The child of nature and the home child.
For scholars of childhood studies, the conviction that children belong out of doors and in nature marks these contemporary discourses as continuous with a long tradition of representations of desirable childhoods in societies derived from western European models. The linkage of the bucolic life with carefree youth was a conventional topos in the pastoral idyll of classical literary tradition, of course (see Abrams and Harpham 210-11), but it was Enlightenment pedagogues such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau who codified the virtues of outdoor life for the hearty development of the child. For example, in Some Thoughts Concerning Education, a set of letters to friends published in 1 693, Locke spends the first thirty sections detailing the methods by which these parents can encourage the physical health and resilience of their son, but encapsulates all of his advice by recommending that they look to the way in which "honest Farmers and substantial Yeomen" raise their children out of doors as a general guide to best practice (116). In the first book of Emile, published in 1 762, Rousseau similarly reminds his readers that "[e]xperience shows that there are more deaths among children delicately reared than among others," and recommends, as a result, that parents "[h]arden [children's] bodies to the changes of seasons, climates, and elements, as well as to hunger, thirst, and fatigue" in order to ensure their robust good health (13).
Influential as these educational writers were, it is the Romantic poets who limned the child in nature in the most memorable terms. Take, for example, the lines in which William Blake pictures the young chimney sweeps of Fondon returned to the natural condition of children: "Then down a green plain leaping laughing they run/And wash in a river and shine in the Sun." The child imagined by the Romantics, according to Judith Plotz, was isolated and solitary, ungendered, irrepressible, imaginative and creative, close to nature, credulous, deep, possessed of erotic and emotional authority, and innately pious, among other characteristics. Most significantly, she argues, this idealized child was "immune to the pressures of history" and "conceived as existing free of the social net" (24). In cultural studies, the process of obscuring the historical construction of social, political, or cultural identities is sometimes referred to as naturalization (see Childers and Hentzi 202). This metaphor is curiously literalized in the construction of post-Enlightenment and Romantic ideas of childhood: the natural child in these discourses is the child of and in nature. That the figure of the natural child in nature continues to work in contemporary culture is obvious in the recent articles about the urgent need for adults to "make more space" for "wild time" in children's lives (Burns).
The power of such figures resides not only in their persistence in culture but also in the ways in which they become culturally prescriptive, shaping subjects and determining relations among them. A particularly strong example of the material force of the metaphor of the child of nature is the story of the emigration of tens of thousands of indigent British young people to the colonies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Historian Roy Parker observes that there are examples of the shipment of "unwanted pauper children" out of Britain from the beginning of the seventeenth century (3). At that time, poor British children were sometimes sent to the American colonies and to the West Indies as cheap labour, a practice that stopped in the eighteenth century, as the slave trade in African men, women, and children met the colonizers' demands for servants and plantation workers. From the end of the eighteenth century until the transportation of children was abolished in the middle of the nineteenth century, children convicted of crimes, like adults, were transported to the territories that would become Australia (Parker 3). The large-scale shipment of poor children from Britain to the colonies, however, did not occur until the late 1860s when a variety of overlapping factors--including legal restrictions on the scope of children's labour, cholera epidemics that made orphans of many children, and an economic crisis--combined to swell the ranks of impoverished and unaffiliated young people on the streets of such major cities as London (Parr 29; Parker 6). Some reformers recognized that the destitution among young people was an indictment of prevailing social and economic conditions, that the society and not the children needed reform. But the evangelical workers and philanthropists who witnessed the desperation and despair in the urban cores of the cities of Britain responded by developing child rescue schemes that were supported by a rhetoric of child saving, a rhetoric that made the mass uprooting of poor children of Britain and their transplantation to the colonies appear to be a reasonable solution to the "crisis in the social control of children of the under-classes" (Parker 1 6). Historians estimate that more than one hundred thousand children were sent out of Britain between the late 1860s and the First World War, eighty thousand of them to Canada through more than a dozen child rescue schemes. (1) Most of the children were under the age of fourteen at the time of emigration.
