Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Way of the Reason in George Eliot's Romola

by Anne White

"What a world is opened up even by a single novel like Romola..."  Ronald McNeill, "The choice of Literature for the Young," Parent's Review, Volume 8, no. 9, 1897, pgs. 561-568; 624-630

"Literature is full of tales of temptation, yielded to, struggled against, conquered. Sometimes temptation finds us ready and there is no struggle, as in the case of Tito Melema..."  Charlotte Mason, Ourselves

"In like manner, every young man who reads of Arthur Pendennis, or Edward Waverley, or Fred Vincey, or, alas, of Tito Melema, or of Darsie Latimer, George Warrington, or Martin Chuzzlewit––the list is endless, of course––finds himself in the hero."  Charlotte Mason, Formation of Character
"Commonly we let reason do its work without attention on our part, but there come moments when we stand in startled admiration and watch the unfolding before us point by point of a score of arguments in favour of this carpet as against that, this route in preference to the other, our chosen chum as against Bob Brown; because every pro suggested by our reason is opposed to some con in the background."  Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education
What is the hold that fictional characters have on us?  What is their role in shaping our "norms" or our "nobility?"  The value of reading about the truly heroic is obvious; but what about the not-so-heroic, the characters with feet of clay?  Why the "alas" in the mention of "Tito Melema?"

Unless we are unusually big fans of George Eliot, the reference is likely to be lost on us.  Tito Melema is the main character in Eliot's novel Romola, which was published as a serial from 1862 to 1863, and which is set in Florence during the Renaissance.

Tito, from the beginning, is kind of a mystery man.  He shows up in the first chapter, having survived a shipwreck; but even after he sells off some jewels to get him on his feet in Florence, and gets a job assisting an elderly, blind scholar with his work (Tito is obviously well educated), he doesn't tell much about himself, and hints about his true identity come slowly.  One day, though, his past confronts him: he has an adoptive father, Baldassare Calvo, who has most likely been sold into slavery, and who should be--should already have been--ransomed with the money from those jewels.  Tito, in other words, had no business starting a new life until he had done everything he could to help this man to whom he owed a great personal debt.

So does Tito drop his new job, new sweetheart (Romola) and everything else and go rushing off to rescue his father?  No, he does not.  The only other person in the world, seemingly, who knows about this situation, is a monk who gave him the message; and immediately afterwards, he hears that the monk is gravely ill, likely to die.  When nobody else knows what you've done wrong, it's easy to reason yourself into anything you want.

Here is a passage, slightly shortened, from the end of chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12 of Romola.  It might be worthwhile for older students to work through it, see how well Tito reasons--but also to discuss why his decision is still just plain wrong.

(You might also want to read "Literature as Moral Instruction," posted here by Wendi.)

