Reading Robin Hood in World War Two (1939–45): Data from Mass Observation

Before the twentieth century, Robin Hood was a literary figure: he is the main protagonist in a number of important literary works such as A Gest of Robyn Hode (c. 1450); Anthony Munday’s The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington and The Death of Robert, Earle of Huntingdon (1597–98); Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819); and Thomas Love Peacock’s Maid Marian (1822). Many fine scholarly studies have been conducted which have studied the production and dissemination of these texts.[i] In the twentieth century, the principal means through which the outlaw’s story was disseminated became films and, as domestic television ownership increased, serialised shows. Added to this we can, in the late-twentieth and twenty-first centuries, add videogames.[ii] Thus, in the twentieth century, Robin Hood became a visual rather than a literary hero.

While the late-Victorian period witnessed a number of new Robin Hood children’s books being written and published, there were noticeably fewer in the twentieth century, perhaps as a result of the emergence of film technology. Robin Hood scholarship that focuses on twentieth-century sources likewise tends to privilege cinematic portrayals of the outlaw rather than the literature which appeared. Yet people were still reading Robin Hood, as we know from Mass Observation records.

Britain by Mass Observation
First edition of Madge’s Mass Observation Book.

Mass Observation was a project started by the philanthropists and filmmakers, including Humphrey Jennings, Tom Harrisson, and Charles Madge, in 1937. Their aim was a simple one: to create a record of everyday life in Britain by having volunteers write about what they had done on a given day and submit it to the archive.[iii] The first major project was to chronicle people’s thoughts about the abdication of Edward VIII and the coronation of George VI in 1938. Mass Observation continued throughout the Second World War (1939–45) and was occasionally used by the wartime government as a means of collection information on public morale.

Sarah Hawks Sterling’s Robin Hood and His Merry Men (1928) was one of the most popular books requested by children at Fulham Library.[iv] This was surprising for me as a researcher because I assumed that, when Robin Hood books were read by children in the twentieth century, it was generally the American Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883). Indeed, when Penguin Books decided to publish a Robin Hood story as part of their Classics range, it was Pyle’s story that they chose for the collection, rather than any English author.

In Mass Observation records, we also see the continuing popularity of Scott’s Ivanhoe amongst children in London, in particular the Penguin Books 6d. edition.[v] The same record also records that nineteenth-century school editions of Ivanhoe remain in circulation and are popular among youths.

We see another unnamed child opting for Sterling’s book in 1942. In Marylebone, a Mass Observation worker saw a child carrying four books on their way home: Sterling’s Robin Hood, and some anonymous works The War of the Wireless, Shadow of the Swastika, and The First Quarter. More importantly, the child also gives the reasons why they have chosen these books: because they liked adventure books; because the books had been recommended by a friend; and they were similar to other books that they had read. They even told the interviewer that it generally takes them half a week to read through a full book.[vi]

Mass Observation did not focus merely upon children, however, for the investigators also interviewed adults. What is interesting are the Variety shows which were held on evenings. On 14 November 1942, a show was held in Bournemouth to raise money for civilians in USSR (the Soviet Union was part of the Allied Forces at this point). The theme of the show was “Merrie England”, Three Robin Hood songs were sung at this event. None of them were of the traditional ballad type, however, and the finale was a song that I have not yet identified, entitled The Wedding of Robin Hood.[vii] There is a Scottish ballad entitled The Wedding of Robin Hood and Little John, as recorded in J. M. Gutch’s ballad anthology A Lytell Geste of Robin Hode (1847),[viii] but it is a minor ballad and certainly not worthy a spectacular finale, so it may have been a completely new song composed for the event.

What is conspicuous by its absence is any mention of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), starring Errol Flynn. Such a big set-piece movie, released at the time Mass Observation was initiated, I assumed would have featured in some of the records, but there are none that I have found thus far. Perhaps this should prompt future Robin Hood scholars to reassess the reach and reception of Flynn’s ground-breaking movie, and perhaps it indicates that the ‘prose’ Robin Hood persisted in popularity much longer than previously thought.


[i] J. C. Holt, Robin Hood (London: Thames and Hudson, 1982); Stephen Knight, Reading Robin Hood: Content, Form and Reception in the Outlaw Myth (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015); Stephen Knight, Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003); Stephen Knight, Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994); R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw, 3rd edn (Stroud: Sutton, 1997); Thomas Ohglren, Robin Hood: The Early Poems, 1465-1560 : Texts, Contexts, and Ideology (Newark, Del: University of Delaware Press, 2007).

[ii] See Knight, Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography, pp. 150-210. On videogames see Thomas Rowland, ‘“And Now Begins Our Game”: Revitalizing the Ludic Robin Hood’, in Robin Hood in Outlawed Spaces: Media, Performance, and Other New Directions, ed. by Lesley Coote and Valerie Blythe Johnson (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017), pp. 175-188.

[iii] See David Hall, Worktown: The Astonishing Story of the Project that Launched Mass Observation (London: W & N, 2015).

[iv] Mass Observation, Topic Collection-59_1413, p. 2.

[v] Mass Observation, File Report-1332_127, p. 116.

[vi] Mass Observation, Marylebone, Library QQM15C, R.C.C. 8. 4. 42, Topic Collection-20_2595.

[vii] Mass Observation, Bourneville Works Musical Society, Topic Collection-16_3753.

[viii] Anon., ‘The Wedding of Robin Hood and Little John’, in A Lytell Geste of Robin Hode, ed. by J. M. Gutch, 2 vols (London: Longman, 1847), 2: 389-91.

