Tom Brown's Schooldays (by Thomas Hughes, 1857).
No two books can well be less like each other than ‘Tom Brown's Schooldays’ and the later volumes of ‘Dr. Newman's Sermons,’ but they have one characteristic point of resemblance. Each is a prolonged dramatic aside. Dr. Newman addresses Roman Catholics that Protestants may overhear him, and the ‘Old Boy’ speaks to his contemporaries through the medium of his juniors. Like old-fashioned sermons, the book is addressed to two descriptions of persons: boys and men. The part of the book which is addressed to boys is very simple, and we think so good that hardly any praise can be too high for it. The author has succeeded in an attempt in which Miss Edgeworth failed. The weak point of such stories as ‘Barring out,’ ‘Eton Montem,’ ‘Frank,’ and others in which schoolboys and their doings are put upon the scene, is that they were written by a woman who could only guess at the real character of that most curious phase of society, life at a public school. ‘Tom Brown,’ on the contrary, is the exact picture of the bright side of a Rugby boy's experiences told with a life, a spirit, and a fond minuteness of detail and recollection which is infinitely honourable to the author. Many men have received equally strong impressions from their passage through a public school, but few would, we think, be able to paint them with so much vigour and fidelity. It requires so much courage, so much honesty, so much purity, to traverse that stage of life without doing and suffering many things which make the recollection of it painful, that a man who can honestly describe his school experience in the tone which the author of ‘Tom Brown’ maintains throughout this volume without an effort, has a very high claim indeed to the respect and gratitude of his readers. It would be hard to imagine a more cheerful or a more useful lesson to a public school boy. Every corner of the playground, every rule of football, every quaint school usage, almost every room in the schoolhouse, is sketched so boldly and yet so accurately that Rugboeans will, no doubt, be able to realise to themselves every sentence of the book. Even the gentiles of Eton, Harrow, or Winchester, bigoted, as they are sure to be, in favour of their own institutions, cannot fail to see that Tom Brown was a very fine fellow, and that, though he had the misfortune to be at Rugby, they can hardly do better than follow his example in several particulars.
The story itself is so slight that it hardly admits of criticism. It is nothing more than a series of pictures of various parts of boy life. First of all we have the infancy of Tom Brown amongst what were, though under the influence of free trade and scientific agriculture they have almost ceased to be, the Berkshire downs. The charms of open air, springy turf, and rural feasts, glorified by exhibitions of wrestling and backsword; the wisdom of hedge doctors, and the delights of rambling about with village companions after birds' nests or bulrushes, are set forth very picturesquely, but we must say rather tyrannically. It is not every one who has had the good fortune to be born in a country village with its quaint customs and primitive simplicity. The aristocratic contempt which the ‘Old Boy’ expresses for such of his juniors as ‘go gadding over ‘half Europe every holidays’ is rather hard upon those who, if they took his advice to find their pleasures at home, would have no amusement more exciting than a visit to Astley's, and no sport more wholesome than fishing in the Serpentine. After a short episode at a private school, which finds little favour in the eyes of his biographer, Tom Brown is transported to Rugby by the orthodox stage coach, the fine old English gentleman of the road. At Rugby a certain Harry East, the fidus Achates of the hero, takes him in hand at once, and introduces him to a football match, which is described in the style of a Homeric battle, and with a certain combination of zest and solemnity which almost makes us suspect that the game was only played last week, and that in some mysterious manner the ‘Old Boy's’ whole prospects in life depended on its issue. Its incidents and management are curiously characteristic of the whole system of English public school life. The game is anything but a mere amusement. Indeed, the name can only be applied to so solemn an institution by a classical metaphor. It is an άγων, something between a battle and a sacrifice. ‘Every boy ‘in the school must be there.’ ‘Some of the sixth stop at the door to turn the whole string of boys into the close. The rest go forwards to see that no one escapes by any of the sidegates.’ The two armies are regularly marshalled: there are the goal keepers and their captain; the quarters and their captain; and the players up in their various divisions, each led by its own captain; and last of all comes the great Panjandrum himself, Old Brooke, who is to kick off. How that mighty king of men, and Menelaus his brother, good at need, and Crab Jones, the many counselled, and the swiftfooted East, and the newly arrived Tom Brown, and other stalwart souls of heroes demeaned themselves on the occasion, the ‘Old Boy’ relates in a manner half Greek and half Gothic; for if the contest itself is Homeric, the songs and the beer by which it is celebrated in the evening, and the eloquence with which ‘Pater Brooke' exhorts his survivors on the prospect of his own removal from amongst them, are redolent rather of the Walhalla than of the Pantheon.
In the midst of all this glory, valour, and rejoicing, the tidings of our might, the festal city's blaze, and the wine cup crowned in light, some tenderly disposed readers may be inclined to turn a pitying eye on the unfortunates who were forced into playing against their will; and, certainly, though young gentlemen with a proper allowance of muscle and due toughness of lungs may find it both pleasant and profitable to kick and be kicked for the glory of their respective sides, the unlucky boys, ‘obliged to stay in goal’ and arranged ‘so as to occupy the whole space between the goal posts at distances of about five yards apart,’ would appear to claim some pity. To stand sentry over nothing for a couple of hours, keeping yourself warm by blowing your fingers and stamping your feet, and looking on while others play, is certainly not the liveliest amusement in the world. Such hardships are, however, an essential part of the system. It is the distinctive peculiarity of most of our public schools that the boys voluntarily force each other and themselves to acquire a certain physical training which to a vast proportion of them is the most important branch of their school education. The whole genius of the system is quite opposed to so low a view of the great mysteries of football, cricket, and boating, as that which regards them as mere amusements; they are exercises and tasks, the performance of which is enforced by far stronger sanctions than any which the authorities of the school have it in their power to apply. Even when, as at Eton, no direct force is employed to compel the boys to play at the games of the season, there is an indirect compulsion at least as inexorable. A boy may not be actually obliged to play on any particular occasion; but if he habitually abstains from doing so he becomes a social outcast, and exposes himself to a very strong suspicion of being guilty of the one unpardonable sin—punishable by unlimited thrashing, contempt, and excommunication — namely, cowardice. Upon any other view of the character of these games the continuance of some of them would be quite inexplicable. It is, for example, as difficult to suppose that any one should voluntarily choose to amuse himself by what at Eton used to be called ‘playing at the wall’ as to imagine that in the absence of any custom to that effect Hindoo widows should have treated themselves to the luxury of a Suttee.
