15 Oct 2009

The Purple Jar

Rosamund and the Purple Jar, 1900, Henry Tonks 1862-1937

Rosamond, a little girl about seven years old, was walking with her mother in the streets of London. As she passed along she looked in at the windows of several shops, and saw a great variety of different sorts of things, of which she did not know the use, or even the names. She wished to stop to look at them, but there was a great number of people in the streets, and a great many carts, carriages, and wheelbarrows, and she was afraid to let go her mother's hand.

"Oh, mother, how happy I should be," she said, as she passed a toy-shop, "if I had all these pretty things!"

"What, all! Do you wish for them all, Rosamond?"

"Yes, mamma, all."

As she spoke they came to a milliner's shop, the windows of which were decorated with ribbons and lace, and festoons of artificial flowers.

"Oh, mamma, what beautiful roses! Won't you buy some of them?"

"No, my dear."


"Because I don't want them, my dear."

They went a little farther, and came to another shop, which caught Rosamond's eye. It was a jeweler's shop, and in it were a great many pretty baubles, ranged in drawers behind glass.

"Mamma, will you buy some of these?"

"Which of them, Rosamond?"

"Which? I don't know which; any of them will do, for they are all pretty."

"Yes, they are all pretty; but of what use would they be to me?"

"Use! Oh, I am sure you could find some use or other for them if you would only buy them first." "But I would rather find out the use first."

"Well, then, mamma, there are buckles; you know that buckles are useful things, very useful things."

"I have a pair of buckles; I don't want another pair," said her mother, and walked on.

Rosamond was very sorry that her mother wanted nothing. Presently, however, they came to a shop, which appeared to her far more beautiful than the rest. It was a chemist's shop, but she did not know that.

"Oh, mother, oh!" cried she, pulling her mother's hand, "look, look! blue, green, red, yellow, and purple! Oh, mamma, what beautiful things! Won't you buy some of these?"

Still her mother answered, as before, "Of what use would they be to me, Rosamond?"

"You might put flowers in them, mamma, and they would look so pretty on the chimney-piece. I wish I had one of them."

"You have a flower-pot," said her mother, "and that is not a flower-pot."

"But I could use it for a flower-pot, mamma, you know."

"Perhaps if you were to see it nearer, if you were to examine it you might be disappointed."

"No, indeed, I'm sure I should not; I should like it exceedingly."

Rosamond kept her head turned to look at the purple vase, till she could see it no longer.

"Then, mother," said she, after a pause, "perhaps you have no money."

"Yes, I have."

"Dear me, if I had money I would buy roses, and boxes, and buckles, and purple flower-pots, and everything." Rosamond was obliged to pause in the midst of her speech.

"Oh, mamma, would you stop a minute for me? I have got a stone in my shoe; it hurts me very much."

"How came there to be a stone in your shoe?"

"Because of this great hole, mamma,—it comes in there; my shoes are quite worn out. I wish you would be so very good as to give me another pair."

"Nay, Rosamond, but I have not money enough to buy shoes, and flower-pots, and buckles, and boxes, and everything."

Rosamond thought that was a great pity. But now her foot, which had been hurt by the stone, began to give her so much pain that she was obliged to hop every other step, and she could think of nothing else. They came to a shoemaker's shop soon afterwards.

"There, there! mamma, there are shoes; there are little shoes that would just fit me, and you know shoes would be really of use to me."

"Yes, so they would, Rosamond. Come in."

She followed her mother into the shop.

Mr Sole the shoemaker, had a great many customers, and his shop was full, so they were obliged to wait.

"Well, Rosamond," said her mother, "you don't think this shop so pretty as the rest?"

"No, not nearly; it is black and dark, and there are nothing but shoes all round; and, besides, there's a very disagreeable smell."

"That smell is the smell of new leather."

"Is it? Oh!" said Rosamond, looking round, "there is a pair of little shoes; they'll just fit me, I'm sure."

"Perhaps they might; but you cannot be sure till you have tried them on, any more than you can be quite sure that you should like the purple vase exceedingly, till you have examined it more attentively."

"Why, I don't know about the shoes, certainly, till I have tried; but, mamma, I am quite sure that I should like the flower-pot."

"Well, which would you rather have, a jar or a pair of shoes? I will buy either for you."

"Dear mamma, thank you—but if you could buy both?"

"No, not both."

