Thomas Hughes (1822-96); biography and famous works

Thomas Hughes (1822-96) was a British novelist, author and social reformer. He was born on October 20, 1822, in Uffington, Berkshire, England. He was educated at Rugby School and Oriel College, Oxford. He was a barrister and Liberal MP, and, under the influence of Frederick Denison Maurice, devoted much energy to movements for social reform, especially working men’s education.

He is mainly remembered for his novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857, by ‘An Old Boy’), which evokes the Rugby of his youth and his veneration for its headmaster, Dr Thomas Arnold. Hughes condemned, in the character of the tyrannical Flashman, the bullying prevalent in public schools of the day, and advocated a form of what came to be known as ‘muscular Christianity’, which attempted to combine Christian principles with physical courage, self reliance, love of sport, school loyalty, and patriotism, a mixture that had much impact on the public-school ethos. Its sequel, Tom Brown at Oxford (1861), is less successful.

He joined the Christian Socialists (Christian activists who demanded a social program of political and economic action on behalf of all individuals, whether impoverished or wealthy) and, in 1854, he became a founding member of the group’s Working Men’s College (London), of which he was principal from 1872 to 1883.

Hughes wrote several biographies and memoirs and one other novel The Scouring of the White Horse, in 1859, and published various sermons and addresses, including A Layman’s Faith (1868), The Manliness of Christ (1879), which attacks the view that Christianity is a religion for the timid and fearful. He died on March 22, 1896, in Brighton, Sussex.

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