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
FINCHDEN had grown. It had begun without rules, charter, tradition and had matured like a work of art. After Mr Lyward had left Glenalmond and started his independent work, it had unfolded out of him and around him, taking possession of his life and becoming bigger than himself. Once he wrote: '...there will always be some limit past which it is impossible successfully to push any theory.' Artists must know how to wait. He did not pump and dredge the boys; sooner or later they usually told him of their own accord what troubled them. A boy once brought Mr Lyward two lines of a verse he had found, and remarked: 'This is what you are like:
'Learning to wait consumes my life;
Consumes, and feeds as well.'
'Love that can wait', he wrote in one of his articles. The words might have been written above the porch. He waited quietly while others stood around nervously, while the telephone rang, while letters arrived from parents and County Councillors. He did nothing, when action would have been a welcome release from tension and exasperation. He wrote to a boy's mother: 'Action at all times is effective and fruitful, just in so far as it follows a period of passivity, during which the true observation and acceptance of the real facts, internal as well as external, have been made.'
But when a decision was taken, all the artillery moved up during the time of waiting would then be fired off - in attack rather than defence - and it was difficult to get a word in. He did not lose his temper, but sometimes exploded on purpose. 'My God!' said one boy, after one of these calculated outbursts, 'I heard the Chief's voice half a minute before he came in through the door.' If he told a boy to go to bed or to get out of the room, the boy disappeared at once. Waiting is long-term and strategic. Its tactical expression is timing. Some actors and actresses succeed with little apart from timing. Hold back the gesture a second longer, make the pause a second shorter, and the laugh, the tear, are lost. Mr Lyward excelled in timing, which is not a matter of flair, but needs endless patience, practice, observation. Hold back the challenge to a boy for a day, or a week longer, advance it by a month, and the chance never recurs. Over and over again action came upon the chime. He wrote a letter, and it arrived the day the boy most needed it, or suddenly forbade a liberty he had hitherto allowed, and the boy complied.
Once, expected to lecture in a room where everyone was shouting, he stood on the dais, opening and shutting his mouth but saying nothing. People near the front looked at him in amazement; soon he began. He employed his tones of voice, his silences, with a true sense of theatre and could bring down his curtain like a sunset or a guillotine. As a teacher his job was to be listened to. Hence the sudden breaks in what he said and the startling images. 'I seldom lecture to people about sex without mentioning a sword.'
Whatever his gifts, his work could not have thriven if he had been offhand in his dealings with parents or official bodies, or not known exactly where he stood in regard to public opinion and the law. Mr Lyward accepted formidable risks. It was a risk to let Richard go for walks alone; a risk to let Riff stay out late at night; a risk to challenge one boy and leave another. All pioneer work with adolescents is always in peril. If the pioneer happens to be slipshod, arrogant, or only weary at a crucial moment, then God help him. Mr Lyward had no Department or Board of Governors to refer to in difficult situations. He could not share his responsibility. He was answerable in person for everything he himself did and for all that his staff did for him, and administration had to be as thorough as the original creative side of his work.
His reports might fill five lines one month or five pages the next. He used the telephone lavishly, but did not care for it. He confirmed his conversations in writing, and when misunderstanding was to be expected, made sure that what he said was witnessed. Long reports about boys he could no longer help went from him to magistrates, mental homes and Borstals, although he was not obliged to write them, and he spent hours preparing lectures. As well as his remark that the boys were 'seven-year-olds with an L sign' other phrases stay in the mind.
Words have become encrusted with associations. To restore words to their proper use was 'One of the poet's pleasures. In doing this he may, sometimes unwittingly, perform an act of healing. If a man tells a delinquent boy of sixteen, who has been fatherless for years, that he has not the same excuse for stealing as a hungry person, a psychologist might want to blurt out: "Man does not live by bread alone". That is poetry, and there is a virtue - the word implies strength - in such a psychological approach ...'
