This is the tenth and final post in this series. Even good things come to an end sometime! I hope it’s been more enjoyable than you might have anticipated!
Treatise on Method was not an easy-to-read book, and I read it three times across two years before writing this series, to ensure that I grasped the salient points. I used the internet to help me translate some of the foreign quotes, and a couple of times I enlisted the help of a savvy homechooled Latin student (not one of mine) to untangle something that confused me. I don’t think that everyone who enjoys Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education needs to rush out and buy this book, although it’s interesting as it provides a window into the mind of Charlotte Mason. I wish I could know exactly when she first read this book and how it shaped her thinking, because it was definitely formative. The most cogent ideas in her philosophy—the key points that she returns to again and again—are the central points of this book. At the same time, it gives us insight into how other thinkers—Plato and Bacon—were linked to Charlotte Mason in this short chain. The profound synthesis which illustrates the relationship of two thinkers from different eras, showing them to be united in their Method despite surface differences, offers a clue to the way Charlotte Mason herself approached other philosophers. If she had taken nothing away from Coleridge but his unifying concept of Method, it would have been enough.
However, it is also clear from his practical application of Method regarding knowledge that she gleaned some practical ideas as well. For example:
Assuredly the great use of History is to acquaint us with the Nature of Man. This end is best answered by the most faithful portrait; but Biography is a collection of portraits. At the same time there must be some mode of grouping and connecting the individuals, who are themselves the great landmarks in the Map of Human Nature. It has therefore occurred to us, that the most effectual mode of attaining the chief objects of Historical knowledge will be occasionally to present History in the form of Biography, chronologically arranged.
. . . If in tracing thus the “eventful History” of Man, and particularly of our own Country, we should perceive, as we must necessarily do in all that is human, evils and imperfections, these will not be without their uses, in leading us back to the importance of intellectual Method as their grand and sovereign remedy. Hence shall we learn its proper national application, namely, the education of the Mind. (p. 65)
Doesn’t that remind you of Charlotte Mason and all she says about History? Coleridge wrote this Treatise as the introduction to an Encyclopedia, and so ultimately, it must be understood as intending to inform education very directly—what is the best way to arrange and convey knowledge? His answer, in Charlotte Mason’s terms, is that “education is the science of relations.” What he actually said was, “we have faintly sketched an outline of the great laws of Method, which bind together the various branches of Human Knowledge.” (p. 64) He says of his work that it
will present the circle of Knowledge in its harmony; will give that unity of design and of elucidation, the want of which we have most deeply felt in other Works of a similar kind, where the desired information is divided into innumerable fragments scattered over many volumes, like a mirror broken on the ground, presenting, instead of one, a thousand images, but none entire. (p. 66)
I’m not sure I can convey his meaning fully, but I will try. Coleridge intended this Encyclopaedia Metropolitana to be read consecutively, or, if out of order, with the arrangement in mind. It was not arranged purely alphabetically, but the subjects were presented according to the relational method he expounded—pure intellectual sciences first, and then mixed or practical ones. A grand scheme of education, indeed, the very idea of which inspired and informed Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education two generations later.
And therefore, though we scarcely had the slightest idea that this was so, it informs our own homeschools as well. Because education is, indeed, the science of relations, and all knowledge is connected, and you had a relationship with this book, through Charlotte Mason, before you even knew it existed. The realm of knowledge and ideas is ours to be explored. When we read and talk and write about the same ideas that have engaged the thinkers of many centuries, we become a part of the Great Conversation, even as we sip coffee and read to our children.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a peek into this obscure book with me. Thanks for coming along for this blog series, Connections with Coleridge.
While the series will remain freely available on my blog, I have collected this material into an e-book for Kindle. It’s part of the Encore series, and like all the Encore books, it includes a bit of bonus material that did not appear in the blog series.