The Armitt Museum in Ambleside, England is very small in actual size. In fact, they describe themselves as “one of Britain’s rarest small museums.” The treasures within are all out of proportion to the humble little building they call home. Giants of intellect and art lived and worked nearby, and the Armitt faithfully preserves their relics and makes them available to visitors and researchers from all over the world. If you visit Ambleside, a visit to the Armitt is a must. I’ve been privileged to visit twice, and had a recent planned visit sidelined for the same reason everything else in the world from the Olympics to the Tour de France has been cancelled or postponed in the past few months.
But I have visited and, partly as a consolation for the missed trip, I’ve been sifting through some of my take-aways from previous visits. A few of those tidbits are the subjects of this new, short series—Nuggets from the Armitt. We’re going to lighten up after our wrestling match with Coleridge, and for about a month of Mondays I’m going to share some little things—juicy little tidbits, if you will—that I bumped into while I was at the Armitt. I’m not going to give you anything earth-shattering, but I will be surprised if you don’t find a bit of new insight from these nuggets.
I got the idea for doing this after I shared a suggestive little paragraph from The Parents’ Review that indicates there might have been a PNEU meeting at Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey. I’m not going to repeat that one here, so if you haven’t seen it, you can check it out on my Facebook page or @karenglassreads on Instagram.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the L’Umile Pianta? It was a publication for the graduates of Charlotte Mason’s teaching school, so they could keep in touch with each other personally and also encourage and continue to equip each other professionally. They shared nature information, picture and composer study helps, suggestions for teaching various subjects, and so forth. One of the features of the magazine was the “Reading Page” or “Reading Club.” This page was dedicated to sharing reviews of books, along with a commonplace quote or two, that might be of interest to other readers. The editor of the magazine included this page in every issue, but sometimes, rather than book reviews or commonplace quotes, it was devoted to pleading for submissions. Even if there were a few suggestions, the editor was usually begging for more:
The smallest crumbs are gratefully received here and yet—this poor pauper starves.
The books they suggested ranged from poetry and novels to books about psychology or history. Pretty much anything that might be of use to a fellow former pupil in her task of feeding her own mind was fair game. In spite of the continual pleading, as I leafed through issue after issue, I found the poor editor almost at her wits’ end and shamelessly laying a guilt trip on everyone who wasn’t sending her a postcard!
Here you find her playing on their sympathy as she describes the condition of the “reading club.” It was “Starving. Empty. Forlorn. Pitiable.” And so she begs, “Oh all ye little students remember me, and drop me a post card crumb!”
You all know how much I admire Charlotte Mason. However, I think most of us will admit that her books can feel a bit daunting. She is strong-minded, and while she is always kind, she is also fairly relentless in presenting an ideal which she will not tarnish with wavering human nature. Reading L’Umile Pianta and The Parents’ Review is a different experience. There, we find a much more down-to-earth and humanizing presentation of the ideals as students and parents tried to live them out. They remind me of myself and all the homeschool moms and teachers I have known through the years. They were so much like us, and I’ll be showing you a bit more of that in the weeks to come.
That’s all I’ve got for today—as I said, these are just little nuggets of interest that I gleaned while delving into other serious topics. There is a lot of fun in these old publications, and one of my great regrets is that I will probably never get enough study hours in the Armitt to get through all the material available. But, we won’t let that deter us from enjoying what we can, right? If you were going to cave in to the editor’s pleading and send a postcard with a book suggestion, what would you suggest your fellow home teachers read?
As I prepared for this series, I visited the Armitt website and discovered that the enforced closure is hurting them very much. They rely on visitor ticket sales to fund the museum, and during the closure, they have nothing except any donations they might receive. My goal with this series was merely to offer some light-hearted and interesting tidbits I gleaned during my visits, but I’m going to add here that if you enjoy this series and the virtual visit to the Armitt, please consider sending them a small donation—their link will explain how you can do that.