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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Matthew Arnold: His Influence on Education

Volume 7, 1896, pgs. 660-666


Goethe tells us that neither monster nor demi-god is suddenly produced ; and a man who stands out as the best type of English character and intellect in the fifties and sixties of this century, was the outcome of formative influences which might have been expected to produce just such a man as whose work at Rugby was both disciplining and civilizing, he breathed in his home an atmosphere of earnestness and culture. The love with which Mrs. Arnold inspired her own family and friends, such as Dean Stanley, shows her to have been a noble wife and mother ; no doubt she contributed to her eldest son's character much of its sweetness and geniality. Matthew was born in 1822, and his school-days were spent among the stimulating influences of Rugby and Winchester. Alternating with these working hours were delightful holiday times, spent at Fox How, among the English lakes, where the Arnolds associated with the group of great writers who have lent as much charm to the Westmoreland scenery as they have borrowed inspiration from it. Dr. Arnold was fortunate in the power of being able to work with his children about him, so that he was a living centre in the home ; not a mere figure, shut away in a study, as so many literary fathers are apt to be. The reverential love Matthew Arnold felt for his father found expression in his poem of Rugby Chapel, which touches a height of enthusiasm and faith seldom reached in his poetry, distinguished as it is by restrained emotion and calm philosophic insight.

It was the Rugby of "Tom Brown" that shaped Arnold and his friend Clough, Judge Hughes, Dean Church and Dean Stanley. Were there not giants in the earth in those days?

School-work in that Rugby was carried on in an unscientific, rough-and-ready fashion, and much, even in conduct and discipline, was allowed which we should consider intolerable ; but through it all we feel a fresh stirring moral breeze, which purifies all dark corners, and in which healthy manliness flourishes ; there is a noble corporate life, and the young citizen's best emotions are trained by pride in the school, respect for himself and for his companions, wholesome fear of the grand austere personality of the Doctor. If there was a want of variety about the lessons, there was at least time to obtain really elegant scholarship in the upper forms, and to read many of the great classical masterpieces.

When we think of the men who were mentally nourished in this way, we can easily sympathise with Matthew Arnold when he declares himself to be "staunch on the side of the Humanities." Let us hear his own words on this point--"It seems to me, firstly, that what a man seeks through his education is to get to know himself and the world; next, that for this knowledge it is before all things necessary that he acquaint himself with the best that has been thought and said in the world ; finally, that of this /best/, the classics of Greece and Rome form a very chief portion and the portion most entirely satisfactory." To show how "real" a lesson in language can be, Arnold takes a Greek word (eutrapelia=flexibility) and draws from it a wealth of history, morality and poetry, illustrating its meaning from Pindar, Thukydides, Plate and S. Paul ; then, when the minds of his hearers are teeming with the suggestiveness of his words, he offers them, with grave irony, an apology for giving so much that is contrary to the educational tendencies of the present day, and suggests that they should now, by way to antidote, "hear a great many scientific lectures, and busy themselves considerably with the diameter of the sun and moon."

In 1845 Arnold became a fellow of Oriel, a college which claimes among its sons two other masters of English style--Newman and Church. Oxford was indeed a home of the soul for the poet and thinker, but he could not remain upon the mount of visions ; the cares and needs of life required from him years of drudgery, often among very uncongenial surroundings. In 1851 he was appointed an Inspector of Schools, an office in which he was destined to do such good work for education, but which was extremely irksome to himself, sometimes, as he after wards confessed, almost insupportable. However, he shouldered his burden manfully, and bore it for 35 years. In 1859 he was sent to France by a Royal Commission, to obtain information respecting the French primary schools, and he took the opportunity to see what he could of their secondary schools. "A French Eton," is the title of the book in which he has recorded these observations, making them the text of a discourse on the importance of making secondary education an affair of State. He describes a typical French lyceum and a typical French private school, both of which offer to middle-class parents sound securities for sanitary conditions, a well-planned programme of studies, and skilled teaching, all of which important matters are in England left very much to change and to the unenlightened consciences of the proprietors of "Educational Homes," and "Classical and Commercial Academies." Arnold was not ungrateful to his own public school training, and when his work at the Education Office brought before him the state of the country generally as regards education, he grieved to see the dismal swamp in which middle-class education was allowed to flounder, while that of the aristocracy was fairly provided for, and that of the working classes was becoming efficiently organised. The action of isolated individuals as opposed to the action of the nation in its collective and corporate capacity was, in his opinion, responsible for the failure of our middle classes to attain to excellence in any line of development. With incisive iteration he tells them that they have "a defective type of religion, a narrow range of intellect and knowledge, a stunted sense of beauty, and a low standard of manners." And these defects he ascribes chiefly to the mean type of school in which the middle-class Englishman is trained.

