Mr Lyward's Answer
by Michael Burn
The story of George Lyward and Finchden Manor
First published 1956 by Hamish Hamilton Ltd - All Rights Reserved
Abridged for the World Wide Web
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.
One by no means trusting boy remarked of Sid, that 'you could not like him, you could only love him'. He came from East of Aldgate and had been a research chemist by profession. Heftily built, formerly an athlete, his feats of strength had become a legend; he had been able to lift two boys and hold them from the ground, one on either arm. An accident to his spine some years ago had made it impossible for him to walk without a stick, and he was seldom out of pain. His massive and still young face had the nobility of a Cockney Samson. He played the piano, the accordion, and other instruments. He was in remote or immediate control, as the occasion demanded, of the cooking. It was he who helped the boys who wanted to 'do wireless' and, if asked, taught or examined them in chemistry and physics.
The loss of his physical vigour may have deepened the resources of a spiritual and speculative nature already deep. The role into which he had moved at Finchden seemed to be that of one who reassured. The slowness of his movements seemed now to be in character. He took things quietly, humorously, and without hurry; and to many of the boys, especially the younger and more excitable, his mere appearance had the effect of a caress. He, like all the other members of the staff, knew himself thoroughly, and knew therefore how to prevent exploitation of his own particular strength, which lay in gentleness. He said of Mr Hannen: 'It is fine that he gives the boys cups of coffee. But can he also throw the coffee in their faces?' Sid could; Mr Hannen, as I later learnt, could not.
David Hobbs and Neville Guille moved about much more. An account of all the boys did at Finchden would also be an account of what David and Neville had to observe, cope with and respond to. David worked unobtrusively, and since he was about to be married I did not see much of him in such spare time as he had. He had an exceptionally sensitive and happy face. He deputised for Mr Lyward, when Mr Lyward went away, and appeared to have the same kind of intuition, which gave the illusion of being effortless. Neville was younger and more obviously keen, and his insight seemed to me to be more in the formative state, and less completely absorbed into the whole character. He was more visibly on the move. He got things going. He chivvied and organised the details of chores and cleaning-up, but not because he liked them. He relaxed by making models of celebrated buildings, playing Chopin, and defeating me at chess, and is accompanied through my memories by a trail of half-emptied coffee cups.
Sid belonged to Finchden; I could not have imagined him anywhere else. David and Neville also belonged, but it was possible to picture either of them as highly successful in another profession, although their work at Finchden was not a profession, but a vocation. No vision glimmered ahead of headmasterships at more famous places, or of fellowships in cloisters, or lecture tours abroad. Although Mr Lyward knew at least as much about the problems of adolescence as anyone else in the country, and had solved scores, he had never been invited to broadcast, and was unknown on television. None of the present staff had money of his own, and since there was no pension scheme, I did not see how they could ever afford to retire.
They seemed to have come to some kind of inward peace, which I could only feel to be there and was never put into words. The motives behind their work were unexpressed and taken for granted, permitting an easy humour in ordinary relations, which made working with them enjoyable, although it might have been tense. They had no secrets from one another, admitting mistakes frankly and hoarding no private triumphs.
Apart from having something of Mr Lyward's intuitive gift, David and Neville were also, under his influence rather than direct tuition, becoming highly trained in what may be called his method. In two particular respects, they contributed to the boys' 'disarmament'. First, if a boy did something objectionable, they did not automatically insist, as many other people might have insisted, on discussing it with him. This does not mean that they ignored it. They might come back to it in their own time - the time which in their opinion was most suitable for him, which might not appear for weeks.
Secondly, the staff at Finchden had learnt to discern the danger point of each boy in relation to themselves and to other boys, and managed not to set a match to it. Their own experience as boys certainly helped them. But the acute yet gentle insight to which gift and experience had been wrought came from training, in which observation of Mr Lyward played a principal part. Consequently the boys' feeling that they needed Finchden included a feeling that they needed the staff, which helped to keep all save the few exceptions harmless.
I came only gradually to see what made up the staff's daily round. But I could at once recognise their patience. Often they had to take quick decisions and act at once; far more often, to wait and do nothing. It is true they were not dealing with the dull-witted, as are devoted people in other places. Mr Lyward preferred to accept no one with an I.Q. below 115, although he did sometimes make an exception. Thus intelligence, wit and quickness made for a good deal of comedy and diversity, but also at times for cunning and a remarkable power to exhaust. The boys were impulsive, merry, in need, robust, trusting, intelligent, reflective; they were also cantankerous, importunate, bitter, ingratiating, pretentious, sly.
