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Matthew Arnold
by George Saintsbury
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MODERN ENGLISH WRITERS.

* * * * *

MATTHEW ARNOLD...... Professor SAINTSBURY.

R.L. STEVENSON...... L. COPE CORNFORD.

JOHN RUSKIN ....... Mrs MEYNELL.

ALFRED TENNYSON ..... ANDREW LANG.

THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY ... EDWARD CLODD.

THACKERAY ........ CHARLES WHIBLEY.

GEORGE ELIOT....... A.T. QUILLER-COUCH.

BROWNING......... C.H. HERFORD.

FROUDE.......... JOHN OLIVER HOBBES.

DICKENS ......... W.E. HENLEY.

[Symbol: 3 asterisks] Other Volumes will be announced in due course.

* * * * *

WILLIAM BLACKWOOD & SONS, EDINBURGH AND LONDON

MATTHEW ARNOLD

BY

GEORGE SAINTSBURY

PROFESSOR OF RHETORIC AND ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH

THIRD IMPRESSION

WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS EDINBURGH AND LONDON MCMII



PREFACE.

Mr. Matthew Arnold, like other good men of our times, disliked the idea of being made the subject of a regular biography; and the only official and authoritative sources of information as to the details of his life are the Letters published by his family, under the editorship of Mr G.W.E. Russell (2 vols., London, 1895)[1]. To these, therefore, it seems to be a duty to confine oneself, as far as such details are concerned, save as regards a very few additional facts which are public property. But very few more facts can really be wanted except by curiosity; for in the life of no recent person of distinction did things literary play so large a part as in Mr Arnold's: of no one could it be said with so much truth that, family affections and necessary avocations apart, he was totus in illis. And these things we have in abundance.[2] If the following pages seem to discuss them too minutely, it can only be pleaded that those to whom it seems so are hardly in sympathy with Matthew Arnold himself. And if the discussion seems to any one too often to take the form of a critical examination, let him remember Mr. Arnold's own words in comparing the treatment of Milton by Macaulay and by M. Scherer:—

"Whoever comes to the Essay on Milton with the desire to get at the real truth about Milton, whether as a man or a poet, will feel that the essay in nowise helps him. A reader who only wants rhetoric, a reader who wants a panegyric on Milton, a panegyric on the Puritans, will find what he wants. A reader who wants criticism will be disappointed."

I have endeavoured, in dealing with the master of all English critics in the latter half of the nineteenth century, to "help the reader who wants criticism."

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Mr Arthur Galton's Matthew Arnold (London, 1897) adds a few pleasant notes, chiefly about dachshunds.

[2] It is impossible, in dealing with them, to be too grateful to Mr. T. B. Smart's Bibliography of Matthew Arnold (London, 1892), a most craftsmanlike piece of work.



CONTENTS.

* * * * *

CHAP.

I. LIFE TILL MARRIAGE, AND WORK TILL THE PUBLICATION OF THE POEMS OF 1853

II. LIFE FROM 1851-62—SECOND SERIES OF POEMSMEROPEON TRANSLATING HOMER

III. A FRENCH ETONESSAYS IN CRITICISMCELTIC LITERATURENEW POEMS—LIFE FROM 1862 TO 1867

IV. IN THE WILDERNESS

V. THE LAST DECADE

VI. CONCLUSION

* * * * *

INDEX



MATTHEW ARNOLD.

* * * * *



CHAPTER I.

LIFE TILL MARRIAGE, AND WORK TILL THE PUBLICATION OF THE POEMS OF 1853.

Even those who are by no means greedy of details as to the biography of authors, may without inconsistency regret that Matthew Arnold's Letters do not begin till he was just five-and-twenty. And then they are not copious, telling us in particular next to nothing about his literary work (which is, later, their constant subject) till he was past thirty. We could spare schoolboy letters, which, though often interesting, are pretty identical, save when written by little prigs. But the letters of an undergraduate—especially when the person is Matthew Arnold, and the University the Oxford of the years 1841-45—ought to be not a little symptomatic, not a little illuminative. We might have learnt from them something more than we know at present about the genesis and early stages of that not entirely comprehensible or classifiable form of Liberalism in matters political, ecclesiastical, and general which, with a kind of altered Voltairian touch, attended his Conservatism in literature. Moreover, it is a real loss that we have scarcely anything from his own pen about his poems before Sohrab and Rustum—that is to say, about the great majority of the best of them. By the time at which we have full and frequent commentaries on himself, he is a married man, a harnessed and hard-working inspector of schools, feeling himself too busy for poetry, not as yet tempted by promptings within or invitations from without to betake himself to critical prose in any quantity or variety. Indeed, by a not much more than allowable hyperbole, we may say that we start with the book of his poetry all but shut, and the book of his prose all but unopened.

We must therefore make what we can of the subject, and of course a great deal more is to be made in such a case of the work than of the life. The facts of the latter are but scanty. Matthew Arnold, as all the world knows, was the son—the eldest son—of the famous Dr (Thomas) Arnold, Head-master of Rugby, and Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, where he had earlier been a Fellow of Oriel. Dr Arnold survives in the general memory now chiefly by virtue of his head-mastership, which was really a remarkable one, whatever distinction it may owe to the loyalty of such a group of pupils as his son, Dean Stanley, Clough, "Tom Brown" Hughes, and others. But he was, if not positively great, a notable and influential person in many ways. As a historian he was alert and intelligent, though perhaps too much under the influence of that subtlest and most dangerous kind of "popular breeze" which persuades those on whom it blows that they are sailing not with but away from the vulgar. As a scholar he was ingenious, if not very erudite or deep. He was really a master, and has been thought by some good judges a great master, of that admirable late Georgian academic style of English prose, which is almost the equal of the greatest. But he was, if not exactly cupidus novarum rerum in Church and State, very ready to entertain them; he was curiously deficient in logic; and though the religious sense was strong in him, he held, and transmitted to his son, the heresy—the foundation of all heresies—that religion is something that you can "bespeak," that you can select and arrange to your own taste; that it is not "to take or to leave" at your peril and as it offers itself.

On August 11, 1820, Dr Arnold married Mary Penrose, and as he had devoted his teaching energies, which were early developed, not to school or university work, but to the taking of private pupils at Laleham on the Thames, between Staines and Chertsey, their eldest son was born there, on Christmas Eve, 1822. He was always enthusiastic about the Thames valley, though not more so than it deserves, and in his very earliest letter (January 2, 1848) we find record of a visit, when he found "the stream with the old volume, width, shine, rapid fulness, 'kempshott,'[1] and swans, unchanged and unequalled." He was only six years old when his father was elected to the head-mastership of Rugby; he was educated in his early years at his birthplace, where an uncle, the Rev. John Buckland, carried on the establishment, and at the age of fourteen he was sent to Winchester, his father's school. Here he only remained a year, and entered Rugby in August 1837. He remained there for four years, obtaining an open Balliol scholarship in 1840, though he did not go up till October 1841. In 1840 he had also gained the prize for poetry at Rugby itself with Alaric at Rome, a piece which was immediately printed, but never reprinted by its author, though it is now easily obtainable in the 1896 edition of those poems of his which fell out of copyright at the seven years after his death.

