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Thomas Arnold – “he had no patience with trivialities and would not suffer fools gladly”

By Hugh Dominic W Stiles, on 28 June 2013

This letter is stuck inside the front cover of Thomas Arnold’s autobiographical Reminiscences of Forty Years with stamp gutter margins.  It is a copy Arnold (1816-1897) gave to his fellow teacher of the deaf Richard Elliott, with the inscription “Another Worthy Minister of the Word from an Old Companion”.  Arnold describes his family background, descended from a member of William III’s army who was granted land in West Cavan in Ireland.

Arnold 001

Arnold’s great grandmother joined the Moravian church  and his family lived at their settlement at Gracehill.  The first  Deaf person Arnold was in contact with was a James Beatty who lodged with Arnold’s brother.  Beatty had spent some years at the Claremont Institution in Dublin, having been taught there by sign language and the manual alphabet.  Arnold was interested –

I speedily learned the finger alphabet and his mimic gestures. He resorted to a few arbitrary or artificial signs in conversation, and his vocabulary was very limited, so that he often found himself at a loss to express his thoughts. I felt for him, for he uttered strange noises on these occasions.

Arnold went on to train as a teacher of the deaf at Doncaster under Charles Baker.  Disillusioned with the Church of England, he felt he had to decline the headship of the Brighton Institution.  He left teaching, became a Congregationalist minister, travelled to Australia, but did not like the climate.  Returning to England he set up a school at Northampton, becomeing tutor to the famous Abraham Farrar.  Becomg conviced that oralism was the better method of teaching, he wrote The education of the deaf and dumb: an exposition and a review of the French and German systems, London, Elliot Stock (1872).

Abraham Farrar says of him,

With a leonine head and a broad frame he was a striking personality. He was abrupt in manner and had an aloofness that was sometimes disconcerting; he had no patience with trivialities and would not suffer fools gladly.

The letter is a little difficult to make out, but seems to read as follows;

The Reminiscences are added to the History but I had a number of copies for private circulation printed separately.

27 St. Paul’s Rd Northampton

Sep 20th 1895

Dear Friend & Brother in the service of God, let me add a more personal and less formal word or two in addition to what is intended for the whole crowd [?].

Looking easily [?] through the whole of this affair I see that you have been the chief actor from first to last and it confirms my admiration my affection for you as a devoted servant of God in our special work.  Now we can travel on in peace till the end of the day and the rest of heaven are in prospect.  I am already at work on some problems which I know will shed fresh light on the physiology of speech.  So I hope to conclude my service with words that will not do till they have reached the ears of the deaf.  For this otium cum dignitate* I am chiefly indebted to you.

May God bless you Mr. Elliott and every member of your family!

Please send the proofs of what I said at the conference.  I want to put my meaning clearly.  I should also like to have a proof of my paper, if printed to go through it carefully.

Yours affectionately


Dr. R.Elliott

*leisure with dignity

Arnold letter 1 001

Arnold letter 2 001

Brief biography. British Deaf-Mute and Deaf Chronicle, 1895, 4, 107. (photo)


Obituary. American Annals of the Deaf, 1897, 42, 124-25; 42(2), frontispiece. (photo)


Obituary. British Deaf Monthly, 1897, 6, 84-87. (photo)


Obituary. Quarterly Review of Deaf-Mute Education, 1897, 4, 294-304, 342-46.


FARRAR, A. Thomas Arnold: a biographical sketch. Teacher of the Deaf, 1939, 195-200. (portrait)


Biography. Teacher of the Deaf, 1941, 39, 79-80.


DEACON, M. The church on Castle Hill: the history of the Castle Hill United Reformed Church, Northampton. Park Lane Publishing, 1995. pp. 40-44. (photo)


STEWART, I. The centenary of the death of Thomas Arnold. Deaf History Journal, 1997, 1(1), 30-35.

The book which contains the letter is one of a small number of Elliott’s collection, owned by the Margate School and on loan to the library since 1962.


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