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Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Black Arrow” (1888)

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) is perhaps most famous nowadays for his brilliant novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). This post, however, is about a now little-known novel that he authored entitled The Black Arrow, which was originally serialised in Young Folks; A Boys’ and Girls’ Paper of Instructive and Entertaining Literature over four months in 1883, and then published as a single volume five years later in 1888. It is a story about medieval outlaws during the War of the Roses (1455-1487). The novel appears to be a fusion of William Harrison Ainsworth’s Rookwood (1834),[i] and the numerous Robin Hood children’s novels that were being published in the late Victorian period.[ii]

1

Stevenson was probably inspired to set his outlaw novel during the Hundred Years’ War as a result of having Jules Michelet’s Histoire de France (1844). This history situates Robin and his merry men, not in the time of Richard I, a practice which had been popularised by Walter Scott in Ivanhoe (1819), but, as Stevenson does in his novel, between 1455 and 1487. In speaking of Warwick the Kingmaker (a prominent figure in the wars), Michelet writes that he was

The King of the enemies of property, of the plunderers of the borders, and corsairs of the Strait.[iii]

He then goes on to speak about how Robin Hood was one of Warwick’s men:

What is Robin Hood? The outlaw. Robin Hood is naturally the enemy of the man of the law, the adversary of the Sheriff. In the long series of ballads of which he is the hero, we find him first inhabiting the green woods of Lincoln. He is induced to quit them by the French Wars, so he turns his back on the Sheriff and the King’s deer, seeks the sea and crosses it […] All Robin Hood’s companions, all who were under ban of the law, were safe whilst Warwick (either personally or through his brother) was judge of the marches of Calais and Scotland.[iv]

4

Notwithstanding Michelet’s highly suspect scholarship, Stevenson must have been convinced that the time of the wars between Lancaster and York was the perfect period in which to set an outlaw novel. He singles out this passage in his own personal copy of the book.[v] While some of the illustrations by N. C. Wyeth (who worked under Robin Hood author, Howard Pyle, and provided the illustrations to Paul Creswick’s Robin Hood and his Adventures in 1917) in the 1916 edition are clearly supposed to evoke ideas of Robin Hood, The Black Arrow, of course, is not a Robin Hood novel; I suspect (but cannot prove) that the reason Stevenson did not utilise the famous outlaw in his novel is because of the fact that, by the late-Victorian period, the idea that the outlaw flourished during the 1190s has almost become a ‘fact’ in historical writing.

The prologue of the novel is quite sinister, opening with the death by an arrow which is fired out of the forest and directed at a seemingly innocent, harmless and friendly old man named Appleyard in the village churchyard:

An arrow sang in the air, like a huge hornet; it struck old Appleyard between the shoulder blades, and pierced him clean through, and he fell forward on his face among the cabbages.[vi]

The novel evokes the Gothic: family secrets are exposed, past crimes come to light, and as in Ainsworth’s Rookwood, which featured Dick Turpin (1705-1739) it is an outlaw/brigand who is instrumental in exposing these. Immediately after Appleyard’s death, another arrow is fired from afar and lands among the group assembled at the Church. Attached to the arrow is a letter:

I had four blak arrows under my belt,

Four for the greefs that I have felt,

Four for the number of ill menne,

That have opressid me now and then.

One is gone, one is wele sped,

Old Apulyard is ded.

One is for maister Bennet Hatch,

That burned Grimstone, walls and Thatch.

One for Sir Oliver Oates,

That cut Harry Shelton’s throat.

Sir Daniel, ye shall have the fourt,

We shall think it fair sport.

Ye shull each have your own part,

A blak arrow in each blak heart.

Get ye to your knees for to pray:

Ye are ded theeves, by yea and nay!

“John Amend-All. Of the Green Wood. And his Jolly Fellowship.”[vii]

In contrast to Robin Hood and the other outlaw stories that were circulating at this period, which often present a ‘merrie England’ view of the past, it is clear that this is a story of revenge. Among those assembled in the churchyard is Dick Shelton, who is perplexed at the note because it appears to imply that those closest to him, including Sir Daniel, whose ward he is, are responsible for his father’s murder. Upon finding out that his guardian, Sir Daniel, had his father murdered, young Dick teams up with the outlaws to get revenge on the murderous noblemen.

3

While the novel appeared in a children’s magazine and is viewed by academics as a children’s book (and has even been portrayed by the BBC as a kids’ television show), the only “childlike” thing about it is the fact that it features an adolescent protagonist. The novel’s fairly detailed plot recalls earlier highwaymen novels. Finally, while it is not part of the Robin Hood canon of stories, it does deserve a place, if not within, then alongside the study of other Robin Hood texts.


References

[i] R. L. Stevenson, ‘To Edmund Gosse, 9 November 1881’ in The Selected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson ed. by Ernest Mehew (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), pp.197-98; it is known that Stevenson admired Ainsworth (1805-1882), for in a letter to a friend named Edmund Gosse he urged him, while visiting London, to ‘go and see Harrison Ainsworth, and if you do, give him my homage’.

[ii] Examples of these late-Victorian and Edwardian Robin Hood children’s books are numerous, of which a few are named here: Charles Herbert, Robin Hood (London: John F. Shaw [n.d.]); Edward Gilliat, In Lincoln Green: A Story of Robin Hood (London: Seeley & Co. 1897); Stephen Percy, Tales of Robin Hood (London, 1840); Henry Gilbert, Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood (London: T. C. & A. C. Jack, 1912).

