From a children's encyclopedia (first printing, 1914), on a man whom the writer justly calls our most popular President, Teddy Roosevelt:
"While at college he taught a Sunday School class. One day one of his students came to class with a black eye. He owned up that he had got it in a fight and on a Sunday at that. He confessed to his teacher that during the morning service a boy, sitting next to his sister, had pricked her all through the hour, so after church he waited outside and they had a good 'stand-up fight,' and he 'punched him good,' although he got a black eye in exchange. 'You did exactly right,' said his teacher and gave the lad a dollar. To the class it was ideal justice, but when the church authorities heard of it they were scandalized. Young Roosevelt was dismissed and took himself and his ideals to another Sunday School.
"Many years later he gave this bit of advice to his Boy Scout friends: 'What we have a right to expect of the American boy is that he shall turn out to be a good American man. Now, the chances are strong that he won't turn out to be much of a man unless he is a good deal of a boy. He must not be a coward or a weakling, a bully, a shirk, or a prig. He must work hard and play hard. He must be clean-minded and clean-lived, and able to hold his own under all circumstances and against all comers. It is only on these conditions that he will grow into the kind of a man of whom America can be really proud. In life, as in a football game, the principle is: Hit the line hard; don't foul and don't shirk, but hit the line hard.'"
It's impossible to imagine these words written for a children's encyclopedia now. That's not only because of what is said, but also how it is said. The style is plain and direct, with a dash of the colloquial in just the right spots. But it is also subtle and intelligent, leaving many things unsaid -- the writer doesn't need to moralize about the first anecdote, but leaves the reader with a genial wink. I doubt whether one child in ten nowadays would understand that there's meant to be a connection between the two anecdotes, and that what Teddy says to the Boy Scouts codifies in a general rule what the lad at Sunday School exemplified in a particular and upstanding way. And a dollar was a lot of money in those days, too.
I see that even then, though, you could get in a little trouble with the churchly for encouraging an honest fight. It is as if Jesus commanded us not to turn our own cheeks, but to turn everybody else's, so that when your sister is pestered relentlessly all through the Sunday service, you say to her, bravely and nobly, "It's not a big deal, is it? Forgive him," when you can with greater effectiveness and real Christian charity deck the lout and ask her to forgive him afterwards.
The thing about Teddy's speech to the Boy Scouts that fascinates me, though, is not that Teddy would say such a thing (he was forever saying such things), nor that the writer of the encyclopedia article would see fit to report it for the edification of his young readers, especially the boys. After all, in those days there was a veritable cascade of reading material for boys, about heroes and explorers and inventors. It's that the boys would understand what he was talking about -- and would cheer him, too; I doubt they sat in incomprehending or sullen silence as he spoke to them so. When he said "clean-minded," they had at least a vague notion of what that meant. He said that they should not be cowards, shirkers, prigs, bullies, and weaklings, and they knew what he was getting at there, too. In other words, it's remarkable to me not just that there was somebody named Teddy Roosevelt who would say such things to boys, but that there were boys who would accept such words from somebody named Teddy Roosevelt.
None of the priggishness of political correctness here; no weakling celebration of having been a victim or a chump, or perhaps of claiming to have been a victim or a chump; no cowardly running away from the hard facts of life; no excuses to allow the shirker to slide through his youth devoting his mind and heart to nothing. Yes, we now do discourage bullying, certainly -- but now too a black eye is far away from the worst that can happen to your child in school. Not coincidental, that. And we still have the bullies anyway.