Victorian London - Childhood - Children - Discipline

    Just opposite Mr. Fairchild's parlour window was a young apple-tree, which had never yet brought forth any fruit: at length it produced two blossoms, from which came two apples. As these apples grew, they became very beautiful, and promised to be very fine fruit.
    "I desire," said Mr. Fairchild, one morning, to his children, "that I none of you touch the apples on that young tree, for I wish to see what kind of fruit they will be when they are quite ripe."
    When Mr. Fairchild got up, he went into the garden and looked at' the apple-tree, and saw that one of the apples was missing: he looked round the tree to see if it had fallen down, and he perceived the mark of a child's foot under the tree: he came into the house in great haste; and looking angrily. "Which of you young ones," said he, "has gathered the apple from the young apple-tree? Last night there were two upon the tree, and now there is only one."
    The children made no answer.
    "If you have, any of you, taken the apple, and will tell me the truth, I will forgive you," said Mr. Fairchild.
    "I did not take it, indeed, papa," said Lucy.
    "And I did not take it," said Emily.
    "I did not; indeed I did not," said Henry, but Henry looked very red when he spoke.
    "Well," said Mr. Fairchild, "I must call in John, and ask him if he can tell who took the apple. But before John is called in, I tell you once more, my dear children, that if any of you took the apple, and will confess it, even now I will freely forgive you."
    Henry now wished to tell his papa the truth; but he was ashamed to own his wickedness, and he hoped that it would never be found out that he was the thief.
    When John came in, Mr. Fairchild said, "John, there is one of the apples taken from the young apple-tree opposite the parlour window."
    "Sir," said John, "I did not take it, but I think I can guess which way it went." Then John looked very hard at Henry, and Henry trembled and shook all over. "I saw Master Henry, this morning, run behind the stable with a large apple in his hand; and he stayed there till he had eaten it, and then he came out."
    "Henry," said Mr. Fairchild, "is this true? Are you a thief - and a liar, too?" And Mr. Fairchild's voice was very terrible when he spoke.
    Then Henry fell down upon his knees before his papa, and confessed his wickedness.
    "Go from my sight, bad boy!" said Mr. Fairchild: "if you had told the truth at first, I should have forgiven you; but now I will not forgive you." Then Mr. Fairchild ordered John to take Henry, and lock him up in a little room at the top of the house, where he could not speak to any person. Poor Henry cried sadly; and Lucy and Emily cried too; but Mr. Fairchild would not excuse Henry. "It is better," he said, "that he should be punished in this world, whilst he is a little boy, than grow up to be a liar and thief, and go to hell when he dies: for it is written, 'Every liar shall have his portion in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone'."

Mary Martha Sherwood, The Faithful Family, 1847

Oct. 28, 1849 - … We prepared the school by placing benches in situations for the division of the scholars into four classes, and as they came tumbling and bawling up the stairs, we directed them to seats …. In mere schooling they are not behindhand, but in decency of behaviour or in respect for the teacher, or in discipline of any kind, they are totally unparalleled. No school can possibly be worse than this. It were an easier task to get attention from savages … They require more training than teaching. … To compose the children, I proposed that we should have a little music … the first very of the Evening Hymn. We then invited the children to follow us, and we got through the first line or two very well, but a blackguard boy thought proper to set up on his own account, and he led off a song in this strain:-

“Oh, Susanah, don’t you cry for me,
I’m off to Alamabama,
With a banjo on my knee!”

I need scarcely add that every boy followed this leader – aye, girls and all – and I could not check them … In the midst of the Lord’s Prayer, several shrill cries of ‘cat’s meat,’ and ‘mew, mew,’ … All our copy books have been stolen, and proofs exist that the school is used at night as a sleeping-room. We must get a stronger door to it. 

