Connections with Coleridge #4—Dipping into Method

Coleridge says that his principles have been “drawn from the purest sources of Philosophy, ancient and modern.” It reminded me of Charlotte Mason herself, who didn’t mind so much whether a source was old or new so much as she cared that it was an example of “purest philosophy,” and she never hesitated to shape her life according to the philosophy and principles she believed in.

For example, Coleridge considered the way a methodical mind should approach time. Time is divided into days and hours, and regularity and punctuality and “everything like clockwork” strike us as virtues. But Coleridge tells us that the “man of Methodical industry” is not content merely to mark time:

He realizes its ideal divisions, and gives a character and individuality to its moments. If the idle are described as killing time, he may be justly said to call it into life and moral being, while he makes it the distinct object not only of the consciousness, but of the conscience. He organizes the hours, and gives them a soul: and to that, the very essence of which is to fleet, and to have been, he communicates an imperishable and a spiritual nature. (p. 13)

I find this passage remarkably similar to the descriptions I’ve read of the way that Charlotte Mason ordered her own time day by day, and the way she ordered the time of the college at Scale How  and encouraged families to order theirs. Time was a valuable resource, and every bit of it should be used profitably and gratefully. Methodically. And since method is primarily about relations, time should be used relationally.

But at Scale How time was to be respected, given to the thing or person claiming it rightfully. Then there would always be time, without over-pressure or distraction. This sense of time value was hard to achieve but it bore the test of experience during the two years’ training. What an effort of faith it all was to one so slow to read, to write and to think. It did not seem possible to find a moment for everything, yet if no time was wasted there was plenty of it and no hurry. (The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondeley, p. 150)

As I work through this series, I continue to receive pops of illumination that weren’t there before. The reason  this methodical and relational approach makes a difference is that it shows us meaning. That’s the “imperishable and spiritual nature” of something as fleeting as time. When the minutes are gone, their meaning remains. They meant something, and so their effect lives on.

While reading through Treatise on Method, I occasionally felt that I was reading Charlotte Mason herself. Sometimes that was because Coleridge’s key ideas echoed Charlotte Mason’s (or, more correctly, hers probably echoed his):

And is not he the truly virtuous and truly happy man, who seizing first and laying hold most firmly of the great first Truth, is guided by that divine light through all the meandring and stormy courses of his existence? To him every relation of life affords a prolific Idea of duty ; by pursuing which into all its practical consequences, he becomes a good servant or a good master, a good subject or a good sovereign, a good son or a good father ; a good friend, a good patriot, a good Christian, a good man! (p. 14)

And sometimes, it feels like Charlotte Mason simply because she quoted whole paragraphs from this book:

“We can recall no incident of human history that impresses the imagination more deeply than the moment when Columbus on an unknown ocean first perceived that baffling fact, the change of the magnetic needle. How many instances occur in history when the ideas of nature (presented to chosen minds by a Higher Power than Nature herself) suddenly unfold as it were in prophetic succession systematic views destined to produce the most important revolutions in the state of man! The clear spirit of Columbus was doubtless eminently methodical. He saw distinctly that great leading idea which authorised the poor pilot to become a ‘promiser of Kingdoms.’ ” (From Philosophy of Education, p. 106, but quoting from pages 14-15 of Treatise on Method.)

Are you getting a glimpse of the way that method/relations provide meaning? “Every relation of life affords a prolific Idea of duty.” When we perceive relations it awakens our sense of connection and responsibility. We are moved to act because we care (“it’s not how much does the youth know, but how much does care?”) Relations gives us reasons for behaving in certain ways. This is the process by which virtue is fostered in the human heart. Columbus was certainly motivated by the ideas and relations that he perceived!

Throughout this book we find evidence after evidence of the strong influence it had on Charlotte Mason’s thinking. The central theme of the book, of course, is the concept of method, by which is meant the clear progress of thought toward a definite end. It implies a series of relationships that are linked, one into another, as progress is made step-by-step. There is no sphere of human experience that remains untouched by these ideas. As Coleridge discusses the effect of method in the study of botany and chemistry, we see glimmers of the ideas that informed Charlotte Mason’s approach to every study. What Coleridge means by “method” is both so deep and so broad, it could take your breath away. It is nothing less than the living action of the human mind in accordance with principles and laws which the mind alone can perceive: relationship, on both a macro and a micro scale—relationship that will not allow a person to remain a passive learner, unmoved by what he sees. Charlotte Mason beheld these ideas and carried them with her throughout decades of educational endeavors.

I know this discussion gets weighty, which is one reason I’ve spent two years with this book before venturing into it, but I’m glad I finally started. It’s a further relationship to interact with other people over the ideas (even on a blog), and that further relationship breathes new life into the ideas I’ve been pondering. Thanks for being a part of it!

One thought on “Connections with Coleridge #4—Dipping into Method

  1. “And yet they say, that in the same time, as one Agatarchus boasted himself, that he had quickly painted certain beasts: Zeuxis, another painter, hearing him, answered:
    ‘And I contrarily do rejoice, that I am a long time in drawing of them. For commonly slight and sudden drawing of anything, cannot take deep colours, nor give perfect beauty to the work: but length of time, adding to the painter’s diligence and labour in making of the work, maketh the colours to continue forever.’” Plutarch, Life of Pericles

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