It is an observation seldom falsified, that such exercises, by poets of the higher class, display neither their special characteristics, nor any special characteristics at all. Matthew Arnold's was not one of the exceptions. It is very much better than most school prize poems: it shows the critical and scholarly character of the writer with very fair foreshadowing; but it does not fore-shadow his poetry in the very least. It is quite free from the usual formal faults of a boy's verse, except some evidences of a deficient ear, especially for rhyme ("full" and "beautiful," "palaces" and "days"). It manages a rather difficult metre (the sixain rhymed ababcc and ending with an Alexandrine) without too much of the monotony which is its special danger. And some of the tricks which the boy-poet has caught are interesting and abode with him, such as the anadiplosis

"Yes, there are stories registered on high, Yes, there are stains Time's fingers cannot blot";

in which kind he was to produce some years later the matchless

"Still nursing the unconquerable hope, Still clutching the inviolable shade,"

of the Scholar-Gipsy. On the whole, the thing is correct but colourless; even its melancholy is probably mere Byronism, and has nothing directly to do with the later quality of Dover Beach and Poor Matthias.

Of Mr Arnold's undergraduate years we have unluckily but little authentic record, and, as has been said, not one letter. The most interesting evidence comes from Principal Shairp's well-known lines in Balliol Scholars, 1840-1843, written, or at least published, many years later, in 1873:—

"The one wide-welcomed for a father's fame, Entered with free bold step that seemed to claim Fame for himself, nor on another lean.

So full of power, yet blithe and debonair, Rallying his friends with pleasant banter gay, Or half a-dream chaunting with jaunty air Great words of Goethe, catch of Beranger, We see the banter sparkle in his prose, But knew not then the undertone that flows So calmly sad, through all his stately lay."[2]

Like some other persons of much distinction, and a great many of little or none, he "missed his first," in December 1844; and though he obtained, three months later, the consolation prize of a Fellowship (at Oriel, too), he made no post-graduate stay of any length at the university. The then very general, though even then not universal, necessity of taking orders before very long would probably in any case have sent him wandering; for it is clear from the first that his bent was hopelessly anti-clerical, and he was not merely too honest, but much too proud a man, to consent to be put in one of the priests' offices for a morsel of bread. It may well be doubted—though he felt and expressed not merely in splendid passages of prose and verse for public perusal, but in private letters quite towards the close of his life, that passionate attachment which Oxford more than any other place of the kind inspires—whether he would have been long at home there as a resident. For the place has at once a certain republicanism and a certain tyranny about its idea, which could not wholly suit the aspiring and restless spirit of the author of Switzerland. None of her sons is important to Oxford—the meanest of them has in his sonship the same quality as the greatest. Now it was very much at Mr Arnold's heart to be important, and he was not eager to impart or share his qualities.

However this may be, there were ample reasons why he should leave the fold. The Bar (though he was actually called and for many years went circuit as Marshal to his father-in-law, Mr Justice Wightman) would have suited him, in practice if not in principle, even less than the Church; and he had no scientific leanings except a taste for botany. Although the constantly renewed cries for some not clearly defined system of public support for men of letters are, as a rule, absurd, there is no doubt that Mr Arnold was the very man for a sinecure, and would have justified the existence of Pipe or Hanaper to all reasonable men. But his political friends had done away with nearly all such things, and no one of the very few that remained fell to his lot. His father had died in 1842, but the son served a short apprenticeship to school-teaching at Rugby, then became private secretary to Lord Lansdowne, the President of the Council (it is now that we first meet him as an epistoler), and early in 1851 was appointed by his chief to an inspectorship of schools. Having now a livelihood, he married, in June of that year, Frances Lucy Wightman, daughter of a judge of the Queen's Bench. Their first child, Thomas, was born on July 6, 1852, and Mr Arnold was now completely estated in the three positions of husband, father, and inspector of schools, which occupied—to his great delight in the first two cases, not quite so in the third—most of his life that was not given to literature. Some not ungenerous but perhaps rather unnecessary indignation has been spent upon his "drudgery" and its scanty rewards. It is enough to say that few men can arrange at their pleasure the quantity and quality of their work, and that not every man, even of genius, has had his bread-and-butter secured for life at eight-and-twenty.

But in the ten or twelve years which had passed since Alaric at Rome, literature itself had been by no means neglected, and in another twelvemonth after the birth of his first-born, Matthew Arnold had practically established his claim as a poet by utterances to which he made comparatively small additions later, though more than half his life was yet to run. And he had issued one prose exercise in criticism, of such solidity and force as had not been shown by any poet since Dryden, except Coleridge.

These documents can hardly be said to include the Newdigate poem (Cromwell) of 1843: they consist of The Strayed Reveller and other Poems, by "A.," 1849; Empedocles on Etna, and other Poems, [still] by "A.," 1852; and Poems by Matthew Arnold, a new edition, 1853—the third consisting of the contents of the two earlier, with Empedocles and a few minor things omitted, but with very important additions, including Sohrab and Rustum, The Church of Brou, Requiescat, and The Scholar-Gipsy. The contents of all three must be carefully considered, and the consideration may be prefaced by a few words on Cromwell.

This [Greek: agonisma], like the other, Mr Arnold never included in any collection of his work; but it was printed at Oxford in the year of its success, and again at the same place, separately or with other prize poems, in 1846, 1863, and 1891. It may also be found in the useful non-copyright edition above referred to. Couched in the consecrated couplet, but not as of old limited to fifty lines, it is "good rhymes," as the elder Mr Pope used to say to the younger; but a prudent taster would perhaps have abstained, even more carefully than in the case of the Alaric, from predicting a real poet in the author. It is probably better than six Newdigates out of seven at least, but it has no distinction. The young, but not so very young, poet—he was as old as Tennyson when he produced his unequal but wonderful first volume—begins by borrowing Wordsworth's two voices of the mountain and the sea, shows some impression here and there from Tennyson's own master-issue, the great collection of 1842, which had appeared a year before, ventures on an Alexandrine—

"Between the barren mountains and the stormy sea"

—which comes as a pleasant relief, and displays more than once (as he did afterwards in Tristram and Iseult) an uncertain but by no means infelicitous variety of couplet which he never fully or fairly worked out, but left for Mr William Morris to employ with success many years later. Otherwise the thing is good, but negligible. It would have taken an extremely strong competition, or an extremely incompetent examiner, to deprive it of the prize; but he must have been a sanguine man who, in giving the author that prize, expected to receive from him returns of poetry.

Yet they came. If we did not know that the middle of this century was one of the nadirs of English[3] criticism, and if we did not know further that even good critics often go strangely wrong both in praise and in blame of new verse, it would be most surprising that The Strayed Reveller volume should have attracted so little attention. It is full of faults, but that is part of the beauty of it. Some of these faults are those which, persevering, prevented Mr Arnold from attaining a higher position than he actually holds in poetry; but no critic could know that. There is nothing here worse, or more necessarily fatal, than many things in Tennyson's 1830 and 1832 collections: he overwent those, so might Mr Arnold have overgone these. And the promise—nay, the performance—is such as had been seen in no verse save Tennyson's, and the almost unnoticed Browning's, for some thirty years. The title-poem, though it should have pleased even a severe judge, might have aroused uncomfortable doubts even in an amiable one. In the first place, its rhymelessness is a caprice, a will-worship. Except blank verse, every rhymeless metre in English has on it the curse of the tour de force, of the acrobatic. Campion and Collins, Southey and Shelley, have done great things in it; but neither Rose-cheeked Laura nor Evening, neither the great things in Thalaba nor the great things in Queen Mab, can escape the charge of being caprices. And caprice, as some have held, is the eternal enemy of art.

