Matthew Arnold and France: The Poet

Matthew Arnold and France: The Poet

Matthew Arnold and France: The Poet

Matthew Arnold and France: The Poet

Excerpt

It is not pretended, in this study, to minimise the extent of other influences than French on Matthew Arnold's thought and art. His classical training, most important of these, played its assured rôle in Arnold's life; supplying ballast and balance to his intellectual formation, the good taste and judgment which nearly always mark his serious pronouncements, and, lastly, the rich humanity and sense of beauty that are the gifts of the ancient world to the new.

Of his debt to Wordsworth, in whose shadow he grew, to Byron, to Gray, to all his English predecessors, we cannot say much here. Nor of his German interests--literary, social and theological--is it here in our province to speak; unless perhaps to wonder how much in fact Arnold was owing here, to a literature and a society whose language he never possessed with the sureness and intimacy of the French. An early interest in Carlyle, later disavowed, seems to have made him first acquainted with Goethe, for whom he formed an enthusiasm which grew to veneration with the years, but which never had on him the definite influence of a leading ideal. He read and translated Schiller; Heine he first derided and came to appreciate only in later life. It was probably the German habit of loose unrhymed lines that influenced him in his first poetic experiments, but here the example of the classics may also have had its rôle to play. And, finally, the German religious criticism which he absorbed came to him chiefly through the medium . . .

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