THE decay of faith and the spread of industrialism form the background of Mid-Victorian poetry. Not all these Mid-Victorians were full-time poets, like Tennyson and Browning; Arnold and Clough were public servants, Rossetti and Morris were artists; and their vocations left a mark on their poetry.
Matthew Arnold ( 1822-1888) was the son of Dr. Arnold of Rugby. He was a reformer like his father, and not in education only; with his European outlook he struck his finger on all the ailments that threatened England with anarchy. On these he preached to the nation at large in prose that all could understand, employing every weapon of debate, logic, wit, irony, and banter. His verse was addressed to a more select audience; its tone was habitually grave and often sad.
Arnold saw himself as one who stood alone on a naked beach from which the tide of faith had ebbed. In the Ages of Faith Christ had lived in the hearts of the faithful:
Now he is dead! Far hence he lies
In the lorn Syrian town;
And on his grave, with shining eyes,
The Syrian stars look down.
Yet Arnold's was a soul naturally Christian: when he outgrew the dogmas in which he had been too strictly reared, he still clung to what he regarded as the truth of Christianity, its exaltation of righteousness, self-renunciation, kindness, and purity. The spread of industrialism combined with the decay of faith to depreciate these Christian values, as men abandoned the kindly life of the country with its ancient pieties for the feverish competition of manufacturing towns.
What propped his mind in those bad days? Three things--Na-