To return to the experiences of Tom Brown. After being tossed in a blanket, scouring the country at Hare and Hounds, and getting used to the ways of the school, he falls upon evil days. The big sixth form boys who used to keep order leave the scene of their glories, and a brutal tyranny on the part of the fifth form, who illegally usurp the right of fagging, sets in. The war between East and Brown on the one hand, and the bully Flashman on the other, is carried on with great spirit and truth; and we own to feeling more gratification at the triumph of the two little boys who are incited by a very queer good angel called Digges to combine to thrash the big bully, than we have felt for years past at the prosperous union of any hero and heroine whatever. Poor Tom, however, suffers to a certain extent from his insubordination; for having quelled his tyrant the bully, he proceeds, by a not unnatural association of ideas, to make war upon school regulations. He gets flogged for trespassing, reported for scrambling on to the roof of the tower and scratching his name on the minute hand of the clock, flogged for going to Rugby fair, and otherwise subjected to the penalties made and provided for various treasons, felonies, and misdemeanors. At this point in his career, Dr. Arnold's discipline is brought on the stage. A quiet, timid, clever boy, with a delicate body and strong principles, is, at the doctor's suggestion, allotted to the hero for a chum. Brown protects him, honours him, throws a boot at the head of another boy who laughs at him for saying his prayers, takes shame to himself for having failed to do so according to an old promise made to his mother, and thenceforth adopts the practice. Arthur, the delicate boy, entirely reclaims Tom, who in return weans him by degrees from his physical timidity, and initiates him into the athletics of the place. The rest of the book is occupied principally with grave subjects, to which we shall refer directly; but they are relieved by two other passages from the common life of schoolboys. The first is a fight between Tom Brown and ‘Slogger Williams, and the second a grand cricket-match between Rugby and Marylebone, played on the eve of the hero's departure in the full blaze of his glory as praepostor and captain of the eleven. Each of these episodes is excellently described. The account of the fight, though luxuriant in its details, is free from any approach to coarseness or brutality, and the description of the cricket-match puts the scene before the reader's eyes with extraordinary distinctness, and shows an appreciation of the delicacies of the game which excites both respect and envy.
The book ends with Dr. Arnold's death and the deep grief with which Brown, then an Oxford man on a fishing tour in Skye, receives the news, and hurries off to Rugby to mourn over his old master. It is long since we have read anything more touching and at the same time more manly. The union of several sad and solemn currents of thought: sorrow for the loss of a guide so deeply honoured and loved; anxiety and something like awe at the change from boyhood to manhood; the fond melancholy with which those who have deserved it are privileged to look back from its close upon the incidents of the first chapter of life; are all described with a manly simplicity, a quiet piety, and an occasional touch of hearty unobtrusive humour which make it impossible to close the book without a feeling of personal gratitude to the author. Whatever exception may be taken to some of its features and to some of the characteristics of the school which it eulogizes, it is impossible not to feel that there must be very great merits in a system which could inspire such an affection. No slight praise is due to a school which is remembered so freshly and described so affectionately after the lapse of twenty years. If any method of education can confer upon or encourage in its pupils the simplicity, the lightheartedness, the honesty, purity, and courage which are manifested in every page of ‘Tom Brown's Schooldays,’ it has solved a far more important and more difficult problem than is involved in the production of any amount of classical or mathematical knowledge. Passing from the story which is addressed to boys to the moral addressed to men, our praise of ‘Tom Brown's Schooldays’ must be far more qualified. When the vigorous freshness of the descriptions, and the warmhearted generosity of the moral tone are subtracted from the book, the residuum will be found to consist of three elements. The author profoundly admires the general character and constitution of English public schools. He almost worships Dr. Arnold; and he views every part of the subject through the medium of the doctrines of a school of which Mr. Kingsley is at once the ablest and the most popular teacher. We have something to say upon each of these subjects; and we cannot entirely agree with the author in the view which he takes of any one of them. In many of his views about the general character of public schools it is impossible not to concur most cordially. There can be no doubt that some of the most important elements of the moral training common to them all are most sound and important. They are, beyond all question, the strongest modern illustration of the old Persian theory that the best education for youth consisted in riding, drawing the bow, and speaking the truth; nor are we at all disposed to quarrel with the opinion, that, designedly or not, they have adopted the best means of enforcing discipline, by leaving it to the boys themselves. The advantages of this arrangement could hardly be obtained in any other manner. They consist not only in the physical qualities they develope; nor in the production of that special form of courage (once most absurdly depreciated as a merely animal quality) which consists in readiness to brave obvious and immediate danger, and to which this country owes a very large proportion of its greatness; but in a knowledge of the world and of human nature, altogether invaluable to society at large, and singularly conducive to the complete formation of the manly character.