"Then the jar, if you please."

"But I should tell you, that in that case I shall not give you another pair of shoes this month."

"This month! that's a very long time, indeed! You can't think how these hurt me; I believe I'd better have the new shoes. Yet, that purple flower-pot. Oh, indeed, mamma, these shoes are not so very, very bad! I think I might wear them a little longer, and the month will soon be over. I can make them last till the end of the month, can't I? Don't you think so, mamma?"

"Nay, my dear, I want you to think for yourself; you will have time enough to consider the matter, while I speak to Mr Sole about my clogs."

Mr. Sole was by this time at leisure, and while her mother was speaking to him, Rosamond stood in profound meditation, with one shoe on, and the other in her hand.

"Well, my dear, have you decided?"

"Mamma!—yes,—I believe I have. If you please, I should like to have the flower-pot; that is, if you won't think me very silly, mamma."

"Why, as to that, I can't promise you, Rosamond; but when you have to judge for yourself you should choose what would make you happy, and then it would not signify who thought you silly."

"Then, mamma, if that's all, I'm sure the flower-pot would make me happy," said she, putting on her old shoe again; "so I choose the flower-pot."

"Very well, you shall have it; clasp your shoe and come home."

Rosamond clasped her shoe and ran after her mother. It was not long before the shoe came down at the heel, and many times she was obliged to stop to take the stones out of it, and she often limped with pain; but still the thoughts of the purple flower-pot prevailed, and she persisted in her choice.

When they came to the shop with the large window, Rosamond felt much pleasure upon hearing her mother desire the servant, who was with them, to buy the purple jar, and bring it home. He had other commissions, so he did not return with them. Rosamond, as soon as she got in, ran to gather all her own flowers, which she kept in a corner of her mother's garden.

"I am afraid they'll be dead before the flower-pot comes, Rosamond," said her mother to her, as she came in with the flowers in her lap.

"No, indeed, mamma, it will come home very soon, I dare say. I shall be very happy putting them into the purple flower-pot."

"I hope so, my dear."

The servant was much longer returning home than Rosamond had expected; but at length he came, and brought with him the long-wished-for jar. The moment it was set down upon the table, Rosamond ran up to it with an exclamation of joy: "I may have it now, mamma?"

"Yes, my dear, it is yours."

Rosamond poured the flowers from her lap upon the carpet, and seized the purple flower-pot.

"Oh, dear, mother!" cried she, as soon as she had taken off the top, "but there's something dark in it which smells very disagreeably. What is it? I didn't want this black stuff."

"Nor I, my dear."

"But what shall I do with it, mamma?"

"That I cannot tell."

"It will be of no use to me, mamma."

"That I cannot help."

"But I must pour it out, and fill the flower-pot with water."

"As you please, my dear."

"Will you lend me a bowl to pour it into, mamma?"

"That was more than I promised you, my dear; but I will lend you a bowl."

The bowl was produced, and Rosamond proceeded to empty the purple vase. But she experienced much surprise and disappointment, on finding, when it was entirely empty, that it was no longer a purple vase. It was a plain white glass jar, which had appeared to have that beautiful color merely from the liquor with which it had been filled.

Little Rosamond burst into tears.

"Why should you cry, my dear?" said her mother; "it will be of as much use to you now as ever, for a flower-pot."

"But it won't look so pretty on the chimney-piece. I am sure, if I had known that it was not really purple, I should not have wished to have it so much."

"But didn't I tell you that you had not examined it; and that perhaps you would be disappointed?"

"And so I am disappointed, indeed. I wish I had believed you at once. Now I had much rather have the shoes, for I shall not be able to walk all this month; even walking home that little way hurt me exceedingly. Mamma, I will give you the flower-pot back again, and that purple stuff and all, if you'll only give me the shoes."

"No, Rosamond; you must abide by your own choice; and now the best thing you can possibly do is to bear your disappointment with good humor."

"I will bear it as well as I can," said Rosamond, wiping her eyes; and she began slowly and sorrowfully to fill the vase with flowers.

But Rosamond's disappointment did not end here. Many were the difficulties and distresses into which her imprudent choice brought her, before the end of the month.

Every day her shoes grew worse and worse, till as last she could neither run, dance, jump, nor walk in them.

Whenever Rosamond was called to see anything, she was detained pulling her shoes up at the heels, and was sure to be too late.

