“F**k Gibbon!”

Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians:

The Commentary on the New Testament was never finished, and the great work on Church and State itself remained a fragment. Dr. Arnold’s active mind was diverted from political and theological speculations to the study of philology, and to historical composition. His Roman History, which he regarded as ‘the chief monument of his historical fame’, was based partly upon the researches of Niebuhr, and partly upon an aversion to Gibbon.

‘My highest ambition,’ he wrote, ‘is to make my history the very reverse of Gibbon in this respect, that whereas the whole spirit of his work, from its low morality, is hostile to religion, without speaking directly against it, so my greatest desire would be, in my History, by its high morals and its general tone, to be of use to the cause without actually bringing it forward.’

These efforts were rewarded, in 1841, by the Professorship of Modern History at Oxford. Meanwhile, he was engaged in the study of the Sanskrit and Slavonic languages, bringing out an elaborate edition of Thucydides, and carrying on a voluminous correspondence upon a multitude of topics with a large circle of men of learning. At his death, his published works, composed during such intervals as he could spare from the management of a great public school, filled, besides a large number of pamphlets and articles, no less than seventeen volumes. It was no wonder that Carlyle, after a visit to Rugby, should have characterised Dr. Arnold as a man of ‘unhasting, unresting diligence’.

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