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Thomas Arnold

Let me mind my own personal work; keep myself pure and zealous and believing; laboring to do God's will in this fruitful vineyard of young lives committed to my charge, as my allotted field, until my work be done.

--Thomas Arnold


Thomas Arnold was born in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-five, and died in Eighteen Hundred Forty-two. His life was short, as men count time, but he lived long enough to make for himself a name and a fame that are both lasting and luminous. Though he was neither a great writer nor a great preacher, yet there were times when he thought he was both. He was only a schoolteacher. However, he was an artist in schoolteaching, and art is not a thing--it is a way. It is the beautiful way--the effective way.

Schoolteachers have no means of proving their prowess by conspicuous waste, and no time to convince the world of their excellence through conspicuous leisure; consequently, for histrionic purposes, a schoolteacher's cosmos is a plain, slaty gray. Schoolteachers do not wallow in wealth nor feed fat at the public trough. No one ever accuses them of belonging to the class known as the predatory rich, nor of being millionaire malefactors. They have to do their work every day at certain hours and dedicate its results to time.

For many years Thomas Arnold has been known as the father of his son. Several great men have been thus overshadowed. The father of Disraeli, for instance, was favored by fame and fortune, until his gifted son moved into the limelight, and after that Pater shone mostly in a reflected glory. Jacopo Bellini was the greatest painter in Venice until his two sons, Gian and Gentile, surpassed him, and history writes him down as the father of the Bellinis. Lyman Beecher was regarded as America's greatest preacher until Henry Ward moved the mark up a few notches. The elder Pitt was looked upon as a genuine statesman until his son graduated into the Cabinet, and then "the terrible cornet of horse" became known as the father of Pitt. Now that both are dust, and we are getting the proper perspective, we see that "the great commoner" was indeed a great man, and so they move down the corridors of time together, arm in arm, this father and son. That excellent person who carried the gripsacks of greatness so long that he thought the luggage was his own, Major James B. Pond, launched at least one good thing. It was this: "Matthew Arnold gave fifty lectures in America, and nobody ever heard one of them; those in his audience who could no longer endure the silence slipped quietly out."

Matthew Arnold was a critic and writer who, having secured a tuppence worth of success through being the son of his father, and thus securing the speaker's eye, finally got an oratorical bee in his bonnet and went a-barnstorming. He cultivated reserve and indifference, both of which he was told were necessary factors of success in a public speaker.

And this is true. But they will not make an orator, any more than long hair, a peculiar necktie, and a queer hat will float a poet on the tide of time safely into the Hall of Fame.

Matthew Arnold cultivated repose, but instead of convincing the audience that he had power, he only made them think he was sleepy. Major Pond, having lived much with orators, and thinking the trick easy, tried oratory on his own account, and succeeded as well as did Matthew Arnold. No one ever heard Major Pond: his voice fell over the footlights, dead, into the orchestra; only those with opera-glasses knew he was talking.

But to be unintelligible is not a special recommendation. Men may be moderate for two reasons--through excess of feeling and because they are actually dull.

Matthew Arnold has slipped back into his true position--that of a man of letters. The genius is a man of affairs. Humanity is the theme, not books. Books are usually written about the thoughts of men who wrote books. Books die and disintegrate, but humanity is an endless procession, and the souls that go marching on are those who fought for freedom, not those who speculate on abstrusities.

The credential of Thomas Arnold to immortality is not that he was the father of Matthew and eight other little Arnolds, but it lies in the fact that he fought for a wider horizon in life through education. He lifted his voice for liberty. He believed in the divinity of the child, not in its depravity. Arnold of Rugby was a teacher of teachers, as every great teacher is. The pedagogic world is now going back to his philosophy, just as in statesmanship we are reverting to Thomas Jefferson. These men who spoke classic truth, not transient--truth that fits in spite of fashion, time and place--are the true prophets of mankind. Such was Thomas Arnold!

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If Thomas Arnold had been just a little bigger, the world probably would never have heard of him, for an interdict would have been placed upon his work. The miracle is that, as it was, the Church and the State did not snuff him out.

