Arnold was an English poet and cultural critic, who worked as an
inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold, the famed
headmaster of Rugby School who was celebrated in the novel Tom Brown's
Arnold was born at Laleham. He attended Rugby himself, and then
Balliol College, Oxford, becoming a Fellow of Oriel in 1845. Thereafter
he was private secretary to Lord Lansdowne, Lord President of
the Council, through whose influence he was in 1851 appointed
as school inspector. Two years before this he had published his
first book of poetry, The Strayed Reveller, which he soon withdrew:
some of the poems, however, including "Mycerinus" and
"The Forsaken Merman," were afterwards republished,
and the same applies to his next book, Empedocles on Etna (1852),
with "Tristram and Iseult." He was later appointed the
Professor of Poetry at Oxford, an honor which, though it did not
pay much, must have been of some vindication for Arnold who struggled
to make his artistic mark and had never been a star pupil when
he was a student there. Ironically, however, he coined the term
"Dreaming Spires", which has become something of a catchphrase
wrote most of his best-known poetry before the age of forty, after
which he turned to literary and cultural criticism and theology.
His principal writings are, in poetry, Poems (1853), containing
"Sohrab and Rustum," and "The Scholar Gipsy;"
Poems, 2nd Series (1855), containing "Balder Dead;"
Merope (1858); New Poems (1867), containing "Thyrsis,"
an elegy on Arthur Hugh Clough, "A Southern Night,"
"Rugby Chapel," and "The Weary Titan". In
prose he wrote On Translating Homer (1861 and 1862), On the Study
of Celtic Literature (1867), Essays in Celtic Literature (1868),
2nd Series (1888), Culture and Anarchy (1869), St. Paul and Protestantism
(1870), Friendship's Garland (1871), Literature and Dogma (1873),
God and the Bible (1875), Last Essays on Church and Religion (1877),
Mixed Essays (1879), Irish Essays (1882), and Discourses in America
(1885). He also wrote some works on the state of education in
mainland Europe. In 1883 he received a pension of £250.
Never fully free from financial troubles (including his son's
gambling debts), he left the same year for a lecture tour of America.
There his daughter would fall in love and marry an American. Five
years later, when racing to meet his daughter and new granddaughter,
he would suffer a fatal heart attack. He is buried in All Saints'
Churchyard, Laleham, Middlesex
1867 poem Dover Beach, depicted a nightmarish world from which
the old religious verities have retroceded, 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,
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.
is famous for introducing a methodology of literary criticism
through his Essays in Criticism (1865, 1888) which influence critics
to this day. Arnold believed that rules for an objective approach
in literature criticism existed and argued that these rules should
be followed by all critics.
was led on from literary criticism to a more general critique
of the spirit of his age. Between 1867 and 1869 he wrote Culture
and Anarchy, famous for the term he popularised for a section
of the Victorian era population: "Philistines", a word
which derives its modern cultural meaning (in English - German-language
usage was well established) from him. See philistinism.
niece (daughter of his younger brother Thomas), Mary Augusta Arnold,
was a novelist under her married name of Mrs Humphry Ward.
wrote during the Victorian period (1837–1901), and is sometimes
called the third great Victorian poet, behind Alfred Tennyson,
1st Baron Tennyson and Robert Browning. Arnold himself was keenly
aware of his place in poetry, and in an 1869 letter to his mother,
discussed the merits of his work and his two more famous peers:
"My poems represent, on the whole, the main movement of mind
of the last quarter of a century, and thus they will probably
have their day as people become conscious to themselves of what
that movement of mind is, and interested in the literary productions
which reflect it. It might be fairly urged that I have less poetic
sentiment than Tennyson, and less intellectual vigour and abundance
than Browning. Yet because I have more perhaps of a fusion of
the two than either of them, and have more regularly applied that
fusion to the main line of modern development, I am likely enough
to have my turn, as they have had theirs."
consider Arnold to be the bridge between Romanticism and Modernism.
His use of symbolic landscapes was typical of the Romantic era,
while his negative opinions towards everything was typical of
the Modern era. The rationalistic 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 and wide knowledge of poetry did not sometimes take the
place of the true poetic fire. Henry 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."