The Rev'd Arthur Johnson

A remarkable figure...

The tutor who delivered the first Oxford Extension Lecture in Birmingham in September, 1878, was a forthright man – and the perfect choice for the job at hand.

Dr Lawrence Goldman describes The Rev'd Arthur Johnson in his excellent book, Dons and Workers: Oxford and Adult Education Since 1850:

The Rev'd Arthur Johnson was a remarkable figure, described accurately at his death as 'a country gentleman in holy orders' and 'one of the most prominent figures in Oxford life for upwards of sixty years'. He was a hunting, shooting and fishing don, whose attachment to field sport was legendary and accomplishments at them prodigious.

An undergraduate at Exeter College in the 1860s, he began and ended his academic career as fellow and chaplain of All Souls. In between he was a tutor and lecturer 'at nearly half the colleges in Oxford' and his perambulations between them made him something of a legend in his own lifetime.

Johnson was an historian apparently 'at home in all periods of English and European history since the fall of the Roman Empire' who was famed for his teaching and played a part in building up the new School of Modern History in Oxford.

He published several books, ranging across the centuries from the Normans to the Victorians, expounding everything in a heartily unacademic style: 'he seldom took paradoxical views' we are told, 'and perhaps rather mistrusted 'clever' ones'. To compliment this he was a college chaplain who cared 'nothing for dogma' and knew 'nothing of theology'. He was the Old Oxford incarnate, every inch of his large frame the muscular Christian with forthright views and uncomplicated opinions.

The Rev'd Arthur Johnson was 'fond of telling his pupils that nature had destined him for a groom or a gamekeeper, for anything but a scholar'... he was 'remarkably free from the common academic habits' including 'the professorial way of speech and manner' and that his lectures were 'clear, methodical and solid'.


The text in these 'History of the Department' pages is to be found in the book 'Dons and Workers: Oxford and Adult Education Since 1850', by Dr Lawrence Goldman, Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at St Peter's College, Oxford, and a former member of the Department for Continuing Education.