Madame How & Lady Why by Charles Kingsley – Part 1: The Glen

“. . . it is by watching the common natural things around you, and considering the lilies of the field, how they grow, that you will begin at least to learn that far Diviner mystery, that you have a Father in Heaven.”
Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)



Madame How & Lady Why (MHLW) is a literary Natural History book spread over Years 4 & 5 in the Ambleside Online Curriculum. If you are a latecomer to AO with older children who haven’t read the book, there is also a schedule for the book to be read over the course of a year. There are twelve chapters in the book & the link is to the older 2011 Ambleside Online schedule. One of my children did this a few years ago when we first started with AO.
Charles Kingsley, one of the most prolific authors during the Victorian era, was at one time Chaplain to Queen Victoria and also a friend and admirer of Charles Darwin. I read up on Kingsley because I knew that he sympathised with the theory of evolution and I wanted to know more about him. I found some interesting articles.

1) This one (from an Intelligent Design perspective) included the quote below from another source:

‘Kingsley had misunderstood that the main point of Darwin’s book was to remove the Creator from nature.’

2) An article on The Victorian Web.


So why bother to use an outdated book on science written by a person who clearly was enamoured with the work of Charles Darwin when I don’t hold to the theory of evolution?
For me there are a couple of reasons.

* Home education allows me to discuss everything in the light of God’s Word and there have been many situations which have come up in all sorts of areas, not just in books, which have needed to be clarified, discussed or explained. These situations have been some of the most valuable and teachable times we’ve had. I’ve become more comfortable talking about other ideas that might not fit with what we believe as the years have passed. We have to have these conversations at some stage and I’m beginning to think, the earlier the better. With older kids around the younger ones get to listen in to conversations & I usually end up having to explains things anyway.


We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.
A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason, Pg xxxi

* At first I didn’t like the fact that some of Kingsley’s ideas were out of date but that can be said of other books on science and even the knowledge of a few years ago can become outdated. In fact, this ‘disadvantage’ has been beneficial in many ways as it has made me research areas of science I’ve been unfamiliar with. I love anything to do with life science but geology/earth science has always been a bit of a mystery, partly because when I did it at school it was just presented as information. There were no ideas that I could assimilate.

 Now that life, which we call education, receives only one kind of sustenance; it grows upon ideas.

Parents & Children by Charlotte Mason Pg 33


My daughter has just turned 10 years of age and is a very good reader but I’m reading MHLW aloud so that I can discuss things with her and demonstrate how some ideas have been replaced by others. So some history is thrown into the mix.
The knowledge of science has changed and will continue to change. Man doesn’t know everything. Scientists will get things wrong and so will professing Christians such as Mr. Kingsley.

* Charlotte Mason stated in A Philosophy of Education that we need to,

present ideas with a great deal of padding – and that,

the books used are, whenever possible, literary in style

There is no shortage of beautifully presented books on science but they are often just full of facts. There is no padding and children run up against walls of information which they read and then promptly forget. No ideas are presented and nothing is assimilated.

I love this quote from Hard Times by Charles Dickens. When I started reading Charlotte Mason’s ideas on education, especially in relation to the books used in teaching children, I recalled Dickens’ words: 

Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. ‘Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy’s definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.’ 

Bitzer,’ said Thomas Gradgrind. ‘Your definition of a horse.’…

‘Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.’ Thus (and much more) Bitzer.
‘Now girl number twenty,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘You know what a horse is’ 

Definitely not my idea of how I want my children to be educated!

I’ve put photos, videos, etc on Pinterest and will be adding to that as we continue the book. I’ve also included some things below that I couldn’t add to Pinterest for different reasons.

The book is written from an English perspective and Kingsley mentions parts of Southern England in the book.


A Bog, South Dartmoor


The Glen

Glen – a deep narrow valley, especially among mountains

Chine – this word is peculiar to the south of England (eg on the Isle of Wight) and it refers to a valley or ravine that leads down to the seashore.
From what I’ve gathered from various dictionary definitions, the words canyon and gorge are basically describing the same thing, whereas a ravine is narrower and not as large. All three are formed by water erosion.
In Australia the word, gorge tends to be used.

Gorge – a deep, narrow passage with steep rocky sides formed by running water.

Canyon – a narrow chasm with steep cliff walls formed by running water.

Ravine – a deep, narrow steep-sided valley formed by running water


Barron Gorge, Kuranda, Queensland


See 27 of the Deepest Canyons You Can Explore here. Some of these are called gorges.


 White Cliffs of Dover – erosion


Glacial erosion – the Matterhorn. The name Matterhorn comes from the German words matte, meaning meadow, and horn, meaning peak. What is glacial erosion?


I’ll be adding separate posts on the different sections in the book.

Update: these are the posts for the first half of MHLW:

Chapter 1: The Glen
Chapter 2: Earthquakes
Chapter 3: Volcanoes
Chapter 4: The Transformation of a Grain of Soil
Chapter 5: The Ice Plough
Chapter 6: The True Fairy Tale
Chapter 7:  The Chalk-carts


13 thoughts on “Madame How & Lady Why by Charles Kingsley – Part 1: The Glen

  1. I, also, am reading MHLW with my 10 year old. Some parts have bugged me, and I've skipped over parts, but it does provoke some good questions and discussion. I'll be following your posts!


  2. Oh thank you for the links and pics. Ds and have been working through this book. The first half of the first chapter was tear inducing and then we were waylaid by winter illness. Slowly restarting and moving into chapter two it has morphed into his favorite book. We do not personally have trouble with old earth concepts and Kingsley for all that his work has a \”fantasy\” take if you will is so obviously centered on the Creator, ds picked up on that right away. But getting through that first section phew so dense! I will look forward to more posts. Thanks!


  3. I had not heard of this book. Thanks for sharing! I really liked what you said here, \”There is no padding and children run up against walls of information which they read and then promptly forget. No ideas are presented and nothing is assimilated.\” Very insightful!


  4. Thanks, Amy. I didn't really understand this until I had a child who just didn't absorb facts at all. Once I recognised he needed this 'padding' (more so than my other children at the time) and made sure factual material was presented in literary form, it made a noticeable difference to his education.


  5. Pingback: Madame How & Lady Why: Chapter 5 – The Ice-Plough | journey & destination

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