|image from Parallel Lives, Amyot translation 1565|
|Roman fort that Mason’s students visited – and so did we!|
|“Watersheds, hills, lakes, valleys, contours, were studied out of doors as well as places of local interest such as old streets and houses and the Roman fort at Waterhead.” – The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 72|
Before I begin an immersion session with Plutarch, I usually hear these comments:
Many great writers have drawn from his well; William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Francis Bacon, Montaigne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, David Hume et al. The children in a relational school are put into direct contact with the moral biographer’s work. Plutarch tells delightfully descriptive stories of great men of the past. Even though he was not writing for children, his stories are well suited for them because he was concerned with families, education, and the responsibilities of citizens and statesmen. Through vivid and dramatic writings, Plutarch instructs students about friendship, obedience,self-control, justice, humility, and other characteristics of great citizens, yet he avoids pointing the moral in his accounts and fills his writing with lesser-known incidents which often reveal the true character of the subject.
emphasis was not necessarily on history, but on the character and conduct of famous men. Perhaps no one inspires and instructs the children in the duties and difficulties of statesmanship quite the same way as Plutarch. Mason (1925/1989) states:
We find Plutarch’s Lives exceedingly inspiring. These are read by the teacher (with suitable omissions) and narrated with great spirit by the children. They learn to answer such questions as,––”In what ways did Pericles make Athens beautiful? How did he persuade the people to help him?” And we may hope that the idea is engendered of preserving and increasing the beauty of their own neighbourhood without the staleness which comes of much exhortation. (p.186)
Again, they will answer,––”How did Pericles manage the people in time of war lest they should force him to act against his own judgment?” And from such knowledge as this we may suppose that the children begin to get a sympathetic view of the problems of statesmanship. Then, to come to our own time, they are enabled to answer,––”What do you know of (a) County Councils, (b)District Councils, (c) Parish Councils?”–– knowledge which should make children perceive that they too are being prepared to become worthy citizens, each with his several duties. (p. 186)
Reading children’s versions of Plutarch or long commentaries is not advised. North’s is the recommended translation. While the text is perhaps challenging at first, the children soon adapt and do surprisingly well. The following is an observation of the accessibility of Plutarch to the children by H.W. Household, Secretary for Education, Gloucestershire:
We turn to Plutarch’s “Lives”in Thomas North’s Elizabethan version. I remember when teachers foretold that the children would not read him – themselves underrating the ability of the workers’ children. Triumphantly the children dispelled their unfounded pessimism. If there are two authors who have asserted and established their sovereignty in the elementary school, they are Shakespeare and Plutarch (as North rendered him), read without commentary, or any more explanation than the child itself demands. The half that the children take of themselves with joy, is far greater than the whole that ultra- conscientious teachers, stuffed with the notes of commentators would fain force upon them. (Household, c.a. 1953, p. 6)
Boswell, J. (1987). Life of Samuel Johnson, ll.d.. Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc (Original work published in 1791).
Household, H.W. (c.a. 1953). P.N.E.U. methods of teaching: with special reference to the teaching of English.[eight-page pamphlet]. Charlotte Mason Digital Collection (call number ARMITT Box CM16, File CMC107, Items i1p1cmc107I-i4p19cmc107II) . Redeemer University College, Ancaster, ON.
Mason, C. M. (1989). A philosophy of education. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published in 1925).