THOMAS ARNOLD: THE LALEHAM YEARS

Posted by Admin on Monday, 25th July 2011, 12:29

Although before leaving Oriel College Thomas Arnold, by becoming a deacon, had taken the first step towards being a priest, his persistent reservations concerning the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity caused him to doubt his vocation and finally to decide to become a schoolmaster. At Oxford, in fact, in order to help his mother he already had hoped to coach pupils for the university entrance examinations – an attempt which, in 1816, brought only one applicant and £30 for a quarter’s hard work at a time when he was reduced to borrowing £50 from his cousin, Joseph Delafield. With five pupils in 1817 he was again solvent.

In 1819 his brother-in-law, John Buckland, offered him a partnership in the preparatory school he owned at Hampton – Buckland to educate the young boys at 70 guineas a year, Arnold the older ones at 80 guineas, with French and Dancing as extras. After several disappointments two suitable houses were found in the village of Laleham near Staines which, inevitably meant another move for Arnold’s family.

Viewing the future with confidence, he then turned his thoughts to marriage, the lady in question Mary Penrose, the sister of his friend, Trevenen, and daughter of the Rev. John Penrose whose living was at Fledborough, an isolated village in Nottinghamshire. In August 1820 when the pair were married, Thomas’ happiness was marred by two tragedies – the death of his uncle, John Delafield, to whom he had looked for advice; and the death by drowning at Gosport of his brother, Matthew, who had served as a chaplain in the Army of Occupation after Waterloo. Matthew had been sailing when his boat capsized. Arnold, now head of the family, when installing Mary in the school house, hired for his mother and sister a home adjacent to Buckland’s. He was 25, his wife 29.

A portrait painted at the time of his marriage shows him to have been a good-looking man with an egg-shaped face, a humorous mouth, wide-set eyes, and dark wavy hair. A second portrait painted 18 years later by Thomas Phillips, R.A., apart from giving him more maturity, indicates little change. A contemporary portrait of his wife shows an intelligent expression on a face in which a rather long nose detracts from true beauty; but one can imagine its owner to be the loving and patient helpmate who made Thomas happy.

Having resolved to base his educational system on Christianity, with the object of turning out God-fearing citizens, he introduced the unique method of letting scholarship take second place. Knowing from experience that most masters ruled by fear, he decided to win friendship as well as respect.

As at Warminster School, the timetable at Laleham was a demanding one. Lessons began at seven in the morning, stopped for thirty minutes at breakfast time, and finished at three in the afternoon. After seven in the evening the boys worked for another two hours. At the outset the subjects taught were Classics and Divinity, to which Geography and History later were added. By 1823 Maths and Algebra were included, the latter making the master study in order to keep ahead of his pupils.

Where practicable, Arnold used diagrams and illustrations to make work interesting, exercised great patience to ensure duller boys fully understood what he taught, but would not tolerate laziness. Thoroughly bad boys he expelled without compunction. A strict disciplinarian in class, at other times he romped with the pupils as they swam, joined in their game of Red Indians, and won their confidence by behaving as if he, too, were a boy. Daily, boys were invited to tea in his private quarters where they were encouraged to stay to play chess or, if they wished, to read his books.

As time passed and his reputation extended beyond Laleham, Arnold twice was advised to apply for a post at Winchester College, a temptation he resisted, fearing he would not there have the freedom to act according to his lights.

In 1824 the Buckland-Arnold partnership was dissolved – amicably, Mary’s diary records. Thomas’ section at that period was educating nine boys at 200 guineas each year, and 1827-8 brought him so many applications that he was compelled to disappoint friends.

Beginning in 1821, with a gap in 1827, Thomas fathered children at the rate of one a year until 1828 found him with two daughters and four sons. In 1824 another girl had lived only a few days. In 1828, nine days before the birth of Matthew, Mary had landed on ice after being thrown by her pony, but sustained no serious injury. Thomas, no matter how great his workload, always made time to play with his children, seldom calling them Jane, Matthew, Thomas, Mary, Edward Penrose, or William Delafield, but using ridiculous names of his own invention. Nor were his mother and sister neglected. The former received a daily visit, and the latter was punted on the Thames.

Possessing enough energy for two ordinary men, he also went to read the Bible at the Workhouse, gave lectures, ran the Sunday-school, and preached in Laleham’s church as a stand-in for the Vicar of Staines, always expressing sympathy for the under-privileged whose lot, his perspicacity warned him, would inevitably engender a social revolution. 1821 saw also the start of his Lexicon of Thucydides which, in three volumes, took ten years to complete; and the following year he commenced his monumental History of Rome (from Gracchi to Trajan) – a work commissioned by the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana which, as articles, was printed at intervals for six years and paid for at seven guineas a sheet.

Being a conscientious author, he checked his manuscripts thoroughly and invariably had them criticised by at least one other person. To be able to read Barthold Georg Niebuhr’s work on Roman history he taught himself German. Still wishing to reform the Church, he preached against its follies, and promulgated a theory that the pretended conversion of kingdoms in the 4th and 5th centuries was Satan’s greatest feat of craftiness. His book on the subject was published in 1828.

At holiday time he and Mary visited relations, including Martha on the Isle of Wight, stayed with Coleridge, met Southey, had tea with Wordsworth, and saw much of England plus a little of Scotland.

To prepare himself for Italy which he saw in 1825 and 1827, Thomas took lessons in Italian. Journals kept by him when travelling abroad record an interest in customs, religious beliefs, plant life, etc., and those printed in Dean Stanley’s book give excellent descriptions of the scenery. When the duties of motherhood kept Mary at home, affectionate letters testified how much he hated the separation.

T. C. Hudson

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

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