"BULLYING " AS A PENAL OFFENCE.
IN ordering the Public Prosecutor to inquire into the ease of the little boy Bourdas, who was recently beaten to death by some of the upper boys in King's College School, London, Sir W. Harcourt has done a public service ; and we are happy to perceive, from the unanimous cheers of the House of Commons, . that he is not in advance of public opinion. It is high time 'that the kind of privilege which Public Schools have so long enjoyed of being Alsatias exempt by tacit consent from the jurisdiction of the Magistrates should be taken away, and that both masters and boys should understand that legal crime committed in a school is exactly like legal crime committed anywhere else. Why in the world should it be manslaughter to beat a boy to death in the Strand, and practically no crime at all to beat him to death twenty yards off, just inside Somerset House P The poor little lad Bourdas was just as much entitled to the protection of the law in the one place as in the other ; evidence is just as easy to obtain, and the moral harm wrought by impunity is, if anything, greater in the school. If a gang of boy-roughs in Islington or Shoreditch attack a grown man, they are prosecuted ; and if they killed a little boy by beating his spine with their fists they would be sent to prison or to reformatories ; but if better-educated lads do the same thing in King's College, or any other Public School, nothing happens to them ; the Coroner directs a verdict of "Death by misadventure," and it takes a Minister of State to order a prosecution. It is folly to say that nothing serious can happen in a school because the masters are present and will prevent mischief. The police are present in the streets and do not prevent serious mischief, and the masters are not half so efficient as the police. Not only do they not watch the boys as the roughs are watched by the police, but they entertain a much more lenient feeling towards their offences. They regard bullying as an unavoidable and not altogether regrettable practice appertaining to boy life; and though they are sorry for a case like that of Bourdas, death sobering all minds, they would rather not punish lest the boys in general should feel that they are too much under supervision. As to police interference, they would as soon think of sending for the soldiers. Dr. Stokoe at the inquest only remarked that the occurrence might have happened in any Public School, and that he would investigate the matter when the boys reassembled, and when we may be sure the guilty will have been transferred to other establishments. The notien of asking the help of the police, as he would have done in the Strand, never occurred to him; nor would it to any other head master. The best of them might have expelled the bullies, and the worst would have been willing to cane them ; but the ties between boys and masters, as between boys and boys, over-ride the law of the land. It is time this should cease ; and though the occurrence of an isolated death is not the worst result possible from bullying, which may degrade the character of hundreds, it is, perhaps, the best opportunity for putting a stop to the immunity the practice has enjoyed. When a boy is dead, the evidence of what he has suffered must at least be clear, and Magistrates and Juries hesitate in the presence of death to pay too much heed to the respectability of the accused.
Bullying requires a coup clo grcice such as will be afforded by a police investigation, by a public trial, and, we hope, by the sufficient punishment of those who beat young Bourdas to death. It is not so bad as in the old days, when boys were held to the bars of the grate, beaten almost into insensibility with hockey-sticks, or kicked into hospital for breaking the unwritten laws of the schools, for " °hooking " older boys than themselves, or, greatest offence of all, for telling the truth when questioned by a master; bat it is still occasionally very bad. The systematic persecution of small boys which seems to have existed in King's College School is not unknown in other schools ; an unpopular lad who rises fast, often has his life made a misery to him, the bullying taking the form of planned attack during the games; and an unhappy lad who happens for any reason—perhaps for some physical peculiarity or method of speech—to become a butt, is frequently cowed for life. We ourselves have known a boy who was steadily kicked for weeks twice a day because he would do his lessons so well; another who was beaten into hospital for " peaching,"—he deserved punishment, but not what he got—and a third whose hand was trampled into the ground by iron-shod boots for the amusement of the bully. Boys are compelled every day by positive fear to break wholesome rules, to avoid learning, and to lie consistently to the masters ; and a public warning that such cruelty is illegal will act beneficially on masters, on boys, and on parents, who are as much to blame in the matter as anybody else. They could have stopped the whole system long ago by exposing it, and they have refrained, partly, we fear, from indifference and carelessness, and partly from the influence of two