The Story of “Ourselves”

The Story of “Ourselves”

Readers of the January 1901 issue of The Parents’ Review were treated to a new article by Charlotte Mason entitled “Ourselves, Our Souls, And Bodies.”[1] It was the first time this phrase appeared in the PNEU literature, but Mason made sure readers understood exactly where it came from: the article’s title was enclosed in quotation marks and immediately followed by the words “Book of Common Prayer” in italics. Mason was of course referring to a portion of the communion liturgy in the Anglican prayer book:

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our soules and Bodies to be a reasonable holy and lively sacrifice unto thee, humbly beseeching thee, that all we who are partakers of this holy Communion, may be fullfilled with thy Grace, and heavenly Benediction.[2]

In the pages which followed, Mason introduced her readers to the allegory of “The Country of Mansoul,”[3] an enchanting land which we find to reside in the personhood of each one of us. Subscribers were treated to similar articles by Mason in six more issues of The Parents’ Review that year, each with the same title. The 1901 articles covered two aspects of Mansoul, “The House of Body” and “The House of Mind.” The recurring title made it clear that Mason’s exploration of Mansoul was conducted in the context of Christian revelation and the offering of oneself to God.

The series continued into 1902 with two articles (January and February) exploring the first chamber of “The House of Heart” before abruptly ending. Would Mason ever finish the allegory? And what motivated the series in the first place? Was it a momentary inspiration, or an idea that had been brewing for quite some time?

In fact, the origin of “Ourselves, Our Souls, And Bodies” can be traced to the final lecture of Mason’s original “Home Education” presentation of the winter of 1885–1886. The final lecture was entitled “Young Maidenhood—The Formation of Character and Opinions”[4] and was published in the first edition of Home Education. In this lecture Mason explained what she believed was essential training for young women:

The best physic for the girl is a course of moral and mental science; not necessarily a profound course, but just enough to let her see where she is: that her noble dream of doing something great or good by-and-by—for which achievement she is ready to claim credit beforehand —is shared, in one form or other, by every human being; for that the desire of power, the desire of goodness, are common to us all: that the generous impulse, which makes her stand up for her absent friend, and say fierce things in her behalf, is no cause for elation and a sense of superior virtue, for it is but a movement of those affections of benevolence and justice which are implanted in every human breast.[5]

In other words, what the young person needs is to learn about the qualities she possesses simply by virtue of being a human being. We all need to learn about “ourselves.” But where is one to find a “course of moral and mental science” that has just the right content and just the right tone? If one could simply find such a course then one could do great things! According to Mason, the core principles for the course could be found in her earlier lectures:

Put into the hands of the girl the means of doing for herself what only exceptional circumstances will do for her; teach her, that is, the principles and methods of self-culture, seeing that you cannot undertake to provide for her the culture of circumstances. To point out these principles and methods in detail would be to go over the ground we have attempted to cover in the former lectures.[6]

Indeed, Mason would later insist that “the little manual called ‘Home Education’ … contains the whole in the germ” — and yet these principles and methods needed “expansion and elucidation.”[7] Mason apparently thought about this need for the next 15 years. Finally in January 1901 the “course of moral and mental science” was begun, and the first installment of Ourselves was released.

Although the series of articles ended in 1902, it is clear that Mason kept on working. She evidently wanted this essential course to be immortalized in a book rather than a journal. In the following three years she nearly tripled the amount of content that had appeared in the article series. But this new content was not yet published. Her draft was nearing completion when in early 1905 she wrote a letter to The Times which was published on January 22.[8] In it she wrote:

Possibly we fail to give “effective moral training based upon Christian principles” to the young people—the formation of whose characters is our chief concern—because our teaching is scrappy, and rests mainly upon appeals to the emotions through tale and song. These are excellent so far as they go, but emotional response is short-lived, and the appeal is deadened by repetition: the response of the intellect to coherent and consecutive teaching appears, on the contrary, to be continuous and enduring. Boys and girls have as much capacity to apprehend what is presented to their minds as have their elders; and, like their elders, they take great pleasure and interest in an appeal to their understanding which discovers to them the ground plan of human nature—a common possession.[9]

Mason closed the letter with an appeal to a better way to approach moral training:

The right point of view to take is, probably, that all beautiful and noble possibilities are present in everyone; but that each is subject to assault and hindrance in various ways, of which we should be aware, that we may watch and pray.[10]

In May her text was complete, and her letter to The Times provided the core of the Preface. She made one important change, however. Instead of saying “The right point of view to take is, probably,” she changed the sentence to read, “The point of view taken in this volume is…” With this, her 1886 vision for a course of moral science was complete.

In 1905 three separate editions of Ourselves were published: a version containing only Book I, a version containing only Book II, and a version for teachers containing both books. The latter version is the one we think of as Ourselves today, as it is the version found in The Home Education Series. The student editions (Book I and Book II) each contained their own unique prefaces, also written in 1905 but not included in the combined volume.

