Ambition Reduces Me to Nullity

Arthur Stanley, The Life of Thomas Arnold:

Whatever may have been the exact notions of his future course which presented themselves to him, it is evident that he was not insensible to the attraction of visions of extensive influence, and almost to his latest hour he seems to have been conscious of the existence of the temptation within him, and of the necessity of contending against it. “I believe,” he said many years afterwards, in speaking of these early struggles to a Rugby pupil who was consulting him on the choice of a profession, — “I believe that, naturally, I am one of the most ambitious men alive,” and “the three great objects of human ambition,” he added, to which alone he could look as deserving the name, were ” to be the Prime-Minister of a great kingdom, the governor of a great empire, or the writer of works which should live in every age and in every country.” But in some respects the loftiness of his aims made it a matter of less difficulty to confine himself at once to a sphere in which, whilst he felt himself well and usefully employed, he felt also that the practical business of his daily duties acted as a check upon his own inclinations and speculations. Accordingly, when he entered upon his work at Laleham he seems to have regarded it as his work for life. “I have always thought,” he writes in 1823, “with regard to ambition, that I should like to be aut Caesar aut nullus [“either Caesar or a nobody”], and as it is pretty well settled for me that I shall not be Caesar, I am quite content to live in peace as nullus.”

Thomas Arnold by Thomas Phillips.jpg

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