In "David Copperfield," Dickens has described as "Salem House" on of those sordid, common-place boarding schools, which on the one hand, form the hard puritanical Englishman of business, the Murdstone type ; and on the other the sensual, vulgar Englishman of pleasure, the Quinion type ; and these two, Arnold says, carry a repulsive form of civilization wherever they go, until there is "a kind of odour of Salem House all over the globe." One wonders whether the real Murdstones and Quinions ever recognised themselves, whether the true Philistines had sufficient insight to wince under the delicate, cat-like handling of their enemy's satire. For Matthew Arnold is really feline in his treatment of poor John Bull ; the more caressingly he approaches him, the more unpitying he means to be. No doubt it is fortunate for John Bull that nature has provided him with a tolerably thick hide.

Against this rather impenetrable integument Arnold directed his shafts for many a long year, and when they seemed to pierce it at all, he was always ready to drive home his favourite doctrine--Organise, organise your secondary education, make it a public business, give it prestige. Your children are badly taught and ignobly trained, and this deteriorates their standard of life, their civilization. With organisation would come the special preparation of teachers, as well as that of other public servants, for their office. The need for such preparation Arnold was never weary of inculcating. He puts the case for training so well and so clearly that we must have his own words--

"The end to have in view is that every one who presents himself to exercise any calling shall have received, for a certain length of time, the best instruction preliminary to that calling. This is not, it must be repeated again and again, an absolute security for his exercising the calling well, but it is the best security. It is a thousand times better security than the mere examination test, on which, with such ignorant confidence, we are now, in cases where we take any security at all, leaning with our whole weight. No minister of religion, to whom as such any public functions are assigned, no magistrate, no schoolmaster of a higher school, no lawyer, no doctor, should be allowed to exercise his function without having come, for a certain time, under superior instruction and passed its examinations."

The French love of order and reason, so congenial to Arnold, commended many of their educational arrangements to him, but he has a clear eye for their defects as well and thinks their schools to be over-inspected and over-governed. In his opinion the best method of inspection is that which obtains in Germany, where the State co-operates with the schools in great examinations. He became well acquainted with German methods in 1865, when he was entrusted by the Schools Enquiry Commission with the work of visiting and reporting upon Continental schools for the higher classes. He found state-organised schools in Germany of two chief types--Gymnasiums and Real Schools, the former leading to the University, the latter usually to commercial life.

The impulse given to classical learning in Germany by the Renaissance was rendered permanent by the work of Erasmus and Melancthon, but during the 18th century the schools fell into decay, the masters ceased to have an independent position and were theological students, teaching only until they got a parish. Under Frederick the Great the classical schools were reorganised by a great scholar--Wolf, in 1783, and have been since then in good working order. There are six classes in these Gymnasiums, with upper and lower divisions and parallel branches. A boy is supposed to enter at nine and remain till eighteen, or till he is ready for the University. The Lehrplan (programme of studies) is fixed by ministerial authority, but not in details ; the subjects only, and the number of hours allotted to them, are prescribed. School hours are from 7--11 in summer ; from 8--12 in winter ; and from 2--4 every afternoon. Latin has from 8 to 10 hours in the week, Greek 6, mother tongue and French each from 2 to 3.

The movement in favour of Realschulen, or what we should call modern schools or sides, may be said to have begun with Comenius and to have been helped forward by Basedow and Rousseau. Early in this century the Real Schule had made for itself an acknowledged position, and the system was taken up and organised by German government in 1859. Real Schools are of different grades and Latin is taught in the higher ones, but science and modern languages are made more prominent as in our modern sides.

After a boy has been for two years in the head class of one of the Gymnasiums he passes a leaving examination, which is also his entrance examination at the University. Great stress is laid on the steady training of the school years, and the final examination is only used as a test to show that the pupil has not been idle.

