Mr Lyward’s Answer by Michael Burn The Story of George Lyward and Finchden Manor


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NameMr Lyward’s Answer by Michael Burn The Story of George Lyward and Finchden Manor
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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.
CHAPTER FOUR
RELAXED, disarmed, returned to boyhood, weaned anew, learning to live - none of these words answer the question, 'What did the boys do?' They were without everything they had thought they disliked, and belonged to themselves. Nobody told them not to do things, but nobody was certain to give them anything to do. With nothing to fight against and no one in whom to hide, sooner or later they were bound to take some action by themselves. Self-disclosings and re-discovery began from that.
Movement started. They became in play. Mr Lyward used the simile of the pendulum, swaying forward to the new stage, and back to the stage that was being left behind. But once the play had begun, all that they did and said was eloquent; particularly the boy who complained: 'I wish there were something to do, but I don't want to do it.'
Early on, they attached themselves to some 'thing', to another boy, or to a member of the staff. The 'things' had been numberless, and usually chosen with the aim of showing what big men they were. If they could become an expert or authority then they might be looked up to - and mastery of the outward 'thing' could take the place of an inward development they did not want to go through. Dozens of boys asked Sid to teach them wireless. He was the one who kept a supply of spare parts; they were the ones who thought grandly of the finished set. One boy knew how to make it, but never finished. Another built it by himself, made a mistake, and would not show anyone, unable to admit the mistake. Another knew how to get someone else to make it for him, and then sold it for a packet of fags. Most of them soon gave up, and either relaxed for a while with the new-found awareness of their own shortcomings, or felt about for something else.
One boy kept a record of all the games of chess that anyone at Finchden ever played. Many of them made books their 'thing', and one was in a fever for weeks whether he should lock up his 'library' or send it home. One got up every morning and dug the garden furiously all day, where Mr Lyward could see him. He stopped, after a neighbour complained that flowers had been stolen to fill up the beds, and took over a passage inside the house instead, laying a carpet, locking the doors at either end, and announcing it was now his room. Many boys went through the phase of building dug-outs underground and Wendy houses in the trees. One annexed a little shed, where he gave tea-parties; if he had to go out, even for a moment, he locked his guests in to stop them leaving.
One boy attached himself to science. He rarely opened a sentence without the words 'scientifically speaking', and insisted that everyone not only should, but did function according to 'scientific rules'. Another made a 'thing' for himself of cricket matches. He liked to behave as if he was the only one who knew how to organise and preside; if he was bowled, or other people on the field took the game less seriously, he lost his temper and bats and stumps went flying over the ground. Many boys started furiously banging away at the piano, 'but they always,' said Sid, who taught them, 'go sweet and mellow later'. Some boys attached themselves to an animal. One passed through music and Plato to astronomy, which involved him in a study of logic and appalling mental knots. He talked of building a telescope, but never finished grinding the lenses.
Sometimes two boys attached themselves to one another. This was known as 'pairing-off'. Writing of ordinary schools, Mr Lyward noticed 'more than a few pairs who, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are rarely apart, and are engrossed in and unwisely praised for their escape-absorption in, say, aeroplanes or bird-watching'. When this happened at Finchden, it was, gently if possible, stopped. Twice a boy was sent away because of it. The rule against pairing-off was the only rule.
Boys who paired-off formed, at a tangent to or completely outside the community, a closed circle within which their development came to a standstill. They had 'a mother-and-child relationship both ways'. Their influence on one another, if influence it can be called, became repetitive and sterile, and neither took any part in the growth of those who shared the ordinary life of the community. They were bores, drilling away at one another, and never striking oil.
At first it seemed strange that so many boys should have this ague for attachment, of whatever kind. By coming to Finchden, they had enabled themselves to be detached from the impositions they had resented and rebelled against. Mother was no longer at their shoulders saying: 'Change your underclothes', or Father: 'Get to the top of the class'. They were no longer typed as 'immoral', 'disobedient' or any of the hundred-and-one epithets parents and schools had fixed to them. Yet here they were, looking for new labels and fresh ties.
Many of these boys had suffered from a mistaken discipline and an inhuman authority. Freed from both at Finchden, they were nonplussed. Had they been fully grown men they might have exulted, but the immature may clutch what they claim to hate as well as what they claim to love. Unable even to feel their own legs, let alone stand on them, they exchanged their chains for crutches.
Mr Lyward wrote to one father that his son's manner when he came to Finchden 'was so strained and obviously "put-on" that it scarcely needed the diagnosis of a psychologist to determine that his anti-social behaviour was ... one of many symptoms connected with a totally false attitude to himself and life... Beneath a super-grown-up exterior manufactured over many years (thanks to intellectual capacity above the average) there was a very scared and puzzled little boy.... He had managed to push it all away by clever cynical repartee, or by being a successful scholar. He was not even able to admit that he was a sham and bluffing. The bluff had become almost the facts.'
Seen in this pellucid light by others first, and later by themselves, some boys formed, temporarily, an opposite impression of Finchden from their first. They could not deny that it continued to give them security from all that had disturbed them. Mr Lyward stood square between them and those parents who persisted, as some inevitably did, in requiring that they should write home regularly, pass their G.C.E., and flex themselves for their careers. But within this lovingly protected terrain they were now thrown back upon themselves, and in another aspect found Finchden like a shadow. If they fell into a rage and tried to hit it, it slid away, leaving them to beat their fists against air, against thin air, with nobody bruised except themselves; though sometimes they were 'hit back', if they looked like being too scared by the absence of reaction.
And so, having previously hated lessons, they began to clamour for them. Having previously refused to do anything, they demanded instruction in a craft - only to find when their wish was met that they could not absorb the lessons or persevere in the craft. Their pretensions to be grown up collapsed at every point. Many boys attached themselves to the staff. A staff is something to lean upon; they turned the staff at Finchden into their crutches. David, Sid, Neville, had the added advantage over a 'thing' like wireless, that they could be imagined as representing 'authority', and therefore blamed as well as clung to. That was what they were there for. It was no grief to the staff, since behind the blaming and clinging of the boys were smallness, fear and hungering for love; and if by clinging and blaming for a while they could be weaned, a day might come when they would neither cling nor blame.
All the members of Mr Lyward's staff except Mr D. and Mr Hannen had once been boys themselves at Finchden and knew what it had done for them; since then, they had themselves learnt how to do the same for others. Mr Hannen, who was away when I arrived, would be dealing with literature and the arts. Mr D. was occupied chiefly with teaching mathematics, and also with finance, Peter, among many other things, with the physical repairs of Finchden. The 'psychological side' or the 'treatment', were left principally - again apart from Mr Lyward - to David, Sid, and Neville.
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