The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Memories of Arnold and Rugby Sixty Years Ago

by A Member of the School in 1835, '36 and '37
Volume 7, 1896, pgs. 31-38

Chiefly Chats with my Youngest Children

[Thomas Arnold, 1795-1842, was headmaster of Rugby School from 1828-1841. Though he died of a heart attack at the young age of 46, he was poet Matthew Arnold's father, H. O. Arnold-Forster's grandfather, and Aldous Huxley's great-grandfather.]

(Continued from The Parents' Review, Jan. '96, page 841.)

In The Sixth--Arnold's--Form (Aug. 1836 to June 1837.)

The Autumn Term is the time when great changes occur in every public school. I lost among my friends Male, Wheatley and Wratislaw, the last of whom was removed through a political disagreement of his father, a solicitor in the town, with Dr. Arnold. Yet now and then we managed to arrange for walks together. However, in compensation, "most," as I wrote home in September, "of the brutes had left," [This opinion was not unfounded. In letter 142, "Stanley's Life, &c.," Vol. II., p. 51, Arnold writes:--"Sept. 23rd, I think that the School is again in a very hopeful state; the set which rather weighed us down during the last year is now broken and dispersed, and the tide is again at flood and will, I hope, go on so."] and my own highest desire was attained. To hear daily from Arnold's lips his rich and wise teaching, to feel that I was one of the body by whom he exercised a supervision throughout the school, committing to them all the minor details of management and discipline, and that I should partake of the trust and confidence he was held to place in all their relations towards him--than this I could wish no more.

But,--"Sunt lacrymae perum: et mentem mortalia tangunt." (Virgil, Aen. I., 466). Nay, there is but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous. On taking my place in the Sixth [Form], where all the old members were strangers to me, I found myself looked at coldly and frowned upon. What could be the reason? Was there a malign influence upon me turning my fairy gold to dead leaves? At times there had been in the Fifth a little good-humoured banter as to dress, but, as there might be a dozen others in the two Fifths habited in like manner, this did not occur to me as the cause. Now, one day or another a sneering remark would be thrown out; then, at length, a letter was delivered me by post, evidently a joint concoction, very ill-tempered and with a mixture of what was meant for irony. This opened my eyes to what was my offence and its enormity. I had been guilty, against its unwritten law, of taking my place in the Sixth Form wearing--tell it not in Gath--a Byron collar!

[Byron collar: a soft turned down shirt collar, often with long points. Also called a Poet collar]

Alack! To pay due honour to my new position, I had been rigged out with a fresh set, with mother, aunt and sister fondly admiring. So when I speeded a letter home to inform them of the tension of the situation, the gravity of the matter was not apprehended. Delays occurred; a letter (one sheet in those days was eightpence) of enquiry; then, to my remonstrances, a promise that the shirts should be altered at Christmas. How I achieved the momentous alteration, whether by the kindly intervention of Mr. Bird, has escaped me; but as a month, perhaps, elapsed, I am afraid I was thought to have yielded with a very ill grace, compromising all the while the dignity of the Sixth.

In my House, too, an alteration struck me as peculiar. The four fellows at the head of the Sixth were Charles Arnold, Arthur Hugh Clough, Charles Gell, and Richard Congreve. The last was removed into Bird's House and had the double study at the furthest end of the staircase, on the side of the Quadrangle opposite to my own. It seemed strange, I say, that when no praeposter was in the House when I came, nor had been since, that one should be moved from another House now, when H-- and I had passed into the Sixth.

Of Congreve I saw very little. He was a tall, fair, strong young man, with an intellectual forehead and well chiseled nose. His manner was cold and reserved, and he kept so aloof that, except occasionally in the Hall, I rarely exchanged a word with him, and never so much as thought of looking to him for advice. If I kept my own staircase and dormitory in fair order that was enough, but in doing this I depended on myself alone.

The introduction of three praepostors into Bird's House brought in also, as a matter of course, the novelty of House fagging [younger students acting as personal servants to older students in boarding schools]: a very distasteful consequence, since it had not existed when there were none. All below the Lower Fifth were liable to House fagging. Six fags, I believe, were allotted to Congreve and four each to H-- and myself. With my biggest fag, M--, who resented his new duties, I had a good deal of trouble. When his turn came round my study was left untended and undusted. After various scoldings, which brought nothing but an impertinent reply, I was obliged to appeal to the cane, and therewith bring him under subjection; but he was not at all a bad fellow, only had a dislike of giving up his former freedom. Of a second I hardly recollect anything: he did what he had to do, and there was an end of it. The next two would come to me to help them in their work. The youngest, a little dark fellow named Martindale, seemed as if he had been a mother's pet before he was thrown into a public school. He took to me as though I were an elder brother, and used to come to me at any time, or sit in my study to be lifted over little difficulties in his work.

At the other end of my staircase a new boy, Brereton, placed in the Middle Fifth, was given E. Wheatley's study: he was a tall lad who had overgrown his strength and stooped from weakness. As scarcely any of the big fellows in the house had even risen to the Lower Fifth, he was looked upon as fair game to be kept back by any amount of interruption and rough bullying. After some time he appealed to me to protect him.

