Book of the week: Scouting for boys

19th March 2004 at 00:00
Scouting for Boys
By Robert Baden-Powell, Edited by Elleke Boehmer
Oxford University Press pound;12.99

Scouting is one of the most enduring legacies to the world of the British Empire. Its founding text, Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys, has been reissued in its original 1908 format with erudite and revealing commentary by Elleke Boehmer. At a time when Britain's experience of Empire is beginning at last to receive the sort of attention and interest it deserves, this is a timely reminder of the role played in the imperial story by the Edwardian ideals of manliness, hygiene and the rigours of outdoor life.

Baden-Powell was always a controversial figure. He made his name in the plucky defence of Mafeking against the Boers, defiantly mounting amateur theatricals in the face of the enemy while gravely reporting that Boer artillery had killed a donkey. His system of using the boys of the town as runners was the origin of the later idea for scouting. Yet B-P (the initials conveniently stood also for British pluck and, later, "be prepared") has been severely criticised for leaving the black Africans in Mafeking to starve, and even for instigating an entirely unnecessary siege in the first place.

The experience of fighting in the South African veldt runs right through Scouting for Boys. Boehmer points out that Baden-Powell's African name Impeesa -"the wolf that never sleeps" - is more literally translated as "creature that skulks by night" or simply "spy", and no wonder.

Read more in this week's TES Friday magazine

Sean Lang is reader in history at Anglia Polytechnic University and a former member of Merlins patrol, Tiffin school scout troop, Kingston upon Thames, 1973-1975nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;

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