Underwriting the romance of the rescue of "the children of the poor," according to Hugh Cunningham (8), was the Romantic notion of childhood that had become dominant in Victorian culture (3). The extent to which the child rescuers "believed that the children amongst whom they worked could, or should, aspire to the idealized childhood" depicted both in the children's literature of the day and in their own promotional material is unclear, according to Shurlee Swain, but there is no doubt that the "emotive images of a 'childhood lost'" that were ubiquitous at the time "were highly effective in bringing supporters and resources to the cause" (199). Cases in point are the rescue narratives authored by Thomas Barnardo, the charismatic founder of a series of London institutions for vagrant, abandoned, indigent, relinquished, and foundling children and the enthusiastic head of a child emigration scheme that transported thirty thousand young people to Canada, beginning in 1882. In one of these small books, My First Arab; or, How I Began My Life Work, published in 1890, Barnardo tells the purportedly true story of his first meeting with ten-year-old James Jervish, who has lived and slept on the streets of London since the age of five. It is an encounter Barnardo credits with changing "the whole purpose, character, and motif" of his life (4). Bound into the book is a "Note to the Reader" that provides directions for donations to Barnardo's institutions to ensure "the continuance of their good work among HOMELESS CHILDREN" and a list of what various levels of gifts will allow the Barnardo institutions to accomplish: for example, "16 [pounds sterling] will support one healthy child for a whole year in any of our LONDON HOMES" (n. pag.). The obvious implication, that author and publisher expected the narrative to be an effective fundraising tool, is borne out by historical records. Part of the effectiveness of Jim's story is its circular, Romantic structure of loss and return: (2) the child who has lost his childhood will be returned to it. Interestingly, however, childhood is never shown in its achieved form at all in the narrative, since Jim is already a lost child when the narrator encounters him and his restoration is only a promise at the end of the book. The content of the condition of childhood is, apparently, so clear and compelling that it needs no explication. Indeed, it may be in part the absence of explication that prompts readers to supply the means to fill the gap between what is and what should be.
Barnardo describes the boy repeatedly in terms of lack: Jim is "hungry," "utterly homeless," "friendless" (2), "less qualified" because of his tender age "to resist the pressure of cold, hunger, nakedness, friendlessness, and fierce temptation" (3), "small, spare, stunted" (8), "without either shirt, shoes, or stockings" (8), "ill-prepared" to "resist the inclement weather" (10), fatherless, motherless (14), and "thirsting for knowledge" of God (19). Even in the negative, such descriptions invoke the vulnerable, trusting, naturally pious child who is worthy of adult protection and nurture. Moreover, in Barnardo's narrative, the narrator catches glimpses of that open, expressive, grateful, lighthearted boy as soon as he is warmed with coffee before a cheerful fire in the narrator's home.
Swain summarizes the double narrative of ideal childhood and childhood lost that informs the rhetoric of the child rescuers through a compilation of verbal representations made by them: (3)
Innocent, pure, helpless, and unprotected, these were children who had "never tasted joys of childhood." "Childhood," Barnardo argued, was designed to be "the divinest flower in God's garden," but the children amongst whom child rescuers worked "had no heaven-surrounded infancy." "Fair childhood" had been "blighted on life's bleak shore." They had been "defrauded" or "robbed" by the "enemies of childhood," who substituted "sorrows" and "wrongs" for the "joys" which a "real childhood" entailed. Rather than a life of freedom and innocence the street child was little more than "a valuable slave ... all the joy and health of his childhood ... being sold." (201; ellipses in original)
A principal opposition on which the double narrative is organized is that of the rural and the urban, an opposition that appears not only in the accounts of the child rescuers but also is distributed across many popular Victorian discourses (Cunningham 146-47). City spaces are typically dirty, dark, dank, "foetid" (to use a common descriptor in the child rescue discourses), and places of contagion; the countryside is conceptualized as a healthy, sunlit, bright, and open space, as "God's garden." Urban space is both crowded and friendless: the children on the street are often metaphorized as "swarms" of insects or vermin. Rural space, in contrast, is the site of wholesome family life as well as affording room for independence and autonomy. The city houses the unemployed, the pickpockets, and the thieves, while the honest and hard-working farmer and his family stand as metonyms of the virtues of the country. The urban core is both a "heathen" and a racialized space, as foreign to most British men and women as the jungles of "darkest Africa," in the view of the social reformers, and the homeless children who "teem" through its spaces are equally foreign, "street Arabs" in the phrase coined by Member of Parliament Lord Shaftesbury (Reynolds 258; Plotz 34). The countryside, on the other hand, is a green and pleasant Christian land that nurtures native sons and daughters of the soil. Historian Joy Parr strips the affect from these accounts in her summary, but concludes, nevertheless, that "[djescriptions of nineteenth-century rural life are ... imbued with agricultural idealism, portraits of urban life ... emphatic about the squalor and hopelessness of the slums" (12).