But the caprice of The Strayed Reveller does not cease with its rhymelessness. The rhythm and the line-division are also studiously odd, unnatural, paradoxical. Except for the "poetic diction" of putting "Goddess" after "Circe" instead of before it, the first stave is merely a prose sentence, of strictly prosaic though not inharmonious rhythm. But in this stave there is no instance of the strangest peculiarity, and what seems to some the worst fault of the piece, the profusion of broken-up decasyllables, which sometimes suggest a very "corrupt" manuscript, or a passage of that singular stuff in the Caroline dramatists which is neither blank verse, nor any other, nor prose. Here are a few out of many instances—

"Is it, then, evening So soon? [I see the night-dews Clustered in thick beads], dim," etc.

* * * ["When the white dawn first Through the rough fir-planks. "]

* * * ["Thanks, gracious One! Ah! the sweet fumes again."]

* * * ["They see the Centaurs In the upper glens."]

One could treble these—indeed in one instance (the sketch of the Indian) the entire stanza of eleven lines, by the insertion of one "and" only, becomes a smooth blank-verse piece of seven, two of which are indeed hemistichs, and three "weak-ended," but only such as are frequent in Shakespeare—

"They see the Indian drifting, knife in hand, His frail boat moored to a floating isle—thick-matted With large-leaved [and] low-creeping melon-plants And the dark cucumber. He reaps and stows them, drifting, drifting: round him, Round his green harvest-plot, flow the cool lake-waves, The mountains ring them."

Nor, perhaps, though the poem is a pretty one, will it stand criticism of a different kind much better. Such mighty personages as Ulysses and Circe are scarcely wanted as mere bystanders and "supers" to an imaginative young gentleman who enumerates, somewhat promiscuously, a few of the possible visions of the Gods. There is neither classical, nor romantic, nor logical justification for any such mild effect of the dread Wine of Circe: and one is driven to the conclusion that the author chiefly wanted a frame, after his own fashion, for a set of disconnected vignettes like those of Tennyson's Palace of Art and Dream of Fair Women.

But if the title poem is vulnerable, there is plenty of compensation. The opening sonnet—

"Two lessons, Nature, let me learn of thee"—

is perhaps rather learnt from Wordsworth, yet it does not fail to strike the note which fairly differentiates the Arnoldian variety of Wordsworthianism—the note which rings from Resignation to Poor Matthias, and which is a very curious cross between two things that at first sight may seem unmarriageable, the Wordsworthian enthusiasm and the Byronic despair. But of this[4] more when we have had more of its examples before us. The second piece in the volume must, or should, have struck—for there is very little evidence that it did strike—readers of the volume as something at once considerable and, in no small measure, new. Mycerinus, a piece of some 120 lines or so, in thirteen six-line stanzas and a blank-verse coda, is one of those characteristic poems of this century, which are neither mere "copies of verses," mere occasional pieces, nor substantive compositions of the old kind, with at least an attempt at a beginning, middle, and end. They attempt rather situations than stories, rather facets than complete bodies of thought, or description, or character. They supply an obvious way of escape for the Romantic tendency which does not wish to break wholly with classical tradition; and above all, they admit of indulgence in that immense variety which seems to have become one of the chief devices of modern art, attempting the compliances necessary to gratify modern taste.

The Herodotean anecdote of the Egyptian King Mycerinus, his indignation at the sentence of death in six years as a recompense for his just rule, and his device of lengthening his days by revelling all night, is neither an unpromising nor a wholly promising subject. The foolish good sense of Mr Toots would probably observe—and justly—that before six years, or six months, or even six days were over, King Mycerinus must have got very sleepy; and the philosophic mind would certainly recall the parallel of Cleobis and Biton as to the best gift for man. Mr Arnold, however, draws no direct moral. The stanza-part of the poem, the king's expostulation, contains very fine poetry, and "the note" rings again throughout it, especially in the couplet—

"And prayers, and gifts, and tears, are fruitless all, And the night waxes, and the shadows fall."

The blank-verse tail-piece is finer still in execution; it is, with the still finer companion-coda of Sohrab and Rustum, the author's masterpiece in the kind, and it is, like that, an early and consummate example of Mr Arnold's favourite device of finishing without a finish, of "playing out the audience," so to speak, with something healing and reconciling, description, simile, what not, to relieve the strain of his generally sad philosophy and his often melancholy themes.

One may less admire, despite its famous and often-quoted line,

"Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole,"

the sonnet To a Friend, praising Homer and Epictetus and Sophocles, for it seems to some to have a smatch of priggishness. Nor am I one of those who think very highly of the much longer Sick King in Bokhara which (with a fragment of an Antigone, whereof more hereafter) follows, as this sonnet precedes, The Strayed Reveller itself. There is "the note," again, and I daresay the orientalism has the exactness of colour on which, as we know from the Letters, Mr Arnold prided himself. Yet the handling of the piece seems to me prolix and uncertain, and the drift either very obscure or somewhat unimportant. But about the Shakespeare sonnet which follows there can be no controversy among the competent. "Almost adequate" is in such a case the highest praise; and it must be given.

The companions of this sonnet are respectable, but do not deserve much warmer words; and then we turn to a style of poem remarkably different from anything which the author had yet published and from most of his subsequent work. It is not unnoteworthy that the batch of poems called in the later collected editions Switzerland, and completed at last by the piece called On the Terrace at Berne, appeared originally piecemeal, and with no indication of connection. The first of its numbers is here, To my Friends who Ridiculed a Tender Leave-taking. It applies both the note of thought which has been indicated, and the quality of style which had already disengaged itself, to the commonest—the greatest—theme of poetry, but to one which this poet had not yet tried—to Love. Let it be remembered that the thought has the cast of a strictly pessimist quietism—that the style aims, if it aims at any single thing, at the reproduction of the simpler side of classicalism, at an almost prim and quakerish elegance, a sort of childlike grace. There is, however, by no means any great austerity in the tone: on the contrary, the refrain (altered later)—

"Ere the parting kiss be dry, Quick! thy tablets, Memory!"—

approaches the luscious. It is not easy to decide, and it is perhaps in both senses impertinent to speculate, whether the "Marguerite" (whose La Tour-like portrait is drawn in this piece with such relish, and who is so philosophically left to her fate by her lover on the Terrace at Berne later) had any live original. She seems a little more human in some ways than most of those cloud-Junos of the poets, the heroines of sonnet-sequence and song-string. She herself has a distinct touch of philosophy, anticipating with nonchalant resignation the year's severance, and with equally nonchalant anticipation the time when

"Some day next year I shall be, Entering heedless, kissed by thee."

Her wooer paints her with gusto, but scarcely with ardour; and ends with the boding note—

"Yet, if little stays with man, Ah! retain we all we can!"—

seeming to be at least as doubtful of his own constancy as of hers. Nor do we meet her again in the volume. The well-known complementary pieces which make up Switzerland were either not written, or held back.

The inferior but interesting Modern Sappho, almost the poet's only experiment in "Moore-ish" method and melody—

"They are gone—all is still! Foolish heart, dost thou quiver?"—

is a curiosity rather than anything else. The style is ill suited to the thought; besides, Matthew Arnold, a master at times of blank verse, and of the statelier stanza, was less often an adept at the lighter and more rushing lyrical measures. He is infinitely more at home in the beautiful New Sirens, which, for what reason it is difficult to discover, he never reprinted till many years later, partly at Mr Swinburne's most judicious suggestion. The scheme is trochaic, and Mr Arnold (deriving beyond all doubt inspiration from Keats) was happier than most poets with that charming but difficult foot. The note is the old one of yearning rather than passionate melancholy, applied in a new way and put most clearly, though by no means most poetically, in the lines—

"Can men worship the wan features, The sunk eyes, the wailing tone, Of unsphered, discrowned creatures, Souls as little godlike as their own?"

