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Monday, 16 January 2012

THE WHIP AND THE ROD: An Account of Corporal Punishment among all Nations and for all Purposes

by R.G. Van Yelyr

Gerald G. Swan, London, 1941 (240pp, 8 b/w plates) Reprinted 1957

This book is a successor to Ryley Scott's definitive study of the subject, and indeed makes numerous respectful references to it throughout. (Yelyr, surely a made-up name, spells Ryley backwards -- is this a coincidence?) Many of Ryley Scott's anecdotes are reproduced in Van Yelyr's text, although there are a few novel illustrations to his discussion, mainly drawn from the author's experience in the United States.
The topics covered in this book are as expected: the history of flagellation from early times, among tribes of savages, biblical references, medieval practices (including the inevitable Flagellants), and up into the modern era.
The latter history is covered in the subtopics of corporal punishment (of the flagellation variety) of slaves, servants, criminals, prostitutes, soldiers and sailors, women and children in the home, schoolchildren, and generally of anyone who had the bad luck of being in a subordinate position to a dominant - and sadistic - superior.
Van Yelyr discusses in some detail the medical and psychological effects of CP, clearly indicating his displeasure at its application. After reading this dismal account of human cruelty across the ages, it may seem tempting to agree with his proposal for the complete banning of CP in the home, schools, and prisons. But a careful reading of the examples and anecdotes in this book suggests that the evil of CP lies not in its very existence, but in its mode of application. We are all truly appalled to read of the young black slave being literally whipped to death by her master. But is this representative of CP as it might be applied in a moderate and reasonable manner in the modern settings of home, school, and prison? I think not!
Both Ryley Scott and Van Yelyr seem to have been inspired to write their books after reading an influential UK government report on judicial CP, the Report of the Departmental Committee on Corporal Punishment ("the Cadogan Report"), issued in 1938. This recommended abolishing the birching of teenage boy offenders and most (but not all) flogging of adult male offenders. The latter would have been restricted to the most serious of prison disciplinary breaches.
The advent of World War II delayed the implementation of these recommendations until 1948, when all judicial and most prison discipline CP came to an end in the UK (it had long been abolished for women, in 1820, by the Whipping of Female Offenders Abolition Act).
The trend, at least in western nations, is for the gradual disappearance of the flagellation type of CP. Even in the more supposedly enlightened and liberal western societies, other non-flagellation forms of CP are widely practised in the other "unseen society" of prisons, but this isn't the proper forum for a discussion of such inhumane behavior. It has largely been through the efforts and influence of reformers and abolitionists such as Ryley Scott and Van Yelyr, in their books decrying the inhumanity of man toward man, that society is gradually renouncing the official application of the whip and the rod to its miscreants.

Review by Robert ©www.corpun.com


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