The power of the rhetorical opposition between city and country was exploited by reformers in their arguments for the child emigration schemes, so that "religious philanthropy became closely associated with a faith in the rural ideals of Empire" in the nineteenth century, according to Geoffrey Sherington (465). Its predominantly rural character was one of the factors that recommended Canada as a destination for the young emigrants. Britain, at the forefront of the industrial revolution, had become rapidly urbanized over the course of the century. Given the "time lag" between the economies of Britain and Canada, Canada was the destination of a backward journey: as Parker observes, "the passage across the Atlantic not only transported children to another country but also to an earlier period in their own country where their toil represented an important element in the agricultural labour force" (1 6). The backward journey was a return to a more innocent time and place, in the terms of this rhetoric. In 1883, for example, the secretary of one of the groups advocating for child emigration wrote to the board in charge of indigent children under the provisions of the British Poor Law to point out that "the worst of Colonial life is more free from temptation and abuses than the ordinary life of English city slums" (qtd. in Parker 60). At the same time, the geographical distance between Britain and Canada ensured that the severance of young people from their former lives would be complete and final for most of them, a fact seen as desirable by the child rescuers who believed that it was the environments in which they had lived that had damaged the children.
Children removed from the urban slums were accommodated in institutions in Britain--often institutions loosely modelled on family structures--where they were educated and trained in domestic work and in trades. Much of the labour to maintain the institutions that housed them was, in fact, supplied by the children themselves. When those who had been chosen for emigration to Canada arrived in the new country, they were taken first to institutional homes in towns and cities--this is the origin of the label "Home children" that continues to be used to describe them as a group--from which they were dispersed to family homes across Canada. Most of them were sent to farmers who had applied to the institutions for young people to help with field, farmyard, and domestic labour. The policy of severing the young emigrants from their native land was effective: the majority of them remained in Canada after they reached the age of majority and the end of their period of indentured labour. Indeed, as a group, their continuing presence in the nation is substantial: current estimates are that as many as twelve per cent of contemporary Canadians, or more than four million people, are descendants of Home children. (4) Although detailed evidence is not available, there is some indication that some Home children made gains in class and occupational status as they grew to adulthood (Parker 281). Phyllis Harrison, who collected stories and letters of Home children in 1978, comments that the "greatest achievement of the child emigration movement" may be the "better lives" they created for their children and grandchildren (23), an observation that is verified by some of the stories she includes in her volume. J. L. Churcher, for example, ends his reminiscence by "pay[ing] tribute" to the child rescuer William Quarrier and to his foster parents and by thanking God "for the day when I first stepped on Canadian soil" (39). Jim Eccleston similarly looks back with some satisfaction on "a full life" (11 7), Flora Ward comments that "all in all" she has had "a good life" although she "did not have a very good start" (75), and Mary Wallace Blake remarks that the woman who arranged for her to emigrate to Canada "changed [her] whole pattern of life" and that she has "never had any desire to go" back to England (119).
But both official and autobiographical accounts also document the overwork, physical and sexual abuse, and ostracization endured by many of the child emigrants in Canada. That the young people would be expected to work was always clear. While work was not generally highlighted in the enthusiastic rhetoric about the "joys of childhood," their "work responsibilities," as Parr notes, "were unexceptional" at the time for young people of their class (82). For the urban British young people, however, caring for livestock and working fields was labour of which they had little or no knowledge and for which they had had little or no training. Being persuaded of the natural benefits of rural life for children, the child rescuers apparently saw no reason to teach them much about the realities of farm work or the facts of Canadian geography and climate. A picture taken on Dr. Barnardo's Industrial Farm in Russell, Manitoba, in 1900--which was included as an element of the commemorative stamp issued by Canada in 201 0 (see fig. 1)--illustrates the dichotomy between the ideal of rural life and its reality. While the image has been cropped to fit the design of the stamp, the composition of the original photograph emphasizes the openness of the countryside in its depiction of an expansive, cloudless sky and through the diagonal line of tilled soil that draws the eye of the observer to a distant vanishing point on the horizon, toward which the boy--a significant, strong presence in the foreground of the picture--directs the team of horses. Taken together, these elements can be read as conventional pictorial codes for the promises of futurity and the assurance of achievement. Within the Canadian context, they can be read also as a specific reference to another popular discourse of the day--the social Darwinism that represented the northern geography and climate of Canada as the best guarantor that this nation would produce vigorous, hardy, superior individuals who would be "a dynamic influence on the future," a future conceptualized within an "imperial framework" (Berger 17).
