Mr Lyward's Answer
by Michael Burn
The story of George Lyward and Finchden Manor
First published 1956 by Hamish Hamilton Ltd - All Rights Reserved
Abridged for the World Wide Web
My room in the boys' part of Finchden held a bed, a desk, an aladdin stove, and a sofa without springs, and until my arrival had been used as a class-room for two or three boys who had reached the stage of taking classes. It was on the opposite side of the house from the lawn, looking over the playing fields, and on a half-landing. Above, along a low dark corridor, lived David, Neville, Mr D. and a ghost; below, down a few stairs and through an immense oak door, the boys' rooms began, so that mine was a kind of half-way house.
The first morning I got up early and went down to the dining room. One wall was almost all window. An old boy, lost at sea during the war, had painted robust murals of ships in full sail across another wall. Half-a-dozen boys were drinking tea out of taxi-drivers' mugs and eating bread and jam off trestle tables. A boy was stirring porridge in the kitchen. Not being able tothink of anything else to do I retreated to my room and made the bed. Soon there was a knock at the door, and a boy came in who looked exactly like the Cruickshank drawings of the Artful Dodger. He was skinny. His hair at the back disappeared under his jacket, and in front a long black lock hung down like a question mark and obscured half his face, which was dead white. He had thick black eyebrows, and looked out from under them with an air of perpetually suspicious but amused reconnaissance, as if he were about to inveigle people into conspiracies that would surprise them. Imagine a poet and a squirrel and a jockey, put the mixture into blue jeans and a leather jacket with a bedraggled fur collar, and this was my first visitor.
'Have you really come on the staff?' he said pityingly
It was. Others followed. Each time the Artful Dodger, whose real name
was Flynn, guessed who it would be, each time was right. They wanted
to know why I had come there, where I had travelled, what I had done;
a new member of the staff was unusual. Their reconnaissance was oblique
I spent the morning wandering about the house and grounds. About eighteen of the boys had specific duties, such as cleaning, washing-up, or cooking. David and Neville taught a small group in the mornings. Two boys were with Mr D., studying mathematics. One was building his budgerigars a cage. Another, who had already built a tennis court, was starting on a canoe. Others were rehearsing a revue; others drawing, modelling, playing the piano or the trumpet, lying on their beds reading, chasing one another, making a dug-out, gardening, arguing. There was not one desk in the whole building, and perhaps one blackboard. The ordinary terms do not apply, but I suppose recreation room is the nearest description of the large and lofty hall, in which were the stage, a ping-pong table, a piano, and a dozen different activities going on at once.
The boys slept five or six to a room, although three had rooms to themselves, and huts on the edge of the playing field housed a couple each. The bedrooms reminded me of my time as a prisoner of war. Each boy had a small space which was his own and expressed his own personality. What one saw might only represent a temporary protest against having hitherto been no one, a stage, a self-assertion, a fantasy of character through which the true character had not yet emerged. One bed might be unmade and the clothes all over the place, and another as tidy as a barrack-room. I saw at various times above, near or beneath the beds a wireless set the boy himself had made; a model aeroplane or theatre; drawings of Finchden, portraits, abstracts; three hamsters in a cage; a kitten; and a puppy. One boy had collected several hundred second-hand books, another had taken a passing fancy to pieces of cheap glass, bought at the local auction; another had rigged up a telephone exchange, through which he spoke to different parts ofthe house; another had a selection of several hundred admirable photographs, taken and developed by himself; and another a fox, though this was stuffed.
At lunch everybody found knives, forks, and a place. A scrap developed on the floor; no one paid much attention, and after a few minutes the boys got up, shook themselves, and resumed eating. Peter and usually some other member of the staff came to this and to the evening meal, but they did not 'supervise'. The servers plonked the food down, returned, and shouted: 'Seconds!' and people went when they felt like going. The food was sufficient, what is called wholesome, and better or worse according to the boy who was cooking. All except one or two who sat morose and silent, taking no part, were talking; apart from shouting and slanging matches, there were also conversations, and their range and intelligence began to surprise me.