[iii] Jules Michelet, The History of France Trans. G. H. Smith 2 Vols. (New York: D. Appleton, 1882), 2: 319.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] See the annotated database of Stevenson’s library books at the following website: ‘What Stevenson Read – His Personal Library’ Robert Louis Stevenson Website [Internet <http://robert-louis-stevenson.org/169-robert-louis-stvensons-library/> Accessed 3 February 2017].

[vi] Robert Louis Stevenson, The Black Arrow (London: Cassell, 1888; repr. London: Cassell, 1916), p.9.

[vii] Stevenson, The Black Arrow, p.17.

The ‘Public School’ Robin Hood: Imperial Ideology in Late-Victorian and Edwardian Children’s Books

A paper delivered at a conference entitled: ‘Packaging the Past for Children, c.1750-1914’ at the Senate House, Durham University, 6 – 7 July 2016


Abstract

During the late-Victorian and Edwardian period many children’s books telling the story of Robin Hood were published, such as John B. Marsh’s Robin Hood (1865), Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883), Henry Gilbert’s Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood (1912), and Paul Creswick’s Robin Hood and his Adventures (1917). Stephanie Barczewski argues that Robin Hood in late Victorian children’s books is an anti-imperialist figure, and she bases this assertion largely upon the fact that Robin Hood children’s books are critical of Richard I’s foreign adventures. Yet the situation was more nuanced than that: many of the late Victorian Robin Hood children’s works that were published in the period projected Robin Hood and his fellow outlaws as men who lived up to the Public School Ethos, cultivating the virtues of athleticism, fair play, chivalry, and devotion to duty. Indeed, Edward Gilliatt’s novel In Lincoln Green (1898) is even set in a very ‘Victorianised’ medieval public school. Thus these works represented the ideal qualities that young men would need if they were to serve the country, and thus, as the proposed paper argues, were subtly imperialist.


McSpaddenRH
J. Walker McSpadden’s Robin Hood (1930 edition)

Introduction

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a horde of Robin Hood’s children’s books were published. Imperialism is not often associated with retellings of the Robin Hood legend in the nineteenth century, much less in any era. In fact, Stephanie Barczewski argues that Robin Hood in the nineteenth century, especially in children’s books, was an anti-imperial figure. [1] As this paper will show, however, the relationship of Robin Hood to imperial ideology in the nineteenth century is more nuanced than that: these authors certainly do critique some of the domestic problems caused by the expansion of empire, but no author of Robin Hood children’s books can be seen arguing that Britain should not participate in imperial adventures abroad. Furthermore, these works represented the qualities that young men would need if they were to serve the country. Robin Hood is seen to display the values of the Public School Ethos: displaying sportsmanship, manliness and devotion to duty. These values sought to prepare boys for a life of imperial service. [2] The end result of this ethos was intended to be:

A Christian gentleman […] who played by the rules, and whose highest aim was to serve others. [3]

Given the fact that these books are so generic to the extent that to read one is to read them all, this paper takes a thematic approach to discussing these texts, discussing the texts according to the constituent values of the ethos referred to previously. Thus the argument of this paper is that, far from propagating an anti-imperial message, these books were subtly imperialist because they represented the qualities that young men would need if they were to serve the country.

Robin Hood in Early Nineteenth-Century Literature

B. A. Brockman condescendingly wrote in 1983 that:

Robin Hood […] remains the property of children and a few (perhaps childlike) academics. [4]

Thankfully academic scholarship has now moved on from this position, and indeed before the period which I am mostly concerned with, Robin Hood was definitely not the sole preserve of children’s literature. Before 1840, literature featuring Robin Hood was expensive and mostly for adults: Joseph Ritson’s Robin Hood: A Collection of all the Ancient Poems, Songs, and Ballads (1795) was a scholarly two volume work , lavishly illustrated by the Bewick firm, costing 12 shillings. Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819) was a three volume work, costing 31 shillings, and dealt with adult themes such as national unity. [5] Even Pierce Egan’s penny serial Robin Hood and Little John (1840) was not written solely for children but an adult audience: themes of democracy and egalitarianism are packed into half a million words printed in minute double-columned typeface. 6] And reviewers were not happy with the way Robin was portrayed in any of these works: the Robin Hood of Ivanhoe was denounced as one of ‘the lower orders’ who has taken to the road because he ‘disdained the regular pursuits of industry’. [7] In 1820, Henry Crabb Robinson wrote that

Scott has failed […] in rendering Robin Hood acceptable – the delightful hero of the old popular ballad is degraded in the modern romance into a sturdy vagrant. [8]

Egan faced the biggest criticism in having portrayed Robin as:

A thorough-bred cockney of the year of grace 1839 […] in the region of undying glory occupied by Tom and Jerry, Black Sall, and Dusty Bob. [9]

‘Tom and Jerry’ is a reference to Egan the Elder’s Life in London (1823), while Dusty Bob was a colloquial term for a parish dustman. [10] The same reviewer, however, still gives Egan credit for making Robin Hood ‘far above Jack Sheppard’, [11] which, given the contemporary furore surrounding William Harrison Ainsworth’s eponymous novel published in 1839, is at least a grudging compliment. [12] It would therefore take time for Robin Hood to be rendered acceptable to the middle-class reading public, and it is only really in the later books of which I shall now speak that Robin became a respectable hero. It seems that the only way people could portray Robin Hood as non-subversive was to infantilise him, which is what authors did in the late-Victorian children’s books which are now the subject of the discussion going forward.