 Diary of a Ragged School Teacher, English Journal of Education, 1850


ONE HOPLEY, a ruffian, usurping the sacred name of Teacher, recently flogged a child to death, and is undergoing a righteous sentence for his crime. For some reason, he is permitted to make a plea in print against his punishment. His plea is as loathsome as his crime. He has the effrontery to urge, that in beating REGINALD CHANCELLOR to death, he, HOPLEY, the Brute, was but following out a System which has been strenuously maintained by religionists. And he cites cases in which the most cruel chastisements have been persevered by Christian parents, until exhausted and tortured children have been compelled to beg mercy. His argument is that we, the Wiser and Stronger, are entitled to use our strength against others until they admit our wisdom.
    We are content to accept the man's propositions, and we call for adoption of his system. Outraged English society say, in its wisdom, "It is wicked to torture children." HOPLEY refuses to admit this. Well, outraged English Society happens to be stronger than HOPLEY. Let his system be enforced. Is there a Cat and Nine Tails in gaol in which he is doing penance?

Punch, October 6, 1860

Sund. Aug. 9. Nothing could be more difficult than my position as regards the boy Walter. All but every statement made to him he answers with a blunt contradiction: to all but every bidding he replies "I shan't." As I sit in the room, where the nurse-girl is present, he calls me all manner of abusive names. I said to him this afternoon, that, as it was too windy to go out, he had better rest an hour. "Not in your bedroom,," was his harsh reply. "I'll rest in mother's room, but not in yours." And to-morrow, on some trifling provocation, he would make precisely the opposite reply. He knows there is no harmony between his mother and me, and he begins to play upon the situation - carrying tales from one to the other. etc. The poor child is ill-tempered, untruthful, precociously insolent, surprisingly selfish. I can see that Wakefield may have a good influence, but only the merest beginnings show as yet.- I should like to know how the really wise and strong father would act in this position. But no wise and strong man could have got into it. Talk of morals! What a terrible lesson is the existence of this child, born of a loveless and utterly unsuitable marriage.

George Gissing, Diary, 1896

    As Uncle Julius was never captivating to children, it is a great pity that he was turned into an additional bugbear, by being always sent for to whip me when I was naughty! These executions generally took place with a riding whip, and looking back dispassionately through the distance of years, I am conscious that, for a delicate child, they were a great deal too severe. I always screamed dreadfully in anticipation of them, but bore them without a sound or a tear.

Augustus Hare, The Story of My Life, 1896

     In the most literal sense,  and in every other, I was "brought up at the point of the rod". My dearest mother was so afraid of over-indulgence that she always went into the opposite extreme and her constant habits of self-examination made her detect the slightest act of especial kindness into which she had been betrayed, and instantly determine not to repeat it. Nevertheless, I loved her passionately ...
    As an example of the severe discipline which was maintained with regard to me, I remember that one day when we went to visit the curate, a lady (Miss Garden) very innocently gave me a lollypop, which I ate. This crime was discovered when we came home by the smell of peppermint, and a large dose of rhubarb and soda was at once administered  with a forcing-spoon, though I was in robust health at that time, to teach me to avoid such carnal indulgences as lollypops in the future.

Augustus Hare, The Story of My Life, 1896


    In all the books of education, I do not find what I believe is the useful view taken of the actual labour of learning to read - that of forcing the child's attention to a thing irksome to it and without interest. The task is commonly spoken of as a means to an end, necessary because the information in books cannot otherwise be obtained, and it is to be put off till the child's interest in the information is excited  and so made a pleasure to him. Now it seems to me to be an excellent discipline whereby daily some self-denial and command may be acquired in overcoming the repugnance to doing from duty that which has in itself no attraction. In the first struggle to fix the attention and learn that which is without interest, but which must be done, a habit is gained of great importance. And in this way, nothing is better suited to the purpose than the lesson of reading, even though little progress may be made for a long time.
    I find in giving any order to a child, it is always better not to look to see if he obeys, but to take it for granted it will be done. If one appears to doubt the obedience, there is occasion given for the child to hesitate. "Shall I do it or no?" If you seem not to question the possibility of non-compliance, he feels a trust committed to him to keep and fulfils it. It is best never to repeat a command, never to answer the oft-asked question "why?".
    Augustus would, I believe, always do a thing if reasoned with about it, but the necessity of obedience without reasoning is specially necessary in such a disposition as his. The will is the thing that needs being brought into subjection.
    The witholding a pleasure is a safe punishment for naughtiness, more safe, I think, than giving a reward for goodness. "If you are naughty, I must punish you" is often a necessary threat; but it is not good to hold out a bribe for goodness - "If you are good, I will give you such a thing."