Mr Lyward drew little on the overworked vocabulary of Oedipus complexes, mother-fixations, repressions, inhibitions... and preferred a simpler Anglo-Saxon word if he could find one. He talked of a hunch more readily than of an intuition, preferred 'crutches' to 'compensation', and wrote in a boy's report that he was 'beginning to enter a new life', not that he was 'making a successful adjustment'. Sometimes his phrases came from the boys. 'Some special skill or "subject", found to be like a stick, which is strong when used, but breaks when leaned upon...'
Finchden had sprung from the creative impulse of a man who was less a maker than an awakener, offering the boys understanding and respite to discover their true life for themselves. He was dealing besides with boys who, by his own definitions, had at least two faces. 'They've been made to look small, and have been trying to look big. ... Adolescence is like January, the month of Janus. ... I knew a boy who would sell a little shilling for six big pennies. It took him a year of "being done" before he was sensitive in regard to the quantity and quality of coins. His life was a queer mixture of feeble surrender and rebellion. He would rebel vigorously enough against washing and work. Yet, physically strong though he was, he would cry out after a very brief spell of manual labour "I can't go on, I'm done!" ' At times Mr Lyward might address himself to such a boy's mood of rebellion, at other times to the mood of feeble surrender, or might move lightly or challengingly between one and the other, while always retaining that touch at a deeper level which kept the boy disarmed and trusting.
One of the most vivid disproportions, at Finchden as almost anywhere
else, whether among adolescents or adults, was between head and
heart; some people have even referred to it as the schizophrenia
of Western civilisation. 'There is no difference in the emotional
condition of any of them. They are all cases of arrested feeling
development', Mr Lyward had written. Not all had brain enough successfully
to 'plaster over the wound'. With any who had, Mr Lyward might choose
to play about for a time on an intellectual level, waiting for him,
running him beyond his depth, then changing the subject entirely.
At times obviously Mr Lyward appeared to certain boys like a father, one who was 'guiding their natural but arrested growth 'away from the mother and the natural dominance on certain levels of the woman, towards the father or protector or breadwinner desire within themselves'. At another time he would need gently to hold up a boy whose possessiveness for a girl had become like the possessiveness of a child for its mother, and who was crying and clutching at him. He had to give, yet not give, and often, when he did not give, a boy would take it as a deliberate but temporary attitude. Yet it was an essential part of his approach.
My accounts of Mr Lyward's talks are in general mine, not his. But this condensed account of two conversations of his own shows how facts about the boys were brought out, the shifting of approach, and the way in which something said to one boy might be used to clarify things to others:
Ronald Hall had been worrying Mr Lyward on and off throughout an
evening about a fortnight's leave at Christmas.
The boy started to shout in the bitterest tones, 'That's just what
I've always had to put up with.' He slammed the door. Later he ran
out of the house, but was found in bed by Neville at 11 p.m., and
since it was a rainy night was asked if he would like something
hot to drink. He said, 'No, thanks, Nev, I'm all right.' The dispute
with Mr Lyward had taken place on the stairs. Three other boys who
had been present asked Mr Lyward ten minutes later if they could
be allowed to embark on an enterprise. In the middle of the talk
Mr Lyward said to the most resistant of them,
He added, 'Were you baiting me on purpose last night ?' Mr Lyward answered, 'No. I never bait you. But when you people persist in shutting your eyes to a third possibility and in going round in circles, I sometimes decide to call a halt. You were granted the power of reasoning, you know, and there you were, wanting something so badly you couldn't reason at all. All the others could see that. They always can - until it's their turn to go blind and discuss only two alternatives.'
This account does not show the length of time Mr Lyward spent trying to get the boy to come to the third possibility, before the boy hit his head against the facts and called it being baited. Boys at times used this phrase, because they could not feel that they had run themselves against someone who would not budge. One per cent not given was essential, but ninety-nine per cent given was not far from breast-feeding. The second incident is also given in Mr Lyward's words:
Sam Hutton was heard grumbling. G. L. was with two or three boys
in the scullery by the corridor. It emerged that Sam was hungry. It
was then 10am and he had only just arrived from sleep.
At times Mr Lyward would turn the 'passive' attitude of one who
would not budge beyond a certain point into an active shock, provocation,
or challenge, suddenly - for example - sending a boy home because
he knew it was time for him to go. Another boy arrived at Finchden
with Meccano models, to which he clung.