Muscular Christianity and Athleticism

If one of the aims of the public school ethos was to build ‘a Christian gentleman’, then it was easy for late-Victorian authors to superimpose earlier ideas about Robin’s piety on to the new public school ethos. In Henry Gilbert’s Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood (1912) Robin is insistent that his men should hear mass daily:

‘And now, lads,’ went on Robin, ‘though we be outlaws, and beyond men’s laws, we are still within God’s mercy. Therefore I would have you go with me to hear mass. We will go to Campsall, and there the mass-priest shall hear our confessions, and preach from God’s book to us. [13]

Gilbert RH
Henry Gilbert’s Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood (1912)

Hand-in-hand with the development of muscular Christianity in the late-Victorian period was an increasing emphasis upon physical fitness. As Nick Watson, Stuart Weir, and Stephen Friend argue:

The basic premise of Victorian muscular Christianity was that participation in sport could contribute to the development of Christian morality, physical fitness, and “manly” character. [14]

The late-Victorian period was the era of the strong-man, when body builders such as Eugene Sandow went topless on stage, displaying what was considered to be the perfect male physique. [15] In late-Victorian Robin Hood’s books and children’s books in general, then, there is an emphasis upon Robin’s physique that is absent from earlier popular works such as Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and Thomas Love Peacock’s Maid Marian (1822). In J. Walker McSpadden’s Robin Hood, in his youth Robin is

A comely, well-knit stripling, and as soon as his right arm received thew and sinew he learned how to draw a bow. [16]

Robin is not merely skilled in the use of the bow, however, but is also an excellent wrestler, and the outlaws, when not robbing people upon the highway, are said to regularly ‘amuse themselves in athletic exercises’. [17] Gilliat in his novel In Lincoln Green: A Story of Robin Hood (1897), tells the reader how Robin has

Well-made arms and massive shoulders [18]

(Gilliat’s novel is even set in a quasi-Victorian medieval public school). In McSpadden’s novel, as Robin competes in the archery contest,

He felt his muscles tightening into bands of steel, tense and true. [19]

These prime physical attributes were not simply restricted to Robin Hood in these books, for of Will Scarlet is said that

He was not a bad build for all his prettiness […] those calves are well-rounded and straight. The arms hang stoutly from the shoulders. [20]

Cultivating physical prowess would enable boys – the future servants of the empire – to survive and endure in the often inhospitable environments in the colonies. In Henty’s With Clive in India (1888), for example, the hero of the novel, the young Charlie Maryatt, from an early age always participated in sports at home, and it is because of his athletic abilities that he is chosen for a dangerous mission requiring the surmounting of dangerous rivers, mountains and passes for its completion. [21] While a lot of medieval Robin Hood texts celebrate the summer time and give no consideration to how a body of outlaws living in the forest might survive in a harsh winter, some of these children’s books do recognise the fact that life for an outlaw might at times be difficult. H. E. Marshall in Stories of Robin Hood Told to the Children (c.1906) reveals a little about Robin’s life in the cold winter months:

In winter the roads were so bad, and the weather so cold and wet, that most people stayed at home. So it was rather a quiet time for Robin and his men. They lived in caves during the winter, and spent their time making stores of bows and arrows, and mending their boots and clothes. [22]

Living outdoors makes the outlaws even tougher: McSpadden tells how

The wind blew the ruddy colour into his cheeks. [23]

The outlaws in Gilbert’s Robin Hood, additionally, undergo very rigorous training drills on a daily basis to keep themselves sharp and ready for battle. [24]

Sportsmanship and Fair Play

Despite having to keep themselves ever-ready for battle, the outlaws are not presented as brutes. The ideals of sportsmanship and fair play were easily superimposed onto Robin-Hood-meets-his-match scenarios by late-Victorian writers (the Robin-Hood-meets-his-match scenarios are those tales of Robin losing a fight to somebody in the forest and then making friends with them afterwards). According to John Finnemore in The Story of Robin Hood (1909), these types of situations display

The old English love of fair play and straight dealing. [25]

Fairfight
Edwardian illustration of Robin Hood meeting Little John

In Marshall’s Stories of Robin Hood, when Robin meets Little John and a fight with quarterstaffs ensues, in which Robin is beaten, afterwards he says to Little John that

It was a fair fight and you have won the battle. [26]

And a similar scene is acted out in Charles Herbert’s Robin Hood as, after having fought Little John, Robin exclaims:

You’ve proved yourself the best man. I own I’m beaten, and the fight’s at an end. [27]

Similarly in McSpadden’s work, when Little John and Will Scarlet first meet and have a fight with quarterstaffs, they laugh about the fight afterwards and make friends. [28] In Gilliatt’s In Lincoln Green, Robin’s son Walter, at the public school he attends, is taught to play

By all the fair rules of fighting. [29]

The fact that these mini-skirmishes in the greenwood had to be conducted according to the rules of fair play meant that real fighting was often portrayed as game in these texts. In Herbert’s text, when Robin asks Little John to join his band, he says:

There is plenty of fighting: a hard life, and fine sport. Wilt throw in thy lot with us, John Little?’ [30]

When the outlaws are faced with real danger – that is, when they face the forces of the Sheriff – this is described as nothing more than a ‘sport’. [31] Gilliat similarly refers to:

The great sport of war. [32]

The portrayal of fighting as a sport reflects how warfare was often seen by prominent imperialists in the late-Victorian and Edwardian eras. Sir Henry Newbolt in his poem Vitae Lampada (1897), for example, authored the following lines which equated warfare with the games played on public school playing fields as his poem exhorts young men to

Play up! play up! and play the game! [33]

Expressing similar sentiments to Newbolt’s poem is the memorial in the main cloister of Charterhouse College which lists the alumni who have fallen in various campaigns. The deceased, according to the writing on the wall:

Played up, played up, and played the game. [34]

The sad truth is that war, in fact, was not a game in the Victorian era, no matter how ‘brave’, ‘gallant’, or ‘sporting’ war was made out to be by imperialist writers.