Whenever her mother was going out to walk, she could not take Rosamond with her, for Rosamond had no soles to her shoes; and at length, on the very last day of the month, it happened that her father proposed to take her with her brother to a glass-house, which she had long wished to see. She was very happy; but, when she was quite ready, had her hat and gloves on, and was making haste downstairs to her brother and father, who were waiting for her at the hall door, the shoe dropped off. She put it on again in a great hurry, but, as she was going across the hall, her father turned round.

"Why are you walking slipshod? no one must walk slipshod with me. Why, Rosamond," said he, looking at her shoes with disgust, "I thought that you were always neat; no, I cannot take you with me."

Rosamond colored and retired.

"Oh, mamma," said she as she took off her hat, "how I wish that I had chosen the shoes! They would have been of so much more use to me than that jar: however, I am sure, no, not quite sure, but I hope I shall be wiser another time."

The Parents Assistant by Maria Edgeworth 1796

Natural consequences are the 'masterly activity' of discipline. Employing them means that our kids learn from the natural consequence of their behaviour, rather than Mummy and Daddy explaining what could have happened. Best of all, Mummy is not the punishing ogre with natural consequences - they involve little or no involvement from me - other than the strength to carry the natural result through. This is a lesson that teaches itself.

Natural consequences are not always easy for Mummy and Daddy. I'm sure Rosamond's mother found it especially difficult to see her daughter's distress right through to the end of the month, and I'm sure I should not have shown the fortitude of character she did. Nevertheless, I find this method of discipline particularly useful with Jemimah, and so I fight my natural urge to take charge and 'fix' the problem which would have undermined the instructional value of the natural lesson. Jemimah's Daddy on the other hand is more liable to limit the value of the lesson by using the incident as an 'I told you so' moment, adding a lecture to the natural consequence. He also needs to practice masterly activity, no matter how unnatural this feels.

Charlotte Mason refers twice to the story of The Purple Jar in her Homeschooling Series. In this first quote she uses the tale to illustrate exactly what I have been discussing above:

Rewards and Punishments should be relative Consequences of Conduct

In considering the means of securing attention, it has been necessary to refer to discipline - the dealing out of rewards and punishments, - a subject which every tyro of a nursery maid or nursery governess feels herself very competent to handle. But this, too, has its scientific aspect: there is a law by which all rewards and punishments should be regulated: they should be natural, or, at any rate, the relative consequences of conduct; should imitate, as nearly as may be without injury to the child, the treatment which such and such conduct deserves and receives in after life. Miss Edgeworth, in her story of Rosamond and the Purple Jar, hits the right principle, though the incident is rather extravagant. Little girls do not often pine for purple jars in chemists' windows; but that we should suffer for our willfulness in getting what is unnecessary by going without what is necessary, is precisely one of the lessons of life we all have to learn, and therefore is the right sort of lesson to teach a child.

Natural and Elective Consequences

It is evident that to administer rewards and punishments on this principle requires patient consideration and steady determination on the mother's part. She must consider with herself what fault of disposition the child's misbehaviour springs from; she must aim her punishment at that fault, and must brace herself to see her child suffer present loss for his lasting gain. Indeed, exceedingly little actual punishment is necessary where children are brought up with care. But this happens continually - the child who has done well gains some natural reward (like that ten minutes in the garden), which the child forfeits who has done less well; and the mother must brace herself and her child to bear this loss; if she equalise the two children she commits a serious wrong, not against the child who has done well, but against the defaulter, whom she deliberately encourages to repeat his shortcoming. In placing her child under the discipline of consequences, the mother must use much tact and discretion. In many cases, the natural consequence of the child's fault is precisely that which it is her business to avert, while, at the same time, she looks about for some consequence related to the fault which shall have an educative bearing on the child: for instance, if a boy neglects his studies, the natural consequences is that he remains ignorant; but to allow him to do so would be criminal neglect on the part of the parent.

Charlotte Mason Home Education pp148-149

I must say, I smiled when I read her thought that the incident in The Purple Jar is rather extravagant because little girls do not often pine for purple jars in chemists' windows. She clearly does not know my little girl!!

