1902 Encyclopedia > Thomas Arnold

Thomas Arnold
English educator
(1795-1842)




THOMAS ARNOLD, a clergyman of the Church of England, was born at West Cowes, in the Isle of Wight, on the 13th of June 1795. He was the son of William and Martha Arnold, the former of whom occupied the situation of collector of customs at Cowes. Deprived at an early age of his father, who died suddenly of spasm in the heart in 1801, his initiatory education was confided by his mother to her sister, Miss Delafield, who, with affec-tionate fidelity, discharged the office with which she had been intrusted. From her tuition he passed to that of Dr Griffiths, at Warminster, in Wiltshire, in 1803; and in 1807 he was removed to Winchester, where he remained until 1811, having entered as a commoner, and afterwards become a scholar of the college. In after life he retained a lively feeling of interest in Winchester School, and remembered with admiration and profit the regulative tact of Dr Goddard, and the preceptorial ability of Dr Gabell, who were successively headmasters during his stay there.

From Winchester he removed to Oxford in 1811, where he became a scholar at Corpus Christi College; in 1815 he was elected Fellow of Oriel College; and there he continued to reside till 1819. This interval was diligently devoted to the pursuit of classical and historical studies, to prepar-ing himself for ordination, and to searching investigations, under the stimulus of continual discussion with a band of talented and congenial associates, of some of the pro-foundest questions in theology, ecclesiastical polity, and social philosophy. The authors he most carefully studied at this period were Thucydides and Aristotle, and for their writings he formed an attachment which remained to the close of his life, and exerted a powerful influence upon his mode of thought and opinions, as well as upon his literary occupations in subsequent years. Herodotus also came in for a considerable share of his regard, but more, apparently, as a book of recreation than one for work. In theology, his mind, accustomed freely and fearlessly to investigate what-ever came before it, and swayed by an almost scrupulous dread of aught that might appear to savour of insincerity, was doomed to long' and anxious hesitation upon several points of fundamental importance before arriving at a serene and settled acceptance of the great verities of Chris-tianity. Once satisfied, however, of these, his faith remained clear and firm ; and having received his religion, not by tradition from men, but as the result of an earnest, penetrating, and honest examination of the evidence on which it re3ts, he not only held it with a steadfast grasp, but realised it, and felt it as a living and guiding power. From this time forward his life became supremely that of a religious man. To the name of Christ he was prepared to " surrender his whole soul," and to render before it " obedience, reverence without measure, intense humility, most unreserved adoration" (Sermons, vol. iv. p. 210). He did not often talk about religion ; he had no inclination to gossip about his experience, or dwell upon the frames and feelings through which he passed ; he had not much of the accredited phraseology of piety even when he discoursed on spiritual topics; but no man could observe him for any length of time without feeling persuaded that more than most men he was directed by religious principle and feeling in all his conduct. The fountain of his piety was in his heart's core; and its streams mingled easily with all the issues of his life. As his bio-grapher has beautifully remarked, " his natural faculties were not unclothed, but clothed upon ; they were at once coloured by, and gave a colour to, the belief which they received."

He left Oxford in 1819 and settled at Laleham, near Staines, where he was occupied chiefly in superintending the studies of seven or eight young men who were prepar-ing for the university. His spare time was devoted to the prosecution of studies in philology and history, more par-ticularly to the study of Thucydides, and of the new light which had been cast upon Roman history and upon histori-cal method in general by the researches of Niebuhr. He was also occasionally engaged in preaching, and it was whilst here that he published the first volume of his sermons. Shortly after he settled at Laleham, he entered into the marriage relation with Mary, youngest daughter of the Rev. John Penrose, rector of Fledborough, Nottinghamshire.





After nine years spent at Laleham, he was induced to offer himself as a candidate for the head-mastership of Rugby, which had become vacant; and though he entered somewhat late upon the contest, and though none of the electors were personally known to Mm, he was nevertheless successful. He was elected in December 1827; in June 1828 he received priest's orders; in April and November of the same year he took his degrees of B.D. and D.D., and in August entered on his new office.

In one of the testimonials which accompanied his appli-cation to the trustees of Rugby, the writer stated it as his conviction, that " if Mr Arnold were elected, he would change the face of education all through the public schools of England." Nobly was the somewhat hazardous pledge redeemed by him in whose name it had been given. Under his superintendence the school became not merely a place where a certain amount of classical or general learn-ing was to be obtained, but a sphere of intellectual, moral, and religious discipline, where healthy characters were formed, and men were trained for the duties, and struggles, and responsibilities of life.

Rugby was privileged to enjoy his superintendence for nearly fourteen years. During this period his energies were chiefly devoted to the business of the school; but he found time also for much literary work, as well as for an extensive correspondence. Five volumes of sermons, an edition of Thucydides, with English notes and dissertations, a History of Rome in three vols. 8vo, besides numerous articles in reviews, journals, newspapers, and encyclopaedias, are extant to attest the untiring activity of his mind, and his patient diligence during this period. His interest also in public matters was incessant, especially ecclesiastical ques-tions, and such as bore upon the social welfare and moral improvement of the masses.

In 1841 Dr Arnold received from Lord Melbourne, then prime minister, the offer of the chair of modern history at Oxford, an offer which he accepted with peculiar satisfac-tion. On the duties of this new office he entered on 2d December 1841, by delivering his inaugural lecture, amidst circumstances which he felt to be peculiarly gratifying and flattering. Seven other lectures were delivered during the first three weeks of the Lent term of 1842; the whole have been published since his death.

A few months after the delivery of his lectures, Arnold was suddenly removed from his earthly duties and antici-pated enjoyments by an attack of angina pectoris. The midsummer vacation had arrived, and he was preparing to set out with his family to Fox How, a favourite retreat, where he had purchased some property and built a house, in Westmoreland. After a busy day spent in various duties, he retired to rest apparently in perfect health. Between five and six next morning he awoke in severe pain. All attempts to arrest the fatal malady proved fruitless. He bore with heroic fortitude and Christian resignation his sufferings, until eight o'clock, when he expired. The day on which he died was Sunday, the 12th of June 1842. His remains were interred on the following Friday in the chancel of Rugby chapel, immediately under the com-munion table.

We have no space left to attempt a delineation of the separate features of Arnold's character. We can only remark in general, that the great peculiarity and charm of his nature seemed to he in the regal supremacy of the moral and the spiritual element over his whole being and powers. His intellectual faculties were not such as to surpass those of many who were his contemporaries ; in scholarship he occupied a subordinate place to several who filled situations like his ; and he had not much of what is usually called tact in his dealings either with the juvenile or the adult mind. What gave him his power, and secured for him so deeply the respect and veneration of his pupils and acquaintances, was the intensely religious character of his whole life. He seemed ever to act from a severe and lofty estimate of duty. To be just, honest, and truthful, he ever held to be the first aim of his being. With all this, there was intense sympathy with his fellows, the tenderest domestic affections, the most generous friendship, the most expansive benevolence. But to understand aright his claims upon our respect and homage, the history of his life must be read at large. As has been truly observed by one who seems to have known him well—" His Thucydides, his history, his sermons, his miscellaneous writings, are all proofs of his ability and goodness. Yet the story of his life is worth them all."—Edin. Rev., vol. lxxxi. p. 234.

His life has been most ably written by the Rev. A. P. Stanley, M.A., now D.D. and Dean of Westminster, in two volumes, 8vo. Lond. 1845. (w. L. A.)







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