Any one who will take the trouble to analyse the various forms of extravagant opinion which have produced so much mischief within the last half century, will find that almost all of them are closely connected with, if they did not actually originate in, diseased sensibility, and the want of a due estimate of the comparative force and importance of human passions and pursuits. The rebels against society, from Byron and Shelley downwards; the dreamers who have been kicking against the pricks for the last forty years in all parts of the world; the pale-eyed prophets muttering fearful change in religion, politics, literature, art, and all other departments of human knowledge; have in almost every instance broken out of the course, either because they were haunted by some vision of perfection which, as they supposed, would become a reality but for the prejudices and stupidity of mankind, or because they felt unexplained wants, unrecognised longings, and unacknowledged powers, which only required discovery to make their possessors the heirs of all the ages in the foremost files of time. That such feelings have had less influence, and that such revolts have produced less effect, in this than in most other countries, is often imputed to us as a fault by continental critics. We are taunted with being a race whose old men dream no dreams, and whose youth see no visions. Englishmen in general will willingly plead guilty to such an accusation; and amongst the causes which produce the facts on which it is founded, they may, we think, fairly rate very highly the moral influence of our public school education. We do not believe that any system was ever invented so real, so healthy, and so bracing both to the mind and body. It dispels illusions, calms the imagination, and sobers the whole moral and intellectual constitution as effectually as it hardens the muscles and braces the nerves. The way in which this is brought about is in a great majority of cases obvious enough. Boys too young to have vitiated their minds with speculations about life are suddenly thrown into the midst of a miniature of the real world in which they are to live, reproducing very vigorously and exactly, and without any artificial disguise, the motives and the conduct, the good and the evil, of the larger world outside. The entire absence of any restraint or supervision, except during the few hours actually passed at lessons, is the best possible security against their forming illusions about the life which lies beyond their own observation. Bound a boy's horizon by the walls of his school or his playground, protect him against his comrades, against his own idleness, supineness, and extravagance, by vigilant supervision and a routine discipline, turn his physical education into a task, and his imagination is sure to run riot upon everything from which he is debarred. He will invest the fields and the streets which he may not visit, and the passions which he is artificially prevented from indulging, with a sort of fairyland colouring; and when he is actually admitted to them —during the effervescence of mind and feeling which so often marks the transition from boyhood to manhood—he will be sure in every direction to see men as trees walking. It is hardly possible that an English public school boy should fall into this kind of mistake; for he has been brought into contact from a very early age, almost from childhood, with real men, real passions, and real things, situated nearly as they are elsewhere, and acting upon each other naturally, without the intervention of any disturbing forces; and when he hears or speaks of them, his associations are with realities, and not with mere words in books.
Such is the effect produced by this system upon those average minds which form an immense numerical majority in every large school; but it must not be forgotten that public schools, like other communities of boys or men, contain a small minority of persons distinguished by those peculiarities of temperament, mental and bodily, which may be symptomatic of a certain febrile irritability of character, but which, it must be confessed, are sometimes the companions of the very highest endowments, moral and intellectual. Amongst these will be found, in all probability, most of the members of that very small class which it is not desirable to absorb into the common business of life. It is, indeed, hardly possible to scrutinise too strictly the pretensions of any one who proposes to pursue an exceptional course. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the ambition to be a man of genius, and to decline what so many idle and vapouring minds consider the vulgar pursuits of trading, professional or social life, is a silly and not a very harmless fancy; but in the hundredth case the refusal to admit the claim is nothing less than a public calamity; for if it does not neutralise powers of incalculable importance to the happiness of mankind, it is only too likely to goad them into rebellion against the whole social fabric. It was a misfortune that the industry and ingenuity of Fearne should be wasted upon such a barbarous Chinese puzzle as Contingent Remainders; but it was a grievous and fearful thing that Mirabeau should be driven into exile and debauchery because France could not find employment for one of the few men who might have stood between the living and the dead in the great revolution.
It would be hard to mention any weightier responsibility than that which is involved in the education of a peculiar boy. To treat the symptoms of what differs but little from disease as being symptoms of genius, is almost certain to produce an overweening vanity, fatal to the boy's future capacity for any of the careers of life; whilst, on the other hand, there are few more melancholy histories than those which record the tortures inflicted on youths whose genius was mistaken for disease. A mistake in the one direction may convert a lazy dreamy lad into an emasculate coxcomb. A mistake in the other may lash a Cowper or Shelley into melancholy madness. These are the exceptional cases, for which no general rule can be laid down. All that can be done is to recognise the fact, that sensibility often greatly needs vigorous correctives. What correctives are likely in any case to be vigorous is matter of experiment; but where there is sufficient constitutional vigour in the subject, public school life is often an admirable prescription.
It may, no doubt, happen that such a boy may be considerably persecuted, but even if he is, there may be cases in which the discipline would be good for him. To the great majority of such boys, however, persecution would be only an occasional and transient inconvenience, and the other influences of a public school are perhaps even more wholesome for an imaginative sensitive lad, than for his commonplace companions. To those who know how to use it, a public school is a sort of grammar and dictionary of human nature, and in the study of human nature a good elementary grounding is even more important than in that of language or of mathematics. A most striking illustration of this may be seen in the writings of the most observant of living novelists. Nothing can show more emphatically how much Mr. Thackeray owes to his Charterhouse experience, than the prominence which he gives to school life in no less than three of his novels, and the clearness with which he enables us to recognise in the boy the features of the man.
