Arnold, Matthew (DNB01)
ARNOLD, MATTHEW (1822–1888), poet and critic, the eldest son of Dr. Thomas Arnold [q. v.], afterwards famous as headmaster of Rugby, and his wife Mary (Penrose), was born on 24 Dec. 1822 at Laleham, near Staines, where his father then took pupils. Thomas Arnold [q. v. Suppl.] was his younger brother. Matthew migrated to Rugby with his family in 1828, but in 1830 returned to Laleham as pupil of his maternal uncle, the Rev. John Buckland. In August 1836 he was removed to Winchester, and in 1837 entered Rugby, which he left in 1841 for Balliol College, Oxford, where he had gained a classical scholarship. In 1840 he had won a prize at Rugby with his first recorded poetical production, ‘Alaric at Rome’ (Rugby, 8vo, only two copies extant; reprinted 1893 and 1896); the work was deeply influenced by ‘Childe Harold,’ and in its form of stanza was original for a prize poem, but it was not otherwise remarkable. Nor was the poem on Cromwell, which gained the Newdigate prize in June 1843 (Oxford, 8vo), distinguished by any special characteristic. In 1844 Arnold took a second class in lit. hum., and in March 1845 was elected to a fellowship at Oriel. After a brief experience as a master at Rugby, he became in 1847 private secretary to the Marquis of Lansdowne, then president of the council, and, as such, the minister charged with the administration of public instruction. In 1851 Lord Lansdowne procured for Arnold an inspectorship of schools, and on 10 June of that year he fulfilled a cherished wish by uniting himself to Frances Lucy, daughter of Sir William Wightman [q.v.], one of the judges of the queen's bench.
Up to this time Arnold, though now eight and twenty, was known only to a few as a member of a highly intellectual Oxford set, to which Clough, Lake, and J. D. Coleridge belonged, and to a few more as the author of a little volume of verse, 'The Strayed Reveller and other Poems,' published in 1849 under the initial 'A' (London, 16mo; five hundred copies were printed, but it was withdrawn before many copies were sold and is very scarce). His correspondence of the period, which though full of crudities is more lively and original than_the letters of later years, shows that he was profoundly interested in the questions of the day, especially in the revolutionary movements of 1848, and had already conceived the germs of most of the ideas which he was afterwards to develop. He must have been studying French and German, but he seems to have made no attempt in the department of literary and philosophical criticism in which he was afterwards to become potent; and his volume of verse, though including two of his best poems, 'The Forsaken Merman' and 'Mycerinus,' was too unequal as well as too diminutive to produce much effect. On the whole his mental progress up to this date seems slow; but either a natural process or his conduct with the busy world in the discharge of his really arduous duties as school inspector effected, a speedy development; in 1852 he appears as a poet of mature power, and in 1853 not merely as a poet but as a legislator upon poetry. The volume of 1852 was 'Empedocles on Etna and other Poems' (London, 8vo; reissued 1896, 4to; the original is only less scarce than 'The Strayed Reveller'). The book, like its forerunner, was published under the bare initial 'A.' It contained, with some short lyrics, two long poems, the dramatic 'Empedocles on Etna,' and the narrative 'Trisfram and Iseult,' which were much more ambitious in design and elaborate in execution than anything previously attempted by Arnold. Both poems had great attractions; the songs of the_harp-player Callicles in 'Empedocles' are extraordinary combinations of pictorial beauty with lyrical passion, and the third canto of 'Tristram' is a masterpiece of descriptive poetry. But neither the songs of Callicles nor the third canto of 'Tristram' has much connection with the rest of the poem to which each belongs. If the finest passages are thus, strictly speaking, superfluous, the poems can hardly be other than disjointed—and so indeed they are—not apparently from inability to conceive the subjects as wholes, but from ineptitude in the combination of details. They nevertheless contain sufficient beauty to justify by themselves a high poetical reputation, and were accompanied by a number of exquisite lyrics, among which it will suffice to name 'A Summer Night,' 'The Youth of Nature,' 'The Youth of Man,' 'Isolation,' and 'Faded Leaves.' The spirit of these pieces may be described as intermediate between Wordsworth and Goethe, who are elsewhere in the same volume contrasted with each other and with Byron in a very noble lyric. If, however, the poet neither expressed a new view of life nor created a new form