* * * * *
Tito had never had occasion to fabricate an ingenious lie before: the occasion was come now—the occasion which circumstance never fails to beget on tacit falsity; and his ingenuity was ready. For he had convinced himself that he was not bound to go in search of Baldassarre. He had once said that on a fair assurance of his father’s existence and whereabout, he would unhesitatingly go after him. But, after all, why was he bound to go? What, looked at closely, was the end of all life, but to extract the utmost sum of pleasure? And was not his own blooming life a promise of incomparably more pleasure, not for himself only, but for others, than the withered wintry life of a man who was past the time of keen enjoyment, and whose ideas had stiffened into barren rigidity? Those ideas had all been sown in the fresh soil of Tito’s mind, and were lively germs there: that was the proper order of things—the order of nature, which treats all maturity as a mere nidus for youth. Baldassarre had done his work, had had his draught of life: Tito said it was his turn now.
And the prospect was so vague...After a long voyage, to spend months, perhaps years, in a search for which even now there was no guarantee that it would not prove vain: and to leave behind at starting a life of distinction and love: and to find, if he found anything, the old exacting companionship which was known by rote beforehand. Certainly the gems and therefore the florins were, in a sense, Baldassarre’s: in the narrow sense by which the right of possession is determined in ordinary affairs; but in that large and more radically natural view by which the world belongs to youth and strength, they were rather his who could extract the most pleasure out of them. That, he was conscious, was not the sentiment which the complicated play of human feelings had engendered in society. The men around him would expect that he should immediately apply those florins to his benefactor’s rescue. But what was the sentiment of society?—a mere tangle of anomalous traditions and opinions, which no wise man would take as a guide, except so far as his own comfort was concerned. Not that he cared for the florins save perhaps for Romola’s sake: he would give up the florins readily enough. It was the joy that was due to him and was close to his lips, which he felt he was not bound to thrust away from him and so travel on, thirsting. Any maxims that required a man to fling away the good that was needed to make existence sweet, were only the lining of human selfishness turned outward: they were made by men who wanted others to sacrifice themselves for their sake. He would rather that Baldassarre should not suffer: he liked no one to suffer; but could any philosophy prove to him that he was bound to care for another’s suffering more than for his own? To do so he must have loved Baldassarre devotedly, and he did not love him: was that his own fault? Gratitude! seen closely, it made no valid claim: his father’s life would have been dreary without him: are we convicted of a debt to men for the pleasures they give themselves?
 Having once begun to explain away Baldassarre’s claim, Tito’s thought showed itself as active as a virulent acid, eating its rapid way through all the tissues of sentiment. His mind was destitute of that dread which has been erroneously decried as if it were nothing higher than a man’s animal care for his own skin: that awe of the Divine Nemesis which was felt by religious pagans, and, though it took a more positive form under Christianity, is still felt by the mass of mankind simply as a vague fear at anything which is called wrong-doing....
Chapter Twelve. The Prize is nearly grasped.
 Tito walked along with a light step, for the immediate fear had vanished; the usual joyousness of his disposition reassumed its predominance, and he was going to see Romola. Yet Romola’s life seemed an image of that loving, pitying devotedness, that patient endurance of irksome tasks, from which he had shrunk and excused himself. But he was not out of love with goodness, or prepared to plunge into vice: he was in his fresh youth, with soft pulses for all charm and loveliness; he had still a healthy appetite for ordinary human joys, and the poison could only work by degrees. He had sold himself to evil, but at present life seemed so nearly the same to him that he was not conscious of the bond. He meant all things to go on as they had done before, both within and without him: he meant to win golden opinions by meritorious exertion, by ingenious learning, by amiable compliance: he was not going to do anything that would throw him out of harmony with the beings he cared for. And he cared supremely for Romola; he wished to have her for his beautiful and loving wife. There might be a wealthier alliance within the ultimate reach of successful accomplishments like his, but there was no woman in all Florence like Romola. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Parents' Review And How It Came To You

Left: 2 Parents' Review volumes
In 1890 in conjunction with establishing the Parents' Union, Miss Mason also began publishing and editing a monthly periodical for supporting the families and schools using her methods. It was called The Parents Review.  The journal was sent to parents and teachers of Charlotte Mason's schools and to families who used her correspondence programs for homes. Miss Mason edited it until her death in 1923.  That was roughly 1000 pages a year for 30 years, in addition to her other work.

 At the end of each year, in common with most periodicals of the time, bound copies of that year's magazines were compiled into a single volume. You can read more about it and see a picture of one of those bound volumes here on the AO website.  You can also read a variety of articles representing many years' worth of back issues on our website.  Where did they all come from?

Some were given to us by diligent scholars who had gone to libraries and made photocopies of articles.  But the majority of them come from volumes the Advisory owns.  How did we acquire them?  I think it's a fascinating story, and one that illustrates the near miraculous teamwork that goes on behind the scenes at AO.

