6 MARCH 1953, Page 21


Tom Hughes

IT is easy, though not very profitable, to mock at-the great Rugbeian and" muscular Christian " of the nineteenth century. Tom Hughes was immune from the fasblopable diseases of our time such as Angst. He was a tremendous extravert, and expressed a great distaste for grubbing " about in my bowels to find what's there and he held the comfortable belief that " every change is a transformation to some- thing higher." He seems to have disliked all foreigners except the Americans, though he preferred the Turks to the Greeks, and " had no sort of doubt that sooner or later they will become Christians." As for our nearest Continental neighbours, his attitude was deplorable. Ten days in Paris were sufficient to make him feel : " I get mad to smash some of the mirrors on the boulevards and to punch the heads of sonic of the little coxcombs who sit sipping and smoking all along the Café fronts." He was a bad speaker in Parliament. His attempts to export the spirit, as conceived by him, of Arnold's Rugby to Tennessee were a complete failure. The Labour movement, the beginnings of which he helped to sponsor, pursued a course which was quite different from anything which he had imagined or would have approved.

Yet, with all the aggressiveness and the anti-intellectualism, there was a deep sincerity of feeling, a real awareness of the appalling dangers of the time and a presence which, as the Spectator wrote after Hughes' death, made one feel " that the air was lighter and the clouds upon the move." And there is Torn Brown's Schooldays which is probably the best book written about boys in English.

What Hughes' great hero, Dr. Arnold, would have thought about this book, if he had lived to read it, we cannot know. We can be certain that Hughes himself passed over, or did not observe, some of the most important elements in the Doctor's character. Tom Hughes, like Tom Brown, was an athlete rather than an intellectual. He saw his headmaster more as a just and fearless champion in the fairly straightforward struggle of Right against Wrong than as one who was aware of more difficulties than those which met the eye, and who was possessed of a most keen and sensitive intellect and understanding. Tom Hughes was, no doubt, an excellent captain of " Bigside, " but he was not one of the boys in whom Arnold was greatly interested. In this he was probably fortunate. As the authors of this new bio- graphy write :

" Torn Hughes' failure to achieve intimacy with Dr. Arnold (along with the qualities in his personality that precluded such intimacy) saved him from the soul-shattering experiences that Clough, Stanley and even Matthew Arnold underwent. Dr. Arnold, who hated childishness, could not help putting pressure on his favour- ites to grow up prematurely, to develop an intellectual awareness and spiritull drives that were almost morbidly intense. As a consequence they were torn asunder when, without Dr. Amold's aid, they had to face the realities of an adult world."

Hughes was never " torn asunder," and, though his vision of reality may have been limited, he was able to face bravely whatever he saw. His illimitable confidence and optimism carried him into a number of awkward situations, but they also enabled him to surmount real obstacles. When for example, the father of his fiancée decided, after the engagement had lasted only ten days, that the young people must be separated and had seen Tom " very kindly on the whole " off the premises, Tom himself, after walking thirty miles in the rain to Dartmoor, wrote to the girl whom he loved : " I was quite wet through, but as jolly as possible and by the time I got halfway across I began singing to the great astonishment of two old farmers, whom I likewise disgusted by remarking what a fine day it was, at the ninth milestone I 'sat down and positively laughed for I had been picturing to myself what jolly old people we shall be if we live long enough, and also I had been making vows to myself to purchase a large musical box that played waltzes that we might waltz undisturbed when we meet again, whew 1 " Sure enough, the two were married much earlier than, at the time, they had any reason to expect.. The same breezy confidence and enthusiasm both helped and embarrassed the leaders of the Christian Socialists with whom Hughes became associated soon after he left Oxford. F. D. Maurice was as great an influence on his life as Dr. Arnold had been. According to Matthew Arnold, Maurice " passed his life beating the bush with deep emotion, but never starting the hare," but to Hughes, Maurice was " the pliophet," and he followed him with zest and devotion, even though Maurice often showed what his disciples considered too much reluctance to plunge into action. The passages dealing with Maurice, Kingsley and other leaders of the Christian Socialists are among the most interesting in this biography. It may well be that this _movement never had a chance. " Scientific " theories of economics and of self-help were becoming more fashionable than the moral fervour of these early reformers. Meanwhile in the British Museum Karl Marx was appropriating these " scientific " weapons - and forming them into an armoury that would greatly have surprised their inventors.

Tom Brown's Schooldays was published- in 1857, and its success was very great. For a short time Hughes was an important literary figure. Yet the remainder of his life (he died in 1896) was occupied more with social work than with literature. On his connection with the Co-operative movement, and his not very distinguished career in Parliament, this biography has much interesting information. Then, in 1878, began the unsuccessful colony of Rugby in Tennessee. It was a sad story. Hughes himself was easily taken in by unscrupulous agents, and the public-school boys whom he imported, though excel- lent fellows and very fond of tennis, showed a reluctance to work or to adapt themselves to new conditions.

Indeed in this very well-documented biography there is much more information than I have been able to suggest. For instance there is a full account of the important part played by Hughes in improving Anglo-American relations, and there is much valuable research into the origins of the Labour movement. Yet, with all this detailed information, the authors have succeeded in keeping well to the fore- ground the figure of their bluff and endearing hero.