He was the eldest son of Thomas Arnold of Rugby. He was educated at Winchester and Rugby and at Balliol College. He was Professor of Poetry in Oxford from 1857 to 1867. He was an inspector of schools. The years of his best literary labour were much taken up in ways which were wasteful of his rare powers. He came by literary intuition to an idea of Scripture which others had built up from the point of view of a theory of knowledge and by investigation of the facts. He is the helpless personification of a view of the relation of science and religion which has absolutely passed away. Yet Arnold died only in 1888. How much a distinguished inheritance may mean is gathered from the fact that a grand-daughter of Thomas Arnold and niece of Matthew Arnold, Mrs. Humphry Ward, in her novels, has dealt largely with problems of religious life, and more particularly of religious thoughtfulness. She has done for her generation, in her measure, that which George Eliot did for hers.
As the chapter and the book draw to their close we can think of no man whose life more nearly spanned the century, or whose work touched more fruitfully almost every aspect of Christian thoughtfulness than did that of James Martineau. We can think of no man who gathered into himself more fully the significant theological tendencies of the age, or whose utterance entitles him to be listened to more reverently as seer and saint. He was born in 1805. He was bred as an engineer. He fulfilled for years the calling of minister and preacher. He gradually exchanged this for the activity of a professor. He was a religious philosopher in the old sense, but he was also a critic and historian. His position with reference to the New Testament was partly antiquated before his Seat of Authority in Religion, 1890, made its appearance. Evolutionism never became with him a coherent and consistent assumption. Ethics never altogether got rid of the innate ideas. The social movement left him almost untouched. Yet, despite all this, he was in some sense a representative progressive theologian of the century.