Charlotte Mason loved to read the novels of Sir Walter Scott. I titled this “her reading” as I think about what was by her bedside. Right now I have a book that she probably would have had there at some point, The Talisman by Sir Walter Scott. I have another book that I found at a thrift store by Washington Irving entitled Abbotsford. This is Scott’s home. And, it is Irving’s narration of a visit to Mr. Walter Scott (before he became SIR) at the time of Scott’s publishing Rob Roy. Irving’s knock on the door turned into a few days visit for that was Scott’s way: “You think our neighborhood is to be read in a morning, like a newspaper,” said Scott. “It takes several days of study for an observant traveler that has a relish for auld world trumpery.” Irving writes, “…I found myself committed for a visit of several days, and it seemed as if a little realm of romance was suddenly opened before me.”
He was the author of the day alongside Dickens and Austin and Bronte. Scott gathered the stories of Scotland from listening to his grandmother and aunts tell the old ballads, folklore of a nation, which kindled his imagination and strung them into his calling. He was natural at narration. Irving said anyone with him became his companion to converse and relished the flow of the stores in his memory. One caught the vigor of his imagination because his narratives and descriptions were wonderfully graphic. “He placed the scene before you like a picture; he gave the dialogue with the appropriate dialect or peculiarities, and described the appearance and characters of his personages with that spirit and felicity evinced in his writings. Indeed, his conversation reminded me of his novels.”
Today he is not in most curriculums. I wasn’t educated with his works. Scott’s Waverly Novels come into the Amblesideonline curriculum in Year 7, free reading in Year 6. Are our students different than Charlotte Mason’s in their interests and reading levels? My high school literature students are reading The Talisman and finding it hard. That is good. It will challenge their minds, help them to discipline themselves in reading more slowly, and perhaps become better thinkers. Will they slow down from our fast-paced technological age to grasp the richness of the literature? Does the delight reach their minds, hearts and souls when it is hard? Will education become online with clicks and such brief readings that it will be hard for a teacher to bring in Scott or even Moby Dick?
Will the brief encounters that technology affords provide slow, rich reading that Mason did when she read Scott? What will we miss? As Scott said, “You think our neighborhood is to be read in a morning, like a newspaper.” There is something to that for us moderns. How will we use our technology? Can we use it to truly read our “neighborhood,” or will it drive us to distraction?