Tom Brown's School Days

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Map of Rugby School with portrait of the school's headmaster, Dr. Arnold.

Tom Brown's School Days is an 1857 novel by Thomas Hughes set at Rugby School, an English public school for boys. Hughes attended Rugby School from 1834 to 1842, and the novel is set in the period of the 1830s.

Part I


Ch. 1 - The Brown Family

  • But the world goes on its way, and the wheel turns, and the wrongs of the Browns, like other wrongs, seem in a fair way to get righted.
  • They can't let anything alone which they think going wrong. They must speak their mind about it, annoying all easy-going folk; and spend their time and money in having a tinker at it, however hopeless the job. It is an impossibility to a Brown to leave the most disreputable lame dog on the other side of a stile.
  • Failures slide off them like July rain off a duck's back feathers.
  • I pity people who weren't born in a vale. I don't mean a flat country, but a vale—that is, a flat country bounded by hills. The having your hill always in view, if you choose to turn toward him, that's the essence of a vale. There he is forever in the distance, your friend and companion; you never lose him as you do in hilly districts.
  • I have been credibly informed, and am inclined to believe, that the various boards of directors of railway companies, those gigantic jobbers and bribers, while quarrelling about everything else, agreed together some ten years back to buy up the learned profession of medicine, body and soul. To this end they set apart several millions of money, which they continually distribute judiciously among the doctors, stipulating only this one thing, that they shall prescribe change of air to every patient who can pay, or borrow money to pay, a railway fare, and see their prescription carried out. If it be not for this, why is it that none of us can be well at home for a year together? It wasn't so twenty years ago—not a bit of it.

Ch. 2 - The Veast

  • As that venerable and learned poet (whose voluminous works we all think it the correct thing to admire and talk about, but don't read often) most truly says, "the child is father to the man"; a fortiori, therefore, he must be father to the boy.
  • Tom's nurse was one who took in her instruction very slowly—she seemed to have two left hands and no head; and so Mrs. Brown kept her on longer than usual, that she might expend her awkwardness and forgetfulness upon those who would not judge and punish her too strictly for them.
  • Class amusements, be they for dukes or plough-boys, always become nuisances and curses to a country. The true charm of cricket and hunting is that they are still more or less sociable and universal—there's a place for every man who will come and take his part.
  • Only I have just got this to say before I quit the text. Don't let reformers of any sort think that they are going really to lay hold of the working boys and young men of England by any educational grapnel whatever which hasn't some bona-fide equivalent for the games of the old country "veast" in it; something to put in the place of the back-swording and wrestling and racing; something to try the muscles of men's bodies and the endurance of their hearts, and to make them rejoice in their strength. In all the new-fangled, comprehensive plans which I see, this is all left out; and the consequence is that your great Mechanics' Institutes end in intellectual priggism, and your Christian Young Men's Societies in religious Pharisaism.
  • Life isn't all beer and skittles—but beer and skittles, or something better of the same sort, must form a good part of every Englishman's education.

Ch. 3 - Sundry Wars and Alliances

  • The object of all schools is not to ram Latin and Greek into boys, but to make them good English boys, good future citizens; and by far the most important part of that work must be done, or not done, out of school hours.

Ch. 4 - The Stage-coach

Tom departs for Rugby school aboard the Tally-ho coach.
  • "...If schools are what they were in my time, you'll see a great many cruel blackguard things done, and hear a deal of foul, bad talk. But never fear. You tell the truth, keep a brave and kind heart, and never listen to or say anything you wouldn't have your mother and sister hear, and you'll never feel ashamed to come home, or we to see you."
    • Squire Brown, Tom's father
  • I sometimes think that you boys of this generation are a deal tenderer fellows than we used to be. At any rate, you're much more comfortable travellers, for I see every one of you with his rug or plaid, and other dodges for preserving the caloric, and most of you going in those fuzzy, dusty, padded first-class carriages. It was another affair altogether, a dark ride on the top of the Tally-ho, I can tell you, in a tight Petersham coat, and your feet dangling six inches from the floor. Then you knew what cold was, and what it was to be without legs, for not a bit of feeling had you in them after the first half-hour. But it had its pleasures, the old dark ride. First there was the consciousness of silent endurance, so dear to every Englishman—of standing out against something, and not giving in. Then there was the music of the rattling harness, and the ring of the horses' feet on the hard road, and the glare of the two bright lamps through the steaming hoar-frost, over the leaders' ears, into the darkness; and the cheery toot of the guard's horn, to warn some drowsy pikeman or the ostler at the next change; and the looking forward to daylight; and last, but not least, the delight of returning sensation in your toes.
  • Guard emerges from the tap, where he prefers breakfasting, licking round a tough-looking, doubtful cheroot, which you might tie round your finger, and three whiffs of which would knock any one else out of time.
  • It's very odd how almost all English boys love danger; you can get ten to join a game, or climb a tree, or swim a stream, when there's a chance of breaking their limbs or getting drowned, for one who'll stay on level ground, or in his depth, or play quoits or bowls.

