Thomas Arnold (13 June 1795 – 12 June 1842) was an English educator
and historian. Arnold was an early supporter of the Broad Church
Anglican movement. He was the headmaster of
Rugby School from 1828 to
1841, where he introduced a number of reforms that were widely copied
by other prestigious public schools. His reforms redefined standards
of masculinity and achievement.
1 Early life and education
2 Career as an educator
2.1 Rugby School
2.2 Oxford University
6 Depictions on screen
9 Further reading
9.1 Primary sources
10 External links
Early life and education
Arnold was born on the Isle of Wight, the son of William Arnold, a
Customs officer, and his wife Martha Delafield. William Arnold was
related to the Arnold family of gentry from Lowestoft. Thomas was
educated at Lord Weymouth's Grammar School, Warminster, Winchester,
and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. There he excelled at Classics and
was made a fellow of Oriel in 1815. He was headmaster of a school in
Laleham before moving to Rugby.
Career as an educator
Arnold's appointment to the headship of
Rugby School in 1828, after
some years as a private tutor, turned the school's fortunes around.
His force of character and religious zeal enabled him to turn it into
a model for other public schools and exercise a strong influence on
the education system of England. Though he introduced history,
mathematics and modern languages, he based his teaching on the
classical languages. "I assume it as the foundation of all my view of
the case, that boys at a public school never will learn to speak or
pronounce French well, under any circumstances," so it would be enough
if they could "learn it grammatically as a dead language." Physical
science was not taught because, in Arnold's view, "it must either take
the chief place in the school curriculum, or it must be left out
altogether." Arnold was also opposed to the materialistic tendency
of physical science, a view deriving from his Christian idealism. He
wrote that "rather than have [physical science] the principal thing in
my son's mind, I would gladly have him think that the sun went round
the earth, and that the stars were so many spangles set in the bright
blue firmament. Surely the one thing needful for a Christian and an
Englishman to study is Christian and moral and political
Arnold developed the
Praepostor (prefect) system in which the
sixth-form students were given powers over every part of the school
(carefully managed by himself) and kept order in the establishment.
The 1857 novel by Thomas Hughes,
Tom Brown's School Days
Tom Brown's School Days portrays a
generation of boys "who feared the Doctor with all our hearts, and
very little besides in heaven or earth; who thought more of our sets
in the School than of the Church of Christ, and put the traditions of
Rugby and the public opinion of boys in our daily life above the laws
Arnold was not a great enthusiast for sport, which was permitted as an
alternative to poaching or fighting with local boys and which did not
become part of Rugby's curriculum until 1850. He described his
educational aims as being the cure of souls first, moral development
second, and intellectual development third. However, this did not
prevent Baron de Coubertin from considering him the father of the
organized sport he admired when he visited English public schools,
including Rugby in 1886. When looking at Arnold's tomb in the school
chapel he recalled he felt, suddenly, as if he were looking upon "the
very cornerstone of the British empire". Coubertin is thought to
have exaggerated the importance of sport to Thomas Arnold, whom he
viewed as "one of the founders of athletic chivalry". The
character-reforming influence of sport, with which Coubertin was so
impressed, is more likely to have originated in the novel Tom Brown's
School Days than exclusively in the ideas of Arnold himself.
"Thomas Arnold, the leader and classic model of English educators,"
wrote Coubertin, "gave the precise formula for the role of athletics
in education. The cause was quickly won. Playing fields sprang up all
Arnold was involved in many controversies, educational and religious.
As a churchman he was a decided Erastian, and strongly opposed to the
High Church party. His 1833 Principles of Church Reform is associated
with the beginnings of the
Broad Church movement. In 1841, he was
appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford.
Arnold's chief literary works are his unfinished History of Rome
(three volumes 1838–42), and his Lectures on Modern History. Far
more often read were his five books of sermons, which were admired by
a wide circle of pious readers including Queen Victoria.