He stood for sweet reasonableness, but unintentionally created much opposition. His life was a warfare. Yet he managed to make himself acceptable to a few; so for fourteen years this head master of a preparatory school for boys lived his life and did his work. He sent out his radiating gleams, and grew straight in the strength of his spirit, and lived out his life in the light.

His sudden death sanctified and sealed his work before he was subdued and ironed out by the conventions.

Happy Arnold! If he had lived, he might have met the fate of Arnold of Brescia, who was also a great teacher. Arnold of Brescia was a pupil of Abelard, and was condemned by the Church as a disturber of the peace for speaking in eulogy of his master. Later, he attacked the profligacy of the idle prelates, as did Luther, Savonarola and all the other great church-reformers. When ordered into exile and silence, he still protested his right to speak. He was strangled on order of the Pope, his body burned, and the ashes thrown into the Tiber. The Baptists, I believe, claim Arnold of Brescia as the forerunner of their sect, and certain it is that he was of the true Roger Williams type.

Thomas Arnold, too, was filled with a passion for righteousness. His zeal for the upright, manly life constituted his strength. Of course he would not have been executed, as was Arnold of Brescia--the times had changed--he would simply have been shelved, pooh-poohed, deprived of his living and socially Crapseyized. Death saved him--aged forty-seven--and his soul goes marching on!

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The parents of Thomas Arnold belonged to the great Middle Class--that class which Disraeli said never did any thinking on its own account, but to the best of its ability deferred to and imitated the idle rich in matters of religion, education and politics.

Doctor Johnson maintained that if members of the Middle Class worked hard and economized, it was in the hope that they might leave money and name for their children and make them exempt from all useful effort.

"To indict a class," said Burke, "is neither reasonable nor right." But certain it is that a vast number of fairly intelligent people in England and elsewhere regard the life of the "aristocracy" as very desirable and beautiful.

To this end they want their boys to become clergymen, lawyers, doctors or army officers.

"Only two avenues of honor are open to aspiring youth in England," said Gladstone--"the Army and the Church."

The father of Thomas Arnold was Collector of Customs at Cowes, Isle of Wight. Holding this petty office under the Government, with a half-dozen men at his command, we can easily guess his caliber, habits, belief and mode of life. He was respectable; and to be respectable, a Collector of Customs must be punctilious in Church matters, in order to be acceptable to Church people, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. The parents of Thomas Arnold very naturally centered their ambitions for him on the Church, as he was not very strong.

When the child was only six years old, the father died from "spasm of the heart." At this time the boy had begun to take Latin, and his education was being looked after by a worthy governess, who daily drilled his mental processes and took him walking, leading him by the hand. On Sundays he wore a wide, white collar, shiny boots and a stiff hat. The governess cautioned him not to soil his collar, nor to get mud on his boots.

In later years he told how he looked covetously at the boys who wore neither hats nor boots, and who did not have a governess.

His mother had a fair income, and so this prim, precise, exact and crystallized mode of education was continued. Out of her great love for her child, the mother sent him away from home when he was eight years old. Of course there were tears on both sides; but now a male man must educate him, and women were to be dropped out of the equation--this that the evil in the child should be curbed, his spirit chastened, and his mind disciplined.

The fact that a child rather liked to be fondled by his mother, or that his mother cared to fondle him, was proof of total depravity on the part of both.

The Reverend Doctor Griffiths, who took charge of the boy for two years, was certainly not cruel, but at the same time he was not exactly human. In Nature we never hear of a she-lion sending her cubs away to be looked after by a denatured lion. It is really doubtful whether you could ever raise a lion to lionhood by this method. Some goat would come along and butt the life out of him, even after he had evolved whiskers and a mane.

After two years with Doctor Griffiths, young Arnold was sent to Manchester, where he remained in a boys' boarding-house from his tenth to his fourteenth year. To the teachers here--all men--he often paid tribute, but uttered a few heretical doubts as to whether discipline as a substitute for mother-love was not an error of pious but overzealous educators.

At sixteen years of age he was transferred to Corpus Christi College at Oxford. In Eighteen Hundred Fifteen, being then twenty years of age, he was elected a Fellow of Oriel College, and there he resided until he was twenty-four.