On the other hand, as Margaret McNay points out in her reading of this figure, the photograph also registers the distress of the child:
the field being ploughed seems immense, and the work to be done too heavy for a boy so slight of frame. The plough seems too big for him, requiring shim to keep his arms somewhat raised and making it impossible for him to use efficiently whatever strength he might have in his back and shoulders. His fine-knit sweater suggests he has not purposely dressed for a day's ploughing.... (162)
Many of the reminiscences and fictionalized biographies of Home children now being produced for contemporary young people include a scene in which the child experiences such distress. For example, in Beryl Young's Charlie: A Home Child's Life in Canada, a narrativized account of the life of her father, thirteen-year-old Charlie is "terrified" by the huge horses he has been told to harness and by the "mean look" in the farmer's eyes as he is given his orders (44). He eventually learns to manage the horses but not to cope with the fierce temper of his employer. Given only a makeshift room in an unheated porch in which to sleep, Charlie struggles through a Canadian winter that is nothing like the bucolic images he has seen on Christmas cards before an inspector from Barnardo's Home finally arrives to check on him and moves him to the care and employ of another farm family.
Stories of the abuse of children circulated in communities and were reported in newspapers on the rare occasions when cases were taken to court; complaints were filed by neighbours and by young people themselves to the agencies that had placed them out. There was little supervision of the Home children or the homes in which they lived when the child emigration programs first commenced, with the child rescuers relying on the reference of a clergyman as testimony to the good character and moral standing of the family with which the child would be housed. Inspections eventually became more systematic under repeated criticisms and as some instances of abuse became notorious. One such case was that of George Greene, a Barnardo boy who died in 1895 while in the care of Ellen Findley, a farmer in rural Ontario who was charged with and acquitted of his murder (Bagnell 64-65; Parr 107; Parker 155-56). A more common reason for the removal of children from the homes to which they had been assigned, however, was that the children had failed to give satisfaction to their employers. Parker produces a long list of the complaints made by employers, including that the children sent to them were "too slow," "too small," "dirty," "disobedient," "obstinate," "untruthful," "cruel to the livestock," "forward with boys," and "unable to learn" (216). In such cases, children were returned to the distribution Homes from which they would usually be sent on to other situations.
Parr suggests that "evidence of excessive punishment exists" for nine percent of the boys and fifteen percent of the girls from the sample of files from the Barnardo's Homes she has studied (1 05), but also that there is evidence that "Home officials became habituated to ill-treatment of their charges" (106) and so perhaps did not always document such treatment. A form of abuse that was experienced almost universally by the young emigrants was the stigma attached to their identity as Home children. Canadian newspapers of the day carried articles on a regular basis about Home children who had been sent back to the distributing institutions or who had tried to poison, set fire to, or otherwise imperil the safety of their employers and their families. (5) The boys brought into Canada by the Barnardo institutions seemed, in particular, to be the target of negative press coverage. In 1893, the Manitoba Free Press, which was generally sympathetic to the work of Barnardo, decried the habit of its counterparts to report every incident to do with the Russell Farm as though it were "really a superior sort of Fagin's school for the education and training of light-fingered gentry" and the habit of the public to assume "that every Barnardo boy is a bad boy, and even worse than this, that every bad boy is necessarily a Barnardo boy" ("Needed").