I had expected to find the staff room my one refuge. Here surely, at least after the boys had all gone to bed, peace would float down and conversation become possible about worlds beyond the heaven and hell of adolescence. Usually it was so. Then would come bad spells. Three, in mid-winter, decided to sleep out 'to see if we could stand it', and had to be brought in. One was sulking in the boiler room, another had planted himself on the stairs and would not go to his room until he had seen Mr Lyward. If a boy ran away, the headlights would wheel round the courtyard and off went David's car, or mine, or Neville's, down town, on to the London road, into highways and byways, until they caught or did not catch a figure with a rucksack, lurking for a last bus somewhere, or a lorry to hop, or merely waiting to be driven back to Finchden. And if no one was found, there were various people to be telephoned.
One hour and one hour only in the staffroom remained sacrosanct. From one o'clock until two in the afternoon Mr D. had his dinner. He ate it sitting with his back to the door, and his back proclaimed 'Keep Out'. If someone knocked, he did not answer. If someone came in, he did not look round. If someone dared to ask a question, he said, but less politely, 'Come back at two'. Had it been the Annunciation, he would have told the Angel to come back at two.
Only one boy occasionally kept late hours which made no one anxious. This was Richard, the blind boy I had heard mowing the lawn on my first night. After the others had gone to bed, he would range the house and play sonatas in the unlit hall. He played quietly and quite well. I listened in the corridor. His playing sounded like a thread of reverie, as if he were musing to himself aloud, and his wakefulness was restful.
The suspending of moral judgments gave boys at Finchden the opportunity to feel their own way through unhindered. Respite came first, from the world in which they had been asked to lead the lives of others; then re-birth into their own.
EXAMINER: What about the words 'Train a child in the way he should go?
The community at Finchden recreated these real contacts. To keep them real, two conditions had to be maintained. One was a fairly ruthless quarantine. Mr Lyward had insight into the struggles of parents as well as of their children; he judged them as little, unless they themselves brandished standards of their own, under which he might think he had the right to judge them. But during the time their son was in his care he could not allow them to interfere with his methods, or warned them that, if they did, old wounds might be reopened. Security from outside interference-although not outside contacts-was the first condition he insisted on; 'unfairnesses', within that security, the second. He used the word deliberately. 'Fixed reactions to their behaviour must fail, because that would render it automatic and compulsive.' And so Flynn, on behalf of another boy, was allowed to go in search of a bear, and someone else refused permission to go to the cinema. Three boys came to Mr Lyward with the same request at the same time; one was given a 'yes', the other two a 'no', one of which was later changed to 'yes' after he had taken the 'no', and all these answers being given in such a way that all three boys should feel, however vaguely, that there was something more important behind 'yes' and 'no'. The response was never allowed to harden into a rule or habit or tradition; never into the 'premature crystallization'.
At first a boy, having misinterpreted his new-found external liberty and taking Finchden to be one of those places where you 'did as you liked', might be astonished when something was refused. 'No', as a matter of fact, was not said often. It might be weeks or months before one boy was given his first 'no', but the first day for another. An intelligent receptive boy might be left on a loose rein, which could be shortened gradually; a different nature might have to be brought to a halt at once. It depended also on what they were asking for. One boy was told at once he could not stay out late; leave once given, it would have been much harder to withdraw from him than from others. Freedom of this kind nourished some; others were not ready. The 'treatment' consisted of a sensing and a prolonged study of each individual boy's need, in the long run and at a particular moment and related always to the needs of the community.
Far more often than not Mr Lyward 'went with them twain', spending twice as much time on them, giving them twice as much caring as they had asked; this was one reason that Christmas, for example, went on so long.
The money was spent as far as possible on things the boys needed - in the sense in which 'need' is interpreted throughout this book, rather than on things either parents or authorities thought they ought to need. Finchden was a place of 'fittings' rather than of 'fixtures'. The use of money was as 'fluid' as was almost everything else, and fitted to different boys and different stages of each boy. It might appear, to a stranger, to have been 'wasted', as when all the budgerigars, whose cage had cost so much, one after another died of cold, and the boy for whom they had been bought lamented 'It'll be my turn next'; yet that money, if considered in the whole long context of that boy's story, was not wasted. A stock of timber, a lens, a volume on birds or some animal, might be and were of far more importance to a boy than a new pair of shoes; and for boys at the later stage, who had come to study seriously and easily, the money would be spent, as elsewhere, on set books and, not as everywhere, on certain special books.
The boys came quickly to give up their calculating or 'accounting' mood, and to accept and value these 'unfairnesses'. After a while they ceased to clamour, 'Jim went to London to-day for the third time in a month. Why shouldn't I go once?' They accepted differences of need, and therefore differences of response to different boys (and to themselves at different stages), which elsewhere would have been labelled 'unfair' in its full derogatory sense and resulted in an outcry.