Now and then challenges of this kind had to be made because Mr Lyward knew that he had little time. He knew a boy called Frank Cotton had to leave soon, and came across him in Mr Knox's laboratory. With deliberate intent to provoke, he assumed the same tone of voice he guessed the boy's father would use whenever the two met. He had not reckoned with someone else coming in at that moment, turned his eyes away, and Frank Cotton hit him. Mr Lyward fell back, struck his head on the concrete surround of the stove, and was concussed. Having recovered consciousness, he went off to write an editorial for Home & School and said later to a group of boys, 'Well, it's done something for Frank, but please don't all try to get clear that way.' As a matter of fact, no others did; it was the only time Mr Lyward was ever hit.
Stories of this kind, told out of their long context of the whole treatment of a boy, are intended only to illustrate the almost infinite variety of Mr Lyward's approach, which makes it difficult to find suitable adjectives for him. Sometimes he would be using two approaches at the same time, playful yet not so playful, artless yet full of art. When trying to explain himself to an adult, he would sometimes move both his hands up and down as if he were juggling. He was a master of prepared improvisation and studied offhandedness and, to use another theatrical saying, 'threw his lines away' among the boys in such a manner that they were quite certain to be picked up.
He qualified almost anything that sounded like a crystallised definition, thus uncrystallising it. His determination that nobody should harden, no response or explanation become automatic, sometimes made things difficult for his staff. For these reasons it was clear that he could never be satisfied with my book. The result was sure to be too hard-and-fast. 'I shall ask to review it, I think,' he reflected, 'and I shall start: "This account of work among adolescents, which bears one or two striking resemblances to my own..."'
To what extent did Mr Lyward's success derive from some 'gift' personal to himself, and to what extent from a method which could be continued by others ? The disarming of the boys seemed due to a gift he possessed of bridging the gulf between himself and the boy. In this way youth and maturity met - not on the level of the boy's mask and Mr Lyward's logic - but heart to heart. He himself said of this gift: 'I rule myself out as having any experience at all and became as one of them'. He also said that, when sitting back in a chair and looking up at a boy, 'I might be the same age. I feel as if, consciously and by virtue of experience, I do know what he is like, and yet am seeking.' His enquiring in that 'innocent' fashion invited the boy to respond 'as if we were both on the same side of the fence'. He approached the boys himself with so little weight of preconception: he remained entirely open to receive the impressions of them as they were, entire.
He that felt many people, on finding themselves with children, were hindered by being too conscious of age. They could not themselves become as children. This, he felt, did happen to him - and yet he never completely lost awareness of his own maturity. Somehow the majority of the boys sensed both qualities. They felt him to be wise and at the same time one of them. Mr Lyward could see a boy immediately, as a whole; yet a special quality beyond experience enabled him to respond to what he saw in such a way that the boy, whatever his camouflage had been, became a boy, and harmless. Without this special quality, the process of weaning became impossible. The process itself was a method, and could be learnt.
Mr Lyward's marriage was a happy one, his relationship with his son easy and friendly. At one time Mrs Lyward had taught the boys. She was a good dancer and taught them dancing too. She bound up cut hands and sprained ankles, but since the boys were seldom ill with anything more serious than a cold it was only at shows and parties that she went into their part of the house. If Mr Lyward, humorously or seriously, sent a boy along to her, she surmised the spirit in which it was done. She had a calm character, able to take the worst, if it happened, as it came.
Mr Lyward seemed a man who had come to a simplicity beyond complexity. Having arrived at that point where difficult things do suddenly become simple (and all the previous struggles are momentarily forgotten) he caused one almost to believe that nothing lay behind his work but common sense. He demanded everything of himself and gave everything, whether through participation or withdrawal. 'We must lie more open than we often do,' he once said, in an address to teachers and parents. 'We must risk being hurt.' He shared the happy stages of re-birth, as he also shared the suffering. If he too had not felt some deep sense of security, he could no more have supported the suffering than the boys themselves. Without this inward strength, constantly renewed, he would have faltered, or lost hope.