Education for Wonder

Education for Wonder takes place through adventure, nature, science, art, music, humor, imagination, poetry and original sources.  Education for Wonder is drawn from Belloc's character Sailor.

The Character
Belloc’s Sailor is the rogue, the adventurer, and the lover, full of wonder and admiration for created things from the beer of Washington Inn to fine verse. He brings to the foursome mirth, jollity and humor, as well as courage and zeal. His most noticeable characteristic is an evident enjoyment for life. When Myself and Grizzlebeard encounter this “very jovial fellow with a sort of ready smile behind his face, and eyes that were direct and keen”[1] he tells them of his intention to go adventuring.

The Sailor. “Why I mean that it is my intention also to walk westward, for I have money in my pocket, and I think it will last a few days.”

Myself. “Doubtless you have a ship in Portsmouth or in Southampton, which if you come with us, you will join?”

The Sailor. “No, nor in Bosham either, of which the song says, ‘Bosham that is by Selsea.’ There is no little ship waiting for me in Bosham harbour, but I shall fall upon my feet. So I have lived since I began this sort of life, and so I mean to end it.”

With characteristic seriousness Grizzlebeard warns: “It will not end as you choose.”[2] Although the Sailor’s attitude is perhaps impetuous, he brings a much needed passion to the group.

An adventurer and a lover of creation, the Sailor knows his way through the dark “like a hound” to the first hut in which they spend the night.[3] He makes breakfast for the group the next morning,[4] later singing a song which well sums up the heartiness of his character:

On Sussex hills where I was bred,
When lanes in autumn rains are red,
When Arun tumbles in his bed,
And busy great gusts go by;
When branch is bare in Burton Glen
And Bury Hill is a whitening, then,
I drink strong ale with gentlemen;
Which nobody can deny, deny,
Deny, deny, deny, deny,
Which nobody can deny!
In half-November off I go
To push my face against the snow,
And watch the winds wherever they blow,
Because my heart is high:
Till I settle me down in Steyning to sing
Of the women I met in my wandering,
And of all that I mean to do in the spring.
Which nobody can deny, deny,
Deny, deny, deny, deny,
Which nobody can deny!
The times be rude and weather be rough,
And ways be foul and fortune tough,
We are of the stout South Country stuff,
That never can have good ale enough,
And do this chorus cry!
From Crowboro’ Top to Ditchling Down,
From Hurstpierpoint to Arundel town,
The girls are plump and the ale is brown:
Which nobody can deny, deny,
Deny, deny, deny, deny,
Which nobody can deny![5]
To Grizzlebeard’s disapproval, he also sings the Pelagian Drinking song at the top of his voice to a crowd of staring passers-by.[6] He is quite at home with this world and with his own existence in it, especially his physical existence. He is no Manichean. Says the Sailor: “Oh, my succinct and honourable Body! I cherish you! you are my friend! I cannot do without you! On the day I have to do without you I shall be all at sea! . . . Little Body! Little Body! Believe me, were I wealthy I would cram you with good things.”[7]

Belloc himself was a bit of the Sailor; neither experienced nihilism, partly because they were not in a rush to know the why of things, the meaning of things, they were so arrested by their mere existence. In Belloc’s writing appear “[e]nglish inns, old oak—polished and sturdy, rich Burgundy, the sea and ships that sail, the smell of the tide.”[8] This enchantment with reality for its own sake resembles the child-like and avid wonder of the Greeks, as Dennis Quinn describes it: "Greek wonder extends beyond the gods and nature. It accompanies the most ordinary acts of life. Eating and drinking and dressing are all accomplished with effortless but intense attention. Common physical objects are always treated as completely present; but gods and human beings whether admirable or not, are always fully alive and present to immediate experience. This, too, is a childlike quality."[9] Belloc and Sailor are “profoundly tender and awed before the loveliness of creation. It is the mark of a philosopher that he can see significance apart from the symbol.”[10] The Sailor’s great virtue is to embrace his existence as a physical-spiritual creature and to welcome this unity as the magnificent door through which he welcomes the whole of reality.

The Poetry of the Body
Belloc captures in the Sailor a human being, a body-soul creature who delights in the magic, the mystery, the poetry of being a physical creation. We could say Grizzlebeard can situate himself in time, but the Sailor situates himself in space. Grizzlebeard affirms the story of the world, and his part as a character within it. The Sailor affirms the existence of the world, and his kind of existence within it.

