Thomas Hughes, the author of these volumes, does not, on a superficial examination, seem to deserve the wide reputation he has obtained. We hunt his books in vain for any of those obvious peculiarities of style, thought, and character which commonly distinguish a man from his fellows. He does not posses striking wit, or humor, or imagination, or power of expression. In every quality, good or bad, calculated to create “a sensation,” he is remarkably deficient. Yet everybody reads him with interest, and experiences for him a feeling of affection and esteem. An unobtrusive, yet evident nobility of character, a sound, large, “round-about” common sense, a warm sympathy with English and human kind, a practical grasp of human life as it is lived by ordinary people, and an unmistakable sincerity and earnestness of purpose animate everything he writes. His “School-Days at Rugby” delighted men as well as boys by the freshness, geniality, and truthfulness with which it represented boyish experiences; and the Tom Brown who, in that book, gained so many friends wherever the English tongue is spoken, parts with none of his power to interest and charm in this record of his collegiate life.
Mr. Hughes has the true, wholesome English love of home, the English delight in rude physical sports, the English hatred of hypocrisy and cant, the English fidelity to facts, the English disbelief in all piety and morality which are not grounded in manliness. The present work is full of illustrations of these health qualities of his nature, and they are all intimately connected with an elevated, yet eminently sagacious spirit of Christian philanthropy. Tom Brown at Oxford, as well as Tom Brown at Rugby, will, so far exerts any influence, exert one for good. He has a plentiful lack of those impossible virtues which disgust boys and young men with models set up as examples for them to emulate in books and deliberately moral and religious; but he none the less shows a manly and Christian character can be attained by methods which are all the more influential by departing from the common mechanical contrivances for fashioning lusty youths into consumptive saints, incompetent to do the work of the Lord in this world, however they may fare in the next. Mr. Hughes can hardly be called a disciple of “Muscular Christianity,” except so far as muscle it is necessary to give full efficiency to mind; but he feels all the contempt possible to such a tolerant nature for that spurious piety which kills the body in order to give a sickly appearance of life to the soul.