Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Toynbee, Arnold
TOYNBEE, ARNOLD (1852–1883), social philosopher and economist, second son of Joseph Toynbee [q. v.], was born in Savile Row, London, on 23 Aug. 1852. Toynbee owed much in his early years to the influence of his father, who, though he died when his son was only fourteen, had yet inspired the latter with a love of literature and with the germs of those social ideals which were afterwards the main interest of his life. Toynbee was originally intended for the army, and, after some years spent at a preparatory school at Blackheath, he went to the Rev. J. M. Brackenbury's at Wimbledon to read for Woolwich. But his increasing taste for poetry, history, and philosophy gradually turned his thoughts from a military career. He accordingly left Mr. Brackenbury's, and began attending lectures as a day student at King's College, London. But he did not long continue this course, and for some years before going to the university he practically took his education into his own hands. Endowed with a keen intellect and strongly marked character, he thus acquired an amount of knowledge in certain fields of study, and developed a strength and originality of opinion, very unusual at so early an age.
In January 1873 Toynbee matriculated as a commoner at Pembroke College, Oxford. In November of that year he competed for the Brackenbury (history) scholarship at Balliol. Though he was not successful, his work made a great impression on the examiners, and the authorities of Balliol offered him rooms at that college. Toynbee was anxious to accept this offer, but the master of Pembroke raised objections. Toynbee accordingly left Pembroke and ceased to be a member of the university, though still residing at Oxford. In January 1875 he matriculated afresh, this time as a commoner at Balliol. Here he continued to devote himself to history and philosophy, and while still an undergraduate exercised a considerable influence among his contemporaries at Balliol as an ardent disciple of Professor Thomas Hill Green [q. v.] But philosophy and religion were in Toynbee's mind, as in Green's, inseparable from active philanthropy. The desire to assist in raising the material and moral condition of the mass of the population grew more and more to be the absorbing passion of his life, and it was in order to direct his own and others' efforts in this direction that he threw himself with great energy into the study of economics, and especially of economic history. In spite of his delicate health, which caused frequent and serious interruption to his studies, and of the necessity of devoting a certain amount of time to the classical books prescribed for a pass degree in literæ humaniores (which he took at midsummer 1878), Toynbee obtained such a mastery of economics that immediately after taking his degree he was appointed a tutor at Balliol. In that capacity he had charge of the studies of the men who were preparing for the Indian civil service. His lectures, primarily intended for them, but soon attracting a wider circle of hearers, dealt with the principles of economics and the economic history of recent times. But his activity was not confined to the university. In the four and a half years between his appointment as tutor of Balliol and his death, his influence rapidly spread, not only in Oxford, but among persons interested in social and industrial questions throughout the country. As a student of economics his principal attention was directed to the history of the great changes which came over the industrial system of Great Britain between the middle of the eighteenth century and the present time. As a practical reformer he was active in the work of charity organisation, of co-operation, and of church reform; and he delivered from time to time popular lectures on the industrial problems of the day, which were attended by large audiences of the working class in Bradford, Newcastle, Bolton, Leicester, and London. The volume of his works entitled ‘The Industrial Revolution,’ which was published after his death by his widow, with a memoir by Professor Jowett, bears witness to his activity in both these directions. The first part of it, ‘The Industrial Revolution’ proper, consists of the notes of his lectures delivered at Balliol on the industrial history of Great Britain from 1760, a subject on which he was collecting materials for a comprehensive volume at the time of his death. Despite its fragmentary character, the ‘Industrial Revolution’ is full of valuable research and acute observation, and has exercised a considerable influence on students of economics, both in Great Britain and abroad. The popular addresses, ‘Wages and Natural Law,’ ‘Industry and Democracy,’ &c., which compose the second half of the volume, are chiefly of interest as illustrating Toynbee's character and aims as a social missionary. The eloquence, the religious fervour, the intense zeal for the better organisation of industrial society, the genuine but not uncritical sympathy with the aspirations of the working class, which were characteristic of him, are traceable even in the imperfect remains of these lectures, which were largely extempore, and could in some instances only be pieced together, after his death, from notes or from the reports of provincial newspapers. But the chief source of Toynbee's influence lay in the charm of his personality. His striking appearance, winning manners, and great power of expression, above all his transparent sincerity and high-mindedness, won the respect and affection of all with whom he came into contact, whether as pupil, teacher, or fellow worker in social causes. His intellectual and moral gifts made themselves equally felt in the academic world of Oxford and among the manufacturers and workmen of the great industrial centres where he delivered his popular addresses.
As an undergraduate Toynbee attracted the notice of Professor Jowett, master of Balliol, and became one of his intimate friends. He was also closely associated at Oxford with Professor T. H. Green and Richard Lewis Nettleship [q. v.], and, in his work among the poor of East London, with Canon Barnett, vicar of St. Jude's, Whitechapel (afterwards Canon of Westminster), and founder of the first university settlement, Toynbee Hall, which was established soon after Toynbee's death. Toynbee has often been called a socialist; but he was not a socialist of the revolutionary type, nor did he ever adopt the doctrines of collectivism. But he was opposed to the extreme individualism of some of the earlier English economists, and believed earnestly in the power of free corporate effort, such as that of co-operative and friendly societies and of trade unions, to raise the standard of life among the mass of the people, and in the duty of the state to assist such effort by free education, by the regulation of the conditions of labour, and by contributing to voluntary insurance funds intended to provide for the labourer in sickness and old age. Toynbee's economic views never took the shape of a fully developed system of economic philosophy. This was perhaps owing to his early death; but even if he had lived longer, it is likely that he would have devoted himself rather to the history of industrial development, and its bearing on the questions of the day, than to the more theoretical side of political economy. In the last year of his life he was deeply interested in the agitation which arose out of Henry George's book on ‘Progress and Poverty’ (New York, 1880; London, 1881). Convinced of the onesidedness of that remarkable work, and alarmed by what he considered the bad and misleading influence which it was exercising upon the leaders of working-class opinion, he did his best to combat the doctrine of land nationalisation by speech and writing. Two lectures which he delivered on the subject, first in Oxford and then at St. Andrew's Hall, Newman Street, London, were his last efforts as a teacher on social questions. For some time he had been greatly overworked, and the physical and mental strain attending the delivery of these lectures hastened the complete breakdown of his health. He died at Wimbledon on 9 March 1883. At the time of his death Toynbee, who had been made bursar of Balliol in 1881, was just about to be appointed a fellow of that college. Shortly after his death his friends established in his memory, under the guidance of Canon Barnett, Toynbee Hall (in Commercial Street, Whitechapel), an institution designed to encourage closer relations between the working classes and those educated at the universities. This ‘university settlement’ was the first of its kind, and has formed the model of similar institutions in other districts.
Toynbee married, in June 1879, Miss Charlotte Atwood, who survived him. He had no children.
The ‘Industrial Revolution’ was first published in 1884. The second edition appeared in 1887, the third and fourth in 1890 and 1894 respectively. To the fourth edition are added the two lectures on Henry George, delivered in St. Andrew's Hall in February 1883.
[An excellent life by Professor F. C. Montague, published in the Johns Hopkins Historical Series, 1889; and ‘Arnold Toynbee: a Reminiscence,’ by the present writer, 1895.]