ARNOLD, THOMAS (1705-1842), English clergyman and headmaster of Rugby school, was born at West Cowes, in the Isle of Wight, on the 13th of June 1795. He was the son of William and Martha Arnold, the former of whom occupied the 639 situation of collector of customs at Cowes. His father died suddenly of spasm in the heart in 1801, and his early education was confided by his mother to her sister, Miss Delafield. From her tuition he passed to that of Dr Griffiths, at Warminster, in Wiltshire, in 1803; and in 1807 he was removed to Winchester, where he remained until 1811, having entered as a commoner, and afterwards become a scholar of the college. In after life he retained a lively feeling of interest in Winchester school, and remembered with admiration and profit the regulative tact of Dr Goddard and the preceptorial ability of Dr Gabell, who were successively head-masters during his stay there.
From Winchester he removed to Oxford in 1811, where he became a scholar at Corpus Christi College; in 1815 he was elected fellow of Oriel College, and there he continued to reside until 1819. This interval was diligently devoted to the pursuit of classical and historical studies, to preparing himself for ordination, and to searching investigations, under the stimulus of continued discussion with a band of talented and congenial associates, of the profoundest questions in theology, ecclesiastical polity and social philosophy. The authors he most carefully studied at this period were Thucydides and Aristotle, and for their writings he formed an attachment which remained to the close of his life, and exerted a powerful influence upon his mode of thought and opinions, as well as upon his literary occupations in subsequent years. Herodotus also came in for a considerable share of his regard, but more, apparently, for recreation than for work. Accustomed freely and fearlessly to investigate whatever came before him, and swayed by a scrupulous dread of insincerity, he was doomed to long and anxious hesitation concerning some of the fundamental points of theology before arriving at a firm conviction of the truth of Christianity. Once satisfied, however, his faith remained clear and firm; and thenceforward his life became that of a supremely religious man.
To the name of Christ he was prepared to “surrender his whole soul,” and to render before it “obedience, reverence without measure, intense humility, most unreserved adoration” (Serm. ns. vol. iv. p. 210). He did not often talk about religion; he had not much of the accredited phraseology of piety even when he discoursed on spiritual topics; but more than most men he was directed by religious principle and feeling in all his conduct. He left Oxford in 1819, and settled at Laleham, near Staines, where he took pupils for the university. His spare time was devoted to the prosecution of studies in philology and history, more particularly to the study of Thucydides, and of the new light which had been cast upon Roman history and upon historical method in general by the researches of Niebuhr. He was also occasionally engaged in preaching, and it was whilst here that he published the first volume of his sermons. Shortly after he settled at Laleham, he married Mary, youngest daughter of the Rev. John Penrose, rector of Fledborough, Nottinghamshire. After nine years spent at Laleham he was induced to offer himself as a candidate for the vacant head-mastership of Rugby; and though he entered somewhat late upon the contest, and though none of the electors was personally known to him, he was elected in December 1827. In June 1828 he received priest’s orders; in April end November of the same year he took his degrees of B.D. and D.D., and in August entered on his new office.
In one of the testimonials which accompanied his application to the trustees of Rugby, the writer stated it as his conviction that “if Mr Arnold were elected, he would change the face of education all through the public schools of England.” This somewhat hazardous pledge was nobly redeemed. Under Arnold’s superintendence the school became not merely a place where a certain amount of classical or general learning was to be obtained, but a sphere of intellectual, moral and religious discipline, where healthy characters were formed, and men were trained for the duties, and struggles and responsibilities of life. His energies were chiefly devoted to the business of the school; but he found time also for much literary work, as well as for an extensive correspondence. Five volumes of sermons, an edition of Thucydides, with English notes and dissertations, a History of Rome in three vols. 8vo, beside numerous articles in reviews, journals, newspapers and encyclopædias, are extant to attest the untiring activity of his mind, and his patient diligence during this period. His interest also in public matters was incessant, especially ecclesiastical questions, and such as bore upon the social welfare and moral improvement of the masses.
In 1841, after fourteen years at Rugby, Dr Arnold was appointed by Lord Melbourne, then prime minister, to the chair of modern history at Oxford. On the 2nd of December 1841 he delivered his inaugural lecture. Seven other lectures were delivered during the first three weeks of the Lent term of 1842. When the midsummer vacation arrived, he was preparing to set out with his family to Fox How in Westmoreland, where he had purchased some property and built a house. But he was suddenly attacked by angina pectoris, and died on Sunday, the 12th of June 1842. His remains were interred on the following Friday in the chancel of Rugby chapel, immediately under the communion table.
The great peculiarity and charm of Dr Arnold’s nature seemed to lie in the supremacy of the moral and the spiritual element over his whole being. He was not a notable scholar, and he had not much of what is usually called tact in his dealings either with the juvenile or the adult mind. What gave him his power, and secured for him so deeply the respect and veneration of his pupils and acquaintances, was the intensely religious character of his whole life. He seemed ever to act from a severe and lofty estimate of duty. To be just, honest and truthful, he ever held to be the first aim of his being.
His Life was written by Dean Stanley (1845).
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