The Intermediate Sex
The Edward Carpenter Archive
by Simon Dawson

Chapter 4 - AFFECTION IN EDUCATION | Comment and Feedback

Forward to Chapter 5 - The Place of the Uranian in Society

THE place of Affection, and the need of it, as an educative force in school-life, is a subject which is beginning to attract a good deal of attention. Hitherto Education has been concentred on intellectual (and physical) development; but the affections have been left to take care of themselves. Now it is beginning to be seen that the affections have an immense deal to say in the building up of the brain and the body. Their evolution and organisation in some degree is probably going to become an important part of school management.

School friendships of course exist; and almost every one remembers that they filled a large place in the outlook of his early years; but he remembers, too, that they were not recognised in any way, and that in consequence the main part of their force and value was wasted. Yet it is evident that the first unfolding of a strong attachment in boyhood or girlhood must have a profound influence; while if it occurs between an elder and a younger school-mate, or- as sometimes happens - between the young thing and its teacher, its importance in the educational sense can hardly be overrated.

That such feelings sometimes take quite intense and romantic forms few will deny. I have before me a letter, in, which the author, speaking of an attachment he experienced when a boy of sixteen for a youth somewhat older than himself, says:-

"I would have died for him ten times over. My devices and plannings to meet him (to come across him casually, as it were) were those of a lad for his sweetheart, and when I saw him my heart beat so violently that it caught my breath, and I could not speak. We met in ---, and for the weeks that he stayed there I thought of nothing else - thought of him night and day - and when he returned to London I used to write him weekly letters, veritable love-letters of many sheets in length. Yet I never felt one particle of jealousy, though our friendship lasted for some years. The passion, violent and extravagant as it was, I believe to have been perfectly free from sex-feeling and perfectly wholesome and good for me. It distinctly contributed to my growth.

Looking back upon it and analysing it as well as I can, I seem to see as the chief element in it an escape from the extremely narrow Puritanism in which I was reared, into a large sunny ingenuous nature which knew nothing at all of the bondage of which I was beginning to be acutely conscious."

Shelley in his fragmentary "Essay on Friendship" speaks in the most glowing terms of an attachment he formed at school, and so does Leigh Hunt in his "Autobiography." Says the latter: -

"If I had reaped no other benefit from Christ Hospital, the school would be ever dear to me from the recollection of the friendships I formed in it, and of the first heavenly taste it gave me of that most spiritual of the affections. . . . I shall never forget the impression it made on me. I loved my friend for his gentleness, his candour, his truth, his good repute, his freedom even from my own livelier manner, his calm and reasonable kindness. . . . I doubt whether he ever had a conception of a tithe of the regard and respect I entertained for him, and I smile to think of the perplexity (though he never showed it) which he probably felt sometimes at my enthusiastic expressions; for I thought him a kind of angel."

It is not necessary, however, to quote authorities on such a subject as this. [Footnote 1] Any one who has had experience of schoolboys knows well enough that they are capable of forming these romantic and devoted attachments, and that their alliances are often of the kind especially referred to as having a bearing on education - i.e., between an elder and a younger. They are genuine attractions, free as a rule, and at their inception, from secondary motives. They are not formed by the elder one for any personal ends. More often, indeed, I think they are begun by the younger, who naively allows his admiration of the elder one to become visible. But they are absorbing and intense, and on either side their influence is deeply felt and long remembered.

That such attachments may be of the very greatest value is self-evident. The younger boy looks on the other as a hero, loves to be with him, thrills with pleasure at his words of praise or kindness, imitates, and makes him his pattern and standard, learns exercises and games, contracts habits, or picks up information from him. The elder one, touched, becomes protector and helper; the unselfish side of his nature is drawn out, and he develops a real affection and tenderness towards the younger. He takes all sorts of trouble to initiate his protégé in field sports or studies; is proud of the latter's success; and leads him on perhaps later to share his own ideals of life and thought and work.

Sometimes the alliance will begin, in a corresponding way, from the side of the elder boy. Sometimes, as said, between a boy and a master such an attachment, or the germ of it, is found; and indeed it is difficult to say what gulf, or difference of age, or culture, or class in society, is so great that affection of this kind will not on occasion overpass it. I have by me a letter which was written by a boy of eleven or twelve to a young man of twenty-four or twenty-five. The boy was rather a wild, "naughty" boy, and had given his parents (working- class folk) a good deal of trouble. He attended, however, some sort of night-school or evening class and there conceived the strongest affection (evidenced by this letter) for his teacher, the young man in question, quite spontaneously, and without any attempt on the part of the latter to elicit it; and (which was equally important) without any attempt on his part to deny it. The result was most favourable; the one force which could really reach the boy had, as it were, been found; and he developed rapidly and well.