Later, unobtrusively, Mr Lyward appeared, wearing a brown trilby, and
an overcoat and muffler. Arguments continued, but the boys were aware
of him, and it was not long before somebody appealed.
And so there began one of those discussions for which I shall always
remember Finchden. I remember one after a concert, in a corridor, when
they talked about children's theatres and ways of keeping the attention
of children. Or it might be in a bedroom, or on the playing field, or
in the courtyard leaning over the grocer's van; or like this discussion
about ritual, in the dining room, with the cooks and servers devouring
the spoils of the kitchen, and the wrestling and shouting and chasing
continning all round, until some boy, unable to waste his chance a moment
longer, burst out with:
And so they began to talk about bad language and why they used it, and those who used the worst found themselves discussing their own reasons; and so they passed to recollections of a fabulous yet once real Mr Knox, formerly on the staff, who had worn a white beard, and been a classical scholar and a scientist and a linguist and a big journalist before he came to Finchden, and a horseman and a maker of soap and by all accounts one of the last great eccentrics, and had sworn Homerically. And Mr Lyward told the story of the parents who came to interview him and found only Mr Knox, whom they mistook for the gardener; and how, when the mother apologised, Mr Knox replied: 'Dear Lady, I am not the first person to have been mistaken for the gardener.' And when some of them did not understand the allusion, he explained.
During these conversations, Mr Lyward would be standing in the thick of the group, in his apparently withdrawn mood, his hat well down over his brow, his head well down into his collar-bone, his right hand thrust under his left lapel, looking up occasionally to drop in some casual ferment. Or he would be fully involved, disputing, laughing, making jokes. Round him hung, and hungered, these to whom those terrifying epithets had been given - 'possibly schizophrenic', 'psychopathic', 'schizoid' - talking now of anything under the sun, listening avidly, seeking, feeling outwards. The adventure showed in their faces and voices.
The subjects the boys discussed might have astonished those who had known them a little while ago and still only knew them outside Finchden. The talk moved on many planes and was fed from many experiences. At one moment the football pools; next, someone had asked the meaning of the word 'philosophy' and if there was any point in it, and so someone else had been reminded of a boy who had wanted the whole universe systematised and could not bear a clock to stop. Once they had begun to be reminded, there was no end. On the outskirts of the group would always be a boy who could not yet join in. He might have just arrived, and was uncertain. Something held him. What was this place, where so much seemed to have happened, and yet nothing happened? Even against his will he wanted to know more.
'Well, James,' said Mr Lyward. 'We still haven't answered your question
At ten o'clock the staff put out the boys' lights. For some reason or other I went downstairs into the dining-hall. A curious swishing noise distracted me. It came from the front of the house, and I went there, wondering if Storey had come out again. The moon had gone behind clouds, so that I could only just see the figure of a boy pushing something up and down the lawn. He was mowing the grass, as if in daylight. I knew nothing about this boy, except that his name was Richard, and he was blind.
Apart then from the few boys doing regular studies, were the rest learning
nothing at all? If they were learning anything, what was it? One of
them gave me a hint. His name was Carpenter, and he had sudden outbursts
of rage which troubled himself and frightened some of the others. He
had had no home life and suffered exceptionally in childhood. I had
taken him with some others to a famous house in the neighbourhood, belonging
to a General Percival - who showed us round. He was charming and avuncular.
What were these boys, really, after all the labels of 'delinquency', 'maladjustment', 'misfit', had been removed? Physically they were adolescent. Mr Lyward once likened adolescence to January, the month of the god Janus, who faces both forwards and backwards. Childhood is the dying year, manhood the coming. Adolescents are at the age where they still feel weak in relation to grown-ups, yet are passing through the physical changes of puberty, which makes them feel themselves grown-up. The pull forward to adulthood and backward to childhood induces strain. They ease the strain 'by behaving in certain unexpected ways towards parents, themselves still getting over the shock of discovering that their sons and daughters are no longer children'.
