VOLUME 16 NUMBER 3
FALL 2015

Matthew Arnold's Schools and Universities on the Continent

Matthew Arnold was one of the Victorian age's most eminent poets, an influential literary critic, a prominent religious thinker and an incisive political, social and cultural commentator. However, though much of his large and diverse oeuvre is still read, it is likely that few today consult his works on both domestic and foreign education. This is odd as these latter works are important for understanding much of the social as well as educational ideas of an individual who was one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Elementary Schools in England and Wales for 36 years. The copy in Burn's Library of Matthew Arnold's 1868 Schools and Universities on the Continent, though a first edition, is not a particularly rare book. However, it is a fascinating work that provides deep insight into Arnold's views on the state of England's society as well as his solutions for improving it. This particular copy is part of the 4,000 volume personal library of Dr. T. W. Moody, Professor of Modern History at Trinity College, Dublin from 1940 to 1977, that was acquired by Burns in 2005.

Inset of Schools and Universities on the Continent

A central theme of Schools and Universities on the Continent was that England was in dire need of more State involvement at many levels of society. Arnold was adamant that his nation, increasingly dominated by what he considered to be a problematic middle class civilization, was becoming more and more a Philistine, Hebraic society where culture, true science, and Hellenism were lacking, a topic that also pervades what is perhaps his best known prose work, Culture and Anarchy. In particular, Arnold was convinced, England was failing to meet the demands of modernity and was falling behind certain Continental nations where the modern Zeitgeist was increasingly viewed as synonymous with "intellectual deliverance." Arnold believed that the most effective vehicles for attaining this deliverance were the State controlled educational institutions of these foreign nations.

While Arnold's views on the State owed much to his readings in ancient and modern authors, the greatest source for these views was his own first-hand experience of the State in action abroad. He made numerous unofficial trips to foreign nations, to the USA and Canada as well as to the Continent. Two official trips include those to several Continental nations in 1859 and 1865 as an Assistant Commissioner for the Newcastle and Taunton Commissions, which were examining, respectively, elementary and secondary education. In 1885 Arnold was again sent to the Continent, this time as an emissary of the Education Department. Seeing with his own eyes the benefits accruing from foreign systems, especially those pertaining to education, sharpened for him the contrast in England where any proposals to extend State power were often met with strong negative reaction.

On March 9, 1865 Arnold was appointed as an Assistant Commissioner to the Taunton Commission which was charged with examining secondary education in England other than that provided by the great Public Schools which had already been studied by the Clarendon Commission (1861-64). His specific duty was to investigate middle and upper class education in France, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland, and in the discharge of this task he spent almost seven months on the Continent in 1865. The Commission's Report was presented to the Government on December 2, 1867. Several months later Arnold brought out his contribution in book form with the title Schools and Universities on the Continent.

Image of the author from Vanity Fair

In his section on France Arnold welcomed that France, unlike England, had an Education Minister and a Council of Public Instruction, that it was essential that teachers in both public and private schools be certificated, and that both types of schools be open for State-inspection, the former to complete inspection, the latter to partial. At the time of his report France with a population of 37,500,000 had 74 lycées with 32,794 pupils, and 247 communal colleges with 33,038 pupils, making 65,832 public school pupils in all. However, when the nine Public Schools examined by Clarendon, and the chief endowed grammar schools and the chief modern schools, such as Cheltenham and Marlborough, listed in the Public Schools Calendar were taken into account (even though Arnold remarked that many of the endowed schools were not up to the standard of a French communal college) the number of Public School boys in England with its population of about 20,000,000 was less than 16,000: "I think the English reader will be startled, as I was, by this comparison. If a public school is an advantage, then this advantage is enjoyed by 50,000 more boys in France than with us". Moreover, in France all was under the direction of the Minister of Public Instruction and, as State institutions, there was little variation in the organization and running of the schools: "In all, the arrangement and training of classes, the arrangements for boarding, the hours of work and recreation, the means of recreation, the mode of government, and the whole system of discipline, are the same."