of poetry, his style and cast of thought were indisputably his own. The volume nevertheless failed to win public attention, and the author, probably prompted less by disappointment than by dissatisfaction with the defects which he had discovered in 'Empedocles,' withdrew it after disposing of fifty copies. He was already providing himself with a new pièce de résistance, better adapted to exemplify his creed as a poet. He could not have chosen better than in 'Sohrab and Rustum,' which first appeared in 'Poems by Matthew Arnold' a new edition' (1853, 8vo; 1854 and 1857, slightly altered). Together with a re-issue of the most important contents ('Empedocles on Etna' excepted) of his former volumes, the new volume contained the new poems of 'The Scholar Gypsy and 'Requiescat,' as well as 'Sohrab and Rustum.' The last piece is an episode from Firdusi's 'Shah-Nameh,' noble and affecting in subject, and so simple in its perfect unity of action as to leave no room for digression, while fully admitting the adornments of description and elaborate simile. These are introduced with exquisite judgment, and, while greatly heightening the poetical beauty of the piece, are never allowed to divert attention from the progress of the main action, which culminates in a situation of unsurpassable pathos. Nothing could have more forcibly exemplified the doctrines laid down by the author in his memorable preface to this volume of 'Poems,' in which he condemns the prevalent taste for brilliant phrases and isolated felicities, and admonishes poets to regard above all things unity, consistency, and the total impression of the piece.
This prefatory essay is a literary landmark and monument of sound criticism. It is also of peculiar interest as foreshadowing the character of the literary work with which Arnold's name was hereafter to be mainly associated. The intellectual defects which the essay denounced were characteristically English defects. So on discovering himself to be at issue with the bulk of his countrymen in every region of opinion, Arnold subsequently undertook the unpopular office of detector-general of the intellectual failings of his own nation. The cast of his mind was rather critical than constructive, and the gradual drying up of his native spring of poetry, at no time copious left mm no choice between criticism and silence.
In 1853 the exhaustion of his poetic faculty did not seem imminent, and some time was to elapse before Arnold assumed his distinctly critical attitude towards the temper of his times. In 1855 he published 'Poems … Second Series' (London, 8vo), mostly reprints; but the most important, 'Balder Dead,' a miniature blank-verse epic in the manner of 'Sohrab and Rustum,' was new, and almost as great, a masterpiece of noble pathos and dignified narrative.
In May 1857 Arnold was elected to the professorship of poetry at Oxford, which he held for ten years. He inaugurated his tenure of office by publishing in 1858 a tragedy, 'Merope,' avowedly intended as a poetical manifesto, and therefore condemned in advance as a work of reflection rather than inspiration. It is stately but frigid: the subject evidently had not taken possession of him as 'Sohrab' and 'Balder' had done. It is also weighted by the unrhymed choral lyrics, whose mechanism contrasts painfully with the spontaneity of the harp-player's songs in 'Empedocles on Etna.' It is to Arnold's honour that, try as he would, he could not write lyrical poetry without a lyrical impulse, such as came to him when in November 1857 he wrote 'Rugby Chapel' on his father's death, or when in 1859 he celebrated his deceased brother and sister-in-law in 'A Southern Night,' one of the most beautiful of his poems [see Arnold, William Delafield], or when he wrote 'Thyrsis' in the death of his friend Clough in 1861.
'Thyrsis' and 'A Southern Night' were first issued in Arnold's 'New Poems' of 1867. Many other pieces that figure in that volume evince declining power not so much by inferiority of execution as by the increasing tendency to mere reflection: one of the pieces, 'Saint Brandan' was published separately (London, 1867, 4to). His 'Poems' were fully collected in two volumes in 1869, when 'Rugby Chapel' was first included, and again in 1877. By that date his chief work as a poet had been long since done. The true elegiac note was, however, struck once more in 'Westminster Abbey,' a poem on the death of Dean Stanley in 1881 (in 'Nineteenth Century,' January 1882), magnificent in its opening and its close, and nowhere unworthy of the author or the occasion. (All Arnold's 'poetry reappeared in three volumes in 1885, and in a single volume 'Popular edition' in 1890. 'Selected Poems' were issued as a volume of the 'Golden Treasury Series' in 1878.)
