Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold

Overview


Matthew Arnold was a British
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

 and cultural critic
Cultural critic
A cultural critic is a critic of a given culture, usually as a whole and typically on a radical basis. There is significant overlap with social and cultural theory.-Terminology:...

 who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold
Thomas Arnold
Dr Thomas Arnold was a British educator and historian. Arnold was an early supporter of the Broad Church Anglican movement...

, the famed headmaster of Rugby School
Rugby School
Rugby School is a co-educational day and boarding school located in the town of Rugby, Warwickshire, England. It is one of the oldest independent schools in Britain.-History:...

, and brother to both Tom Arnold
Tom Arnold (academic)
Tom Arnold , also known as Thomas Arnold the Younger, was a British literary scholar.- Life :He was the second son of Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby School, and younger brother of the poet Matthew Arnold...

, literary professor, and William Delafield Arnold
William Delafield Arnold
William Delafield Arnold was a British author and colonial administrator.He was the fourth son of Thomas Arnold, the headmaster of Rugby School. His older brothers included the poet and critic Matthew Arnold and the literary scholar Tom Arnold...

, novelist and colonial administrator. Matthew Arnold has been characterized as a sage writer
Sage writing
Sage writing is term used to describe a genre of creative nonfiction popular in the Victorian era. The concept originates with John Holloway's 1953 book The Victorian Sage: Studies in Argument....

, a type of writer who chastises and instructs the reader on contemporary social issues.

The Reverend John Keble
John Keble
John Keble was an English churchman and poet, one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement, and gave his name to Keble College, Oxford.-Early life:...

, who would become one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement
Oxford Movement
The Oxford Movement was a movement of High Church Anglicans, eventually developing into Anglo-Catholicism. The movement, whose members were often associated with the University of Oxford, argued for the reinstatement of lost Christian traditions of faith and their inclusion into Anglican liturgy...

, stood as godfather to Matthew.
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Quotations

My special thanks, whose even-balanced soul,From first youth tested up to extreme old age,Business could not make dull, nor passion wild;Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole.

To a Friend (1849), line 9-12.
Encyclopedia


Matthew Arnold was a British
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

 and cultural critic
Cultural critic
A cultural critic is a critic of a given culture, usually as a whole and typically on a radical basis. There is significant overlap with social and cultural theory.-Terminology:...

 who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold
Thomas Arnold
Dr Thomas Arnold was a British educator and historian. Arnold was an early supporter of the Broad Church Anglican movement...

, the famed headmaster of Rugby School
Rugby School
Rugby School is a co-educational day and boarding school located in the town of Rugby, Warwickshire, England. It is one of the oldest independent schools in Britain.-History:...

, and brother to both Tom Arnold
Tom Arnold (academic)
Tom Arnold , also known as Thomas Arnold the Younger, was a British literary scholar.- Life :He was the second son of Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby School, and younger brother of the poet Matthew Arnold...

, literary professor, and William Delafield Arnold
William Delafield Arnold
William Delafield Arnold was a British author and colonial administrator.He was the fourth son of Thomas Arnold, the headmaster of Rugby School. His older brothers included the poet and critic Matthew Arnold and the literary scholar Tom Arnold...

, novelist and colonial administrator. Matthew Arnold has been characterized as a sage writer
Sage writing
Sage writing is term used to describe a genre of creative nonfiction popular in the Victorian era. The concept originates with John Holloway's 1953 book The Victorian Sage: Studies in Argument....

, a type of writer who chastises and instructs the reader on contemporary social issues.

Early years


The Reverend John Keble
John Keble
John Keble was an English churchman and poet, one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement, and gave his name to Keble College, Oxford.-Early life:...

, who would become one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement
Oxford Movement
The Oxford Movement was a movement of High Church Anglicans, eventually developing into Anglo-Catholicism. The movement, whose members were often associated with the University of Oxford, argued for the reinstatement of lost Christian traditions of faith and their inclusion into Anglican liturgy...

, stood as godfather to Matthew. "Thomas Arnold admired Keble's 'hymns' in The Christian Year
The Christian Year
The Christian Year is a series of poems for every day of the year for Christians written by John Keble in 1827. The book is the source for several hymns, and the work was extremely popular in the 19th century....