Duty and Patriotism

Above everything, in these novels Robin is portrayed as being unwaveringly loyal to the King and his country. In Newbolt’s The Book of the Happy Warrior (1917) which tells various stories of heroic figures from English history, including Robin Hood, the reader is told how they might best benefit from reading these tales of heroic deeds:

You will not get the best out of these stories of great men unless you keep in mind, while you read, the rules and feelings that were in their minds while they fought [… the] main ideas that were in the minds of all these great fighters of the past were these: First, service, in peace and war. [35]

loytalty
Edwardian illustration of Robin Hood meeting King Richard

Gilliatt’s In Lincoln Green sees Robin’s son Walter participating in an archery contest ‘for the honour of your house and country’, [36] and at another point in the novel Robin emphasises his own commitment to ‘duty’ by exclaiming:

I am never tired when honour and duty call me. [37]

Similarly, in Marshall’s story, when the outlaws are made to recite their chivalrous oaths, they are loyal to the King first, and vow to protect the weak and needy second. [38] Towards the end of Marshall’s tale, Robin proudly exclaims:

God Bless the King […] God bless all those who love him. Cursed be all those who hate him and rebel against him. [39]

Serving the King and the nation is presented in late-Victorian and Edwardian texts as a means by which a boy might advance in the world. In Paul Creswick’s Robin Hood and his Adventures (1917) young Robin is taken to his uncle Gamwell’s estate. Upon surveying his uncle’s vast land holdings, he enquires how his uncle Gamwell became so rich, and he is informed that he was given lands as a reward for serving in the King’s army. Robin then exclaims that he hopes that he will be similarly rewarded by the King when he grows up and serves in the army. This is a message that is seen repeated in the works of Henty as well, as in With Clive in India where a young parochial boy rises through the ranks of the British army and returns home rich. Service to one’s country could be the making of a man: morally, physically, and financially.

The emphasis upon Robin’s loyalty to the King, and his duty to the nation is to be found in every late Victorian text. From a twenty-first century standpoint, it seems odd that authors adapted Robin Hood – a radical and anti-establishment figure in previous incarnations – to represent the middle-class ethos of duty to the nation and empire. But the appropriation (or misappropriation depending upon one’s point of view), of medieval heroes to this end was not only applied to Robin Hood. In Henty’s laughable A March on London: Being a Story of Wat Tyler’s Insurrection (1898), for instance, Tyler and the peasants revolted, not simply because of the Poll Tax, but because they wanted to fight in the wars of their country but were not allowed to due to feudal laws. [40] For the record, the historic Wat Tyler and his fellow men were not fighting for the right to be able to fight in Richard II’s wars.

There was a class dimension to these ideas of loyalty and duty. Robin is always the Earl of Huntingdon in these books. They lack the democratic political sentiments that are present in Egan’s earlier and superior work. Robin does not have to be elected as he is in Egan’s Robin Hood and Little John, and there is a clear sense that he is the leader of his ‘lower class’ counterparts who knows what is best. In McSpadden’s tale, Robin is the leader of the outlaw band because he possesses ‘birth, breeding, and skill’. [41] It is almost as though Robin is the head boy of a public school house.

Conclusion

As we have seen, the story of Robin Hood was adapted by conservative authors who sought to adapt the outlaw’s story to project the ideals of the Public School Ethos. It was hard for authors to set Robin Hood in an actual overseas imperial setting, given that his story has historically always been associated with Sherwood Forest. These books should be viewed, then, as though the greenwood is the training ground for the imperial adventures that will come after Robin and his men have been pardoned. Such a view is borne out by the fact that in Gilliat’s book, for example, where having been pardoned by the King, most of the outlaws join Richard I on his Crusade in the Holy Land. [42] Thus far from being anti-imperial, these books promoted an imperial message and stressed the qualities that would prepare young boys for a life of imperial service.


References

[1] Stephanie Barczewski, Myth and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood (Oxford: OUP, 2000), p.224.

[2] G. R. Searle, A New England? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p.65.

[3] Lawrence James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (London: Abacus, 1994), p.207.

[4] B. A. Brockman, ‘Children and the Audiences of Robin Hood’ South Atlantic Review 48: 2 (1983), 67-83 (p.68).

[5] For information on production and pricing of Ivanhoe see Jane Millgate, ‘Making It New: Scott, Constable, Ballantyne, and the Publication of Ivanhoe’ Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 34: 4 (1994), 795-811.

[6] Stephen Basdeo, ‘Radical Medievalism: Pierce Egan the Younger’s Robin Hood, Wat Tyler, and Adam Bell’ in Leeds Working Papers in Victorian Studies Vol. 15: Imagining the Victorians Eds. Stephen Basdeo & Lauren Padgett (Leeds: LCVS, 2016), 48-65.

[7] Anon. The Monthly Review Jan 1820, 71-89 (p.82)

[8]Henry Crabb Robinson, ’Diary Entry by Henry Crabb Robinson, 21 Jan. 1820’ in Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and their Writers Ed. E. J. Morley, 3 Vols. (London: Dent, 1938), 1: 238.

[9] Ibid.

[10] See Brian Maidment, Dusty Bob: A Cultural History of Dustmen, 1780-1870 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007).

[11] Anon, ‘Modern Perversions’, p.425.

