Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Hughes, Thomas (1822-1896)

HUGHES, THOMAS (1822–1896), the author of 'Tom Brown's School Days,' was born at Uffington, a country parish near Faringdon in Berkshire, on 20 Oct. 1822. His father was John Hughes (1790–1857) [q. v.] His brother George Edward (1821–1872), who is the subject of Tom Hughes's 'Memoir of a Brother,' was thirteen months Tom's senior; he was educated at Rugby and Oriel College, Oxford, stroked the Oxford crew of 1843, entered Lincoln's Inn in 1848, and practised in the ecclesiastical courts; he was a member of the Pen and Pencil Club, a skilful player on the violoncello, and died at Hoylake, Cheshire, on 2 May 1872.

Tom spent almost all his years up to early manhood in the closest companionship with this elder brother. They went together in the autumn of 1830 to a private school at Twyford, near Winchester, where they had Charles Blachford Mansfield [q. v.] as their schoolfellow. Tom Hughes describes this school as being before its time in the cultivation of athletic exercises, for success in which prizes were regularly given. In February 1834 the two brothers were sent to Rugby, Tom being then eleven years old. Their father had been at Oriel with Dr. Arnold, and though he had no sympathy with his politics he admired his character and abilities, and he sent his sons to Rugby to be under Arnold.

The Rugby of that time is described in 'Tom Brown's School Days.' It has been almost inevitable that readers should see Hughes himself in Tom Brown. But in the preface to 'Tom Brown at Oxford' he complains of this identification. 'I must take this my first and last chance of saying that he is not I, either as boy or man. … When I first resolved to write the book I tried to realise to myself what the commonest type of English boy of the upper middle class was, so far as my experience went; and to that type I have throughout adhered, trying simply to give a good specimen of the genus. I certainly have placed him in the country scenes which I know best myself, for the simple reason that I knew them better than any others, and therefore was less likely to blunder in writing about them.' Readers are bound to respect this protest. But the sentiments and doings ascribed to Tom Brown were by Hughes's account those of the kind of boy that Hughes was. Tom Hughes did not become much of a scholar; in academical attainments he was below his brother George, both at school and at college. But he rose high enough in the school to come into that close contact with Dr. Arnold which never failed to draw boys of any thoughtfulness into reverence for him. Tom stayed a year at Rugby behind his brother George, and in the middle of the year he played for Rugby at Lord's in the annual match against a Marylebone club eleven. Then in the spring of 1842, having matriculated on 2 Dec. 1841, he followed his brother to Oxford and Oriel, carrying with him at least a great cricketing reputation, for he played in the June of his first year in the Oxford and Cambridge match at Lord's. The two brothers had rooms on the same staircase, and the genuine though unobtrusive seriousness of Tom's character was no doubt fostered by his intimacy with George. But neither of them seems to have been at all affected by the religious movement of their Oxford days. They associated with their distinguished schoolfellows, Matthew Arnold, Clough, Walrond, and others. Tom Hughes records that in the year before he took his degree he made a tour with a pupil in the north of England and Scotland (Memoir of a Brother, p. 88). He did this by the special request of the pupil's father, who was a neighbour and friend of the Hughes family. Hughes says that he frequented commercial hotels, and heard the corn-law question vigorously discussed, and came back from the north 'an ardent free-trader.' In other respects, he adds, I was rapidly falling away from the political faith in which we had been brought up. . . . The noble side of democracy was carrying me away.' He was thus early showing himself to be the generous, teachable, and courageous Englishman that he was known to be in after life.

