“Give to the morn of life its natural blessedness.” Wordsworth.
Why is it that new boys are almost invariably ill-treated? I have often fancied that there must be in boyhood a pseudo-instinctive cruelty, a sort of “wild trick of the ancestral savage,” which, no amount of civilization can entirely repress. Certain it is, that to most boys the first term is a trying ordeal. They are being tested and weighed. Their place in the general estimation is not yet fixed, and the slightest circumstances are seized upon to settle the category under which the boy is to be classed. A few apparently trivial accidents of his first few weeks at school often decide his position in the general regard for the remainder of his boyhood. And yet these are not accidents; they are the slight indications which give an unerring proof of the general tendencies of his character and training. Hence much of the apparent cruelty with which new boys are treated is not exactly intentional. At first, of course, as they can have no friends worth speaking of, there are always plenty of coarse and brutal minds that take a pleasure in their torment, particularly if they at once recognise any innate superiority to themselves. Of this class was Barker. He hated Eric at first sight, simply because his feeble mind could only realise one idea about him, and that was the new boy’s striking contrast with his own imperfections. Hence he left no means untried to vent on Eric his low and mean jealousy. He showed undisguised pleasure when he fell in form, and signs of disgust when he rose; he fomented every little source of disapproval or quarrelling which happened to arise against him; he never looked at him without a frown or a sneer; he waited for him to kick and annoy him as he came out of, or went into, the school-room. In fact, he did his very best to make the boy’s life miserable, and the occupation of hating him seemed in some measure to fill up the vacuity of an ill-conditioned and degraded mind.
Hatred is a most mysterious and painful phenomenon to the unhappy person who is the object of it, and more especially if he have incurred it by no one assignable reason. To Eric it was peculiarly painful; he was utterly unprepared for it. In his bright joyous life at Fairholm, in the little he saw of the boys at the Latin school, he had met with nothing but kindness and caresses, and the generous nobleness of his character had seemed to claim them as a natural element. “And now, why,” he asked impatiently, “should this bull-dog sort of fellow have set his whole aim to annoy, vex, and hurt me?” Incapable himself of so mean a spirit of jealousy at superior excellence, he could not make it out; but such, was the fact, and the very mysteriousness of it made it more intolerable to bear.