Mothers and Sons

On spoiling boys.

A “Public Schoolman” once said, “If a mother would only harden her boys a little, send them away to a private school at ten and afterwards to a public school, there would then be no complaints of being teased.” There is no doubt that mothers do often err on the side of softness, as any one of us can see by the number of spoiled children we meet in any given twenty-four hours. Widows’ sons are only too often intolerably conceited, spoilt with indulgence, and apt to repay their mother’s tenderness by breaking her heart. She makes life so smooth for them that they can never refuse themselves anything, and sometimes their whole lives are spoiled by their mother’s weakness, which, in its turn, is only a form of self-indulgence. Such a boy, on entering a public school, meets with no mercy, but the discipline is just what he needs to knock the nonsense out of him and make him a man, not a namby-pamby noodle.

First days at school.

But, having acknowledged that the mother is often to blame, let us look at the other side of the shield. The boy of ten who is sent away from home to a private school finds that he has to take absolutely new views of life in almost every particular. Perplexed by the new horizon, the novel atmosphere, and with his young heart aching for home tenderness and affection, he is assisted in adjusting himself to his altered circumstances by bullying and sneers. The treatment is on all fours with that of “hitting a man when he is down,” a practice which is supposed to be repugnant to all British notions of honour and fair play. When a horse falls under a heavy load in the slippery streets, and the driver whips, slashes, and swears at the poor brute, a murmur of indignation goes up from the spectators. But no one sympathises with the boy, who dare not give the faintest sign of the suffering he feels. The injustice of it all is often what rankles most deeply. There are many mothers who train their boys to a fine sense of honour, derived from a much higher source than that which seems to inspire the average schoolboy, and the ordinary man of the world into whom the boy develops. His attitude to his fellow-creatures is one of comradeship, and kindly feeling, when he leaves his mother’s side. Who shall say what storms of rancorous hate and bitter loathing pass over the young soul in the boy’s first term at school? His sense of injustice becomes distorted for life, under such a system as that described in the following.

By a “fag.”

“The old régime when ‘kids’ blacked boots, cooked potatoes and pies, made coffee or cocoa for the bigger boys, when we had to ‘fag’ at the fives’ courts and cricket nets, and got ‘fives batted,’ or ‘cricket stumped,’ if we stopped the balls badly. We enjoyed the pleasures of being tossed in a blanket, or having our faces blackened with the bottom of a saucepan taken off the fire, and of having our trousers rolled above our knees and our calves roasted before the fire. We learnt by experience that, although the cricket ball chastised us with whips, W.’s hands chastised us with scorpions, and that W.’s little finger was thicker than the cricket ball. We played the old-fashioned Rugby: ‘hacked’ a fellow over instead of ‘collaring’ him when he ran, and, instead of ‘working out’ the ball in the scrimmage, we ‘hacked’ each other’s shins in what was then called the ‘gutter.’ Two or three days before the match we used to get the shoemaker to put new soles on our boots, and to make the toe points of the soles project, so that we might make our ‘hacks’ all the more stinging.”

This is a picture of public schools which must make many a mother’s heart ache for her boy. And are not mothers meant for softness and tenderness? That they sometimes let themselves fall into the extreme of weak and backboneless indulgence does not prove that mothers are not meant for gentleness and sympathy in the lives of their sons. They know well that school life is the only way of hardening boys against the time when they have to do battle with the world. But the hardening process need not, and should not, imply the coarsening and toughening of all that is meant to be delicately sensitive, sympathetic, and generously responsive.

The worst side of fagging.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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