 Several years ago Advisory member Anne was browsing used books online, and discovered a set of 9 bound PR volumes being sold in Ireland.  She shared the link with the rest of us, mainly as a curiosity.  "Isn't that interesting," we thought.  "Wouldn't that be lovely," we thought, a little wistfully.  And then, "Why couldn't we?" suggested somebody.  I don't remember for certain which of us made that leap, but I think it might have been Karen.  We talked about that a bit and then, 'why couldn't we?' changed to 'why shouldn't we,' and shortly it became, "Well, of course, we must!"  Soon we were excitedly discussing ways and means to accomplish what had just the day before seemed unimaginable.

 The Advisory agreed that we would pool our funds, each of us contributing what we could.  Keep in mind that this was about ten years or more before we started adding affiliate links and AO began to pay for itself instead of being an additional child supported by each household, so, really, we were pooling our husbands' funds.  Meanwhile, because we didn't want to risk another second of time, I purchased them using our debit card and the house payment money, trusting my fellow Advisory members to get their shares to me in time to pay the bill. I had no worries that they would not repay me in time, because we had been through quite a bit together already and we knew we could depend on each other, but I must confess my own husband was tremendously relieved when the payments came in.

 Repaying us for the bound copies was a joint effort, as spontaneously some quietly chipped in more for those who couldn't spare a dime. Without needing to discuss it, we each knew we wanted to make sure that each of us had at least one copy. After several confusing attempts to get my bank to clear a debit charge from Ireland, the volumes were then shipped to my house.

 For about a week, I was the proud possessor of more PR volumes than any other known person in America owned or possibly had seen all at one time. It was a heady feeling. After emailing the other Advisory members multiple times to taunt them a little, gloat a bit, and share excerpts from the volumes I was greedily skimming through, I finally managed to repackage the volumes separately, drive to town and mail each of the other Advisory their own copies.  (Lynn Bruce and I each bought two of the volumes, and that left one each for the remaining members).

During the days I had those volumes in my own hot little hands, I may or may not have been seen to stroke them madly and hiss 'my precioussssss' over them. I will neither confirm nor deny. Big Grin

 One of the two I chose was volume II. I chose this one in particular because I'd previously visited the Library of Congress looking specifically for volume II, and learned that somebody before me had stolen the LOC copy. I had wanted the article on teaching chronology and creating a book of the centuries. I chose my second volume merely because it was not one of the oldest, and it was not in the best condition of the remaining volumes. I didn't want to be too greedy, since I had my volume II. I don't remember how the other Advisory members chose the volume(s) they received.

We spent a few lovely weeks skimming our respective volumes and sharing gems we found with each other on our email list.  Then we began the process of getting the articles online. I typed a few by hand. So did one or two of my daughters. Leslie collected volunteers to do the others. Some of the Advisory mailed their volumes to Leslie for photographing.  Leslie would share photographed pages with volunteers who would type from the images so Leslie could mail back the volumes to their anxious owners.

 I think my other volume (I don't even remember for sure which one it is), was largely already on our website, thanks to the Library of Congress and other volunteers. But volume II was special to me. For years, Leslie asked me to mail it to her so she could photograph it, but I couldn't bear to let it leave my house, and, after several bad experiences, I didn't trust our postal service. Then a near miracle occurred- all the Advisory were on the same continent at the same time, and we were able to free up a few days at the same time. They came to my house.  This was the very first time all of us were together in person- at least ten years after we'd begun working together! It was exciting and a rich blessing.

 During their all too short stay, Leslie was able to explain what she needed to my daughter Rebecca (who was also our chief cook for the visit so that I could devote all my time to playing with my friends). After the Advisory returned home, my Rebecca spent a few painstaking hours photographing every single page of that precious volume II so we could finally get it to Leslie for copying. We emailed it to her as a file (or several files) of images so that my volume stayed here with its doting mummy.=)

 And that is the story of how and why our wonderful volunteers on the AO Forum are able to type up an article from volume II (with much thanks to all our volunteers as well as to that forum's moderator, Cathy).  Brandy Vencel proofreads each article as she has time, and I proof her proofing by comparing with the original precious volume, and when necessary other Auxiliary members glance over it with their suggested corrections, and then Leslie puts it on the AO website. There, volume 2 of the PR is at last available for free reading by anybody with access to the internet, along with articles from multiple other volumes.

