Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day/Matthew Arnold


The great apostle to the Philistines of this later age, and the preacher of sweetness and light, Matthew Arnold, is the eldest son of one of the most remarkable and noblest Englishmen who have flourished in the nineteenth century—Dr. Thomas Arnold, some time head-master of Rugby School.

Matthew Arnold was born December 24th, 1822, at Laleham, near Staines, county Middlesex. He was the eldest son of nine children of his distinguished father, of whom he is as good a representative as the present Lord Derby is of the illustrious Tory chief.

The Arnolds came originally from Lowestoft, in Suffolk, but the grandfather of the poet and critic was a collector of customs dues at Cowes, in the Isle of Wight.

Matthew Arnold was educated first at Winchester and Rugby. From school he went to Oxford, where he was entered at Balliol, having gained a scholarship. This was in 1840.

During his university career he gained the Newdigate prize for English verse, the subject of his prize poem being Oliver Cromwell. At the end of his term in statu pupillari he graduated in honours, and was elected a fellow of Oriel; and in 1847 was appointed private secretary to the late Marquis of Lansdowne, which post he held for four years. He married, in 1851, the daughter of the late Mr. Justice Wightmann, and received from Government the appointment of lay inspector of schools, a post he was particularly well qualified to fill with advantage to the cause of education.

The first volume of his poems was published in 1849, as the work of 'A.;' and only a limited circle of friends knew the name of the author of 'The Strayed Reveller,' and other poems. Three years afterwards 'Empedocles on Etna' appeared, and shortly after that the 'A.' was dropped, and Messrs. Longmans issued a volume of poems, the authorship of which was avowed.

"Sweetness and light."


Matthew Arnold's poems are full of original thoughts, expressed in the purest English. They are models of style; but, from their subject-matter and treatment, are never likely to be popular, in a wide sense of the word. To these published books of verse he owed his selection for the post of Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford; an important office he held for ten years, from 1857 to 1867. His most remarkable lectures in this time are on the subject of translating Homer, in which he advocates, in very strong language, the adoption of the English hexameter, in preference to any other metre, for effectively rendering the great Greek poet in English verses.

Mr. Arnold is chiefly remarkable in prose as an essayist. Perhaps his best-known book is that entitled 'Essays on Criticism,' which consists of a collection of papers previously published in various magazines and reviews.