Monday, March 16, 2009

Christopher Wren

What a man.

Through all those twenty homeschooling years, when I first learned about Christopher Wren, I was drawn to this man. I wanted to know more about him.

But, you know how that goes....life and school plod on, and you must admit there's only so many of those want-to-read books you can add to the pile on the nightstand.

My pile on the nightstand eventually turned into a row on the bookshelf. A long row. I read one and move it to another bookshelf only to replace it with three others.

Years ago after reading about Christopher Wren, I searched for a juvenile biography about him. It was hard to find, but eventually I found Sir Christopher Wren: Renaissance Architect, Philosopher, and Scientist by Heywood Gould. Written in 1970, it was part of the Immortals of History series which is now, and has been for years, out-of-print. When I finally found the book and ordered it, my interest-du jour had moved on and Christopher Wren ended up on the long shelf.

On February 25, my interest was once again piqued, albeit years later. Reading in The Christian Almanac that morning:

1723 Famed architect Sir Christopher Wren, who helped to rebuild London after the Great Fire as well as design many other buildings in London, Oxford, and throughout England, died at the age of ninety. He was buried over the interior of the north door in his renowned St. Paul's Cathedral, London. His son provided the inscription, which reads, "Si monumentum requiris, circumspice" --- "If you would seek his monument, look around."
As so often happens, the harmonic convergence, the remarkable synthesis of history past with events present merges. Yes, that day was February 25. It was also the day in our early modern history class when we were learning about The Great London Fire. Before class, I wrote brief info about Wren from The Christian Almanac and told the class that those who could accurately tell me the person described would receive an extra 5 points on his spelling test
that day. (Only one student bothered to look this up, correctly. And that student gives me more grief in class with his behavior than any other student. Go figure!) My piqued interest caused me to pull Christopher Wren from the bookshelf when I got home and begin reading about him that night.

One thing I like about reading biographies is learning how some authors weave into the subject's life all those important historical figures that you might not realize even lived simultaneously, much less that they actually had a part in the subject's life. Heywood Gould did just that. Christopher Wren lived during the time of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, and Charles II. Shoot, Wren lived through six monarchs! He lived a long, productive ninety-one year life.

His father, an English pastor, thought three-year-old Christopher particularly bright when taught him a few Latin phrases. (Do you remember thinking that about your own child? I remember thinking the same about ours, but didn't proceed as Wren the Elder did. Wondered what would have been the effect if I had?) Christopher's father employed a tutor as a result who was instructed to "educate the boy as strict and hard as you would a boy of nine or ten." We have to remember here that this was a few years ago....***** to be specific. When Christopher reached the age of nine, he had fully mastered spoken Latin and was learning how to read and write Greek. His powers of reason and observation were keenly observed by many, some of whom intervened in his instruction to expand his inquiring mind.

Did that early childhood intervention enable and stimulate Christopher to unusual heights of learning? Reading accounts like these make me wonder if we should not employ those rigorous methods of education again.

I found myself nodding in agreement with this:
[T]he Royal Society delegated Christopher to write the preamble to [the royal charter issued by King Charles]. Once again, ...Christopher depicted science as a valuable tool in the achievement of social and material progress. He wrote that the best way to assure progress and stability was by the "promoting of useful arts and sciences." He said they were "the basis of civil communities and free governments."

At the end of the book, I was amazed at Gould's summation of Wren's life:
"It had been hard for him to attach much significance to himself as a human being when he knew how insignificant man was in the overall scheme of things."
Not many live in light of that statement.

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