The following extract is from a letter written by an elderly man who has had large experience as a teacher. He says -

"It has always seemed to me that the rapport that exists between two human beings, whether of the same or of different sexes, is a force not sufficiently recognised, and capable of producing great results. Plato fully understood its importance, and aimed at giving what to his countrymen was more or less sensual, a noble and exalted direction. . . . As one who has had much to do in instructing boys and starting them in life, I am convinced that the great secret of being a good teacher consists in the possibility of that rapport; not only of a merely intellectual nature, but involving a certain physical clement, a personal affection, almost indescribable, that grows up between pupil and teacher, and through which thoughts are shared and an influence created that could exist in no other way."

And it must be evident to every one that to the expanding mind of a small boy to have a relation of real affection with some sensible and helpful elder of his own sex must be a priceless boon. At that age love to the other sex has hardly declared itself, and indeed is not exactly what is wanted. The unformed mind requires an ideal of itself, as it were, to which it can cling or towards which it can grow. Yet it is equally evident that the relation and the success of it, will depend immensely on the character of the elder one, on the self-restraint and tenderness of which he is capable, and on the ideal of life which he has in his mind. That, possibly, is the reason why Greek custom, at least in the early days of Hellas, not only recognised friendships between elder and younger youths as a national institution of great importance, but laid down very distinct laws or rules concerning the conduct of them, so as to be a guide and a help to the elder in what was acknowledged to be a position of responsibility.

In Crete, for instance, [Footnote 2] the friendship was entered into in quite a formal and public way, with the understanding and consent of relatives; the position of the elder was clearly defined, and it became his business to train and exercise the younger in skill of arms, the chase, etc.; while the latter could obtain redress at law if the elder subjected him to insult or injury of any kind. At the end of a certain period of probation, if the younger desired it he could leave his comrade; if not, he became his squire or henchman - the elder being bound to furnish his military equipments - and they fought thenceforward side by side in battle, "inspired with double valour, according to the notions of the Cretans, by the gods of war and love." (Müller). Similar customs prevailed in Sparta, and, in a less defined way, in other Greek states; as, indeed, they have prevailed among many semi-barbaric races on the threshold of civilisation.

When, however, we turn to modern life and the actual situation, as for instance in the public schools of to-day, it may well be objected that we find very little of the suggested ideal, but rather an appalling descent into the most uninspiring conditions. So far from friendship being an institution whose value is recognised and understood, it is at best scantily acknowledged, and is often actually discountenanced and misunderstood. And though attachments such as we have portrayed exist, they exist underground, as it were, at their peril, and half-stifled in an atmosphere which can only be described as that of the gutter. Somehow the disease of premature sexuality seems to have got possession of our centres of education; wretched practices and habits abound, and (what is perhaps their worst feature) cloud and degrade the boys' conception of what true love or friendship may be.

To those who are familiar with large public schools the state of affairs does not need describing. A friend (who has placed some notes at my disposal) says that in his time a certain well-known public school was a mass of uncleanness, incontinence, and dirty conversation, while at the same time a great deal of genuine affection, even to heroism, was shown among the boys in their relations with one another. But

"all these things were treated by masters and boys alike as more or less unholy, with the result that they were either sought after or flung aside according to the sexual or emotional instinct of the boy. No attempt was made at discrimination. A kiss was by comparison as unclean as the act of fellatio, and no one had any gauge or principle whatever on which to guide the cravings of boyhood."

The writer then goes into details which it is not necessary to reproduce here. He (and others) were initiated in the mysteries of sex by the dormitory servant; and the boys thus corrupted mishandled each other.

Naturally in any such atmosphere as this the chances against the formation of a decent and healthy attachment are very large. If the elder youth happen to be given to sensuality he has here his opportunity; if on the other hand he is not given to it, the ideas current around probably have the effect of making him suspect his own affection, and he ends by smothering and disowning the best part of his nature. In both ways harm is done. The big boys in such places become either coarse and licentious or hard and self-righteous; the small boys, instead of being educated and strengthened by the elder ones, become effeminate little wretches, the favourites, the petted boys, and the "spoons" of the school. As time goes on the public opinion of the school ceases to believe in the possibility of a healthy friendship; the masters begin to presume (and not without reason) that all affection means sensual practices, and end by doing their best to discourage it.