, only reversing himself with exasperation when this old friend became a Romeward-tending 'High Church
High church
The term "High Church" refers to beliefs and practices of ecclesiology, liturgy and theology, generally with an emphasis on formality, and resistance to "modernization." Although used in connection with various Christian traditions, the term has traditionally been principally associated with the...

' reactionary in the 1830s." In 1828, Arnold's father was appointed Headmaster of Rugby School and his young family took up residence, that year, in the Headmaster's house. In 1831, Arnold was tutored by his uncle, the Reverend John Buckland, at Laleham, Middlesex. In 1834, the Arnolds occupied a holiday home, Fox How, in the Lake District. William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....

 was a neighbor and close friend. In 1836, Arnold was sent to Winchester College
Winchester College
Winchester College is an independent school for boys in the British public school tradition, situated in Winchester, Hampshire, the former capital of England. It has existed in its present location for over 600 years and claims the longest unbroken history of any school in England...

, but in 1837 he returned to Rugby School where he was enrolled in the fifth form. He moved to the sixth form in 1838 and thus came under the direct tutelage of his father. He wrote verse for the manuscript Fox How Magazine produced by Matthew and his brother Tom for the family's enjoyment from 1838 to 1843. During his years as a Rugby student, he won school prizes for English essay writing, and Latin and English poetry. His prize poem, "Alaric at Rome," was printed at Rugby.

In 1841, he won an open scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. During his residence at Oxford, his friendship ripened with Arthur Hugh Clough
Arthur Hugh Clough
Arthur Hugh Clough was an English poet, an educationalist, and the devoted assistant to ground-breaking nurse Florence Nightingale...

, another graduate of Rugby who had been one of his father's favourites. Arnold attended John Henry Newman's sermons at St. Mary's
University Church of St Mary the Virgin
The University Church of St Mary the Virgin is the largest of Oxford's parish churches and the centre from which the University of Oxford grew...

, but did not join the Oxford Movement. His father died suddenly of heart disease in 1842, and Fox How became the family's permanent residence. Arnold's poem "Cromwell" won the 1843 Newdigate prize
Newdigate prize
Sir Roger Newdigate's Prize is awarded to students of the University of Oxford for Best Composition in English verse by an undergraduate who has been admitted to Oxford within the previous four years. It was founded by Sir Roger Newdigate, Bt in the 18th century...

. He graduated in the following year with a 2nd Class Honours degree in "Greats."

In 1845, after a short interlude of teaching at Rugby, he was elected Fellow of Oriel College
Oriel College
Oriel College is a constituent college of the University of Oxford in Oxford, England. Located in Oriel Square, the college has the distinction of being the oldest royal foundation in Oxford...

, Oxford. In 1847, he became Private Secretary to Lord Lansdowne
Marquess of Lansdowne
Marquess of Lansdowne, in the County of Somerset, is a title in the Peerage of Great Britain held by the head of the Petty-Fitzmaurice family. This branch of the family descends from the Hon...

, Lord President of the Council
Lord President of the Council
The Lord President of the Council is the fourth of the Great Officers of State of the United Kingdom, ranking beneath the Lord High Treasurer and above the Lord Privy Seal. The Lord President usually attends each meeting of the Privy Council, presenting business for the monarch's approval...

. In 1849, he published his first book of poetry, The Strayed Reveller. In 1850 Wordsworth died; Arnold published his "Memorial Verses" on the older poet in Fraser's Magazine.

Marriage and a career


Wishing to marry, but unable to support a family on the wages of a private secretary, Arnold sought the position of, and was appointed, in April 1851, one of Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools. Two months later, he married Frances Lucy, daughter of Sir William Wightman, Justice of the Queen's Bench. The Arnolds had six children: Thomas (1852–1868); Trevenen William (1853–1872); Richard Penrose (1855–1908), an inspector of factories; Lucy Charlotte (1858–1934) who married Frederick W. Whitridge of New York, whom she had met during Arnold's American lecture tour; Eleanore Mary Caroline (1861–1936) married (1) Hon. Armine Wodehouse (MP)
Armine Wodehouse (MP)
Armine Wodehouse CB , was a British civil servant and Liberal politician.Wodehouse was a younger son of Foreign Secretary John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley, and his wife Lady Florence, daughter of Richard FitzGibbon, 3rd Earl of Clare...

 in 1889, (2) William Mansfield, 1st Viscount Sandhurst
William Mansfield, 1st Viscount Sandhurst
William Mansfield, 1st Viscount Sandhurst GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, PC was a British Liberal politician and colonial governor...