Independently of the knowledge which it gives him of his schoolfellows, a public school affords to such a boy as we are describing an excellent opportunity of learning his own place in life. He will find that talents and accomplishments do not govern the world, and that in order to understand the working of society, it is necessary to be something more than an accomplished gentleman. He will learn to estimate the power, whatever he may think of the merits, of a hard coarse temperament, and he will discover the immunities which a light heart and a thick skin confer on their possessors. He will learn how to go through life without undertaking what he is not fit for, without repining at what cannot be helped. Mr. Thackeray has, we think, painted these results of public school life very happily in the characters of Pendennis and Clive Newcome. The one is timid and sceptical, the other bold and generous, but each knows the length of his tether perfectly well, and each learns it at school, though Pendennis forgets his lesson at college, and has to learn it a second time in London. We owe it to our public schools, Mr. Thackeray tells us, that young Englishmen are more modest than their neighbours. We may perhaps vary, and at the same time illustrate this expression, by saying that they are better broken in. They see the world in more sober colours, and have a clearer view of the nature of the pursuits of life, and of the conditions under which they are possible. It is impossible to overrate the importance of acquiring such habits of mind; for no one can look at life without perceiving that nothing can be easier than to take a sceptical do-nothing view of it. The great mystery of the nature and origin of evil transforms itself into countless shapes, and makes it possible, for any one who is inclined to do so, to ridicule or to defy every law and institution of social life; for it cannot be denied that a man who directs his attention only to one side of human affairs, may always find a justification for despising what is most useful, and ridiculing what is most sacred. There are still some writers who will speak of government as corrupt and organised oppression; of marriage as a sham, substituted by avarice and worldliness for love; and of all organised systems of religion as spiritual prisonhouses; and it is a melancholy truth, that wickedness and folly constantly supply evidence in support of such assertions. Their real refutation lies in an appeal to experience. The slightest acquaintance with any one sphere of active life overthrows them at once, and satisfies any moderately candid mind that, whatever may be the confusions and contradictions of human affairs, they are regulated, in some way or other, by laws and principles which no one can afford to neglect, or even to misapprehend. The same experience will, in most cases, go further, and convince those who obtain it that, speaking very broadly, society is right and not wrong on these subjects, and that practices or theories which can only be justified on the opposite supposition are ipso facto refuted. Practical scepticism has never existed to any considerable extent except amongst people who were isolated from their kind by ease, or maddened by wrong and suffering. A careless Bohémien who stands alone in life, who has no family, no particular calling, good health and lively talents, may mock at the world and its ways, or, if he is sulky, may turn socialist and curse it; and the same disposition will be found to prevail more or less in other classes of society in exact proportion to the degree in which their members stand aloof from the real business of life. If, however, a man has to keep a shop, to follow a profession, to manage an estate, to bring up a family, or to carry on the business of the world in any other department, he finds at once that he must either mismanage and abandon it altogether, or take up with the ordinary principles, vulgar as they may look, and absurd and worn out as he may have thought them.
Such conclusions are embraced by some men only as the result of painful experience of the folly of denying them. Others will admit them doggedly and cynically, to the exclusion of all softer feelings, except the regret with which they look back upon a careless youth and its brilliant illusions. It is the great glory of our English schools that they teach so many of their pupils a more excellent way, that they lead them to acknowledge the laws and submit to the evils of life, not with pain and grief, but with a hearty assent, which invigorates human nature. No greater service can be rendered to any one than that of launching him upon life with a willing and rational consent to the principles which govern it, neither wrung from him by penitence, nor imposed upon him, as a bit is forced into the mouth of a vicious horse, by fear and pain. In a great proportion of cases our public schools effect this for their pupils by introducing them, from a very early age indeed, to a genuine though a somewhat rough phase of life, and by furnishing them with a standard by which they may afterwards judge to some extent of the value of the schemes and theories upon the subject which they will meet with.
It may perhaps be objected to such a system that it has a tendency to make boys prematurely hard and worldly; and there can be no doubt that when the system fails, as of course it often must, it fails in this direction. On the other hand, it occasionally subjects the mind to a sterner discipline than it can bear, and, as in the case of Shelley, produces in an aggravated form the very evils which in most instances it cures. These, however, are the exceptions. As a general rule there are few things to which an Englishman looks back with more affection than his school and his college. In most of our great schools there is much that is not only venerable and picturesque, but thoroughly kindly. The mere official teaching by no means exhausts the relation between the masters and the boys. Their out-door pursuits are not only permitted, but without being made a task, except by themselves, are fully recognised and anxiously encouraged. Even in the matter of study, the elder boys receive a great deal of individual assistance and advice from the masters, and gradually come to be treated by them with much personal confidence. All these, and many other circumstances, produce a tie between the pupil and the school, which often strengthens as life advances; and, sometimes, as in the case of the Marquis of Wellesley, is cherished and displayed in its most solemn acts. No stronger evidence could be given of the hold which a great public school exercises over the affections of the highest minds, than the fact that the man who added Southern and Central India to the British Empire, desired that his body might be laid in the chapel of Eton College; and this sentiment has never been more finely expressed than in the lines which were one of the last productions of that august pen:
‘Sit mihi, primitiasque meas, tenuesque triumphosIt is, however, unnecessary, in reviewing ‘Tom Brown's Schooldays,’ to enlarge upon this subject, for the book itself supplies an admirable illustration of the sources and of the force of the sentiment in question. But it would not be difficult to point out the defects of the system. We will confine ourselves to two remarks upon them. They are, we think, most glaring in those who become most distinguished under its operation. It is not a wholesome thing for any boy to be so distinguished in arts and arms, as the head of a public school often is at eighteen: such premature distinction not unfrequently produces a kind and degree of priggishness which no subsequent experience of life can remedy. As to the inertness and childishness of the great mass which so much distressed Dr. Arnold, we would suggest that intellectual rather than moral remedies are likely to be beneficial. Martin, the young naturalist, introduced into ‘Tom Brown's Schooldays,’ is a character which suggests a most important inquiry upon this head — whether, namely, a somewhat more flexible system of instruction, susceptible of modifications according to individual tastes, might not exercise a very happy moral influence over many of those who at present pass through our great schools in that state of apathetic indifference, which so often betrays men into the coarser forms of vice.
