A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold

A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold

A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold

A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold

Synopsis

A Gift Imprisoned is a tale of the two lives, of Matthew Arnold: as young man and impassioned lyric poet, and, in his maturity, his poetic ambitions long-since quelled, as Victorian England's best-known social prophet, educational reformer, and literary critic.

By age forty, Arnold's poetic life was effectively over, at which time he began to devote his energies to "purposeful" prose composition. As the eldest son of Dr. Thomas Arnold of Rugby, the most celebrated headmaster in England and the great shaper of Victorian morality, Arnold saw his future as inescapable. As W. H. Auden wrote, Arnold "thrust his gift in prison till it died". For about twenty years, however, Arnold made efforts to resist his destiny as a social moralist. A Gift Imprisoned is the story of that losing battle. Why did Arnold abandon an extremely promising poetic life? Was it Victorian repression, Arnold's fierce love of duty, or was he crippled by insufficient faith in his own talents? These questions lead Ian Hamilton through beautifully reasoned considerations on the nature of creativity and its silencing

Excerpt

Several years ago, I had the idea of trying to write a full-scale biography of Matthew Arnold. the ambition sprang chiefly from an interest in the poems, and in biographical questions relating to the poems. There were, it seemed to me, a number of intriguing puzzles. Chief among these, perhaps, was the much- pondered Marguerite. Who was she: a dream-girl, an invention born of too much exposure to the novels of George Sand, or a real person met in Switzerland in 1848, and fled from a year later? Then there was the question of Arnold's relations with his father, and his father's memory. Was Dr Arnold of Rugby a devitalising ogre or an inspiration: was it his fault that Matthew was so duty- bound? And, overarchingly, there was the matter of Arnold's attitude to his own gifts as a poet: why did he abandon the poetic life and settle for three decades of drudgery as an inspector of elementary schools? Was it a fierce love of obligation that took him down this path, or was it, rather, that all along he had insufficient faith in his own talent? Was the fear of being (by his own standards) second rate more powerful, in the end, than his commitment to the realm of duty?

There were other aspects of the Arnold life that seemed to be worth close-up study: his marriage, his relationship with his elder . . .

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