traditions. One is the idea that a "sneak "—that is, a lad who gives evidence—is either a bad boy, treacherous to his schoolmates, or is a coward, and in either case deserves severe castigation. Why does he deserve it any more than the boy who gives evidence in a Court of Justice ? That there is such a character as a sneak, and such an offence as treachery to comrades, and that usually the sneak is a bad lot, a precocious &later, or spy, and that treachery may deserve punishment, we should be the last to deny ; nor in moderation and under rules do we object to boy-tribunals. They help to solidify public opinion without which no school can remain healthy, and to give a sanction to rules many of which are as necessary as the public rules of the school. But every witness is not an informer, or every informer treacherous ; and the unwritten law of every school ought to be that a boy questioned by the proper authority should tell the exact truth. Any other rule can only encourage lying as a habit; and though we admit that the cultivated English do not lie, that is at least as much due to fearlessness and self-respect as to any law of the conscience on the subject. Boys are not all so good as it is a fashion to assume, and many a boy leaves a Public School a confirmed liar, in party though not wholly, because the school rules have made him think lying a venial offence. The second tradition, almost an incurable one, is that a certain amount of bullying, like a certain amount of danger in games, hardens a boy, and tends to "make a man of him." We do not believe a word of it. Hardship may harden a lad sometimes ; and as the world is constituted, hardening may be a beneficial process, just as the compulsory facing of danger may be beneficial,—the one, like the other, constituting a discipline ; but bullying can never be beneficial. It must be in the bully the capricious exercise of unjust power, through cruelty, and in the victim the endurance of unjust suffering. The habitual bully almost invariably becomes either cruel—a much more common form of viciousness than the arrangements of our society permit us easily to perceive—or callous with a callousness which, by destroying sympathy, impairs not only the character, but in some directions the very power of the mind ; while the habitual victim becomes either timid or vindictive, the latter being the more frequent result, or an ingrained and hopeless liar. The bully, whom the English public forgets, even when accident has made it feel sympathy for his victim, is often injured the most, retaining, even when the discipline of life and the resistance of contemporaries have partially cured him, a violent unreason, a disposition to employ force on all occasions, and a grudge against all who resist, such as we constantly see developed in the worse kind of rough,—the man who
beats his wife because she has no dinner ready, and stamps on • his son or daughter for forgetting an order. The slave holder was not more brutalised than the slave, but his character was more permanently spoiled. Everybody perceives that in the grown-up man, and detests the rough accordingly ; yet we pardon—or, at least, overlook—the vice in the boy, though, from the constant presence of the subjects of cruelty, he has more provocation to it. Why should we suffer a bully any more than a boy who tortures animals, or thieves, or lies from greed or fear ? His hardness is no compensation, even if the habit of bullying produced the kind of enduring patience and fortitude which is the only hardness worth having, instead of producing, as it does, an insane impatience of all that is disagreeable or that resists. As to the victim, bullying, so far from hardening, constantly weakens him, destroys his natural fortitude by showing him that it is useless, and excites an apprehensiveness which not infrequently poisons his whole life. He expects all above him to be cruel. Do Englishmen find their dogs and horses the better for unjust or capricious punishments inflicted by irresponsible hands ; or, if not, why do they expect their boys to be ? You may spoil a dog in a week by capricious whipping or cruel teasing, yet a boy is expected to grow up the manlier for the process.
We have said nothing of the misery inflicted by bullying on its victims, for we admit that argument is not quite final. Discipline must sometimes be hard ; and while the great ship is governed as it is, we shall not get to the point at which the rope's-end is valueless. If misery educates, let there be misery, in moderation at all events. What we contend is that capricious cruelty, capricious scorn, and capricious punishment can educate nobody, not even a cabin-boy, and that bullying such as that to which little Bourdas owed his early death—it was clearly shown that he was a healthy lad—unites all three evils, and should, in the interest of manly education, be suppressed. The Magistrates can suppress it best. There is not a confirmed bully in England who is not at this moment shaking in his shoes at the thought that, owing to those accursed Liberals, if he goes a step too far, he may come in at last for a real and adequate punishment, such as even he dreads.