Meanwhile Arnold's appointment at Oxford had prompted two of his most valuable efforts in literary criticism. In 1861 he published 'On Translating Homer: Three Lectures given at Oxford' (London, 8vo), one of the essays which mark epochs. There followed in 1862 a second volume, 'On Translating Homer: last Words.' The four lectures were first collected in 1896. It is true that Arnold's principles were more satisfactory than his practice; his own attempts at translation were not very successful; and the lectures were disfigured by inexcusable flippancies at the expense of persons entitled to the highest respect [see Wright, Ichabod Charles]. But never had the characteristics of Homer himself been set forth with such authority, or the rules of translation so unanswerably deduced from them, or popular misconceptions so effectually extinguished. It is indeed a classic of criticism. Almost equal praise is due to the lectures 'On the Study of Celtic Literature' delivered in 1867, even though his knowledge of this subject was by no means equal to his knowledge of Homer, and the theme is less susceptible of closeness of treatment and cogency of demonstration. Its chief merit, apart from the fascinating style, is to have set forth the essential characteristics of Celtic poetry, and to have comprehended those qualities of English poetry which chiefly distinguish it from that of other modern nations under the possibly inexact but certainly convenient denomination of 'Celtic magic'
In 1859 Arnold issued an able pamphlet, 'England and the Italian Question,' but, with all his poetical and critical activity, he was far from neglecting his official duties. His correspondence is full of proofs of his zeal as an inspector of schools, which are further illustrated by the valuable collection of his official reports published by Sir Francis Sandford after his death. He delighted in foreign travel for the purpose of inspecting foreign schools and universities, and his observations were published in several books of great though ephemeral value: 'Popular Education of France,' 1861 ; 'A French Eton,' 1864; * Schools and Universities on the Continent,' 1868. At home his opposition to Mr. Lowe's revised educational code at one time seemed likely to occasion his resignation; but he held on, and gave no sign of retirement until he had earned his pension, except on one occasion, when he was an unsuccessful candidate for the librarianship of the House of Commons. After living some years in London he removed to Harrow, and in 1873 to Cobham, where he remained until his death. His domestic life, in general happy, was sadly clouded by the successive deaths of three sons within a short period.
As a critic Arnold considerably modified the accepted form of the English critical essay by giving it something of the cast of a causerie, a method he had learned from one of the chief objects of his admiration and imitation, Sainte-Beuve. His critical powers were shown to very great advantage in the fine series of 'Essays in Criticism' (1865; 2nd edit, modified, 1869; 6th edit. 1889). Almost all the contents of this volume are charming, especially the sympathetic studies of Spinoza and Marcus Aurelius, and the contrast, combined with a parallel, between the religious ideas of Ptolemaic Alexandria and mediæval Assisi, a pair of pictures in the manner of Arnold's friend, Ernest Renan. The most important essay, however, is that on Heine ; for in depicting Heine, with perfect justice, as the intellectual liberator, the man whose special function it was to break up stereotyped for ms of thought, Arnold consciously or unconsciously delineated the mission which he had imposed upon himself, and to which the best of his non-official energies were to be devoted for many years. He had become profoundly discontented with English indifference to ideas in literature, in politics, and in religion, and set himself to rouse His countrymen out of what he deemed then' intellectual apathy by raillery and satire, objurgation in the manner of a Ruskin or a Carlyle not being at all in his way. There is a certain incongruity in the bombardment of such solid entrenchments with such light artillery ; it is also plain that Arnold is as one-sided as the objects of his attack, and does not sufficiently perceive that the defects which he satirises are often defects inevitably annexed to great qualities. Nor was it possible to lecture his countrymen as he did without assuming the air of the deservedly detested 'superior person.'