He was a prizeman in Latin, Greek and English, and was considered a star scholar--both by himself and by others. Ten years afterwards he took a backward glance, and said: "At twenty-two I was proud, precise, stiff, formal, uncomfortable, unhappy, and unintentionally made everybody else unhappy with whom I came in contact. The only people I really mixed with were those whose lives were dedicated to the ablative."

When twenty-four he was made a deacon and used to read prayers at neighboring chapels, for which service he was paid five shillings. Being now thrown on his own resources, he did the thing a prizeman always does: he showed others how. As a tutor he was a success: more scholars came to him than he could really take care of. But he did not like the work, since all the pupil desired, and all the parents desired, was that he should help the backward one get his marks, and glide through the eye of a needle into pedagogic paradise.

At twenty-six he was preaching, teaching and writing learned essays about things he did not understand.

From this brief sketch it will be seen that the early education of Thomas Arnold was of the kind and type that any fond parent of the well-to-do Middle Class would most desire. He had been shielded from all temptations of the world; he could do no useful thing with his hands; his knowledge of economics--ways and means--was that of a child; of the living present he knew little, but of the dead past he assumed and believed he knew much.

It was purely priestly, institutional education. It was the kind of education that every well-to-do Briton would like to have his sons receive. It was, in short, England's Ideal.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Rugby Grammar School was endowed in Sixteen Hundred Fifty-three by one Laurence Sherif, a worthy grocer. The original gift was comparatively small, but the investment being in London real estate, has increased in value until it yields now an income of about thirty-five thousand dollars a year.

In the time of Arnold there were about three hundred pupils. It is not a large school now; there are high schools in a hundred cities of America that surpass it in many ways.

Rugby's claim to special notice lies in its traditions--the great men who were once Rugby boys, and the great men who were Rugby teachers. Also, in the fact that Thomas Hughes wrote a famous story called, "Tom Brown at Rugby."

Rugby Grammar School was one hundred twenty-five years old when Sir Joshua Reynolds commissioned Lord Cornwallis to go to America and fetch George Washington to England, that Sir Joshua might paint his portrait.

For a hundred years prior to the time of Arnold, there had not been a perceptible change in the methods of teaching. The boys were herded together. They fought, quarreled, divided into cliques; the big boys bullied the little ones. Fagging was the law; so the upper forms enslaved the lower ones. There was no home life, and the studies were made irksome and severe, purposely, as it was thought that pleasant things were sinful.

If any better plan could have been devised to make study absolutely repulsive, so the student would shun it as soon as he was out of school, we can not guess it.

The system was probably born of inertia on the part of the teachers. The pastor who pushes through his prescribed services, with mind on other things, and thus absolves his conscience for letting his congregation go drifting straight to Gehenna, was duplicated in the teacher. He did his duty--and nothing more.

Selfishness, heartlessness and brutality manipulated the birch. Head was all; heart and hand nothing. This was schoolteaching. As a punishment for failure to memorize lessons, there were various plans to disgrace and discourage the luckless ones. Standing in the corner with face to the wall, and the dunce-cap, had given place to a system of fines, whereby "ten lines of Vergil for failure to attend prayers," and ten more for failure to get the first, often placed the boy in hopeless bankruptcy. If he was a fag, or slave of a higher-form boy, cleaning the other's boots, scrubbing stairs, running on foolish and needless errands, getting cuffs and kicks by way of encouragement, he saw his fines piling up and no way ever to clear them off and gain freedom by promotion.

Viewed from our standpoint, the thing has a ludicrous bouffe air that makes us smile. But to the boy caught in the toils it was tragic. To work and evolve in an environment of such brutality was impossible to certain temperaments. Success lay in becoming calloused and indifferent. If the boy of gentle habits and slight physical force did not sink into mental nothingness, he was in danger of being bowled over by disease and death.

Indeed, the physical condition of the pupils was very bad: smallpox, fevers, consumption, and breaking out with sores and boils, were common.

