Mr Lyward's Answer
by Michael Burn

Mr Lyward's Answer (Abridged)

The story of George Lyward and Finchden Manor
First published 1956 by Hamish Hamilton Ltd - All Rights Reserved
Abridged for the World Wide Web


Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

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"Mr Lyward's Answer"
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WHEN talking or writing to parents Mr Lyward often spoke of himself as 'mediating'. When a local educational authority paid the boys' fees, the triangle of boy, parent, and Mr Lyward became a quadrilateral. His work thus involved him intimately in two dramas - the boy's relationship with father and mother - and that of the boy, as an individual, to the needs and requirements of the State. This second drama also involved the autonomy of Mr Lyward's own work: the conditions under which it could or could not continue, and his own personality as a man of original vision not always amenable to rules.

As Mr Lyward said in 1948 at the Conference of the National Association for Mental Health: 'The problem of mental health is now ceasing to a certain extent to be one of health, and becoming one of education. But there is not much point in regarding it as an educational issue, if inspectors dealing with difficult children are going to look at the wrong things, instead of trying to find out, and knowing how to find out, whether, at the places they inspect, there is real love operating in a disinterested way.

A Council had written asking whether a certain boy might not be ready to be trained for a career and leave. Mr Lyward wrote back four pages for which 'report' is far too cold a word:

'...Since the boy turned his back on academic achievement, which is what happened, he presented a picture of someone groping in new territory, but not, I would say, completely lost or frightened. Certainly he had to be watched for depression or apathy or both, which he might as it were build into his play-acting. This last was a marked feature of his life when he came. After disappearing to some extent, it reappeared in a very marked manner indeed last summer... I decided not to interfere, apart from reintroducing him to an earlier part of his life by...' (some details follow).'... These touches the other boys took up, and by about the end of August his posturing was coming to an end, and since then he has returned to the circulation within the community which characterized his early days here, but at a deeper level. He is more relaxed and his humour is not tinged with bitterness. ... But he is still resistant, rather like a cat, who will do many things until it is asked to do them, when it asserts its independence by merely moving off. As long as this need exists, any attempt to involve him in the future seems to be premature, and therefore his general education here is still oblique rather than direct... I could never see anything coming of an attempt to patch up. I think risks had to be taken in helping him. But I also think that if he had been going to deteriorate he would be showing signs of doing so now, whereas I felt the other day that I had never seen him so quietly alive. ... It is not possible to write a report on him which doesn't relate to love and faith rather than plans ...'

To this letter the Council wrote a warm reply, fully in agreement with Mr Lyward's wish that the boy should not be hurried. 'How tired of it they must get,' Mr Lyward once said, thinking of parents. 'How long it takes ... on and on ... and on...'

We have seen something of the manner in which boys arrived at Finchden - at what point did they go? 'There are those,' Mr Lyward wrote, 'whose departure is arranged by us; those taken away before we actually give the word; and those taken away against our advice.' What, at Finchden Manor, was the test of readiness? They themselves talked of 'making the grade', or of 'going with Mr Lyward's blessing', or, jokingly, of 'being cured'.

'Cure' of the particular trouble or 'offence' for which a boy had been sent to Finchden Manor was usually the least to be achieved. To some parents Finchden was only a kind of mental spa, a Harrogate of the emotions, at which their child was to do a quick course and depart. 'His habits must be cured at all costs,' wrote one father, 'I cannot let him stay with you more than a few months.' A mother decided that her son had taken the waters sufficiently and withdrew him. 'Last night I called all the family into the library,' she informed Mr Lyward, 'and told them that if any ordering about's to be done, it'll be done by me.' As she drove her son away she said, 'The first thing you'll do is have your hair cut'. In other words, he was going back to the very circumstances which had caused him to be sent.

This assertion by parents that their sons were 'better' (often made before the boy had even arrived at Finchden) usually meant that the symptom of maladjustment - it might be pilfering, eczema, asthma, violence, etc. - seemed to have disappeared. Such fathers and mothers viewed Mr Lyward as a masseur of the emotions who would make sure the boy never got into trouble again, then push him through examinations, so that he could 'catch up' the time missed at an ordinary school. It was not in terms of 'cure and cram' that Mr Lyward approached his work. The readiness to leave of a 'thief' did not only mean that he had stopped stealing.

