Let me mind my own personal work; keep myself pure and zealous and believing; laboring to do God’s will in this fruitful vineyard of young lives committed to my charge, as my allotted field, until my work be done.
Thomas Arnold was born in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-five, and died in Eighteen Hundred Forty-two. His life was short, as men count time, but he lived long enough to make for himself a name and a fame that are both lasting and luminous. Though he was neither a great writer nor a great preacher, yet there were times when he thought he was both. He was only a schoolteacher. However, he was an artist in schoolteaching, and art is not a thing–it is a way. It is the beautiful way–the effective way.
Schoolteachers have no means of proving their prowess by conspicuous waste, and no time to convince the world of their excellence through conspicuous leisure; consequently, for histrionic purposes, a schoolteacher’s cosmos is a plain, slaty gray. Schoolteachers do not wallow in wealth nor feed fat at the public trough. No one ever accuses them of belonging to the class known as the predatory rich, nor of being millionaire malefactors. They have to do their work every day at certain hours and dedicate its results to time.
For many years Thomas Arnold has been known as the father of his son. Several great men have been thus overshadowed. The father of Disraeli, for instance, was favored by fame and fortune, until his gifted son moved into the limelight, and after that Pater shone mostly in a reflected glory. Jacopo Bellini was the greatest painter in Venice until his two sons, Gian and Gentile, surpassed him, and history writes him down as the father of the Bellinis. Lyman Beecher was regarded as America’s greatest preacher until Henry Ward moved the mark up a few notches. The elder Pitt was looked upon as a genuine statesman until his son graduated into the Cabinet, and then “the terrible cornet of horse” became known as the father of Pitt. Now that both are dust, and we are getting the proper perspective, we see that “the great commoner” was indeed a great man, and so they move down the corridors of time together, arm in arm, this father and son. That excellent person who carried the gripsacks of greatness so long that he thought the luggage was his own, Major James B. Pond, launched at least one good thing. It was this: “Matthew Arnold gave fifty lectures in America, and nobody ever heard one of them; those in his audience who could no longer endure the silence slipped quietly out.”
Matthew Arnold was a critic and writer who, having secured a tuppence worth of success through being the son of his father, and thus securing the speaker’s eye, finally got an oratorical bee in his bonnet and went a-barnstorming. He cultivated reserve and indifference, both of which he was told were necessary factors of success in a public speaker.
And this is true. But they will not make an orator, any more than long hair, a peculiar necktie, and a queer hat will float a poet on the tide of time safely into the Hall of Fame.
Matthew Arnold cultivated repose, but instead of convincing the audience that he had power, he only made them think he was sleepy. Major Pond, having lived much with orators, and thinking the trick easy, tried oratory on his own account, and succeeded as well as did Matthew Arnold. No one ever heard Major Pond: his voice fell over the footlights, dead, into the orchestra; only those with opera-glasses knew he was talking.
But to be unintelligible is not a special recommendation. Men may be moderate for two reasons–through excess of feeling and because they are actually dull.
Matthew Arnold has slipped back into his true position–that of a man of letters. The genius is a man of affairs. Humanity is the theme, not books. Books are usually written about the thoughts of men who wrote books. Books die and disintegrate, but humanity is an endless procession, and the souls that go marching on are those who fought for freedom, not those who speculate on abstrusities.