Sit, revocare tuos dulcis Etona! dies.
Auspice Te, summae mirari culmina famae,
Et purum antiquae lucis adire jubar
Edidici puer, et jam primo in limite vitae,
Ingenuas veræ laudis amare vias.’
Such being the general system of our public schools, how was Dr. Arnold related to it? It is perhaps difficult, for any one who was not brought into personal relations with himself and his system, to answer the question satisfactorily; but judging from facts before the world, and especially from his life and correspondence, we should be inclined to say, that no two persons could be less like each other than the real Dr. Arnold of Rugby and the Dr. Arnold of ‘Tom Brown's Schooldays.’ The special peculiarity of his character would seem to have been an intense and somewhat impatient fervour. To him and his admirers we owe the substitution of the word ‘earnest' for its predecessor ‘serious.’ Good man as he most undoubtedly was, he could never learn not to fret himself because of the ungodly. He saw all kinds of evil with such keenness, and was so anxious for its removal or destruction, that he was hardly capable of forming a cool judgment on its extent or intensity. No one can read his earlier letters about Rugby, without seeing that he was far more keenly alive to the defects, than to the merits of the public school system. He was almost in despair at the ‘awful wickedness’ of boys of fourteen. He dreaded the ‘low standard of opinion’ prevalent amongst them. In fact he seems to have felt that the whole system was out of joint, and that he was at Rugby to set it right. The means on which he relied for this purpose, and the principles on which he disposed of them, are curiously characteristic, and can only be understood by reference to the facts of his life. Dr. Arnold went to Oxford with no experience of the world; he was a member of a rather narrow University clique. He took orders and married early, and passed the first years of his married life in the tuition of private pupils at Laleham, and in occasional tours on the Continent. He seems to have read and speculated largely during this period on theology and politics, without having the opportunity of testing his theories by practice or of discussing them to any considerable extent either with his equals or his superiors. He thus elaborated that strange doctrine of the identity of Church and State, which to many persons appeared at one time the announcement of a new gospel, though its soundness may be estimated by the fact that its author declared that if the Jews were admitted to Parliament he should feel serious scruples about entering into legal proceedings excepting the Ecclesiastical Courts. It was whilst his mind was full of this and cognate speculations that he was appointed to the Mastership of Rugby, and it is impossible not to see that the whole of his conduct there was strongly tinged by his wish to reduce them to practice. It has been usual to speak of his success in the attempt in terms of almost unqualified praise, and we do not for a moment deny that his management of the school had very high merits; but we think that it also reflected very clearly the defects of his character, especially those of his intellect. Whatever benefit boys could derive from living under the care of a man of perfect honesty, deep conscientiousness, sincere and fervent piety, and an energy and courage which almost became blemishes by their excess, the Rugby boys derived from Dr. Arnold. By the constant employment of these virtues, aided by a vigorous, original, and most independent understanding, and adorned by a literary reputation hardly exceeded by that of any contemporary, he not only raised the school to a very high pitch of prosperity, but undoubtedly succeeded in elevating the social position of schoolmasters in general, for he was the first person who proved by experiment that a man of first-rate powers and education might devote himself enthusiastically to that profession. His great merits have been so eloquently vindicated and so amply acknowledged, that it is unnecessary to dwell upon them here; and we hope that we shall not lay ourselves open to the imputation of wishing to carp at a great man; if, instead of giving an unreserved assent to the chorus of admiration which is raised in his honour, we point out some of the defects of a system and of a character which has been so unreservedly praised, that its very blemishes are eagerly copied in some of the most important schools in England.
In estimating Dr. Arnold's influence at Rugby, we must consider it under two heads. There was, in the first place, the general influence which his vigorous supervision and management exercised over the whole school, and of this we have nothing unfavourable to say: we believe, on the other hand, that it was excellent. Secondly, there was an influence of a much narrower kind which Dr. Arnold exercised over the elder boys alone. The zeal which pervaded his whole character would have prevented him, we think, even if circumstances had allowed of intercourse with them, from sympathizing with or even understanding the younger boys; and it would seem to have given to his influence over the elder ones a very questionable complexion. At all events it harmonised ill with what we conceive to be the general spirit of public school education, and introduced into it an entirely new element. The great standing charge which Dr. Arnold brought against public school boys was the want of what he delighted to call ‘moral thoughtfulness;’ a phrase, which to those who remember its employment at the universities by the solemn array of Rugby praepostors, is associated with a most ludicrous recollection of old heads set upon young shoulders, and completely puzzled by their position. Such, however, was far from being Dr. Arnold's estimate of this cardinal virtue. To make his boys morally thoughtful was for him the substance of the law and the prophets. The total want of humour which characterised him prevented him from seeing that much of what he considered ‘awful wickedness,’ was mere fun, and that it was far less desirable than possible to turn boys into men before their time. [We may mention, in illustration of this, an anecdote, which, whether true or not, shows at any rate the character which those who lived with Dr. Arnold attributed to him. A boy once answered to his name when called over by a ‘Here’ which made the windows rattle, and excused himself by saying that, being of a nervous disposition, he was so frightened at hearing his name called, that his shout was involuntary. Instead of settling the question by a laugh and fifty lines of Virgil, Dr. Arnold solemnly consulted a physician to know whether this was possible.] It seems to