With every drawback, together with some serious failures in good taste which cannot be overlooked, Arnold's crusade agai nst British Philistinism and imperviousness to ideas was as serviceable as it was gallant, and much rather a proof of his ailection for his countrymen than of the contempt for them unjustly laid to his charge. In literature and allied subjects his chief protest against their characteristic failings was made in 'Culture and Anarchy' (1869 j, a collection of essays (that had first appeared in the 'Cornhill Magazine') all leading up to the apotheosis of culture as the minister of the 'sweetness and light' essential to the perfect character. In politics a more scientific method of dealing with public questions was advocated in 'Friendship's Garland' (1871), a book very seriously intended, but too full of persiflage for most serious readers. In theology he strove to supplant the letter by the spirit in 'St. Paul and Protestantism' (1870 ; revised from the 'Cornhill;' 4th edit. 1887) ; 'Literature and Dogma: an Essay towards a better Apprehension of the Bible' (1873) ; 'God and the Bible : a Review of Objections to "Literature and Dogma"' (1875); and 'Last Essays on Church and Religion' (1877). These books are not likely to be extensively read in the future, but their contemporary influence is a noticeable ingredient in the stream of tendency which has brought the national mind nearer to Arnold's ideal.
Arnold's critical interest in poetry remained at the same time unimpaired. In 1878 he edited the 'Six Chief Lives' from Johnson's 'Lives of the Poets' (5th edit. 1889). He made excellent selections from Wordsworth (1879) and Byron (1881), accompanied by admirable prefaces ; contributed the general introduction to Mr. T. H. Ward's selections of English poets, and wrote for the same collection the critical notices of Gray and Keats, valuable as far as they go, but strangely restricted in scope. In 1881 also he collected Burke's 'Letters, Speeches, and Tracts on Irish Affairs' with a preface. He also produced annotated versions of the writings of the two Isaiahs (1872 and 1883), the first of which, as 'A Bible-Reading for Schools,' went through numerous editions.
In 1883, greatly to Arnold's surprise, Gladstone conferred upon him a civil list pension of 250l., which enabled him to retire from the civil service. In the winter of the same year he started on a lecturing tour in America. His eldest daughter had married and settled in that country. He returned to England in the spring of 1884, having reaped a fair pecuniary reward from his lectures, although he incurred some adverse criticism. He paid another visit to America in 1886. Among the fruits of his first American tour were two powerful lectures — one on the importance of a high standard of culture, the other vindicating literary study as an instrument of education against the encroachments of physical science. These, with a hardly adequate lecture on Emerson, in which he finds much to say about Carlyle, were published in 1885 as 'Discourses in America.' 'Mixed Essays' had appeared in 1879 ; 'Irish Essays and Others' was published in 1882, and * Essays in Criticism, Second Series,' in 1888 ; and he continued to the last an active contributor to periodical literature, especially in the 'xsineteenth Century.' Essays from this review and from 'Murray's Magazine' were issued at Boston in 1888 as 'Civilization in the United States.' His last essay, on Milton, appeared in the United States after his death. Arnold died very suddenly from disease of the heart on 15 April 1888 at Liverpool, whither he had gone on a visit to his sister to welcome his daughter homeward bound from America. Matthew Arnold was buried in the churchyard of All Saints, Laleliam, in the same grave with his eldest son Thomas (1852-1868) ; the tombstone bears the inscription 'Awake, thou Lute and Harp! I will awake right early' (cf. Winter, Gray Days and Gold, 1890).
