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Title: A Letter to the Viscount Palmerston, M.P. &c. &c. &c. on the Monitorial System of Harrow School
Author: Vaughan, C. J. (Charles John)
Language: English
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Transcribed from the 1854 John Murray edition by David Price

                                  TO THE
                        VISCOUNT PALMERSTON, M.P.
                               &c. &c. &c.
                       ON THE MONITORIAL SYSTEM OF
                              HARROW SCHOOL.

                                * * * * *

                        CHARLES JOHN VAUGHAN, D.D.
                               HEAD MASTER.

                                * * * * *

                      JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET:
                       CROSSLEY AND CLARKE, HARROW:

                                * * * * *

  This Letter, when first printed, was designed only for private
  circulation amongst those personally or officially interested in its
  subject.  Circumstances have since arisen, which appeared to render its
  publication expedient.

&c. &c. &c.


I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your Lordship’s letter of
the 11th instant; to which your great abilities and varied experience, as
well as your affectionate attachment to Harrow as the place of your own
education, give peculiar value and interest.

I am grateful for the opportunity which it affords me of briefly stating
the principles of the Monitorial system as at present established at

I do not, I think, misapprehend the precise point to which your
observations are directed.  It is not upon the Monitorial system
itself—upon the commission of a recognized authority to the hands of the
Upper Boys—but upon a particular method of enforcing it, that you comment
in terms of anxiety.  The _principle_ is coeval with the
School—established by the Founder.  It is the universal rule of Public
Schools:—until lately, when the experience of its salutary effects has
led to a wider extension of it, it was the one distinguishing feature of
a Public as contrasted with a Private School.

But the Monitorial system might exist without this particular method of
enforcing it—the power of inflicting corporal punishment.  And this is
the question to which your Lordship has been good enough to call my

Those who are acquainted with Dr. Arnold’s Life—a book regarded by many
as one of authority upon such a subject—are aware that the right of his
Sixth Form to the use of the cane was one for which he contended with the
greatest earnestness, as indispensable to the efficient working of that
Monitorial system to which he considered that Rugby owed so much of its
well-being under his Head-Mastership. {5}  And although many Masters
might shrink from avowing so boldly their approbation of a power liable
to so much abuse and to so much misconstruction, yet I have never heard
it questioned that the same power is exercised, whether by permission or
by acquiescence, in most of the great Public Schools of England, as I
know that it existed at Harrow, actually if not avowedly, for very many
years before I became Master.

But I have no wish to plead authority or prescription in defence of a
practice which, if bad, can at any time be abolished, and for the
toleration of which I do not deny that the Master under whom it exists
may fairly be held responsible.

There can be no doubt that a Master who consulted merely his own ease and
present popularity would at once abolish the power in dispute.  The tide
of public feeling is setting strongly in that direction.  It would be
easy to aggravate that feeling.  Corporal punishment of _any_ kind, by
whomsoever administered, is inconsistent with modern notions of personal
dignity, {7} and modern habits of precocious manliness; it needs nothing
but a few cases of exceptional excess in the _infliction_ of such
punishment to direct against it a storm too violent to be resisted.

If, in the face of this feeling, and amidst so many temptations to yield
to it, a Master still ventures to maintain that, liable as it is to
abuse, open to misrepresentation, and difficult of explanation, the power
of corporal punishment by the Monitors of a Public School is one not
lightly to be abolished, because capable of great good and impossible to
replace by any efficacious substitute; he may fail to convince—it is
probable that he will fail to convince—those who judge of the system from
without, and with no opportunity of calmly balancing its evil against its
good; but at least he may be believed to speak honestly, and listened to
as a disinterested witness.

There are in every Public School certain minor offences, against manners
rather than against morals—faults of turbulence, rudeness, offensive
language, annoyance of others, petty oppression and tyranny, &c.—which,
as Public Schools are at present constituted, lie ordinarily out of the
cognizance of the Masters, and might, so far as _they_ are concerned, be
committed with impunity. {8}  Even some _graver_ faults might, with due
precautions against discovery, long escape the eye of a really vigilant

To meet such cases, there is no doubt a choice of measures.

