To his sister Susannah Arnold. Rugby, 1811

Not that I anticipate with much confidence any great benefits to result from the Reform Bill; but the truth is, that we are arrived at one of those periods in the progress of society when the constitution naturally undergoes a change, just as it did two centuries ago. It was impossible then for the king to keep down the higher part of the middle classes; it is impossible now to keep down the middle and lower parts of them. All that resistance to these natural changes can effect is to derange their operation, and make them act violently and mischievously, instead of health- fully or at least harmlessly. The old state of things is gone past recall, and all the efforts of all the Tories cannot save it, but they may by their folly, as they did in France, get us a wild democracy, or a military despotism in the room of it, instead of letting it change quietly into what is merely a new modification of the old state. [I, 303]

To James Marshall. 23 January 1840

As to your difference of opinion with Carlyle about the craving for political rights, I agree with you fully. But I think that, before distress has once got in, a people whose physical wants are well supplied, may be kept for centuries by a government without a desire for political power: but when the ranks immediately above them have been hotly contending earnestly for this very power, and physical distress makes them impatient of their actual condition, then men are apt, I think, to attach even an over-value to the political remedy; and it is then quite too late to try to fatten them into obedience: other parts of their nature have learnt to desire, and will have their desire gratified. [I, 356-47]

References

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 political history Thomas Arnold of Rugby

Last modified 16 July 2006