have been his serious wish to bring boys to see a duty in every act of their lives, and to imitate his own habit of referring the most trifling matters to the most awful principles. There is a class of persons on whom it is extremely easy to produce this result. An imaginative sensitive boy of sixteen is more open to these than to almost any other impressions. When Dr. Arnold was himself of that age he was at college, amongst grownup men, and he did not therefore know how boys at that time of life naturally feel upon such subjects. It is an age when sensibilities of all sorts want the bridle far more than the spur; for a lad is then first distinctly conscious of the degree in which his capacities will soon exceed the limits of the position in which he finds himself. Like a young horse who has no load and no rider, he begins, from mere wantonness, to rear, to kick, and to think that the stout cobs who carry middle-aged gentlemen, and the sleek horses who draw prosaic carriages so quietly along the smooth roads, do not show in their daily labour half so much strength or resource as he does when he flings out his heels or rolls on the grass. If a touch of melancholy (as is so often the case) mingles with this stirring of the blood, it often takes the form of impatience at the puerility of school life. The lad wishes to make grand speeches in Parliament, to lead the storming party up a breach, to write poems which shall throw Shakspeare into the shade, to invent machines which shall supersede railroads and steamships. When a youth of this stamp hears from such a man as Arnold the sort of half truths which he communicated to his sixth form boys, he receives them as the very fulfilment of his dreams. He is told that the moral welfare here and hereafter of some four hundred boys depends, in a great degree, on his exertions. His master, the object of his idolatry, delegates to him the combined authority of the priest and the prophet. If there is evil in the house he is to hate it, to preach to it, and finally, to take a cane, and thrash it in the name of the Lord — an exercise which gratifies the old Adam, while it gives a grim satisfaction to the new. All the objects and incidents around him acquire a sort of new signification, and satisfy at once his love for theory, and his dread of seeing his theory comfuted by facts. He never ties his shoes without asserting a principle; when he puts on his hat he ‘founds himself” on an eternal truth. How can arma virumque be trivial; how can football be puerile; how can it be a vulgar incident to lick your fag for not toasting your sausages, when every motion of the tongue, hand, or foot involves the idea of the πόλις, and asserts the identity of the Christian Church with the Christian State? Conversely, who can be so hardy as to deny the truth of the theory in the face of the fact Sceptics and quibblers can never disconnect the civil and religious functions of life, whilst members of parliament swear on the true faith of a Christian, and the praepostors of Rugby brandish their canes and cry silence.
It is curious to see how even now the “Old Boy’ is under the charm. In any one but a Rugboean the importance which he attaches to the merest trifles would be quite unintelligible. He finds as many morals in a boxing match as Mr. Ruskin does in the twist of a gurgoyle's tail, or the shape of a wallflower's root. It asserts the great truth, that life is all a battle, that it is our great business to fight, and so forth; in short, it is one of a hundred excuses for taking up the cry—In the name of the prophet, Figs. ‘Floreat pugilatus’ by all means, but leave the gloves to depend on their natural charms, and far be the day when these will not be enough to teach English boys the final cause of their fists. Do we honour them the less for finding no moral in them?
“If you find no moral there,[Dr. Hawtrey's view of fisticuffs was very different from Tom Brown's heroics. Two lads taken with the mainour close in front of his chambers, received the following admonition, given with a very unsuccessful attempt at gravity: ‘Well, boys will quarrel, and I suppose if they do they had better fight; but you need not do it just before my door.’ Indeed we have heard that even at Rugby such things had not always such very deep meanings. ‘Come, boys, come, ‘you must not fight on an empty stomach,’ was the admonition given by one of the Rugby masters to a pair of matutinal gladiators.]
Go look in any glass and say,
What moral lies in being fair;
Or, to what uses shall we put
The wildweed flower that sweetly grows;
Or is there any moral shut
Within the blossom of the rose.
. . . .
And liberal applications lie
In Art like Nature, dearest friend,
So 't were to cramp their use if we
Should hook them to some useful end.’
The same temper is even more strangely shown in Tom Brown's reasons for thinking that Rugby in his day was “perhaps ‘the only spot of England well and strongly ruled.’ Incredible as it may appear, Dr. Arnold actually contrived, by an elaborate policy, to abolish the scandal of ‘island fagging.” It appears that there was a sort of island in one corner of the close of Rugby in which the sixth form had gardens; that there was an ill-used race of fags who tilled the soil, sowed the seed, and reaped the harvest, with enduring toil, for the purpose of producing flowers to ornament the school-room at the Easter speeches; and that it was customary to supply deficiencies by a raid on the gardens of peaceful citizens. Tom Brown is penetrated with wonder at Dr. Arnold's wisdom in getting the better of this giant abuse. He first changed the time of his speeches, then he artfully suggested that the sixth form might put up gymnastic poles on the island; and thus island fagging and garden robbing died a quasi natural death, and Tom Brown learnt a great moral lesson about ‘planting a good thing in the place “of a bad one.” The story, we must say, reminds us of Hogarth's picture of the quack doctor's elaborate machine for drawing corks.
Why not abolish the custom at once? Heaven and earth would have remained apart, and even the fearful sixth form would have survived their searchings of heart. Eton was full of old customs, but Dr. Hawtrey put them down when he thought proper, with an iron hand, little thinking that he was guilty of culpable rashness. As the genealogical Chief Justice counted up the extinctions of the Bohuns, the Veres, and the Plantagenets, in his application of the text about the fashion of this world, so we may look back upon the traditions of youth. What has become of cricket fagging? Where are rug-ridings, college hidings, and all the common law of Long Chamber? and, ‘what is more, and most of all,’ where is Eton Montem?
