MATTHEW ARNOLD, 1822-1888
[Illustration: MATTHEW ARNOLD. From the painting of G.F. Watts, National Portrait Gallery.]
Life.—Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, A.C. Swinburne, and the much younger Rudyard Kipling are the most noted among a large number of Victorian poets. All of these, with the exception of the two greatest, Browning and Tennyson, also wrote prose.
Matthew Arnold was born in 1822, at Laleham, Middlesex. His father, Dr. Thomas Arnold, was the eminent head master of Rugby School, and the author of History of Rome, Lectures on Modern History, and Sermons. Under the guidance of such a father, Matthew Arnold enjoyed unusual educational advantages. In 1837 he entered Rugby, and from there went to Baliol College, Oxford. He was so ambitious and studious that he won two prizes at Oxford, was graduated with honors, and, a year later, was elected fellow of Oriel College. Arnold’s name, like Thomas Gray’s, is associated with university life.
From 1847 to 1851, Arnold was private secretary to Lord Lansdowne. In 1851 he married the daughter of Justice Wightman. After relinquishing his secretaryship, Arnold accepted a position that took him again into educational fields. He was made lay inspector of schools, a position which he held to within two years of his death. This office called for much study in methods of education, and he visited the continent three times to investigate the systems in use there. In addition, he held the chair of poetry at Oxford for ten years, between 1857 and 1867. One of the most scholarly courses of lectures that he delivered there was On Translating Homer. From this time until his death, in 1888, he was a distinguished figure in English educational and literary circles.
Poetical Works.—Matthew Arnold’s poetry belongs to the middle of the century, that season of doubt, perplexity, and unrest, when the strife between the church and science was bitterest and each threatened to overthrow the other. In his home, Arnold was taught a devout faith in revealed religion, and at college he was thrown upon a world of inquiring doubt. Both influences were strong. His feelings yearned after the early faith, and his intellect sternly demanded scientific proof and explanation. He was, therefore, torn by a conflict between his emotions and reason, and he was thus eminently fitted to be the poetic exponent of what he calls—
“...this strange disease of modern
With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
Its heads o’ertaxed, its palsied hearts."
Arnold felt that there were too much hurry and excitement in the age. In the midst of opposing factions, theories, and beliefs, he cries out for rest and peace. We rush from shadow to shadow—
“And never once possess our soul
Before we die."
Again, in the Stanzas in Memory of the Author of “Obermann", he voices the unrest of the age—