• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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Miss Mason meets the Mitfords

The other month Book Depository sent along my copy of Wait for Me!, the memoirs of Deborah Devonshire, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, though on the cover, the author is styled as Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire. Born in 1920, Debo is the youngest and last surviving of the celebrated, often notorious, and always entertaining Mitford Sisters and the one-time, long-time chatelaine of Chatsworth House, on which construction first began in 1552.

I’ve long been a fan of her writing, even before my marriage brought me to chickens and into what used the be the local Chatsworth school district (many English settlers here once upon a time); we can see the old Chatsworth one-room school building, now converted into a grainery by one of our neighbors, from our kitchen window.  Last year I read her volume of letters with Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of my favorite writers and one of her dearest friends. I couldn’t bear to wait until the end of this month, at the earliest, for the Canadian publication of Wait for Me!.

Anyway, I had just started the book, when lo and behold, up popped Charlotte Mason [I’ve added some links]:

The years at Asthall [the family home] passed in a haze of contentment from my point of view.  I was aware of The Others buy they were so old and seemed and seemed to Decca (Jessica, my daily companion [only three years older]) and me to be of another world.  It was not until later that I got to know them.  Unity, next up in age from Decca and not yet in the schoolroom, made her huge presence felt but, although always kind to me, she was not an intimate. Our life in the nursery consisted of the daily round, the common task, secure and regular as clockwork.

At the age of five we started lessons with Muv [Mother], who followed the admirable Parents’ National Education Union (PNEU) system with its emphasis on learning through direct contact with nature and good books and its disapproval of marks, prizes, rewards and exams.  She taught us reading, writing and sums, and read us tales form the famous children’s history book, Our Island Story. She was a natural teacher and never made anything seem too difficult. At the age of eight, I moved on to the schoolroom and a governess (trained at the PNEU’s Ambleside College) and never enjoyed lessons again.

And from the previous page, also on the subject of education:

With foresight, or perhaps by luck, Farve [Father] converted the barn a few yards from the house into one large room with four bedrooms above and added a covered passage, ‘the cloisters’, to connect the two buildings. [Brother] Tom and the older sisters lived in the barn, untroubled by grown-ups or babies, and made the most of their freedom. My father, who was famous for having read only one book, White Fang, which he enjoyed so much he vowed never to read another, entrusted Tom, aged ten, with the task of choosing which books to keep from the Batsford [another family home, which had to be sold] library. Nancy and Diana later sad that if they had any education, it was due to the unrestricted access they had to Grandfather’s books at Asthall.

I laughed out loud.  I can’t imagine a more ringing endorsement for White Fang!

Before you might dismiss Debo as a duchess swanning about an estate, you have to understand that when she married her husband Andrew in 1940, it was with the understanding that she was marrying the second son of the then-Duke of Devonshire.  She and Andrew rightfully expected that his brother, William, would inherit the title and Chatsworth House. But when William was killed in action in World War in 1944, Andrew became the heir. He inherited the title and the pile in 1950, when his father died. He also inherited a pile of inheritance taxes, some £7 million, amounting to nearly 80 percent of the value of the estate (or  (£179 million, or US $293 million, as of 2011). But it was primarily through his wife’s efforts that the estate was repaired, opened to the public, and became self-supporting (it is quite the going concern, one of England’s top tourist attractions). The Duke’s obituary in The Telegraph pointed out that while their marriage was a happy one, “for many years they were often apart” — “the Duke tended to prefer their house in Mayfair” while the Duchess lived at Chatworth, where she has been a very busy woman.  She was instrumental in the estate’s preservation, and in its promotion and expansion, with the additions of a maze, kitchen, cottage gardens and several commissions of modern sculpture. DD is also, as you can see from her writing, modest and self-effacing, and has a soft spot in her heart for Elvis Presley and chickens.

Debo has written that she’s not much of a reader, but that hasn’t stopped her from writing.  Some of her delightful prose, often with gorgeous pictures:

Chatsworth: The House; not just a lovely coffee table book, but a comprehensive record of the efforts to save the estate from rack, ruin, and taxes

The Garden at Chatsworth (1999)

Counting My Chickens and Other Home Thoughts (2002); out of print

The Chatsworth Cookery Book (2003); from her introduction: “I haven’t cooked since the war. I hoped this would be the title of this book, but it was not well looked on by others. However, it is true and I am all for the truth. I told my old friend, the hairdresser from Chesterfield, that in spite of this lack of practical experience I planned to write a cookery book. He told his wife. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘that’s rich. It’s like a blind woman driving down the M1’.”

In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor (2008), edited by Charlotte Mosley

Home to Roost . . . and Other Peckings (2009)

Wait for Me!… Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister (2010)

Coming in September: All in One Basket, a collection of Home to Roost and Counting My Chickens

2 Responses

  1. too weird; just reading this today (catching up on feed reader). And the name Patrick Leigh Fermer jumped out. Had never heard of him until my friend Charlie Connelly mentioned him on Twitter the other day. He died.

    Since both of you like him, I guess maybe I ought to read something he wrote.

  2. After hearing this and that about the Mitfords over the years, I read and enjoyed a collection of letters sent among the six sisters. At nearly 900 pages, it represents 5% of all correspondence.

    The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters

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