PREVALENCE OF IMPURITY AMONG BOYS: THE OPINIONS OF CANON LYTTELTON, DR. DUKES, AND OTHERS.
I propose now to make clear to the reader the fact that the conclusions I have reached as to the existence of sexual knowledge among boys, and as to the prevalence of self-abuse, are entirely borne out by the opinion of the most distinguished teachers and medical men.
Canon Lyttelton writes with an authority which no one will question. Educated at Eton, he was for two years an assistant master at Wellington College; then, for fifteen years, headmaster of Haileybury College, and has now been headmaster of Eton for over six years. He has intimate knowledge of boys, derived, as regards the question of purity, from confidential talks with them. The quotations which follow are from his work Training of the Young in Laws of Sex. Canon Lyttelton does not think it needful to make statements as to the prevalence of impurity among boys. He rather assumes that this prevalence is obvious and, under present conditions, inevitable. I have already quoted one passage which involves this assumption, and now invite the reader to consider two others. "In the school life of boys, in spite of very great improvements, it is impossible that sexual subjects should be wholly avoided in common talk.... Though, in preparatory schools of little boys under fourteen, the increasing vigilance of masters, and constant supervision, combined with constant employment, reduce the evil of prurient talk to a minimum, yet these subjects will crop up.... It should be remembered that the boys who are talkative about such subjects are just those whose ideas are most distorted and vicious. In the public school, owing not only to freer talk and more mixed company but to the boy's own wider range of vision, sexual questions, and also those connected with the structure of the body, come to the fore and begin to occupy more or less of the thoughts of all but a peculiarly constituted minority of the whole number.
"Men, as I have shown, have been severely dealt with by Nature in this respect: she has forced them, at a time of life when their minds are ill compacted, their ideas chaotic, and their wills untrained, to face an ordeal which demands above all things reverence based on knowledge and resolution sustained by high affections. An enormously large proportion flounder blindly into the mire before they know what it is, not necessarily, but very often into the defilement of evil habit, but, still more often, into the tainted air of diseased opinion, and after a few years some of them emerge saved, but so as by fire."[B]
The following are quotations from the Upton Letters, written by Mr. A.C. Benson. Mr. Benson is one of the most distinguished of modern teachers: he has had long experience of public-school life both as a boy and as a master: he has that insight into the heart of boyhood which can come only to one who has affectionate sympathy with boys and has been the recipient of their confidences. It will be abundantly evident from the passages which follow that in Mr. Benson's opinion no boy is likely to preserve his "innocence" in passing through a public school.
"The subject is so unpleasant that many masters dare not speak of it at all, and excuse themselves by saying that they don't want to put ideas into boys' heads. I cannot conscientiously believe that a man who has been through a big public school himself can honestly be afraid of that." "The standard of purity is low: a vicious boy does not find his vicious tendencies by any means a bar to social success." This, of course, assumes that the vicious tendencies are a matter of notoriety. A similar implication is involved in the following: "I do not mean to say that there are not many boys who are both pure-minded and honest; but they treat such virtues as a secret preference of their own, and do not consider that it is in the least necessary to interfere with the practice of others or even to disapprove of it." He further gives it as his opinion that "The deadly and insidious temptation of impurity has, as far as one can learn, increased," and tells us "An innocent-minded boy whose natural inclination to purity gave way before perpetual temptation and even compulsion might be thought to have erred, but would have scanty, if any, expression of either sympathy or pity from other boys; while if he breathed the least hint of his miserable position to a master and the fact came out, he would be universally scouted.... One hears of simply heart-rending cases where a boy dare not even tell his parents of what he endures." It would thus appear that in some of the premier schools of the world impurity is a matter of notoriety, sometimes of compulsion; and that, to a boy's own strong inclination to concealment, is superadded, by the public opinion of the school, an imperious command that this concealment shall, even in heart-rending cases, be maintained.
No one, I think, will maintain that private schools as a class are in the least degree lees corrupt than public schools; while there are, I am sure, at least a few schools in which public opinion condemns open impurity, and will not tolerate impure talk. And while I am confident that it is possible, not merely to attain this condition in a school, but also to reduce private impurity to a negligible quantity, impurity—in one form or another—is, in general, so widely spread in boys' schools of every type, that it is difficult to understand how anyone familiar with school life can doubt its prevalence.
Let us now consider the opinion of Dr. Clement Dukes, the medical officer of Rugby School and the greatest English authority on school hygiene. In the preface to the fourth edition of his well-known work Health at School, Dr. Dukes writes: "I have studied children in all their phases and stages for many years—two years at the Hospital for Sick Children in 61 Ormond Street, London, followed by thirty-three years at Rugby School—a professional history which has provided me with an almost unique experience in all that relates to the Health and Disease of Childhood and Youth, and has compelled constant and steady thought upon every aspect of this problem." In an earlier work, The Preservation of Health, Dr. Dukes gives his estimate of the prevalence of masturbation, and quotes the opinion of other authorities whose credentials he has verified; In this work, on page 150, he writes of masturbation: "I believe that the reason why it is so widespread an evil—amounting, I gather, although from the nature of the case no complete evidence can ever be accurately obtained, to somewhere about 90 to 95 per cent. of all boys at boarding-schools—is because the boy leaves his home in the first instance without one word of warning from his parents ... and thus falls into evil ways from his innocence and ignorance alone.... This immorality is estimated by some at 80 per cent., by others at 90 per cent. Another says that not 10 per cent. are innocent. Another that it has always begun at from eight to twelve years of age. Others that it is always worst amongst the elder boys. Others that 'it is universal.'" Professor Stanley Hall, in his great work on Adolescence, after a similar and exhaustive review of the numerous works on this subject in different languages, concludes: "The whole literature on the subject attests that whenever careful researches have been undertaken the results are appalling as to prevalence." And yet there are people who deprecate purity-teaching for boys because they feel that a boy's natural modesty is quite a sufficient protection, and that there is danger of destroying a boy's innocence by putting ideas into his head! To hear such people talk, and to listen to the way in which they speak of self-abuse as though it implied monstrous moral perversion, one would think that the condition of morals when they were young was wholly different. The great novelist Thackeray gives little countenance to this opinion when he writes in Pendennis: "And, by the way, ye tender mothers and sober fathers of Christian families, a prodigious thing that theory of life is as orally learned at a great public school. Why if you could hear those boys of fourteen who blush before mothers and sneak off in silence in the presence of their daughters, talking among each other—it would be the woman's turn to blush then. Before he was twelve years old little Pen had heard talk enough to make him quite awfully wise upon certain points—and so, madam, has your pretty rosy-cheeked son, who is coming home from school for the ensuing holidays. I don't say that the boy is lost, or that the innocence has left him which he had from 'Heaven, which is our home,' but that the shades of the prison-house are closing fast over him, and that we are helping as much as possible to corrupt him."
Before concluding this chapter I would caution the reader against the error of supposing that the opinions expressed by Canon Lyttelton and Dr. Dukes are indicative merely of the conditions they have met at Haileybury, Eton, and Rugby. They are equally significant of the conditions which obtain in the innumerable schools from which Haileybury, Eton, and Rugby are recruited; and as there is no reason why other preparatory schools should differ from these, they are significant of the almost universal condition of boys' schools.