A man can fail many times, but he isn't a failure until he begins to blame someone else.

JOHN BURROUGHS (1837-1921)


The Whipping Boy

Historically the debate about corporal punishment was more practical than humanitarian: did thrashing children do any good, or not? The general view, based on a mixture of empirical and scriptural evidence, was that it was good for you. As the Bible says, 'He who spareth the rod hateth his son' (Proverbs 13). In Britain, the beating of school children was widely regarded as a source of national strength; in the early 20th century the perceived effeteness of 'the unflogged French' was attributed in part to the lack of corporal punishment in French schools.
The debate created a problem for some royal households. In Tudor and Stewart times, the sanctity of royalty meant that commoners shouldn't be allowed to beat princes. On the other hand, the orthodoxy suggested that the lack of beating might actually be bad for their educational progress. The answer was 'whipping boys' who would take the physical punishment for the princes.
The idea was for the prince to become close to the whipping boy, so that he wouldn't want him to be beaten (although for a teenage boy there might be a certain hilarity to the idea of getting a friend into undeserved trouble). The post was actively sought-after; a number of former whipping boys used the close relationship they forged with a future king as the basis of an entire career. Charles I’s whipping boy William Murray, a commoner appointed in 1603, became Earl of Dysart, a title which exists to this day. As far as we can make out, the custom was peculiar to Britain (and Scotland: in the 1480s James IV had a proxy named David Lindsey).


He who cannot dance says the floor is uneven.


The scapegoat of Jewish tradition was a goat which was driven into the desert to die on the Day of Atonement, carrying the sins of the people. This was the equivalent of the Christian tradition of Jesus taking on the sins of humanity. These days, the word 'scapegoat' relates to the tendency to assume hostility towards particular societal groups (bankers, immigrants, politicians, Alan, etc) generally.
The practice of scapegoating is very old and very widespread. In Ancient Greece a human pharmakos – often a cripple – was expelled from the community at a time of crisis. He would be beaten and stoned and perhaps killed (the root of the word pharmakoshas various meanings including ‘remedy’, and it's also where ‘pharmacology’ comes from). In Athens a number of outcasts were kept at public expense, simultaneously sacred and cursed, until needed for this purpose. Various seafaring communities in India and Borneo have a tradition of pushing a boat out to sea laden with misfortunes and evil spirits. Many African and Asian communities carried out rituals involving animal or human sacrifice for the same purpose well into the 19th century. An Ancient Egyptian version involved invoking evils onto a sacrificial bull, whose head was then sold to the Greeks.
In parts of Wales there used to be a tradition of a 'sin-eater', a pauper who was paid to eat bread and drink beer over a corpse in order to take on its sins ('For thy peace I pawn my own soul. Amen'). He was paid a fee and got a free meal every time somebody in the district died, but was treated as a pariah when he wasn't working. The last one, Richard Munslow, died in 1906.

When painter Holman Hunt painted a scapegoat, the area was so dangerous he had to paint with a rifle under one arm.


It was a really nice picture, but I happened to be smoking a cigarette. Now I'm being blamed not only for anorexia but for lung cancer.

President James Garfield's killer blamed incompetent doctors for his death, saying, 'I just shot him'.

HUBERT H. HUMPHREY (1911-1978)

To err is human. To blame it on someone else is politics.