Arnold was much impressed with the State system of secondary schools of Prussia. In 1863 Prussia, with a population of about 1,500,000 less than England, had 255 public secondary schools with 3,349 teachers and 66,135 pupils; this compared exceedingly well with the 15,880 pupils in the various establishments which might have been afforded the title Public School in England. In addition, it seemed as if the term public were more justly enjoyed by the Prussian institutions. "All these schools have a public character, are subject to State inspection, must bring their accounts to be audited by a public functionary, and can have no masters whose qualifications have not been strictly and publicly tried."

Arnold also visited schools in Switzerland for the Taunton Commission, though he asserted that in most important respects Swiss secondary schools closely resembled their counterparts in Germany. Once again, most schools were under the control of the State: "The supreme authority . . . is the Education Council (Erziehungsrath). This represents the State." While private schools did indeed exist in Switzerland the main reason for their existence, considered Arnold, was "pour exploiter les Anglais," many of whom sent their children to be educated in that country.

When he turned to the educational organization of Italy Arnold, though pinpointing many problems and faults, displayed his pleasure at the extent of State-action. For all the inefficiencies of the present system Arnold considered that Italy was following the modern Zeitgeist in turning more and more to increased State involvement in education: "But there is no doubt that the current which is bearing the Italians away from clerical schools, and carrying them towards public and lay schools, is the main current of modern civilisation."

Arnold's main emphasis in Schools and Universities on the Continent, as in the majority of his other educational works and of his social and political writings, was on the merits of increased State involvement. While many English considered it right that education be outside the jurisdiction of the State, opinion in a number of European nations was now different. In these nations it was considered that good modern civil organization must have a State or public system of secondary, and higher, schools. In England, however, such instruction was completely private and on the whole it was not so good nor was it imparted in so good institutions as those on the Continent. Generally, it was only the English upper classes who benefited from good schools while the middle classes suffered indifferent schooling.

Arnold saw education as the panacea for England's problems, and in the concluding chapter of Schools and Universities on the Continent he provided a brief sketch drawing on his comparative educational studies abroad of the educational organization which he proposed would eliminate these problems. It is worthwhile to quote the last paragraph of the book which is, in effect, in encapsulated form Arnold's chief thesis formed from his comparative educational work on the Continent:

Photo of the author

Seven years ago, having being sent by a Royal Commission to study the primary schools on the Continent, I was so much struck by all I then saw, and by the comparison of it with what I had left behind me in England, that looking beyond the immediate scope of my errand, I said to my countrymen on my return: organise your secondary instruction. That advice passed perfectly unheeded, the hubbub of our sterile politics continued, ideas of social reconstruction had not a thought given them, our secondary instruction is still the chaos it was; and yet now, so urgent and irresistible is the impression left upon me by what I have again seen abroad, I cannot help presenting myself once more to my countrymen with an increased demand: organise your secondary and your superior instruction.

Though Matthew Arnold was convinced that England's educational system would be ameliorated by adopting certain features of foreign systems, the primary benefit would be the fostering of more far-ranging improvements throughout the wider society. What he praised so highly in the French and German systems was the fact that they produced boys characterized by Geist, lucidity, and culture. It was because their State systems were more effective agencies, in his opinion, than the private schools of England for stimulating that "intellectual deliverance" demanded by the modern age which made their study and emulation so crucial.

As mentioned, Burns's copy of Schools and Universities on the Continent is part of the 4,000 volume personal library of the late Professor T. W. Moody, one of Ireland's most distinguished historians. Acquired by Burns in 2005, it is an excellent collection which covers not just Irish history but also the history of Great Britain, Europe and the United States. For other titles in Professor Moody's library go to Holmes Advanced Search. Enter Moody in the search box and select Local Collection Name in the pull-down menu on the left.

Brendan Rapple
Collection Development Librarian
O'Neill Library