Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold, 1822–88, English poet and critic, son of the educator Dr. Thomas Arnold.

Arnold was educated at Rugby; graduated from Balliol College, Oxford in 1844; and was a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford in 1845. In 1851, after a period as secretary to the 3d marquess of Lansdowne, Arnold was appointed inspector of schools, a position he held until 1886, two years before his death. During his tenure he went on a number of missions to European schools. He was impressed with some educational systems on the Continent—most particularly the concept of state-regulated secondary education—and wrote several works about them.

His first volume of poems, The Strayed Reveller, appeared in 1849; it was followed by Empedocles on Etna (1852). Dissatisfied with both works, he withdrew them from circulation. Poems (1853) contained verse from the earlier volumes as well as new poems, including "The Scholar Gypsy" and "Sohrab and Rustum." Poems: Second Series appeared in 1855 and was followed by Merope: A Tragedy (1858) and New Poems (1867); the latter volume included "Thyrsis," his famous elegy on Arthur Hugh Clough.

Arnold's verse is characterized by restraint, directness, and symmetry. Though he believed that poetry should be objective, his verse exemplifies the romantic pessimism of the 19th cent., an age torn between science and religion. His feelings of spiritual isolation are reflected in such poems as "Dover Beach" and "Isolation: To Marguerite."

Matthew Arnold was also one of the most important literary critics of his age. From 1857 to 1867 he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford; during this time he wrote his first books of criticism, including On Translating Homer (1861), Essays in Criticism (1865; Ser. 2, 1888), and On the Study of Celtic Literature (1867). In Culture and Anarchy (1869) and Friendship's Garland (1871) he widened his field to include social criticism. Arnold's interest in religion resulted in St. Paul and Protestantism (1870), Literature and Dogma (1873), and Last Essays on Church and Religion (1877). In the 1880s he gave several lectures in the United States, which were published as Discourses in America (1885).

Arnold was the apostle of a new culture, one that would pursue perfection through a knowledge and understanding of the best that has been thought and said in the world. He attacked the taste and manners of 19th-century English society, particularly as displayed by the "Philistines," the narrow and provincial middle class. Strongly believing that the welfare of a nation is contingent upon its intellectual life, he proclaimed that intellectual life is best served by an unrestricted, objective criticism that is free from personal, political, and practical considerations.

See various editions of his letters; his poetical works (ed. by C. B. Tinker and H. F. Lowry, 1950); his complete prose works (ed. by R. H. Super, 1960–72, 8 vol.); his notebooks (ed. by H. F. Lowry et al., 1950); biographies by E. K. Chambers (1947, repr. 1964), L. Trilling (rev. ed. 1949, repr. 1979), P. Honan (1983), M. Allot and R. H. Sugar (1987), N. Murray (1997); and I. Hamilton (1998); studies by D. G. James (1961), H. C. Duffin (1963), E. Alexander (1965), A. D. Culler (1966), G. Stange (1967), and D. Bush (1971).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

FREE! The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840-1867
Matthew Arnold.
Henry Frowed; Oxford University Press, 1913
Librarian’s tip: "Dover Beach" begins on p. 401
Ten Studies in the Poetry of Matthew Arnold
Paull F. Baum.
Duke University Press, 1958
Matthew Arnold: A Study in Conflict
E. K. Brown.
University of Chicago Press, 1948
The Poetry of Matthew Arnold: A Commentary
C. B. Tinker; H. F. Lowry.
Oxford University Press, 1940
A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold
Ian Hamilton.
Basic Books, 1999
Matthew Arnold and the Decline of English Romanticism
D. G. James.
Clarendon Press, 1961
The Touchstones of Matthew Arnold
John Shepard Eells Jr.
Bookman Associates, 1955
Poetry and Morality: Studies on the Criticism of Matthew Arnold, T. S. Eliot, and F. R. Leavis
Vincent Buckley.
Chatto and Windus, 1959
Nineteenth Century Studies: Coleridge to Matthew Arnold
Basil Willey.
Columbia University Press, 1949
Victorian Critics of Democracy: Carlyle, Ruskin, Arnold, Stephen, Maine, Lecky
Benjamin Evans Lippincott.
H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1938
Hebrew and Hellene in Victorian England: Newman, Arnold, and Pater
David J. Delaura.
University of Texas Press, 1969
General Grant
Matthew Arnold; John Y. Simon.
Kent State University Press, 1995
FREE! English Men of Letters: Matthew Arnold
Herbert W. Paul.
MacMillan, 1902
Visions and Revisions: A Book of Literary Devotions
John Cowper Powys.
Core Collection Books, 1978
Librarian’s tip: "Matthew Arnold" begins on p. 153
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