Ch. 5 - Rugby and Football

  • There's nothing for candor like a lower-school boy; and East was a genuine specimen—frank, hearty, and good-natured, well satisfied with himself and his position, and chock-full of life and spirits, and all the Rugby prejudices and traditions which he had been able to get together in the long course of one-half year during which he had been at the School-house.
  • ...but over all is old Brooke, absolute as he of Russia, but wisely and bravely ruling over willing and worshipping subjects, a true football king. His face is earnest and careful as he glances a last time over his array, but full of pluck and hope, the sort of look I hope to see in my general when I go out to fight.
  • You say you don't see much in it all; nothing but a struggling mass of boys, and a leather ball, which seems to excite them all to great fury, as a red rag does a bull. My dear sir, a battle would look much the same to you, except that the boys would be men and the balls iron; but a battle would be worth your looking at for all that, and so is a football-match. You can't be expected to appreciate the delicate strokes of play, the turns by which a game is lost and won—it takes an old player to do that—but the broad philosophy of football you can understand if you will.
  • This is worth living for; the whole sum of school-boy existence gathered up into one straining, struggling half-hour, a half-hour worth a year of common life.

Ch. 6 - After the Match

"Tom...took his three tosses without a kick or a cry"
  • Ah! light words of those whom we love and honor, what a power ye are, and how carelessly wielded by those who can use you!
  • "Bullies are cowards, and one coward makes many..."
    • Old Brooke
  • We looked upon every trumpery little custom and habit which had obtained in the school as though it had been a law of the Medes and Persians, and regarded the infringement or variation of it as a sort of sacrilege.
  • This didn't suit Flashman. What your real bully likes in tossing is when the boys kick and struggle, or hold on to one side of the blanket and so get pitched bodily onto the floor; it's no fun to him when no one is hurt or frightened.

Ch. 7 - Settling to the Collar

  • Everybody, I suppose, knows the dreamy, delicious state in which one lies, half asleep, half awake, while consciousness begins to return, after a sound night's rest in a new place which we are glad to be in, following upon a day of unwonted excitement and exertion. There are few pleasanter pieces of life. The worst of it is that they last such a short time; for, nurse them as you will, by lying perfectly passive in mind and body, you can't make more than five minutes or so of them. After which time the stupid, obtrusive, wakeful entity which we call "I," as impatient as he is stiff-necked, spite of our teeth will force himself back again and take possession of us down to our very toes.
  • Two or three years, more or less, and then the steadily advancing, blessed wave will pass over your names as it has passed over ours.
  • It was this quality above all others which moved such boys as our hero, who had nothing whatever remarkable about him except excess of boyishness; by which I mean animal life in its fullest measure, good nature and honest impulses, hatred of injustice and meanness, and thoughtlessness enough to sink a three-decker.

