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338 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1857
It is not often that in later years one finds any book as good as one remembers it from one's youth; but it has been my interesting experience to find the story of Tom Brown's School Days even better than I once thought it, say, fifty years ago; not only better, but more charming, more kindly, manlier, truer, realler. So far as I have been able to note there is not a moment of snobbishness in it, or meanness of whatever sort. Of course it is of its period, the period which people call Middle Victorian (...)
The author openly preaches and praises himself for preaching; he does not hesitate to slip into the drama and deliver a sermon; he talks the story out with many self-interruptions and excursions; he knows nothing of the modern method of letting it walk along on its own legs, but is always putting his hands under its arms and helping it, or his arm across its shoulder and caressing it. In all this, which I think wrong, he is probably doing quite right for the boys who formed and will always form the greatest number of his readers; boys like to have things fully explained and commentated, whether they are grown up or not. In much else, in what I will not say are not the great matters, he is altogether right. By precept and by example he teaches boys to be good, that is, to be true, honest, clean-minded and clean-mouthed, kind and thoughtful. He forgives them the follies of their youth, but makes them see that they are follies.
And now the last minutes are come, and the School gather for their last rush, every boy of the hundred and twenty who has a run left in him. Reckless of the defence of their own goal, on they come across the level big-side ground, the ball well down amongst them, straight for our goal, like the column of the Old Guard up the slope at Waterloo. All former charges have been child's play to this. Warner and Hedge have met them, but still on they come. The bull-dogs rush in for the last time; they are hurled over or carried back, striving hand, foot, and eyelids. Old Brooke comes sweeping round the skirts of the play, and turning short round, picks out the very heart of the scrummage, and plunges in. It wavers for a moment; he has the ball. No, it has passed him, and his voice rings out clear over the advancing tide, “Look out in goal!” Crab Jones catches it for a moment; but before he can kick, the rush is upon him and passes over him; and he picks himself up behind them with his straw in his mouth, a little dirtier, but as cool as ever.
The ball rolls slowly in behind the School-house goal, not three yards in front of a dozen of the biggest School players-up.
There stands the School-house praepostor, safest of goal-keepers, and Tom Brown by his side, who has learned his trade by this time. Now is your time, Tom. The blood of all the Browns is up, and the two rush in together, and throw themselves on the ball, under the very feet of the advancing column—the praepostor on his hands and knees, arching his back, and Tom all along on his face. Over them topple the leaders of the rush, shooting over the back of the praepostor, but falling flat on Tom, and knocking all the wind out of his small carcass. “Our ball,” says the praepostor, rising with his prize; “but get up there; there's a little fellow under you.” They are hauled and roll off him, and Tom is discovered, a motionless body.
Old Brooke picks him up. “Stand back, give him air,” he says; and then feeling his limbs, adds, “No bones broken.—How do you feel, young un?”
“Hah-hah!” gasps Tom, as his wind comes back; “pretty well, thank you—all right.”
“Who is he?” says Brooke.
“Oh, it's Brown; he's a new boy; I know him,” says East, coming up.
“Well, he is a plucky youngster, and will make a player,” says Brooke.
And five o'clock strikes. “No side” is called, and the first day of the School-house match is over.