegram which I have received from our President, Lord Aberdeen, who in the midst of all his official business has always found it possible to follow the proceedings of this Society, in which from the outset he has always taken so deep an interest:—“Please accept and convey hearty wishes and greetings.—ABERDEEN.”

Conference Notes

If our President [The Earl and Countess of Aberdeen were then the presidents] had been here with us in body, as I am sure he is with us in spirit, it would have fallen to his lot, Sir [Dr. C. Lloyd Morgan had given another welcome just before], to thank you on behalf of the Central Committee of the P.N.E.U. for the cordial welcome that you have given to us this afternoon, and for the immensely interesting speech in which you have developed the educational philosophy which is underlying the principles and objects of the Society. But in his absence that lot has fallen to me, and I do on behalf of the Society thank you very sincerely. And may I also include in my vote of thanks the members of the Bristol Committee, who in the past few months have taken so much trouble and been put to so much personal sacrifice and inconvenience in order to make preparations for the Conference of our Union. I know well enough from past experience what preparation for a Conference of this kind means. I know that it is no light task. It means that there must be a sufficient amount of life, of vitality, of keenness,  in the local Branch for a desire that the Conference should be held in their town. And then, after the decision is come to that it should be held there, it means also a considerable amount of personal trouble in order to carry out all the arrangements efficiently; and it is for that personal trouble which individual members of the local Committee have taken that I beg, Sir, on behalf of the Central Association to thank them most sincerely.

Ladies and gentlemen, as Dr. Lloyd Morgan has reminded you, we have only held Conferences outside London on two previous occasions, one at Edinburgh, and one at Brighton. But I may say, I think, that those proceedings gave us every possible encouragement for the success of the Conference this year. On both those occasions the attendance was excellent and the Conference was declared by those present to be a very great success. I have every confidence that our present Conference will be no less successful.

We have had application for tickets, and tickets have been issued to members coming from all parts of the United Kingdom, from England, Scotland and Ireland; and therefore, the prospect of the knowledge to be gained, and the confidence of the interest taken in the program of this year, certainly promises a very large measure of success. I say, then, that it is in the spirit of very great gratitude to all those who have taken part in the organization of this Conference that I reply, Sir, to your speech this afternoon; and I hope I shall not be thought arrogant and presumptuous if I venture also to say that possibly Bristol may gain somewhat from the fact of our presence here during the next few days. Of course, I do not refer to the members of the Bristol Branch—they are members of the Union—but what I refer to more especially is that this opportunity may be utilized for bringing other members into the local Branch who have not perhaps been brought into touch with the Society. But, I say this, because, as a matter of fact, Sir, we are rather proud of ourselves at the present moment. We have just attained the respectable age of twenty-one years. We consider, that we have attained our majority, and that we hold a very respectable, almost time-honoured, position among educational societies.

A growing movement

And in addition to the enthusiasm and aspirations of our founder, which are as new to-day, as they were when the Society was first founded, an enthusiasm which is new every year—in addition to that, we have now the experience of the twenty-one years of a continuous growth and work; and from that twenty-one years of experience, we feel that we have gained something, we feel that that experience has some value, and we come here this afternoon with a twofold object, firstly, of ourselves adding to that experience with a wholesome thirst for further knowledge and for the assistance that other members of the Society can give us, and also, in order to offer to the members of the Bristol Branch and any friends whom they may bring to our Conference the value of our experience and what it is worth. And we ask them to make use of us, as they find opportunity, and as they find it possible. We are confident that we members of the Society shall gain from the papers that will be read, and from the discussion of the next few days. We hope also that new recruits may do so too.

With regard to the program which has been prepared this year, I do not wish to say anything in detail this afternoon. I shall have something to say about it this evening when really the whole spirit and groundwork of this Conference will be covered by Dr. Greville MacDonald’s paper. But in one respect this Conference is particularly noteworthy. Our meeting here in Bristol offers testimony to the progress that has been made recently in giving effect to one object of this Society, namely, the necessity for co-operation between parents and schools. It is one of the fundamental principles of its educational philosophy that education should be a continuous process. During the whole of the process of growth to which Dr. Greville MacDonald referred just now, when the child is developing from boy or girl to man or woman, Miss Mason has insisted on the necessity of the process of mental training being uninterrupted. We do not want parents o think that their children are in jeopardy of losing the home training, when the time comes for the boy or girl to go to school. We want to feel that from the moment the child has been subject to any educational influence at all, that all the process of education should be imbued with the same spirit, the same ideas, the same educational philosophy.

"education should be a continuous process." ~Lord Lytton

That is the fundamental basis of Miss Mason’s philosophy. Our object is not merely to teach parents, but schoolmasters and mistresses, nurses and governesses are all included. All these, as well as the parents themselves, we desire to bring together, and that is why I have spoken of the great necessity of a close co-operation between school and home.

Now, here in the educational centre, we are meeting under auspices, which I think, are exceptional. We have had extended to use the sympathy and support of the Bristol University and Clifton College. You will see how many addresses are being given by schoolmasters, and how closely connected with our program are these two great educational centers. That is enough, I think, to clear us of any charge of amateurism. We are not a small Society of faddists, who desire to lecture to parents. We are a Society that has already had its majority and is able to do some service in bringing home and school together, in order that the interest in education which is so alive today may be put to the best possible use.

