Tom Brown at Oxford

A review

By

Many men write successful books; but very few have the power of making a book succeed by naturalness, simplicity, and quiet strength, as Mr. Hughes found the secret of doing in his “School-Days at Rugby.” It is so easy to be elegant,—scarce a modern French novelist but has the gift of hit by the ream; so easy to be philosophical,—one has only to begin a few substantives with capitals; and withal it is so hard to be genial and agreeable. Since Goldsmith’s day, perhaps only Irving and Thackeray had achieved it, till Mr. Hughes made himself the third. It is no easy thing to write a book that should seem so easy,—to describe your school-days with such instinctive rejection of the unessential, that whoever has been a boy feels as if he were reading the history of his own, and that your volume shall be no more exotic in America than in England. Yes this Mr. Hughes accomplished; and it was in a great measure due to the fact that beneath the charm of style the reader felt a real basis of manliness and sincerity.

His second book, “The Scouring of the White Horse,” was less successful,—in part from the narrower range of its interest, and still more, perhaps, because it lacked the spontaneous of the “School-Days.” In his first book there was no suggestion of authorship; it seemed an inadvertence, something which came of itself;—but the second was made, and the kind fairy that stood godmother to its elder brother had been sent for and accordingly would not come.

In this first number of his new story Mr. Hughes seems to have found his good genius again, or his good genius to have found him. We meet our old friend Tom Brown once more, and commit ourselves trustingly to the same easy current of narrative and incident which was so delightful in the story of his Rugby adventures. We have no doubt that the book will be instructive as well as entertaining; for we believe the author has had some practical experience as a teacher in “The Working-Men’s College,”—an excellent institution, in which instruction is given to the poor after work-hours, and which, beside Mr. Hughes, has another man of genius, Mr. Ruskin, among its unpaid professors. The work is to be published simultaneously in this country and in England.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1861/09/tom-brown-at-oxford/306099/