By Henry Drummond
I am very much pleased to find the Boys' Brigade receiving University recognition. I am not aware that it has had this honor before in its history.
The idea of the Brigade is this. It is a new movement for turning out boys, instead of savages. The average boy, as you know, is a pure animal. He is not evolved; and, unless he is taken in hand by somebody who cares for him and who understands him, he will be very apt to make a mess of his life--not to speak of the lives of other people. We endeavor to get hold of this animal. You do not have the article here, and do not quite understand the boy I mean. The large cities of the old world are infested by hundreds and thousands of these ragamuffins, as we call them--young roughs who have nobody to look after them. The Sunday-school cannot handle these boys. The old method was for somebody to form them into a class and try to get even attention from them. Half the time was spent in securing order.
The new method is simply this: You get a dozen boys together, and, instead of forming them into a class, you get them into some little hall and put upon every boy's head a little military cap that costs in our country something like twenty cents, and you put around his waist a belt that costs about the same sum, and you call him a soldier. You tell him, "Now, Private Hopkins, stand up. Hold up your head. Put your feet together." And you can order that boy about till he is black in the face, just because he has a cap on his head and a belt around his waist. The week before you could do nothing with him. If he likes it, you are coming next Thursday night. He is not doing any favor by coming. You are doing him a favor; and if he does not turn up at eight o 'clock, to the second, the door will be locked. If his hair is not brushed and his face washed, he cannot enter. Military discipline is established from the first moment. You give the boys three-fourths of an hour's drill again, and in a short time you have introduced quite a number of virtues into that boy's character. You have taught him instant obedience. If he is not obedient, you put him into the guard house, or tell him he will be drummed out of the regiment; and he will never again disobey. If he is punctual and does his drill thoroughly, tell him that at the end of the year he will get a stripe. He will get a cent's worth of braid. You have his obedience, punctuality, intelligence and attention for a year for one cent. Then you have taught him courtesy. He salutes you and feels a head taller. Everything is done as if you were a real captain and he a real private. He calls you "Captain." Each boy has a rifle that costs a dollar; but there is no firing. There is a bayonet drill without a bayonet. The first year they have military drill, and the second year bayonet exercises--an absolute copy of the army drill. The Brigade inculcates a martial, but not a warlike, spirit. The only inducement to bring the boys together at first is the drill. You might think it is a very poor one; but it is about the strongest inducement you could offer.
That is the outward machinery; but it is a mere take-in. The boy doesn't know it. The real object of the Brigade is to win that boy for Christianity--to put it quite plainly. It does not make the slightest secret of its aims.
On all its literature is: "The object of the Brigade shall be the advancement of Christ's Kingdom among boys, and the promotion of habits of reverence, discipline, self-respect, and all that tends toward a true Christian manhood."
After you have your boy and are sure of him, every drill is opened with a couple of minutes of prayer. The boys stand in line at "attention," with caps off, while a sort of blessing is asked. Then drill for three-fourths of an hour. After that the Captain gives them a little talk about anything--business prosperity, courtesy, courage, temptation, or anything. After that, all repeat the Lord's Prayer and dismiss. Then on Sunday almost all the companies have Bible class, with the same punctuality, interest and attention as during the week day. The boy treats his Captain as before. They sit like statues during the Bible lesson; and, if they are not there to the minute, they are shut out. Having influence over them, the Captain maintains it, and how much more apt the boys will be to pick up what he says. The thorough-going Captain will of course do a great deal more than in the Bible class; and very few stop at that. Some men get up football clubs and get fields, give up their own Saturday afternoons --which are a great holiday with us--to act as umpire for the boys' matches. Our captains are just one remove from the boys whom they teach, so that the boys are not at all afraid of them. The presence of the captain on the athletic field means, in the first place, that there will be no foul language and no foul play. And he, of course, thus increases his influence over them tenfold. Then in many cases they start a boys' club where they have a room open every night, where they have debates, newspapers and books. Then the captain gets to know the boys personally. He has them up to tea now and then, and gets to know their people.
In addition to that general work, there are one or two additions which are thrown in by special companies according to their own inclination. A great many have started military bands. Ambulance classes are becoming exceedingly popular. After drilling two or three winters the work gets flat; so they invent new things. Boys cannot join this Brigade until they are twelve years of age, and cannot clear out until they are seventeen. The boys hate to clear out; and the fact that they will have to leave induces them to make better use of their time. Of course they are not turned adrift. The captain sees that they get into good hands. Then every year, in a city of the size of Boston, for instance, all the boys belonging to the Brigade would be gathered together for a church service. If too many for one church, two would be secured, and the boys would assemble and march to the service and get a boys' sermon. At Christmas, every boy in the Brigade gets from his officer a little two-cent book. And there are a number of other little things that link the captain and the boys together and the different companies together.
This organization was started within a mile of where I live in Glasgow in 1883, by a Mr. Smith, who was a soldier, and who was not making much of a Sunday-school class he taught, and who conceived the idea of giving them military discipline. In our country we have grown to such an extent that already there are, I think, 22,000 boys belonging to the Brigade, and I think between 1,100 and 1,200 officers--captains and lieutenants. This Brigade has been worth starting for the sake of the officers alone.