All it took was Leslie's grand idea  and all the hard work, blood, sweat, tears, laughter, and love that have gone into that grand idea,  a serendipitous online discovery, another wild idea, cooperation amongst the seven Advisory, cheerful and generous husbands, pooled funds, a debit card, communication betwixt Ireland and a bank in Colorado, the internet, the post office, various Advisory Progeny, several cameras, further cooperation and unspoken but unanimous agreement among the Advisory that our purpose was to share rather than make a profit from the Parents' Reviews, countless volunteers (I wish I could name them all) who have been tirelessly typing, a forum and a forum moderator who helps keep the project on track, proof-readers,  and an always generous outpouring of God's grace over the AO endeavor.
If you would like to contribute to this ongoing effort, please consider joining us in the forums.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pastor Chuck Smith, 1927-2013

Many of you may not know who Chuck Smith is. But if you use Ambleside Online, even if you use only the artist or composer rotation, you have directly benefited from his ministry.

Although I am the only "Calvary Chapelite" of the AO Advisory, I have been influenced by the Calvary Chapel movement for my entire Christian life. AO has the same top-down leadership model, with the Advisory making decisions: we seek to be true to our vision, rather than appealing to the changing whims of a user base. I don't often like to pull out the "AO was my idea" card because, although the initial curriculum concept was mine, the creation of the booklist was mostly the work of the more well-read members of the Advisory. My fantastic brilliance is not in putting together a curriculum, but in putting together the right people and convincing them that the project wasn't such a crazy idea, and convincing them that it was something doable. Then I mostly stepped back and relegated myself to webmaster. But I'm pulling out that card now. AO was my idea. And perhaps my biggest contribution, aside from recognizing who needed to be involved, was the insistence from its inception that it needed to be something anybody could use for free. Nobody had to pay us, or me, to utilize AO. AO was (and is) run by volunteers who view the project as a ministry. That is also Pastor Chuck's influence, modeled after his emphasis on blessing others as a ministry, not a profit venture, even though we recognize the obvious marketing potential of AO.

This is a more personal post, about my own history and my own life, which has been largely influenced and inspired by Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel. I became a Christian in 1983 while in the military in Okinawa. The group of young Christians I fell in with talked in glowing terms about this church called Calvary Chapel back in California that welcomed young people and taught straight out of the Bible. So when I ended up stationed in Oceanside, I naturally looked them up. The first time I walked into a Calvary Chapel (I think it was a mid-week Bible study), there was a guy with an acoustic guitar and a girl sitting on a stool up in front singing and leading worship. It seemed natural, no hype, and very real. It felt like coming home. The teaching was plain, no yelling, no theatrics, just a guy talking,  explaining the Bible in a way I could understand, and that was refreshing.

During the three years between military and marriage, I was a part of the congregation of Calvary Chapel Oceanside (at the time, they were meeting at the local YMCA and the pastor was Bob Dietz and we would hear YMCA announcements from the concession stand over the PA during church service: "Number 4, your pizza is ready!"). Every chance I got, I would go with friends to "Big Calvary" in Costa Mesa, about an hour away. Often that was their Friday night Christian concerts. We were also going to Thursday night Bible studies at Calvary Chapel Dana Point, where Chuck Smith Jr. was teaching, and I went to a women's study at Calvary Chapel Vista taught by Cheryl Broderson, Chuck Smith's daughter. Being young and single and a brand new Christian, I spent a lot of my spare time listening to sermons on cassette - mostly Chuck Smith. And when Calvary Chapel started a radio station - KWVE - I listened to a lot of Calvary Chapel teaching - Greg Laurie, Raul Ries, Jon Courson, Don Johnson. Thus, much of my understanding of what it means to live as a Christian was learned from Calvary Chapel -- either directly from Pastor Chuck, or indirectly from one of his students who had gone on to plant a church somewhere else.