A Message from Miss Mason

[Notes of the transitions between speakers, comments or questions after a lecture, and more were all recorded in the Parents' Review. The following lines are an example of this. Also, as far as we're aware, this is the first time this letter from Miss Mason has been published in full.]

After the inaugural speeches the delegates were entertained at tea by the Bristol Committee.

8:30p.m.  GRAMMAR SCHOOL, CLIFTON, by kind invitation of the Council and the Head Master (Cryil Norwood, Esq.)

The Right. Hon, the EARL OF LYTTON in the chair.

In the evening a meeting was held at the Grammar School, by invitation of the Council and the Headmaster, Mr. Cyril Norwood, when a lecture was given by Dr. Greville MacDonald on “The Child’s Inheritance.” The chair was taken by the Earl of Lytton, and there was a large attendance.

The Hon. MRS. FRANKLIN, the Hon. Organizing Secretary, reported the receipt of a message conveying good wishes to the Conference from the founder of the Union, Miss Charlotte Mason, who wrote from Ambleside, saying:

“I think we all feel that Mr. John Burns gave the other day a faithful diagnosis of a very general ailment, when he said, ‘The tendency of the present day in all modern movements is for great crowds to be brought together to see other people play, and that is extending, not only to play, but to other fields of life.’ ‘In a word,’ said Mr. Burns, ‘we now cry in companies, smile in battalions, sport in divisions, make holiday in armies, and are married in mobs. The spirit of the horde is being developed, and whether it is in exhibitions, sports, games or legislation, the individual is becoming less and less important, and the mob more and more so. That is a dangerous tendency, and one which we must all do our best to resist.’ This parasitic habit of hanging on to a crowd offers indications important to us who are concerned with education. nobody finds pleasure in the crowd—then why go in mobs? Because something has been left out of our composition which should enable us to stand alone, and, therefore, we put out tendrils towards any promise of pleasure or interest that a crowd offers.

We of the Parents’ Union believe that education should supply that missing quality which makes a parasitic existence unnecessary and distasteful. Children should be brought up not merely to get a living and not merely to be good citizens—(I will not say no merely to be good Christians for the Christian life is an all-embracing circle and includes the development of the joie de vivre which is a legitimate aim in education). Children should be educated, among other things, for their own uses. They should know how to fasten on matters of joy and interest; they should reach a manhood or womanhood which does not know an hour of dulness and dreariness (sorrow and anxiety are inevitable); and, for this reason, their education should be in some measure enclyclopaedic. They should be brought into touch with all the great subjects of human interest—books, pictures, science, music, nature, the service of men, and above all, the service of God. It will be said that there is nothing new in this; it has long been felt that children should have delightful lessons, and, in these days, they get them in every school, and, indeed, have done so for the last twenty or thirty years. How is it then that people are incapable of finding each his own delight and go in crowds in the hope that at least one weary hour may be got over?

"[Children] should be brought into touch with all the great subjects of human interest—books, pictures, science, music, nature, the service of men, and above all, the service of God." ~Charlotte Mason

Probably because the teacher’s efforts have ended in amusing and delighting the children through their school-years and leaving them victims of ennui [a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement] until someone else shall amuse them with talk or spectacle. That is why we of the Parents’ Union aim at throwing the children upon their own resources from the very first, letting them make what they can of book or picture, flower or bird; giving them knowledge as they need it, but being careful not to supply the interest but only the knowledge. Children have in themselves an inexhaustible stock of interest. What they want is that the best things and the best books, the worthy endeavors, should be put in their way, and that they should be encouraged by quite a little guidance and sympathy to get out of these the intellectual and moral sustenance of which they are in real need. We hope to send forth young people for whom the days are not long enough to contain all the engrossing work and delightful interests which life affords; who will find life fuller and richer as the days go on, and who will be ready to give and glad to distribute of all that wealth and interests which increases to them year by year.

"We believe that a ‘wise passiveness’ should characterize us as parents and teachers; but we must put children in the way of getting that which they require." ~Charlotte Mason

We do not wish to be the dispensers of joy to children. We believe that a ‘wise passiveness’ should characterize us as parents and teachers; but we must put children in the way of getting that which they require, so that not of them shall it be written—

‘An idle poet, now and then,
Looks round about him, but for all the rest,
The world, unfathomably fair,
Is duller than titling’s jest.’

It is our faith that a life filled with worthy interests should help our young people to—

‘Keep clean, bear fruit, earn life, and watch
Till the white-winged Reapers come.’”

Closing remarks

THE CHAIRMAN, in introducing the lecturer, said that the subject of Dr. MacDonald’s address was one which covered the whole train of thought that they were trying to develop in the Conference this year. He referred to the appropriateness of the Shelley quotation which headed their program, “I love all that thou lovest, spirit of delight,” and he pointed out that “the spirit of delight” was the feature they desired to preserve throughout the educational period. Incidentally, he referred to the joy that was to be found in knowledge, in books, in work, and in study. He spoke of the child’s inheritance, which included in the first instance the right of the child to perfect equipment of mind and body, and which included, secondly, a sound and complete training in the use which might be made of that equipment and the duty of those who undertook the education, whether parents or teachers. Their business in either capacity was to combine to form one fellowship with the common object of making that inheritance as rich as possible.

Read at the Twelfth Annual P.N.E.U Conference at the Fine Arts Academy in Bristol, June 12, 1908 and published in the Parents’ Review, 19. Issue 7. (481-490). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

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