[12] See Lauren Gillingham, ‘Ainsworth’s “Jack Sheppard” and the Crimes of History’ SEL Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 49: 4 (2009), 879-906.

[13] Henry Gilbert, Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood (London: T. C. & A. C. Jack, 1912), p.51.

[14] Nick J. Watson, Stuart Weir & Stephen Friend, ‘The Development of Muscular Christianity in Victorian Britain and Beyond’ Journal of Religion and Society Vol. 7 (2005), 1-21 (p.1); for another discussion on athleticism and Christianity see J. A. Mangam & Colm Hickey, ‘Missing Middle-Class Dimensions: Elementary Schools, Athleticism, and Imperialism’ European Sports History Review Vol. 4 (2002), 73-90.

[15] See David Waller, The Perfect Man: The Muscular Life and Times of Eugene Sandow, Victorian Strongman (London: Victorian Secrets, 2011).

[16] J. W. McSpadden & Charles Wilson, Robin Hood (London: Associated Newspaper Books [n.d.]), p.12.

[17] Stephen Percy, Tales of Robin Hood ([n.p. n.d.]) p.8.

[18] Edward Gilliat, In Lincoln Green: A Story of Robin Hood (London: Seeley & Co. 1897), p.45.

[19] McSpadden & Wilson, Robin Hood, p.23.

[20] McSpadden & Wilson, Robin Hood, p.80.

[21] G. A. Henty, ‘With Clive in India’ in British Empire Adventure Stories (London: Carlton Books, 2005), 465-774 (p.570).

[22] H. E. Marshall, Stories of Robin Hood Told to the Children (London: T. C. & E. C. Jack, [n.d.]), p.11.

[23] McSpadden & Wilson, Robin Hood, p.33.

[24] Gilbert, Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood, p.48.

[25] John Finnemore, The Story of Robin Hood (1909 repr. London: A. & C. Black, 1935), p.x.

[26] Marshall, Stories of Robin Hood, p.16.

[27] Charles Herbert, Robin Hood (London: John F. Shaw [n.d.]), p.18.

[28] McSpadden & Wilson, Robin Hood, pp.37-41.

[29] Gilliat, In Lincoln Green, p.116.

[30] Herbert, Robin Hoood, p.19.

[31] McSpadden & Wilson, Robin Hood, p.152.

[32] Gilliat, In Lincoln Green, p.362.

[33] Henry Newbolt, ‘Vitae Lampada (1897-98)’ The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Representing the Great War: Texts and Contexts [Internet <https://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/20century/topic_1_05/hnewbolt.htm&gt; Accessed 21 June 2016].

[34] Niall Ferguson, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (London: Penguin, 2004), p.262.

[35] Henry Newbolt, The Book of the Happy Warrior (London: Longman, 1917), p.vi.

[36] Gilliat, In Lincoln Green, p.45.

[37] Gilliat, In Lincoln Green, p.180.

[38] Marshall, Stories of Robin Hood, p.8.

[39] Marshall, Stories of Robin Hood, p.101.

[40] G. A. Henty, ‘A March on London: Being a Story of Wat Tyler’s Insurrection (London, 1898)’ The Literature Network [Internet <http://www.online-literature.com/ga-henty/march-on-london/1/&gt; Accessed 21 June 2016].

[41] McSpadden & Wilson, Robin Hood, p.30.

[42] Gilliat, In Lincoln Green, p.365.

The Public School Ethos and Late Victorian Children’s Literature

clive
Robert Clive

In 1888, The Life of General Gordon was written so that ‘the young can learn the beautiful lessons of obedience and humility, of loyalty to God and devotion to others’ (Hope, 1888, p.361). The writers of biographical and fictional works in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries sought to instil these values into young people’s minds. These were the values of what is known as the public school ethos. This post shall examine the ways in which the values of the public school ethos were imparted to readers within such literature.

From the eighteenth until the mid-nineteenth century, it could arguably be said that empire did not occupy a prominent position within British society. Control of overseas territories was largely indirect and operated through the agency of trading companies like the East India Company. This method of indirect rule changed, however, with the advent of the era of ‘new’ imperialism which lasted between 1884 and 1914. During this time European powers took direct political control of virtually the whole of Africa (Pakenham, 1991, xxiii). Men with an imperial ethos were needed to run this empire. The public school system subsequently began to develop ‘distinctly militaristic features’ in order to produce the people such men (Searle, 2004, pp.36-37). Nor was this purely a manpower issue. Britain’s poor performance in the Boer War (1899-1902) highlighted what seemed to the establishment to be a case of ‘national deficiency’. One apparent example of this was the fact that approximately one third of British volunteers were turned away from enlisting for being too unhealthy (Searle, 2004, p.302). Additionally, the growing rivalry from other emerging great powers such as USA made the British establishment anxious that they would lose their preeminent international standing. The public school ethos, then, which stressed the values of sportsmanship, manliness and devotion to duty, sought to prepare boys for a life of imperial service (Searle, 2004, p.65). The end result of this ethos was intended to be:

a Christian gentleman…who played by the rules, and whose highest aim was to serve others (James, 1994, p.207).

