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...
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