The answer is, "No," of course; but, as some one informed Mr Arnold many years later, we knew that before, and it is distressing to be told it, as we are a little later, with a rhyme of "dawning" and "morning." Yet the poem is a very beautiful one—in some ways the equal of its author's best up to this time; at least he had yet done nothing except the Shakespeare sonnet equal to the splendid stanza beginning—

"And we too, from upland valleys;"

and the cry of the repentant sirens, punished as they had sinned—

"'Come,' you say, 'the hours are dreary.'"

Yet the strong Tennysonian influence (which the poet rather ungraciously kicked against in his criticism) shows itself here also; and we know perfectly well that the good lines—

"When the first rose flush was steeping All the frore peak's awful crown"—

are but an unconscious reminiscence of the great ones—

"And on the glimmering summit far withdrawn, God made himself an awful rose of dawn."

He kept this level, though here following not Tennyson or Keats but Shelley, in the three ambitious and elaborate lyrics, The Voice, To Fausta, and Stagirius, fine things, if somehow a little suggestive of inability on their author's part fully to meet the demands of the forms he attempts—"the note," in short, expressed practically as well as in theory. Stagirius in particular wants but a very little to be a perfect expression of the obstinate questionings of the century; and yet wanting a little, it wants so much! Others, To a Gipsy Child and The Hayswater Boat (Mr Arnold never reprinted this), are but faint Wordsworthian echoes; and thus we come to The Forsaken Merman.

It is, I believe, not so "correct" as it once was to admire this; but I confess indocility to correctness, at least the correctness which varies with fashion. The Forsaken Merman is not a perfect poem—it has longueurs, though it is not long; it has those inadequacies, those incompetences of expression, which are so oddly characteristic of its author; and his elaborate simplicity, though more at home here than in some other places, occasionally gives a dissonance. But it is a great poem—one by itself, one which finds and keeps its own place in the foreordained gallery or museum, with which every true lover of poetry is provided, though he inherits it by degrees. No one, I suppose, will deny its pathos; I should be sorry for any one who fails to perceive its beauty. The brief picture of the land, and the fuller one of the sea, and that (more elaborate still) of the occupations of the fugitive, all have their own charm. But the triumph of the piece is in one of those metrical coups which give the triumph of all the greatest poetry, in the sudden change from the slower movements of the earlier stanzas or strophes to the quicker sweep of the famous conclusion—

"The salt tide rolls seaward, Lights shine from the town"—

to

"She left lonely for ever The kings of the sea."

Here the poet's poetry has come to its own.

In Utrumque Paratus sounds the note again, and has one exceedingly fine stanza:—

"Thin, thin the pleasant human noises grow, And faint the city gleams; Rare the lone pastoral huts—marvel not thou! The solemn peaks but to the stars are known, But to the stars, and the cold lunar beams; Alone the sun arises, and alone Spring the great streams."

But Resignation, the last poem in the book, goes far higher. Again, it is too long; and, as is not the case in the Merman, or even in The Strayed Reveller itself, the general drift of the poem, the allegory (if it be an allegory) of the two treadings of "the self-same road" with Fausta and so forth, is unnecessarily obscure, and does not tempt one to spend much trouble in penetrating its obscurity. But the splendid passage beginning—

"The Poet to whose mighty heart,"

and ending—

"His sad lucidity of soul,"

has far more interest than concerns the mere introduction, in this last line itself, of one of the famous Arnoldian catchwords of later years. It has far more than lies even in its repetition, with fuller detail, of what has been called the author's main poetic note of half-melancholy contemplation of life. It has, once more, the interest of poetry—of poetical presentation, which is independent of any subject or intention, which is capable of being adapted perhaps to all, certainly to most, which lies in form, in sound, in metre, in imagery, in language, in suggestion—rather than in matter, in sense, in definite purpose or scheme.

It is one of the heaviest indictments against the criticism of the mid-nineteenth century that this remarkable book—the most remarkable first book of verse that appeared between Tennyson's and Browning's in the early thirties and The Defence of Guenevere in 1858—seems to have attracted next to no notice at all. It received neither the ungenerous and purblind, though not wholly unjust, abuse which in the long—run did so much good to Tennyson himself, nor the absurd and pernicious bleatings of praise which have greeted certain novices of late years. It seems to have been simply let alone, or else made the subject of quite insignificant comments.

In the same year (1849) Mr Arnold was represented in the Examiner of July 21 by a sonnet to the Hungarian nation, which he never included in any book, and which remained peacefully in the dust-bin till a reference in his Letters quite recently set the ruthless reprinter on its track. Except for an ending, itself not very good, the thing is quite valueless: the author himself says to his mother, "it is not worth much." And three years passed before he followed up his first volume with a second, which should still more clearly have warned the intelligent critic that here was somebody, though such a critic would not have been guilty of undue hedging if he had professed himself still unable to decide whether a new great poet had arisen or not.

This volume was Empedodes on Etna and other Poems, [still] By A. London: Fellowes, 1852. It contained two attempts—the title-piece and Tristram and Iseult—much longer and more ambitious than anything that the poet had yet done, and thirty-three smaller poems, of which two—Destiny and Courage—were never reprinted. It was again very unequal—perhaps more so than the earlier volume, though it went higher and oftener high. But the author became dissatisfied with it very shortly after its appearance in the month of October, and withdrew it when, as is said, less than fifty copies had been sold.

One may perhaps not impertinently doubt whether the critical reason, v. infra—in itself a just and penetrating one, as well as admirably expressed—which, in the Preface of the 1853 collection, the poet gave for its exclusion (save in very small part) from that volume tells the whole truth. At any rate, I think most good judges quarrel with Empedodes, not because the situation is unmanageable, but because the poet has not managed it. The contrast, in dramatic trio, of the world-worn and disappointed philosopher, the practical and rather prosaic physician, and the fresh gifts and unspoilt gusto of the youthful poet, is neither impossible nor unpromising. Perhaps, as a situation, it is a little nearer than Mr Arnold quite knew to that of Paracelsus, and it is handled with less force, if with more clearness, than Browning's piece. But one does not know what is more amiss with it than is amiss with most of its author's longer pieces—namely, that neither story nor character-drawing was his forte, that the dialogue is too colourless, and that though the description is often charming, it is seldom masterly. As before, there are jarring rhymes—"school" and "oracle," "Faun" and "scorn." Empedocles himself is sometimes dreadfully tedious; but the part of Callicles throughout is lavishly poetical. Not merely the show passages—that which the Roman father,

"Though young, intolerably severe,"

saved from banishment and retained by itself in the 1853 volume, as Cadmus and Harmonia, and the beautiful lyrical close,—but the picture of the highest wooded glen on Etna, and the Flaying of Marsyas, are delightful things.

Tristram and Iseult, with fewer good patches, has a greater technical interest. It is only one, but it is the most remarkable, of the places where we perceive in Mr Arnold one of the most curious of the notes of transition-poets. They will not frankly follow another's metrical form, and they cannot strike out a new one for themselves. In this piece the author—most attractively to the critic, if not always quite satisfactorily to the reader—makes for, and flits about, half-a-dozen different forms of verse. Now it is the equivalenced octosyllable of the Coleridgean stamp rather than of Scott's or Byron's; now trochaic decasyllabics of a rather rococo kind; and once at least a splendid anapaestic couplet, which catches the ear and clings to the memory for a lifetime—

"What voices are these on the clear night air? What lights in the court? What steps on the stair?"