, in 1909; Basil Francis (1866–1868).

Arnold often described his duties as a school inspector as "drudgery," although "at other times he acknowledged the benefit of regular work." The inspectorship required him, at least at first, to travel constantly and across much of England. "Initially, Arnold was responsible for inspecting Nonconformist schools across a broad swath of central England. He spent many dreary hours during the 1850s in railway waiting-rooms and small-town hotels, and longer hours still in listening to children reciting their lessons and parents reciting their grievances. But that also meant that he, among the first generation of the railway age, travelled across more of England than any man of letters had ever done. Although his duties were later confined to a smaller area, Arnold knew the society of provincial England better than most of the metropolitan authors and politicians of the day."

Literary career


In 1852, Arnold published his second volume of poems, Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems. In 1853, he published Poems: A New Edition, a selection from the two earlier volumes famously excluding Empedocles on Etna, but adding new poems, Sohrab and Rustum
Sohrab and Rustum
Sohrab and Rustum: An Episode is a narrative poem with strong tragic themes first published in 1853 by Matthew Arnold. The poem retells a famous episode from Ferdowsi's Persian epic Shahnameh relating how the great warrior Rustum unwittingly slew his long-lost son Sohrab in single combat...

and The Scholar Gipsy
The Scholar Gipsy
"The Scholar Gipsy" is a poem by Matthew Arnold, based on a 17th century Oxford story found in Joseph Glanvill's The Vanity of Dogmatizing...

. In 1854, Poems: Second Series appeared; also a selection, it included the new poem, Balder Dead
Balder Dead
Balder Dead is a narrative poem with powerful tragic themes, first published in 1855 by Matthew Arnold. This poem draws upon Norse mythology: retelling the story of the murder of Odin's son, Balder, as brought about by the wicked machinations his half-brother Loki.-Synopsis:The evil Loki was...

.

Arnold was elected Professor of Poetry
Oxford Professor of Poetry
The chair of Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford is an unusual academic appointment, now held for a term of five years, and chosen through an election open to all members of Convocation, namely, all graduates and current academics of the university; in 2010, on-line voting was allowed....

 at Oxford in 1857. He was the first to deliver his lectures in English rather than Latin. He was re-elected in 1862. On Translating Homer
On Translating Homer
On Translating Homer, published in January 1861, was a printed version of the series of public lectures given by Matthew Arnold as Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 3 November 1860 to 18 December 1860....

(1861) and the initial thoughts that Arnold would transform into Culture and Anarchy
Culture and Anarchy
Culture and Anarchy is a series of periodical essays by Matthew Arnold, first published in Cornhill Magazine 1867-68 and collected as a book in 1869...

were among the fruits of the Oxford lectures. In 1859, he conducted the first of three trips to the continent at the behest of parliament to study European educational practices. He self-published The Popular Education of France (1861), the introduction to which was later published under the title Democracy (1879).

In 1865, Arnold published Essays in Criticism: First Series. Essays in Criticism: Second Series would not appear until November 1888, shortly after his untimely death. In 1866, he published Thyrsis
Thyrsis
Thyrsis is the title of a poem written by Matthew Arnold in December 1865 to commemorate his friend, the poet Arthur Hugh Clough, who had died in November 1861 aged only 42....

, his elegy to Clough who had died in 1861. Culture and Anarchy, Arnold's major work in social criticism (and one of the few pieces of his prose work currently in print) was published in 1869. Literature and Dogma, Arnold's major work in religious criticism appeared in 1873. In 1883 and 1884, Arnold toured the United States delivering lectures on education, democracy and Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century...

. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

 in 1883.

In 1886, he retired from school inspection and made another trip to America. Arnold died suddenly in 1888 of heart failure, when running to meet a tram that would have taken him to the Liverpool Landing Stage to see his daughter, who was visiting from the United States where she had moved after marrying an American.

Arnold's character


Matthew Arnold, wrote G. W. E. Russell in Portraits of the Seventies, is "a man of the world entirely free from worldliness and a man of letters without the faintest trace of pedantry
Pedant
A pedant is a person who is excessively concerned with formalism and precision, or who makes a show of his or her learning.-Etymology:The English language word "pedant" comes from the French pédant or its older mid-15th Century Italian source pedante, "teacher, schoolmaster"...