Now this state of affairs is really desperate. There is no need to be puritanical, or to look upon the lapses of boyhood as unpardonable sins; indeed, it may be allowed, as far as that goes, that a little frivolity is better than hardness and self-righteousness; yet every one feels, and must feel, who knows anything about the matter, that the state of our schools is bad.

And it is so because, after all, purity (in the sense of continence) is of the first importance to boyhood. To prolong the period of continence in a boy's life is to prolong the period of growth. This is a simple physiological law, and a very obvious one; and whatever other things may be said in favour of purity, it remains perhaps the most weighty. To introduce sensual and sexual habits - and one of the worst of these is self-abuse - at an early age, is to arrest growth, both physical and mental.

And what is even more, it means to arrest the capacity for affection. I believe affection, attachment - whether to the one sex or the other - springs up normally in the youthful mind in a quite diffused, ideal, emotional form - a kind of longing and amazement as at something divine - with no definite thought or distinct consciousness of sex in it. The sentiment expands and fills, as it were like a rising tide, every cranny of the emotional and moral nature; and the longer (of course within reasonable limits) its definite outlet towards sex is deferred, the longer does this period of emotional growth and development continue, and the greater is the refinement and breadth and strength of character resulting. All experience shows that a too early outlet towards sex cheapens and weakens affectional capacity.

Yet this early outlet it is which is the great trouble of our public schools. And it really does not seem unlikely that the peculiar character of the middle-class man of to-day, his undeveloped affectional nature and something of brutishness and woodenness, is largely due to the prevalent condition of the places of his education. The Greeks, with their wonderful instinct of fitness, seem to have perceived the right path in all this matter; and, while encouraging friendship, as we have seen, made a great point of modesty in early life - the guardians and teachers of every well-born boy being especially called upon to watch over the sobriety of his habits and manners. [Footnote 3]

We have then in education generally, it seems to me (and whether of boys or of girls), two great currents to deal with, which cannot be ignored, and which certainly ought to be candidly recognized and given their right direction. One of these currents is that of friendship. The other is that of the young thing's natural curiosity about sex. The latter is of course, or should be, a perfectly legitimate interest. A boy at puberty naturally wants to know - and ought to know - what is taking place, and what the uses and functions of his body are. He does not go very deep into things; a small amount of information will probably satisfy him; but the curiosity is there, and it is pretty certain that the boy, if he is a boy of any sense or character, will in some shape or another get to satisfy it.

The process is really a mental one. Desire - except in some abnormal cases - has not manifested itself strongly; and there is often, perhaps generally, an actual repugnance at first to anything like sexual practices; but the wish for information exists and is, I say, legitimate enough. [Footnote 4] In almost all human societies except, curiously, the modern nations, there have been institutions for the initiation of the youth of either sex into these matters, and these initiations have generally been associated, in the opening blossom of the young mind, with inculcation of the ideals of manhood and womanhood, courage, hardihood, and the duties of the citizen or the soldier. [Footnote 5]

But what does the modern school do? It shuts a trap-door down on the whole matter. There is a hush; a grim silence. Legitimate curiosity soon becomes illegitimate of its kind; and a furtive desire creeps in, where there was no desire before. The method of the gutter prevails. In the absence of any recognition of schoolboy needs, contraband information is smuggled from one to another; chaff and "smut" take the place of sensible and decent explanations; unhealthy practices follow; the sacredness of sex goes its way, never to return, and the school is filled with premature and morbid talk and thought about a subject which should, by rights, only just be rising over the mental horizon.

The meeting of these two currents, of ideal attachment and sexual desire, constitutes a rather critical period, even when it takes place in the normal way - i.e., later on, and at the matrimonial age. Under the most favourable conditions a certain conflict occurs in the mind at their first encounter. But in the modern school this conflict, precipitated far too soon, and accompanied by an artificial suppression of the nobler current and a premature hastening of the baser one, ends in simple disaster to the former. Masters wage war against incontinence, and are right to do so. But how do they wage it? As said, by grim silence and fury, by driving the abscess deeper, by covering the drain over, and by confusing when it comes before them - both in their own minds and those of the boys - a real attachment with that which they condemn.