Thomas Arnold was thirty-three years old when he was called as head master to Rugby. He was married, and babies were coming along with astonishing regularity. He had taken priestly orders and was passing rich on one hundred pounds a year. Poverty and responsibility had given him ballast, and love for his own little brood had softened his heart and vitalized his soul.

As a writer and speaker he had made his presence felt at various college commencements and clergymen's meetings. He had challenged the brutal, indifferent, lazy and so-called disciplinary methods of teaching.

And so far as we know, he is the first man in England to declare that the teacher should be the foster-parent of the child, and that all successful teaching must be born of love.

The well-upholstered conservatives twiddled their thumbs, coughed, and asked: "How about the doctrine of total depravity? Do you mean to say that the child should not be disciplined? What does Solomon say about the use of the rod? Does the Bible say that the child is good by nature?"

But Thomas Arnold could not explain all he knew. Moreover, he did not wish to fight the Church--he believed in the Church--to him it was a divine institution. But there were methods and practises in the Church that he would have liked to forget.

"My sympathies go out to inferiority," he said. The weakling often needed encouragement, not discipline. The bad boy must be won, not suppressed.

In one of these conferences of clergymen, Arnold said:

"I once chided a pupil, a little, pale, stupid boy--undersized and seemingly half-sick--for not being able to recite his very simple lesson. He looked up at me and said with a touch of spirit: 'Sir, why do you get angry with me? Do you not know I am doing the best I can?'"

One of the clergymen present asked Arnold how he punished the boy for his impudence.

And Arnold replied: "I did not punish him--he had properly punished me. I begged his pardon."

The idea of a teacher begging the pardon of a pupil was a brand-new thing.

Several clergymen present laughed--one scowled--two sneezed. But a Bishop, shortly after this, urged the name of Thomas Arnold as master of Rugby, and added to his recommendation this line: "If elected to the office he will change the methods of schoolteaching in every public school in England."

The ayes had it, and Arnold was called to Rugby. The salary was so-so, the pupils between two and three hundred in number--many were home on sick-leave--the Sixth Form was in charge.

The genius of Arnold was made manifest, almost as soon as he went to Rugby, by the way in which he managed the boys who bullied the whole school, and what is worse, did it legally.

Fagging was official.

The Sixth Form was composed of thirty boys who stood at the top, and these boys ran the school. They were boys who, by reason of their size, strength, aggressiveness and mental ability, got the markings that gave them this autocratic power. They were now immune from authority--they were free. In a year they would gravitate to the University.

We can hardly understand now how a bully could get markings through his bullying propensities; but a rudimentary survival of the idea may yet be seen in big football-players, who are given good marks, and very gentle mental massage in class. If the same scholars were small and skinny, they would certainly be plucked.

The faculty found freedom in shifting responsibility for discipline to the Sixth Form.

Read the diary of Arnold, and you will be amazed on seeing how he fought against taking from the Sixth Form the right to bodily chastise any scholar in the school that the king of the Sixth Form declared deserved it.

If a teacher thought a pupil needed punishment, he turned the luckless one over to the Sixth Form. Can we now conceive of a system where the duty of certain scholars was to whip other scholars? Not only to whip them, but to beat them into insensibility if they fought back?

Such was schoolteaching in the public schools of England in Eighteen Hundred Thirty.

Against this brutality there was now a growing sentiment--a piping voice bidding the tide to stay!

But now that Arnold was in charge of Rugby, he got the ill-will of his directors by declaring that he did not intend to curtail the powers of the Sixth Form--he proposed to civilize it. To try out the new master, the Sixth Form, proud in their prowess, sent him word that if he interfered with them in any way, they would first "bust up the school," and then resign in a body. Moreover, they gave it out that if any pupil complained to the master concerning the Sixth Form, the one so complaining would be taken out by night and drowned in the classic Avon.

There were legends among the younger boys of strange disappearances, and these were attributed to the swift vengeance of "The Bloody Sixth."

Above the Sixth Form there was no law.

Every scholar took off his hat to a "Sixth." A Sixth uncovered to nobody, and touched his cap only to a teacher.