During that time, I met a recently divorced guy at work who was interested in Christianity, so I directed him to the one Christian I knew at work, who was involved in a spin-off Calvary Chapel church called Horizon Christian Fellowship, pastored by Mike Macintosh. The guy ended up becoming a Christian and a year or so later, I married him and we went to his church, Horizon, and Maranatha Chapel, another Calvary Chapel spin-off where Ray Bentley was the pastor. Horizon was meeting in an old school the county was no longer using. When they needed a larger facility for Sunday morning services, they built a gymnasium at the church's expense on the school grounds that they could leave as a gift to the county when the county needed the school back. While the church was using the school grounds, they would allow kids from the neighborhood to use the gym when church services weren't going on. That act of generosity impressed me and modeled the ideal for me of how Christians should act towards their neighbors.

When we started our family a year later, we decided we'd like our children to grow up in a more rural area where they could have a more normal childhood, away from gang violence which was increasing in San Diego. We drove from San Diego to Tennessee with a 4yo and a 2yo. During the very long drive we listened to Praise Band music from Maranatha Music. We were confident we'd have no problem finding a church -- after all, we were going to be living in the Bible Belt. But it wasn't as easy as we had expected. There were plenty of churches, but nothing with the kind of Bible teaching we had grown accustomed to. We even found a church that was sort of a copy of California mega-churches. I think it would be considered a "seeker church" and they had rules they made new members read before joining about what wasn't allowed (no hand-lifting, for example) because "it might make new people uncomfortable." And, although anyone could walk in from the street and feel at home, the Bible teaching was not what we hoped for. We thought our hopes of finally finding a church would be realized, but we were only there for two weeks.

One morning during our search for a church family, I woke up and it hit me -- the natural, reverent, Spirit-seeking, Bible teaching kind of church that I had taken for granted for the past ten years was something I had left back in California and I would never experience that again. It was gone forever. At that point we began praying that a Calvary Chapel would be planted in our area, although the chances of that happening seemed remote. Eventually, though, it did happen after we met another family who had also moved from California and were praying for the same thing. We started our own little home Bible study, and that was the seed of the church we have been involved in for the last 17 years.

Calvary Chapel isn't the perfect church. In fact, I've had my own issues with a few things, mostly when homeschooling has changed me. As I learned about attachment parenting (Dr. Sears used to do a call-in radio show on KVWE, so even that resulted from Calvary Chapel's influence), I wished they were more family-inclusive, instead of segregating church, Bible studies and church activities into age groups. As I homeschooled (after hearing James Dobson talk about it, also on KWVE) and I read more because I was homeschooling, I noticed a slight anti-intellectual bias. It's not an official church-sanctioned attitude, but a church whose focus is on saving souls via street evangelism, and recovery of drug addicts, and group leaders and even pastors come from that background, is likely to have that side effect. So, the church is not perfect, but no church is, and I've found that the positives far outweigh the negatives.

So we've been involved in our local little Calvary Chapel, and made that our church home. But any time I had to miss church because of a sick child, I'd tune in to Calvary Chapel's live service and listen to Pastor Chuck. In fact, the last time I was home with a sick child and tuned in, that was the morning Pastor Chuck made the announcement that he had cancer. Maybe it wasn't just coincidence that I happened to stay home that morning, of all mornings -- maybe I needed to prepare for the inevitable. That was awhile ago, a year or two.

