Thomas Arnold

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Thomas Arnold

Thomas Arnold (13 June 179512 June 1842) was a schoolmaster and historian, head of Rugby School from 1828 to 1841. His son was the poet Matthew Arnold; he was also an ancestor of Aldous Huxley.


  • My highest ambition, and what I hope to do as far as I can, is to make my history the very reverse of Gibbon in this respect,—that whereas the whole spirit of his work, from its low morality, is hostile to religion, without speaking directly against it, so my greatest desire would be, in my History, by its high morals and its general tone, to be of use to the cause, without actually bringing it forward.
    • Statement (1826) on his History of Rome, quoted in A. P. Stanley, The Life and Correspondence and Thomas Arnold (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910), p. 192
  • With regard to reforms at Rugby, give me credit, I must beg of you, for a most sincere desire to make it a place of Christian education. At the same time, my object will be, if possible, to form Christian men, for Christian boys I can scarcely hope to make.
    • Letter to Rev. John Tucker accepting appointment as headmaster of Rugby (2 March 1828), quoted in Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, The Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold, Volume I (1845), p. 61
  • If one might wish for impossibilities, I might then wish that my children might be well versed in physical science, but in due subordination to the fulness and freshness of their knowledge on moral subjects. ... [R]ather than have it the principal thing in my son's mind, I would gladly have him think that the sun went round the earth, and that the stars were so many spangles set in the bright blue firmament. Surely the one thing needful for a Christian and an Englishman to study is Christian and moral and political philosophy.
    • Letter to Dr. Greenhill (9 May 1836), quoted in Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, The Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold, Volume I (1845), p. 281


  • Real knowledge, like every thing else of the highest value, is not to be obtained easily. It must be worked for, — studied for, — thought for, — and, more than all, it must be prayed for.
    • Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895). p. 364.
  • As of rioting, the old Roman way of dealing with that is always the right one; flog the rank and file, and fling the ring-leaders from the Tarpeian rock.
    • Quoted by Matthew Arnold, Cornhill Magazine, August 1868
  • The distinction between Christianity and all other systems of religion consists largely in this, that in these other, men are found seeking after God, while Christianity is God seeking after man.
    • Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 133.
  • [In many cases] there is no doubt that the shrine of a Muslim saint marks the site of some local cult which was practised on the spot long before the introduction of Islam.
    • Quoted in P.M. Currie, The Shrine and Cult of Mu‘in al-Dîn Chishtî of Ajmer (1989), pp. 74-87 and quoted in Ram Swarup, Hindu View of Christianity and Islam (1992)

Quotes about Arnold[edit]

  • I [found], on going to the university, that...the tone of young men...was universally irreligious. A religious undergraduate was very rare, very much laughed at when he appeared; and I think I may confidently say, hardly to be found among public-school men. ... A most singular and striking change has come over our public schools—a change too great for any person to appreciate adequately, who has not known them in both these times. This change is undoubtedly part of a general improvement of our generation in respect of piety and reverence, but I am sure that to Dr. Arnold's personal earnest simplicity of purpose, strength of character, power of influence, and piety...the carrying of this improvement into our schools is mainly attributable. He was the first. It soon began to be a matter of observation to us in the university that his pupils brought quite a different character with them to Oxford than that which we knew elsewhere. I do not speak of opinions; but his pupils were thoughtful, manly minded, conscious of duty and obligation.
    • George Moberly, letter written when he was headmaster of Winchester College (1835-1866), quoted in Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, The Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold, D.D. [1844] (1846), p. 126
  • His testimonials were few in number, and most of them couched in general language, but all speaking strongly of his qualifications. Amongst them was a letter from Dr. Hawkins, now Provost of Oriel, in which it was predicted that, if Mr. Arnold were elected to the head-mastership of Rugby, he would change the face of education all through the public schools of England.

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