The Seven Liberal Arts and a Classical Education- a Parents’ Review article cont.

Charlotte Mason was inspired by this fresco of the Seven Liberal Arts

Here is the second section from the Parents Review, Volume II article, “The Place of Greek in Modern Education.” This article was published in 1891 and was written by Oscar Browning. You will find part one of this article here.

Some of the terms he uses will be familiar to homeschoolers, but some of us use the same terms rather differently. Modern American homeschooling uses a term, classical education, to refer to a ‘stages of learning’ framework first introduced by Dorothy Sayers (author of the delightful Peter Wimsey books) in the beginning of the 20th century and popularized by Douglas Wilson towards the end of that century. In fact, for centuries before Dorothy Sayers came along, and in most circles after she finished mangling the term, ‘classics’ referred to Greek and Latin Literature. As for what was meant by a ‘classical education,’ well- the article introduces these ideas better than I can. Read closely and whenever you come across a term you’ve heard classical homeschoolers use, read even more closely and see how Browning’s definitions must differ:

Also, a good deal of evidence may be adduced to show that those who have thus studied Greek under compulsion have expressed their gratitude for having been obliged to do so. It is more profitable to approach the question from a wider point of view; to trace the rise of Greek as a part of liberal education historically; to examine whether it satisfies modern requirements; and to examine whether, in the evolution of studies, it is likely to retain its position.

We may consider that Greek was very little studied in the middle ages. Dante probably knew nothing of it. Aristotle- “il primo dicolor che sanno,” the chief of those who know”- was read by the schoolmen in a Latin version of an Arabic translation of the Greek original. The study of Greek did not become general until after the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453. The second renaissance was deeply affected by it; but it had little or no influence on the first. The idea of the middle ages was based on the seven years’ course- the Trivium and Quadrivium- which was supposed to contain all that was necessary for human beings to know.

Gram loquitur, Dia ver docet, Rhe verba colorat,
Mus canit, ar numerat Geo ponderat As colit astra.

The seven liberal arts
were grammar, dialectic or logic, rhetoric, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. If the study of Greek might be held to be connected with the the three first, the preliminary or trivial studies, it certainly could have nothing to do with the four last, the higher exercises of the more mature mind.

The study of Greek inaugurated by the second Renaissance, and the more thorough study of Latin which accompanied it, caused great enthusiasm throughout the civilised world. The discoveries in history and antiquities, and the gradual elucidation of difficult passages in the classical authors, were only comparable to the scientific discoveries of the present day. A new reading or a new version spread like wildfire through Europe, and reverberated through the whole body of learned people. Hence the humanities, as they were called, not only fascinated by their intrinsic value, but appealed to that love of excitement and notoriety which will always deeply sway the human heart. Even in the Catholic Church there was a pagan revival which had no small share in bringing about the Reformation. Thus when the Reformation broke with the old learning, when the means and instruments of education, provided by a long series of pious benefactions, became inaccessabile to Protestants, and it was necessary to found a new training for the new faith, Europe found itself chained to the car of the classics.

The duty of organising secondary education for Protestants fell upon Melancthon, who, partly by natural temperament and partly by accident, gave more impulse to the ancient languages than to the other parts of the medieval course which he designed to resuscitate. By these influences the study of Greek assumed a larger importance, even in the more enlightened parts of Europe, than it deserved for itself, or than was contemplated for it.

There is a lovely depiction of the Seven Liberal Arts which you can see here- the text of the website is in French. The illustration was originally in the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad von Landsberg– a medieval manuscript written and illustrated by Herrad, a 12th century nun at Hohenburg Abbey in Alsace.

Charlotte Mason was inspired to a new understanding of the pedagogical place and meaning of the seven liberal arts by another picture in an experience she called “The Great Recognition.” Her biographer, Essex Cholmondeley, wrote that on a visit to Florence Italy, she “received a deep and living impression of the frescoes on the wall of the Spanish Chapel attached to the Church of Santa Maria Novella. In Parents and Children she devotes a chapter to them…”
The fresco, Triumph of St Thomas and Allegory of the Sciences, you can see here. You can read Miss Mason’s chapter on this great recognition here. She also wrote about it in another Parents’ Review article online here. It is the heart of her ideas about education and what it means.

Her biographer wrote,

“These frescoes… show the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the mind of men. Within His light are the Apostles and the prophets, and below, centrally enthroned, sits St. Thomas Aquinas. Above him float the figures of the seven virtues. In a row at the foot of the picture, beautiful in dignity and alertness, sit the fourteen ‘knowledges’ or sciences, accompanied by their greatest exponents.
Miss Mason follows Ruskin’s interpretation of the frescoes (footnote here – Mornings in Florence.) describing them as ‘a harmonious and ennobling scheme of education and philosophy.’ Then turning to the figures of the sciences her thought goes out to the many relationships and activities of human life in the past and in her own times. Above all she thinks of ‘the intellectual life, the development of which in children is the aim of our subjects and methods of instruction.’ Education, she sees, is at present divided into ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ and so is common thought which makes education secular, entirely limited to the uses of this visible world.

IN addition to developing a school program and a Parents’ Union, Miss Mason instituted a training college where young women could go to study her methods and learn to apply them in their own life’s work as governesses or teachers in schools. She called it The House of Education. Essex writes that

“Charlotte built this ‘great recognition’ deep into the foundations of the students’ life and training there. It formed the special teaching of Whitsunday afternoon. A reproduction of the frescoes had its place in a central position for all to live with. The students called it the ‘creed picture,’ coming slowly to understand how not only every increase in knowledge and power came by the Divine Spirit, but also the way of using the things and opportunities of daily life, the way to handle a microscope, the moment to choose for a word of praise or rebuke in school. Charlotte Mason showed that this recognition resolves the discords in each person’s life between claims of the intellect, of the aesthetic sense, and of religion: ‘There is space for free development in all directions and this free and joyous development, whether of intellect or heart, is recognized as a Godward movement. Various activities with unity of aim bring harmony and peace into our lives.'”

— from pages 48-52 of The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondeley c1960

It is fascinating to me how we bandy about words like ‘classical,’ ‘education,’ liberal arts,’ and more, tossing them lightly into the air, taking them for granted, when if we stop to open them up, they are like treasure boxes or Faberge Eggs, full of tiny gems, rich meaning, and pictures, ideas, and a history we never realized.

Also: Keep in mind that one of the very interesting things about Oscar Browning’s arguments is that he didn’t really know he was refuting any erroneous ideas about what classical education was- he was just stating what everybody knew about it in 1891 (he was the headmaster of a classical school as well as the graduated student of another, and I believe that in the years he wasn’t a headmaster, he had been a teacher in other classical schools).

Dorothy Sayers would not write her new version into the record until something like fifty years later.

(for some reason, the following shortlinks sometimes only take readers to the front page of the main blog. If this happens to you, copy and paste into your browser the longer links I added below each hyperlink).

Part one

Greek in the Public Schools In England in 1891

Part two

The Seven Liberal Arts and a Classical Education- a Parents’ Review article cont.

Part three

Parents’ Review Article on Greek cont.

Part four

Greek in Modern Education, PR Article cont.

Part five

Greek in Modern Education, PR Article cont.

Part six, Conclusion

PR Article on Greek in Modern Education- Conclusion

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