The attitudes condemned by the paper are recalled by former Home children. Among the reminiscences Harrison collected, for example, were those of Marguerite Kemp, who recounts that her mother "did not want [her children] to know" about her origins as a Home girl (28); George Sears, who remembers being "looked down upon as scum" (64); Charles W. Carver, who remembers his indentured service as "seven years of hell" (91); and William Tonkin, who sadly concludes that his "formative years, when [he] was made to think [he] was inferior, left [him] without any confidence in [himself]" (102). The attitudes of the time are preserved in L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, first published in 1908 and, without a doubt, the most iconic novel of Canadian children's literature. In the first chapter, Mari I la Cuthbert, who is trying to persuade Rachel Lynde that her decision to ask for a boy from the orphanage to help with the farm work is a reasonable one, reminds her neighbour that she is, after all, not "getting a Barnardo boy": "no London street Arabs for me.... I'll feel easier in my mind and sleep sounder at night if we get a born Canadian" (58, 59). (6) Anne of Green Gables is also a novel of its time in its celebration of the child of and in nature. It is the loquacious wonder of the Canadian-born Anne at the White Way of Delight and the Lake of Shining Waters that marks her as a child worthy of the good country home toward which she is travelling even before she arrives at its door.
For the rhetoric of the natural child in nature was also a salient discourse in Canada. But, if Canada was represented to the British public as the rural space that would be the salvation of the blighted urban child in the campaigns the child rescuers mounted in Britain, for many Canadians, the children arriving from London streets were potential carriers of physical and moral contagions that might infect the healthy spaces of Canada. Opposition to child immigration was framed repeatedly as a complaint that "Canada was being used as a 'dumping ground'" by Britain (Parker 161). Among the most scurrilous of these complaints was a cartoon published in the Toronto World in November 1895 (see fig. 2), in which Barnardo is shown to be piping the effluent of London directly to the shores of Canada over the protests of "public opinion." But, coarse as the image is, (7) it, too, turns on the opposition of the rural and the urban, assuming the metaphor of the child of and in nature: inverting Blake's image of the chimney sweeps who run "leaping laughing" to "wash in a river and shine in the Sun," the image represents the Home children tumbling in a stream that has been corrupted and polluted by its urban origin.
The essays in this issue of Jeunesse focus on dislocated children in a number of different senses. In Zetta Elliott's discussion of two of her own speculative fictions, New York City parks are magical sites of discovery and recovery for African American urban young people: the parks serve as portals to other times and places at the same time that they conjure the suppressed history of free and enslaved blacks in the city. Virginie Douglas reads another novel of time travel, Penelope Farmer's Charlotte Sometimes, to illustrate the ways in which this genre explores the complicated intersections and disjunctions of collective and personal histories. Farmer's novel, set in a girls' boarding school located in the countryside, sees Charlotte's sense of herself disrupted as she moves between the temporal locations of the early 1960s and the First World War. The trauma of war is also a central term in Frosoulla Kofterou's consideration of the cultural uses of "the child" constructed in post-Enlightenment discourses in three recent museum exhibitions about the wartime experiences of children. For Kofterou, the figure of the innocent child both allows for the curation of national trauma and ensures the generational transference and circulation of the collective autobiography of national identity.
In her analysis of Nabil Ayouch's Ali Zaoua, Prince of the Streets, Christa Jones pays attention not only to the ways in which this neo-realist film documents the misery and the ugliness of the lives of the homeless children of Casablanca but also to the ways in which it invokes Sufi dream culture and mysticism to create a complex poetics of childhood. Jones reads the film as treating the unsettled street children with a deep respect: in the final scene, the group of friends is represented as embarking on a quest at once literal and metaphorical for meaning and significance. The Newfoundland Jack tale at the centre of Teya Rosenberg's article involves a journey of the hero, as so many folk tales do, but the focus of Rosenberg's analysis is on the travels and transformations of the tale itself. The Queen of Paradise's Garden has recently been adapted as a puppet play and picture book: Rosenberg argues that the changes made to the tale through these passages reveal the tastes of a dual, child/adult contemporary audience and the pressure of metropolitan and global interests.
In her essay on poetry about, for, and by children, Rachel Conrad also explores the question of the child and adult audiences implied by poems written by adult and child authors. By reading poems written by young people beside poems written for and about them, Conrad teases out the ways in which the young writers are aware of their childhood as a social position and a socially constructed category. Their imaginative management of the temporal worlds of childhood and adulthood, Conrad argues, speaks to the agency of these children. In this final article of the issue, young people are seen to be locating themselves as meaningful and meaning-making social subjects.