Belloc was a Grizzlebeard; he was also a Sailor who “saw reality as a gift to be greeted and revered. There is nothing of the contemporary irritation with existence in Belloc. . . . Being has not sinned.”[11] Whereas modern man is what Wilhelmsen calls “the Man of Guilt,”[12] almost a Manichean, embarrassed by his own being, Belloc (and his Sailor) have “a healthy earthiness sustaining all his work that is too solid, too full of substance for the intellectual attuned only to broken men. Belloc has fed himself on reality, and he has tasted its bitterness and its salt. He has affirmed being.”[13] At home with the body and the world, Belloc experienced the emotion of wonder “that purely receptive attitude to reality.”[14]

Education for Wonder
Education for Wonder or “Poetic Education” is James Taylor’s term for a form of education, practiced with such success at Kansas University in the 1970s by John Senior, Dennis Quinn, and Frank Nelick. James Taylor defines it as a “sensory-emotional experience of reality. . . . an encounter with reality that is nonanalytical . . . the mind, through the senses and emotions, sees in delight, or even in terror, the significance of what is really there.”[15] Education for wonder is basically the kind of formation outlined by Plato in the Republic, essentially the gymnastic-musical education of ancient Greece, which “draw[s] heavily on direct and vicarious experience that engages and awakens the senses,”[16] emotions and the intellectus. Everyone needs it; writes Flannery O’Connor, “I daresay no one of us is free of these impediments to responsiveness. All education is a matter of getting rid of them.”[17]

Education for Wonder is pre-rational and pre-action and to many appears “easy,” just as the Sailor seems lazy and shiftless compared to Grizzlebeard. He is so sometimes. However, the opposite of acedia is not necessarily work, as Pieper explains, but the wonder and admiration which lead to contemplation. Jean LeClercq defends the seeming “unproductivity” of ages which were, in truth, not lazy but contemplative: "the greatest cultural periods are not the most productive so far as literary output is concerned. . . . But there are always periods when people lived more intensely. The thirteenth century, for example, produced the greatest number of works and in that sense is the greatest century of the Middle Ages. But on the whole, minds were less cultivated then than in earlier centuries, centuries so happy that no need to produce was felt; it was enough to be alive."[18]

We have come a long way from someone like Hugh of St. Victor who valued his early experiences not as mere means to higher intellectual pursuits but as valuable in themselves. As a boy, Hugh himself used tactile experiments and sensory experiences to grasp what he was learning. He drew geometric propositions with coal on the ground and walked the lengths of the figures, went star-gazing on winter nights, and plucked strings in varying lengths to discern differences in musical tone.[19] To some, these experiences might seem petty but writes Hugh: "I dare to affirm before you that I myself never looked down on anything which had to do with education, but that I often learned many things which seemed to others to be a sort of joke or just nonsense. I recall that when I was still a schoolboy I worked hard to know the names of all things that my eyes fell upon or that came into my use, frankly concluding that a man cannot come to know the natures of things if he is still ignorant of their names."[20] Hugh had something like an Education for Wonder. What was it? Simply a childhood in contact with nature, using the five senses, full of experiences, literature, and music which awakened his desires and emotions. Belloc had this childhood. It produces a man who has not spent his life like an angel trapped in a body, but rather, embraced the body and its ways, and reaped the benefits.
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[1] Belloc, Four Men, 13.
[2] Belloc, Four Men, 14-15.
[3] Belloc, Four Men, 47.
[4] Belloc, Four Men, 72.
[5] Belloc, Four Men, 86-87.
[6] Belloc, Four Men, 95-96.
[7] Belloc, Four Men, 142-143.
[8] Wilhelmsen, Belloc, 19.
[9] Dennis Quinn, Iris Exiled: A Synoptic History of Wonder (New York: University Press of America, 2003), 60.
[10] Wilhelmsen, Belloc, 22.
[11] Wilhelmsen, Belloc, 35.
[12] Wilhelmsen, Belloc, 2.
[13] Wilhelmsen, Belloc, 4.
[14] Josef Pieper, Leisure, The Basis of Culture, intro. by Roger Scruton, trans. by Gerald Marlsbary (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, Inc., 1998), 100.
[15] James S. Taylor, Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education (New York: State University of New York Press, 1998), 5-6.
[16] Taylor, 23.
[17] Flannery O’Connor, “Letter to A.,” 21 July 1962, The Habit of Being, ed. Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1979), 483-484.
[18] Jean LeClercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture, translated by Catherine Misraki (New York: Fordham University, 1961; 3rd edition, reprint, 2001), 257.
[19] Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon de studio legendi, prepared with commentary by Charles Henry Buttimer (Ph.D. dissertation, The Catholic University of America, 1939), 114-115. Book VI:3.
[20] Hugh of St. Victor, The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor, Number LXIV in Records of Civilization Sources and Studies, translated with an introduction and notes by Jerome Taylor and edited by Austin P. Evans (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), 136. Book VI.3.

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