The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 12. Thomas Hughes; Tom Browns School Days
Of Maurice’s followers in the efforts for social reforms which marked the middle years of the century, Thomas Hughes was the only writer besides Kingsley who gained for himself an enduring name in the literature of fiction. And this, virtually, by a single work, Tom Brown’s School Days; for its continuation from no point of view equalled it in merit, and most of the author’s other works were biographical. Hughes, like Kingsley, made no secret of the didactic purpose of his extraordinarily successful story, which was first published, anonymously, in 1857. “He wrote,” he said, “to get the chance of preaching, and not for any other object”; and the keynote of the story was the defence of earnestness in schoolboys as a brighter renewal of what, in former days, used to be called seriousness. The value of this quality, as the master quality of a boy’s character and life, and of those of the man into whom he is growing, is set forth not only in the experience of the commonplace hero (for this commonplaceness is indispensable in an exemplar), but, also, in the personality of the man in whom he recognises his ideal. Rarely, if ever, has a great school been so identified with a great man as Arnold has become identified with Rugby; and, since Hughes’s tale contributed to this result not less unmistakably than Stanley’s Life, the one has as good a title to his statue by the playing-fields as the other has to his in the chapel of the school. Though there are passages in the book which may be fitter for men than for boys, that charge can, certainly, not be brought home to it as a whole; and its close (written by the author in circumstances of deep personal distress) gives solemnity as well as unity to the story, though it begins with scenes of admirable humour and is, what few school histories succeed in being, a true picture of school life and of boys’ nature.