But the most interesting experiment by far is in the rhymed heroic, which appears fragmentarily in the first two parts and substantively in the third. The interest of this, which (one cannot but regret it) Mr Arnold did not carry further, relapsing on a stiff if stately blank verse, is not merely intrinsic, but both retrospective and prospective. It is not the ordinary "stopped" eighteenth-century couplet at all; nor the earlier one of Drayton and Daniel. It is the "enjambed," very mobile, and in the right hands admirably fluent and adaptable couplet, which William Browne and Chamberlayne practised in the early and middle seventeenth century, which Leigh Hunt revived and taught to Keats, and of which, later than Mr Arnold himself, Mr William Morris was such an admirable practitioner. Its use here is decidedly happy; and the whole of this part shows in Mr Arnold a temporary Romantic impulse, which again we cannot but regret that he did not obey. The picture-work of the earlier lines is the best he ever did. The figure of Iseult with the White Hands stands out with the right Prae-Raphaelite distinctness and charm; and the story of Merlin and Vivian, with which, in the manner so dear to him, he diverts the attention of the reader from the main topic at the end, is beautifully told. For attaching quality on something like a large scale I should put this part of Tristram and Iseult much above both Sohrab and Rustum and Balder Dead; but the earlier parts are not worthy of it, and the whole, like Empedocles, is something of a failure, though both poems afford ample consolation in passages.

The smaller pieces, however, could have saved the volume had their larger companions been very much weaker. The Memorial Verses on Wordsworth (published first in Fraser) have taken their place once for all. If they have not the poetical beauty in different ways of Carew on Donne, of Dryden on Oldham, even of Tickell upon Addison, of Adonais above all, of Wordsworth's own beautiful Effusion on the group of dead poets in 1834, they do not fall far short even in this respect. And for adequacy of meaning, not unpoetically expressed, they are almost supreme. If Mr Arnold's own unlucky and maimed definition of poetry as "a criticism of life" had been true, they would be poetry in quintessence; and, as it is, they are poetry.

Far more so is the glorious Summer Night, which came near the middle of the book. There is a cheering doctrine of mystical optimism which will have it that a sufficiently intense devotion to any ideal never fails of at least one moment of consummate realisation and enjoyment. Such a moment was granted to Matthew Arnold when he wrote A Summer Night. Whether that rather vague life-philosophy of his, that erection of a melancholy agnosticism plus asceticism into a creed, was anything more than a not ungraceful or undignified will-worship of Pride, we need not here argue out. But we have seen how faithfully the note of it rings through the verse of these years. And here it rings not only faithfully, but almost triumphantly. The lips are touched at last: the eyes are thoroughly opened to see what the lips shall speak: the brain almost unconsciously frames and fills the adequate and inevitable scheme. And, as always at these right poetic moments, the minor felicities follow the major. The false rhymes are nowhere; the imperfect phrases, the little sham simplicities or pedantries, hide themselves; and the poet is free, from the splendid opening landscape through the meditative exposition, and the fine picture of the shipwreck, to the magnificent final invocation of the "Clearness divine!"

His freedom, save once, is not so unquestionably exhibited in the remarkable group of poems—the future constituents of the Switzerland group, but still not classified under any special head—which in the original volume chiefly follow Empedocles, with the batch later called "Faded Leaves" to introduce them. It is, perhaps, if such things were worth attempting at all, an argument for supposing some real undercurrent of fact or feeling in them, that they are not grouped at their first appearance, and that some of them are perhaps designedly separated from the rest. Even the name "Marguerite" does not appear in A Farewell; though nobody who marked as well as read, could fail to connect it with the To my Friends of the former volume. We are to suppose, it would appear, that the twelvemonth has passed, and that Marguerite's anticipation of the renewed kiss is fulfilled in the first stanzas. But the lover's anticipation, too, is fulfilled, though as usual not quite as he made it; he wearies of his restless and yet unmasterful passion; he rather muses and morals in his usual key on the "way of a man with a maid" than complains or repines. And then we go off for a time from Marguerite, though not exactly from Switzerland, in the famous "Obermann" stanzas, a variation of the Wordsworth memorial lines, melodious, but a very little impotent—the English utterance of what Sainte-Beuve, I think, called "the discouraged generation of 1850." Now mere discouragement, except as a passing mood, though extremely natural, is also a little contemptible—pessimism-and-water, mere peevishness to the "fierce indignation," mere whining compared with the great ironic despair. As for Consolation, which in form as in matter strongly resembles part of the Strayed Reveller, I must say, at the risk of the charge of Philistinism, that I cannot see why most of it should not have been printed as prose. In fact, it would be a very bold and astonishingly ingenious person who, not knowing the original, perceived any verse-division in this—

"The bleak, stern hour, whose severe moments I would annihilate, is passed by others in warmth, light, joy."

Nor perhaps can very much be said for some of the other things. The sonnet afterwards entitled The World's Triumphs is not strong; The Second Best is but "a chain of extremely valuable thoughts"; Revolution a conceit. The Youth of Nature and The Youth of Man do but take up less musically the threnos for Wordsworth. But Morality is both rhyme and poetry; Progress is at least rhyme; and The Future, though rhymeless again, is the best of all Mr Arnold's waywardnesses of this kind. It is, however, in the earlier division of the smaller poems—those which come between Empedocles and Tristram—that the interest is most concentrated, and that the best thing—better as far as its subject is concerned even than the Summer Night—appears. For though all does not depend upon the subject, yet of two poems equally good in other ways, that which has the better subject will be the better. Here we have the bulk of the "Marguerite" or Switzerland poems—in other words, we leave the windy vagaries of mental indigestion and come to the real things—Life and Love.

The River does not name any one, though the "arch eyes" identify Marguerite; and Excuse, Indifference, and Too Late are obviously of the company. But none of these is exactly of the first class. We grow warmer with On the Rhine, containing, among other things, the good distich—

"Eyes too expressive to lie blue, Too lovely to be grey";

on which Mr Swinburne gave a probably unconscious scholion as well as variation in his own—

"Those eyes, the greenest of things blue, The bluest of things grey."

The intense pathos, which the poet could rarely "let himself go" sufficiently to reach, together with the seventeenth-century touch which in English not unfrequently rewards the self-sacrifice necessary to scholarly poets in such abandonment, appears in Longing; The Lake takes up the faint thread of story gracefully enough; and Parting does the same with more importance in a combination, sometimes very effective, of iambic couplets and anapaestic strophes, and with a touch of direct if not exalted nature in its revelation of that terrible thing, retrospective jealousy, in the lover. Woe to the man who allows himself to think—

"To the lips! ah! of others Those lips have been pressed, And others, ere I was, Were clasped to that breast,"

and who does not at once exorcise the demon with the fortunately all-potent spell of Bocca bacciata, and the rest! Absence and Destiny show him in the same Purgatory; and it is impossible to say that he has actually escaped in the crowning poem of the series—the crowning-point perhaps of his poetry, the piece beginning

"Yes! in the sea of life enisled."

It is neither uninteresting nor unimportant that this exquisite piece, by a man's admiration of which (for there are some not wholly lost, who do not admire it) his soundness in the Catholic Faith of poetry may be tested, perhaps as well as by any other, has borne more than one or two titles, It is in the 1852 volume, To Marguerite. In returning a volume of the letters of Ortis. In 1853 it became Isolation, its best name; and later it took the much less satisfactory one of To Marguerite—continued, being annexed to another.

