Thomas Arnold is probably the most celebrated real (as opposed to invented) headmaster in history. He is the lynch-pin of a book called Tom Brown’s Schooldays written by Thomas Hughes about the experiences of schooling under Arnold at Rugby. The book, still in print, launched the career of another massive literary creation, Flashman the Rugby bully (by George Macdonald Fraser) running to twelve volumes. The school itself launched into the sporting world its third most popular team sport (played in over thirty countries) – Rugby Football.
One day a Rugby boy called Ellis picked up an ordinary soccer ball, perhaps bored with merely kicking it – and ran with it under his arm.
The book has also been filmed countless times. Dr. Arnold has been portrayed by actors as distinct from each other as Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Robert Newton (a sobering thought), Stephen Fry (an Uppingham man), and Ian Cuthbertson.
Thomas Arnold was born in the Isle of Wight, England in 1795. Educated at Winchester and Oxford, he became a Fellow at Oriel in 1815 at the age of twenty. He was also ordained priest in the Anglican Church, and married in 1819. In 1828 he was invited to become Headmaster of of Rugby in the Midlands, a formerly great institution that had fallen on bad times, lax in discipline, and with a reputation for drunken brawling.
At Rugby Arnold soon became an influence on British education, and enhanced the school’s reputation. Historians have it that Arnold did not innovate at Rugby; he set out to make it a school, as he said ‘for gentlemen’. He adopted the legendary prefectorial system, making it coherent and productive for the first time, as prefects or praeposters had been around for a long time, using their undoubted power in the schools more for bullying purposes than to maintain discipline and install the idea of self-discipline in growing boys.
His creation was quickly adopted in most other British secondary schools. What became known as ‘the Arnold System’ spread through the medium of masters and old boys (Rugbeians) leaving the school and employing it in other places of education. It would be fair to state that many schools founded in Britain and the Commonwealth, not to mention the private schools founded in the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, were modelled on Dr. Arnold’s Rugby. The once solid practice of teaching Greek and Latin as well as basic Mathematics and Modern Languages to all students was greatly encouraged by Arnold. It has now fallen in disuse, which is Britain’s loss. Dr. Arnold died when he was forty-seven years old, a prematurely aged, exhausted man.
Matthew Arnold was born in December, 1822 when his father Thomas was twenty-seven. He became a poet of some distinction, and a critic who wrote not only about literature, but also theology, art, history, the sciences and politics.
He became an inspector of schools in 1851, and stayed in that post almost until death, occupying what spare time he could find in his written criticism. Critical works for which he is most remembered are Essays in Criticism, first series 1865; second series in 1888, and Culture and Anarchy (1869). In 1867 he published a book of poetry called New Poems, which followed his Empedocles on Etna and Other Poems published in 1852.
Matthew Arnold was irritated, astonished and angered by dreadful Victorian malcondition of life, brought about mainly by the success of the Industrial Revolution. He assaulted the maladies of the Victorian epoch with the energy and erudition shown by his father in his re-modelling of the British public school system.xfordhe became a Fellow at Oriel