In Home & School, the magazine he edited for thirteen years, Mr Lyward wrote: 'Any careful observer will know that a fifteen, sixteen or seventeen year old may suddenly jib in the most unexpected manner. When this happens - whether the jibbing takes the form of silence, moodiness, sudden hilarity, or stupidity or evasion - the red light is out and the person is telling you: "When I was young, I was moved to fear, or a sense of guilt, or humiliation, or undue excitement, or tightening up, about this or something closely related to it. I'm helpless at this point. I become a child and no longer aspire to adulthood. You can say or do what you will. Nothing will come of your battering. I have slipped away into another world".' The boy did not say it in words, and did not know that he was saying it at all. 'There is a child's world, and an adult world, but there is not an adolescent's world. He belongs everywhere and nowhere.' Many in whom the transition had been anything but gently eased, or not.
The quotations throughout this book are taken, where not otherwise acknowledged, from Mr. Lyward's articles and correspondence.With the growing body came the growing mind, a dangerous ally. 'Nearly all, in vain, attempt, by thinking, to avoid the pain of growing through adolescence into adulthood.' The mind was invoked to furnish weapons and defences. 'The boy's mind is at work, trying to help him to forget his individual challenge... and he identifies himself (actually or by rebellion) with group or tradition or 'school of thought' to avoid the pain of difference. A boy may refuse to recognise the opposite sex and remain emotionally attracted towards his own sex, or a girl toward her own. If a boy goes to extremes of swearmg or smoking or talking big, that is because he is more backward drawn than the others.'
There were many such who came to Finchden. Parents and teachers had ignored the overlapping of the two phases, and treated the child either angrily or proudly, as if he were already arrived in the second stage. 'If a child is forced by threat or praise or blame to behave as if he is established in the second phase, while he still needs to go back sometimes to the first, then he will not be able to say "I am sorry to have failed in this or that, will you help me?" He will not say "I am sorry" at all. He will feel "I am sorry for myself", and the emotion which would have been positively helpful, so long as it was attached merely to his inability, becomes negatively paralysing by being attached to the person as a whole. "I am weak" takes the place of "I am too weak as yet to do this or that".'
From this kind of feeling it was not a long step to self-pity, and nearly all the boys at Finchilen at one time pitied themselves. The ideals, and the pictures of something or someone to 'live up to' with which so many of them had been presented had done them serious harm. Boys who brought off - to their way of thinking - a successful imitation of the ideal had been praised, then encouraged to continue. Boys were rebuked or punished when they slipped back, the slipping back being regarded as a 'moral lapse'. It was over words such as 'ideals' and 'morality', that Mr Lyward had many of his toughest bouts with parents. Some could never have given approval to his remark in Home & School that 'all ideals, however fine, are an imposition upon life itself'.
'The older discipline,' wrote Mr Lyward (although no supporter of the newer 'Do as you like' discipline) 'often went wrong by forgetting that the child is not something simple, but someone complex, to whom fixed standards are not applicable. ... Discipline is false whenever it brings about premature crystallization.' Sometimes, to illustrate a point, Mr Lyward invented cross-examinations of himself.
EXAMINER: You are chiefly concerned with young men in need of psychological treatment and re-education?
The boys who became members of the family at Finchden had begun to live this kind of lie about themselves. And, for a time, it had worked; until one day the model son, the supposedly contented one, had been discovered stealing or lying or bullying, and the parents discovered themselves, overnight, living with someone they could not recognise, because they and the boy had never really met. 'He always had a happy temperament, and then suddenly did not know what to do with himself'.
One such boy came to be interviewed. His parents had denied themselves much, in order to send him to a good school, and now he had been expelled for a 'sexual misdemeanour'. They remained downstairs, while Mr Lyward spent some time with the boy alone. Charlie Ashmore was fresh, energetic, and well mannered - too well mannered - with a good deal of poise and assurance, that made it hard to see what he was really like. He was very ashamed of what he had done, he said, and wanted to get over it. Mr Lyward, after making clear that he was not going to say much about the particular 'offence', asked Charlie if he was trying to forget it. Charlie replied that he had been told to remember and be sorry. For about half-an-hour all his answers appeared to suggest that he had an entirely happy relationship with both parents, especially with his father; that he felt he had brought discredit on his family, and was wicked, but would be all right again soon.
