Bent Leather, Part 1

Do you see those 200 words up in that wordle?  How many of those names, places and things do you recognize?  Charlotte Mason, the late British educator, published this list in order to make a point about her method of education.  I'll get back to that in a minute.

Long, long ago, before my oldest two skipped off to their respective halls of academia, they remarked about how their dad seemed to be able to talk with just about anyone.  I mean, not just exchange niceties, but ask questions and discuss whatever it was the stranger was familiar with or accomplished at - from exotic animal experts to paper mill executives.  (This really did happen at a B & B in Missouri  - it was a bit bizarre.)  Dh told the boys that if they read a lot and read widely - and he is a good example of this - they will always be able to hold an engaging conversation with just about anyone on any topic.  You don't necessarily need to be an expert,  you  just need familiarity and a working knowledge of many things.  Besides, he said, it will make your life more interesting and less self-absorbed.

Along those same lines, read this little vignette about Sir Walter Scott:
Perhaps there is no better way of measuring a person of liberal education than by the number of substantives he is able to use with familiarity and discrimination. We remember how Scott tried a score of openings with the man on the coach and got no further until he hit upon 'bent leather'; then the talk went merrily for the man was a saddler. We have all had such experiences and know to our shame that we ourselves have victimised interlocutors who have not been able to find our particular 'bent leather.' Vol. 6 p. 260.
Okay, now back to the wordle at the top of the page.  These words were all used by an eleven-year-old with 'ease and fitness' on an examination.  The child had heard the material one time during the term and had no review before the exam.  I don't think that anyone will have a problem finding this child's 'bent leather' when he is older, nor do I think he will have a difficult time finding others'!  This ability to be familiar with so many things - and we are not talking about "general knowledge" here - is one of the reasons I was drawn to Mason in the first place.  I've seen what a broad education as she describes can do for a person and so I am delighting in offering it to my four still at home, in addition to our CM co-op, Truth , Beauty, Goodness.  However, there is more .  Mason was very specific in how to go about this.   I will talk about that in my next post, "Bent Leather, Part 2".


  1. This is great! Many of these (aha, I wrote it right) words evoked nice memories, and I admit many I don´t know.
    Congratulations to your son and thanks for showing us how a CM education looks like. I´m looking forward to listening more about this on Part 2.

  2. Ooooooh, I love these thoughts! Looking forward to the next installment!

  3. I know, I was amazed when I read this in her writings; I certainly remember seeing that list of those 200 names. The child was eleven, and he had learned of those people and places, then narrated them back at exam time on paper! How awesome. And it is nice to talk with people who are not self absorbed, but able to 'show esteem to the other'. A visit with Charlotte would surely be an engaging conversation! Great post, Nancy.

  4. I'm glad to see Auckland, Wellington and N.Z. on that list!
    It is so true about being well-read, I can think of examples of people like your husband who seem to be able to talk to anyone about anything.
    I am looking forward to Part 2!

  5. You are making me pull out that volume!
    That is good, especially when I am heading into
    Spring Break. Excellent reading alongside a biography of GKC who was married to a PNEU
    secretary: Francis!

  6. Thanks for posting. It reminded me of my own father who was constantly reading. I remember as a child becoming impatient because we were often delayed as a result of his long conversations with people.

    How did you make the graphic?

  7. Dan,
    Just google "wordle" and you can create one at their website for free!
    Ring true,

  8. Thanks Nancy. I should have known I could find it on google.

  9. I also have parents who could talk to anyone and engage in interesting conversations. I always thought it was because they had charm...but now that I read your post, I'm thinking that their charm came from being well-read (combined with curiosity and generosity). Thanks for pointing that out to me.
    You have created a beautiful blog.

  10. Back for a re-read, Nancy. You've written a provocative post and the Wordle sure made it fun. I'll wait in anticipation for the second part (as I did the first since it showed up in my reader a few days before you'd published for good)!

    We got to witness this concept of 'bent leather' just this morning as our oldest spoke with a maple-syrup farmer about the hydrometer the farmer was holding. As his mother, I knew my son's knowledge was likely due to his reading on Archimedes. The true source of my happiness though was in that the conversation took place not out of a self-absorbed display of knowledge but from pure interest and enthusiasm to learn more.

    As our children (and we ourselves) become these 'delightful companions' I'm reminded of the apostle Paul and hope the 'large interests and worthy thoughts' are also used for the furthering of the gospel.


  11. Richele,
    Wonderful! I really like this comment of yours -
    "the conversation took place not out of a self-absorbed display of knowledge but from pure interest and enthusiasm to learn more."
    This is so important and I believe that a Mason education encourages just this type of attitude towards learning.

    I agree wholeheartedly about the furthering of the gospel, too.

    Thank you for sharing about your son!

    Ring true,

  12. I had a fabuous teacher in high school who used to tell us the same type of thing. He'd say, "It's good to know a lot a bout one thing, and a little bit about everything else. It keeps life from getting boring." And he was an awesome example of such a person. To remain interesting to high school students is no small feat (not that that was his goal in life :)

    I appreciate these words!!

    Bobby Jo

  13. Great thoughts! I want my kids to be the type who can connect with anyone, and having a broad education is good preparation to that end.

  14. I'll be watching for the next post on this topic. Someone recently remarked to me that the Charlotte Mason method may work for my children now when they are young, but it won't prepare them well for college if they should choose to go. I've been thinking about that ever since she said it and wondering why someone would think that. I can't wait to see what you have to say!