Arnold unwisely discouraged all biographical memorials of himself, and the only authentic record is the disappointing 'Letters of Matthew Arnold, 1848-1888,' collected and arranged by Mr. G. W. E. Russell in two volumes, 1895. These are entertaining reading, and pleasing as proofs of the extreme amiability of one who was generally set down as supercilious and sardonic, but are remarkably devoid of insight, whether literary or political. This probably arises in great measure from their being mostly addressed to members of his own family, and so wanting the stimulus arising from the collision of dissimilar minds. They depict the writer's moral character, notwithstanding, with as much clearness as attractiveness, and his intellectual character is sufficiently evident in his writings. If a single word could resume him, it would be 'academic;' but, although this perfectly describes his habitual attitude even as a poet, it leaves aside his chaste diction, his pictorial vividness, and his overwhelming pathos. The better, which is also the larger, part of his poetry is without doubt immortal. His position is distinctly independent, while this is perhaps less owing to innate originality than to the balance of competing influences. Wordsworth saves him from being a mere disciple of Goethe, and Goethe from being a mere follower of Wordsworth. As a critic he repeatedly evinced a happy instinct for doing the right thing at the right time. Apart from their high intellectual merits, the seasonableness of the preface to the poems of 1853, of the lectures on Homer, and those on the Celtic spirit, renders these monumental in English literature. His great defect as a critic is the absence of a lively aesthetic sense ; the more exquisite beauties of literature do not greatly impress him unless as vehicle for the communication of ideas. He inherited his father's ethical cast of mind ; conduct interests him more than genius. Nothing else can account for his amazing definition of poetry as a 'criticism of life;' and in the same spirit, when he ought to be giving a comprehensive view of Keats and Gray, he spends his time in inquiring whether Keats was manly, and why Gray was unproductive. When, however, he could place himself at a point of view that suited him, none could write more to the point. His characters of Spinoza, Marcus Aurelius, and Heine are masterly, and nothing can be better than his poetical appreciation of Wordsworth, Byron, and Goethe. A great writer whose influence on conduct was mainly indirect, such as Dickens or Thackeray, seemed to puzzle him ; Tennyson's beauties as a poet were unappreciated on account of his secondary place as a thinker ; and the vehemence of a Carlyle or a Charlotte Bronte offended his fastidious taste. Thus, for one reason or another, he estimated the genius of his own age much below its real desert, and this unsympathetic attitude towards the contemporary representatives of English thought perverted his entire view of it, political, social, and intellectual. Mr. Herbert Spencer criticises some of the caprices of his 'anti-patriotic bias' and effectively ridicules his longings for an English academy in his 'Study of Sociology' (chapter ix. and notes). Yet, if Ar nold cannot be praised as he praises Sophocles for having 'seen life steadily and seen it whole,' he at all events saw what escaped many others ; and if he exaggerated the inaccessibility of the English mind to ideas, he left it more accessible than he found it. This would have contented him ; his aim was not to subjugate opinion but to emancipate it, contending for the ends of Goethe with the weapons of Heine.
A noble portrait of Arnold, by Mr. G. F. Watts, R.A., is in the National Portrait Gallery (it is reproduced in Arnold's' Poems' in the 'Temple Classics,' 1900, which also contains a bibliographical sketch by Mr. Buxton Forman); and an excellent likeness is engraved as the frontispiece to his ‘Poetical Works,’ 1890 (cf. Harper’s Magazine, May 1888). There is as yet no collective edition of his writings in England, though a uniform edition in ten volumes was issued in America (New York, 1884, &c.); a bibliography was published by Mr. Thomas Burnett Smart in 1892. ‘The Matthew Arnold Birthday Book, arranged by his daughter, Eleanor Arnold,’ with a portrait, was issued in a handsome quarto, 1883.
[Arnold’s correspondence is the only comprehensive authority for his life. Professor Saintsbury’s monograph (1899) is admirable wherever it is not warped by hostility to Arnold’s speculative ideas and some of his literary predilections. References to him in contemporary literature are endless, and he is the subject of innumerable critiques, including essays upon his poetry by Mr. A. C. Benson and the present writer, accompanying editions of his poems, and a remarkable article on the Poems of 1853 by Froude, in the Westminster Review (January 1854). The ethical aspects of Arnold’s teaching are examined in John M. Robertson’s Modern Humanists, 1891; in G. White’s Matthew Arnold and the Spirit of the Age, 1898; and in W. H. Hudson’s Studies in Interpretation, New York, 1896. An interesting sketch of Arnold as a teacher is given in Sir Joshua Fitch’s Thomas and Matthew Arnold in the Great Educators Series, 1897. A few additional letters were printed with Arthur Galton’s Two Essays upon Matthew Arnold, 1897. There is an interesting estimate of Arnold as a thinker in Crozier’s My Inner Life, 1898, pp. 521–9.]