Mr Lyward wrote of a boy called Fred Sutton, who came to Finchden with a long list of minor crimes, and later did well:

'I do think that he is convinced at last that he counts. But he still will not be denied his own way in certain respects. Is he a weak character, who should not be expected to surrender to the total situation here? We find this difficult to answer. We are still inclined to hope that our life here will help the softened Fred Sutton, once so bitter and tight-lipped, to reach a realization of values clear enough to keep him out of all serious trouble, and away from the rehardening effects of possible punishment.'

What do those phrases mean? Most of us have 'certain respects' in which we will not be denied our own way, believing ourselves to be right and others wrong. Why a boy should be expected to 'surrender to the total situation' at Finchden Manor, more than to 'the total situation' anywhere else. At first glance, it may seem extraordinarily presumptuous in one mortal man to declare, once boys have accepted a community' which happens to have grown up around him, that they are then ready to go out into the world. Mr Lyward made no claim for his community other than that it was one. What the words meant he put quite simply in a letter he once wrote, while on holiday, to a boy at Finchden:

'I hope you will welcome a letter from me even if it is only a small one. At the time I went away you were beginning to see things clearer. This is to say that I hope you are able to use that time as a kind of base from which to move on. There is no need for me to tell you that you have gifts. But it is important for you to discover that your real need at the moment is to measure yourself; as it were, with your contemporaries of all kinds (not primarily the clever ones by any means). This is the way to develop what I suppose must be called "guts". You see, you use up what guts you've got in rebelling or grumbling or "digging your toes in". Once you've started using them to mix and accept other people, (independent of their brains or attainments), just because they're there, all kinds of things would happen. I had the feeling that you were on the verge of seeing this, and that is why I have written. I've tried not to put it scientifically. But I know you will be on better terms with yourself, as soon as you do what I have tried to hint at above. Whoever or whatever (again to put it that way) robbed you of your guts, only you can start acting in those ways which will reassure yourself that you've got them.

'This might perhaps be put "robbed of living your own life, so that you could live theirs"; but you must remember that it's no good sitting down and saying "now I'll live mine". That is best achieved by accepting the fact of other people around you and that we are all linked up; and not being "selective". Gradually, if you do that, you will find that you are living a life of your own (you can't do that in a vacuum). You need not confuse the above with "Being unselfish", etc. I'm merely suggesting that you accept a fact - the existence of others round you - and by "accept" I mean "in practice". (The other thing would be mere acquiescence).'

Acceptance 'in practice' meant contact and co-mingling, rubbing of shoulders instead of turning a cold shoulder, friction not in the sense of dispute, but ordinary friction among other people. Amber, by friction, becomes electric; human beings become individuals by friction, not by remaining apart. 'You can't live a life of your own in a vacuum'.

Elsewhere Mr Lyward wrote of boys '...coming to accept the common humanity each shares with his fellows and individuating out of that rather than by denial of it.' Surrender - what did surrender mean? The gradual losing of an artificial self; which might have found expression:

' a boy's picture of himself... or in one of those almost fanatic attachments ... or some connection in the town.' Any of these attitudes was capable of keeping a part of him outside the community. Aloofness also found expression in certain attitudes towards the community itself; which on the surface gave certain boys a deceptive air of having 'made the acceptance' and begun to take part. Good mixers, for example: '...many good mixers are really aloof in the deepest sense, being under compulsion to mix all their waking hours. They need sympathetic understanding, too,' wrote Mr Lyward, 'for they miss all that is missed by those, whose manifest aloofness matters only in so far as it tells us of the same deep-seated confusion.'

There is also a particular kind of helpful person, who, while appearing to have accepted the community - indeed to be its most devoted servant - has really not accepted it at all, but is using it as his foil: ' ... unhealthily generous towards its other members, trying to buy what cannot be bought, feeling that they are wanted only for what they have or can do', and not for what they are.