Ch. 8 - The War of Independence

  • Then came the mass of the form, boys of eleven and twelve, the most mischievous and reckless age of British youth, of whom East and Tom Brown were fair specimens. As full of tricks as monkeys, and of excuses as Irishwomen, making fun of their master, one another, and their lessons, Argus himself would have been puzzled to keep an eye on them; and as for making them steady or serious for half an hour together, it was simply hopeless.
  • "Triste lupus, the sorrowful wolf," he began.
  • But a character for steadiness once gone is not easily recovered, as Tom found, and for years afterward he went up to the school without it, and the masters' hands were against him, and his against them. And he regarded them, as a matter of course, as his natural enemies.
  • In no place in the world has individual character more weight than at a public school. Remember this, I beseech you, all you boys who are getting into the upper forms. Now is the time in all your lives, probably, when you may have more wide influence for good or evil on the society you live in than you ever can have again. Quit yourselves like men, then; speak up, and strike out if necessary, for whatsoever is true, and manly, and lovely, and of good report; never try to be popular, but only to do your duty and help others to do theirs, and you may leave the tone of feeling in the school higher than you found it, and so be doing good, which no living soul can measure, to generations of your countrymen yet unborn. For boys follow one another in herds like sheep, for good or evil; they hate thinking, and have rarely any settled principles. Every school, indeed, has its own traditionary standard of right and wrong, which cannot be transgressed with impunity, marking certain things as low and blackguard, and certain others as lawful and right. This standard is ever varying, though it changes only slowly, and little by little; and, subject only to such standard, it is the leading boys for the time being who give the tone to all the rest, and make the School either a noble institution for the training of Christian Englishmen, or a place where a young boy will get more evil than he would if he were turned out to make his way in London streets, or anything between these two extremes.
  • "And so we get a double set of masters," cried Tom, indignantly; "the lawful ones, who are responsible to the Doctor, at any rate, and the unlawful—the tyrants, who are responsible to nobody."
    • Tom Brown
  • "Don't you go to anybody at all—you just stand out; say you won't fag—they 'll soon get tired of licking you. I've tried it on years ago with their forerunners."
    • Diggs
  • That great event in the English year, the Derby, was celebrated at Rugby in those days by many lotteries. It was not an improving custom, I own, gentle reader, and led to making books and betting and other objectionable results; but when our great Houses of Palaver think it right to stop the nation's business on that day, and many of the members bet heavily themselves, can you blame us boys for following the example of our betters?
  • Gambling makes boys selfish and cruel as well as men.

Ch. 9 - A Chapter of Accidents

"Not he," said Diggs, getting leisurely off the table; "it's all sham—he's only afraid to fight it out."
  • They now often stole out into the hall at nights, incited thereto, partly by the hope of finding Diggs there and having a talk with him, partly by the excitement of doing something which was against rules; for, sad to say, both of our youngsters, since their loss of character for steadiness in their form, had got into the habit of doing things which were forbidden, as a matter of adventure; just in the same way, I should fancy, as men fall into smuggling, and for the same sort of reasons. Thoughtlessness in the first place. It never occurred to them to consider why such and such rules were laid down; the reason was nothing to them; and they only looked upon rules as a sort of challenge from the rule-makers, which it would be rather bad pluck in them not to accept; and then again, in the lower parts of the school they hadn't enough to do.
  • They had done with Flashman in one sense, for he never laid finger on either of them again; but whatever harm a spiteful heart and venomous tongue could do them he took care should be done. Only throw dirt enough, and some of it is sure to stick; and so it was with the fifth form and the bigger boys in general, with whom he associated more or less, and they not at all.
  • The evil that men and boys, too, do, lives after them: Flashman was gone, but our boys, as hinted above, still felt the effects of his hate.
  • So it is, and must be always, my dear boys. If the Angel Gabriel were to come down from heaven, and head a successful rise against the most abominable and unrighteous vested interest, which this poor old world groans under, he would most certainly lose his character for many years, probably for centuries, not only with upholders of said vested interest, but with the respectable mass of the people whom he had delivered. They wouldn't ask him to dinner, or let their names appear with his in the papers; they would be very careful how they spoke of him in the Palaver, or at their clubs. What can we expect, then, when we have only poor, gallant, blundering men like Kossuth, Garibaldi, Mazzini, and righteous causes which do not triumph in their hands; men who have holes enough in their armor, God knows, easy to be hit by respectabilities sitting in their lounging-chairs, and having large balances at their bankers? But you are brave, gallant boys who hate easy-chairs, and have no balances or bankers. You only want to have your heads set straight to take the right side: so bear in mind that majorities, especially respectable ones, are nine times out of ten in the wrong; and that if you see a man or boy striving earnestly on the weak side, however wrong-headed or blundering he may be, you are not to go and join the cry against him. If you can't join him and help him, and make him wiser, at any rate remember that he has found something in the world which he will fight and suffer for, which is just what you have got to do for yourselves; and so think and speak of him tenderly.
  • The May-flies must surely be the lotus-eaters of the ephemeræ; the happiest, laziest, carelessest fly that dances and dreams out his few hours of sunshiny life by English rivers.

Part II


Ch. 1 - How the Tide Turned

  • "Hullo! look here. Tommy," shouted he, "here's fun!" and he brandished above his head some pretty little night-caps, beautifully made and marked, the work of loving fingers in some distant country home. The kind mother and sisters, who sewed that delicate stitching with aching hearts, little thought of the trouble they might be bringing on the young head for which they were meant. The little matron was wiser, and snatched the caps from East before he could look at the name on them.
  • "But look here now, you must answer straight up when the fellows speak to you, and don't be afraid. If you're afraid, you'll get bullied."
    • Tom Brown
  • It was no light act of courage in those days, my dear boys, for a little fellow to say his prayers publicly, even at Rugby.
  • [H]e who has conquered his own coward spirit has conquered the whole outward world.
  • [H]owever we may fancy ourselves alone on the side of good, the King and Lord of men is nowhere without His witnesses; for in every society, however seemingly corrupt and godless, there are those who have not bowed the knee to Baal.