Not long ago the head-master of a large public school coming suddenly out of his study chanced upon two boys embracing each other in the corridor. Possibly, and even probably, it was the simple and natural expression of an unsophisticated attachment. Certainly, it was nothing that in itself could be said to be either right or wrong. What did he do? He haled the two boys into his study, gave them a long lecture on the nefariousness of their conduct, with copious hints that he knew what such things meant, and what they led to, and ended by punishing both condignly. Could anything be more foolish? If their friendship was clean and natural, the master was only trying to make them feel that it was unclean and unnatural, and that a lovely and honourable thing was disgraceful; if the act was - which at least is improbable - a mere signal of lust - even then the best thing would have been to assume that it was honourable, and by talking to the boys, either together or separately, to try and inspire them with a better ideal; while if, between these positions, the master really thought the affection though honourable would lead to things undesirable, then, plainly, to punish the two was only to cement their love for each other, to give them a strong reason for concealing it, and to hasten its onward course. Yet every one knows that this is the kind of way in which the subject is treated in schools. It is the method of despair. And masters (perhaps not unnaturally) finding that they have not the time which would be needed for personal dealing with each boy, nor the forces at their command by which they might hope to introduce new ideals of life and conduct into their little community, and feeling thus utterly unable to cope with the situation, allow themselves to drift into a policy of mere silence with regard to it, tempered by outbreaks of ungoverned and unreasoning severity.

I venture to think that school-masters will never successfully solve the difficulty until they boldly recognize the two needs in question, and proceed candidly to give them their proper satisfaction.

The need of information - the legitimate curiosity - of boys (and girls) must be met, (1) partly by classes on physiology, (2) partly by private talks and confidences between elder and younger, based on friendship. With regard to (1) classes of this kind are already, happily, being carried on at a few advanced schools, and with good results. And though such classes can only go rather generally into the facts of motherhood and generation they cannot fail, if well managed, to impress the young minds, and give them a far grander and more reverent conception of the matter than they usually gain.

But (2) although some rudimentary teaching on sex and lessons in physiology may be given in classes, it is obvious that further instruction and indeed any real help in the conduct of life and morals can only come through very close and tender confidences between the elder and the younger, such as exist where there is a strong friendship to begin with. It is obvious that effective help can only come in this way, and that this is the only way in which it is desirable that it should come. The elder friend in this case would, one might say, naturally be, and in many instances may be, the parent, mother or father - who ought certainly to be able to impress on the clinging child the sacredness of the relation. And it is much to be hoped that parents will see their way to take this part more freely in the future. But for some unexplained reason there is certainly often a gulf of reserve between the (British) parent and child; and the boy who is much at school comes more under the influence of his elder companions than his parents. If, therefore, boys and youths cannot be trusted and encouraged to form decent and loving friendships with each other, and with their elders or juniors - in which many delicate questions could be discussed and the tradition of sensible and manly conduct with regard to sex handed down - we are indeed in a bad plight and involved in a vicious circle from which escape seems difficult.

And so (we think) the need of attachment must also be met by full recognition of it, and the granting of it expression within all reasonable limits; by the dissemination of a good ideal of friendship and the enlistment of it on the side of manliness and temperance. Is it too much to hope that schools will in time recognise comradeship as a regular institution - considerably more important, say, than "fagging" - an institution having its definite place in the school life, in the games and in the studies, with its own duties, responsibilities, privileges, etc., and serving to ramify through the little community, hold it together, and inspire its members with the two qualities of heroism and tenderness, which together form the basis of all great character?

But here it must be said that if we are hoping for any great change in the conduct of our large boys' schools, the so-called public schools are not the places in which to look for it - or at any rate for its inception. In the first place these institutions are hampered by powerful traditions which naturally make them conservative; and in the second place their mere size and the number of boys make them difficult to deal with or to modify. The masters are overwhelmed with work; and the (necessary) division of so many boys into separate "houses" has this effect that a master who introduces a better tradition into his own house has always the prospect before him that his work will be effaced by the continual and perhaps contaminating contact with the boys from the other houses. No, it will be in smaller schools, say of from 50 to 100 boys, where the personal influence of the headmaster will be a real force reaching each boy, and where he will be really able to mould the tradition of the school, that we shall alone be able to look for an improved state of affairs. [Footnote 6]