This past Wednesday evening we had a real treat -- Terry Clark, a musician we had known of from Horizon Christian fellowship in San Diego, gave a concert. At OUR little church in Tennessee! It was wonderful, like a taste of home. During the music, I had the inkling that there was a reason for the magical feeling of the worship -- almost like a last victory celebration, or a farewell. And I found out the very next morning that Pastor Chuck had died during the night, just a few hours after that concert.

Are you wondering what the point was in posting my life story? This actually does have an AO aspect. As I've mulled over Pastor Chuck's death and my own years as a Christian that have been entirely under his shadow, I've realized how much of Pastor Chuck's teaching has influenced my own actions, and I've also been struck by a couple of parallels. In the last few months, for the only time in the history of AO, I've seriously considered walking away a couple of times. AO has had its (small) share of critics over the years, as any organization does. Recently we've been alarmed to see our project re-posted, re-named, even sold, so we've had to be more responsible about protecting the work. As a result, I've heard AO come under some pretty severe attack -- mostly variations of AO being accused of being stingy because, even though we allow people to use it for free, we can't allow it to be copied, re-named, re-posted, or sold. During those times that I was tempted to defend AO, I would hear Pastor Chuck's voice in the back of my mind answering a question once asked in an interview about how he responded to those who criticized him or his ministry (and you know that a person in the limelight as much as he was probably had all kinds of things said about him). He said he refused to defend himself, that it was his job to continue doing what God had told him to do, and it was God's job to defend him if that was necessary. (And, as far as me walking away from AO, I've had the verses about "not being weary in doing good" pop up at uncanny times frequently enough over the past few months to convince me that I'm supposed to continue what I'm doing, so me walking away from AO is now off the table. That's no longer an option I'm entertaining.)

The other parallel is about the realities of all organizations. At the time we were praying for a Calvary Chapel to start in our rural area, we were told that the process of starting a Calvary Chapel wasn't as easy as the days I remembered, when anyone could rent a storefront and hang a Calvary Chapel sign on the door. There had been a lot of problems with spin-off churches bearing the Calvary Chapel name but being doctrinally off, so "Big Calvary" had started to require that Calvary Chapels be under the official organization and meet certain doctrinal standards. When I see AO going through some of the same growing pains, it's encouraging to know that even an organization as spirit-filled and well-intentioned as Calvary Chapel has had similar growing pains, though on a much larger scale, and they felt justified in protecting their vision and upholding standards of those who wanted to join them.

Calvary Chapel has lost the one who drove, inspired and directed it, and I'm curious to know what that will mean for them. Similarly, in 1923, Charlotte Mason died, leaving her project without the one who drove, inspired and directed it. Mrs. Steinthal, Mrs. Franklin, and all those others whose names I know from Parents' Review articles carried on the work for her successfully. Yet it wasn't the same. Without her wise but warm presence, listening and guiding with a smile but never any word that "left a sting," it couldn't be the same. Times were changing, the needs of the school system were putting pressure on the PNEU to make changes. Without Charlotte Mason there to hold firmly to the original vision, I'm sure there were things that were done that she would never have wanted, compromises made to meet the demands of modern educational board requirements. AO tries to model what a CM education would look like if CM was alive today, but we can't know for sure what concessions she might have made to accommodate today's society. Would she ban the use of computers for her students? Would she encourage BBC productions of Pride and Prejudice and Wives and Daughters? Even if one of the Steinthals or Franklins or others of her students were here to ask, they aren't her and they'd only be making an educated guess.

I tuned in to the live broadcast of this morning's service at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, and I've been listening as I've been typing. His son told a few anecdotes about him, and said that Pastor Chuck loved nature and knew the names of the birds and trees in his local area. Maybe he and Charlotte Mason will be taking nature walks in heaven. There's a thought!

I'll end with Numbers 6:24-26. Pastor Chuck ended all of his services with this; there's an audio of him singing it on YouTube.

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee;
The Lord make His face to shine upon thee,
And be gracious unto thee
And be gracious unto thee
The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee,
And give thee peace.