Mr Lyward asked: 'Do you think you've always had everything you want?
Would you say you were a spoilt boy?'
Something about this remark and the too rapid tone in which it was delivered caused Mr Lyward to ask another question, then wait. Suddenly the boy was talking quite differently. It became clear that a strong underlying antagonism existed between him and his father. His father, he said, 'would not let him do things' and gave no reasons. Neighbours in their Birmingham suburb had refused to let their sons associate with Charlie, and the stigma had been rubbed in. As he spoke of all this, he became far more communicative and less correct, banging the arm of the chair and throwing his hand out in expressive gestures, instead of sitting upright and not apparently ill at ease, with his arms submissive to his side.
When he arrived, he had been the kind of boy who caused Mr Lyward to
write: 'I have no hesitation in describing the delinquent for the most
part as over-moral... one who does not so much feel guilty because he
has committed an offence as commit 'crimes' because he feels guilty
- about what he doesn't quite know ...' Charlie now became more like
a real self. He did not complain or attack. He retained his good manners
and lack of overt resentment. He merely said what he wanted to say himself.
Denied achievement, he had turned to sensation. The withholding of reasons
for refusals had, he said, made him want to be deceitful. He had asked
to go on a walking tour, and been forbidden.
Finchden Manor existed to smooth the boys' transition out of childhood
into adult life. In other words, they were weaned. This word was my
most important clue. It recurred so often that I asked three people
closely connected with Finchden what exactly they meant by weaning:
All these characteristics were present in the re-weaning or re-education ('nourishment') of the boys at Finchden. A process usually thought of as belonging to infancy was adapted and applied to boys with an average age of seventeen and a half. Their trouble was that they had only been half-weaned; at the slightest strain they returned, or 'slipped back' into the period at which they had been most satisfied. For many this was an extremely early age - according to Mr Lyward, between four or earlier and seven. 'They have come,' he said, 'because they failed to become seven-year-olds. However they may look, and however big or cleverly they may talk, they may in truth be no more than seven-year-olds with an L sign.'
It needed a good deal of daring and even more patience to attempt so fundamental a re-education, of which nothing could be foretold with complete certainty except that it would take time. The 'treatment' of the boys at Finchden made possible a natural development of head and heart together which they might have been thought past all hope of recovering. I had had my presentiment that I was about to take part in a new beginning. I had not expected to go back so far.
On the whole the boys lost those labels which made them sound so dangerous - and it was not long before most of them actually ceased to be dangerous. People with long experience of maladjustment in other places doubted that boys diagnosed as the boys at Finchden had been diagnosed could become as harmless as my first draft of this book represented them. A psychiatrist familiar with the conduct of similar boys at approved schools asked me if I had not suppressed a good many stories of violence. Had not there been more window-smashing? Had not more boys done physical harm to themselves and others? Yet one of two boys permitted to read my first typescript exclaimed 'Does he think we're all thugs?'
How was it that so many became harmless? The majority, Mr Lyward wrote, 'had assumed some kind of camouflage before they arrived, and slowly but surely had been labelled as this or that species of delinquent or maladjusted adolescent'. At our first meeting, looking out of the window at the group playing on the lawn, he had remarked, 'They're really little boys'. On the same occasion he had added of one in particular, 'Why not let him have back his childhood?' That patient was one of the exceptions. He was not even a camouflaged boy, but a camouflaged baby; he caused all the more disquiet to anyone who really knew him because, possessing a quick brain and an unnatural neon-like awareness of himself, he could camouflage his babyhood all the more successfully and so appear, to a stranger, older than the majority.
