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Reviews177 Robert H. MacDonald. Sons ofthe Empire: The Frontier and the Boy Scout Movement, 1890-1918. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1993. viii + 259. $38.00 CDN. The impact of uniformed youth organizations on the pattern of social and cultural behavior in the first half of the twentieth century must have been considerable. In 1967 Mass Observation in England sampled two thousand adults for the Baden-Powell Scout Guild: at least one in three of those interviewed had belonged, however briefly, to the Boy Scouts or Girl Guides. Early in-house narrative accounts of Britain's pioneering Scouts and Brigades were nearly all uncritical and mythologizing. Not until the 1970s did historians draw attention to Robert S.S. BadenPowell and Scouting in relation to pre-1914 ideologies of imperialism, militarism, national efficiency, and social Darwinism. More recently, character training, Christian social idealism, masculine power, and good citizenship have received support as of equal importance in the pluralistic composition of Scouting. MacDonald's book presents a challenging new interpretation, that it was the myth of the frontier that drove Scouting on in its first years, glorifying the idea of the frontiersman and the war scout, helping Baden-Powell to become a cult hero at Mafeking, and giving inspiration and impetus to the Scout movement itself. The author presents a readable cultural history of Scouting from what he defines as its early frontier enthusiasm through to the subsequent evolution of the Boy Scout into the status of a patriotic symbol. MacDonald's aim has been to illustrate the original context of Scouting, using Baden-Powell and his Scouting for Boys (1908) as a point of entry into the Edwardian age and patiently tracking down contemporary texts recommended in the best-selling handbook. This is, of necessity, a study of masculinist ideology; the influence of the frontier on women and the girls' youth organizations is declared a separate study. For the outward symbols of the frontiersman, a potent symbol of masculine fantasy, dramatized through the Boy Scout movement the call to a revitalized manhood. The frontiersman as stereotypical adventurer supplied, according to the author, an alternative ethic for a decadent British society. The myth of the imperial frontier is, therefore, interpreted as providing both the context and the material for the construction of Scouting. Ironically, the public school code and Smilesian self-help came more readily to Baden-Powell himself than the frontier tradition of individualism and comradeship. The book opens by examining the pre-1914 crisis in masculinity, of fears for national efficiency, that the organizers of youth movements like Baden-Powell sought to answer by preventing the physical and 178Victorian Review moral deterioration of die British race during a period of fierce rivalry widi Germany. The heroic mydi of die frontiersman in popular culture, from Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking saga to the Canadian Mounted Police to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, found as its final representative Rudyard Kipling's Lost Legion of pioneers in die outposts of die British Empire. Thus Frederick R. Burnham, an American frontier scout translated to Matabeleland, came to symbolize imperial scouting's golden age, like Baden-Powell himself. Burnham was one of three men to escape from Major Wilson's last stand at die Shangani River in 1893, die British national anthem being sung before die troop were slaughtered by die Ndebele. The escape 'afterwards direw a shadow of cowardice' (67) over the American scout's reputation because he had not died with his comrades. The Chief Scout's own legend was also carefully cultivated in South Africa: substituting 'die Wolf that Never Sleeps' for die less dian elegant native nickname of 'die hyena that creeps about at night' (84). There are no wolves in Africa. Baden-Powell's heroic image ultimately began to take shape after die siege of Mafeking, his iconography as a Boer War hero dramatizing die ideology of the British Empire. Next came die selling of die imperial hero by Arthur Pearson, publisher of The Scout, for obvious commercial reasons. While Scout troops sprang up spontaneously, Baden-Powell also stumped the country giving promotional lectures in draughty Y.M.C.A. halls to coincide widi Pearson's publication of die fortnighdy...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 177-179
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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