Policemen And Boys

In many ways, the Victorian age was a very different one from our own. But, in other ways, it was very like ours.

Bullying was as big a problem then, as it is today, and the newspapers the world over were filled with stories about how to remedy the attention of bullies.

The following story appeared in The Toronto Saturday Night on Saturday the 5th of August 1899:-


A boy walking along Adelaide Street on Saturday last, accompanied by his younger brother, considered himself insulted by a remark thrown at him by a newsboy, and fisticuffs were resorted to.

The newspaper that reported the occurrence stated that a policeman, seeing the disturbance, had no alternative but to arrest the boys, and goes on to express regret that he could not have passed the thing over and sent the boys home without subjecting them to the disgrace of a public arrest.


Whatever the instructions received by a policeman may be. it is not at all likely that punishment would be inflicted upon him for using discretion in such a case as this.

If he had seized the two boys, ended the little bout, and sent them off in different directions, he would have restored peace, and it is not very clear what prevented him from doing this – unless we attribute it to his own inclinations, for policemen do that very thing every day in the year in Toronto.

I should not wonder a bit if policemen who use horse-sense in interpreting their instructions get along quite as well with the Chief as those who follow orders to the letter, and, with the public, they get along a great deal better.


Some policemen are teased and badgered by boys from the time they appear on their beats until they go off again, while others can walk the same beats without having the least trouble.

Boys seem to have a sixth-sense that enables them to recognize on sight the policeman who is a boy-snatcher, and, as he walks along, he is preceded by derisive yells and the sounds of feet scampering around corners and up alleys.

It grows to the proportions of a daily game – he the hound and they the frolicsome foxes.

This sport is demoralizing to all concerned in it, for it creates the impression that the policeman is the natural enemy of the boy, and the latter will outwit his enemy, no matter how cunningly the policeman may hide in doorways and sneak up alleyways – he will outwit him, out sneak him, out-lie him, out-dodge him when it comes to a grapple, and win that applause from his fellows which is the breath of a boy’s life.

A blindfoled police officer surrounded by criminals.
The Police Teased.


It is, indeed, surprising that boys who grow up and become policemen and magistrates and aldermen and schoolteachers, or masters of boys in any way, forget so completely what they were in their own younger days.

If boys who fight are not to be separated and set about their business but are to undergo the disgrace of arrest, whose sons are likely to escape the police court?


Do you remember the boy at school who would never fight, but would submit to any insult or indignity, who toadied to the bully that cuffed him and gave up his apples or candies to the first boy that demanded them?

Do you remember the day when you had to make the choice between being such another as he, and disobeying parental instructions by standing up to face another boy who had been crowding you for some time?

Men forget the hundred compelling causes that make a boy fight sooner or later, or lie down to be walked on by all – even his chums hurt him with expressions of regard that have the sting of pity.


The human eye loses its subtlety as it attains full development, for no man can put into his glance such derision, defiance, contempt and effrontery as he did when in boyhood he looked you over from head to foot and intimated without words how utterly ridiculous and despicable he considered you to be.

The glance to which I refer will be recognized by all men who have not entirely forgotten their boyhood, and most will agree that they found it sufficient provocation to battle. It is a glance fraught with terrible significance, and no boy can peaceably submit to it without the loss of self-respect and without being always thereafter crowded to the wall, tripped up when he runs, shunted into the mud, and subjected to all contumely.

If men could use that glance the streets would slop with gore.


When at last you had put up with all you could endure and resolved to fight, even if your mother and father turned you friendless and penniless from the door, you saw your chums rally around you with delight and perhaps a little surprise; you saw, too, far back in the eye of the bully, hidden from all but you, something that made a battle hymn sing within you, and at him you went.

The contest went against you at first, but as you were fighting for all that was worth living for, while your adversary fought for nothing and had not expected to be put to it at all, your spirit conquered his and you quit a victor.

Eager hands put on your coat and cap, voices spoke up saying it was not your fault – that you tried to avoid trouble but he would have it and got only what he deserved.

Your whole feeling was that you had won a right to live.


It was late when you ventured home, and the news bad preceded you.

While a stern father interrogated you and a shocked mother made exclamations, you began to suspect, and presently knew for a certainty, that they were secretly not half as displeased as they would have you think, and even if your father caned you he laid the strokes on with more flourish than force, which was not characteristic of him.


Thereafter, you were free from exasperations that had made your school life intolerable; you were treated with consideration in the play-ground: businesslike challenges to fight came to you, of course, but you could now refuse these if you wished, without being accused of fear – and that is a word which makes boys weep and men laugh.

Fighting should not be encouraged among boys: it should be very much discouraged, indeed, but it can never be stopped on this earth until human nature is revolutionised.

When this change comes, it will take the bully in its gentle influence and recreate him, but, until he ceases to aggress, there will, thanks to provident Nature, always be spirit enough in somebody to use on him the only kind of persuasion that he understands.


Policemen cannot protect one boy from another who sets in to dog him – no grown-up man has sensibilities fine enough to understand the persecutions that the victim undergoes – and when the latter turns at the last ditch to defend himself he obeys a law and follows an established practice older than any statute of the province or by-law of the city.

It is the spirit of the boy that turns which preserves order in the juvenile world, as the policeman maintains it among adults, and the hands of the boy are fuller than those of the policeman.