Of Mind and Hearth
By Travis Copeland
As the body needs an earthly home to rest in, the soul needs an intellectual one, and for much the same reasons.
A home is a place of rest, fellowship, feast, and joy; it is something we both know and make. Longing for home is one of the deepest longings in our nature, part and parcel of being human. When we arrive home from a trip and toss our bags on the floor and lay on the bed, we recognize implicitly that we aren’t just inhabiting a four-wall structure. We take pictures of arriving home with a newborn child, because to enter our home is to truly enter life together. Every jail cell, mansion, campsite, and bungalow begins to take the form of home, no matter how habitable it may or may not be for those who inhabit it. We wish to have a place to set our feet even as we wander and travel. Even more, we want not just four walls but a dwelling marked by memory, pleasure, and hope. Our home inhabits and dwells within us, as much as we inhabit and dwell in it. Much like Bag End or Pemberley, the best homes hold decadent meals, colorful gardens, books on end, and good company. They are, or should be, a place of laughter, love, tears, and wisdom.
In modern society, we spend so much time at school that it can sometimes feel like more of a home than our actual houses. We spend so much time in its halls and classrooms that it inhabits us as much as we inhabit it. This is why a teacher’s classroom is full of their own belongings and purchases—because they live there. Not only should this be physically true, but this should be intellectually true as well. It has been said that a school is only as classical as its teachers, and that begins with their finding an intellectual home themselves in a tradition that pursues truth, goodness, and beauty. Still, we will graduate, retire, or move on from the physical space. Our goal in classical education should be for students to find a life-long intellectual home in the classical tradition, to dwell in and be indwelt by its truth and beauty.
Classical education should be an intellectual home for students and teachers alike. A classical education that is truly classical is not just something we practice or pursue; it is somewhere our minds learn to live. It offers the mind and the heart intellectual rest, feasting, fellowship, and joy, just as a good home should. Even more, it has a ring of the eternal, and like any good, long-lasting home, familiarity and memory abide in its walls. This is why classical education, for many, often feels more like “going back, than going home,” to quote C. S. Lewis. Within its essence is a familiarity—a sense of our true home, which we return to out of intellectual exile.
Intellectual exile, which our whole being is soaked with, pulls on us like a lost home. In The Consolation of Philosophy, Boëthius is met by the Lady Philosophy: she drives away the muses of poetry, with which the author had been indulging his self-pity, and replaces them with herself, remarking to him in his desperate exile, “You have not been driven out of your homeland; you have willfully wandered away.” Whether we’ve wandered or fled, Lady Philosophy’s words echo down the years to classical educators and schools. A good education and classical teacher helps the students encounter a new, permanent home in the classical tradition. Intellectual wandering is homelessness. It holds no tenets so strictly, and engages no philosophy so wholly, as to make them a home. Ever-morphing cultural morality, social media’s empty pull toward pleasure and purpose, or even the self-guided life, leave students homeless. But a strong classical school with deeply rooted classical teachers can offer the elements of a true, enduring intellectual home: contentment, rest, and order.
We exist out of our homes. Our being and many of our daily habits, values, and routines are a product of our homes. Our intellectual home allows us to venture out into the world, see new ways of thinking, endure intellectual turbulence, but still return to a place of structured morality, order, beauty, and truth. Classical eduaction and the fruits of that education—virtue training, literary loves, patterns of thinking and analysis—should all provide an intellectual home for students. Classical education, in many ways, should be home in much the same way Frodo and Sam see the Shire. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo tells his company, “I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” The classical tradition should be our intellectual Shire, a place rooted in truth, goodness, and beauty, so that our travels even through Mordor may be bearable.
Travis Copeland holds a BA in history and humanities, and is studying for an MA in history; he teaches history and Latin at Covenant Classical in Charlotte, NC. When not writing and teaching, Travis aspires to a hobbit lifestyle of poetry, gardening, baking, and conversation with good company around good food.
If you liked this essay, take a look at some of Mr. Copeland’s other contributions here at the Journal, like this discussion of the educational ideals of John Adams or this essay on Shakespeare’s Richard III. And be sure to check out our weekly seminar series on the many great writers from our Author Bank, as well as our podcast on education and culture, hosted by our founder, Jeremy Tate.