." A familiar figure at the Athenaeum Club
Athenaeum Club, London
The Athenaeum Club, usually just referred to as the Athenaeum, is a notable London club with its Clubhouse located at 107 Pall Mall, London, England, at the corner of Waterloo Place....

, a frequent diner-out and guest at great country houses, fond of fishing and shooting, a lively conversationalist, affecting a combination of foppishness
Fop
Fop became a pejorative term for a foolish man over-concerned with his appearance and clothes in 17th century England. Some of the very many similar alternative terms are: "coxcomb", fribble, "popinjay" , fashion-monger, and "ninny"...

 and Olympian grandeur, he read constantly, widely, and deeply, and in the intervals of supporting himself and his family by the quiet drudgery of school inspecting, filled notebook after notebook with meditations of an almost monastic tone. In his writings, he often baffled and sometimes annoyed his contemporaries by the apparent contradiction between his urbane, even frivolous manner in controversy, and the "high seriousness" of his critical views and the melancholy, almost plaintive note of much of his poetry. "A voice poking fun in the wilderness" was T. H. Warren's description of him.

Poetry


Arnold is sometimes called the third great Victorian poet, along with Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning
Robert Browning
Robert Browning was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets.-Early years:...

. Arnold was keenly aware of his place in poetry. In an 1869 letter to his mother, he wrote:
Stefan Collini
Stefan Collini
Stefan Collini is an English literary critic and academic, Professor of English Literature and Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge. He has contributed essays to such publications as The Times Literary Supplement, The Nation and London Review of Books.- Works :* "." The Times...

 regards this as "an exceptionally frank, but not unjust, self-assessment." "Arnold's poetry continues to have scholarly attention lavished upon it, in part because it seems to furnish such striking evidence for several central aspects of the intellectual history of the nineteenth century, especially the corrosion of 'Faith' by 'Doubt'. No poet, presumably, would wish to be summoned by later ages merely as an historical witness, but the sheer intellectual grasp of Arnold's verse renders it peculiarly liable to this treatment."

Harold Bloom echoes Arnold's self reference in his introduction (as series editor) to the Modern Critical Views volume on Arnold: "Arnold got into his poetry what Tennyson and Browning scarcely needed (but absorbed anyway), the main march of mind of his time." Of his poetry, Bloom says, "Whatever his achievement as a critic of literature, society, or religion, his work as a poet may not merit the reputation it has continued to hold in the twentieth century. Arnold is, at his best, a very good but highly derivative poet.... As with Tennyson, Hopkins, and Rossetti, Arnold's dominant precursor was Keats, but this is an unhappy puzzle, since Arnold (unlike the others) professed not to admire Keats greatly, while writing his own elegiac poems in a diction, meter, imagistic procedure, that are embarrassingly close to Keats."

Sir Edmund Chambers noted, however, that "in a comparison between the best works of Matthew Arnold and that of his six greatest contemporaries... the proportion of work which endures is greater in the case of Matthew Arnold than in any one of them." Chambers judged Arnold's poetic vision by "its simplicity, lucidity, and straightforwardness; its literalness...; the sparing use of aureate words, or of far-fetched words, which are all the more effective when they come; the avoidance of inversions, and the general directness of syntax, which gives full value to the delicacies of a varied rhythm, and makes it, of all verse that I know, the easiest to read aloud."

He has a primary school named after him in Liverpool, where he died, and secondary schools named after him in Oxford and Staines.

His literary career — leaving out the two prize poems — had begun in 1849 with the publication of The Strayed Reveller and Other Poems by A., which attracted little notice — although it contained perhaps Arnold's most purely poetical poem "The Forsaken Merman" — and was soon withdrawn. Empedocles on Etna and Other Poems (among them "Tristram and Iseult
Tristram and Iseult
Tristam and Iseult is a narrative poem containing strong romantic and tragic themes: first published in 1852 by Matthew Arnold. This poem draws upon the Tristam and Iseult legends: which were popular with contemporary readers.-Overview:...

"), published in 1852, had a similar fate. In 1858 he brought out his tragedy of "Merope," calculated, he wrote to a friend, "rather to inaugurate my Professorship with dignity than to move deeply the present race of humans," and chiefly remarkable for some experiments in unusual — and unsuccessful — metres.

His 1867 poem "Dover Beach
Dover Beach
"Dover Beach" is a short lyric poem by the English poet Matthew Arnold. It was first published in 1867 in the collection New Poems, but surviving notes indicate its composition may have begun as early as 1849...

