Arnold, a famous early Victorian liberal, who encountered much vilification in his own time, explained the growth of his politics ideas in a letter of 26 January 1840 to his close friend Justice Coleridge:

I was brought up in a strong Tory family; the first impressions of my own mind shook my merely received impressions to pieces, and at Winchester I was well nigh a Jacobin. At sixteen, when I went up to Oxford, all the influences of the place which I loved exceedingly, your influence above all, blew my Jacobinism to pieces, and made me again a Tory. I used to speak strong Toryism in the old Attic Society, and greedily did I read Clarendon with all the sympathy of a thorough royalist. Then came the peace, when Napoleon was put down, and the Tories had it their own way. Nothing shook my Toryism more than the strong Tory sentiments that I used to hear at __, though I liked the family exceedingly. But I heard language at which my organ of justice stood aghast, and which, the more I read of the Bible, seems to me more and more unchristian. I could not but go on inquiring, and I do feel thankful that now and for some years past I have been living not in scepticism, but in a very sincere faith, which embraces most unreservedly those great truths, divine and human, which the highest authorities, divine. and human, seem to me concurringly to teach. [II, 198]

Tory to Radical to Tory to skepticism (?) to Liberalism! Writing eighteen months later to the same friend, Arnold suggested that differences between liberal and conservative, left and right, derive in some way from fundamental characteristics of each individual:

For, after all, those differences in men's minds which we express, when exemplified in English politics, by the terms Whig and Tory, are very deep and comprehensive, and I should much like to be able to discover a formula which would express them in their most abstract shape; they seem to me to be the great fundamental difference between thinking men ; but yet it is certain that each of these two great divisions of mankind apprehends a truth strongly, and the Kingdom of God will, I suppose, show us the perfect reconciling of the truth held by each. [II, 265]

In the nature-versus-nuture debate, Arnold, one supposes, would have argued that however much environment might influence a person (as it certainly did him) an individual's fundamental tendencies predominate in the end.

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 10 August 2006