Having graduated B.A. in 1845, he went up to London to read for the bar. He had been admitted at Lincoln's Inn on 21 Jan. 1845, but migrated to the Inner Temple on 18 Jan. 1848, and was called to the bar ten days later. He never became a great lawyer, but he studied diligently, and was able to acquit himself creditably in professional business. He became Q.C. in 1869, and bencher of his inn in 1870. It was through his residence in Lincoln's Inn that he came under the great influence of his life. F. D. Maurice was then chaplain of the Inn, and, whilst his personal character won the reverence of the young student, his teaching came home to his needs and aspirations and deepest convictions, and completely mastered him. Maurice had no more devoted disciple than Tom Hughes. It was the work of his life to put in practice what he learnt from Maurice. In the latter part of 1848 he offered himself as a fellow-worker to the little band of Christian socialists who had gathered round Maurice, in which Mr. John M. Ludlow, for many years Hughes's closest friend and ally, and Charles Kingsley, and his old school-fellow Charles Mansfield, were already enrolled. The practical part of Christian socialism was the co-operative movement, especially in its 'productive' form. This branch of it has been overshadowed by the vast store system; but it was co-operative production that had the sympathy and advocacy of Hughes and the more enthusiastic promoters of co-operation. In his later years Hughes was accustomed to denounce with some vehemence what he regarded as a desertion of the true co-operative principle by those who cared only for the stores, and who gave no share in the business to the employees of the store and the factory. The early businesses set up by the Christian socialists did not prosper, but Hughes never despaired of the cause. He was one of the most diligent and ardent of its promoters, attending conferences, giving legal advice, and going on missionary tours. He contributed to the 'Christian Socialist' and the 'Tracts on Christian Socialism,' and acted for some months as editor of the 'Journal of Association.' By giving evidence in 1850 before the House of Commons committee on the savings of the middle and working classes, and by other persevering efforts, he aided the passing of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act (56-7 Victoria, c. 39) in 1893.

Hughes had married in 1848 Frances, daughter of the Rev. James Ford, and niece of Richard Ford [q. v.], author of the famous 'Handbook of Spain,' and near the end of 1849 his brother George became once more for a short time his companion, having joined the young couple in a small house in Upper Berkeley Street. Tom had chambers in common with Mr. J. M. Ludlow at No. 3 Old Buildings, Lincoln's Inn, and in 1853 the two friends agreed to build and occupy a joint house at Wimbledon. 'Our communistic experiment,' says Mr. Ludlow (Economic Review, July 1896, p. 305), 'was entirely successful while it lasted,' which was for four years. It was in this Wimbledon house that 'Tom Brown's School Days' was written. Mr. Ludlow records (ib. pp. 306, 307) how Hughes put into his hands one night a portion of his manuscript, and with what surprise he became aware, as he read, of the quality of the book. It was shown without delay to Alexander Macmillan [see under Macmillan, Daniel], who promptly undertook to publish it. Its completion was delayed by a domestic grief, the death of Hughes's eldest daughter; but it appeared anonymously in April 1857. Its success was rapid, five editions being issued in nine months.

This book is Hughes's chief title to distinction. His object in writing it was to do good. He had had no literary ambition, and no friend of his had ever thought of him as an author. 'Tom Brown's School Days' is a piece of life, simply and modestly presented, with a rare humour playing all over it, and penetrated by the best sort of English religious feeling. And the life was that which is peculiarly delightful to the whole English-speaking race that of rural sport and the public school. The picture was none the less welcome, and is none the less interesting now, because there was a good deal that was beginning to pass away in the life that it depicts. The book was written expressly for boys, and it would be difficult to measure the good influence which it has exerted upon innumerable boys by its power to enter into their ways and prejudices, and to appeal to their better instincts; but it has commended itself to readers of all ages, classes, and characters. The author was naturally induced to go on writing, and his subsequent books, such as 'The Scouring of the White Horse' (1859) and 'Tom Brown at Oxford' (1861) are not without the qualities of which the 'School Days' had given evidence; but it was the conjunction of the subject and the author's gifts that made the first book unique.

In January 1854, at a meeting of the promoters of associations, it was resolved, on a motion made by Hughes, 'That it be referred to the committee of teaching and publications to frame and, so far as they think fit, to carry out a plan for the establishment of a people's college in connection with the metropolitan associations.' This was the beginning of the Working Men's College in Great Ormond Street, which continued to be to the end of his life one of Hughes's chief interests. He was not able to do much in it as a teacher, but he took an active part in carrying on its social work, commanded its volunteer corps, and was principal of the college for ten years, from 1872 to 1883. He delighted the students by his geniality, but he never concealed from them his earnest religious faith. One of his books, 'The Manliness of Christ' (1879), grew out of what he taught in a bible-class at the college. In an earlier year, 1861, he had written the first of a series of 'Tracts for Priests and People,' issued by Maurice and his friends. His tract was entitled 'Religio Laici,' or, in a subsequent edition of it, 'A Layman's Faith' (1868). His theology was Maurice's, transfused through his own simple and devout mind. In all that he wrote or spoke or did, he was sincere, straightforward, intolerant of deceit or meanness. He interested himself ardently in church reform, and was a hearty member of a 'church reform union,' when it was originated in 1870, and again when it had a brief resuscitation through Arnold Toynbee's efforts in 1886. His position was that of a liberal churchman, supporting a national church with enthusiasm, but desiring to make it as acceptable and inoffensive as possible to nonconformists. When he became known as a social reformer, it was natural that he should be urged to seek entrance to the House of Commons, and he was elected for Lambeth in 1865. In 1868 he was glad to exchange this unwieldy and unmanageable constituency for the borough of Frome, for which he was returned at the general election; he relinquished his candidature for Frome at the general election in February 1874 (the seat was won for the conservatives by Henry Charles, afterwards Lord Lopes [q.v.]), and was nominated for Marylebone, but retired the day before the poll. In the House of Commons the line he took was definitely that of a reformer, and especially of a friend of the working classes; a trades union bill he introduced was read a second time on 7 July 1869, but made no further progress. He was not a very successful speaker, and, though greatly liked and respected, he would not have been able to reach the front rank in politics. When Gladstone went over to home rule for Ireland, Hughes's opposition to that policy was touched with indignation, and he became a vehement liberal unionist. In 1869 he was chairman of the first co-operative congress, and spoke against the tendency to shelve 'productive' co-operation, which he never ceased to denounce.