" depicted a nightmarish world from which the old religious verities have receded. It is sometimes held up as an early, if not the first, example of the modern sensibility. In a famous preface to a selection of the poems of William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....

, Arnold identified himself, a little ironically, as a "Wordsworthian." The influence of Wordsworth, both in ideas and in diction, is unmistakable in Arnold's best poetry. Arnold's poem, "Dover Beach" appears in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451 is a 1953 dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury. The novel presents a future American society where reading is outlawed and firemen start fires to burn books...

and is also featured prominently in Saturday
Saturday (novel)
Saturday is a novel by Ian McEwan set in Fitzrovia, London, on Saturday, 15 February 2003, during a large demonstration against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The protagonist, Henry Perowne, a 48-year-old neurosurgeon, has planned a series of chores and pleasures culminating in a family dinner in the...

by Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan
Ian Russell McEwan CBE, FRSA, FRSL is a British novelist and screenwriter, and one of Britain's most highly regarded writers. In 2008, The Times named him among their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945"....

. It has also been quoted or alluded to in a variety of other contexts (see Dover Beach
Dover Beach
"Dover Beach" is a short lyric poem by the English poet Matthew Arnold. It was first published in 1867 in the collection New Poems, but surviving notes indicate its composition may have begun as early as 1849...

).

Some consider Arnold to be the bridge between Romanticism
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

 and Modernism
Modernism
Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes the modernist movement, its set of cultural tendencies and array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society...

. His use of symbolic landscapes was typical of the Romantic era, while his skeptical and pessimistic perspective was typical of the Modern era. The rationalistic
Rationalism
In epistemology and in its modern sense, rationalism is "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification" . In more technical terms, it is a method or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive"...

 tendency of certain of his writings gave offence to many readers, and the sufficiency of his equipment in scholarship for dealing with some of the subjects which he handled was called in question, but he undoubtedly exercised a stimulating influence on his time. His writings are characterised by the finest culture, high purpose, sincerity, and a style of great distinction, and much of his poetry has an exquisite and subtle beauty, though here also it has been doubted whether high culture
High culture
High culture is a term, now used in a number of different ways in academic discourse, whose most common meaning is the set of cultural products, mainly in the arts, held in the highest esteem by a culture...

 and wide knowledge of poetry did not sometimes take the place of true poetic fire. Henry James
Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....

 wrote that Matthew Arnold's poetry will appeal to those who "like their pleasures rare" and who like to hear the poet "taking breath."

The mood of Arnold’s poetry tends to be of plaintive reflection, and he is restrained in expressing emotion. He felt that poetry should be the ‘criticism of life’ and express a philosophy. Arnold’s philosophy is that true happiness comes from within, and that people should seek within themselves for good, while being resigned in acceptance of outward things and avoiding the pointless turmoil of the world. However, he argues that we should not live in the belief that we shall one day inherit eternal bliss. If we are not happy on earth, we should moderate our desires rather than live in dreams of something that may never be attained. This philosophy is clearly expressed in such poems as "Dover Beach" and in these lines from "Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse":
Wandering between two worlds, one dead
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.


Arnold valued natural scenery for its peace and permanence in contrast with the ceaseless change of human things. His descriptions are often picturesque, and marked by striking similes. However, at the same time he liked subdued colours, mist and moonlight. He seems to prefer the ‘spent lights’ of the sea-depths in "The Forsaken Merman" to the village life preferred by the merman’s lost wife.

In his poetry he derived not only the subject matter of his narrative poems from various traditional or literary sources but even much of the romantic melancholy of his earlier poems from Senancour's "Obermann".

Prose


Assessing the importance of Arnold's prose work in 1988, Stefan Collini stated, "for reasons to do with our own cultural preoccupations as much as with the merits of his writing, the best of his prose has a claim on us today that cannot be matched by his poetry." "Certainly there may still be some readers who, vaguely recalling 'Dover Beach' or 'The Scholar Gipsy
The Scholar Gipsy
"The Scholar Gipsy" is a poem by Matthew Arnold, based on a 17th century Oxford story found in Joseph Glanvill's The Vanity of Dogmatizing...

' from school anthologies, are surprised to find he 'also' wrote prose."

