Intellectual Culture and a Boy's Commonplace Book

I’ve been encouraging Bengy, who has recently turned 15 years of age, to keep a commonplace book. In Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Rob Roy (Ch II), there is an instructive example of how not to go about doing this. Frank Osbaldistone was a young man whose father was a man of business and he required his son to keep a journal related to that field of endeavour. But the young man was more inclined to the poetic, of which his father had no appreciation:

“…Have you kept your journal in the terms I desired?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Be pleased to bring it here.”
The volume thus required was a sort of commonplace book, kept by my father’s recommendation, in which I had been directed to enter notes of the miscellaneous information which I had acquired in the course of my studies. Foreseeing that he would demand inspection of this record, I had been attentive to transcribe such particulars of information as he would most likely be pleased with, but too often the pen had discharged the task without much correspondence with the head. And it had also happened, that, the book being the receptacle nearest to my hand, I had occasionally jotted down memoranda which had little regard to traffic. I now put it into my father’s hand, devoutly hoping he might light on nothing that would increase his displeasure against me.
Unfortunately for Frank, a piece of paper containing a poem fell from his book as his father was reading the contents:
“What’s all this? — verses! — By Heaven, Frank, you are a greater blockhead than I supposed you!”

I wanted my son’s quotes to be something he connected with personally and not something I forced upon him. Keeping a book of quotes isn’t something that came naturally to some of my offspring but that didn’t mean that their reading had no impact upon them. Often when Bengy narrates he’ll make a comment about something that aroused his interest as he read. I want to encourage him to record those sparks of interest and delight in order to help cultivate his power of appreciation. 
I know myself that if I don’t record these impressions when they are fresh, they pass through my mind and go unappreciated.
Yesterday he chose a couple of quotes that showed something of his character:
The first one gives a hint of his sense of humour and how he likes to stir his mother up by asking why he has to study so much history when he wants to be an engineer etc…
“Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; But knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.” 
 – Plato, circa 400 B.C.
This one shows more where his heart lies and it gave me a little thrill to see that he’d written this in his commonplace book/reading-diary:

“Resolved, never to do anything which I would be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.”
– Jonathon Edwards 
‘…intellectual culture…the young people must get at home, or nowhere. By this sort of culture I mean, not so much the getting of knowledge, nor even getting the power to learn, but the cultivation of the power to appreciate, to enjoy, whatever is just, true, and beautiful in thought and expression…’
Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason, Part III



10 thoughts on “Intellectual Culture and a Boy's Commonplace Book

  1. I find your posts so encouraging. Right now I am struggling with making sure my son age 12 is reading thoughtfully. His narrations seem to be getting shorter and becoming more like summaries. His written narrations are also shorter. He does enjoy keeping a commonplace book, and I also am surprised sometimes with what he chooses to write.


  2. Thank you, Patty.Interesting – I've observed the narration problem happening at times also. A couple of things have been helpful: Giving them specific ideas for how to present their narration eg sometimes I'll just say, 'I want you to write a letter from Timoleon to Timophanes asking him to…' or 'Write your narration in poetic form similar to the style of The Destruction of Sennacherib' or some other poem they are familiar with.I wrote a few ideas here: other thing is to require a certain length – a paragraph, a page etcSome of the boys wrote better (and in more length) if they used the computer – they found handwriting really tiring; my dd takes much longer this way & spends more time fiddling around with fonts than she does typing her narrations so I'd rather she used pen & paper.It also depends on what he is reading – some books just aren't suitable for narration.


  3. Those connections are so important when tying together ideas as a whole. Thanks for this. I'll be encouraging my children to consider carefully what is important to them .. when they're old enough. My daughter, 10, is showing signs of keeping in this style already; the others not so much. Thanks, Carol.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s