Thomas Arnold

Thomas Arnold
Thomas Arnold

Thomas Arnold, 1840
Born 13 June 1795(1795-06-13)
West Cowes, Isle of Wight, England
Died 12 June 1842(1842-06-12) (aged 46)
Rugby, Warwickshire, England
Cause of death angina pectoris
Resting place Rugby School Chapel
Nationality British
Education Lord Weymouth's Grammar School; Winchester School
Alma mater Corpus Christi College, Oxford
Occupation Educator and historian
Known for Reforms to Rugby School (immortalised in Tom Brown's Schooldays)
Title Regius Professor of Modern History, Oxford
Term 1841-1842
Predecessor Edward Nares
Successor John Antony Cramer
Children Matthew Arnold, Tom Arnold, William Delafield Arnold

Dr Thomas Arnold (13 June 1795 – 12 June 1842) was a British educator and historian. Arnold was an early supporter of the Broad Church Anglican movement. He was headmaster of Rugby School from 1828 to 1841, where he introduced a number of reforms.


Early life and education

Arnold was born on the Isle of Wight, the son of William Arnold, an inland revenue officer, and his wife Martha Delafield. He was educated at Lord Weymouth's Grammar School, Warminster (now Warminster School), Winchester and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. There he excelled at Classics and was made a fellow of Oriel in 1815. He was headmaster of the school in Laleham before moving to Rugby.

Career as an educator

Rugby School

Arnold's appointment to the headship of Rugby School in 1828, after some years as a private tutor, turned the school's fortunes around, and his force of character and religious zeal enabled him to turn it into a model followed by the other public schools, exercising an unprecedented influence on the educational system of the country. Though he introduced history, mathematics and modern languages, he based his teaching on the classic languages. "I assume it as the foundation of all my view of the case, that boys at a public school never will learn to speak or pronounce French well, under any circumstances", so it would be enough if they could "learn it grammatically as a dead language". Physical science was not taught, since in Arnold's view "it must either take the chief place in the school curriculum, or it must be left out altogether".[1] He developed the Praeposter (prefect) system in which order was kept in the school by the top, sixth, form who were given powers over every part of the school, carefully managed by himself. The novel, Tom Brown's Schooldays portrays a generation of boys "who feared the Doctor with all our hearts, and very little besides in heaven or earth; who thought more of our sets in the School than of the Church of Christ, and put the traditions of Rugby and the public opinion of boys in our daily life above the laws of God".[2]

Oxford University

He was involved in many controversies, educational and religious. As a churchman he was a decided Erastian, and strongly opposed to the High Church party. In 1841, he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford. His 1833 Principles of Church Reform is associated with the beginnings of the Broad Church movement.[3]


His chief literary works are his unfinished History of Rome (three volumes 1838-42), and his Lectures on Modern History. Far more widely read were his five books of sermons, which were admired by a wide circle of pious readers including Queen Victoria.


He married Mary Penrose, daughter of the Rev. John Penrose of Penryn, Cornwall. They had three daughters and four sons, including the poet Matthew Arnold, the literary scholar Tom, and the author William Delafield Arnold. Their eldest daughter Jane Martha married William Edward Forster, and when William Arnold died in 1859, leaving four orphans, the Forsters adopted them as their own, adding their name to the children's surname. One of these children was Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster, a Liberal Unionist member of parliament, who eventually became a member of Balfour's cabinet.

Arnold bought the small estate of Fox How, near Ambleside in the Lake District in 1832, and spent many of his holidays there. He is buried at Rugby chapel.

Thomas the Younger's daughter Mary Augusta Arnold, became a famous novelist under her married name of Mrs Humphry Ward, whilst Tom's other daughter, Julia, married Leonard Huxley, the son of Thomas Huxley and their sons were Julian and Aldous Huxley. Julia Arnold also founded in 1902 Prior's Field School a still existing girl's school in Godalming, Surrey.

He died suddenly of a heart attack in the midst of his growing influence.

Arnold Family Tree (partial)
Thomas Arnold
Mary Penrose
Matthew Arnold
Tom Arnold
Julia Sorell
William Delafield Arnold
Jane Martha Arnold
William Edward Forster
Mary Augusta Ward
Julia Arnold
Leonard Huxley
Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster
Lucy Story-Maskelyne
Julian Huxley
Aldous Huxley
William Arnold-Forster
Mark Arnold-Forster


The biography, Life of Arnold, published two years after his early death by one of Arnold's former pupils Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, is considered one of the best works of its class in the language and added to his growing reputation. A popular life of him by the novelist Emma Jane Guyton also appeared.[4] In 1896 his bust was unveiled in Westminster Abbey alongside that of his son, Matthew and the Times asserted that "As much as any who could be named, Arnold helped to form the standard of manly worth by which Englishmen judge and submit to be judged".[5] However, his reputation suffered as one of the Eminent Victorians in Lytton Strachey's book of that name published in 1918.

A more recent public school headmaster, Michael McCrum of Tonbridge School and Eton College in the 1960s through 1980s, and also a churchman and Oxbridge academic (Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and Vice-Chancellor), wrote a biography and reappraisal of Arnold in 1991. McCrum was steeped in the significance of Rugby and of public schools; he too had briefly been a master at Rugby and was married to the daughter of another former headmaster.

More recently, a biography entitled Black Tom has been written by Terence Copley. Both McCrum and Copley have sought to restore some of the lustre to the Arnold legacy which has been heavily under attack since Strachey's sardonic appraisal.

A. C. Benson once observed of Arnold that, "A man who could burst into tears at his own dinner-table on hearing a comparison made between St. Paul and St. John to the detriment of the latter, and beg that the subject might never be mentioned again in his presence, could never have been an easy companion".[6]


  • The Christian Duty of Granting the Claims of the Roman Catholics (pamphlet) Rugby, 1828.
  • Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Rugby School, London: Fellowes, 1850 (original 1832).
  • (translator), The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, (3 vols.) London: Fellowes, 1845.
  • Principles of Church Reform, Oxford: Fellowes,1833.
  • History of Rome, London: Fellowes, 1838.
  • Sermons: Christian Life, its Hopes, Fears and Close, London: Fellowes, 1842.
  • Sermons: Christian Life, its Course, London: Fellowes, 1844.
  • The Interpretation of Scripture, London: Fellowes, 1845.
  • Introductory Lectures on Modern History, London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1842.


  1. ^ Strachey, Lytton (1918), Eminent Victorians, p. 173, 
  2. ^ Thomas Hughes (1857), "7", Tom Brown's Schooldays, 
  3. ^ Timothy Hands, Thomas Hardy: Distracted Preacher? London: Macmillan Press, 1989, p. 3.
  4. ^ Worboise [Guyton], Emma Jane: The Life of Thomas Arnold D. D. (London, 1859).
  5. ^ Sir Joshua Fitch (1897), Thomas and Matthew Arnold and their influence on English education, London, Heinemann, pp. 1, 56, 
  6. ^ J.A.Gere and John Sparrow (ed.), Geoffrey Madan's Notebooks, Oxford University Press, 1981

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