THOMAS ARNOLD’S SCHOOLDAYS

Posted by Admin on Monday, 25th July 2011, 12:32

Until between 1877 and 1881 the six forms at Warminster were numbered with Form One as the highest. As a new boy, Thomas Arnold expected to be placed in the lowest which, apparently, was the grammar form. A letter home relates that he was put into Delectus with all the grammar boys below him. Although Robert Hope’s text implies Delectus to be the name of Form Two, and although the Latin word does suggest its members were selected, I feel there might be a certain ambiguity, for Richard Valpy (headmaster of Reading School) included in his published texts a Greek Delectus (1815). In Agnes Grey, Anne Bronte speaks of the governess having to get Valpy’s Delectus into her charges’ heads; and six months later Thomas wrote of not yet being ‘put into’ Phaedrus, which seemed to mean he was not yet studying a work written, I guess, not by Plato’s friend, but by the Thracian slave manumitted by Augustus who, after learning Latin in Rome, wrote ninety-seven Aesop’s fables in five books of iambic verse. Again, two years later, Thomas wrote of being ‘put into’ Homer’s Odyssey.

At the Lord Weymouth School Latin and Greek, no doubt, were regarded as the most important subjects. With them Thomas was in his element. At eleven he thought Homer might be superior to Milton, and he found Caesar’s Commentaries so easy that he could almost read them without a dictionary. At the same time he read completely seven of Horace’s Odes.  At eleven and a quarter he had ‘gone into’ and appreciated the humour of Lucian’s Dialogues of the Dead (Diologi Mortuorum), those satires on the vanity of many human endeavours which are considered to be the Greek’s best work, and certainly with their moral reflections more suitable for a young mind than some of his other writings. Finally, in 1807, shortly before the end of his last term, at the age of twelve his list of books studied included Homer’s Iliad (3 books), Horace’s Odes and Epistles (1 book each), Virgil (5 books), and parts from Aelian, Polyaenas, Xenophon, and others.

When attending lectures on astronomy given in the town, he saw a new invention called a diastrodoxon (or transparent orrery). From the school’s library he read Don Quixote, and Tobias Smollett’s novels – all of which he was inclined to despise, but the gift of Junius’ Letters, from Mrs Hatton, the mother of one of his schoolfellows, delighted him. Using the word ‘cyphering’, he informed his mother arithmetic was receiving his special attention, and that he was doing decimal fractions. On Saturdays the boys were expected to deliver an oration to their fellow students.

Indicative of the school’s reputation is the fact that Thomas Bowdler (the man then living on the Isle of Wight who expurgated Shakespeare and Gibbon) approved when a relative sent a boy there. A weakness in Thomas’ own character was his slug-a-bed tendency, in consequence of which he often missed morning prayers. At night, however, he never failed to kneel beside his bed and pray – a practice which when continued at Winchester made him a target for boots.

Apart from his being a good scholar, Thomas Arnold appears to have been a normal boy, and one who was prepared to play cricket on the downs, use the ancient fives court, bathe, and take part in a game called Coaches and Highwaymen. That he could be naughty was revealed when, during a country walk, he and other boys left the group to take a different route and, ignoring the master’s order to return, spent the afternoon throwing stones.

At the age of twelve, being something of a philosopher, he drew an analogy between life at school with its cabals and struggles for popularity and life in the world. Masters and pupils he compared with king and people, and thought it difficult to please both.

During his second term something in 1804 caused him to write ‘This is a stupid place’, but this dissatisfaction was short-lived. It is probable this phase was a consequence of initial unpopularity which, until the boys began to understand the character beneath the reserve, lasted a year. Doubtless, some still looked askance at his liking for work.

Concurrent with an ever-increasing knowledge of the Classics, there grew a profundity of thought regarding other matters. With the Napoleonic Wars still disturbing Europe, Arnold became convinced that, caused by the nations’ irreligion, war was a retributive evil. Without being a pacifist, he admired the Quakers, about whom he wrote a well-constructed poem in iambic pentameter. Although not quite eleven, he had already decided to be a clergyman.

By 1807 it became obvious to those at Slatwoods that Thomas had mentally outgrown his environment, and that it was time to send him elsewhere. His mother and aunt were perturbed also by his precocity which occasionally resulted in rudeness. In a letter to Susan he referred impudently to the length of her nose. Fortunately, as his letters prove, his devotion to her and the family was not impaired.

In her decision to send her son to Winchester, Mrs Arnold was partly influenced by Dr Griffith and Mr Lawes, both of them Wykehamists, as were many subsequent headmasters at Warminster.

According to Norman Wymer, Martha Arnold’s decision had to be made at an inopportune time. Less than a year previously her son, William, had been transferred to the non-salubrious isle of Tobago where the climate killed him. Fortunately, the Winchester fees were not much above Warminster’s and, even with her reduced income, Martha was able to pay them.

Thomas, we are told, was extremely pleased with the proposed change, and in 1807 ceased to be a Verlucian. This name, incidentally, was adopted by the school when, owing to an archaeological mistake, Warminster was thought to be the site of a Roman station, Verlucio. Later this was accurately located between Bath and Marlborough.

Throughout the remainder of his life Arnold retained fond memories of the Lord Weymouth School, and in 1828 shortly after being made the headmaster of Rugby he paid it a visit, possibly to consult the then headmaster, Dr Charles Griffith, or perhaps to create a bond between the two schools.

At Winchester School when Thomas arrived there in 1807 the boys were split into two categories, Scholars and Commoners: the former, of which there were seventy, being a link with the founder, William of Wykeham, the latter with boys a fifteenth century headmaster had found it necessary to take as paying pupils. In 1807, although Scholars no longer received free education, the amount paid by the 132 Commoners was four times greater. Each group had its prefects for whom the other boys had to fag when ordered. A gratuity of one guinea per boy was a prefect’s perquisite –  a sum which could give him as much as £25 a term, and that when the headmaster’s stipend was £150 a year and an usher’s £100. In 1807 there were no vacancies for Scholars, so Thomas, for his first term, was entered as a Commoner.

To be continued.

T. C. Hudson

© T. C. Hudson.
This article may not be reproduced without prior permission of the author.

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