Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics, and Politics

By Isobel Armstrong | Go to book overview

6

INDIVIDUALISM UNDER PRESSURE

God, by a sudden visitation, has withdrawn from the income He yearly sends us in the fruits of His earth, sixteen millions sterling. Withdrawn it, and from whom? On whom falls the loss? Not on the rich and luxurious, but on those whose labour makes the rich man rich and gives the luxurious his luxury. Shall not we then, the affluent and indulgent, spare somewhat of our affluence, curtail somewhat of our indulgence, that these (for our wealth too and for our indulgence in the end) may have food while they work, and have work to gain them food?

(Arthur Hugh Clough, on the Irish Famine of 1847) 1

I trust in God that feudal industrial class as the French call it, you worship, will be clean trodden under…. Tell Edward I shall be ready to take flight with him the very moment the French land, and have engaged a Hansom to convey us both from the possible scene of carnage.

(Letter of Matthew Arnold to Clough, 1848) 2

But in spite of all the success I have had, I have not failed to be conscious that the art I have been helping to produce would fall with the death of a few of us who really care about it, that a reform in art which is founded on individualism must perish with the individuals who have set it going. Both my historical studies and my practical conflict with the philistinism of modern society have forced on me the conviction that art cannot have a real life and growth under the present system of commercialism and profit-mongering…. About the time when I was beginning to think so strongly on these points that I felt I must express myself publicly, came the crisis of the Eastern Question…it seemed to me that England risked drifting into a war which would have committed her to the party of reaction: I also thoroughly dreaded the outburst of Chauvinism which swept over the country, and feared that once we were amusing ourselves

-165-

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