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RUGBY AND OXFORD
MATTHEW ARNOLD was born at Laleham, near Staines, in the county of Middlesex, on Christmas Eve, 1822. Laleham is situated on the Thames, for which from his earliest years he had a passionate love. His father, Dr. Arnold of Rugby, the famous schoolmaster, had nine children, of whom Matthew was the eldest son. Mr. Thomas Arnold, however, did not become Dr. Arnold, or go to Rugby, till 1828. In 1822 he was taking private pupils, and forming the theories of education which he afterwards carried out in a more conspicuous field. His wife, born Mary Penrose, who lived till 1873, having survived her husband more than thirty years, was a woman of remarkable character and intellect, with whom Matthew kept up to the day of her death a mentally sympathetic as well as personally affectionate correspondence. When the family removed to Rugby, Matthew was five, but two years afterwards he returned to Laleham as the pupil of his uncle, the Reverend John Buckland. The country round Rugby is, as Dr. Arnold used pathetically to complain, among the dullest and ugliest in England. As a contrast he took a house at Fox How, near Grasmere, on the Rotha, where he spent most of the holidays with his wife and children. The eldest boy
thus grew up under the shadow of Wordsworth, whose brilliant and penetrating interpreter he was destined to become. In August 1836, being then thirteen and a half, Matthew was sent to Winchester, of which Dr. Moberly, an elegant scholar, long afterwards Bishop of Salisbury, had just been appointed headmaster. Dr. Arnold was himself a Wykehamist, and had a high opinion of his old school. But after a year, in August 1837, Matthew was removed from Winchester to be under his father's eye in the schoolhouse at Rugby, where he remained until he went up to Oxford in 1841.
Rugby under Arnold has been made familiar to millions of readers by Tom Brown's School Days. When Arnold was a candidate, Dr. Hawkins, the Provost of Oriel, prophesied that if elected he would revolutionise the public schools. He certainly revolutionised Rugby. When he came there, it was little more than an ordinary grammar school with boarders. When he died, it was one of the most famous and popular schools in England. The monitorial system was not really his invention. He introduced it from Winchester. But he invested it with a moral significance which had not previously belonged to it, and he leavened the whole school by his own powerful personality. As his accomplished biographer, Dean Stanley, says, “Throughout, whether in the school itself, or in its after effects, the one image that we have before us is not Rugby, but Arnold.” Matthew Arnold bore very little resemblance to his stern Puritanical father. Dr. Arnold was in deadly earnest about everything, and was wholly devoid of humour. He was always declaiming against the childishness of boys, which
after all is not a bad thing, and better than the premature mannishness which the monitorial system encourages. But he was in his way a great man. He had extraordinary force of character and strength of will. He had a magnetic influence upon boys. He was absolutely single-minded and sincere. His piety was deep and genuine, quite without suspicion of cant or conventionalism. His classical scholarship was not only sound and thorough, but broad, robust, and philosophical. As a teacher he stood high, as a preacher higher. There have been few better writers of English prose than Dr. Arnold, and it is perhaps his high literary sense which was his most distinctive bequest to his son. In a letter to his old pupil Vaughan, afterwards Master of the Temple, Dr. Arnold says: “There is an actual pleasure in contemplating so perfect a management of so perfect an instrument as is exhibited in Plato's language, even if the matter were as worthless as the words of Italian music; whereas the sense is only less admirable in many places than the language." But Thucydides was of course his favourite author; and the general reader, as distinguished from the philological student, can have at this day no better guide to the greatest of all historians than Dr. Arnold.
Dr. Arnold was, says Dean Stanley, “the elder brother and playfellow of his children." In that fine poem with the unfortunate metre, “Rugby Chapel,” the son puts it rather differently:
“ If, in the paths of the world,
Stones might have wounded thy feet,
Nothing! To us thou wert still
The thought expressed in these lines, the idea of a good man not content with saving his own soul, but devoting himself also to the salvation of others, is repeated in one of Matthew Arnold's most touching letters to his mother many years after his father's death. It was a singularly delightful trait in a most endearing character, that Mr. Arnold always in writing to her dwelt upon what “Papa” would have thought of things if he had been alive. Dr. Arnold died in 1842; and he was, thought his son, the first English clergyman who could speak as freely upon religious subjects as if he had been a layman. He was, however, strictly orthodox in all the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. He was suspected of heresy on no better grounds than his dislike of the Oxford Movement, which was strong, and his knowledge of German, which was thorough. He took the Liberal side in the first Hampden controversy, but the charges against Dr. Hampden completely broke down. In politics he was a decided, though independent Whig, and he wrote a pamphlet in favour of Catholic Emancipation. Yet he held as firmly as Mr. Gladstone once held the theory of a Christian state, and he consistently opposed the enfranchisement of the Jews. In one respect he was far in advance of his age. “Woe,” he said, “ to the generation which inhabits England when the coal-fields are exhausted, and the National Debt has not been paid." Although he died four years before the Repeal of the Corn Laws, he was a staunch advocate of free exchange. It is impossible not to trace the influence of the father in the politics of the son.
We have the authority of Matthew Arnold's oldest and most intimate friend, Lord Coleridge, for the fact, which might perhaps have been surmised, that between father and son there was more affection than sympathy. Dr. Arnold abhorred "mere cleverness," and humour appeared to him a rather profane indiscretion. His eldest son was excessively clever, and full of a gaiety which he never at any time of life made the smallest attempt to subdue. Lord Coleridge hints that there were collisions between them, and one can partly believe it. But he adds that when the doctor had trouble, as even schoolmasters sometimes have, he found comfort in the filial piety of one whose genius he did not live to acknowledge. The only poem of Matthew Arnold's which his father saw was 66 Alaric at Rome," recited in Rugby School on the 12th of June 1840. The motto from Childe Harold, prefixed to this composition, prepares one for its character, which is distinctly Byronic. It is not much above the ordinary level of such things, and many men have written as good verses when they were boys, who never came within measurable distance of being poets. One stanza, however, deserves to be quoted, because the first two lines are the earliest example of a figure the writer often afterwards employed :
6. Yes, there are stories registered on high, Yes, there are stains time's fingers cannot blot,