For the civil service and commercial life the leaving certificate of the Realschule is accepted as a qualification. The masters in both kinds of school have to pass a special examinations including pædagogic and philosophy, and many of them are trained in special colleges.

Religious instruction is given in schools by the masters and must be either Lutheran or Roman Catholic. This excludes some denominations from the profession of teacher, and is not, in Arnold's view, so reasonable an arrangement as that of having the boys instructed by ministers of their own faith, as in France. Arnold heard the master and boys of the head class in a Berlin Gymnasium speak Latin to each other all through the lesson ; this reminds us of Comedius, who advised the use of Latin in conversation. Arnold thought that the German boys had less elegant scholarship, but a better conception of the place and significance of the ancient writers in their country's literature than he had known in English boys.

A writer in the /Fortnightly/ lately tells us of an English school-boy who persisted in asserting that Mr. Sidgwick wrote the Æneid. He had never become alive to the fact that our estimable Mr. Sidgwick was at any rate second in importance to a man called Virgil, who wrote poems which were welcomed and discussed in imperial Rome nearly two thousand years ago, much as a new Idyll from the pen of Tennyson used in our own time to make all London eager or critical. This is a good instance of the word becoming of none effect through tradition, and should be laid to heart by those who, in teaching literature, smother the text of Shakespeare and other English classics with their own comments, until the wearied learner quite loses the impression of the work as a whole. On this point I must quote Arnold himself :--"The best in literature has the quality of being in itself formative--silently formative ; of bringing out its own significance as we read it. It is better to read a masterpiece much, even if one does that only, than to read it a little and to be told a great deal about its significance."

The realisation of the classics as literature, and not as mere school material, shows the liberal spirit of German culture, and in the same spirit is conceived the plan by which, in the higher schools, the boys are allowed one day in the week to follow their special bent, no regular lessons being exacted that day, but the time allowed for reading on the lines that attract each boy most. The "studientag" affords a valuable training in habits of independent study, gives room for the development of individuality, and prepares for the freedom of University life.

Matthew Arnold's reforms in England would have included a responsible Minister of Education, with power over the professorial chairs of the Universities ; and he would have wished a very systematic measure of University Extension, the planting in all large towns of educational centres connected with the Universities so as to bring superior instruction to numbers who are now cut off from it.

Although I have shown Arnold chiefly as a Humanist, he was no bigot in educational theory, and he sums up with regard to the chief points at issue with a temper and fairness that reminds us of his father's wish to make him a judge.

"To know oneself and the world." This ideal end can be reached in many ways. No ordinary person has aptitudes for the whole circle of knowledge, but everyone has aptitudes for some part of it, and by any which is taught so as to train and discipline the mind we can gain access to vital knowledge. In the early days of "real" studies the boys who surpass the "real" scholars in general intelligence and power to apply principles, partly because classics afford such excellent mental discipline, but chiefly because the teachers of modern subjects had not learnt how to teach their subjects in an educative way. When the best methods have been found and applied there will be a harmony established between classical and modern sides, the foundation will be laid in the same way for all boys, no matter what they may take later as their special line, and when the best time for bifurcation of studies arrives there need be no sudden or complete divorce of interests. One school should include both sides, and afford facilities for passing from one to the other for certain studies, so as to meet individual needs. Above all, the masters on both sides should be of equal ability and social standing.

In Mr. Arnold's opinion too much time is still spent in the introductory discipline of grammar and mathematics, which, though most valuable in the cultivation of exact habits of mind, are not ends in themselves except for a few philological and mathematical specialists. Most people's aptitudes lead them best to knowledge of themselves and of the world through literature, philosophy, history, or through some one or more of the natural sciences. We should then treat Greek, Latin, and modern languages more as literature and less as mere scholarship, so as to enter into vital contact with other nations, and to seize the spirit and power of their highest thoughts.

Matthew Arnold shares with Herbart the idea of a circle of knowledge ; and culture is but another form of expression for many-sidedness of interest. In the education of the future the ideals of the Humanist and the Realist must blend and so transform each other,--


"Till like the rainbow's light
Those various tints unite,
And form in Heaven's sight
           One arch of Peace. "