« PreviousContinue »
and frequent application which must ensue from the consideration of such a life, cannot fail to awaken some idle slumberer, some sentimental dreamer, who has never yet found, or sought, or cared to find his appointed task in the world's great field of labour ; to rekindle the dying fires of some once warm and fervent spirit, who has grown cold and careless in the Master's service; or to cheer the drooping soul of some who are worn and weary, and discouraged at the very commencement of life's long troublous campaign.
Such a life is the one now before us ;—a life almost devoid of startling incidents, or thrilling romance : a sunny, serene life, yet not cloudless or untouched by adverse breezes; crowned with many of God's richest and choicest blessings, yet crossed ever and anon by the sense of weakness and pain and care and mutability; made up, in an exterior point of view, of very ordinary materials, but rendered grand and beautiful by the workings of the holy, steadfast, loving spirit within.
It was on the 13th of June, 1795, that a seventh child, and youngest son, was born to William and Martha Arnold, then resident at West Cowes, in the Isle of Wight. The Arnold family were not aborigines of the soil; they had been settled on the Medina Estuary for two generations only, and came originally from the neighbourhood of Lowestoft, in Suffolk.
This child received in baptism the name of Thomas, and became in process of time the Dr. Arnold of Rugby celebrity. His father died suddenly of spasm in the heart, March 3rd, 1801. His mother lived to see her only surviving son the Head Master of Rugby School; settled in that position, and pledged to that great work, for which he was remarkably qualified, and in which it was permitted him to accomplish so much good, not merely for the passing generation, but for all Time; nay, under the blessing of Almighty God, FOR ALL ETERNITY!
His maternal aunt, Miss Delafield, took charge of his childish studies; but at eight years of age he quitted home for Warminster School, in Wiltshire, then under the management of Dr. Griffiths. Here he read Dr. Priestley's Lectures on History, which he quoted from memory full thirty-eight years afterwards, when filling the chair of Regius Professor of Modern History in the University of Oxford.
Here, too, he formed his first boyish friendship. Among the many who in later years he delighted to call his friends, among those to whom his strong and loving heart beat with a true, unutterable attachment, the memory of George Evelyn always retained its sweetness and its interest; although in 1806 they were parted, never again to meet on earth. Indeed, Arnold lost sight of Evelyn : for the currents of their lives diverged so widely that he heard nothing of him till 1829, when he was requested to write his epitaph.
In a letter of remarkable simplicity, and deep feeling, addressed to the widow of this, his earliest and longlost friend, he says :- “Since the year 1806, I have never seen him; but the impression of his character has remained strongly marked on my memory ever since, for I never knew so bright a promise in any other boy ; I never knew any spirit at that age, so pure and generous, and so free from the ordinary meannesses, coarsenesses, and littlenesses of boyhood.”
So early, and so abidingly, did Arnold appreciate purity and nobility of character.
In 1807 he left Warminster for Winchester College, where he remained till his sixteenth year, and, in common with nearly all those who have studied under the time-honoured walls of that renowned seat of learning, he imbibed and always retained a strong Wykehamist spirit. Though I have not at my disposal any records of his four years' residence in this old city of regal and Saxon antiquity, it needs but very slight force of imagination to picture him, a shy, retiring boy, moving quietly and gravely through the classic halls of William of Wykeham: to see him, treading from day to day, as he must have done, those wellremembered haunts of college, cathedral, city, or upland-down; now pacing in meditative sort the cloisters and quadrangles of his own special locality
; now sitting in the beautiful chapel, at morning or evening prayers, in the solemn light of the grand eastern window, with its quaint genealogical tree, and old Jesse the Bethlehemite recumbent at its roots; now rambling along the green flowery banks of the Itchin, or gazing reverently at the gray towers of St. Cross, or taking with his schoolfellows his prescribed “constitutional” up the chalky steeps of fircrowned St. Catherine's Hill. His young footsteps must have trodden the long, lofty aisles of the glorious cathedral; he must have passed by the ancient black marble font, and the deserted chapels of the nave, and he must have looked often on the gorgeous effigy of Beaufort, the nameless, unhonoured grave of the “Red King,” the legendary tombof St. Swithin, and the antique chest where moulder, or are said to moulder, the dust of kings and queens of Saxon and Danish dynasties.
Certainly, on a mind and taste like his, the architectural beauties, the shadows of ages almost dreamlike in their far-remoteness, and the rich historic associations of Winchester, could not have failed to create a vivid and a permanent impression. Meanwhile, his schooldays were marked by a peculiar stiffness and reticence, which, however, entirely wore away during his subsequent residence at Oxford. He held tenaciously to his opinions, “and,” says one of his friends and companions, “was utterly immovable by force or fraud, when he had made up his mind, whether right or wrong."
So it is that strong, firm, uncompromising minds frequently develop themselves in early youth : where there is steadfast Christian principle, and earnest seeking after truth, mere obstinate persistence gradually merges into a settled conscientious adherence to that which the heart and understanding acknowledge as the right and governing principle, whether it be spiritual, moral, or intellectual.
He was very fond of ballad poetry. Whilst yet a schoolboy he composed a play, sundry poems, and an imitation of Scott's “Marmion," which he called “Simon de Montfort.” Partly on this account, and partly to distinguish him from another boy of the same name, he received the cognomen of “Poet Arnold.” He was famous, too, for his repetition of certain spirited ballads with which he delighted his Winchester schoolfellows, who were not so literary as himself. One very early specimen of his juvenile talent has been preserved, a tragedy, written in his seventh year; its subject, “Percy, Earl of Northumberland.” This precocious composition is not, however, remarkable for anything beyond correct orthography, good English,
and general regularity of construction-merits, by the way, which the productions of maturer genius do not invariably exhibit.
Of a far more striking character were his attainments in history and geography. The germs of that ardour and delight in historic research and delineation, which gave to his subsequent labours the aspect of recreation, rather than of toil, were discernible at a very early period.
He remembered receiving from his father, a copy of Smollett's History of England, when only three years of age, as a reward for the exactness with which he repeated all the little tales and anecdotes relating to the successive reigns; or rather to the pictures appended to, and illustrative of, each reign in the aforesaid his tory; and when a boy at Winchester, he breaks out into a very tornado of indignation against the bombast and careless inaccuracy of the Latin writers. We meet with the following philippic in one of his letters, written at the age of fourteen :-“I verily believe that half, at least, of the Roman History is, if not totally false, at least scandalously exaggerated. How far different are the modest, unaffected, and impartial narratives of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon."
And now, having briefly considered the localities, the actual pursuits, and the tendencies of Arnold's boyhood, let us turn aside, and take a cursory glance at the character of the times in which his childhood and youth passed away. They were right stirring days : wars, and rumours of wars, were afloat month after month, and year after year. The recollections of the atrocities of the French Revolution were still fresh in the memories of all Europe: the massacres of La Vendée, and the noyades of Nantes, yet thrilled the hearts of