CMP Review 2024-01-25

CMP Review 2024-01-25

January 25, 2024

Charlotte Mason’s eighth and final lecture in the winter of 1885–1886 included this thought: “It is very helpful to read with a commonplace book or reading-diary, in which to put down any striking thought in your author.” Could Miss Mason have known then that her words of counsel earnestly spoken at St. Mark’s in Manningham would become formalized in the Forms V and VI programmes decades later? There we read: “Keep a Commonplace Book for passages that strike you particularly.” It is right there in the Literature section, no more optional than learning “a hundred lines of poetry.”

I once questioned why I should keep a commonplace book, given that I routinely store and classify quotes digitally as part of my own learning, reflection, and research. My friend responded that something different happens when you engage hand and eye to write letters and words rather than to tap shortcuts for copy and paste. Now many years into the practice, I can testify that my friend was right. But there has proven to be another difference. In my weekly ritual to write in my commonplace, I think back on my reading from the week. I usually write something that does not end up in my electronic store. It’s not a means to end. I write something intriguing, inspiring, or beautiful. It’s an end in itself.

For years my son has watched me write in my commonplace as he writes and draws in his book of centuries. Now that he has entered Form V, I told him it was time for him to start his own commonplace book. I wanted to respect his personhood and let him choose whatever kind of journal he might like. I showed him examples of all the popular styles of journals that I know. I expected at least one to suit his fancy.

After looking at all the examples and thinking it over carefully he said with crisp finality, “Dad, I want a commonplace just like yours.” To my surprise I found yet another benefit to keeping a commonplace all those years. All this time I was unknowingly modeling a practice for a young man who wants to be like me.