Isolation is preferable for many reasons; not least because the actual Marguerite appears nowhere in the poem, and, except in the opening monosyllable, can hardly be said to be even rhetorically addressed. The poet's affection—it is scarcely passion—is there, but in transcendence: he meditates more than he feels. And that function of the riddle of the painful earth which Lucretius, thousands of years ago, put in his grim Nequicquam! which one of Mr Arnold's own contemporaries formulated with less magnificence and more popularity, but still with music and truth in Strangers Yet—here receives almost its final poetical expression. The image—the islands in the sea—is capitally projected in the first stanza; it is exquisitely amplified in the second; the moral comes with due force in the third; and the whole winds up with one of the great poetic phrases of the century—one of the "jewels five [literally five!] words long" of English verse—a phrase complete and final, with epithets in unerring cumulation—

"The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea."

Human Life, no ill thing in itself, reads a little weakly after Isolation; but Despondency is a pretty piece of melancholy, and, with a comfortable stool, will suit a man well. In the sonnet, When I shall be divorced, Mr Arnold tried the Elizabethan vein with less success than in his Shakespeare piece; and Self-Deception and Lines written by a Death-Bed, with some beauty have more monotony. The closing lines of the last are at the same time the moral of the book and the formula of the Arnoldian "note"—

"Calm's not life's crown, though calm is well. 'Tis all perhaps which man acquires, But 'tis not what our youth desires."

Again, we remember some one's parody-remonstrance thirty years later, and again we may think that the condemnation which Mr Arnold himself was soon to pronounce upon Empedocles is rather disastrously far-reaching, while even this phrase is a boomerang. Musical and philosophical despair is one of the innumerable strings of the poetic lyre; but 'tis not what our youth, or our age either, desires for a monochord.

The remarkable manifesto just referred to was not long delayed. Whatever may have been his opinion as to the reception of the two volumes "by A," he made up his mind, a year after the issue and withdrawal of the second, to put forth a third, with his name, and containing, besides a full selection from the other two, fresh specimens of the greatest importance. In the two former there had been no avowed "purpose"; here, not merely were the contents sifted on principle, the important Empedocles as well as some minor things being omitted: not merely did some of the new numbers, especially Sohrab and Rustum, directly and intentionally illustrate the: poet's theories, but those theories themselves were definitely put in a Preface, which is the most important critical document issued in England for something like a generation, and which, as prefixed by a poet to his poetry, admits no competitors in English, except some work of Dryden's and some of Wordsworth's.

Beginning with his reasons for discarding Empedocles, reasons which he sums up in a sentence, famous, but too important not to require citation at least in a note,[5] he passes suddenly to the reasons which were not his, and of which he makes a good rhetorical starting-point for his main course. The bad critics of that day had promulgated the doctrine, which they maintained till a time within the memory of most men who have reached middle life, though the error has since in the usual course given way to others—that "the Poet must leave the exhausted past and draw his subjects from matters of present import." This was the genuine "Times-v.-all-the-works-of-Thucydides" fallacy of the mid-nineteenth century, the fine flower of Cobdenism, the heartfelt motto of Philistia—as Philistia then was. For other times other Philistines, and Ekron we have always with us, ready, as it was once said, "to bestow its freedom in pinchbeck boxes" on its elect.

This error Mr Arnold has no difficulty in laying low at once; but unluckily his swashing blow carries him with it, and he falls headlong into fresh error himself. "What," he asks very well, "are the eternal objects of Poetry, among all nations and at all times?" And he answers—equally well, though not perhaps with impregnable logical completeness and accuracy—"They are actions, human actions; possessing an inherent interest in themselves, and which are to be communicated in an interesting manner by the art of the Poet." Here he tells the truth, but not the whole truth; he should have added "thoughts and feelings" to "actions," or he deprives Poetry of half her realm. But he is so far sufficient against his Harapha (for at that date there were no critical Goliaths about). Human action does possess an "inherent," an "eternal," poetical interest and capacity in itself. That interest, that capacity, is incapable of "exhaustion"—nay (as Mr Arnold, though with bad arguments as well as good, urges later), it is, on the whole, a likelier subject for the poet when it is old, because it is capable of being grasped and presented more certainly. But the defender hastens to indulge in more than one of those dangerous sallies from his trenches which have been fatal to so many heroes. He proclaims that the poet cannot "make an intrinsically inferior action equally delightful with a more excellent one by his treatment of it," forgetting that, until the action is presented, we do not know whether it is "inferior" or not. He asks, "What modern poem presents personages as interesting as Achilles, Prometheus, Clytemnestra, Dido?" unsuspicious, or perhaps reckless, of the fact that not a few men, who admire and know the classics quite as well as he does, will cheerfully take up his challenge at any weapons he likes to name, and with a score of instances for his quartette. It is true that, thanks to the ineptitude of his immediate antagonists, he recovers himself not ill by cleverly selecting the respectable Hermann and Dorothea, the stagy-romantic Childe Harold, the creature called "Jocelyn," and the shadowy or scrappy personages of the Excursion, to match against his four. But this is manifestly unfair. To bring Lamartine and Wordsworth in as personage-makers is only honest rhetorically (a kind of honesty on which Wamba or Launcelot Gobbo shall put the gloss for us). Nay, even those to whom Goethe and Byron are not the ideal of modern poetry may retort that Mephistopheles—that even Faust himself—is a much more "interesting" person than the sulky invulnerable son of Thetis, while Gulnare, Parisina, and others are not much worse than Dido. But these are mere details. The main purpose of the Preface is to assert in the most emphatic manner the Aristotelian (or partly Aristotelian) doctrine that "All depends on the subject," and to connect the assertion with a further one, of which even less proof is offered, that "the Greeks understood this far better than we do," and that they were also the unapproachable masters of "the grand style." These positions, which, to do Mr Arnold justice, he maintained unflinchingly to his dying day, are supported, not exactly by argument, but by a great deal of ingenious and audacious illustration and variation of statement, even Shakespeare, even Keats, being arraigned for their wicked refusal to subordinate "expression" to choice and conception of subject. The merely Philistine modernism is cleverly set up again that it may be easily smitten down; the necessity of Criticism, and of the study of the ancients in order to it, is most earnestly and convincingly championed; and the piece ends with its other famous sentence about "the wholesome regulative laws of Poetry" and their "eternal enemy, Caprice."

As Mr Arnold's critical position will be considered as a whole later, it would be waste of time to say very much more of this first manifesto of his. It need only be observed that he might have been already, as he often was later, besought to give some little notion of what "the grand style" was; that, true and sound as is much of the Preface, it is not a little exposed to the damaging retort, "Yes: this is your doxy, and she seems fair to you, no doubt; but so does ours seem fair to us." Moreover, the "all-depends-on-the-subject" doctrine here, as always, swerves from one fatal difficulty. If, in what pleases poetically, poetical expression is always present, while in only some of what pleases poetically is the subject at the required height, is it not illogical to rule out, as the source of the poetic pleasure, that which is always present in favour of that which is sometimes absent?

We know from the Letters—and we should have been able to divine without them—that Sohrab and Rustum, the first in order, the largest in bulk, and the most ambitious in scheme of the poems which appeared for the first time in the new volume, was written in direct exemplification of the theories of the Preface. The theme is old, and though not "classical" in place, is thoroughly so in its nature, being the story of a combat between a father and a son, who know not each other till too late, of the generosity of the son, of the final triumph of the father, of the anagnorisis, with the resignation of the vanquished and the victor's despair. The medium is blank verse, of a partly but not wholly Miltonic stamp, very carefully written, and rising at the end into a really magnificent strain, with the famous picture of "the majestic river" Oxus floating on regardless of these human woes, to where the stars

"Emerge, and shine upon the Aral Sea."