One boy, feeling inwardly humiliated by all his family, had consequently acquired a thirst for power. He brought this thirst with him to the new community, which he tried to dominate by being helpful. He was unwittingly encouraged by a probation officer who counselled him '...always to think what Mr Lyward would like you to do and be one move ahead'. Mr Lyward composed one of his imaginary cross-examinations round this story.

G. L.: Surely that was bad advice on the probation officer's part ?
But if (asked the imaginary questioner) the boy developed the habit of doing what society preferred, it would be good?
G. L.: Good for whom? This particular boy was quite capable of that particular trick, among others. ... He could dominate others quite easily by being helpful, couldn't he? He did, in fact, try this method and often anticipated me by at least one move - causing a great deal of consternation by so doing. Clearly we didn't do what he would have called the obvious thing. We didn't say 'Thank you'.
Q.: You let fly at him, I imagine?
G. L.: No - we took no notice, quite often.
Q.: But wouldn't it have given him selfconfidence and assurance to feel that his help was acceptable and accepted?
G. L.: Have you ever watched a person like this giving his help? Is he clearly straightforward and honest? I'm not too sure that the effort to get a move or more ahead of me is straightforward. It's certainly calculating and...
Q.: One moment. I think I see one thing you are concerned to stop - calculating, planning, and the like.
G. L.: Agreed. But that must not be taken to imply that I am completely against all planning and calculating; certainly adults have to plan and calculate. But not concerning their near relations with others, nor in the daily ways of straightforwardness, honesty and helpfulness. This boy was calculating how to maintain power or (more accurately) how to maintain a precarious hold on life which he doesn't realize to be so precarious.
Q.: You want to loosen that hold?
G. L.: Yes. Slowly; no faster than he is unconsciously discovering a better way. This 'helpfulness' trick - a confidence trick if ever there was one - always breaks down here and leads to such a boy trying others, frequently stealing, or even bed-wetting.

Sometimes those who have been dominated in childhood and adolescence seek in later life to dominate others: it may be by their beauty, or by their brains, or by their self-pity. Sometimes, surrendering themselves to some powerful group, they seek domination through the group. This is not a true surrender; it can often be the surrender of a coward, without inward strength, and deeply influenced by vengefulness. Several adolescents at Finchden, whom visitors might think to have surrendered to and accepted the community, were in fact trying either to own it or to be owned by it. In neither instance had they begun their deeper personal relationship with it.

The key to 'surrender' and 'acceptance' at Finchden was personal relationship. What the boys surrendered was a self too artificial to have personal relationship with anyone. What they accepted was a community of personal relationships, not 'the community' as an idea. 'I run a community,' Mr Lyward wrote early in the life of Finchden Manor, 'of which no one is expected to be a loyal understanding member. I have had the joy, in consequence, of continually watching a larger proportion of people co-operating, without stimulants, than in any community I have known, where "community spirit" is preached in and out of season as an ideal, to be achieved by all and sundry from the moment of entry, regardless of their capacity or their prior needs.'

Surrender took time. Acceptance took time. 'It is surely safe to assume that no adolescent is determined never to participate, but that all aloofness is an attempt to gain time. The more neurotically aloof adolescents are those, whose life to date has been one long cry of "give me time" ... their fear of the moment of contact dominates their whole lonely existence ... they have never had their external form of living properly informed by their spirit of spontaneity. They need to be helped not to worry about the group ... while they recapture the joy "of their own time".' Hence, respite - and the patient willingness of the staff to be clung to. 'Release can only come for these boys if somebody will acknowledge their tendency to become identified with and possess everything and everybody they touch - somebody who thus will help them to move, little by little, towards the joy of free relationship with that one person. Relationship to a group may then follow.'

Of course, not all fulfilled the last stage of their development. Mr Lyward might decide that Finchden Manor could do no more for one boy - at that moment; or that another would benefit from taking a job - at that moment. The boys jokingly said: 'I am cured!' Once, seriously, suddenly, dramatically, a boy declared, 'It's happened!' From that day colour came into his face and his relationship with Mr Knox, who was teaching him, grew warmer. Mr Lyward had taken over the expression. 'It' might 'happen' to one boy while at Finchden; to another, not until he left; of a third he said that 'it happened' as the boy went through the gates. It was often difficult for a boy - as for anyone - to change in front of the person who had made the change possible.