'A boy disobeys. Nothing may happen. Would our prestige suffer? No. We are felt already to be both reliable and unreliable. They have met with many pleasant shocks, such as having unexpected meals brought them when they return from the cinema.... In this and similar ways, and by release from the idea of fairness (when, for example, the same boy received two or three times in succession more pocket money than another)... and by the knowledge that we can hardly send them away lightly, they have been startled into asking: "I can't trust the staff's reactions to be meticulously fair, but can I trust them?"'
Sooner or later, the answer from the boys' own hearts told them 'Yes', and for the great majority sooner. From that 'sooner, that heartfelt belief in this new 'family', came the development of their lives, since 'unfairness' helped to awaken that personal relationship without which weaning would have been impossible. It rendered the boys curious, enquiring. What was at the back of it all? At the back of it all they became aware not of a 'what', a theory, but of a 'who', a human being.
'The real secret of living with children lies in knowing how to be creative in taking away and in being "unfair" and haphazard, so that the gift shall never deny the children increasing awareness of the giver.... A gift by itself means nothing.'
The boys at Finchden became aware of Mr Lyward and of the staff, and so, gradually, of themselves and one another. 'It was one of my great joys,' Mr Lyward wrote, 'when I discovered how quickly they each sensed the dignity "unfairness" gave them.' In this process of 'going back to the beginning', they seemed to have been forced back, from what parents and others had told them, to discover and declare what they wanted for themselves. Through their wants they disclosed their needs. Parents said, 'You ought', until the boys came to say 'I think I ought', conflicting with - whether aloud or silent - 'I don't want'. At Finchden they might say, 'I must have', the expression of a blind instinctive want, altering later into an 'I want' uttered with joy and without involving hurt to other people. The staff meanwhile were saying, to themselves 'You need'.
The following conversation took place between Mr Lyward and a boy:
Boy: May I go and lie on my bed after lunch?
Mr Lyward commented on this conversation, 'I wish to suggest that in thus pressing him back from "he thinks I ought" to "I want" I am preparing the way for a deeper appreciation of the truth in science, art and religion; that he is not ready for any teaching of "subjects", and that when he is, it will be necessary to use them with a constant eye to that boy's further release from his early indebtedness to an over-anxious moralizing mother.'
Beyond their wants all the boys needed love. They needed to show and
yet to hide their loneliness, fear and eagerness, but could not say
so. They would ask for things when they really needed people. Some,
especially the younger boys, had to be allowed to cling. 'Mr Lyward,'
said Freddie, one of the few fourteen-year-olds and just arrived, 'your
staff simply don't understand how badly I sleep. I must have a private
All the boys asked questions.
Late one evening Richard felt his way into my room, sat on the sofa
and asked, in a voice that always seemed a little to mock his own words,
Grave questions, funny questions, questions that disguised an anxiety or came straight out with it, all were met; often not with a straight answer, but always in such a way that the boy's first trust was left intact, he did not feel inferior or snubbed, and his exploring continued. Some questions seemed to have a kind of heart-ache, which no crudeness or casualness or jauntiness could hide. Even in the older boys, you would have a glimpse, if you were brusque at the wrong moment, of something that had once been deeply harmed and was still not healed; and the boy would become temporarily hostile.
The staff went along with the boys, now leading, now leaving them to spurt on their own, picking them up, but most of all just waiting, and able to explain (to visitors or each other, not to the boys) why they were waiting. They had themselves run their own course at Finchden years before. They learnt the unwisdom of taking too much thought for the morrow, and the morrow had taken care of itself. 'A quickening of interest and an increased power of relaxed and effective concentration ... never fail to bring about an advance in educational standards'; and later examinations would be passed, jobs and openings would be found. Meanwhile Finchden said in various ways: "Do not be endlessly preoccupied with what he will be later. Give him his now".
Of the boys' needs, Mr Lyward wrote: 'There must be thousands of people in this country, who know that if a boy fails to achieve a spontaneous relationship with his father, then he is likely, short of a proper subsequent release from his childish values, to remain maimed for life.... But people are not moved, They pass by on the other side...'
Or, of a judge who had advocated whipping:
Or, 'When a child says "Mine" of its parents, or a parent "Mine" of a child, in the particular tone of voice which indicates security, we know that the emphasis placed upon "mine" is not a sign of possessiveness, but of something ineffable. ... I have recently been trying to help two young men who as children were not able to say that with any proper abandon. As far as they know, all they want now is "things", especially money. They dare not yet be called upon to discover their real need because, being unable to accept what is now available, they would suffer unbearably.'