Ch. 2 - The New Boy

Tom shut his Bible with a slap.
  • "...Hang it, I wish I could take things as you do—but I never can get higher than a joke. Everything's a joke. If I was going to be flogged next minute, I should be in a blue funk, but I couldn't help laughing at it for the life of me."
    • Harry "Scud" East
  • He was one of the miserable little, pretty, white-handed, curly-headed boys, petted and pampered by some of the big fellows, who wrote their verses for them, taught them to drink and use bad language, and did all they could to spoil them for everything in this world and the next.
  • He had battled like a man, and gotten a man's reward. No silver teapots or salvers, with flowery inscriptions, setting forth his virtues and the appreciation of a genteel parish; no fat living or stall, for which he never looked, and didn't care; no sighs and praises of comfortable dowagers and well-got-up young women, who worked him slippers, sugared his tea, and adored him as "a devoted man"; but a manly respect...
  • So he and she went quietly among the folk, talking to and treating them just as they would have done people of their own rank. They didn't feel that they were doing anything out of the common way, and so were perfectly natural, and had none of that condescension or consciousness of manner which so outrages the independent poor.
  • The spirit of his father was in him, and the Friend to whom his father had left him did not neglect the trust.
  • "Every man isn't born to be a martyr."
    • George Arthur
  • [East:] "How often have I told you, Tom, that you must drive a nail where it will go?"
    "And how often have I told you," rejoined Tom, "that it 'll always go where you want, if you only stick to it and hit hard enough? I hate half measures and compromises."
    "Yes, he's a whole-hog man, is Tom. Must have the whole animal, hair and teeth, claws and tail," laughed East. "Sooner have no bread any day than half the loaf."
  • "I don't object to a compromise where you don't give up your principle."
    • Tom Brown
  • "There isn't such a reasonable fellow in the world, to hear him talk. He never wants anything but what's right and fair; only when you come to settle what's right and fair, it's everything that he wants, and nothing that you want. And that's his idea of a compromise. Give me the Brown compromise when I'm on his side"
    • Harry "Scud" East
  • "There are times when there is only one way, and that the highest, and then the men are found to stand in the breach."
    • George Arthur

Ch. 3 - Arthur Makes a Friend

  • "He's a very good fellow, but as mad as a hatter. He's called Madman, you know. And never was such a fellow tor getting all sorts of rum things about him. He tamed two snakes last half, and used to carry them about in his pocket, and I'll be bound he's got some hedgehogs and rats in his cupboard now, and no one knows what besides."
    • Tom Brown, talking of Martin
  • The fact was, this was the first attempt at a friendship of his own which Arthur had made, and Tom hailed it as a grand step. The ease with which he himself became hail-fellow-well-met with anybody, and blundered into and out of twenty friendships a half-year, made him sometimes sorry and sometimes angry at Arthur's reserve and loneliness.
  • Now, to persons of moderate invention this was a considerable task, and human nature being prone to repeat itself, it will not be wondered that the masters gave the same subjects sometimes over again after a certain lapse of time. To meet and rebuke this bad habit of the masters, the school-boy mind, with its accustomed ingenuity, had invented an elaborate system of tradition. Almost every boy kept his own vulgus written out in a book, and these books were duly handed down from boy to boy, till (if the tradition has gone on till now) I suppose the popular boys, in whose hands bequeathed vulgus-books have accumulated, are prepared with three or four vulguses on any subject in heaven or earth, or in "more worlds than one," which an unfortunate master can pitch upon. At any rate, such lucky fellows had generally one for themselves and one for a friend in my time. The only objection to the traditionary method of doing your vulguses was the risk that the successions might have become confused, and so that you and another follower of traditions should show up the same identical vulgus some fine morning; in which case, when it happened, considerable grief was the result—but when did such risk hinder boys or men from short cuts and pleasant paths?
  • A fourth method, indeed, was used in the school, but of too simple a kind to require a comment. It may be called the vicarious method, obtained among big boys of lazy or bullying habits, and consisted simply in making clever boys whom they could thrash do their whole vulgus for them, and construe it to them afterward; which latter is a method not to be encouraged, and which I strongly advise you all not to practise.

