Thomas Arnold

Thomas Arnold

Arnold, Thomas, 1795-1842, English educator, b. Isle of Wight, educated at Winchester school and at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He was a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, from 1815 to 1819, was ordained deacon in 1818, and was from 1827 to 1842 headmaster of Rugby school, where he brought about many changes. Mathematics, modern languages, and modern history were added to the traditional classical curriculum, the monitorial system was introduced, and independent thought was encouraged. Arnold's reforms were influential beyond Rugby itself; his changes were adopted by most of the English secondary schools. Through the medium of his weekly sermons to his students in Rugby Chapel, Arnold inculcated the Christian principles and ideals that formed the core of his own religious convictions. An effective preacher, Arnold was an excellent classical scholar and historian as well. An edition of Thucydides (1835), History of Rome (3 vol., 1838-43; to the Punic Wars), and History of the Later Roman Commonwealth (pub. posthumously, 1845) are among the products of a lifetime of study. Arnold's expression of liberal political and theological views made him unpopular, however, and general recognition was not accorded him until 1841, when he was appointed regius professor of modern history at Oxford. Matthew Arnold was his son and Mary Augusta (Mrs. Humphry) Ward his granddaughter. Thomas Arnold is portrayed in Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), a novel about life at Rugby by Thomas Hughes.

See A. F. Stanley, The Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold, D.D. (1844); A. Whitridge, Dr. Arnold of Rugby (1928); N. G. Wymer, Dr. Arnold of Rugby (1953, repr. 1970); T. W. Bamford, Thomas Arnold (1960); M. Trevor, The Arnolds (1973).

Thomas Arnold (13 June 179512 June 1842) was a British schoolmaster and historian, head of Rugby School from 1828 to 1841.


Arnold was born on the Isle of Wight, the son of William Arnold, an inland revenue officer, and his wife Martha de la Field. He was educated at Winchester and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. There he excelled at Classics and was made a fellow of Oriel in 1815. His appointment to the headship of Rugby, the famous public school, after some years as a tutor, turned the school's fortunes around, and his force of character and religious zeal enabled him to turn it into a model followed by the other public schools, exercising an unprecedented influence on the educational system of the country. He is portrayed as a leading character in the novel, Tom Brown's Schooldays.

He was involved in many controversies, educational and religious. As a churchman he was a decided Erastian, and strongly opposed to the High Church party. In 1841, he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford. His 1833 Principles of Church Reform is associated with the beginnings of the Broad Church movement. He was also one of the Eminent Victorians in Lytton Strachey's book of that name.

His chief literary works are his unfinished History of Rome (three volumes 1838-42), and his Lectures on Modern History. He died suddenly of a heart attack in the midst of his growing influence. His biography, Life of Arnold, by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, one of Arnold's former pupils, is considered one of the best works of its class in the language.


He married Mary Penrose, daughter of the Rev. John Penrose of Penryn, Cornwall. They had three daughters and four sons, including the poet Matthew Arnold, the literary scholar Tom, and the author William Delafield Arnold. Their eldest daughter Jane Martha married William Edward Forster, and when William Arnold died in 1859, leaving four orphans, the Forsters adopted them as their own, adding their name to the children's surname. One of these children was Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster, a Liberal Unionist member of parliament, who eventually became a member of Balfour's cabinet.

Thomas the Younger's daughter Mary Augusta Arnold, became a famous novelist under her married name of Mrs Humphry Ward, whilst Tom's other daughter married Leonard Huxley (writer), the son of Thomas Huxley and their sons were Julian and Aldous Huxley.


A more recent public school headmaster, Michael McCrum of Tonbridge and Eton in the 1960s through 1980s, and also a churchman and Oxbridge academic (Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and Vice-Chancellor), wrote a biography and reappraisal of Arnold in 1991. McCrum was steeped in the significance of Rugby and of public schools; he too had briefly been a master at Rugby and was married to the daughter of another former headmaster.

More recently, a biography entitled Black Tom has been written by Terence Copley. Both McCrum and Copley have sought to restore some of the lustre to the Arnold legacy which has been heavily under attack since Strachey's sardonic appraisal.


  • Thomas Arnold, The Christian Duty of Granting the Claims of the Roman Catholics (pamphlet) Rugby, 1828.
  • Thomas Arnold, Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Rugby School, London: Fellowes, 1850 (original 1832).
  • Thomas Arnold (translator), The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, (3 vols.) London: Fellowes, 1845.
  • Thomas Arnold, Principles of Church Reform, Oxford: Fellowes,1833.
  • Thomas Arnold, History of Rome, London: Fellowes, 1838.
  • Thomas Arnold, Sermons: Christian Life, its Hopes, Fears and Close, London: Fellowes, 1842.
  • Thomas Arnold, Sermons: Christian Life, its Course, London: Fellowes, 1844.
  • Thomas Arnold, The Interpretation of Scripture, London: Fellowes, 1845.
  • Thomas Arnold, Introductory Lectures on Modern History, London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1842.
  • Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, The Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold, London: Fellowes, 1845 (original 1844).
  • Tom Hughes, Tom Brown's School Days, London: Penguin, 1994 (original 1857).
  • Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians, London, 1918.
  • Michael McCrum, Thomas Arnold, Headmaster, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Terrence Copley, Black Tom: Arnold of Rugby: The Myth and the Man, New York: Continuum, 2002.

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