Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888

Biographical note

Poet and critic, son of Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, was born at Laleham and educated at Rugby, Winchester, and 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. After this he produced little poetry and devoted himself to 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 A.H. 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 on the Continent.

In 1883 he received a pension of £250. 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.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]

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