Matthew Arnold. (Guide to the Year's Work)

By Machann, Clinton | Victorian Poetry, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Matthew Arnold. (Guide to the Year's Work)


Machann, Clinton, Victorian Poetry


Cecil Y. Lang's edition of Arnold's letters (Univ. Press of Virginia, 1996-2001) has been completed, and Arnold scholars everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief now that they will finally have access to a modern edition of correspondence comparable to those which exist for most other major Victorian authors. I was not able to examine a copy of the sixth and final volume prior to completing this essay so I will reserve my discussion of the edition as a whole until next year, but now it is appropriate to focus on aspects of the fifth volume (early 2001) that are most likely to be of interest to those who care about Arnold's works and career. Following that, I will take note of a few significant critical studies of Arnold during the past year and briefly discuss trends in Arnold scholarship.

Volume five covers the period 1879-84, years in which Arnold published two new collections of essays (Mixed Essays, 1879; Irish Essays, 1882); other important individual essays, including those he contributed to T. H. Ward's The English Poets (1880) and the classic "Literature and Science" (1882), later incorporated into Discourses in America (1885); and a few new individual poems, notably "Westminster Abbey," his elegy on A. P. Stanley (1882). Arnold's editions of selected poems of Wordsworth (1879) and of Byron (1880) are of considerable significance as well (especially that of Wordsworth), as I will discuss below. His letters to publishers Alexander Macmillan and George Smith chronicle the publishing history of these significant works, as well as more obscure but interesting publications such as the second part of Arnold's edition of Isaiah meant primarily for English school children (Macmillan, 1883), completing the project he had begun in the early 1870s; and The Matthew Arnold Birthday Book, published b y Smith and Elder, a collection of 365 mottoes for each day of the year selected from Arnold's poems by his daughter Eleanor. As with Smith and Elder's 1880 edition of 212 Prose Passages selected from Arnold's work and his contribution to Dr. Wallace Wood's edition of The Hundred Greatest Men: Portraits of the One Hundred Greatest Men of History (1879-80), the primary motive behind Arnold's participation in these popular genres of the time was to earn a little extra income during a troubled financial period in his personal life.

Arnold's letters to his publishers, then, constitute one of the two most obviously significant groupings of the letters in this volume. The other is, as in Arnold's correspondence during every period of his life, letters to family members. After the death of his mother in 1873, Arnold continued to write to the old family home at Fox Howe, now addressing his letters to his unmarried, youngest sister Frances, who continued to live there as the resident matriarch. Several of the most interesting letters in volume five are among the thirty addressed to "Fan," although there are also some important ones addressed to other siblings, especially sister Jane ("K") Forster and brother Tom. A letter of September 15, 1880 to Fan is particularly revealing about Arnold's attitude toward letter-writing: "I think much of my dear K, and shall write to her soon. I never write a journal, but I tell my story in letters, which is the better and pleasanter way."

Arnold's comment underscores the special significance that his correspondence--especially letters to family relations--held for him. In particular, readers of this volume will appreciate the way Arnold "tells the story" of his lecture tour of America (October 1883-March 1884) in his letters back to England: to Fan, to Jane, and to his younger daughter Eleanor, who, unlike her older sister Lucy, had remained at home.

Although Arnold was a veteran lecturer, he was not used to the large lecture halls he encountered in America. When he first presented his lecture "Numbers," to a crowd of 1300 at New York's Pickering Hall, his voice projection was inadequate, and he was distressed to learn that many people in the audience (including Ulysses S. …

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