We would not be understood to deride the importance of the influence exercised by the elder boys at a public school. Still less should we wish to imply that the sanctions of religion do not apply to the common affairs of life, to those of boys no less than those of men; and no one can doubt that Dr. Arnold did excellent service in denouncing and exposing the falsehood of that division of life into secular and spiritual, which was in his time even more prevalent and even more mischievous than it is now. We admit, and would, if necessary, assert as strongly as he did, that there is but one right and one wrong; and that to suppose that there are moral virtues which are unrecognised by religion, is little less false and dangerous than to suppose that there are religious graces which are independent of morality; but we differ from him and from his eulogist in thinking that it is most undesirable to be in the constant habit of referring every action to the great fundamental principles of right and wrong. In practice it is impossible and undesirable not to look upon a very large proportion of human actions as indifferent. Men have only a limited amount of time and strength at their disposal. ‘Life,' it has been nobly said, ‘is not long enough for scruples.’ We ought to direct our view to the weightier matters of the law, and leave the mint and cummin to take care of themselves. An ingenious person may make his acceptance or refusal of an invitation depend upon his view of the source of moral obligation, but he had much better not, for he will either solve his problem wrongly after all, or else he will waste upon it far more time than it is worth. The temptation to act thus is particularly strong upon boys and unmarried women. They have nothing to do which is at once important and open to doubt. That a boy at school ought to learn his lesson, that a grown-up daughter ought to nurse her mother if she is ill, or teach her little brothers to read, or at any rate to dress as well as she can, and play on the piano, are self-evident truths, and therefore there is no conscious effort to be good, no assertion of a cherished principle in acting accordingly; and thus the craving after the exercise of an important discretion has to satisfy itself on trifles. Nothing is easier than to get up, mock important business by linking small results to great principles. A praepostor's cane, which is a penny cane and nothing more, may hit or miss, as it happens. Turn it into the sword of the Lord and of Gideon, and you may well argue for an hour about unsheathing it. Such practices are very unwholesome. They not only stimulate a diseased consciousness, but they are pretty sure to deaden the feelings of a hard nature, and to upset the balance of a soft one.
From what we have said, it will appear that in our view of the case it was Dr. Arnold's special characteristic that he innovated largely on the principles on which public schools are generally conducted; and it therefore seems strange that so ardent an advocate of those principles as the author of Tom Brown should feel such unqualified admiration for him. It is, however, quite clear, upon comparing Tom Brown's Dr. Arnold with Mr. Stanley's, that they are very different people. All the most essential features of the second character are wanting in the first. Tom Brown hardly notices any one feature of the course of study at Rugby. He gives the impression that it was an immense playground, in which the boys, having the gift of prophecy, talked like the characters in Mr. Kingsley's novels. We have no more than a few hints about the personal intercourse which Dr. Arnold so kindly and characteristically carried on with his elder pupils, or of the great changes which he made in introducing modern history and languages into the school curriculum. The book suggests the conclusion that the author's personal relations with his master when at school were comparatively slight; that he afterwards learnt to admire and understand him; and that he now looks back upon him and his system through a sort of halo, shed upon them by the light of Mr. Kingsley's writings. On no other supposition can we account for his determination throughout to look upon Dr. Arnold as an incarnation of the virtues especially lauded by that very eloquent and popular writer. Dr. Arnold differed as widely as possible from this ideal in two very essential points. He was worthy of the very highest respect and admiration; but few men were less simple or unconscious. He was full of scruples. He had scruples about taking orders at all; when he became a deacon he felt a scruple about being ordained priest. He seems throughout life to have looked upon the profession of the law as being ‘a grievous snare.’ He was, in short, constantly harassed and exercised, if not by doubts yet by theories, which never would square with the facts of the world. All this is quite opposed to the spirit in which the author of ‘Tom Brown' writes, and to the sort of character which he extols. It is hardly less strange to make Dr. Arnold a patron saint of athleticism. His letters often refer to the Rugby amusements, but they give no proof that he took the sort of view of them which is taken by ‘Tom Brown.’ On the contrary, the exuberant animal spirits of the boys filled him with a sort of sorrow. He seems to wish that they were chastened by some sterner influences. ‘When the spring and activity of youth, he wrote, is altogether unsanctified by anything pure and elevated in its desires, it becomes a spectacle that is as dizzying, and almost more morally distressing, than the shouts and gambols of a set of lunatics. It is very startling to see so much of sin combined with so little of sorrow. In a parish, amongst the poor, whatever of sin exists, there is sure also to be enough of suffering; poverty, sickness, and old age are mighty tamers and chastisers. But with boys of the richer classes, one sees nothing but plenty, health, and youth; and these are really awful to behold, when one must feel that they are unblessed.’ No one would discover from the book under review that these were Dr. Arnold's feelings; or if they were, that its author shared them.
The view which it takes of Dr. Arnold's character leads us to the remark that ‘Tom Brown's Schooldays’ has one claim to attention which is quite independent of its relations to Rugby or to its master. It represents, not only fairly but favourably, a school of feeling rather than thought, which, though small, is becoming very influential in the hands of zealous and eloquent teachers. It is a school of which Mr. Kingsley is the ablest doctor; and its doctrine has been described fairly and cleverly as ‘muscular Christianity.’ The principal characteristics of the writer whose works earned this burlesque though expressive description, are his deep sense of the sacredness of all the ordinary relations and all the common duties of life, and the vigour with which he contends for the merits of simple massive unconscious goodness, and for the great importance and value of animal spirits, physical strength, and a hearty enjoyment of all the pursuits and accomplishments which are connected with them. We entirely agree in the truth and importance of the first and last of these opinions; nor do we think that many persons would dissent from them when they are stated categorically. They are closely connected with the whole Protestant conception of life; and we do not think that Englishmen as a body are fairly chargeable with their neglect or denial.
