Matthew Arnold Biography | Poems
An English poet and cultural critic.. British poet and cultural critic
Matthew Arnold (24 December 1822 – 15 April 1888) was an English poet and cultural critic, who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold, the famed headmaster of Rugby School who was celebrated in the novel Tom Brown's Schooldays.
Arnold wrote during the Victorian period (1837–1901), and is sometimes called the third great Victorian poet, behind Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson and Robert Browning. Arnold himself was keenly aware of his place in poetry, and in an 1869 letter to his mother, discussed the merits of his work and his two more famous peers: "My poems represent, on the whole, the main movement of mind of the last quarter of a century, and thus they will probably have their day as people become conscious to themselves of what that movement of mind is, and interested in the literary productions which reflect it. It might be fairly urged that I have less poetic sentiment than Tennyson, and less intellectual vigour and abundance than Browning. Yet because I have more perhaps of a fusion of the two than either of them, and have more regularly applied that fusion to the main line of modern development, I am likely enough to have my turn, as they have had theirs."
His 1867 poem Dover Beach, which depicted a nightmarish world from which the old religious verities have retroceded, is sometimes held up as an early, if not the first, example of the modern sensibility. In a famous preface to a selection of the poems of William Wordsworth, Arnold identified himself, a little ironically, as a "Wordsworthian." The influence of Wordsworth, both in ideas and in diction, is unmistakable in Arnold's best poetry.
Some consider Arnold to be the bridge between Romanticism and Modernism. His use of symbolic landscapes was typical of the Romantic era, while his negative opinions towards everything were typical of the Modern era. The rationalistic tendency of certain of his writings gave offence to many readers, and the sufficiency of his equipment in scholarship for dealing with some of the subjects which he handled was called in question; but he undoubtedly exercised a stimulating influence on his time; his writings are characterised by the finest culture, high purpose, sincerity, and a style of great distinction, and much of his poetry has an exquisite and subtle beauty, though here also it has been doubted whether high culture and wide knowledge of poetry did not sometimes take the place of true poetic fire. Henry James wrote that Matthew Arnold's poetry will appeal to those who "like their pleasures rare" and who like to hear the poet "taking breath."
Although Arnold's poetry received only mixed reviews and attention during his lifetime, his forays into literary criticism were more successful. Arnold is famous for introducing a methodology of literary criticism through his Essays in Criticism (1865, 1888), which influence critics to this day. Arnold believed that rules for an objective approach in literary criticism existed, and argued that these rules should be followed by all critics.
He was led on from literary criticism to a more general critique of the spirit of his age. Between 1867 and 1869 he wrote Culture and Anarchy, famous for the term he popularised for a section of the Victorian era population: "Philistines", a word which derives its modern cultural meaning (in English - German-language usage was well established) from him. See philistinism.