In 1841, an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, took a respectable second-class degree after working consistently hard, and walked fifty miles to tell his old headmaster “I have failed.” Three years later, the headmaster’s son, also at Balliol, obtained a second-class degree after idling much of his time away and, far from being ashamed of himself or embarrassed for his father, did not seem to care much about it. The actors in this drama, of course, are Arthur Hugh Clough (1819–61), Matthew Arnold (1822–88), and Arnold’s father, Dr. Thomas Arnold of Rugby School (1795–1842). Clough, who had been brought in to give extra coaching to his boyhood friend and fellow pupil, had predicted the result. “A worthy addition to our select band,” he concluded, with an attempt at bravado which should not deceive us. His penitential pilgrimage to Rugby says everything about...

 

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