The three review essays published here reveal something of the wide range of discourses that make up the field of young people's texts and cultures. Rose-May Pham Dinh considers the many contributions French scholar Jean Perrot has made to the theories about and criticism of these texts over his long and distinguished career. Pham Dinh focuses on Perrot's habit of returning to reconsider motifs he has studied before. Naomi Hamer reviews a group of recent comics and graphic narratives produced in Canada for young people to ask to what extent this newly prestigious form is being pressed into the service of long-standing pedagogic practices: she finds some examples in which the possibilities of this hybrid verbal-visual medium are exploited to challenge institutional and national histories. Laurel Felt interrogates three non-fiction books that purport to address the possibilities of social activism for young people, but concludes that, ultimately, the books fail to acknowledge the difficult material and ideological work required to effect the transformations putatively held out as ideals.
As the history of the Home children sent to Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries makes evident, children are regularly used in official narratives to sponsor the projects of institutions and governments. Since 1978 and the early pioneering work of Canadian historians Phyllis Harrison, Kenneth Bagnell, and Joy Parr, interest has grown in marking the gaps in the official narratives, in documenting the unofficial and personal accounts of the Home children, and in imagining the affective aspects of their journeys of dislocation. There has been a steady international output of archival and historical research, of film and television documentaries, and, recently, of novels and fictionalized autobiographies that seek to make the stories of the Home children available to contemporary children. Governments in Australia, Canada, and Britain have sought to dissociate themselves from the past practices of their own nations by issuing apologies to surviving Home children and by acknowledging the hardships they suffered and overcame. The general repudiation of the many decisions made in many places and at many levels to send and to receive these unaccompanied young emigrant workers might seem to suggest that the assumptions underwriting the historical policies are past or passing. But we know that discourses about children that privilege their connections to green and wild spaces continue to circulate in contemporary culture. The persistence and the resonance of these calls should give us pause: to what uses is the figure of the natural child of and in nature being put in our own times?
(1) The estimates of numbers and the exact dates taken as the end points of this social experiment vary from one historian to another. See, for example, Bagnell 9, 122; Parr 11; Parker xiii; McNay 155.
(2) M. H. Abrams identifies this circular structure of loss and return as typical of the thought of the Romantics in the argument he develops throughout Natural Supernaturalism.
(3) Swain's sources include a variety of "the magazines issued by the key child rescue organizations" (201), including Highways and Hedges, Night and Day, National Waifs Magazine, Our Waifs and Strays, The Child's Guardian, and Children's Advocate. While Swain focuses on verbal representations, there is also a body of work on the visual representations used by the child rescuers to promote their cause. See, for example, Ash; Buis; McNay; Smith.
(4) This figure was quoted by Member of Parliament Phil McColeman in the House of Commons debate of 7 December 2009 on the resolution that Canada designate 2010 as The Year of the British Home Child. A number of the MPs who spoke to the resolution identified themselves as descendants of Home children. The resolution passed the House unanimously.
(5) Many examples of such pieces can be found in the scrapbooks of news items collected by J. J. Kelso, Ontario superintendent of neglected and dependent children from 1893, which are housed in the Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Canada. I have discussed some of these in "A Daughter of the House."
(6) In "A Daughter of the House," I argue that Anne's status as beloved adopted daughter is constituted through the exclusion of various kinds of unwanted children also resident in the house of the nation, among them the Home children.
(7) In a response to the Toronto World publication, the Manitoba Free Press denounced the image as a "coarse cartoon" and approvingly quoted a letter to the editor written by a Barrie judge "to protest against the injustice of the 'innuendo contained in the picture'" ("Those Terrible Boys!").
Thanks to Devon Arthur, fourth-year student in the Young People's Texts and Cultures stream of the B.A. in English program at the University of Winnipeg, for the work she undertook as my Research Apprentice into the current scholarship on British Home children in Canada. Brenna McGregor undertook the archival research in the Archives of Ontario for me while she was an Honours student in the English program at the University of Winnipeg.
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|Publication:||Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2013|
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