CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From Grenadarnby Geoffrey WagnerrnRevenge of the CatrnI recently noticed an article in thernTrinidad Guardian about two malernteenagers who had been charged withrnsavagely “chopping” an old man (thoughrnnot to death). Each youth received arnsentence of 42 years in prison plus 20rnstrokes of the birch. It was the latter partrnof the sentence, the instrument designatedrnby the learned judge, that surprised,rnbut throughout the ex-British coloniesrn”strokes” with a cane have become a fairlyrnroutine court order for rapists and forrnincestuous and violent men in general.rnThe famous caning incident in Singaporernhardly drew a ripple of interest inrnsuch independent, ex-colonial deposits.rnAn order of “strokes” in a Caribbeanrnmagistrate’s court is given by the presidingrnauthority (quite often a woman) andrncarried out immediately. The instrumentrngenerally used is the whippyrntamarind or “tammy,” which is similar tornthat in the schools of my youth; Singaporernemploys the rotan. The infamousrncat-o’-nine tails, which the French writerrnPierre Daninos claims to lurk in everyrnEnglishman’s subconscious, no longerrnexists in penal reality. Its last judicial usernin England was probably in the case ofrnthe three so-called “Mayfair playboys,”rnwho in the 30’s assaulted an old lady andrnwere sentenced to, and each received,rneight strokes of the cat, given in two doses,rnfor leniency’s sake.rnOne may therefore be permitted a certainrnequanimity in discussing this matterrnin modern America since sentences ofrnthe kind are not likely there. My father,rna Puisne judge in an erstwhile CrownrnColony, probably imposed several suchrnsentences as a matter of course. Statisticsrnas to the efficacy of such punishmentsrnnaturally do not exist. But to interpretrncorporal punishment as “child-whipping”rnis to ignore the reasons why, forrninstance, a black judge in Trinidad orderedrnthe birch in 1997. There werernover 600 murders in Jamaica last year.rnThe liberal press in America has neverrntried to understand, let alone countenance,rnthe peer-punishment system ofrnmale British schools of all classes,rnthough Helen Burns (played by ElizabethrnTaylor in Orson Welles’ Jane Eyre)rnis lighdy birched at the fictional Lowoodrngirls school, in what the Bronte Societyrnhas told us now is an exaggeration ofrnCharlotte’s real-life Cowan BridgernSchool.rnThe great birching headmasters,rnKeate of Eton and Busby of Westminster,rnseem not so much to have been governingrnschools as fighting back anarchicrnchild ghettos, the pupils threatening anyrnauthority, letting loose large rats duringrnprayers and the like. As Lytton Stracheyrntells us of Keate, “Every Sunday afternoonrnhe attempted to read sermons tornthe whole school assembled; and everyrnSunday afternoon the whole school assembledrnshouted him down.” Such wasrnthe Nicholas Nickleby syndrome, fromrnwhich Thomas Arnold rescued Rugbyrnwhen the headmastership of that schoolrnfell vacant in 1827.rnAgain, Strachey puts it well:rnIt was a system of anarchy temperedrnby despotism. Hundreds ofrnboys, herded together in miscellaneousrnboarding-houses, or in thatrngrim “Long Chamber” at whosernname in after years aged statesmenrnand warriors would turn pale,rnlived, badgered and overawed byrnthe furious incursions of an irasciblernlittle old man carrying a bundlernof birch-twigs, a life in whichrnlicensed barbarism was mingledrnwith the daily and hourly study ofrnthe niceties of Ovidian verse.rnIndeed, it has been said that the cane wasrnintroduced into these so-called schoolsrnas being more lenient than the birch,rnand taking less time from Latin. There isrnsurely all the difference in the world inrnthe ritual handshake to the Praepostorrnwho has just caned you (borrowed fromrnTonbridge School in the movie If) andrnthe black mask of the prison guard whornadministers the brutal cat. In The Fourthrnof June (Eton’s great holiday), DavidrnBenedictus tells us that in his day therernwere as many as 60 senior boys allowedrnto cane without first approval from a masterrn—and the ritual number of strokes wasrnnever exceeded.rnIn his autobiography, David Niven relatesrnhow he got 12 strokes for cheatingrnfrom the legendary Stowe headmaster,rnRoxburgh: after the first ration of “six ofrnthe best” it hurt so much he hardly feltrnanything—until later. Roald Dahl hasrnleft us an amusing short story in whichrnhe sits in a railway carriage across fromrnanother man he feels sure caned him atrnschool years before (Dahl was at Repton).rnHe is mistaken, but the story dramatizesrnhow socially encumbering it isrnfor an Englishman to meet later in lifernone who caned him at school.rnNo one is advocating the return of corporalrncorrection in schools, though therernare pockets around. The matter of socialrnretribution —let the liberals call it revengern—is different. The criminal is arngrown adversary, self-declared, and it isrnnot for nothing that most Caribbean islandrnstates (Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago,rnetc.) restored Britain’s FloggingrnAct on going independent of the motherrncountry. They don’t want the LondonrnPrivy Council, chosen by the Queen,rnmitigating and even annulling the sentencesrnof their own justices on the spot.rnGeneral Zia Ul-Haq of Pakistan usedrnto say, “We flog with style.” And presumablyrnthe Muslim code has to berntaken into consideration here. It is norngood simply getting into a rage about thernsubject, alongside the little old ladiesrnof Amnesty International. When EdmundrnWilson reviewed for the NewrnYorker the six-volume edition of Swinburne’srncorrespondence, he was horrified.rnAll those distressing index entriesrnunder “Flagellation.” And hadn’t StevenrnMarcus, tapping the Pisanus Fraxirnor Ashbee collection in the BritishrnMuseum, found a major portion of it tornbe what we might term flagellantinernbaroque? How could this happen?rnSuch a civilized race.rnThe cane is abolished in England,rnand no one is hazing an underclassmanrnin front of a fire as in Tom Brown’s SchoolrnDays. Still, freedom has its restraints.rn32/CHRONICLESrnrnrn