George Watson follows George Saintsbury in dividing Arnold's career as a prose writer into three phases: 1) early literary criticism that begins with his preface to the 1853 edition of his poems and ends with the first series of Essays in Criticism (1865); 2) a prolonged middle period (overlapping the first and third phases) characterized by social, political and religious writing (roughly 1860-1875); 3) a return to literary criticism with the selecting and editing of collections of Wordsworth's and Byron's poetry and the second series of Essays in Criticism. Both Watson and Saintsbury declare their preference for Arnold's literary criticism over his social or religious criticism. More recent writers, such as Collini, have shown a greater interest in his social writing, while over the years a significant second tier of criticism has focused on Arnold's religious writing. His writing on education has not drawn a significant critical endeavor separable from the criticism of his social writings.

Selections from the Prose Work of Matthew Arnold

Literary criticism


Arnold's work as a literary critic began with the 1853 "Preface to the Poems". In it, he attempted to explain his extreme act of self-censorship in excluding the dramatic poem "Empedocles on Etna". With its emphasis on the importance of subject in poetry, on "clearness of arrangement, rigor of development, simplicity of style" learned from the Greeks, and in the strong imprint of Goethe and Wordsworth, may be observed nearly all the essential elements in his critical theory. George Watson described the preface, written by the thirty-one year old Arnold, as "oddly stiff and graceless when we think of the elegance of his later prose."

Criticism began to take first place in Arnold's writing with his appointment in 1857 to the professorship of poetry at Oxford, which he held for two successive terms of five years. In 1861 his lectures On Translating Homer
On Translating Homer
On Translating Homer, published in January 1861, was a printed version of the series of public lectures given by Matthew Arnold as Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 3 November 1860 to 18 December 1860....

were published, to be followed in 1862 by Last Words on Translating Homer, both volumes admirable in style and full of striking judgments and suggestive remarks, but built on rather arbitrary assumptions and reaching no well-established conclusions. Especially characteristic, both of his defects and his qualities, are on the one hand, Arnold's unconvincing advocacy of English hexameter
Hexameter
Hexameter is a metrical line of verse consisting of six feet. It was the standard epic metre in classical Greek and Latin literature, such as in the Iliad and Aeneid. Its use in other genres of composition include Horace's satires, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. According to Greek mythology, hexameter...

s and his creation of a kind of literary absolute in the "grand style," and, on the other, his keen feeling of the need for a disinterested and intelligent criticism in England.

Although Arnold's poetry received only mixed reviews and attention during his lifetime, his forays into literary criticism were more successful. Arnold is famous for introducing a methodology of literary criticism
Literary criticism
Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals...

 somewhere between the historicist approach common to many critics at the time and the personal essay; he often moved quickly and easily from literary subjects to political and social issues. His Essays in Criticism (1865, 1888), remains a significant influence on critics to this day. In one of his most famous essays on the topic, “The Study of Poetry”, Arnold wrote that, “Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete; and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry”. He considered the most important criteria used to judge the value of a poem were “high truth” and “high seriousness”. By this standard, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales did not merit Arnold’s approval. Further, Arnold thought the works that had been proven to possess both “high truth” and “high seriousness”, such as those of Shakespeare and Milton, could be used as a basis of comparison to determine the merit of other works of poetry. He also sought for literary criticism to remain disinterested, and said that the appreciation should be of “the object as in itself it really is."

Social criticism


He was led on from literary criticism to a more general critique of the spirit of his age
Zeitgeist
Zeitgeist is "the spirit of the times" or "the spirit of the age."Zeitgeist is the general cultural, intellectual, ethical, spiritual or political climate within a nation or even specific groups, along with the general ambiance, morals, sociocultural direction, and mood associated with an era.The...

. Between 1867 and 1869 he wrote Culture and Anarchy
Culture and Anarchy
Culture and Anarchy is a series of periodical essays by Matthew Arnold, first published in Cornhill Magazine 1867-68 and collected as a book in 1869...

, famous for the term he popularised for the middle class of the English Victorian era
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

 population: "Philistines
Philistines
Philistines , Pleshet or Peleset, were a people who occupied the southern coast of Canaan at the beginning of the Iron Age . According to the Bible, they ruled the five city-states of Gaza, Askelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath, from the Wadi Gaza in the south to the Yarqon River in the north, but with...

