The "Boys' Own Paper" was first published in 1879 by the Religious Tract Society as an antidote to the extremely popular "Penny Dreadfuls", full of bloodthirsty tales of cannibals, ghosts and demon barbers, which had been filling the minds and imaginations of young boys for at least forty years.
Nobody could have predicted the instant success of the new magazine.
The Religious Tract Society had been in existence for eighty years; its General Committee consisted of a Bishop, a Doctor of Divinity, four clergymen and eight ' Gentlemen,' and held rather prim and proper opinions.
However, the new ' sub-editor,' George Andrew Hutchinson, who was Editor in all but name, was of the opinion that the BOP would only succeed "if it appealed to boys and not their Grandmothers."
He faced, and won, endless battles with the Committee because of his reluctance to include excessive moralising.
The BOP was issued weekly, reissued monthly with an orange cover and advertisements and a beautiful coloured plate( of flags, or uniforms, or cricket teams etc.); at the end of the year all 52 issues were bound and sold as the "Boys' Own Annual."
It was a huge success, and read by girls as well as boys.
There were articles on pets and hobbies and nature study, as well as competitions and jokes and adventure stories, and a correspondence section from which I have selected my favourite answers for this article.
It was not common practice at the time for the readers' letters to be printed, so you may have to use your imagination to guess what questions were asked!
The editor could be very sarcastic to his readers:
Answer 1 "Your card was addressed simply 'Editor of BOYS' OWN PAPER'; it came to hand all right, but should you write again it would be better for the convenience of the postal authorities, if you cannot find room for the name of the street, to at least put 'London' in the address.
Even 'England' would give the postmaster some inkling of the intended destination of your letter."
Answer 2 "We have no space here to give you advice about boxing, but we should very much like you to send the twopence we had to pay owing to your having boxed your letter without stampimg it.
The quickness of the hand doubtless deceived the eye."
The boys of the day obviously had health problems: some cropped up more often than others...
Answer 1 "Only a surgeon can treat bow legs. You cannot do so yourself."
Answer 2 "Fiddlesticks! Your legs cannot be too big. Perhaps you are Scotch!"
Answer 3 "If your legs are getting bent at nineteen years of age, perhaps you had better see a Doctor.
Probably he will change your diet, and give you some such tonic as Parrish's Chemical Food."
Answer 1 "This boy bites his finger-nails, and wants a cure.
Punch would say."Don't."
This advice is good, but not complete enough.
Wear a respirator studded with needles, the points to the front. Next!"
Answer 2 "Acetic acid put on the head would remove hair, and scalp and all, as clean and clear as scalp of Indian.
Who said your brain was softening? It seems to us you were born so."
Answer 3 "You ask, will dying my hair from white to black cause insanity?
Well, we should not advise you to try, judging from this and your other questions, we think there could well be some risk in YOUR case, and we would earnestly recommend you to refrain for the future even from the mild excitement of writing foolish questions to an editor."
Answer 4 "Stammerers are quite unsuited for a seafaring life.
You have no more chance of serving on a merchant-man than on a Queen's ship. Even a penny steamboat would come to grief under a captain who had to take refuge in ' Gug-gug-gug-g-g-go-a-a-a-st-tut-tut-tarn!"
Answer 5 "No wonder you are lanky. A boy of fourteen SMOKING.
What will you be at thirty, IF you live?"
RACISM and SEXISM for boys....
The attitudes towards girls and foreigners in the Boys' Own Paper would horrify modern readers; in fact, I cannot bring myself to put some of the Editor's comments on my website.
Here are a few which may give you some idea of the prejudice involved:
In an article about drawing:
"Contrast this with the work of a weak amateur, and particularly with that of a weak young lady amateur. She has probably received her artistic instruction - ARTISTIC! Save the mark! - at some finishing school - I beg her pardon, college - where drawing and painting instruction ' in all styles ' is professedly taught.
She is given a smooth card of tinted paper; she scratches out a sun or moon with a penknife - makes a few trees and gate-posts - all slanting like written letters, and when term vacation comes, takes the thing home for family admiration.'
This picture is from the Girls' Own Paper, which came later!
"Mr. Hartley is the lawn tennis champion. We never heard of a lady champion."
And from a story:
"They saw Jenny carefully leading Enoch back to the house, and he leaning on her as if she was a good stout staff instead of that worse than useless, helpless thing - a woman."
Now for FOREIGNERS:
"Foreign readers of the BOYS' OWN PAPER are eligible for our competitions, but they must write in English, and take their chance - a poor one - with our British boys."
"We make no difference between Ireland and the rest of the kingdom.
If anything good reaches us from Ireland we appreciate it, but you must excuse us from supposing that nothing but good can come out of your country.
Be patriotic by all means, but such patriotism as yours can but make you ridiculous."
"The difference between an English and a German concertina is great.
The English is usually an instrument of music, the German is an instrument of torture.
The English is the original, the other the imitation."
"E.J.S. wishes to know ' whether tea-leaves are good for rabbits or not.'
Neither good nor harm, in moderation; but tea-leaves are not British, and rabbits are best fed on the vegetables of their own country."
And now, a burst of editorial sarcasm;
"What next, we wonder. 'Is cricket of German origin?' Why, of course! Everything is of German origin: the sun, the moon, the BOYS' OWN PAPER - all German! 'Seek ye the Germ!' "
"The highest brain capacity of the European at present known is 114 cubic inches; the brain capacity of the lowest Hindu is only 46 cubic inches.
There is a difference, therefore, of 68 cubic inches between the highest and the lowest.
But the highest brain capacity of the gorilla yet measured is 34.5 inches.
There is thus less difference between the gorilla and the lowest Hindu than there is between the loest Hindu and the highest European."
It is worth recording that Einstein's brain, measured after death, was found to be smaller than average!
The coloured plates issued with the monthly BOPs, some in this article, were excellent examples of the printers' art, and many of the illustrations were of a high quality.
For me, it was quite a shock to discover that the attitudes of the Britain of the 1900s, reflected in the articles and correspondence of the day, were so narrow and intolerant!