Even here, it is true, the Devil's Advocate may ask whether this, like the Mycerinus close, that of Empedocles, and others, especially one famous thing, to which we shall come presently, is not more of a purple tail-patch, a "tag," a "curtain," than of a legitimate and integral finale. It is certain that Mr Arnold, following the Greeks in intention no doubt, if not quite so closely as he intended, was very fond of these "curtains"—these little rhetorical reconciliations and soothings for the reader. But this is the most in place of any of them, and certainly the noblest tirade that its author has left.

Most of the new poems here are at a level but a little lower than this part of Sohrab and Rustum, while some of them are even above it as wholes. Philomela is beautiful, in spite of the obstinate will-worship of its unrhymed Pindaric: the Stanzas to the Memory of Edward Quillinan are really pathetic, though slightly irritating in their "sweet simplicity"; and if Thekla's Answer is nothing particular, The Neckan nothing but a weaker doublet of the Merman, A Dream is noteworthy in itself, and as an outlier of the Marguerite group. Then we have three things, of which the first is, though unequal, great at the close, while the other two rank with the greatest things Mr Arnold ever did. These are The Church of Brou, Requiescat, and The Scholar-Gipsy.

If, as no critic ever can, the critic could thoroughly discover the secret of the inequality of The Church of Brou, he might, like the famous pedant, "put away" Mr Arnold "fully conjugated in his desk." The poem is in theme and scheme purely Romantic, and "nineteenth century" in its looking back to a simple and pathetic story of the Middle Age—love, bereavement, and pious resignation. It is divided into three parts. The first, in trochaic ballad metre, telling the story, is one of the poet's weakest things. You may oft see as good in Helen Maria Williams and the Delia Cruscans. The second, describing the church where the duke and duchess sleep, in an eight-line stanza of good fashion, is satisfactory but nothing more. And then the third, after a manner hardly paralleled save in Crashaw's Flaming Heart, breaks from twaddle and respectable verse into a rocket-rush of heroic couplets, scattering star-showers of poetry all over and round the bewildered reader. It is artifice rather than art, perhaps, to lisp and drawl, that, when you do speak out, your speech may be the more effective. But hardly anything can make one quarrel with such a piece of poetry as that beginning—

"So rest, for ever rest, O princely pair!"

and ending—

"The rustle of the eternal rain of Love."

On the other hand, in Requiescat there is not a false note, unless it be the dubious word "vasty" in the last line; and even that may shelter itself under the royal mantle of Shakespeare. The poet has here achieved what he too often fails in, the triple union of simplicity, pathos, and (in the best sense) elegance. The dangerous repetitions of "roses, roses," "tired, tired," &c., come all right; and above all he has the flexibility and quiver of metre that he too often lacks. His trisyllabic interspersions—the leap in the vein that makes iambic verse alive and passionate—are as happy as they can be, and the relapse into the uniform dissyllabic gives just the right contrast. He must be [Greek: e therion e theos]—and whichever he be, he is not to be envied—who can read Requiescat for the first or the fiftieth time without mist in the eyes and without a catch in the voice.

But the greatest of these—the greatest by far—is The Scholar-Gipsy. I have read—and that not once only, nor only in the works of unlettered and negligible persons—expressions of irritation at the local Oxonian colour. This is surely amazing. One may not be an Athenian, and never have been at Athens, yet be able to enjoy the local colour of the Phaedrus. One may not be an Italian, and never have been in Italy, yet find the Divina Commedia made not teasing but infinitely vivid and agreeable by Dante's innumerable references to his country, Florentine and general. That some keener thrill, some nobler gust, may arise in the reading of the poem to those who have actually watched

"The line of festal light in Christ Church Hall"

from above Hinksey, who know the Fyfield elm in May, and have "trailed their fingers in the stripling Thames" at Bablockhithe,—may be granted. But in the name of Bandusia and of Gargarus, what offence can these things give to any worthy wight who by his ill luck has not seen them with eyes? The objection is so apt to suggest a suspicion, as illiberal almost as itself, that one had better not dwell on it.

Let us hope that there are after all few to whom it has presented itself—that most, even if they be not sons by actual matriculation of Oxford, feel that, as of other "Cities of God," they are citizens of her by spiritual adoption, and by the welcome accorded in all such cities to God's children. But if the scholar had been an alumnus of Timbuctoo, and for Cumnor and Godstow had been substituted strange places in -wa and -ja, I cannot think that, even to those who are of Oxford, the intrinsic greatness of this noble poem would be much affected, though it might lose a separable charm. For it has everything—a sufficient scheme, a definite meaning and purpose, a sustained and adequate command of poetical presentation, and passages and phrases of the most exquisite beauty. Although it begins as a pastoral, the mere traditional and conventional frippery of that form is by no means so prominent in it as in the later (and, I think, less consummate) companion and sequel Thyrsis. With hardly an exception, the poet throughout escapes in his phraseology the two main dangers which so constantly beset him—too great stiffness and too great simplicity. His "Graian" personification is not overdone; his landscape is exquisite; the stately stanza not merely sweeps, but sways and swings, with as much grace as state. And therefore the Arnoldian "note"—the special form of the maladie du siecle which, as we have seen, this poet chooses to celebrate—acquires for once the full and due poetic expression and music, both symphonic and in such special clangours as the never-to-be-too-often-quoted distich—

"Still nursing the unconquerable hope, Still clutching the inviolable shade"—

which marks the highest point of the composition.

The only part on which there may be some difference between admirers is the final simile of the Tyrian trader. This finishes off the piece in nineteen lines, of which the poet was—and justly—proud, which are quite admirable by themselves, but which cannot perhaps produce any very clear evidences of right to be where they are. No ingenuity can work out the parallel between the "uncloudedly joyous" scholar who is bid avoid the palsied, diseased enfants du siecle, and the grave Tyrian who was indignant at the competition of the merry Greek, and shook out more sail to seek fresh markets. It is, once more, simply an instance of Mr Arnold's fancy for an end-note of relief, of cheer, of pleasant contrast. On his own most rigid principles, I fear it would have to go as a mere sewn-on patch of purple: on mine, I welcome it as one of the most engaging passages of a poem delightful throughout, and at its very best the equal of anything that was written in its author's lifetime, fertile as that was in poetry.

He himself, though he was but just over thirty when this poem appeared, and though his life was to last for a longer period than had passed since his birth to 1853, was to make few further contributions to poetry itself. The reasons of this comparative sterility are interesting, and not quite so obvious as they may appear. It is true, indeed,—it is an arch-truth which has been too rarely recognised,—that something like complete idleness, or at any rate complete freedom from regular mental occupation, is necessary to the man who is to do poetic work great in quality and in quantity at once. The hardest occupation—and Mr Arnold's, though hard, was not exactly that—will indeed leave a man sufficient time, so far as mere time is concerned, to turn out as much verse as the most fertile of poets has ever produced. But then that will scarcely do. The Muses are feminine—and it has been observed that you cannot make up even to the most amiable and reasonable of that sex for refusing to attend to her at the minute when she wants you, by devoting even hours, even days, when you are at leisure for her. To put the thing more seriously, though perhaps not more truly, the human brain is not so constituted that you can ride or drive or "train" from school to school, examining as you go, for half-a-dozen or half-a-score hours a-day, or that you can devote the same time to the weariest and dreariest of all businesses, the reading of hundreds of all but identical answers to the same stock questions, and yet be fresh and fertile for imaginative composition. The nearest contradictory instances to this proposition are those of Scott and Southey, and they are, in more ways than one or two, very damaging instances—exceptions which, in a rather horrible manner, do prove the rule. To less harassing, and especially less peremptory, work than Mr Arnold's, as well as far more literary in kind, Scott sacrificed the minor literary graces, Southey immolated the choicer fruits of genius which he undoubtedly possessed the power of producing; and both "died from the top downward."