You may adopt what might with equal propriety be called the foreign
School, or the Private School, system.  You may create a body of Ushers;
Masters of a lower order, whose business it shall be to follow Boys into
their hours of recreation and rest, avowedly as spies, coercing freedom
of speech and action, or reporting to their superior what such
observation has gleaned.  This is consistent and intelligible.  Ruinous
to that which has been regarded as the great glory of an English Public
School—its free developement of character, its social expansiveness, in
short its _liberty_: but yet, in itself, intelligible enough, and in
theory perhaps preferable to the other.

If not this, then the alternative must be some form or other of the
Monitorial principle.  Ten, or twenty, or thirty, of those Boys who are
(generally speaking) the elder, at all events the abler, the more
diligent, the more meritorious,—selected by no favour, exempted from none
of the rules and restraints of School, but yet brought by their position
into a more intimate intercourse with their Master, and largely
influenced (if he be what a Master ought to be) by his principles of
judgment and discipline,—are empowered to exercise over their juniors a
legalized and carefully regulated authority, while at the same time they
are left to mix with them on terms of perfect freedom at times and in
places to which no Master’s inspection could by possibility extend.

But this system is capable of at least two modifications.

The Monitors may be desired to act as the Master’s deputies; to observe
for him, and to report to him.  They may be charged to see nothing wrong
done, to hear nothing wrong said, without hastening to his presence and
invoking his interposition.  They may be taught to regard themselves as
the Master’s spies, informers, and creatures.  Such has been made,
sometimes, the theory of their office.  They have been solemnly warned of
the responsibility attaching to their office, as the Master’s eyes and
the Master’s ears.  No real _power_ was entrusted to them.  The terms of
their commission were large, its tone was solemn: but the power to
enforce obedience either did not exist, or existed only on sufferance and
by stealth.

Now it appears to me that a Monitorial system of this nature is either
nugatory, or worse.  If the Monitors thus commissioned have the ordinary
feelings of the sons of Gentlemen, they will virtually repudiate such an
office.  They will say, I was not sent here to be an Usher—a Master’s
spy, a Master’s informer.  They have too much self-respect, too nice a
sense of honour, to live amongst their Schoolfellows on terms of
unguarded equality, and then use the knowledge thus gained as a means of
drawing down upon them the arm of authority and of punishment.  The
result will be, as it always has been wherever such a view has been taken
of Monitorial duty, that the Monitors will not act for the purposes for
which they were commissioned, but only for the maintenance of a selfish
dignity which looks for its support to other means than those recognized
by the system.

It astonishes me that those who regard submission to a corporal
punishment as a degradation inconsistent with honour and self-respect,
should look with toleration upon that _antagonist_ system under which
their sons might be called upon, as the reward of ability and diligence,
to assume the office of a delegated spy.

The alternative—as I believe, the _only_ alternative—is that form of
Monitorial discipline which it has been my endeavour to carry into
vigorous operation at Harrow during the last nine years.

I have taught the Monitors to regard their authority as emanating indeed
from mine, and responsible to mine, but yet (with the limitation
naturally arising from these two considerations) independent and free in
its ordinary exercise.  They are charged with the enforcement of an
internal discipline, the object of which is the good order, the
honourable conduct, the gentlemanlike tone, of the Houses and of the
School.  In these matters I desire that they should act for themselves;
knowing well how doubly, how tenfold, valuable is that discipline which
springs from within the body, in comparison with that which is imposed
upon it from above.  It is only on the discovery of grave and moral
offences, such as would be poisonous to the whole society, and such as
they may reasonably be expected to regard as discreditable and
disgraceful even more than they are illegal, that I expect them to
communicate to me officially the faults of which they may take notice.
In certain cases, it may be optional whether an offence should be
regarded as one against manners or against morals; and in these instances
it will depend upon the accident of the prior discovery, whether it be
taken up by the Monitors or by myself.

It follows as a matter of necessity that the Monitors should possess some
means of exercising and asserting their authority.