By arrangement with him, the next time he was bullied he was to call out, and I would come in. I did so, and found five or six fellows with things all topsy-turvy. I ordered them to leave the study. No one stirred. I then took out my watch and said, "To anyone who is here at the end of three minutes I will set an imposition." All lingered, but some left before time was up; to the others I gave 100 lines each to be done in a week. One did not bring it up, so I doubled it, and said that "if I did not receive it at the end of next week I would send him up, when he would most likely get a flogging." My staircase grew quiet and myself unpopular.

It was early in the autumn half that my theories as to the trust placed in the Sixth were brought to what seemed to me at the time, a rude test. Edward Wheatley came to pay a visit to Rugby and invited H-- and myself to come and dine with him where he was staying, at "The Eagle."

There was plenty of time on a half-holiday to do so and return before locking up. We did not think then that it was necessary for us, being of the Sixth, to ask permission. We went, dined, and chatted of the past and future,--I will hardly say over our walnuts and wine, for though there was sherry brought in at dinner and port afterwards, I do not think that we took more than a glass of each apiece. We then had tea, and were just thinking of leaving, when the waiter came in to say that there was to be an excellent lecture on the microscope, with the limelight, in the large meeting room, and asked up if we would like to attend it.

The temptation was seductive enough: at the instance of our host we hastily and unthinkingly agreed. The lecture was able; the audience, though rather mixed, interested and attentive. A proof of it from the ridiculous side painted itself on my memory. A young woman, some distance off, clinging to the arm of her swain, suddenly broke the silence of the darkened room with an exclamation in which terror was uppermost. "Oh! Jem, if they should get out at us!" Her eyes were rivetted on the shadows of the monstrous creatures moving about on the illumined sheet, but of their real nature and size her dense ignorance gave no idea. Having enjoyed the lecture, H-- and I quietly walked up to our house and reported ourselves just before ten.

A day or two after, Bird sent for me, though I was junior in Form to H--, and asked me what I had to say as to being in so late? I told him frankly the whole. To my astonishment he said, "I cannot pass it over: I must report you to Dr. Arnold."

Rather huffed, "Oh, very well," I answered, off-handedly; for I thought a few words with him would set everything right. A day or two after Arnold summoned us both independently.

What passed with H-- I never knew, for I had as little intercourse with him as I could. When my turn came, I told Arnold as frankly as I had done with Bird how it fell out; especially saying how we had spent our evening at the lecture without forethought.

Of course, the freedom which I had had at home with my father and private tutor, and my exaggerated notions of the trust placed in the Sixth misled me. "But what!" he said, "you went and dined with a boy of your own standing, who only left last half?" of whom, however, he did not know that he was virtually his own master, and a thorough gentleman in thought and manners. "Yes," I said, with some surprise, and added, or implied, that I did not see that I had done anything wrong. "Well, but," he said, "such circumstances might easily have led you into excess." Then I gazed at him and spoke outright. "I took no more than I would have done at my father's table."

He could not measure the strength of my words, for he could not know the example of moderation and honour my father had always set me, or the reverence with which I regarded him.

After a pause the words fell from his lips, "Abstinence is easier than moderation." I thought he impugned my truthfulness: my face flushed with anger, I threw back my head, compressed my lips, and spoke no word more. A few remarks he added in the same strain, and then said he would see me again. Early next week, he signed to me to remain after lesson.

"He was grieved," he said, "at our conduct, but there was a way of showing the sincereness of our regret. The next Sunday, according to the notice, the Lord's Supper would be administered, and I could come to it as a sign of that regret." Now, though I had been confirmed long before, I had never attended it. He was not aware of the anxious difficulty in which he had placed me. I had been brought up amongst those who deemed that the Holy Table was a place round which none should gather but those who lived lives devoted to God; that the Lord's Supper was a Sacrament to be partaken of rather as a preparation for death, than as a means of strength during the struggles of life.

In the church my father attended, the administration was the three times a year. As the moral character of the clergyman was not regarded with respect, the numbers of those who even then partook of it were very scanty.

Again, in the way in which Dr. Arnold put it, it occurred to me that I should be confessing that I had done something morally wrong, and in coming therefore should be acting one thing, while I felt the opposite. Sunday came; H-- remained and received the Communion; I did not. A few days (on one of which as I passed behind H-- in crossing the quad, to my disgust I heard him talking filthily to another below him in the school) intervened. Then Arnold again spoke to me only and said, "as I had not shown, by meeting his suggestion, any sorrow for my conduct, he must set me an imposition to mark his disapproval of it." It was far from being a heavy one. He did it gravely, and seemed to impose it reluctantly, with pain to himself. I gave up every atom of spare time till I had completed it, then after lesson offered it silently. He looked with his brows a little uplifted, took it, but said nothing. Perhaps his Sermon X. in "Christian Life, etc.," preached 13th November, 1836, was intended with reference to this very case, to explain the relation which must exist in school-life to the law, and the necessity of subjection to it; but it did not seem to meet my case, since I held that, if I had erred in judgment, I had done nothing wrong. Oh! how many and many a time after I left Rugby I longed to have seen him for half-an-hour, to remove his misconception about me.

