Matthew Arnold

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Caricature from Punch, 1881: "Admit that Homer sometimes nods, That poets do write trash, Our Bard has written "Balder Dead," And also Balder-dash"

Matthew Arnold (24 December 182215 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.

Matthew Arnold was born at Laleham. He attended Rugby himself, and then Balliol College, Oxford, becoming a Fellow of Oriel in 1845. Thereafter he was private secretary to Lord Lansdowne, Lord President of the Council, through whose influence he was in 1851 appointed an inspector of schools. Two years before this he had published his first book of poetry, The Strayed Reveller, which he soon withdrew: some of the poems, however, including "Mycerinus" and "The Forsaken Merman," were afterwards republished, and the same applies to his next book, Empedocles on Etna (1852), with "Tristram and Iseult." In 1857 he was appointed to the Professorship of Poetry at Oxford, which he held for ten years.

He wrote most of his best-known poetry before the age of forty, after which he turned to literary and cultural criticism and theology. His principal writings are, in poetry, Poems (1853), containing "Sohrab and Rustum," and "The Scholar Gipsy;" Poems, 2nd Series (1855), containing "Balder Dead;" Merope (1858); New Poems (1867), containing "Thyrsis," an elegy on Arthur Hugh Clough, "A Southern Night," "Rugby Chapel," and "The Weary Titan". In prose he wrote On Translating Homer (1861 and 1862), On the Study of Celtic Literature (1867), Essays in Celtic Literature (1868), 2nd Series (1888), Culture and Anarchy (1869), St. Paul and Protestantism (1870), Friendship's Garland (1871), Literature and Dogma (1873), God and the Bible (1875), Last Essays on Church and Religion (1877), Mixed Essays (1879), Irish Essays (1882), and Discourses in America (1885). He also wrote some works on the state of education in mainland Europe. In 1883 he received a pension of 250.

His 1867 poem Dover Beach, with its depiction of a nightmarish world from which the old religious verities have receded, 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.

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 population: "Philistines", a word which derives its modern cultural meaning (in English - German-language usage was well established) from him. See philistinism.

His niece (daughter of his younger brother Thomas), Mary Augusta Arnold, was a novelist under her married name of Mrs Humphry Ward.

Arnold wrote during the Victorian Period (~1837 - ~1901). Some consider him to be the bridge between the Romantic and Modern eras. His use of symbolic landscapes was typical of the Romantic era, while his negative outlook towards everything was 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 the true poetic fire.

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