Holmes (1911)

What Is and What Might Be (complete)

See also the text of Holmes' Introduction to Dorothy Canfield Fisher's 1913 book A Montessori Mother.

What Is and What Might Be
Edmond Holmes (1911)
London: Constable and Co. Ltd

Notes on the text


Edmond Holmes became Chief Inspector of Elementary Schools in 1905. In 1911 he wrote a confidential memorandum in which he criticised school inspectors who had previously been elementary school teachers. Teachers were angered when it was made public: Holmes resigned, and Robert Morant, Secretary to the Board of Education, was forced to leave his post.

Holmes had a lifelong interest in Buddhism and pantheism, and his religious ideas permeate What Is and What Might Be. Nonetheless the book was an important contribution to the debate about the nature and purpose of education. In their 1980 book Inside the Primary Classroom (The ORACLE Report) Galton, Simon and Croll describe it as 'the first striking manifesto of the "progressives" in its total condemnation of the arid drill methods of the contemporary elementary school'.

The book online

The full text is online in a single web page, scanned from the original 1911 edition at the Bodleian library.

There were few misprints in the printed version: I have corrected those I spotted. I have given explanations to some archaic words and (most of the) Latin phrases. (I have not attempted to offer translations of the French phrases used: my French, I regret to say, isn't up to it! If anyone would like to do the job, I'd be grateful). I have also added the sources of the quotations in the text (those I could find). Anything I've added by way of explanation is shown [in square brackets].

The only liberty I have taken with the text is to correct Holmes' incorrect positioning of speech marks where they occur at the end of a sentence. Otherwise, Holmes' punctuation (some of it odd by today's standards) is shown as printed.

The formatting of the text (bold, italics, centred etc) is a reasonably accurate representation of the printed version, but the pages presented here are not exact facsimiles of the original: the font (Times, Arial etc) and size of print - and therefore the number of words to a line and lines to a page - are determined by the settings you have chosen for your web browser. However, the page breaks are correct. In other words, if something is shown here as being on, say, page 103, you can be sure it appeared on page 103 in the original.

The page headers (book title on the left hand pages, chapter title on the right) have been omitted.

The text of What Is and What Might Be is available elsewhere on the web but I hope readers will find this version, with my additions, the easiest to use. (Incidentally, beware of buying 'print-on-demand' versions of the book. I paid 9.85 for one such publication, only to find that it was full of errors, had some footnotes missing, and did not even include the page numbers from the original).

What Is and What Might Be and the above notes were prepared for the web by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 6 July 2010.

What Is and What Might Be (complete)