The attribute of sportsmanship can be found represented in the novel With Clive in India (1884) written by G. A. Henty. The schoolboy hero was central to all of his novels (Thompson, 2005, p.207). He was an ardent imperialist and his works usually celebrated the deeds and great men that had won the empire. The novel  follows the life of a young boy named Charlie Marryatt living in the eighteenth century. He is forced to seek employment in the British East India Company after his father dies. His athletic ability is evident from the outset of the story. He was ‘slight in build…in all sports requiring activity and endurance he was always conspicuous’ (Henty, 1884, p.465). Athleticism was promoted from an early age beginning in the late-nineteenth century. It was seen as developing, not just physique and character, but an esprit de corps, discipline and fair play (Mangan & Hickey, 2002, p.84). Athleticism promoted endurance in the colonies, being seen as equipping young men with the stamina needed to work in what were often inhospitable climates. Charlie’s ability in the novel to undertake his duties in difficult terrain leads to him being selected for a mission requiring the surmounting of dangerous rivers, mountains and passes for its completion (Henty, 1884, p.570). In fact, his physical qualities are first noticed by one of the Company governors when he selflessly jumps overboard from a ship and swims to the rescue of a comrade (Henty, 1884, p.571). Thus athletic ability was imparted to young readers in Henty’s work by its representation as a quality that was likely to help a boy advance himself in the world.

Southey's Life of Nelson
Southey’s Life of Nelson (1813)

However, sportsmanship as an imperial value often meant that war was treated as a game. Charlie finds himself promoted to command a small company of men. His company are out in the field and see a French force approaching. Charlie proceeds to rally his men as though he were speaking to them playing fields; ‘Now lads’, he exclaims: ‘You ought to be grateful to the French…[for] giving you the opportunity of thrashing them,’ at which point his men begin to laugh (Henty, 1884, pp.550-551). An example of how warfare was treated as a game can be seen at the public school which Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement, attended. The war memorials in Charterhouse College list the names of the dead from various colonial conflicts who ‘played up, played up, and played the game’ (Ferguson, 2003, p.262). Such a view of war was perhaps only possible in an era which, since 1815, was devoid of the experience of total war (Thompson, 2005, p.207). Thus while sportsmanship was presented as a valuable attribute in running the empire, it masked some of the more unpleasant experiences of conflict.

The training of boys on the playing fields of public schools was supposed to produce ‘manly’ men. Biographies of military heroes were ideal for presenting a picture of the idealised Christian gentleman. H. M. Stanley, for example, was distinguished for being ‘a brave man as well [as] by his courage as by his gentleness’ (Hope, 1902, p.1). These heroes were represented as being at the forefront of empire, spreading civilisation and Christianity to the ‘darker’ regions of the earth. Focused upon within this paper is the representation of General Gordon (1833-1885) as the true Christian gentleman. He was appointed by the British government to manage a retreat from the Sudan in the face of the Mahdi rebellion. Instead, he disobeyed orders and decided to hold on to the city of Khartoum, resolved to ‘smash up the Mahdi’ (Ferguson, 2003, p.268). He was besieged for almost a year, until the Mahdi broke into the city and he was cut to pieces and killed. Eulogised in such works as The Life of General Gordon (1888), he was seen as embodying both ‘morality and military spirit’ (MacDonald, 1994, p.83). Gordon personified the Anglo-Saxon ideal of the ‘gallant Englishman…a brave hero [who] had…died a martyr’s death’ (Hope, 1888, pp.357-358). This connection of manliness with service to the empire confirms the view of Thompson (2005, p.97) that ‘manliness and empire confirmed one another, enhanced one another’. Thus the masculine ideal was imparted to young readers as being constituted with a life of service to the empire, and readers were given examples of it in the pages of biographies such as those of Gordon.

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Life of General Gordon (1888)

Furthermore, Anglo-Saxon masculinity was often presented alongside its binary opposite. Gordon was said to be ‘loyal’ and ‘true’ (Hope, 1888, p.358). By contrast, his foreign enemies were presented as treacherous and deceitful. Faragh Pasha, one of Gordon’s supposed allies, was said to have betrayed him and opened the gates of Khartoum to the forces of the Mahdi. He was nothing but ‘a traitor, whose name will be forever covered with infamy’ (Hope, 1888, p.356). Another man, ‘Abou Saood’, was said to be ‘altogether untrustworthy’ (Hope, 1888, p.175). This depiction of native peoples as treacherous and cunning blends with what Said identified as the ‘orientalist’ discourse that was current in contemporary British society. Oriental people were stereotyped as ‘gullible, “devoid of energy and initiative”, much given to “fulsome flattery”, intrigue, cunning…they are “lethargic and suspicious”, and in everything oppose the clarity, directness and nobility of the Anglo-Saxon race’ (Said, 1978, p.39). Such a stress, then, was placed upon developing ideal Anglo-Saxon masculinity in the public school system because it was thought that ‘prestige of race’ alone upheld British rule (James, 1997, p.307). As well as constituting a life of service to the empire, masculinity, therefore, was presented in biographical works as being the direct opposite of the racial attributes of ‘inferior’ subject peoples.

Additionally, the Anglo-Saxon man faithfully performed his duty to the empire. Emphasis upon duty has been a staple of many military biographies. Even in the early-nineteenth century Southey’s The Life of Nelson (1813), saw Nelson famously telling his men prior to the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) that ‘England expects that every man will do his duty (original emphasis)’ with Nelson in his autobiography urging readers to ‘Go Thou and Do Likewise’ (Southey, 1813: 1888, pp.11 & p.365). Of course, in Nelson’s era, duty and patriotism had a parochial focus, being intertwined with the nation, often specifically England (Colley, 1992, pp.284-285). Yet during the era of ‘new’ imperialism it was duty to both the empire and the nation which was emphasised within biographies and juvenile literature. For example, young Charlie Marryatt in With Clive in India is counselled by his uncle before setting off to India to ‘be steady, and do your duty to your employer’ (Henty, 1884, p.478). The ‘employer’ in this case being the East India Company, hence duty to his employer is duty to the empire. As well representing characters that carried out their service to the empire unflinchingly, there was another method by which Henty in his works tried to fire a zeal for the empire among his young readers. This was to ask them indirect thought-provoking questions. After some years serving in India, young Charlie returns to England with an Indian servant. The servant sees the amount English people and asks Charlie;

Why, when there were so many men, [had] England sent so few soldiers to fight for her in India; and for once, Charlie was unable to give a satisfactory reply…‘It does seem strange’ he said…‘that when such mighty interests were at stake, a body of even ten thousand troops could not have been raised and sent out’ (Henty, 1884, p.770).