They left, as they had come, in all kinds of ways. Mr Lyward or one of the staff might take special pains to find a suitable job for one boy. Another had a stroke of luck. Some found their own jobs. Mr Lyward might say: 'I suppose it's time for you to go - you'd better start looking in the papers.' One or two boys had to be 'eased out'.

Had Finchden Manor been nothing more than a cure or a crammer, the boys might not have come back, or come back only on friendly and nostalgic visits. But since it had shown them the beginning of a way of life, their association continued naturally. Mr Lyward scarcely had to say 'Keep in touch'. Most boys took it for granted that they would. So many things, which had not been clear to them at Finchden, might become clear on a return visit. So many things he had not been able to do, so many words he had not been able to say, while they were still living there, became possible and appropriate after they had left.

Sometimes a boy's departure coincided with an examination. When a particular kind of boy was ready, he could absorb knowledge easily and quickly. I have a thick sheaf of notes which Mr Lyward used while preparing a boy called Stephen Morrison for the G.C.E. - chiefly for the advanced and scholarship papers in history and English literature. The notes cover several hundred pages, and had been supplemented by large but simple charts showing, as if on a family tree, the social and political development of the Western world, the flowering of language, the literary genealogy of our poets. The chart of European history is divided horizontally into four parts, 'Renaissance and Reformation', 'Bourbons and Hapsburgs', 'Enlightened Despotism', 'Liberal Movements and Nationalism'. The salient dates and personages of French history are written vertically down the left-hand side, and the dates and personages of other European countries parallel, the most important being circled and shaded in red. Names of influential writers are interwoven, so that the thought and events of the whole period and continent appear as part of an interrelated but not intricate pattern. Mr Lyward's notes on the set books in English literature, written in that quick scholar's hand which so easily came to resemble music, defy summary. One sheaf is occupied with a comparison between Dryden's All For Love and Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, another with Chaucer, another with Milton, and so on. One page recommends a modern critical work, with a note: 'If you understand this book and use it with your text, you can't want more on your Milton. When you've done that, turn over'; and, over, there follows a fresh sheaf outlining Milton's relationship to his predecessors. Another page presents a summary of a poem by John Donne, with a note to the boy: 'This is a prose analysis. Does prose analysis suggest the nature of the poem? It does not suggest the tenderness and real feeling. Actually the flimsiness of the argument accentuates the feeling' ... and then, written boldly right across the page and underlined three times, 'But can you see (feel) that?', with an instruction crowded into the bottom corner, 'You will find the feeling only in the inflection and cadence, so read the poem aloud'.

Some of these notes were Mr Lyward's own, and some a recreated presentation of other people's thoughts. He seemed to me to be a great impresario of learning, a Diaghileff of education. He took European history, or the works of half-a-dozen great writers, and evening after evening staged them for one boy, whose five months of concentrated hard work had only been made possible by perhaps twenty-five, maybe even fifty months of relaxation.

During the same period, Mr Lyward was taking a class of about twenty boys in the big kitchen - being the warmest room in the house. Although these classes were chiefly concerned with French grammar, they verged and were so arranged as to verge upon at least a dozen other subjects - particularly algebra, phonetics, English literature, and the controversies of the Middle Ages. Sometimes they took an hour, sometimes two. They had no rigid continuity. Years of experiments had shown that something boys had been told on Monday they might have forgotten on Tuesday, but absorbed by Thursday. Consequently he might not revert to it until Thursday, and then in a different light and from an unexpected approach. He seldom taught straight ahead, but with a carefully designed deviousness. He varied the frontal attack upon a point of information with outflankings and detours, so that it came to be seen in the round, from several angles, and not only, like a pylon, as a bare link along a formal chain.