", a word which derives its modern cultural meaning
Philistinism
Philistinism is a derogatory term used to a particular attitude or set of values perceived as despising or undervaluing art, beauty, spirituality, or intellectualism. A person with this attitude is referred to as a Philistine and may also be considered materialistic, favoring conventional social...

 (in English - the German-language usage was well established) from him. Culture and Anarchy is also famous for its popularization of the phrase "sweetness and light," first coined by Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift was an Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer , poet and cleric who became Dean of St...

.

Arnold's "want of logic and thoroughness of thought" as noted by John M. Robertson in Modern Humanists was an aspect of the inconsistency of which Arnold was accused. Few of his ideas were his own, and he failed to reconcile the conflicting influences which moved him so strongly. "There are four people, in especial," he once wrote to Cardinal Newman, "from whom I am conscious of having learnt — a very different thing from merely receiving a strong impression — learnt habits, methods, ruling ideas, which are constantly with me; and the four are — Goethe, Wordsworth, Sainte-Beuve, and yourself." Dr. Arnold must be added; the son's fundamental likeness to the father was early pointed out by Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. He invented the roundel form, wrote several novels, and contributed to the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica...

, and was later attested by Matthew Arnold's grandson, Mr. Arnold Whitridge. Brought up in the tenets of the Philistinism which, as a professed cosmopolitan and the Apostle of Culture he attacked, he remained something of a Philistine to the end.

Journalistic criticism


In 1887, Arnold was credited with coining the phrase "New Journalism", a term that went on to define an entire genre of newspaper history, particularly Lord Northcliffe's turn-of-the-century press empire. However, at the time, the target of Arnold's irritation was not Northcliffe, but the sensational journalism of Pall Mall Gazette
Pall Mall Gazette
The Pall Mall Gazette was an evening newspaper founded in London on 7 February 1865 by George Murray Smith; its first editor was Frederick Greenwood...

 editor, W.T. Stead
William Thomas Stead
William Thomas Stead was an English journalist and editor who, as one of the early pioneers of investigative journalism, became one of the most controversial figures of the Victorian era. His 'New Journalism' paved the way for today's tabloid press...

.
Arnold had enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial association with the Pall Mall Gazette
Pall Mall Gazette
The Pall Mall Gazette was an evening newspaper founded in London on 7 February 1865 by George Murray Smith; its first editor was Frederick Greenwood...

 since its inception in 1865. As an occasional contributor, he had formed a particular friendship with its first editor, Frederick Greenwood
Frederick Greenwood
Frederick Greenwood , was an English journalist, editor, and man of letters.-Early years:He was one of three brothers — the others being James and Charles — who all gained reputation as journalists. Frederick started life in a printing house, but at an early age began to write in periodicals...

 and a close acquaintance with its second, John Morley. But he strongly disapproved of the muck-raking Stead
William Thomas Stead
William Thomas Stead was an English journalist and editor who, as one of the early pioneers of investigative journalism, became one of the most controversial figures of the Victorian era. His 'New Journalism' paved the way for today's tabloid press...

, and declared that, under Stead, "the P.M.G., whatever may be its merits, is fast ceasing to be literature."

Religious criticism


His religious views were unusual for his time. Scholars of Arnold's works disagree on the nature of Arnold's personal religious beliefs. Under the influence of Baruch Spinoza
Baruch Spinoza
Baruch de Spinoza and later Benedict de Spinoza was a Dutch Jewish philosopher. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death...

 and his father, Dr. Thomas Arnold, he rejected the supernatural elements in religion, even while retaining a fascination for church rituals. Arnold seems to belong to a pragmatic middle ground that is more concerned with the poetry of religion and its virtues and values for society than with the existence of God.

He wrote in the preface of God and the Bible in 1875 “The personages of the Christian heaven and their conversations are no more matter of fact than the personages of the Greek Olympus and their conversations.” He also wrote in Literature and Dogma: "The word 'God' is used in most cases as by no means a term of science or exact knowledge, but a term of poetry and eloquence, a term thrown out, so to speak, as a not fully grasped object of the speaker's consciousness — a literary term, in short; and mankind mean different things by it as their consciousness differs." He defined religion as "morality touched with emotion".

However, he also wrote in the same book, "to pass from a Christianity relying on its miracles to a Christianity relying on its natural truth is a great change. It can only be brought about by those whose attachment to Christianity is such, that they cannot part with it, and yet cannot but deal with it sincerely."


See also

  • English translations of Homer: Matthew Arnold

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