Torture in the Twentieth Century

Torture in the Twentieth Century

The Flogging Craze: A Statement of the Case Against Corporal Punishment.
(Allen and Unwin, London, 1916. Pp. 160.)

ALL humanists and revolutionary thinkers owe much to Mr. Salt—his translation of Lucretius; his monographs on Shelley, Thoreau, and Richard Jefferies; his untiring activities as honorary secretary of the Humanitarian League; and much besides. His latest book (published for the League) is a fresh increment to the debt.

It deals with the continuance, in “semi-civilised races like our own,” of a certain ancient custom which has descended from a barbarous past and is repellent to more refined modern feeling; and it shows that the use of the lash, alike in the public school, the reformatory school, the prison, and the home, is “the very sum and substance of personal tyranny—the quintessence of all that is opposed to the growth of human freedom . . . . an epitome of that love of dominion, mental and physical, which is the mortal foe of intellect.” Familiar as I am with the literature of the subject, and with the manner in which England, “the stronghold of the flogging cult,” lags behind most of the nations of Western Europe in respect of the ferocity of its penal codes, it was news to me that flogging sentences are still being imposed for venial offences under the Vagrancy Act of 1824. It is an Act against which I am an habitual offender, for I “sleep out” a great many fine nights every summer, and now that I am better informed as to the penalties incurred I shall break the law with an added zest. But this Act might prove no joke in time of Labour troubles, for its provisions are sufficiently vague to make it, as Mr. Salt says, “a direct menace to the working classes.”

It is deplorable to read that the National Union of Teachers “has made every effort to retain for its members the privilege . . . . of being empowered to thrash the ill-fed children in Board Schools.” In this matter of barbarous punishments, the record of prominent sections and individualities in the Labour movement is far from being above reproach; and Labour members joined hands with lawyers, divines, and peers of the realm in the panic revival of the lash in connection with the White Slave crusade of 1912. “Give him Busby, plenty of Busby,” says Dr. Middleton in The Egoist, advising Vernon, the tutor, as to the management of young Crossjay Patterne, and this mediæval schoolmaster’s notion that you can flog wickedness out and goodness in (while leaving unchanged the environment which has produced the conduct you penalise) is at the foundation of all our British barbarians’ advocacy of the lash.

Let me close this brief notice of an admirable book with a citation which Mr. Salt makes from Comenius (1592—1671), the pioneer of modern education:

When a musician’s instrument emits a discordant note he does not strike it with his fist, nor does he bang it against the wall, but he continues to apply his skill to it till he brings it to tune. So by our skill we have to bring the minds of the young into harmony and to the love of studies if we are not to make the careless unwilling and the torpid stolid.

“Mediæval” quotha? Well, Comenius was contemporary with Richard Busby, and neither can properly be regarded as belonging to the Middle Age. But in truth we "moderns” have still much to learn from many of our forefathers—if not from Busby, at least from such men as Comenius and Beccaria.

L. E.

The Socialist Review, January/March 1917