Vade Mecum: “Go with me.”

A silhouette of a thoughtful woman. In the background are handwritten notes in her Vade Mecum journal.Repetitio Mater Studiorum. “Repetition is the mother of learning.” In our classical tradition we exalt repetition as a valuable tool for learning. But beyond prizing repetition as an aid in memorizing individual goals (Latin grammar forms, multiplication tables, Shakespeare soliloquies), a connected classical curriculum offers valuable repetition about important truths over the long course of an education. Considering ideas beyond the constraints of subjects and grades allows us to notice ideas that receive—and deserve—attention.

For instance, when a student is trained to recognize a tempting apple in a fairy tale, and then a tempting apple in the garden of Eden, and then a tempting apple in Hera’s Garden of Hesperides, and then a tempting apple that sets into motion the Trojan War, a lesson in virtue (or vice) is illuminated. After a multitude of examples, the student doesn’t see a story about an apple but a lesson on temptation—and the consequences of giving in to it.

This is one tiny example of how we might see truth more clearly, more convincingly, in repetition. Countless similar opportunities are afforded by a thoughtful, connected curriculum. Teaching students to notice and develop ideas with repeated consideration influences our methodology. With contemplation and conversation as desired ends, we train students to read slowly and carefully. We teach them to mark their books for meaningful language, and we encourage them to record beautiful lines and passages in what we call the Memoria Press Vade Mecum, where themes and ideas can be collected and fleshed out over the course of an education. As students traverse through the humanities, we hope they learn to gather well-considered words that will “go with” them throughout their lives.

Here are some examples of words from the Memoria Press canon that go with me and serve me well.


I have a favorite sentence (or two, or ten) in almost every book I read. In Treasure Island, it’s this line: “Cowardice is infectious….” It’s a simple, obvious idea that can go unnoticed. This sentence influences how I understand anxious situations and alerts me to observable truths. I’m a better mother for having this and similar ideas in my heart. Responding with rationality and duty in the face of fear or excessive feeling is, for me, a discipline that must be trained. Other encouragements related to courage and fear include:

Peter did not feel very brave; indeed, he was going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he had to do.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

That is the way fear serves us; it always takes the side of the thing that we are afraid of.
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

Fortitude includes both kinds of courage—the kind that faces danger as well as the kind that “sticks it” under pain. “Guts” is perhaps the nearest modern English. You will notice, of course, that you cannot practice any of the other virtues very long without bringing this one into play.
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis


“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of humble spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.” Highlands Latin School students memorize this Proverb in primary school and benefit from seeing it play out by example countless times throughout the curriculum. Here are a few admonitions that I find particularly arresting:

Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others…. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

The supreme villain in the Chronicles of Narnia, Jadis, is an unmistakable example of pride. After destroying every living thing in The Magician’s Nephew, including “all the ordinary people … who’d never done [her] any harm,” she arrogantly explains: “I was the Queen. They were all my people. What else were they there for but to do my will?” She continues:

“I had forgotten that you are only a common boy…. You must learn, child, that what would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I. … We must be freed from all rules. Ours is a high and lonely destiny.”
The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis


Yes, feet. It’s relatively easy to connect books in our curriculum with big ideas and broad themes like friendship, love, and sacrifice. But I am drawn to details—the specific choices that alert me to the knowing conversations between authors. Noticing allusions makes me feel like a child eagerly listening to the clever adults at the Big Table on Thanksgiving. Rereading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for example, helped me understand The Princess and the Goblin. Lewis and MacDonald shared a wisdom that they, together, helped me see. Aslan’s declaration, “Once the feet are put right, all the rest of him will follow!,” reinforced why MacDonald gave his evil, underground goblins those distorted, toeless, tender feet. It’s as if Lewis and MacDonald are saying, “Leigh! Firm foundations matter.”

But what was of importance was the fact concerning the softness of the goblin-feet, which he foresaw might be useful to all miners.
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

Curdie, the noble miner’s son in The Princess and the Goblin, realized that, like Achilles’ heel, the goblins’ soft feet are what make them vulnerable to defeat. Hobbits, by contrast, have naturally strong feet.
[The Hobbits] wear no shoes, because their feet grow natural leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs….
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien


In my Vade Mecum, I’ve written this quote from The Common Man by Chesterton:

Every education teaches a philosophy; if not by dogma, then by suggestion, by implication, by atmosphere. Every part of that education has a connection with every other part. If it does not all combine to convey some general view of life, it is not education at all.

This, to me, sums up classical education. My plan, like Penelope’s in the Odyssey, is to continue weaving (and reweaving) everything together until all comes out right.

Eustace (never having read the right books) had no idea how to tell a story straight … [while the noble Reepicheep] could show him more than a hundred examples of emperors, kings, dukes, knights, poets, lovers, astronomers, philosophers, and magicians, who had fallen from prosperity into the most distressing circumstances, and of whom many had recovered and lived happily ever afterwards.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis

“I feel it’s a great responsibility because I have only the one chance. If I don’t grow up right, I can’t go back and begin over again.”
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

The classical canon is so rich, beautiful, and cohesive. Above are only some of the words that comfort and inspire me. With the benefit of time and contemplation, I hope Memoria Press students, teachers, and parents gather legions of faithful quotes that can go with them, too.

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