Robert Langdon: “Besides what I learnt in Sunday School”; Education and Schooling

To hear Reverend John Eddowes say it (as we explored in out last post), the rural laborer was a poor, uneducated fellow, unconcerned with the outside world and unable to enjoy books, newspapers or politics outside of those directly relating to him. And fair enough, Robert Langdon was pushed into manual work “from the tender age of Eight”, and did not receive a higher, formal education. But within Chisleborough, everyone was in fact united behind what they considered to be the most important kind of education of all: Religious Education. Robert Langdon was a devout Christian all throughout his life, and the word of the bible was followed devoutly by everyone he knew. His religious education shaped his worldview and outlook perhaps more than any other factor. It was an attitude that pervaded his entire hometown, his father was a Parish Clerk, and his mother’s christian stories about god’s creations was what first ignited his creativity and caused him develop an interest in the stars and astronomy. It’s a massive part of Robert’s character, so it deserves to be talked about.

Robert’s father was not only a Parish Clerk, he also ran the local Sunday-school, so naturally he attended. Robert explicitly states that this was the only education he received as a child: “there was no week-day school”. His father, however, was surprisingly not the one whose religious teachings most shaped young Robert’s mind. That honor goes to his mother, as he describes: “She used to have me by her knee and teach me Dr. Watts’s hymns. I have lived to hear those hymns scoffed at, but I still think they might do good to some young people. Now at the age of fifty I take great delight in the study of science and astronomy. Who shall say that my dear good mother did not lay the foundation stone, and set my young mind thinking of the wonderful works of God… This hymn, and other precepts taught by my gentle mother, sank deep into my mind, and set me thinking and pondering over the works of God, and led me to ask all sorts of questions, and I might say that I received all sorts of answers, which made me still more inquisitive…” This link Robert made between science and faith is an interesting one, because Robert didn’t have to stumble freakishly upon some scientific manuscript or rare outside touch of technology to begin to develop an interest in such things; it was simply the culmination of his previous beliefs, built upon holy stoicism and honest curiosity. He did not need to receive an education to begin to develop an interest in higher educational subjects like astronomy.

Roger Langdon’s career seems to have been spread across a wide variety of practical fields. First he was a ploughman, then a ship’s cargo transporter (salt), brandy racker and general drink adulteration controller, “a sort of deputy-clerk” job at the docks, he was supposed to be a ship crewman but the job promise was reneged at the last moment, he became a blacksmith’s assistant, cow merchant assistant (that’s really the best way I can describe it), canvas manufacturing company employee, solicitor’s assistant, and finally railway porter (he eventually became station master, but that is relayed by Ellen). All of these are manual labor jobs with few to no scholastic requirements. But peppered throughout his long track of employment, which did not require him to need any education, we can see his religious education giving voice to opinions, comments and resilience through his jobs that helped him survive in spite of how turbulent his life was. He understood human flaws quite well, and the “smart recruiting sergeant” rubbed him the wrong way and put him off from enlisting in the army. He found the playing of the military band outside St. James Church positively “wicked” due to how serious he felt disturbing holy communion is. His insistence on wearing a suit to church in-spite of its poor quality is what caught the eye of The Judge, and led to a raise and a long string of good jobs when he needed them most, but also led him to leave the Judge’s employment when he believed the Judge had deceived him; despite it costing him his source of income, Robert Langdon’s moral compass wouldn’t allow him to work for a liar. His devotion to righteousness undoubtedly came before his own well-being. Many of the “simple folk” working in the canvas factories saw it as a message from god when two of their abusive employers died, a sentiment that Robert Langdon does not echo, for at a point in the past “I shook with fear, for I had learned that to wish a man dead amounted to the same thing as killing him. Therefore, I felt that I had committed a most grievous sin.”

There is a certain irony to the fact that although Robert Langdon was denied the opportunity to ever receive an education as a child, his wife, Miss Anne Langdon, would run a school, and he would play a personal part in teaching his children, to such a degree that Ellen would say “we found ourselves in most subjects in advance of children who had attended schools in the town.” It is as if by the end of his story, Robert Langdon’s hard work and effort had secured for his family the opportunities he could have benefited most from as a child.


1:420 LANGDON, Roger, The Life of Roger Langdon, told by Himself. With Additions by his Daughter Ellen, with a preface by H. Clifton Lambert (Elliot Stock, London, [1909]), pp. 104 [55pp. of autobiography, 20pp. written by daughter, 18pp. of appendices, 1.0420

Eddowes, John, The Agricultural Labourer as He Really Is; Or, Village Morals in 1854, etc., The British Library: James C. Blaketon, 1854. Digitised 13 Aug 2014

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