And custom had become so rooted that the Sixth Form was regarded as a sort of police necessity--a caste which served the school just as the Army served the Church. To reach the Sixth Form were paradise--it meant liberty and power--liberty to do as you pleased, and power to punish all who questioned your authority.

To uproot the power of the Sixth Form was the intent of a few reformers in pedagogics.

There were two ways to deal with the boys of the Sixth--fight them or educate them.

Arnold called the Rugby Sixth together and assured them that he could not do without their help. He needed them: he wanted to make Rugby a model school, a school that would influence all England--would they help him?

The dogged faces before him showed signs of interest. He continued, without waiting for their reply, to set before them his ideal of an English Gentleman. He persuaded them, melted them by his glowing personality, shook hands with each, and sent them away.

The next day he again met them in the same intimate way, and one of the boys made bold to assure him that if he wanted anybody licked--pupils or teachers--they stood ready to do his bidding.

He thanked the boy, but assured him that he was of the opinion that it would not be necessary to do violence to any one; he was going to unfold to them another way--a new way, which was very old, but which as yet England had not tried.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

The great teacher is not the one who imparts the most facts--he is the one who inspires by supplying a nobler ideal.

Men are superior or inferior just in the ratio that they possess certain qualities. Truth, honor, frankness, health, system, industry, kindliness, good-cheer and a spirit of helpfulness are so far beyond any mental acquisition that comparisons are not only odious, but absurd.

Arnold inspired qualities, and in this respect his work at Rugby forms a white milestone on the path of progress in pedagogy.

To an applicant for a position as teacher, Arnold wrote:

What I want is a man who is a Christian and a gentleman, an active man, and one who has commonsense, and understands boys. I do not so much care about scholarship, as he will have immediately under him the lowest forms in the school, but yet, on second thought, I do care about it very much, because his pupils may be in the highest forms; and besides, I think that even the elements are best taught by a man who has a thorough knowledge of the matter. However, if one must give way, I prefer activity of mind and an interest in his work to high scholarship; for the one may be acquired far more easily than the other. I should wish it also to be understood that the new master may be called upon to take boarders in his house, it being my intention for the future to require this of all masters as I see occasion, that so in time the school-barracks may die a natural death. With this to offer, I think I have a right to look rather high for the man whom I fix upon, and it is my great object to get here a society of intelligent, gentlemanly and active men, who may permanently keep up the character of the school, and if I were to break my neck tomorrow, carry it on.

Ideas are in the air, and great inventions are worked out in different parts of the world at the same time. Rousseau had written his "Emile," but we are not aware that Arnold ever read it.

And if he had, he probably would have been shocked, not inspired, by its almost brutal frankness. The French might read it--the English could not.

Pestalozzi was working out his ideas in Switzerland, and Froebel, an awkward farmer lad in Germany, was dreaming dreams that were to come true. But Thomas Arnold caught up the threads of feeling in England and expressed them in the fabric of his life.

His plans were scientific, but his reasons, unlike those of Pestalozzi, will not always stand the test of close analysis. Arnold was true to the Church, but he found it convenient to forget much for which the Church stood. He went back to a source nearer the fountainhead. All reforms in organized religion lie in returning to the primitive type. The religion of Jesus was very simple; that of a modern church dignitary is very complex. One can be understood; the other has to be explained and expounded, and usually several languages are required.

Arnold would have his boys evolve into Christian gentlemen. And his type of English gentleman he did not get out of books on theology--it was his own composite idea. But having once evolved it, he cast around to justify it by passages of Scripture. This was beautiful, too, but from our standpoint it wasn't necessary.

From his it was.

A gentleman to him was a man who looked for the best in other people, and not for their faults; who overlooked slights; who forgot the good he had done; who was courteous, kind, cheerful, industrious and clean inside and out; who was slow to wrath, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. And the "Lord" to Arnold was embodied in Church and State.

Arnold used to say that schoolteaching should not be based upon religion, but it should be religion. And to him religion and conduct were one.

That he reformed Rugby through the Sixth Form is a fact. He infused into the big boys the thought that they must help the little ones; that for a first offense a lad must never be punished; that he should have the matter fully explained to him, and be shown that he should do right because it is right, and not for fear of punishment.