Hence arises the old custom of _fagging_.  It is a memento of Monitorial
authority; a standing memorial of the subjection of the younger to the
elder for higher purposes than any merely personal distinction.  It is
the daily assertion, in a form which makes it palpable and felt, of a
power which has been instituted for the good not of the superior but of
the inferior in the relation.

This is the _ordinary_ assertion of Monitorial power.  But there must
also be some method of punishing disobedience, insubordination,
turbulence, or other transgression.  To give the Monitors no executive
power beyond that of reporting and complaining, would be to leave them
practically defenceless.  Such a power would possess no influence with a
community of Boys.  It would be trifled with and trampled upon.  Great
and long must be the provocation which would overcome the natural
repugnance of an honourable Boy to lodging a complaint with a Master
against a Schoolfellow: and what would be the redress when it came?  Such
a remedy would be, in the popular feeling of a Public School, far worse
than none.

Shall the power entrusted to the Monitors be that of “setting
punishments” (as it is technically called)—that is, of imposing tasks of
_writing_?  Such has been the prerogative formally conferred upon the
Monitors of Harrow: but it is easy to see how speedily such a right, if
widely exercised, would come into collision with ordinary School duties;
how impossible it would be for it to coexist with the _similar_ power of
the _Masters_, or even with the performance of the regular work and
exercises of the several Forms.

Or shall the right of punishing be made to depend upon the physical power
of the individual Monitor?  Shall an older and stronger Monitor be at
liberty to enforce his authority by blows, while a weaker and younger is
left defenceless?  Such a rule would be, in effect, an awkward and
inconsistent return to a state of things which it is the one object of
the Monitorial government to counteract—a system of brute force.  Under
_any_ constitution of a School, the stronger can protect himself against
the aggression of the weaker: it is the object of the Public School
system to substitute for the brute force of the stronger the legalized
power of the better and the abler.  Unless therefore the power entrusted
to the Monitor be something different in kind from that of physical
strength, the whole system falls to the ground by losing its essential

And it appears to me that, as soon as the power of the Monitors is
transferred from the ground of strength to that of right; as soon as it
is made, in its place, as the power of the Masters in theirs, a
recognized and constitutional principle; at that moment all feeling of
degradation in submitting to it is done away: there is degradation,
because there is cowardice, in submitting tamely to the kicks or cuffs of
an equal or an inferior, but there is none in rendering to a Master—nor
need there be in rendering to a constituted authority of a lower
rank—that submission even to personal correction which may be one of the
conditions of the society in which you are placed.

By a custom, existing certainly long before my own acquaintance with
Harrow, traceable for many years into the past history of the School, the
common method of enforcing Monitorial authority has been the use of the
cane.  A power not formally committed to the Monitors, not (in the
strictest sense) delegated by the Master, but still exercised without
interference or censure within the limits prescribed by humanity or by
the fear of penal consequences in case of its excess.

This custom, I repeat, I found established; ignored, it may be, by
previous Masters, but not unknown.  The question with me was, Is this
custom, which I find in force, injurious in its use, or only in its
abuse?  If the former, it must be, not disavowed only, but destroyed.  If
the latter, it must be, not only connived at, but turned to account.  It
must be made conducive to the real welfare of the School.  And a Monitor
who avails himself of this prescriptive right, in support of good order
and good discipline, must feel that he is safe in doing so, provided he
stops short of inflicting injury.  He must feel that he can depend upon
the Master to stand by him, before the School and before the Public, so
long as no wanton or tyrannical use of this power can be proved against

