100 Years Ago: Softness in boys

21 May 2008

May 22nd, 1908.

CANON LYTTLETON [Headmaster of Eton, addressing the annual meeting of the Mothers’ Union] spoke of self-consciousness and softness as dangers besetting youth at the present time. Self-consciousness was encouraged. . . Children, alas! had been told their own preciousness so often that at last they had come to believe it. (Laughter.) . . . The growth of the young, among the educated classes in England, was being too much watched, and he believed the young people of no nation more urgently needed to be let alone. . .

He passed on to softness. He had no sort of doubt that there was far less grossness in the boys of their upper classes than there used to be. The increased influence of mothers had had much to do with this blessed change. But the mother’s influence could not do all that was required. Discipline, fighting the inclinations, was very important. When the father’s influence was wholly withdrawn from any cause, and when the gentler influences were paramount, there was likely to be a certain softness, not physical, but moral. What were the symptoms? First, incessant requests for privileges of one sort or another to the long-suffering headmaster, based on no reason but that it would be nice for all concerned. Again, want of readiness for the quiet endurance of suffering and pain. . . Most of their great men, in their early years, had not been allowed to shirk discomfort, merely because it was discomfort.

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