The ‘mighty interests’ at stake in the novel was the existence of the East India Company, hence of the empire itself. At a time when Britain faced international rivalry for supremacy, Henty was exhorting younger readers to sign up to serve the empire, and to ensure that it lasted.

G. A. Henty, With Clive in India
G. A. Henty, With Clive in India

Thompson (2005, p.103) asks, ‘how far, then, did children’s literature “instil…the qualities of courage, justice, and fair play that had made and would keep Britain great?”’. There are theories by imperial historians which could be adapted to answer such a question. Porter says that an understanding of people’s attitude to empire must be considered in relation to their social class (Porter, 2004, p.311). The most receptive audience for such literature does appear to have been upper-middle class public schoolboys (Thompson, 2005, p.102). Additionally, Thompson states further that the working-classes read such fiction primarily for entertainment and a sense of adventure, since they rarely ventured far from their homes (Ibid). Yet in the opinion of the writer of this essay, such a view of working class indifference to this imperial ethos is hard to maintain. If young working-class boys were reading this literature in c.1900-1905 they were probably among the ones which enthusiastically enlisted for service to King and country in 1914. Indeed many people from all classes, both men and women, were taken in by ‘khaki fever’ in the early months of World War One (Searle, 2004, p.782). Perhaps the answer to Thompson’s question, then, is that the reception of these messages between different social groups was uneven. Consequently, if the reception of the messages between classes was complex, then so too was its reception within classes (Thompson, 2005, p.102).

However, what can be said with perhaps more certainty is that these public school values of masculinity did not retain their currency for very long. In the aftermath of World War One, many of the ideals of the Victorian age came in for reassessment. After all, a ‘stiff-upper lip’ mentality could hardly be maintained in the face of mass bodily dismemberment and mental scarring. If the Victorian ideal of manliness was relevant in 1914, then by 1918 one recent dissertation has concluded that in the space of four years, the concept of what constituted manliness changed irrevocably (Cairns, 2012, p.29). Nor by 1918 was the reputation of the Victorian hero still sacred. Strachey, in his work Eminent Victorians (1918), described Gordon in the following way;

Alien to the subtleties of civilised statesmanship…unamenable to official control… [and] incapable of the skilful management of delicate situations (Strachey, 1918:2002, p.255).

This is a far cry from Hope’s description of him as ‘a gallant and skilful leader…to be trusted with the great interests at stake in Shanghai’ (Hope, 1888, p.80). Thus despite the repeated idealisation of such men and their public school qualities in biographies and fiction, these ideas began to lose their relevance in a post-1918 England.

Strachey's Eminent Victorians
Strachey’s Eminent Victorians (1918)

In conclusion, the late-Victorian and Edwardian public school ethos of sportsmanship, manliness, and duty were imparted to young readers through fictional works and military biographies. These values were personified in the representations of both current and historical heroes of empire. Imperial heroes and schoolboy characters embodied the ethos. It was, as far as historians have been able to gather, the boys of the upper and middle-classes who provided the most receptive audience for this type of literature. The working-classes attitude towards it, however, is much less easier to determine. Finally, despite the fact that there were many similar works to those of Henty and Hope, these ideas began to decline in relevance after World War One.


Bibliography
Primary Sources
Henty, G. A. (1884) ‘With Clive in India’. British Empire Adventure Stories (2005). London: Carlton Books.
Hope, E. (1888). The Life of General Gordon. Edinburgh: W P Nimmo.
Hope, E. (1902). Stanley and Africa. London: Walter Scott Press
Southey, R. (1813: 1888). The Life of Nelson. London: George Bell & Sons
Strachey, L. (1918:2002). Eminent Victorians. London: Continuum Books


Secondary Sources
Colley, L. (1992). Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837. Yale University Press
Ferguson, N. (1993). Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. London: Penguin.
James, L. (1994). The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. London: Abacus.
James, L. (1997). Raj: The Making of British India. London: Abacus.
MacDonald, R. (1994). The Language of Empire: Myths and Metaphors of Popular Imperialism, 1880-1918. Manchester: MUP
Mangan, J. A. & Hickey, C. (2002). ‘Missing Middle-Class Dimensions: Elementary Schools, Imperialism and Athleticism’. European Sports History Review 4 pp.73-90
Pakenham, T. (1991). The Scramble for Africa. London: Abacus
Porter, B. (2004). The Absent-Minded Imperialists. Oxford: OUP
Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. London: Penguin
Searle, G. R. (2004). A New England? England 1886-1918. Oxford: OUP
Thompson, A. (2005). The Empire Strikes Back? London: Pearson


Unpublished Dissertations
Cairns, T. (2012) ‘Tommy has the jerks mum, but don’t worry I’m ok’ Personal reflections of combat, emotions and dismemberment during the Great War, 1914-1918. [Unpublished Dissertation: BA Hons]. Leeds Metropolitan University