To finish with this point: after the interval of half a life-time I met with H--'s brother, holding a position of esteem and value in his profession. I noticed that he evaded my enquiries at the moment; afterwards he let me know privately, that poor H-- had gone to the dogs, and that his name was never mentioned, and indeed was only known by a few of his family.

Congreve afterwards spoke to me about the duty of attending, but it was in a cold lecturing way, which repelled, not drew me. In his after-life he became one of the leaders of the Positivists, following in faithfulness, I am confident, his own convictions, however startling to others the result.

I would, however, I had had resolution to go afterwards to the Lord's Table in the School Chapel! It would have given me strength I needed, and formed another link in the love which I bore to him whose teaching, under sternness of manner, was so earnest, truthful and holy.

Early during this autumn I asked my mother in a letter what part of the Scriptures they were reading at home. She at once divined the purport of my enquiry, that my daily reading in my study should be the same as in their family prayers, and gave me a sketch of the sequence in which they were taking the Prophets. This, however, proved the source of much mental doubt and struggle. Towards the close of my time at Bishop's Waltham, the head boys read with the master "Keith's Evidences of Prophecy" for the Scripture lesson. The narrative style, its quotations from travel, and the greatness of the subject powerfully attracted me. I drank in the author's statements readily and unquestioning; but, in my Rugby musings, I soon became aware of, and was over and again struck with, the unfair way in which texts were misapplied and distorted in meaning: metaphors taken as facts: literal fulfillments deduced beyond reasonable proof. The effect was to unhinge my former trust, so that, while I still retained all my profound admiration for the grandeur of their ideas, I was led to regard the Prophets' language in the light of the outpourings of high poetic dreams. It was years afterwards when Arnold's "Sermons on the Interpretation of Prophecy" (published in 1839), read amid the work and stress of a heavy parish of 10,000 people (my first and virtually sole charge), enabled my mind to regain its balance and restored a truer and healthier tone.

To anticipate here what, perhaps, did not actually happen till the spring of '37, Arnold, with a few serious remarks to us, introduced the plan that we should learn by heart and bring him up before morning service a short psalm. Going to school and back made it like an extra lesson thrust into the Sundays. The alteration vexed me much, as it took away from me the quiet hour which I was used to employ for searching out in the Scriptures points of interest, and for reading when the house was all quiet around me, as most of the boys were out for an hour's walk. [The system of filling up the Sunday nearly all the day, so as hardly to leave any unengaged time to the fellows, is now carried out still further; whether with good effect on their moral character and religious training I more than doubt.]

To recur to school incidents. A boy from the next house beyond, Grenfell's, "checked" me in the road. I had laid hold of him, when Charles Arnold came by and enquired "What was up?" as an open struggle between a boy and a praeposter was not the correct thing. I was speaking when suddenly the boy swung himself round to get loose, and his elbow, with no intention on his part, hit me under the right eye. Charles Arnold, like Neptune, composed the winds and waters, but I carried a black eye next day into Arnold's form. He turned and gave me a look of rebuke--which was quite enough, though he said not a word.

Soon afterwards came the football match of the Sixth against the School. Thirty against all who could be brought up to attend of 270. It was a recognised time for paying off old scores. As in the previous year, I was again, through my ignorance of the game, put to keep goal with two or three others of the weakest Sixth Form fellows. A rush of a dense mass towards our goal, kicking the ball before them. I sprang out and was fortunate enough to kick back the ball, but my charge carried me among them and I was straightway encompassed by the crowd. I head the cry, "We've got him, had him well," and they formed a ring about me and hacked away. Lest I should be thrown down I stood with my feet apart. They succeeded well in hacking each other instead of me, for, after the scrimmage, I found I had only a scraze or two of no consequence. How long I so stood I don't know, it seemed an age; I daresay it was only a few moments. Then I saw Ingram, one of the tallest and heaviest fellows in the Sixth, come plunging into and breaking up the mass. So I was rescued; the crowd scattered before Ajax Oileus [Ajax the Lesser in The Iliad], and the ball was driven towards School quarters. The game continued on the next half holiday, when the ball was driven into the Island ditch on which the right of our goal rested. I jumped down to secure it, when a biggish and vengeful fellow from Bird's, one of those to whom I had set the imposition in Brereton's study, S-- (who was, a twelvemonth later on, expelled for stabbing a schoolfellow with a penknife), aimed a kick at my head, which was on a level with the ground. He missed my temple but "yet came all too nigh," as his boot's tip took me right across the left cheek. I was in a dreadful fright at the thought of Arnold seeing me with another black eye, so, as soon as I got to my study, I bathed it over and over again with eau de Cologne. This reduced the swelling indeed, but left me next day with a fiery cheek that looked as though it had been branded with a hot iron. Arnold's eye was again upon me, looking steadfastly. He then turned away, and, before the lesson was ended, made a few remarks and said that members of the Sixth were expected to exercise tact, and not to get into collision with boys of the school. As he did not address me personally, of course I could not explain.

(To be continued.)

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