The first of three visits to America was made by Hughes in 1870. One of his strongest ties to the United States was his admiration of Lowell's 'Poems,' which was most fervent. Mr. Ludlow describes (Economic Review, July 1896, p. 309) how, being asked by Trübner in 1859 to write an introduction to an edition of the 'Biglow Papers,' Hughes, in his self-distrustful way, begged help from him, and the introduction was a joint composition. Two separate essays on American history by the same authors were combined in a volume published in 1862. One of Hughes's objects in going to America was to make Lowell's personal acquaintance. He had been warmly on the side of the north in the civil war, and this, added to the fame of 'Tom Brown's School Days,' made him very popular in the States. In the course of this visit he gave two lectures — one at Boston entitled 'John to Jonathan,' another at New York on the labour question. His subsequent visits to America were connected with a project, commenced in 1879, which at first awakened all his enthusiasm, and afterwards caused him much anxiety and considerable pecuniary loss. His sanguine, unsuspicious temper was not favourable to success in business. In conjunction with friends he bought a large estate in Tennessee, on which a model community was to be established. The place was named Rugby. The purchasers had been misled as to the productive value of the estate, and the early settlers underwent a rather bitter disappointment. Tom Hughes drew out of the enterprise, but his mother went to live at the new Rugby with her youngest son, Hastings Hughes, and after ten years' residence died there at a very advanced age.

In July 1882 Hughes was appointed a county-court judge, and went to live at Chester. There he built himself a house, which he named after his birthplace, Uffington, and he grew old happily in the performance of his judicial duties. His health at last gave way to infirmities, and he died at Brighton on 22 March 1896. In accordance with his known wishes his funeral was strictly private, and he was buried in the Brighton cemetery. Besides his wife he left six surviving children, three sons and three daughters. Two died in childhood, and a son, who was a soldier, died some years before his father after military experience in South Africa. A fine statue of Tom Hughes by Brock has been erected in the school grounds at Rugby.

There are two original portraits, both by Lowes Dickinson one painted when he was a little over forty years of age, in the possession of his daughter, Mrs. Cornish; the other when he was seventy, in the possession of Mrs. Hughes. An addition that is about to be made to the buildings of the Working Men's College is to be a memorial of his principalship and to bear his name.

In addition to the books which have been mentioned—‘Tom Brown's School Days,’ ‘Tom Brown at Oxford,’ ‘The Scouring of the White Horse,’ ‘The Memoir of a Brother,’ ‘The Manliness of Christ’—Hughes wrote Lives of Bishop Fraser (1887), of Daniel Macmillan (1882), of Livingstone (1889), and of Alfred the Great (1869), ‘The Old Church’ (1878), ‘Rugby, Tennessee’ (1881), ‘Gone to Texas’ (1884). Many of his addresses and shorter compositions were printed in pamphlet form. A series of his letters to the ‘Spectator’ were published in his lifetime by his daughter, Mrs. Cornish, under the title of ‘Vacation Rambles’ (1895). A short fragment of autobiography, which has been privately printed, contains some memories of his early youth and manhood.

[Personal knowledge and information given by friends; Hughes's Memoir of a Brother; an article by J. M. Ludlow, ‘Thomas Hughes and Septimus Hansard,’ in the Economic Review, July 1896; Life of F. D. Maurice; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Off. Ret. Members of Parl.; Lincoln's Inn Records; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715-1886, and Men at the Bar; Men of the Time, 13th ed.]

J. Ll. D.