The remainder did not take long to surrender their camouflage and emerge from underneath as boys, with all the attractive qualities of boyhood and little worse than its usual obstreperousness. This was the extent of their disarmament. Once it had taken place, different words had to be used to describe their conduct. For example, the 'fights' to which some were prone before they arrived, at Finchden became merely 'scraps'; the alarming 'crises' of others became, at Finchden, a series of much quieter 'changes'; their taut emotional 'knots', their exhausting 'conflicts' tended, at Finchden, to dwindle to 'tangles' and 'puzzles', which were far less harrowing and could be solved gradually. They remained passionate, wilful, wanton, but in an entirely different way; not with the ruinous passion, wilfulness and wantonness of frustration, but of boyishness, mischief, innocence. The game on the lawn had been a boyish game. The ragged clothes the boys wore were the unaffected looseness and untidiness of boys. Their harmlessness was boyish.
Thus small episodes, which might seem sentimental concerning other boys, become significant with the boys at Finchden; for example, that one of them, usually silent and withdrawn, gave Sid a flower on Sid's birthday, or that Henry Gore, a 'tough guy', picked Mrs Lyward a bouquet he was too timid to present. One Christmas Eve the boys hung outside Mr D's bedroom door rows of socks and pillow-cases, into which Mr D. put handfuls of coppers in the morning. One group built a miniature trolley car, painted it with inscriptions in foreign languages - Tenterden to Vladivostok etc. - pushed it into the town and parked it outside the Town Hall among the limousines. Two boys were discussing whether Mrs Lyward dyed her hair. Mr Lyward passed, and they referred it to him. 'Why not ask her?' he suggested; so they went upstairs and asked. In the year the Olympic games were held at Helsinki, the Lywards had a Finnish maid. Her birthday celebrations lasted all day. She found a banner in her honour hung across the drive, a boy ran round the grounds bringing her an Olympic torch, and she was presented with flowers. The impulses behind these actions were boyish impulses, which the boys had hidden and camouflaged before they came to Finchden but, once there, eagerly disclosed.
When a discerning psychiatrist did spend any length of time at Finchden, this harmlessness astonished him. One, with a great deal of experience, could scarcely believe that boys with such a history could sit round a fire together arguing or discussing, or play games together, or come down to breakfast together, without any supervision from the staff, and nothing happen. He saw for himself that they did not go in fear of one another, with extremely rare exceptions; that the disarming began quickly and was continuous; and he was amazed at the absence of explosive situations.
The boys needed Finchden. Therefore they did little physical damage to themselves, the staff or one another - or to the building and its contents. During the whole history of Finchden only one boy tried to kill himself; another saved his life, and the rest never knew about it. No boy deliberately smashed windows while I was there. Furniture was not chopped up for firewood, and the garden was well cared for. All the boys, save the few, seemed, whatever they had lost or missed elsewhere, to have kept their instinct for self-preservation; and this was one reason that they, and the community, remained comparatively quiet and secure.
The boys' disarming made possible the long processes of weaning, and without it they could never have been attempted. The majority of the boys were weaned from an attitude of 'I will never accept or co-operate with anything that interferes with me, if it comes to me as a person'. Gradually they came to accept an easy personal relationship with Mr Lyward, one or all of the staff, and finally with the community. In order that they should begin fairly regularly to make this acceptance, they needed to be met ninety-nine per cent of the way. In general, the process of weaning consisted in meeting them thus and in gradually modifying relationship with them in favour of a greater interdependence.
The exceptionally difficult ones, the camouflaged 'babies', as Mr Lyward called them, rather than 'boys', needed to be met a hundred per cent of the way. They too could be disarmed, but only spasmodically, and this incomplete disarming left them more resistant to the process of weaning. Mr Lyward took them with his eyes open, often after urgent requests, knowing that their resistance would be greater and more prolonged, but in the hope that it might prove possible to wean even them - as sometimes it did. Even when it did not, they kept in touch 'and retained their memory of Finchden Manor as a kind of unique reference concerning a love which was stern and undemanding in a way they had not previously known it.'
Did the boys realise that they were being weaned? Were they conscious of their need for Finchden? Mr Lyward thought most of them only dimly aware, until they had been there some time. The feeling for it which nearly all shared was an extension and strengthening of the feeling, at their first interview, that here at last was the place they had always known existed.