The propriety of Mr. Kingsley's admiration of simplicity and unconsciousness strikes us as more questionable. Indeed, constantly as the words are used by a certain class of writers, we are not quite sure that we understand what they refer to. If we were perfect members of a perfect world, we might be unconscious of our own perfection; but, as things are, we hardly see how a man can be unconscious of goodness unless he is dead to its antagonism to vice. Such a person is like nothing so much as a man who with a keen eye for darkness is insensible to light. As to simplicity, we are equally puzzled. We understand what is meant by a massive understanding. Bacon's mind was massive; Hooker's was massive; that of Hobbes was pre-eminently massive. But in what sense were they simple? The facts of life are far too complex to be embraced by an understanding which only recognises a few broad divisions. Many most essential distinctions are to the last degree refined. How would the simple understanding discriminate between pride and vanity, or between pride and self-respect? How would it deal with the Bank Charter Act, or apply the theory of rent unfolded by Ricardo? Are the writers with whom Mr. Kingsley himself is most intimately associated remarkable for simplicity? Mr. Maurice is almost his alter ego, but would any human creature reckon the gift in question amongst the many virtues of that excellent person? If simplicity means something which can be predicated of the sort of mind which produced the ‘Theological Essays’ and the ‘Kingdom of Christ,’ it fairly baffles our comprehension.
Whatever may be the truth upon these subjects, there are very various ways in which it may be taught; and we fear that that which Mr. Kingsley has invented, and which the author of “Tom Brown' has followed up, is open to very grave objections. It consists of writing novels, the hero of which is almost always drawn in the most glowing colours, and intended to display the excellence of a simple massive understanding united with the almost unconscious instinct to do good, and adorned, generally speaking, with every sort of athletic accomplishment. If, as we suppose, it is Mr. Kingsley's object to invigorate the minds of his contemporaries, to make them simpler, stronger, and more manly, we do not think he is taking quite the right course for that end. [Our observations apply principally to his novels. The ‘Village Sermons' are written, we think, in a somewhat different spirit.] His novels are calculated to produce an artistic admiration for simplicity and vigour, rather than simplicity and vigour themselves; and these things are not only independent of, but are to a certain extent opposed to, each other. Nothing is more common than to admire the qualities in which we are deficient; and as Jeffery Hudson, in ‘Peveril of the Peak,’ is constantly envying every one a few inches taller than his neighbours, we should fear that the grand simple giants in ‘Yeast,’ ‘Alton Locke,’ and ‘Westward Ho,’ would be particularly welcome to the febrile, irritable, over-excited part of the generation to which they are addressed, and we do not think that such reading would be likely to calm or to brace their nerves. Nothing can do that efficiently but strong exercise of mind and body, and abstinence from the stimulants appropriate to each. Mr. Kingsley's novels are powerful stimulants, and lead their readers not to take exercise but to dream of taking it. He is a man of whom we wish on every account to speak with the respect which is so justly due to his genius and to his kindliness, but we are bound to say that the intellectual gifts which his novels display are very unlike the simple athletic understanding, and the calm self-possessed good sense, which he rates so highly. Compare Mr. Kingsley's speculations with Butler or Bentham; compare his political and social disquisitions with Cobbett, and the difference between massiveness and ingenuity, strong thinking and strong feeling, are very curiously illustrated. Even the characters introduced into his novels are not really strong. Their massiveness usually shows itself principally in their muscular development. We cannot think, for example, that a man who, like Paul Tregarva, is driven to the verge of madness by the spectacle of the state of the poor in England, is entitled to be called a strong character. In “Two Years ‘Ago’ there is a simple-minded Scotch soldier, who is the virtuous giant of the book, yet he has so little force of character as to let the heroine make an utter fool of him. A chance word from her changes the whole course of his life; and after her marriage, he carries about with him an affection for her which he has not the force to overcome, and which makes him welcome death in the very flower of his age. Such a man is essentially weak, whatever may be the breadth of his pectoral muscles. Subtract the physical force from any one of Mr. Kingsley's heroes, and he loses all his character.
The praise which Mr. Kingsley lavishes on athletic accomplishments is, we think, rather overdone. No doubt his books contain much evidence of a very vigorous appreciation of the pleasures of such pursuits, but they are not quite natural. They read like a constant reiteration of the assertion that a man may be able to walk a thousand miles in a thousand hours, and also to appreciate the Neoplatonist philosophy. “Tom Brown' certainly does not err in this respect. Every line of it tingles with animal life; but it, as well as Mr. Kingsley's books, is open to the objection that, not content with asserting, the value of bodily strength, it throws by implication a certain slur on intellectual strength, which, when all is said and done, is much more important. No doubt strong muscles and hardy nerves are of incalculable importance, but they derive that importance from the mind, of which they are the servants; and though Mr. Kingsley would willingly admit this, and probably means his books to imply it, we do not think they would convey this impression to an ordinary reader.
In ‘Tom Brown' this failing is exaggerated. Compare it with ‘Frank’ or ‘Sandford and Merton.’ The very first lesson which little Master Tommy is taught in the last-named book is to dig and to walk; and Harry Sandford's combat with the bully, Master Mash, is as spirited as the fight between Tom Brown and Williams: so, too, Frank's father carefully teaches him to ride and leap, but neither Day nor Miss Edgeworth allow their readers to forget for a moment that riding, walking, and boxing, though admirable things, are only means, and not ends. A boy might really infer from ‘Tom Brown’ that he was only sent to school to play at football, and that the lessons were quite a secondary consideration. If we are right in thinking that the works under consideration are liable to these objections, the fact is a curious proof of the way in which people contradict themselves, for there can be no doubt that severe mental labour requires the rarest and most enduring form of bodily strength— namely, strength of the digestive organs and nervous system.
Having, however, exhausted our criticisms, we must conclude as we began, by giving our hearty thanks for a very charming book. It is one which does great honour, not only to the author and to Rugby, but to the school of fiction to which it belongs. We heartily congratulate Mr. Kingsley on a disciple who reproduces so vigorously many of his own great merits, and who sympathizes so ardently in feelings which we do not entirely share, but which are generous even in their defects.
Edinburgh Review, January 1858.