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Thomas Arnold
by [?]

The credential of Thomas Arnold to immortality is not that he was the father of Matthew and eight other little Arnolds, but it lies in the fact that he fought for a wider horizon in life through education. He lifted his voice for liberty. He believed in the divinity of the child, not in its depravity. Arnold of Rugby was a teacher of teachers, as every great teacher is. The pedagogic world is now going back to his philosophy, just as in statesmanship we are reverting to Thomas Jefferson. These men who spoke classic truth, not transient–truth that fits in spite of fashion, time and place–are the true prophets of mankind. Such was Thomas Arnold!

* * * * *

If Thomas Arnold had been just a little bigger, the world probably would never have heard of him, for an interdict would have been placed upon his work. The miracle is that, as it was, the Church and the State did not snuff him out.

He stood for sweet reasonableness, but unintentionally created much opposition. His life was a warfare. Yet he managed to make himself acceptable to a few; so for fourteen years this head master of a preparatory school for boys lived his life and did his work. He sent out his radiating gleams, and grew straight in the strength of his spirit, and lived out his life in the light.

His sudden death sanctified and sealed his work before he was subdued and ironed out by the conventions.

Happy Arnold! If he had lived, he might have met the fate of Arnold of Brescia, who was also a great teacher. Arnold of Brescia was a pupil of Abelard, and was condemned by the Church as a disturber of the peace for speaking in eulogy of his master. Later, he attacked the profligacy of the idle prelates, as did Luther, Savonarola and all the other great church-reformers. When ordered into exile and silence, he still protested his right to speak. He was strangled on order of the Pope, his body burned, and the ashes thrown into the Tiber. The Baptists, I believe, claim Arnold of Brescia as the forerunner of their sect, and certain it is that he was of the true Roger Williams type.

Thomas Arnold, too, was filled with a passion for righteousness. His zeal for the upright, manly life constituted his strength. Of course he would not have been executed, as was Arnold of Brescia–the times had changed–he would simply have been shelved, pooh-poohed, deprived of his living and socially Crapseyized. Death saved him–aged forty-seven–and his soul goes marching on!

* * * * *

The parents of Thomas Arnold belonged to the great Middle Class–that class which Disraeli said never did any thinking on its own account, but to the best of its ability deferred to and imitated the idle rich in matters of religion, education and politics.

Doctor Johnson maintained that if members of the Middle Class worked hard and economized, it was in the hope that they might leave money and name for their children and make them exempt from all useful effort.

“To indict a class,” said Burke, “is neither reasonable nor right.” But certain it is that a vast number of fairly intelligent people in England and elsewhere regard the life of the “aristocracy” as very desirable and beautiful.

To this end they want their boys to become clergymen, lawyers, doctors or army officers.

“Only two avenues of honor are open to aspiring youth in England,” said Gladstone–“the Army and the Church.”

The father of Thomas Arnold was Collector of Customs at Cowes, Isle of Wight. Holding this petty office under the Government, with a half-dozen men at his command, we can easily guess his caliber, habits, belief and mode of life. He was respectable; and to be respectable, a Collector of Customs must be punctilious in Church matters, in order to be acceptable to Church people, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. The parents of Thomas Arnold very naturally centered their ambitions for him on the Church, as he was not very strong.