decorated initial 'T'hat classical studies should be the basis of intellectual teaching, he maintained from the first. "The study of language," he said, "seems to me as if it was given for the very purpose of forming the human mind in youth; and the Greek and Latin languages in themselves so perfect, and at the same time freed from the insuperable difficulty which must attend any attempt to teach boys philology through the medium of their own spoken language, seem the very instruments, by which this is to be effected." . . . The changes in his views resulted on the whole from his increasing conviction, that "it was not knowledge, but the means of gaining knowledge which he had to teach;" as well as by his increasing sense of the value of the ancient authors, as belonging really to a period of modern civilization like our own: the feeling that in them, "with a perfect abstraction from those particular names and associations, which are for ever biassing our judgment in modern and domestic instances, the great principles of all political questions, whether civil or ecclesiastical, are perfectly discussed and illustrated with entire freedom, with most attractive eloquence, and with profoundest wisdom." (Serm. vol. iii. Pref. p. xiii.) From time to time, therefore, as in the Journal of Education, (vol. vii. p. 240,) where his reasons are stated at length, he raised his voice against the popular outcry, by which classical instruction was at that time assailed. And it was, perhaps, not without a share in producing the subsequent reaction in its favour, that the one Head-master, who, from his political connexions and opinions, would have been supposed most likely to yield to the clamour, was the one who made the most deliberate and decided protest against it. . . .

He was the first Englishman who drew attention in our public schools to the historical, political, and philosophical value of philology and of the ancient writers, as distinguished from the mere verbal criticism and elegant scholarship of the last century. And besides the general impulse which he gave to miscellaneous reading, both in the regular examinations and by encouraging the tastes of particular boys for geology or other like pursuits, he incorporated the study of Modern History, Modern Languages, and Mathematics into the work of the school, which attempt, as it was the first of its kind, so it was at one time the chief topic of blame and praise in his system of instruction. The reading of a considerable portion of modern history was effected without difficulty; but the endeavour to teach mathematics and modern languages, especially the latter, not as an optional appendage, but as a regular part of the school business, was beset with obstacles, which rendered his plan less successful than he had anticipated; though his wishes, especially for boys who were unable to reap the full advantage of classical studies were, to a great extent, answered. [138-40] . . .

In the subject of the lessons it was not only the language, but the author and the age which rose before him; it was not merely a lesson to be got through and explained, but a work which was to be understood, to be condemned or to be admired. It was an old opinion of his, which, though much modified was never altogether abandoned, that the mass of boys had not a sufficient appreciation of poetry, to make it worth while for them to read so much of the ancient poets, in proportion to prose writers, as was usual when he came to Rugby. But for some of them he had besides a personal distaste. The Greek tragedians, though reading them constantly, and portions of them with the liveliest admiration, he thought on the whole greatly overrated; and still more, the second-rate Latin poets, but whom he seldom used; and some, such as Tibullus and Propertius, never. "I do really think," he said, speaking of these last as late as 1842 "that any examiners incur a serious responsibility who require or encourage the reading of these books for scholarships; of all useless reading, surely the reading of indifferent poets is most useless." And to some of them lie had a yet deeper feeling of aversion. It was not till 1835 that he himself read the plays of Aristophanes, and though he was then much struck with the "Clouds," and ultimately introduced the partial use of his Comedies in the school, yet his strong moral disapprobation always interfered with his sense of the genius both of that poet and Juvenal.

But of the classical lessons generally his enjoyment was complete. When asked once whether he did not find the repetition of the same lessons irksome to him, "No," he said, "there is a constant freshness in them; I find something new in them every time that I go over them." The best proof of the pleasure which he took in them is the distinct impression which his scholars retained of the feeling, often rather implied than expressed, with which he entered into the several works ; the enthusiasm with which, both in the public and private orations of Demosthenes, he would contemplate piece by piece "the luminous clearness" of the sentences; the affectionate familiarity which he used to show towards Thucydides, knowing as he did the substance of every single chapter by itself; the revival of youthful interest with which he would recur to portions of the works of Aristotle; the keen sense of a new world opening before him, with which in later years, with ever increasing pleasure, he entered into the works of Plato; — above all, his child-like enjoyment of Herodotus, and that "fountain of beauty and delight which no man," he said, "can ever drain dry," the poetry of Homer. The simple language of that early age was exactly what he was most able to reproduce in his own simple and touching translations; and his eyes would fill with tears, wlien he came to the story which told how Cleobis and Bito, as a reward for their filial piety, lay down in the temple, and fell asleep and died. [151-52]

Related Material


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. 4th ed. 2 vols. London: B. Fellowes, 1845.

Victorian Overview Victorian Education Thomas Arnold of Rugby

Last modified 16 July 2006