On the revolution of 1830

You may see M____'s name and mine amongst the subscribers for the sufferers at Paris. It seems to me a most blessed revolution, spotless beyond all example in history, and the most glorious instance of a royal rebellion against society, promptly and energetically repressed, that the world has yet seen. It magnificently vindicates the cause of knowledge and liberty, showing how humanizing to all classes of society are the spread of thought and information, and improved political institutions; and it lays the crimes of the last revolution just in the right place, the wicked aristocracy, that had so brutalized the people by its long iniquities, that they were like slaves broken loose when they first bestirred themselves.[to Rev. George Cornish, 24 August 1830, I, 274]

Arnold's close attention to politics

There was besides a peculiar importance attaching, in his view, to political questions, with which every reader of his works must be familiar. The life of the commonwealth is to him the main subject of history — the laws of political science the main lesson of history — "the desire of taking an active share in the great work of government — the highest earthly desire of the ripened mind." And those who read his letters will be startled at times by the interest with which he watches the changes of administration, where to many the real difference would seem to be comparatively trifling. Thus he would speak of a ministry advocating even good measures inconsistently with their position or principles, "as a daily painfulness — moral east wind, which made him feel uncomfortable without any particular ailment" — or lament the ascendancy of false political views, as tending "to the sure moral degradation of the whole community, and the ultimate social disorganization of our system," "not from reading the Morning Chronicle or the Edinburgh Review, but from reading the Bible and Aristotle, and all history."

Such expressions as these must indeed be taken with the necessary qualifications which belong to all words spoken to intimate friends in a period of great excitement. But they may serve to illustrate . . . his tendency to view all things in a practical and concrete form, and . . . his belief of the large power possessed by the supreme governors of society over the social and moral condition of those intrusted to them. But there were also real principles present to his mind whenever he thus spoke. . . . Conservatism in his mouth was not merely the watchword of an English party, but the symbol of an evil, against which his whole life public and private was one continual struggle. . . . Jacobinism, again, in his use of the word included not only the extreme movement party in France and England, to which he usually applied it, but all the natiral tendencie sof manikind, whetrher "democratical, priestly, or chivalrous," to oppose the authority of Law, divine and human, which he regarded with so deep a reverence. [I, 199-201]

"The very question of questions" — Arnold's conception of politics as a religious and practical discipline

The work to which he chiefly looked forward, as that of his old age, on Christian Politics, or Church and State. But it is only a wider survey of his general views that will show how completely this was the centre round which were gathered not only all his writings, but all his thoughts and actions on social subjects, and which gave him a distinct position amongst English divines, not only of the present, but of almost all preceding generations. We must remember how the Greek science. . . of which the English word "politics," or even political science, is so inadequate a translation — society in its connexion with the highest welfare of men — exhibited to him the great problem which every educated man was called upon to solve. We must conceive how lofty were the aspirations which he entertained of what Christianity was in- tended to effect, and what, if rightly applied, it might yet effect, far beyond any thing which has yet been seen, or is ordinarily conceived, for the moral and social restoration of tlie world. We must enter into the keen sense of the startling difficulty which he felt to be presented by its comparative failure. "The influence of Christianity no doubt has made itself felt in all those countries which have professed it; but ought not its effects," he urged, "to have been far more perceptible than they are, now that nearly eighteen hundred years have elapsed since the kingdom of God was first proclaimed? Is it, in fact, the kingdom of God in which we are now living? Are we at this hour living under the law or under grace?" Every thing, in short, which he thought or said on this subject, was in answer to what he used to call the very question of questions; the question which occurs in the earliest of all his works, and which he continued to ask of himself and of others as long as lie lived. "Why, amongst us in this very country, is the mighty work of raising up God's kingdom stopped; the work of bringing every thought and word and deed to the obedience of Christ?" (Serm. vol. i. p. 115.) The great cause of this hindrance to the triumph of Christianity, he believed to lie (to adopt his own distinction) in the corruption not of the Religion of Christ, but of the Church of Christ. The former he felt had on the whole done its work —" its truths," he said, "are to be sought in the Scriptures alone, and are the same at all times and in all countries." But "the Church, which is not a revelation concerning the eternal and unchangeable God, but an institution to enable changeable man to apprehend the unchangeable," had, he maintained, been virtually destroyed: and thus, ("Christianity being intended to remedy the intensity of the evil of the Fall by its Religion, and the universality of the evil by its Church, has succeeded in the first, because its Religion has been retained as God gave it, but lias failed in the second, because its Church has been greatly corrupted." (Serm. vol. iv. Pref. p. xliv.) [I, 224-25]

"the revolutionary themes, I cannot even imagine the origin of so absurd a falsehood, except it be that one of my subjects last half year was " the particular evils which civilized society is exposed to, as opposed to savage life," which I gave for the purpose of clearing their notions about luxury, and the old declamations about Scythian simplicity, &c.; but I suppose that I am thought to have a longing for the woods, and an impatience of the restraint of breeches. It is really too great a folly to be talked of as a revolutionist, with a family of seven young children, and a house and income that I should be rather puzzled to match in America, if I were obliged to change my quarters. My quarrel with the anti-liberal party is, that they are going the way to force my children to America, and to deprive me and every one else of property, station, and all the inestimable benefits of society in England. There is nothing so revolutionary, because there is nothing so unnatural and so convulsive to society as the strain to keep things fixed, when all the world is by the very law of its creation in eternal progress; and the cause of all the evils of the world may be traced to that natural but most deadly error of human indolence and corruption, that our business is to preserve and not to improve. It is the ruin of us all alike, individuals, schools, and nations. [I, 290]

PERHAPS no more striking instance of his deep interest in the state of the country could be found, than in the gloom, with which his correspondence is suddenly overcast in the autumn of 1830. The alarming aspect of English society brought to view in the rural disturbances in the winter of 1830, and additionally darkened in 1831-32, by the visitation of the Cholera, and the political agitations of the Reform Bill, little as it came within his own expe- rience, gave a colour to his whole mind. Of his state of feeling at this time, no better example can be given than the five sermons appended to the open- ing course of his practical school sermons, in his second volume, especially the last of them, which was preached in the chapel on the Sunday when the news of the arrival of the Cholera in England first reached Rugby. There are those amongst his pupils who can never forget the moment when, on that dark November afternoon, after the simple preface, stating in what sense worldly thoughts were or were not to be brought into that place, he at once began with that solemnity which marked his voice and manner when speaking of what deeply moved him: — " I need not tell you that this is a marked time — a time such as neither we, not our fathers for many generations befiore us, have experienced." [I, 281-82]

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 political history Thomas Arnold of Rugby

Last modified 16 July 2006