Ch. 4 - The Bird-fanciers

  • Oh, Tom, you old humbug! you to be upbraiding any one with not learning his lessons! If you hadn't been floored yourself now at first lesson, do you mean to say you wouldn't have been with them? and you've taken away all poor little Arthur's joy and pride in his first birds' eggs; and he goes and puts them down in the study, and takes down his books with a sigh, thinking he has done something horribly wrong, whereas he has learned on in advance much more than will be done at second lesson.
  • We boys had an idea that birds couldn't count, and were quite content as long as you left one egg. I hope it is so.
  • "Good gracious, Tom, what a lot of feathers a duck has!" groaned East, holding a bagful in his hand and looking disconsolately at the carcass, not yet half plucked.
  • "Mind, I don't ask questions," went on Mentor, "but I rather think some of you have been there before this after his chickens. Now, knocking over other people's chickens and running off with them is stealing. It's a nasty word, but that's the plain English of it. If the chickens were dead and lying in a shop, you wouldn't take them, I know that, any more than you would apples out of Griffith's basket; but there's no real difference between chickens running about and apples on a tree and the same articles in a shop. I wish our morals were sounder in such matters. There's nothing so mischievous as these school distinctions, which jumble up right and wrong, and justify things in us for which poor boys would be sent to prison."

Ch. 7 - Harry East's Dilemmas and Deliverances

  • It's more than a game, it's an institution.

Ch. 9 - Finis

  • It was the first great wrench of his life, the first gap which the angel Death had made in his circle, and he felt numbed, and beaten down, and spiritless. Well, well! I believe it was good for him and for many others in like case; who had to learn by that loss, that the soul of man cannot stand or lean upon any human prop, however strong, and wise, and good; but that He upon whom alone it can stand and lean will knock away all such props in His own wise and merciful way, until there is no ground or stay left but Himself, the Rock of Ages, upon whom alone a sure foundation for every soul of man is laid.
  • For it is only through our mysterious human relationships, through the love and tenderness and purity of mothers, and sisters, and wives, through the strength and courage and wisdom of fathers, and brothers, and teachers, that we can come to the knowledge of Him, in whom alone the love, and the tenderness, and the purity, and the strength, and the courage, and the wisdom of all these dwell for ever and ever in perfect fulness.

About Tom Brown's School Days





  • Tom Brown's Schooldays was an important source for character types, plot incidents and motifs for school stories for at least a century following its publication and, arguably, left an indelible mark on the generic form itself.
    • Reimer, Mavis (2009). "Traditions of the School Story". in Grenby, M. O.; Immel, Andrea. The Cambridge Companion to Children's Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 209–225. 
  • "Yes, the whole setup of the Assassin's Guild school has, uh, a certain resonance with Rugby School in Tom Brown's Schooldays (note to Americans: a minor Victorian classic of school literature which no-one reads anymore and which is probably now more famous for the first appearance of the Flashman character subsequently popularised by George MacDonald Fraser)."
  • Teppic and his friends map directly to corresponding characters in Tom Brown's Schooldays: Teppic is Tom, Chidder is Harry "Scud" East, Arthur is George Arthur and Cheesewright is sort of Flashman, but not exactly.
  • The line on p. 27/26 about "'If he invites you up for toast in his study, don't go,'" may refer to the incident where Tom is roasted in front of the fire by Flashy and his cronies. The reference to blanket-tossing on p. 45/44, which Arthur puts a stop to, is also an incident in Tom Brown, on Tom's first day. The scene in the dormitory on the first night, when Arthur gets down to say his prayers, also has an equivalent in the book.
  • "Er. I may as well reveal this one. That section of the book is 'somewhat like' Tom Brown's Schooldays. A bully (right hand man to the famous Flashman) was Speedicut. Speedicut is (was?) a name for a type of lawnmower -- I know, because I had to push the damn thing... Hence... Fliemoe.
  • The ultimate model for Harry Potter is "Tom Brown's School Days" by Thomas Hughes, published in 1857. The book depicts the Rugby School presided over by the formidable Thomas Arnold, remembered now primarily as the father of Matthew Arnold, the Victorian critic-poet. But Hughes' book, still quite readable, was realism, not fantasy. Rowling has taken "Tom Brown's School Days" and re-seen it in the magical mirror of Tolkein. The resultant blend of a schoolboy ethos with a liberation from the constraints of reality-testing may read oddly to me, but is exactly what millions of children and their parents desire and welcome at this time.

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