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Thomas Arnold
by [?]

It was purely priestly, institutional education. It was the kind of education that every well-to-do Briton would like to have his sons receive. It was, in short, England’s Ideal.

* * * * *

Rugby Grammar School was endowed in Sixteen Hundred Fifty-three by one Laurence Sherif, a worthy grocer. The original gift was comparatively small, but the investment being in London real estate, has increased in value until it yields now an income of about thirty-five thousand dollars a year.

In the time of Arnold there were about three hundred pupils. It is not a large school now; there are high schools in a hundred cities of America that surpass it in many ways.

Rugby’s claim to special notice lies in its traditions–the great men who were once Rugby boys, and the great men who were Rugby teachers. Also, in the fact that Thomas Hughes wrote a famous story called, “Tom Brown at Rugby.”

Rugby Grammar School was one hundred twenty-five years old when Sir Joshua Reynolds commissioned Lord Cornwallis to go to America and fetch George Washington to England, that Sir Joshua might paint his portrait.

For a hundred years prior to the time of Arnold, there had not been a perceptible change in the methods of teaching. The boys were herded together. They fought, quarreled, divided into cliques; the big boys bullied the little ones. Fagging was the law; so the upper forms enslaved the lower ones. There was no home life, and the studies were made irksome and severe, purposely, as it was thought that pleasant things were sinful.

If any better plan could have been devised to make study absolutely repulsive, so the student would shun it as soon as he was out of school, we can not guess it.

The system was probably born of inertia on the part of the teachers. The pastor who pushes through his prescribed services, with mind on other things, and thus absolves his conscience for letting his congregation go drifting straight to Gehenna, was duplicated in the teacher. He did his duty–and nothing more.

Selfishness, heartlessness and brutality manipulated the birch. Head was all; heart and hand nothing. This was schoolteaching. As a punishment for failure to memorize lessons, there were various plans to disgrace and discourage the luckless ones. Standing in the corner with face to the wall, and the dunce-cap, had given place to a system of fines, whereby “ten lines of Vergil for failure to attend prayers,” and ten more for failure to get the first, often placed the boy in hopeless bankruptcy. If he was a fag, or slave of a higher-form boy, cleaning the other’s boots, scrubbing stairs, running on foolish and needless errands, getting cuffs and kicks by way of encouragement, he saw his fines piling up and no way ever to clear them off and gain freedom by promotion.

Viewed from our standpoint, the thing has a ludicrous bouffe air that makes us smile. But to the boy caught in the toils it was tragic. To work and evolve in an environment of such brutality was impossible to certain temperaments. Success lay in becoming calloused and indifferent. If the boy of gentle habits and slight physical force did not sink into mental nothingness, he was in danger of being bowled over by disease and death.

Indeed, the physical condition of the pupils was very bad: smallpox, fevers, consumption, and breaking out with sores and boils, were common.

Thomas Arnold was thirty-three years old when he was called as head master to Rugby. He was married, and babies were coming along with astonishing regularity. He had taken priestly orders and was passing rich on one hundred pounds a year. Poverty and responsibility had given him ballast, and love for his own little brood had softened his heart and vitalized his soul.