decorated initial 'H' is whole method was founded on the principle of awakening the intellect of every individual boy. Hence it was his practice to teach by questioning. As a general rule, he never gave information, except as a kind of reward for an answer, and often withheld it altogether, or checked himself in the very act of uttering it, from a sense that those whom he was addressing had not sufficient interest or sympathy to entitle them to receive it. His explanations were as short as possible — enough to dispose of the difficulty and no more; and his questions were of a kind to call the attention of the boys to the real point of every subject, to disclose to them the exact boundaries of what they knew or did not know, and to cultivate a habit not only of collecting facts, but of expressing themselves with facility, and of understanding the principles on which their facts rested. "You come here," he said, "not to read, but to learn how to read;" and thus the greater part of his instructions were interwoven with the process of their own minds; there was a continual reference to their thoughts, an acknowledgment that, so far as their information and power of reasoning could take them, they ought to have an opinion of their own. He was evidently working not for, but with the form, as if they were equally interested with himself in making-out the meaning of the passage before them. His object was to set them right, not by correcting them at once, but either by gradually helping them on to a true answer, or by making the answers of the more advanced part of the form serve as a medium, through which his instructions might be communicated to the less advanced. Such a system he thought valuable alike to both classes of boys. To those who by natural quickness or greater experience of his teaching were more able to follow his instructions, it confirmed the sense of the responsible position which they held in the school, intellectually as well as morally. To a boy less ready or less accustomed to it, it gave precisely what he conceived that such a character required. "He wants this," to use his own words," and he wants it daily — not only to interest and excite him, but to dispel what is very apt to grow around a lonely reader not constantly questioned — a haze of indistinctness as to a consciousness of his own knowledge or ignorance; he takes a vague impression for a definite one, an imperfect notion for one that is full and complete, and in this way he is continually deceiving himself."

Hence, also, he not only laid great stress on original compositions, but endeavoured so to choose the subjects of exercises as to oblige them to read and lead them to think for themselves. He dealt at once the death blow to themes (as he expressed it) on "Virtus est bona res," and gave instead historical or geographical descriptions, imaginary speeches or letters, etymological accounts of words, or criticisms of books, or put religious and moral subjects in such a form as awakened a new and real interest in them. [143-45]


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 History Thomas Arnold of Rugby

Last modified 16 July 2006