Magazine article Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought

Dr. Arnold, Matthew Arnold, and the Jews

Magazine article Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought

Dr. Arnold, Matthew Arnold, and the Jews

Article excerpt

Perhaps the Reverend Dr Arnold, Head Master of Rugby School near Birmingham, would be a proper person. He is one of the most enlightened and liberal of our clergy....

John Stuart Mill, letter of 6 December 1831 (1)

ON APRIL 5, 1830, IN HIS MAIDEN SPEECH TO THE HOUSE of Commons, Thomas Macaulay spoke eloquently in favor of Robert Grant's bill for the Removal of Jewish Disabilities. Alluding to but not actually naming, Nathan Rothschild (who had financed the Allied armies ranged against Napoleon), Macaulay noted that "as things now stand, a Jew may be the richest man in England.... The influence of a Jew may be of the first consequences in a war which shakes Europe to the centre," and yet the Jews have no legal right to vote or to sit in Parliament. "Three hundred years ago they had no legal right to the teeth in their heads." (2)

If some members of the House thought it indecent of Macaulay to dredge up this nasty old business about King John extracting gold teeth from Jewish heads, certain opponents of Jewish Emancipation found it still much the best policy. According to J. A. Froude, his biographer, Thomas Carlyle, standing in front of Rothschild's great house at Hyde Park Corner, exclaimed: "I do not mean that I want King John back again, but if you ask me which mode of treating these people to have been nearest to the will of the Almighty about them--to build them palaces like that, or to take the pincers for them, I declare for the pincers." Carlyle even fancied himself in the role of a Victorian King John, with Baron Rothschild at his mercy: "Now, Sir, the State requires some of these millions you have heaped together with your financing work. 'You won't? Very well'--and the speaker gave a twist with his wrist--'Now will you?'--and then another twist till the millions were yielded." (3)

Although Macaulay was a liberal, he did not speak for all liberals, some of whom stood much closer to Carlyle on the Jewish question. One of these was Thomas Arnold, the famous headmaster of Rugby and intellectual leader of the liberal or Broad Church branch of the Church of England. Arnold set himself against conservatism as the most dangerously revolutionary of principles: "there is nothing so unnatural and so convulsive to society as the strain to keep things fixed, when all the world is by the very law of its creation in eternal progress." (4) When John Henry Newman, leader of the AngloCatholic (or "High") branch of the Church of England, declared that liberalism was "the enemy," and that by liberalism he meant "the Antidogmatic Principle," Arnold was among the principal culprits he had in mind, particularly "some free views of Arnold about the Old Testament." (5)

But Arnold's preference of improvement to preservation and of free views to dogma drew up short where the Jews were concerned. He might excoriate the High Church party for having, throughout English history, opposed improving measures of any kind; but he shared with his AngloCatholic adversaries the conviction that Christianity must be the law of the land. In 1834 (a year after the Jewish Emancipation Bill had been passed by the Commons but rejected by the Lords) Arnold insisted that he "must petition against the Jew Bill" because it is based on "that low Jacobinical notion of citizenship, that a man acquires a right to it by the accident of his being littered inter quatuor maria [on the nation's soil] or because he pays taxes." (6) That indelicate word "littered" suggests that Arnold's opposition to Jewish emancipation was not purely doctrinal, but had a strong admixture of compulsive nastiness (or worse).

Arnold took the view that the world is made up of Christians and non-Christians; with the former, unity was essential, with the latter, impossible or, where possible, deplorable. Parliament should be thanked for having achieved the great liberal desideratum of doing away with distinctions between Christian and Christian. …

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