GEORGE AUBURY LYWARD (GAL) 1894 to 1973 - THE MAN AND HIS LEGACY
"Ideals are like the stars which guide the mariner"
In order to understand this tale properly, I now need to tell you in some detail about Finchden. The first thing that needs to be understood is that like all elitist establishments, Finchden could only help those who were able to take on board its ethos. In fact it emerged over time that only those boys with well above average intelligence were able to have any hope of benefiting from being at Finchden. Yet the life's work of this unusual man has universal and wide ranging implications for all who have dedicated themselves to the education and care of young people.
However one tries to interpret George Lyward’s legacy, to try and study it from the point of view of an academic would be to bark entirely up the wrong tree. Why? - Because ultimately, his great gift was that of a charismatic healer and his method, both actual and metaphorical was the “laying on of hands”.
Laying On Of Hands?
I remember one incident very early on in my stay at Finchden which particularly stands out in my memory. It epitomises the risks this extraordinary man was willing to take and the faith he had in his own creativity.
It was in the middle of the night. I was in a room (dormitory) which I shared with five others. One of these boys, David, who was then about fourteen, the same age as me, was having a severe asthma attack. He was fairly prone to them but this time it looked serious – even life threatening. Accordingly, one of us went to wake a member of staff who immediately showed similar concerns. After a little bit of a confab, it was decided to wake up Mr Lyward – a very unusual thing to do in the middle of the night.
GAL arrived on the scene in his dressing gown. This frail man in his mid sixties, sat David up in bed, slapped him just hard enough, and then held him at arm’s length by the shoulders and stared him out. Within a few minutes, David’s asthma subsided and as far as I know he has never had asthma since.
I am not implying any kind of supernatural event here – this was no miracle. What I am saying is this: GAL was so sure of his ground – so sure that David’s asthma was psychosomatic and so confident within in himself to be able to break David’s link with it that he risked taking the action he took. If the asthma attack had had a purely physiological cause, David might have died.
Our Various Lives
One way to judge what GAL left to the world, would be to look at the lives of all of us who went there - what we have done since and how our various lives have panned out. The trouble with this approach is that the experiences and memories of Finchden we each of us carry within us were tailor-made for the people we were, and have since become. That was the genius of the man.
Furthermore, these lives now largely led, have been extraordinarily different – some have been tragic and others blissful. Some are settled whilst others are troubled. Some have been creative and successful whilst others have been abject failures. Then there are also those of us who have taken to heart spiritual message embedded within the Finchden experience and lived our lives by it.
Some boys apparently made no progress and received no benefit at all from being at Finchden, even when their presence in the community had profound consequences for others. Some boys benefitted from being at Finchden without ever having gained an insight into what had happened to them whilst they were there. In many ways that was probably the most perfect outcome from GAL’s point of view. In fact, some of us had to wait many years for the Finchden to work its magic.
George Lyward had an elemental, sometimes even devastating effect on the psyches of those of us who were creative with a capital “C”. Seeds sown back in our Finchden days could abruptly take root in the present and bloom without warning. In my case, the consequential fruits took the form of a “creative overload” resulting in a special kind of Epiphany. - Always ecstatic, sometimes painful and almost always liberating.
A Better Way?
But perhaps a better way to explain George Lyward’s legacy would be to think of it as being more like that of a symphony by a great composer with its many contrasting yet complimentary themes. His methods were almost entirely intuitive and inspirational. Words like psychiatry and therapy were not part of his vocabulary except in a pejorative sense when talking about the failures of the professionals and institutions which lived by these terms and with whose flotsam and jetsam he was confronted.
He was a one off - a maverick – a wolf rather than a shepherd. He was also one of the great creative thinkers of the early twentieth century and there has never been a time more than now, in our so-called broken society, when we need to hear the music of his message loud and clear.
Although George Lyward adopted an entirely secular approach to his work, he was nevertheless a deeply spiritual, even religious man. But a man who was plagued by spiritual doubts all of his life - apparently right up until his last breath. A close friend of mine told me the following: that an Anglican bishop, a friend of GAL, said after visiting him just hours before his death that he was “still raging against an angry God”.
An Educated Man
Prior to the circumstances in GAL’s life which ultimately gave rise to Finchden, he had been a young peripatetic school teacher. Although well educated in the arts, he had no qualifications in psychology or as an educationalist. Yet the irony of it is that he came to be deeply respected by many enlightened professionals in these fields.
Instead, his considerable intellect focused on the mystery of existence and the true meaning of love, (The Glue of the Cosmos, he once said to me). His main influences had been The Bloomsbury Set – The philosopher Lawrence Hyde and the new metaphysics concerning the interpretations associated with quantum mechanics which sprang up in the aftermath of WW1.
Here was a man steeped in the ritual of the church, who had sung in a church choir almost everyday as a small boy and right on into adult hood – a man steeped in the arts – who played the piano – who wrote plays – had penetrating views on Jung, Krishnamurti and Teilhard de Chardin. A man who had prepared for ordination into the Anglican Church and rejected it; who had “preached” in Westminster Abbey and whose friends were mostly people with similar interests.
Like all great men of genius, he also had great shortcomings. He was mercurial and often unpredictable. He fell hopelessly in love with his female research assistant in later life. On his own admission, he neglected his son. He openly had favourites – acted on impulse, often to great creative effect. Inevitably he was an extremely manipulative man who broke all rules and conventions whenever it suited him. (Just like Beethoven)
Either way, he was the most generous man I ever knew. Over time I came to realise that this generosity was for him, an act of faith. He believed that generosity was the most enlightened form of self interest and that in some almost mystical sense; you could gain for yourself everything you would ever need as well as most of what you wanted - by being unconditionally generous!