Wednesday 20 February 2013

Children and Reading and Miss Martineau - Joan Lennon

Harriet Martineau's Household Education was published in 1848.  I don't always read raw history, but I'd been paired with this formidable lady as part of the 26 Norwich Writers project,* and needed to start somewhere.  Miss Martineau was astonishingly prolific - hugely influential in her time** - shockingly outspoken on the issues of her day - and clearly an all-round good egg.  But, to be honest, I wasn't exactly expecting to really enjoy her writing.  But I DID.  Household Education is fascinating.  It made me go YES!  It made me think.  And as this blog is the ramblings of a few scattered children's authors, I thought I'd share a few scattered Harrietisms on children and reading.

Such as -

"Children who read from the love of reading are usually supremely happy over their book.  A wise parent will indulge the love of reading, not only from kindness in permitting the child to do what it likes best, but because what is read with enjoyment has intense effect upon the intellect."

She didn't expect this enjoyment to be an immediate thing.

"The practice of reading for amusement must not begin too soon: and it must be permitted by very slow degrees, till the child is so practised in the art of reading as to have its whole mind at liberty for the subject, without having to think about the lines or the words.  Till he is is sufficiently practised for this, HE SHOULD BE READ TO ..." [my capitals]

She did not hold with the modern wisdom that it doesn't matter what children are reading, as long as they ARE reading.  As she went on to say,

"The parents' main business during this process is to look to the quality of the books read: - I mean merely to see that the child has the freest access to those of the best quality.  Nor do I mean only to such as the parent may think good for a child of such and such an age.  The child's own mind is a truer judge in this case than the parents' suppositions.  Let but noble books be on the shelf ... and the child will get nothing but good."

Her description of the best education of children - a far cry from so much that's called education in our day or hers - made me want to cheer, or possibly weep:  

"... the young creatures, having learned to use their own limbs and senses, and acquired the command of speech, begin to use their powers for the acquisition of materials for future thought.  They listen, they look about them, they inquire, they read; and, above all, they dream."

If only it were always so. 

* As part of the celebrations around Norwich becoming the first English UNESCO City of Literature, the writers' co-operative 26 has come up the project 26 Norwich Writers, in which 26 contemporary writers have been randomly paired with 26 writers from or associated with the city in its long history, and asked to write a response.  26 students from the University of East Anglia are doing the same.  That's a lot of 26s in 1 paragraph.  Unless it should be 26's ...

** People like Charles Babbage, Charlotte Bronte, Thomas Carlyle, Darwin, Dickens, George Eliot, Malthus, Florence Nightingale and William Wordsworth visited her, though not, we hope, all on the same day. 

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.


Pippa Goodhart said...

Wonderful stuff! Thank you.

Lynda Waterhouse said...

Thanks for sharing the Harrietisms Joan- I will be passing them on. The 26 project sounds brilliant and I would love to hear more about it as it unfolds

Savita Kalhan said...

I'd love to know what she thought were 'noble' books! did she have a recommended reading list? Very interesting post, Joan. Thank you, and good luck with the 26's!

Penny Dolan said...

Hooray for Harriet! I particularly liked "should be read to" too.

Emma Barnes said...

Yes - though I too am a bit suspicious about the "noble" books. Hopefully she's not of the Mr Collins of Pride and Prejudice school of thought that young ladies should only be read sermons...

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for your comments - and don't worry - our Harriet was as un-Mr Collins as it's possible to get!

For some reason, the link to 26 in the * paragraph barely shows, but a little judicious hovering and it'll click you through to their website and more information.