Perhaps one thousand of these officers would have belonged to the unemployed rich and educated, if they had not struck this particular line of work. There are multitudes of young men who do not go to prayer meeting or see their way to teach in Sunday-school. Many are extremely fastidious as to what particular work they will do, and many are not cut out for these recognized fields. But here is a work that does not make any particular strain on any part of his nature. He simply gives himself and his muscular Christianity. So we think this has been worth pushing for the sake of the officers alone. We know a great many men have been made for life simply by a year or two of contact with these boys. If they develop the boys, the boys develop them.
Now, you have this movement started in America. I find the most crass ignorance on this subject here; but in some respects you are ahead of us. One of the first things you do with the boys is to start a newspaper. The conflagration has broken out in a somewhat remarkable way in California, and they must have a great many companies. As usual, when you take up anything in this country from anywhere else, you improve upon it or carry it to development in other directions.
Now, you do some things here we do not do, and of which I am not perfectly sure we would wholly approve. They strike us as being slightly against some of the fundamental principles for which we work. For instance, I notice that the boys here have a uniform, and that the officers have a uniform. We can make a boy for about fifty cents, not including the brass in his face; but here in America the uniform costs as follows
(See Boys' Brigade Manual, U. S. of A.)
Fatigue blouses (I suppose they have paid duty on these blouses) $3.35
Fatigue caps, first quality 0.75
Plain bugles 0.25
Signal service 1.20
U. S. Army bunting flags 9.50
Silk cord for same 3.50
Bugler's stripes for pants 1.50
Extra fine officers' fatigue blouses 6.75
Pants with stripes 6.50
U. S. Army officers' overcoats with hoods $27 to 32.00
Well, you see that means business at any rate. But what we dislike about it is that it emphasizes the military side too much. We have refused to admit any company into the Brigade that wears a uniform. There are one or two in the country, but we don't have them. We don't want the boys to feel soldiers beyond the point that we need them to feel soldiers. We don't want them to thirst for blood and come over here and fight you or anybody else. We simply want to get them disciplined. I suppose there must be in this country quite a number of companies equipped at very considerable expense. These boys cannot afford to buy these uniforms for themselves, and they are very frequently bought by subscription.
This organization in America is almost always organized within the church. In the old country every organization must be associated, not necessarily with the church, but with some stable body that will be back of it and be a sponsor for it. It is usually the church--sometimes the Y. M. C. A. In this country the initiatory is frequently taken by the minister. I find the ministers here preserve the dew of their youth and the freshness of their manhood, and they are not at all the starchy kind of people one meets in some other countries. It is not because they are not fit for this, but the ministers must not have all the plums. They have enough to do. Here and there we have some keen ministers at this work, but, as a rule, we try to keep it among the laity.
In this country you make the boys promise that as long as they are members of the Boys' Brigade they will not use liquor and tobacco, will obey the rules and set an example of good conduct. The question is whether pledges are right fair to a boy at all. I very much question whether it is wise to put a strong pledge like that upon anybody. We exact no pledge whatever. It seems to me to be the difference between compulsory chapel attendance and optional, as it is here, to make a boy not smoke by compulsion. If he can be made moral by the influences that are brought to bear upon him, it is more apt to last.
Now I suppose I was asked to present this subject to you in behalf of enlisting one or two of you in the service. I do not know myself of any bit of work to which I would rather give what spare time I have than this. The boy is open to receive impressions in a way that is marked. It is possible to get hold of him. There are thousands of these boys who have been turned outside in. I have watched them. I remember the annual inspection of one of the first companies. When the prizes were given, it was my duty to pin the medals on the two leading boys' breasts. When the first boy came up, there was scarcely a place on his coat strong enough to bear the pin. His coat was one mass of patches that could scarcely hold together. He was clean. The next year I noticed he had on a much better coat, and I am sure he is now on his way to turn out to be a good man. I do not know anything that would pay any of you better than this. It lies near a young man's nature to take up such work. I do not think there is anything easier than to win a boy. You get him wound about you, and he lives through your spectacles and tries to please you. Adapt it any way you please; but I should like very much if after to-night some of you would write for some of this literature and take the trouble to spread it.
We gave the boys books each Christmas. Two years ago I wrote a book and offered fifty-three prizes. The boys competing were to write a letter addressed to "My Dear Baxter," and answer the question, "What are a Boy's Temptations, and How is He to Meet Them?" Well, I got about 450 dissections of the boys in answer to that offer. One of the thirty prizes went to California. I never saw such a revelation of the interior of a boy as I saw after reading those letters. Every boy, almost, out of the lot, pleaded guilty to four sins. Every boy, apparently, is a liar and a thief. These were the first two things that they all confessed. The third confession was that they all swore; and the fourth great temptation or sin to a boy was smoking--which is not a sin at all. It showed me that the boys were very badly taught, and that they have no definite conception of sin.
Every one of these Brigades, almost without an exception, is connected with the church. The Bible class is held in the church; and the drill is usually there, too. It is thoroughly under the wing of the church. The movement is so religious that there is never any religious opposition to it, and it is entirely undenominational.
Delivered to students of Harvard University, in April, 1893.