Usually his 'digressions' had been minutely planned, although he sometimes did so impromptu. None of the boys who had been at Finchden any length of time was surprised at his apparent irrelevancies, any more than they were surprised at his deliberate 'unfairnesses'. They came to accept and trust his treatment of a subject, in the same way as his treatment of themselves - having learnt from experience that in the end he led them somewhere. The journey held a fascination of its own. It is not unusual to find among Mr Lyward's notes an elementary translation into French, sandwiched between an algebraic equation and a few words on Tyndale's and Coverdale's translations of the Bible. When the classes in the kitchen were coming to an end, Mr Lyward gave the boys a craftily selected list of a hundred words and expressions they had discussed in order to discover what different individuals remembered. The first nine are:

  • - connotation;
  • - mensae, of the table;
  • - relations;
  • - Comus;
  • - visual image;
  • - first person, singular number, future simple tense, active indicative mood of the verb 'to have';
  • - Dr Johnson;
  • - Ben Jonson;
  • - T. S. Eliot.

People may well ask what on earth this meant. The answer is that one boy might see the word mensae, for example, as nothing more than the genitive of a word meaning 'a table', another see beyond that to the meaning 'something that is measured'. The third might remember the Latin word 'mens' for 'the mind' or 'measure', and so recall that the role of the mind is to measure, not to dominate or possess. The word 'mensae' was thus directed particularly at an eighteen-year-old boy called Andrew Salter, a 'compulsive thinker' given to fantastic questions. Six months later I saw him as Aladdin in a pantomime the boys were putting on for a hundred local children: he was much happier and hardly bothering to think at all. When he started to think again, it would be as a more relaxed person, 'with head and heart reasonably at one', and produce better and quicker results.

The feeling at these classes was friendly, but not lackadaisical. A boy who did not understand might interrupt Mr Lyward, sometimes to be left behind deliberately or to have the whole class reduced to the speed of the slowest. Often Mr Lyward turned his own 'lecture' into a dialogue with a particular boy, or into a general discussion. He put written questions such as these:

  • - 'What is meant by "solving" an equation? Try to connect the word "solve" with another word you know';
  • - 'Compose four lines in the style of "No more Latin, no more Greek", using the sound and the rhythm to express a mood or feeling', (30 minutes);
  • - 'Fill in the gaps in the following... "To use the word motor car in a speech by an Elizabethan would be to perpetrate an ... But... (who?) didn't worry about that.'

He told the boys, 'You will either know how to fill in these gaps at once, or not know, in which event no amount of extra time will avail you. He gave them three quarters of an hour to write 15-20 lines about the effect on themselves of a preliminary study of phonetics, particularly interesting among boys with several dialects '(... you can let it all take the form of a letter, if you like.)' His private notes on the boys in this class describe them severally as 'punctured'; 'concerned and faint'; 'wide open'; 'earnest and frail'; 'solid and held'; 'slight and penetrating'; 'rich and spendthrift'; 'clever and precarious'; 'thoroughbred'; 'penny plain'; 'canine and romantic'.

He took words to pieces, passed the pieces round, then reassembled them and made them work, so that they became 'words with power'. Sometimes he drew a diagram or picture to delineate a word's first meaning. All the time, whatever he was teaching, he illustrated, bringing the unfamiliar into touch with the familiar. '"There are a great many Tudor houses in Norfolk". That is perhaps a better way of starting a talk on Ket's Rebellion than to say, "Wealth and land had accumulated in a few hands." It startles by its apparent irrelevance. It belongs to the present. It refers to something that can be seen today by the two eyes in your head. It starts the less intellectual or more emotionally disturbed child trotting along with the others. It gives significance to the conclusion that the rebellion was social rather than political. It gives a good many wandering notions a local habitation. And if you refer to the memorial recently erected to the rebels on the four hundredth anniversary, you help your pupils to link their lives with today's people in Norfolk and with the other lovers of fair play of a bygone age. Both time and space are spanned.'

The boys in that kitchen class would have had little difficulty in composing one small essay Mr Lyward asked of them, on 'detective work in study'. He had turned each of them into a sleuth. He had given them a host of clues; if they learnt to pick them up and follow them, the time approached for more specialised tuition, with himself or some other member of the staff. That tuition enabled Stephen Morrison to pass two 'A' levels in five months, at scholarship level, in subjects he had never touched before. The boys were thus involved in a kind of treasure-hunt. Stephen's private tuition and the kitchen classes were set pieces. But in fact education ('nourishing') continued casually and conversationally all the time.

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