Arnold married Mary Penrose, daughter of the Rev. John Penrose of
Penryn, Cornwall. They had five daughters and five sons, including the
poet Matthew Arnold, the literary scholar Tom, the author William
Delafield Arnold and Edward Penrose Arnold, an inspector of
schools. One daughter died in infancy. The eldest daughter, Jane
Martha, married William Edward Forster, and when William Delafield
Arnold died in 1859, leaving four orphans, the Forsters adopted them
as their own, adding their name to the children's surname. One of
these children was Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster, a
Liberal Unionist MP,
who eventually became a member of Balfour's cabinet. Another of the
children was Florence Vere O'Brien, a diarist, philanthropist, and
craftswoman who lived in Ireland. Frances Bunsen Trevenen Whateley
Arnold, the youngest daughter, never married and died at Fox How in
Arnold had bought the small estate of Fox How, near
Ambleside in the
Lake District in 1832, and spent many of his holidays there. On 12
June 1842 he died there suddenly of a heart attack "at the height of
his powers", a day before his 47th birthday. He is buried in Rugby
Thomas the Younger's daughter Mary Augusta Arnold, became a well-known
novelist under her married name of Mrs Humphry Ward, whilst his other
daughter, Julia, married Leonard Huxley, the son of Thomas Huxley.
Their sons were Julian and Aldous Huxley. Julia Arnold founded in 1902
Prior's Field School
Prior's Field School for girls, in Godalming, Surrey.
Arnold family tree (partial)
William Delafield Arnold
Jane Martha Arnold
William Edward Forster
Mary Augusta Ward
H. O. Arnold-Forster
The biography Life of Arnold, published two years after his early
death by one of Arnold's former pupils, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, is
considered one of the best works of its class in the language and
added to his growing reputation. A popular life of him by the novelist
Emma Jane Guyton also appeared. In 1896 his bust was unveiled in
Westminster Abbey alongside that of his son, Matthew. The Times
asserted that "As much as any who could be named, Arnold helped to
form the standard of manly worth by which Englishmen judge and submit
to be judged." However, his reputation suffered as one of the
Eminent Victorians in Lytton Strachey's book of that name published in
A more recent public-school headmaster,
Michael McCrum of Tonbridge
Eton College in the 1960s to 1980s, also a churchman and
Oxbridge academic (Master of
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and
Vice-Chancellor), wrote a biography and reappraisal of Arnold in 1991.
He had briefly been a master at Rugby and was married to the daughter
of another former headmaster.
More recently, a biography entitled Black Tom was written by Terence
Copley. Both McCrum and Copley have sought to restore some of the
lustre to the Arnold legacy, which has been heavily under attack since
Strachey's sardonic appraisal. In 2015, Ian Cameron, published
Learning from the Master, a compilation of forty thoughts drawn from
Arnold's writings, as an aid to teachers and other educators in their
work (particularly those who share Arnold's belief that education
should be centred on Christ). Cameron's volume likewise seeks to
recover some of Arnold's legacy.
A. C. Benson
A. C. Benson once observed of Arnold, "A man who could burst into
tears at his own dinner-table on hearing a comparison made between St.
Paul and St. John to the detriment of the latter, and beg that the
subject might never be mentioned again in his presence, could never
have been an easy companion."
Depictions on screen
Arnold has been played several times in adaptations of Tom Brown's
School Days, including by Sir
Cedric Hardwicke in the 1940 film
Robert Newton in the 1951 film version,
Iain Cuthbertson in
the 1971 television version and
Stephen Fry in the 2005 television
The Christian Duty of Granting the Claims of the Roman Catholics
(pamphlet) Rugby, 1828.
Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Rugby School, London: Fellowes, 1850
(first edition, 1832).
Principles of Church Reform, Oxford: Fellowes,1833.
History of Rome, London: Fellowes, 1838.
Introductory Lectures on Modern History, London: Longmans, Green &
Sermons: Christian Life, its Hopes, Fears and Close, London: Fellowes,
Sermons: Christian Life, its Course, London: Fellowes, 1844.
As translator: The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, (3
vols.) London: Fellowes, 1845.