Augustus Hare, The Story of My Life, 1896


To the Editor of THE OUTLOOK

Elementary schoolmasters - or, at any rate, a great number of them - have a deep-seated grievance which deserves careful and whole-hearted consideration - a grievance which affects nothing more nor less than the very system of compulsory education. It is all very well to talk about this reform and that reform; but, after all, a great deal lies in the hands off the men who come into actual contact with the class for whom the school board system is run - the hundreds of children of all descriptions whose parents will not or cannot have them educated anywhere else. Many of these are tractable children, anxxious to learn, and well-behaved withal; others - and they are many, very many - are juvenile hooligans of an advanced and virulent type. And here the grievance of the master may  be said to begin.
    His cry is for authority - a freer hand. At present he is between the devil and the deep sea. Should he inflict the slightest corporal punishment upon a refractory pupil - a highly necessary action in some cases - he is placed between the enraged parent, who is determined to pursue the matter, on the one side, and the possibility that he may be strongly censured, or even dismissed by the Board, on the other.
     Well, what can he do?
      Every parent seems to drum into his or her children the fact that their schoomaster is merely a paid servant, supported by the money that they themselves pay. Naturally, the result of such a view as this is the utter overthrow of real authority.
      How can a master hope to do any good at all if his class does pretty well what it likes with absolute impunity? But I can hear people saying, why not "keep them in," and give them impositions to do? Impositions are all very well for children of the cultured classes, who are sensitive to punishments of this kind; but with children of the hooligan persuasion impositions are a mere farce. The punishment loses half its value when it does not appeal to the sensitiveness of the punished. The avverage child of, say, the Borough does not mind mere "stopping in," or writing lines; he does not see anything degrading about it. But give him a sharp reminder that he will feel and the ethics of punishment at once strike him as a disagreeable reality.
     I once visitted a board school in the South of London, in a neighnourhood which has a particularly bad name for violence and general bad behaviour. Never shall I forget the scene. The master was a mild, middle-aged man of undoubted abilities for teaching - but he was mild. Thhat sufficient for the youthgful hooligans of whom his class mostly consisted. They jeered at him when he reprimanded them, and when I asked him why he permitted such a state of affairs, and did not administer a sound thrashing to some of them, he replied wearily that it would be quite a fatal thing from his point of view. And on questioning him further, I gathered that his predecessor had been severely censured for striking a boy; and he had therefore sent in his resignation. Still, censure or no censure, had I been the master I should have given one or two of those little savages a sharp lesson. Even when the unhappy master dismissed his class they filed out making audible insulting remarks; some of them even  placed their finger to their noses and "booed" him.  I only hope that this school was an exception to the general rule; for the amount of work done appeared to me to be infinitesimal - a fact not due so much to the fault of the master as his helplessness as regards the judicious infliction of corporal punishment. Without this power he was pitifully weak, and his pupils were not slow to recognise this.
      Let us hope that the school boards will give this matter their earnest consideration as soon as possible. Some small regulation dealing with the matter might easily be framed in such a manner that certain restrictions in the infliction of corporal punishment were made. This would, I feel sure, do a great deal to check the growth of hooliganism by striking at the root, as it were, instead of waiting until the disease has had time to develop.


The Outlook, January 12 1901

I am glad I do not live in the dreadful Sabbatical atmosphere in which my mother was brought up, and indeed for the matter of that, my father too, for he was taught to love going to church by attendance at long dull services, where, if he did not behave, he was tied to the leg of the kitchen table at home until the time for the next service came round.

[Mrs. Panton, writing here of her mother, was born in 1848, ed.]

Mrs. Panton, Leaves from a Life, 1908