Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Not a Fairy Tale, Nor a Nursery Rhyme

Lewis writes to his friend Arthur Greeves about some houseguests he has been entertaining:

"The only member of the visiting family whose society we like is the boy, Michael, about 5. ... Minto* reads him the Peter Rabbit books every evening, and it is a lovely sight. She reads very slowly and he gazes up into her eyes which look enormous through her spectacles -- what a pity she has no grandchildren. Would you believe it, that child had never been read to nor told a story by his mother in his life? Not that he is neglected. He has a whole time Nurse (an insufferable semi-lady scientific woman with a diploma from some Tom-fool nursing college), a hundred patent foods, is spoiled, and far too expensively dressed: but his poor imagination has been left without any natural food at all. I often wonder what the present generation of children will grow up like (how many middle aged men in all generations have said this). They have been treated with so much indulgence yet so little affection, with so much science and so little mother-wit. Not a fairy tale nor a nursery rhyme."

~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II, Letter to Arthur Greeves from The Kilns, (December 7, 1935)

*"Minto" is Mrs. Moore, the mother of his friend Edward "Paddy" Moore, whom he took in after Moore's death in WWI.

Feeling nostalgic? Read some Beatrix Potter books online here.

7 Comment(s):

At Wed Oct 06, 05:48:00 AM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

When I read this letter of Lewis's, I immediately thought of the poem "The Reading Mother", which was written by Strickland Gillilan around the same year. Hope you all don't mind if I share it!

The Reading MotherI had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings —
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a Mother who read to me.
- Strickland Gillilan

[People. New York;
Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1936.]

At Wed Oct 06, 09:43:00 AM EST, Blogger Sandicomm said...

As to the poem: Hear, hear! I don't really remember what my mum read to me (not Ivanhoe or the ones mentioned in the poem) but it was always a ritual; she'd read us part of a book, sing us Cumbaya, and then we'd go to bed.

And as to the child mentioned in the letter: Poor thing; sounds like some people I know.

I think we must be aware that Lewis had nothing against science, it's just that it is equally important to cultivate an imagination.

At Wed Oct 06, 06:04:00 PM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Yes, I don't think that nursing college comment was really meant the way it sounds. But you'd think he'd be a little more kindly towards nurses, having been wounded in WWI. Perhaps this particular nurse was just getting on his nerves, as most houseguests who stay beyond the three-day limit tend to do.

At Wed Oct 06, 08:39:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerewyn: Children who are possessed of vivid imaginations would surely seek out any material they can – I was drawn like a magnet to my parents’ bookcase, to look at the pictures until I could read. But easier said than done. Imagine having none within your reach, and no readings either! It was probably the case in many a strict nursery environment. And they may have feared that a child given too much material to dream on, would become a dreamer, and waste away his life in dreams rather than science.

My dad would read to us (three kids) each night – I particularly remember ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and ‘Watership Down’.

Oh! From the poem… I’ve been to the grave of Gelert, in Wales. He lies beside the grave of his heartbroken master. It’s a sad tale… I must try and track it down..

At Wed Oct 06, 08:48:00 PM EST, Blogger Sandicomm said...

Arevanye, I believe that when he says "nursing school" or "nurse", Lewis is really talking about a nanny or a babysitter.

At Wed Oct 06, 08:59:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerewyn: Oopsie, wrong about Gelert lying beside his master. Iwas remembering the two plaques side-by-sise, as can be seen on this webpage:

Yes I think 'Nurse' might have been a common name for Nanny. There's often a "Nurse" character in some old children's fiction.

At Wed Oct 06, 09:43:00 PM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Yes, but a degree from a nursing college? Surely a degree wouldn't be required to become a nanny?

I'm sure you are right, and it is just my "American" showing!


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