Punch, April 13, 1904


[According to Dr. F. E. Tayler, of Liverpool, impositions and keeping-in are harmful. He strongly advocates corporal punishment in schools. “I think the birch a capital instrument,” he says.]

A meeting of representatives of the Public Schools was held last Friday, the subject of debate being, “That this house approves of Mr. Tayler’s remarks on corporal punishment.”

Mr. Tom Brown, of Rugby, the proposer, had, he said, sometimes been called a typical public-schoolboy. He did not know whether he justified the description. (Cries of “Yes, yes.”) Very well, then. All he could say was that he had been flogged repeatedly in the first half of the book, before he met his friend Arthur, and it had never done him any harm. It had stung for the moment (Cheers), but the after-glow was rather pleasant than otherwise. (“No, no.”) At any rate, he thought it would be a bad thing if there was no flogging.

Mr. “StalkyCorkran, of Kip’s Home for Juvenile Demons, seconded. The fact of the biznai was, he said, that everybody except Gadarene swine and jelly-bellied flag-flappers liked being slain. He himself always gloated. Besides, how was an author to end up a story of real school life except with a flogging? He must hurry off, as he had to put some decomposing rats in Mr. Prout’s bed.

Mr. Eric Williams, of Rosslyn, opposed. Flogging, he said, was all very well for the villain or the comic-relief characters, but when it came to the hero——! He had been flogged. Did he burn with remorse and shame at the conclusion of the ceremony? No. With rage and passion. He attributed to the effects of his punishment his subsequent theft of Mr. Gordon’s pigeons and the funds of the cricket club. Had he not been flogged, he thought he would not have taken to drink. Previous to the operation a small lemonade had satisfied him. Afterwards he saw life in a glass (of beer) darkly.

A Winchester representative rose to second the last speaker. He agreed with Mr. Williams that flogging was a bad thing. Not that he minded the birch. But there were fives-bats and ash-plants. He resumed his seat with an expression of pain.

Mr. Jones, of Haileybury, said that he approved of flogging, because it lent a distinction to the school. Why was Haileybury famous? Because Mr. Cornwallis had lowered the ’Varsity record for the Half-mile? No. Because its headmaster was related to the Colonial Secretary? No. Why, then? Because on the day of the relief of Ladysmith the whole school broke bounds, and were flogged at one gigantic swoop clean off the reel.

Mr. Robinson, of Harrow, said that flogging was a jolly sight better than lines. Besides, you could always use a folded towel or something. (Deafening applause.)

Mr. Williams now rose for the second time. It seemed to him, he said, that the matter was capable of a very simple solution. Masters should rule by kindness rather than force. How much more lasting an effect it would have if, instead of brutally assaulting a boy, a master were to present him with an orange or a sponge-cake, together with a few gentle words of reproof. There might be a sort of sliding-scale arranged for the purpose. Thus, if found out of bounds, the culprit might receive butterscotch. For misbehaviour during school, a bag of pear-drops. For theft or smoking he would suggest a substantial tea with muffins and anchovy paste. Under such a régime the Perfect School would be a certainty.

The motion was then put to the vote, and lost by a large majority. Mr. Williams was desired to forward details of his scheme to the headmasters of all the schools in the country.




Unsigned narrative as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 126 of Punch.



“A DOCTOR BELIEVES IN THE BIRCH. The long experience of Dr. F. E. Taylor, of Liverpool, as school manager and police surgeon led him to some interesting conclusions on child punishment in a lecture before the Childhood Society last night. “Impositions and keeping in,” he said, “are harmful, as they deprive the child of exercise and fresh air which are necessary to health. I strongly advocate corporal punishment when other methods have failed, and I think the birch a capital instrument, but boxing the ears and caning the hands should be avoided. Dr. Taylor saw no reason for the recent outcry against the corporal punishment of girls. They should, up to the age of fourteen, be treated in the same way as boys.” (Portsmouth Evening News, March 25, 1904)


John Dawson    


Wodehouse brings together characters from several classic schoolboy novels here, notably Tom Brown’s School Days, by Thomas Hughes; Stalky & Co., by Rudyard Kipling; and Eric, or Little by Little, by Frederick W. Farrar. These stories and more are discussed, among his own opinions on how best to write realistic and interesting fiction for this audience, in his essays “School Stories,” “The Improbabilities of Fiction,” and “The Tom Brown Question.”


Neil Midkiff