No doubt the first steps in any reform of this kind are difficult; but masters are greatly hampered by the confusion in the public mind, to which we have already alluded - which so often persists in setting down any attachment between two boys, or between a boy and his teacher, to nothing but sensuality. Many masters quite understand the situation, but feel themselves helpless in the face of public opinion. Who so fit (they sometimes feel) to enlighten a young boy and guide his growing mind as one of themselves, when the bond of attachment exists between the two? Like the writer of a letter quoted in the early part of this paper they believe that

"a personal affection, almost indescribable, grows up between pupil and teacher, through which thoughts are shared and an influence created that could exist in no other way."

Yet when the pupil comes along of whom all this might be true, who shows by his pleading looks the sentiment which animates him, and the profound impression which he is longing, as it were, to receive from his teacher, the latter belies himself, denies his own instinct and the boy's great need, and treats him distantly and with coldness. And why? Simply because he dreads, even while he desires it, the boy's confidence. He fears the ingenuous and perfectly natural expression of the boy's affection in caress or embrace, because he knows how a bastard public opinion will interpret, or misinterpret it; and rather than run such a risk as this he seals the fountains of the heart, withholds the help which love alone can give, and deliberately nips the tender bud which is turning to him for light and warmth. [Footnote 7]

The panic terror which prevails in England with regard to the expression of affection of this kind has its comic aspect. The affection exists, and is known to exist, on all sides; but we must bury our heads in the sand and pretend not to see it. And if by any chance we are compelled to recognize it, we must show our vast discernment by suspecting it. And thus we fling on the dust-heap one of the noblest and most precious elements in human nature. Certainly, if the denial and suspicion of all natural affection were beneficial, we should find this out in our schools; but seeing how complete is its failure there to clarify their tone it is sufficiently evident that the method itself is wrong.

The remarks in this paper have chiefly had reference to boys' schools; but they apply in the main to girls' schools, where much the same troubles prevail - with this difference, that in girls' schools friendships instead of being repressed are rather encouraged by public opinion; only unfortunately they are for the most part friendships of a weak and sentimental turn, and not very healthy either in themselves or in the habits they lead to. Here too, in girls' schools, the whole subject wants facing out; friendship wants setting on a more solid and less sentimental basis; and on the subject of sex, so infinitely important to women, there needs to be sensible and consistent teaching, both public and private. Possibly the co-education of boys and girls may be of use in making boys less ashamed of their feelings, and girls more healthy in the expression of them.

At any rate the more the matter is thought of, the clearer I believe will it appear that a healthy affection must in the end be the basis of education, and that the recognition of this will form the only way out of the modern school-difficulty. It is true that such a change would revolutionise our school-life; but it will have to come, all the same, and no doubt will come pari passu with other changes that are taking place in society at large.


  1. For further instances, see Appendix paras. 25-31 - {Return to main text}
  2. See Müller's "History and Antiquities of the Doric Race." - {Return to main text}
  3. Cf. the incident at the end of Plato's "Lysis," when the tutors of Lysis and Menexenus come in and send the youths home. - {Return to main text}
  4. For a useful little manual on this subject, see "How We are Born," by Mrs. N. J. (Daniel, London). For a general argument in favour of sex-teaching see "The Training of the Young in Laws of Sex," by Canon Lyttelton, Headmaster of Eton College (Longmans). - {Return to main text}
  5. See J. G. Wood's "Natural History of Man," vol. "Africa," p. 324 (the Bechuanas); also vol. "Australia," p. 75. - {Return to main text}
  6. With the rapid rise which is taking place, in scope and social status, of the state day-schools, it is probable that some change of opinion will take place with regard to the wisdom of sending young boys of ten to fourteen to upper-class boarding-schools. For a boy of fifteen or sixteen and upwards the boarding-school system may have its advantages. By that time a boy is old enough to understand some questions; he is old enough to have some rational ideal of conduct, and to hold his own in the pursuit of it; and he may learn in the life away from home a lot in, the way of discipline, organization, self-reliance, etc. But to send a young thing, ignorant of life, and quite unformed of character, to take his chance by day and night in the public school as it at present exists, is - to say the least - a rash thing to do. - {Return to main text}
  7. It should be also said, in fairness, that the fear of showing undue partiality, often comes in as a paralysing influence. - {Return to main text}

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