The Interpretation of Scripture, London: Fellowes, 1845.
^ Simon Heffer, High minds: the Victorians and the birth of modern
Britain (2013) pp. 1–30.
^ Fabrice Neddam, "Constructing masculinities under
Thomas Arnold of
Rugby (1828–1842): Gender, educational policy and school life in an
early‐Victorian public school", Gender and Education 16.3 (2004),
^ Muskett, J. J.: "The Arnold Family of Lowestoft". In: Suffolk
Manorial Families, being the County Visitations and other Pedigrees
from The Manorial Families of Suffolk (Exeter, 1900–1914).
^ a b Strachey, Lytton (1918), Eminent Victorians, p. 173
^ J. J. Findlay (ed.), Arnold of Rugby: His School Life and
Contributions to Education (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1897), p. xvii.
Thomas Hughes (1857), "7", Tom Brown's Schooldays
^ Beale, Catherine (2011). Born out of Wenlock, William Penny Brookes
and the British origins of the Olympics. DB Publishing.
pp. 118–119. ISBN 978-1-85983-967-6. Coubertin would
be better known for promoting the first International Olympic Games of
^ Muddied Oafs, The Soul of Rugby, Richard Beard, Yellow Jersey Press,
2004, ISBN 0224063944
^ Physical exercises in the modern world. Lecture given at the
Sorbonne, November 1892.
^ Timothy Hands, Thomas Hardy: Distracted Preacher? London: Macmillan
Press, 1989, p. 3.
^ a b Hopkinson, David (1981) Edward Penrose Arnold, A Victorian
^ Ancestry site 
Prior's Field School
Prior's Field School – A Century Remembered 1902–2002 by
Margaret Elliott, published by
Prior's Field School
Prior's Field School Trust Ltd,
^ a b c d e f A. J. H. Reeve, ‘Arnold, Thomas (1795–1842)’,
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press,
2004; online edn, May 2014 accessed 6 Nov 2017
^ Worboise [Guyton], Emma Jane: The Life of
Thomas Arnold D. D.
^ Sir Joshua Fitch (1897), Thomas and
Matthew Arnold and their
influence on English education, London, Heinemann, pp. 1,
^ J. A. Gere and John Sparrow (ed.), Geoffrey Madan's Notebooks,
Oxford University Press, 1981.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the
public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical
Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons.
Copley,Terrence. Black Tom: Arnold of Rugby: The Myth and the Man, New
York: Continuum, 2002
Ellis, Heather. "Thomas Arnold, Christian Manliness and the Problem of
Boyhood' Journal of Victorian Culture (2014) 19#3 pp 425–41 online
Grilli, Giorgia. "English public schools and the moulding of
the'Englishman'." History of Education & Children's Literature
Heffer, Simon. High minds: the Victorians and the birth of modern
Britain (2013) pp 1-30.
Jann, Rosemary The Art and Science of Victorian History (1985) pp.
1–32 online free
McCrum, Michael. Thomas Arnold, Headmaster, Oxford: Oxford University
Neddam, Fabrice. "Constructing Masculinities under
Thomas Arnold of
Rugby (1828-1842): Gender, Educational Policy and School Life in an
Early-Victorian Public School" Gender and Education (2004) 16#3
Puccio, Paul M. "At the Heart of" Tom Brown's Schooldays": Thomas
Arnold and Christian Friendship." Modern Language Studies (1995):
57-74. JSTOR 3195488
Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians, (London, 1918), online, famous
Stanley, Arthur Penrhyn. The life and correspondence of Thomas Arnold,
D. D., late head-master of Rugby school and regius professor of modern
history in the
University of Oxford
University of Oxford (2 vol. 1877) famous biography by
a former student. online
Wymer, Norman. Dr. Arnold of Rugby (1953)
Winn, William E. "
Tom Brown's Schooldays
Tom Brown's Schooldays and the Development of
'Muscular Christianity'" Church History (1960) 29#1 pp. 64-73
Arnold, Thomas. Arnold of Rugby: His school life and contributions to
education (1897) online.
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