It is urged indeed that this Monitorial power is illegal in a higher than
any School sense of that term,—that it contradicts the law of the land.
“_Delegatus non potest delegare_.”   The Parent delegates his power to
the Master: the Master has no right to delegate that power to the
Monitor.  Now I will not enter into the question how far the Master is
correctly described as the Parent’s delegate.  Doubtless the act which
consigns to him the individual Boy is the act of the individual Parent.
But the Master of a Public School is not made so by that act, nor by any
number of such acts: his office is conferred upon him by an independent
authority, and is exercised under conditions irrespective of the parental
will.  Otherwise the Parent who created, might in each case limit, the
right: he might prescribe to the Master the studies to be pursued and the
punishments to be inflicted; he might depute his own functions thus far
and no further.  But, even allowing the justice of the appellation, it
would scarcely be desired, I suppose, to admit _all_ the consequences
involved in this principle, and assert that the Master has no right to
delegate any portion of his office, but that alone, unaided by coadjutors
or subordinates, he must teach in person every Boy entrusted to him, hear
every lesson, and impose every punishment.  The fact surely is, that the
system of a Public School is essentially peculiar and exceptional; and
that, when that system is fairly established, and its rules publicly
notorious, a Parent uses his own discretion in selecting the School for
his son, and having done so he subjects him to its discipline _as
established_, retaining only the power of withdrawing him when he will.

But, on the other hand, it is no less necessary, for the sake alike of
the Monitors and of the School, that such _checks_ shall be imposed upon
the exercise of this power as shall make its abuse either absolutely
impossible or at least a very rare exception.

With this view, it is one rule of the system, that any Boy has a right of
appeal from the individual Monitor (however high his station) to the
assembled body; who are bound to enter into the merits of the case, and
come to a formal decision upon it.  My experience thus far has led me to
believe that ten young men, acting under such responsibilities, are not
likely either to come to an unjust decision or to execute their sentence
with undue severity.

But if, after all, this hope is in any case disappointed; if (which in
such an event is the most probable supposition) an individual Monitor has
outrun his powers, by not allowing this appeal to the collective body, or
by not waiting for its result, or by executing punishment himself in
undue excitement or passion; then the duty is cast upon me, of
interposing my authority to redress the injustice, by the degradation of
the offending Monitor, or by a measure of punishment yet more severe.

This, happily, is a case of rare, most rare, occurrence.  The general
testimony, alike of Boys and of their Parents, will rather be this—that,
while the School has enjoyed, on the whole, under the Monitorial system,
a very real exemption from the miseries of that tyranny of brute force
which it is designed more especially to preclude, it is perfectly easy,
on the other hand, for any Boy to pass through his Harrow life without
once incurring the risk of Monitorial punishment, while the salutary
dread of it has done much to keep him orderly and tractable, and to save
him in no slight degree from the sight and hearing of evil. {21}

And, while this is so, however unpopular may be the avowal, I know that
my duty is clear: to watch the operation of the system, to guard it from
abuse, to influence and animate (so far as I may be able) those who are
to take part in it—if necessary, to coerce and to punish its abuse; but,
none the less, to adhere to it manfully, and to take my full share of its

It may be found impossible long to withstand such impressions as those to
which your Lordship has adverted.  To persons unacquainted with its
practical operation the Monitorial system must always appear
objectionable; a cumbrous and uncertain substitute for zeal and vigilance
on the part of the Master.  The time may come when public opinion will
imperatively require the introduction of an opposite principle; of which
it shall be the object to confine and preclude the expression of evil by
the unceasing espionage of an increased staff of subordinate Masters.
The experiment may be tried; I hope not at Harrow—certainly not by me.  I
see many difficulties, some evils, in the present system; some
advantages, many plausibilities, in its opposite: and yet I believe the
one to be practically ennobling and elevating—the other essentially
narrowing, enfeebling, and enervating.  I well foresee the results of the
change, come when it may.  I know how pleasing, yet how brief, will be
the lull consequent upon the establishment of a rule of equality and
fraternity; how warm perhaps, for the moment, the congratulations of some
who have trembled for their sons’ safety under the present (so called)
reign of terror; on the other hand, how gradual, yet how sure, the growth
of those meaner and more cowardly vices which a Monitorial system has
coerced where it could not eradicate; and how impossible the return to
that principle of graduated ranks and organized internal subordination,
which, amidst some real and many imaginary defects, has been found by
experience to be inferior to no other system in the formation of the
character of an English Christian Gentleman.

                    I have the honour to be, my Lord,

                                  Your most obedient and faithful Servant,
                                                         CHAS. J. VAUGHAN.

