The Gammage Cup and its sequel The Whisper of Glocken by Carol Kendall (which N. loved!) and the words "warp" and "weft" came up. I told N. what they meant and reminded him we'd seen a weaver making rag rugs on a large old loom at the fair several years in a row. Like Edgeworth's Good French Governess, who stocks her school room with miniature printing presses, basket-weaving kits, radish-seed kits, magnifying glasses, etc. to be ready for whatever chance instructional opportunities arise, I had purchased a little weaving kit years ago; I dug it out and N. set about making a small rug. He was thrilled to see a pattern emerge as he wove the colored yarn through the loom.
In another instance, a few weeks ago, N. asked me if I knew what a mail-order bride was. He had learned about nineteenth-century mail-order brides going West in A History of US, the American history textbook he and Tim have been reading together. Aha! Not only did I know what a mail-order bride was, but I handed N. that wonderful book about a mail-order bride, Sarah, Plain and Tall, which I'd bought at the local used bookstore long ago in hopes N. would someday enjoy it. He began to read it immediately and was utterly absorbed; he read the whole book more quickly than usual and wanted to get the sequel.
I was glad in each of these moments to have something on hand that extended N.'s learning. I am not sure that he would ever have picked up the weaving kit or Sarah, Plain and Tall had his interest not already been piqued and had not the loom and the book been available at the very moment of its piquing. Just as the Edgeworths knew (Maria helped educate many of her 22 siblings and half-siblings!), chance connections are compelling.
- The material in the first paragraph of this post is drawn from a chapter on Edgeworth in my book The Romance of Gambling in the Eighteenth-Century British Novel.
- The Edgeworths were influenced in part by the work of Rousseau; you can read about their friend Thomas Day's doomed attempt to educate a wife for himself along Rousseauvian principles in Wendy Moore's recent book How To Create The Perfect Wife.
- I briefly discuss Samuel Johnson's similar belief in the pedagogical efficacy of chance in a previous post on "dipping in" to books.