The Sixth Form was taught to unbend its dignity and enter into fellowship with its so-called inferiors. To this end Arnold set the example of playing cricket with the "scrubs."

He never laughed at a poor player nor at a poor scholar. He took dull pupils into his own house, and insisted that his helpers, the other teachers, should do the same. He showed the Sixth Form how much better it was to take the part of the weak, and stop bullying the lower forms, than to set the example of it in the highest. Before Arnold had been at Rugby a year, the Sixth Form had resolved itself into a Reception Committee that greeted all newcomers, got them located, introduced them to the other boys, showed them the sights, and looked after their wants like big brothers or foster-fathers.

Christianity to Arnold was human service. In his zeal to serve, to benefit, to bless, to inspire, he never tired.

Such a disposition as this is contagious. In every big business or school, there is one man's mental attitude that animates the whole institution. Everybody partakes of it. When the leader gets melancholia, the shop has it--the whole place becomes tinted with ultra-marine. The best helpers begin to get out, and the honeycombing process of dissolution is on.

A school must have a soul, just as surely as a shop, a bank, a hotel, a store, a home, or a church has to have. When an institution grows so great that it has no soul--simply a financial head and a board of directors--dry-rot sets in and disintegration in a loose wrapper is at the door.

This explains why the small colleges are the best, when they are: there is a personality about them, an animating spirit that is pervasive and preservative.

Thomas Arnold was not a man of vast learning, nor could one truthfully say he had a surplus of intellect; but he had soul, plus. He never sought to save himself. He gave himself to the boys of Rugby. His heart went out to them, he believed in them--and he believed them even when they lied, and he knew they lied. He knew that humanity was sound at heart; he believed in the divinity of mankind, and tried hard to forget the foolish theology that taught otherwise.

Like Thomas Jefferson, who installed the honor system in the University of Virginia, he trusted young men. He made his appeal to that germ of goodness which is in every human soul. In some ways he anticipated Ben Lindsey in his love for the boy, and might have conjured forth from his teeming brain the Juvenile Court, and thus stopped the creation of criminals, had his life not been consumed in a struggle with stupidity and pedantry gone to seed that cried to him, "Oh, who ever heard of such a thing as that!"

The Kindergarten utilizes the propensity to play; and Arnold utilizes the thirst for authority. Altruism is flavored with a desire for approbation.

The plan of self-government by means of utilizing the Sixth Form was quite on the order of our own "George Junior Republic." "A school," he said, "should be self-governing and cleanse itself from that which is harmful." And again he says: "If a pupil can gratify his natural desire for approbation by doing that which is right, proper and best, he will work to this end instead of being a hero by playing the rowdy. It is for the scholars to set the seal of their approval on character, and they will do so if we as teachers speak the word. If I find a room in a tumult, I blame myself, not the scholars. It is I who have failed, not they. Were I what I should be, every one of my pupils would reflect my worth. I key the situation, I set the pace, and if my soul is in disorder, the school will be in confusion."

Nothing is done without enthusiasm. It is heart that wins, not head, the round world over. And yet head must systematize the promptings of the heart. Arnold had a way of putting soul into a hand-clasp. His pupils never forgot him. Wherever they went, no matter how long they lived, they proclaimed the praises of Arnold of Rugby. How much this earnest, enthusiastic, loving and sincere teacher has influenced civilization, no man can say. But this we know, that since his day there has come about a new science of teaching. The birch has gone with the dunce-cap. The particular cat-o'-nine-tails that was burned in the house of Thomas Arnold as a solemn ceremony, when the declaration was made, "Henceforth I know my children will do right!" has found its example in every home of Christendom.

We no longer whip children. Schools are no longer places of dread, pain and suffering, and we as teachers are repeating with Friedrich Froebel the words of the Nazarene, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven."

Also, we say with Thomas Arnold: "The boy is father to the man. A race of gentlemen can only be produced by fostering in the boy the qualities that make for health, strength and a manly desire to bless, benefit and serve the race."


Elbert Hubbard

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