         _December_ 14, 1853.

                                * * * * *



{5}  “In many points he (Dr. Arnold) took the institution (the authority
of the Sixth Form) as he found it, and as he remembered it at Winchester.
The responsibility of checking bad practices without the intervention of
the Master, the occasional settlement of difficult cases of
school-government, the triumph of order over brute force involved in the
maintenance of such an authority, had been more or less produced under
the old system both at Rugby and elsewhere.  But his zeal in its defence,
and his confident reliance upon it as the keystone of his whole
government, were eminently characteristic of himself, and were brought
out the more forcibly from the fact that it was a point on which the
spirit of the age set strongly and increasingly against him, on which
there was a general tendency to yield to the popular outcry, and on which
the clamour, that at one time assailed him, was ready to fasten as a
subject where all parties could concur in their condemnation.  But he was
immoveable: and though, on his first coming, he had felt himself called
upon rather to restrain the authority of the Sixth Form from abuses, than
to guard it from encroachments, yet now that the whole system was
denounced as cruel and absurd, he delighted to stand forth as its
champion; the power, which was most strongly condemned, of personal
chastisement vested in the Præpostors over those who resisted their
authority, he firmly maintained as essential to the general support of
the good order of the place; and there was no obloquy, which he would not
undergo in the protection of a boy, who had by due exercise of this
discipline made himself obnoxious to the school, the parents, or the
public.”—_Stanley’s Life and Correspondence of Dr. Arnold_, Vol.  I. page
105.  See also _Arnold’s Miscellaneous Works_—On the Discipline of Public
Schools: page 371, &c.

{7}  “Corporal punishment, it is said, is degrading.  I well know of what
feeling this is the expression; it originates in that proud notion of
personal independence which is neither reasonable nor Christian, but
essentially barbarian.  It visited Europe in former times with all the
curses of the age of chivalry, and is threatening us now with those of
Jacobinism.”  _Arnold’s Miscellaneous Works_, page 365.

{8}  “It is idle to say that the Masters form, or can form, this
government; it is impossible to have a sufficient number of Masters for
the purpose; for, in order to obtain the advantages of home government,
the boys should be as much divided as they are at their respective homes.
There should be no greater number of schoolfellows living under one
Master than of brothers commonly living under one Parent: nay, the number
should be less, inasmuch as there is wanting that bond of natural
affection which so greatly facilitates domestic government, and gives it
its peculiar virtue.  Even a father with thirty sons, all below the age
of manhood, and above childhood, would find it no easy matter to govern
them effectually—how much less can a Master govern thirty boys, with no
natural bond to attach them either to him or to one another!  He may
indeed superintend their government of one another; he may govern them
through their own governors; but to govern them immediately, and at the
same time effectively, is, I believe, impossible.  And hence, if you have
a large _boarding_-school, you cannot have it adequately governed without
a system of fagging.”—_Dr. Arnold_, as above, page 372.

{21}  “Public Schools are by no means faultless institutions; but, if
there is one vice of which they have to a wonderful extent shaken
themselves free of late, it is that of gross bullying and oppression: and
this great improvement is owing mainly to the happy working of that
institution which makes the ruling body in the School one which owes its
acknowledged authority, not to inches or to sinews, or to boyish
truculence, but to activity of mind, industry, and good conduct.  Ask any
‘little fellow’ from Eton, Harrow, or Rugby, whether he is bullied at
School; he will probably answer, ‘No:’ if ‘Yes,’ ask him by whom; and he
will tell you that it is by some bigger or stronger fellow in his own
part of the School—one who neither is nor ever will be a member of the
‘decemvirate,’ but who annoys him because he is industrious, or won’t do
Latin verses for his more stupid neighbour, or ‘gets above him’ in form,
and who dare not use his brute strength upon him within sight or hearing
of any Sixth-form fellow.  But it ought to be idle to say this after all
that Arnold has done and written, after all that hundreds have seen and
read of,” &c. &c.—_Correspondent of the Spectator_, _December_ 17, 1853.

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