We had the opportunity to put lesson of the purple jar into practice in our home recently. In Jemimah's case it was not a purple jar but a box of Aqua Sand:

Looks great in the promo, doesn't it? Only it's not going to work quite the way they describe it, is it? How are you going to sort the sand colours? How do you get the sand out and back into the right bottles? How are you going to instantly learn the sand sculpting skills - are they magically included in the box? Nope - I don't think so.

Jemimah had earned a reward. She had finally stopped biting her nails. Anybody who has battled with this problem knows just how hard she had worked to beat this terrible habit, and how much she deserved this reward. She was given several choices - a manicure with Mummy - at a real salon; a picnic with Mummy and Daddy (one of her very favourite treats); and an outfit for her Bessy Bear were amongst them. No, her mind was made up. She wanted the Aqua Sand.

A conversation much like the one Rosamund had with her mother ensued, albeit with slightly less eloquent and flowery language, but like Rosamund's, Jemimah's mind was set. She had made her decision.

She got the Aqua Sand.

She played with it once.

She cleaned it up once.

It has remained untouched on the table ever since.

"You know Mummy," she said wistfully yesterday, "my fingernails would look so pretty with real nail polish on them. I wish I'd chosen our manicure..."

I think the lesson was learned and the Aqua Sand can be removed from view.

Anybody want to buy some once used Aqua Sand?

Going cheap...

For completion, Miss Mason also refers to The Purple Jar in relation to pocket money:

In the spending of pocket-money is another opportunity for initiative on the children's part and for self-restraint on that of the parents. No doubt the father who doles out the weekly pocket money and has never given his children any large thoughts about money - as to how the smallest income is divisible into the share that we give, and the share that we keep, and the share that we save for some object worth possessing, to be had, perhaps, after weeks or months of saving; as to the futility of buying that we may eat, an indulgence, that we should rarely allow ourselves, and never except for the pleasure of sharing with others; as to how it is worth while to think twice before making a purchase, with the lesson before us of Rosamund and the Purple Jar - such a father cannot expect his children to think of money in any light but as a means to self-indulgence. But talks like these should have no obvious and immediate bearing on the weekly pocket money; that should be spent as the children like, they having been instructed as to how they should like to spend it. By degrees pocket-money should include the cost of gloves, handkerchiefs, etc, until, finally, the girl whois well on in her teens should be fit to be trusted with her own allowance for dress and personal expenses. The parents who do not trust their young people in this matter, after having trained them, are hardly qualifying them to take their place in a world in which the wise, just, and generous spending of money is a great test of character.

Charlotte Mason School Education pp41-42

We haven't attempted pockey money here yet, but we are discussing how to spend it. Maybe next year we'll open an account - with the lesson of The Purple Jar before us.

We'd love the benefit of your experience before we do though...


  1. I don't think I'd read the section on pocket money by CM but it was quite insightful for me. Thanks! Learnt some new things from it which I will put into practice here - like using her money to give, share and save for the long term etc.
    We did start pocket money earlier this year and I blogged about it. It was mainly to teach Rebekah the value of money and to teach her how to save and buy things. This has resulted in her realising that some cheap things are just rubbish (breaking after a day) and the others that are really worthwhile saving and waiting for are truly worth it! It has curbed her "give me's" a great deal rather quickly:)
    That's been our experience so far but I can see that we need to change that a bit now:)
    I am only now learning about implementing natural consequences in other areas though as she is growing up. She is a pretty compliant child and we never went through the terrible twos or even threes :)

  2. That's a wonderful story, Jeanne, thanks for taking the time to type it out!
    It is an important lesson to learn - it's a reminder to me to be more consistent about following through with natural consequences.
    We have toyed with the concept of pocket money. The girls used to get $5 a month for helping stack firewood, but we haven't been buying it in the same big loads this year so it hasn't really worked and with my hubby being unemployed for 3 months of this year, it hasn't really been an option.
    We'll have to look at it again and maybe put an age limit on it or something. The problem with 4 girls in a row is that they all expect to get the same things at the same time - some of them have a hard time waiting for those special things that ages brings. Our eldest has just had her ears pierced for her 11th birthday - how envious the others are!!

  3. I can't remember any 'purple jar' incidents just now - not to say they didn't occur. We did decide to give our older daughter a clothing allowance when she was about 15 and it worked really well. She became much more careful about her clothes and her expectations changed. She was anti-op-shopping at the time but now nearly 5 years later she manages some amazing op-shop outfits. (A good skill now that she and her husband are both students.)


I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...