Assigned to shepherd the young, frail, and recently bereaved Arthur through his difficult first weeks at Rugby, Tom Brown does a fine, honorable job. He teaches the young boy the rules and customs of the school, he shares his study with him, he encourages him to play cricket and other team sports, and he even has a fist fight to protect him from being bullied. Nonetheless, he eventually realizes that the younger boy, like Thomas Arnold, has taught him valuable lessons, too, and several of these concern religion. Arthur's example of getting down on his knees to pray before getting into bed in his dormitory, a room with 19 other students, shames Tom into returning to his own childhood practice. Second, Arthur's way of reading the Bible completely changes Tom's experience of scripture. They
read a chapter of the Bible together, and talked it over afterwards. Tom was at first utterly astonished, and almost shocked, at the sort of way in which Arthur read the book and talked about the men and women whose lives were there told. The first night they happened to fall on the chapters about the famine in Egypt, and Arthur began talking about Joseph as if he were a living statesman — just as he might have talked about Lord Grey and the Reform Bill, only that they were much more living realities to him. The book was to him, Tom saw, the most vivid and delightful history of real people, who might do right or wrong, just like any one who was walking about in Rugby —the Doctor, or the masters, or the sixth-form boys. But the astonishment soon passed off, the scales seemed to drop from his eyes, and the book became at once and for ever to him the great human and divine book, and the men and women, whom he had looked upon as something quite different from himself, became his friends and counsellors.
In one sense, what Arthur teaches Tom resembles evangelical emphases upon using one's imagination to enter fully into the scriptural narrative, to experience oneself the biblical events. At the same time, this Broad Church approach humanizes the figures in Bible stories and in so doing makes them especially relevant to the lives of these young boys.
Hughes, Thomas. Tom Brown's Schooldays. Electronic version from Project Gutenberg produced by Gil Jaysmith and David Widger.
Last modified 26 June 2006