Tom Brown’s School Days, 1857
The Scouring of the White Horse, 1859
Tom Brown at Oxford, 1861
Essays and Reviews, 1860
Religio Laici, 1861
A Layman’s Faith, 1868
Alfred the Great, 1869
Memoir of a Brother, 1873
The Old Church, 1878
The Manliness of Christ, 1879
The author, lawyer, legislator, reformer, and social activist Thomas Hughes was born in the village of Uffington in the Berkshire Downs of England, sixty miles west of London. He was the second son of John Hughes and Margaret Wilkinson. Tom and his elder brother George entered a preparatory school at Twyford in neighboring Hamphire during the fall of 1830. In 1834, Tom and George were sent by their father to Rugby School to be under the tutelage of Rugby’s noted headmaster, Thomas Arnold, their father’s classmate at Oxford University. Thomas Hughes left Rugby in 1842 to attend Oxford, and after graduating in 1845 he went to London to study law. He married Frances Ford, the daughter of a clergyman, with whom he had nine children. While he was a law student at Lincoln’s Inn, Hughes met Frederick Denison Maurice, chaplain and leader of the Christian Socialists, who became a major influence in Hughes’s life. In 1848, Hughes received his law degree.
Although he never thought of himself as primarily an author, Thomas Hughes composed several works for the Christian Socialists, as well as helping them found the London Working Men’s College, and wrote three novels, of which Tom Brown’s School Days became his chief claim to fame. All were written after the breakup of the Christian Socialists and deal with Christian Socialist concerns. Penned under the pseudonym “An Old Boy,” Tom Brown’s School Days resulted from Hughes’s thoughts about what he wanted to say to his oldest child Maurice when he went off to school. The novel was an instant success, and five editions were published in nine months. Although Hughes was never a member of Dr. Arnold’s inner circle, the novel recaptures Hughes’s boyish enthusiasm for Rugby. Tom Brown, who resembles Hughes in many ways, commits himself to Dr. Arnold’s principles, and the book has been regarded as transforming public opinion of the British public school. In the early nineteenth century, England’s public schools lacked discipline and were ruled by bullies. By mid-century, Arnold’s influence had brought about many major reforms. In writing Tom Brown’s School Days, Hughes created a new form of novel, the public-school novel–one that is also a Bildungsroman, or novel of character formation.
In The Scouring of the White Horse, Hughes deals with a city clerk on vacation in the rural Berkshire countryside. The novel is partly a love story and partly antiquarian lore. While staying with a farmer during an annual festival, the protagonist becomes acquainted with the area’s local history and learns how the festival’s games unite the classes and capture the essence of muscular Christianity. Tom Brown at Oxford, an inferior sequel to Hughes’s first novel, is more of an indictment than a glorification. Torn between his sense of English tradition and his exposure to new democratic concepts, and after reading Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present (1843), Tom acquires a distaste for prevailing laissez-faire economics. In his final year, Tom is known as “Chartist” Brown, though later in the book he rejects his Chartist views.
Hughes also published six biographies and three religious works, Religio Laici, The Old Church, and The Manliness of Christ. In Religio Laici, a response to the controversy over the publication of Essays and Reviews, a work in which he had attempted to explain how Christianity could be adjusted to the new findings of nineteenth century science and biblical criticism, Hughes conveys his concerns over the growth of religious skepticism. The Old Church contains Hughes’s conviction that the Church of England needed to broaden its appeal and become truly national. In The Manliness of Christ, he argues that constant conflict with evil requires a special kind of courage. Chronicling the career of Christ, it resulted from lectures Hughes gave at the London Working Men’s College. As a member of Parliament from 1865 to 1874, Hughes was a staunch supporter of workingmen. He used his seat in the House of Commons to promote his religious, moral, and social beliefs. From the mid-1860’s on, he was a member of the Reform League, which lobbied for an extension of voting rights, served on two royal commissions, was a leading figure on the Jamaica Committee that investigated the behavior of Governor Edward Eyre, and was chairman of the Crystal Palace Committee.
Hughes made three visits to the United States. For years, James Russell Lowell had been one of his regular correspondents. Hughes’s visit in October, 1880, was connected with the cooperative colony for English emigrants in northeastern Tennessee, which he helped found. When the settlement failed, Hughes lost a sizable sum and had to sell his house, accept an appointment as a county judge, and move to the city of Chester. There, he built a home he named Uffington House after his native village. At the time of his death in 1896, Hughes was known throughout the world. A statue of him stands on the grounds of Rugby School.