The December 1905 issue of The Parents’ Review announced the availability of this long-awaited volume, with a special note for holiday shoppers:

Ourselves, by Charlotte M. Mason (Home Education Series, Vol. IV., Kegan Paul, 3/6). The second edition will be ready shortly, in time for Christmas Gifts.[11]

As if to formally signify the completion of this major project, Mason went back and updated the text from her original 1886 lecture. Now appearing in Volume V (Formation of Character), Mason adapted the text as follows:

Put into the hands of the girl the means of doing for herself what only exceptional circumstances will do for her; teach her, that is, the principles and methods of self-culture, seeing that you cannot undertake to provide for her the culture of circumstances. To point out these principles and methods in detail would be to go over the ground I have attempted to cover in a former volume.1

1 Ourselves, our Souls and Bodies, Kegan Paul, London.[12]

Volume IV of The Home Education Series is unique in that it contains content intended to be directly read by students. Within four years of publication, it was already actively being used in classrooms and we have a wonderful account of one teacher’s experiences in a 1909 article entitled “Ourselves.” The book remained Mason’s official and final text for direct moral instruction, as evidenced by her 1908 paper prepared for the International Moral Congress, which drew heavily from Ourselves.

The PNEU Programmes began assigning Ourselves for multiple forms, and the volume is still assigned in most Charlotte Mason curricula today. The enduring value of its content is demonstrated by the impact it still has on the moral development of people of all ages, 116 years after its original publication. In our belief that the book will continue to bless readers for many generations to come, the Charlotte Mason Poetry transcription team has made a new version available to the world. As with our editions of Home Education, Parents and Children, and School Education, our version of Ourselves features several unique characteristics:

1. It is designed first and foremost for online viewing. Page numbers are consistent with contemporary published versions but are inserted inline with the text so as not to interrupt the reader. This allows the best in readability while still making it possible to share with others what page you are on.

2. It adds clarity to those page numbers. Volume IV is unique in that it contains two books, each with their own pagination, each starting with a page 1. Citing a quote on “page 117” of Ourselves is ambiguous because it does not specify which book. The page numbers in this edition are always preceded with the book number. For example, we have [p I:117] and [p II:117] to differentiate between page 117 in Book I and Book II respectively.

3. It contains no editorial additions or clarifications. You only see what Charlotte Mason herself approved. Everything was transcribed directly from editions published in Mason’s lifetime.

4. It contains everything: all the front matter, the table of contents, and the appendices; everything that greeted the historical reader of these volumes. Especially noteworthy is that it includes all three of Mason’s prefaces — the preface to the combined volume, as well as the unique preface to Book I and the unique preface to Book II. Other editions available today only contain the preface to the combined volume.

5. It was developed using the Charlotte Mason Poetry transcription process which has proven to result in very high-quality transcriptions with very few errors. We wanted to create a text that you could copy and paste with confidence.

6. It incorporates the formatting of the original edition. This includes typeface alterations such as bold, italics, and small-caps. It also includes indentation and line spacing to match the original as closely as possible. Why did we follow this formatting so carefully? Because just as facial expression accompanies the spoken word and gives it shades of meaning, so do typeface customizations deliver a shade of meaning to the written word. Now you can see a transcribed version that has the formatting attributes that consistently match the original.

7. It supports direct hyperlinks to individual pages. Now you can email a friend or post in social media with a link to the exact page where you found a particular quote. Simply append the page number to the URL. For example, to share a link to Book I page 117, append #pI:117 to the URL as follows:

8. It is absolutely free. By that we mean it is free for you to use in any way you want, with no strings attached. What do we mean by that? We mean that you can translate it, print it, and even publish it commercially. The text is our gift for the community. Charlotte Mason Poetry is a labor of love. Our goal is to promote Charlotte Mason’s ideas. And we hope that an absolutely free edition of Ourselves will go a long way to getting these words and ideas into the hands of more people.

If you want to study Miss Mason’s very own “course of moral and mental science,” read Ourselves at this link:


[1] The Parents’ Review, vol. 12, p. 47.
[2] The Book of Common Prayer from the Original Manuscript: Attached to the Act of Uniformity of 1662. (1892). (p. 253). London; Edinburgh; Glasgow; Melbourne; Sydney; New York: Eyre & Spottiswoode.
[3] The Parents’ Review, vol. 12, p. 50.
[4] Home Education, First Edition. (1886). (p. 249).
[5] Ibid., pp. 252–253.
[6] Ibid., p. 253.
[7] i63p2cmc393.
[8] The Parents’ Review, vol. 16, p. 225.
[9] Ibid., pp. 228–229.
[10] Ibid., p. 229.
[11] Ibid., p. 954.
[12] Formation of Character, p. 241.

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