For a time, the boys' suffering was done by others. The first meaning of 'respite' is given as 'a putting-off of that which is appointed'. The staff could not be 'disappointed', if the boys grew into manhood slowly and erratically, since the staff were there not to force but help in the weaning of them. Back-slidings were expected. Each boy sooner or later stole, though it might not be money, but pity or power. But for Finchden, each might have continued to do so. Riff spoke for many when, after a few weeks, he said, 'I feel a person, not a pawn'.
Sometimes Mr Lyward invited me to be present at interviews. They were an exhilarating and often a moving experience. But they did not play a conspicuous part in the life of this community, and months might pass before he saw a boy alone. During the early thirties, while he was still feeling his way, deep analysis and individual examination had played a much larger part in his treatment. But the conditions which had grown up at Finchden had advantages over the hospital or psychiatrist's consulting room. People who live with their 'patients', year in and year out, informally, are likely to learn more about them than those who only see them once or twice a week. The skilled listener and evoker can do a great deal to unseal the gnawing secrets. But at Finchden they dissolved more gradually as part of an accompanying growth. As Mr Lyward commented: 'The key to all deeper insight, as the analyst knows, is not technical proficiency, but love that knows something of the interpretation of one personality by another.'
At Finchden time seemed infinite. The lights which played upon the boys, and the mirrors of the rooms through which they moved, showed them in all planes and phases. They revealed themselves in relation to forty other boys, each quite unlike the other. For example, when cooking. They took this in rotation as soon as Sid - who ordered the food - felt that it could be trusted to them. One boy said: 'I want to learn to cook, because I want to be a bachelor, not for anyone else. I will cook for others if I have to, but only here.' He squared his muscles and scrounged for recognition of himself. After a time he forgot his original reasons for cooking, and began to enjoy it; about the same time he announced that he had fallen in love.
Another boy could not allow a normal meal to emerge. It had to be Chilean or Chinese, anything but British. Expecting him always to be late, Sid got everything ready, so that the boy could administer a flourish at the end. Sometimes the boy arrived for the first part, and then went away, leaving Sid to finish and inventing an excuse later. After a while he reached a point where he could complete nearly the whole meal, and Sid no longer had to arrange the ingredients; this happened about the time when the same boy was ceasing to come in so late at night.
Nigs Walker liked to be the maître d'hotel. He popped up behind visitors with a plate of bacon and eggs and a deep bow, and walked about with an air of 'This is what my men have done'. On the days he was to cook, older boys, who had passed that stage and no longer hungered for kudos, came to the kitchen and prepared the meal to a point at which Nigs could finish.
Mr Lyward once told a boy he could have a special menu for a week if he would take the trouble to write it out each day; but after two days the boy could not be bothered.
The kitchen was not a consulting room, nor Sid a psychiatrist. Yet all of this was revealing, and supplemented each day by other inactively observed activities. With no routine in which to take cover, each boy stood in the relentless open. Of this, at moments, they became sharply aware, but most of the time they did not bother. Their own rhythm slipped more or less easily into the rhythm of the community, and one soon saw where it jarred and where it harmonised.
The tormentedness, which in one boy took the form of suggesting that Mr Lyward had a microphone in the fireplace, was extremely rare. One other boy for a time believed that all their letters were steamed open. One County Council did ask Mr Lyward to read a boy's mail before giving it to him, because they wished to discover the names of his adult leaders-astray and hand them to the police. Mr Lyward refused. Had he consented even in this one instance, a fatal doubt would have been sown, an essential trust made suspect. None of the boys knew my role; the reporter-intruder, who had arrived to write a book. As far as they were concerned I was on the staff.
The regular staff did not think of themselves as 'watching' the boys. Once a boy had arrived they seldom, if ever, looked at his file. They had little time for notes. Whatever entered their memories seemed to pass under a spell which kept it there. Even at night their 'material' continued to accumulate. They did not have to ask the boys for dreams. The boys brought dreams of their own accord, at random.
'Hey, Neville, know what I dreamed the other night? I was in a room, and there was another room next door, and I had to get into it. And I couldn't. But there was a hole in the wall, see, and in the same room as me there was a man about the tenth as big as me. So I took the little **** to bits and shoved him through.' A boy might every now and then bring a dream in writing, or one of the staff might write it down. Mr Lyward might interpret it as a kind of cartoon, or ask the boys to interpret it, and so a discussion might begin. Or else it was forgotten.
'Casualness is almost my keyword,' Mr Lyward once wrote. Casual disclosings, casual counsellings, gradual casual growth, sometimes an inner crisis exploding casually - and often a casual departure.