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Near the end of Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), the narrator mentions two kinds of Rugby alumni with whom he has become estranged — those who take different approaches to doing good and those far more tragic ones who have fallen away from the ideal of service. "Are there not some," the narrator asks, "whom we still see sometimes in the streets, whose haunts and homes we know . . . yet from whom we are really farther than we are from the dead, and from those who have gone out of our ken? Yes, there are and must be such; and therein lies the sadness of old School memories. . . . We must go our way, and they theirs, as long as flesh and spirit hold together; but let our own Rugby poet speak words of healing for this trial: —

"To veer how vain! on, onward strain,
Brave barks, in light, in darkness too;
Through winds and tides one compass guides, —
To that, and your own selves, be true.

"But, O blithe breeze, and O great seas,
Though ne'er that earliest parting past,
On your wide plain they join again;
Together lead them home at last.

"One port, methought, alike they sought,
One purpose hold where'er they fare.
O bounding breeze, O rushing seas,
At last, at last, unite them there!" — Clough, Ambarvalia.

This is not mere longing; it is prophecy. So over these too, our old friends, who are friends no more, we sorrow not as men without hope. It is only for those who seem to us to have lost compass and purpose, and to be driven helplessly on rocks and quicksands, whose lives are spent in the service of the world, the flesh, and the devil, for self alone, and not for their fellow-men, their country, or their God, that we must mourn and pray.

Several points of interest in this passage deserve mention. First, it occurs in a novel directed at boys of secondary school age (which suggests that Hughes might have lost his focus). Second, he admits that others may take vastly different social, political, and religous approaches than his. Third, Hughes names Arthur Hugh Clough, not the more famous Matthew Arnold, as "our own Rugby poet" (who, abandoning the church and his Oxford fellowship, certainly belongs to that second group of men who took a different path).


Victorian Overview Thomas Hughes Theme and subject

Last modified 28 June 2006