But there was something more than this. Mr Arnold's poetic ambition, as we have seen, did not aim at very long and elaborate works. His forte was the occasional piece—which might still suggest itself and be completed—which, as we shall see, did sometimes suggest itself and was completed—in the intervals, the holidays, the relaxations of his task. And if these lucid and lucent intervals, though existent, were so rare, their existence and their rarity together suggest that something more than untoward circumstance is to blame for the fact that they did not show themselves oftener. A full and constant tide of inspiration is imperative; it will not be denied; it may kill the poet if he cannot or will not give vent to it, but it will not be patient of repression—quietly content to appear now and then, even on such occasions as the deaths of a Clough and a Stanley. Nor is it against charity or liberality, while it is in the highest degree consonant with reason and criticism, to infer that Mr Arnold's poetic vein was not very full-blooded, that it was patient of refusal to indulge it, that his poetry, in nearly the happiest of his master's phrases, was not exactly "inevitable," despite the exquisiteness of its quality on occasion.

It is fortunate for the biographer that this earliest part of Mr Arnold's life is so fertile in poetry, for otherwise, in the dearth of information, it would be a terribly barren subject. The thirty years of life yield us hardly twenty pages of letters, of which the first, with its already cited sketch of Laleham, is perhaps the most interesting. At the Trafalgar Square riots of March 1848 the writer is convinced that "the hour of the hereditary peerage and eldest sonship and immense properties has struck"; sees "a wave of more than American vulgarity, moral, intellectual, and social, preparing to break over us"; and already holds that strange delusion of his that "the French are the most civilised of European peoples." He develops this on the strength of "the intelligence of their idea-moved classes" in a letter to his sister; meets Emerson in April; goes to a Chartist "convention," and has a pleasant legend for Miss Martineau that the late Lord Houghton "refused to be sworn in as a special constable, that he might be free to assume the post of President of the Republic at a moment's notice." He continues to despair of his country as hopelessly as the Tuxford waiter;[6] finds Bournemouth "a very stupid place"—which is distressing; it is a stupid place enough now, but it was not then: "a great moorland covered with furze and low pine coming down to the sea" could never be that—and meets Miss Bronte, "past thirty and plain, with expressive grey eyes though." The rest we must imagine.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The editor glosses this variously spelt and etymologically puzzling word "landing-stage." But unless I mistake, a "kempshott," "campshed," or "campshedding" is not a landing-stage (though it helps to make one) so much as a river-wall of stakes and planks, put to guard the bank against floods, the wash of barges, &c.

[2] Glen Desseray and other Poems. By John Campbell Shairp, London, 1888. P. 218.

[3] This statement may seem too sweeping, especially as there is neither room nor occasion for justifying it fully. Let us only indicate, as among the heads of such a justification, the following sins of English criticism between 1840-1860,—the slow and reluctant acceptance even of Tennyson, even of Thackeray; the obstinate refusal to give Browning, even after Bells and Pomegranates, a fair hearing; the recalcitrance to Carlyle among the elder, and Mr Ruskin among the younger, innovators in prose; the rejection of a book of erratic genius like Lavengro; the ignoring of work of such combined intrinsic beauty and historic importance as The Defence of Guenevere and FitzGerald's Omar Khayyam. For a sort of quintessence of literary Philistinism, see the advice of Richard Ford (himself no Philistine) to George Borrow, in Professor Knapp's Life of the latter, i. 387.

[4] This "undertone," as Mr Shairp calls it.

[5] "What, then, are the situations, from the representation of which, though accurate, no poetical enjoyment can be derived? They are those in which the suffering finds no vent in action; in which a continuous state of mental distress is prolonged, unrelieved by incident, hope, or resistance; in which there is everything to be endured, nothing to be done. In such situations there is inevitably something morbid, in the description of them something monotonous. When they occur in actual life, they are painful, not tragic; the representation of them in poetry is painful also."

[6] "The Tuxford waiter desponds exactly as you do."—Sydney Smith to Jeffrey.



CHAPTER II.

LIFE FROM 1851-62—SECOND SERIES OF POEMSMEROPEON TRANSLATING HOMER.

We must now return a little and give some account of Mr Arnold's actual life, from a period somewhat before that reached at the end of the last chapter. The account need not be long, for the life, as has been said, was not in the ordinary sense eventful; but it is necessary, and can be in this chapter usefully interspersed with an account of his work, which, for nine of the eleven years we shall cover, was, though interesting, of much less interest than that of those immediately before and those immediately succeeding.

One understands at least part of the reason for the gradual drying up of his poetic vein from a sentence of his in a letter of 1858, when he and his wife at last took a house in Chester Square: "It will be something to unpack one's portmanteau for the first time since I was married, nearly seven years ago." "Something," indeed; and one's only wonder is how he, and still more Mrs Arnold (especially as they now had three children), could have endured the other thing so long. There is no direct information in the Letters as to the reason of this nomadic existence, the only headquarters of which appear to have been the residence of Mrs Arnold's father, the judge, in Eaton Place, with flights to friends' houses and to lodgings at the places of inspection and others, especially Dover and Brighton. And guesswork is nowhere more unprofitable than in cases where private matters of income, taste, and other things are concerned. But it certainly would appear, though I have no positive information on the subject, that in the early days of State interference with education "My Lords" managed matters with an equally sublime disregard of the comfort of their officials and the probable efficiency of the system.[1]

Till I noticed the statement quoted opposite, I was quite unable to construct any reasonable theory from such a passage as that in a letter of December 1852[2] and from others which show us Mr Arnold in Lincolnshire, in Shropshire, and in the eastern counties. Even with the elucidation it seems a shockingly bad system. One doubts whether it be worse for an inspector or for the school inspected by him, that he should have no opportunity for food from breakfast to four o'clock, when he staves off death by inviting disease in the shape of the malefic bun; for him or for certain luckless pupil-teachers that, after dinner, he should be "in for [them] till ten o'clock." With this kind of thing when on duty, and no home when off it, a man must begin to appreciate the Biblical passages about partridges, and the wings of a dove, and so forth, most heartily and vividly long before seven years are out, more particularly if he be a man so much given to domesticity as was Matthew Arnold.

However, it was, no doubt, not so bad as it looks. They say the rack is not, though probably no one would care to try. There were holidays; there was a large circle of hospitable family friends, and strangers were only too anxious to welcome (and perhaps to propitiate) Her Majesty's Inspector. The agreeable anomalies of the British legal system (which, let Dickens and other grumblers say what they like, have made many good people happy and only a few miserable) allowed Mr Arnold for many years to act (sometimes while simultaneously inspecting) as his father-in-law's Marshal on circuit, with varied company and scenery, little or nothing to do, a handsome fee for doing it, and no worse rose-leaf in the bed than heavy dinners and hot port wine, even this being alleviated by "the perpetual haunch of venison."

For the rest, there are some pleasing miscellaneous touches in the letters for these years, and there is a certain liveliness of phrase in them which disappears in the later. It is pleasant to find Mr Arnold on his first visit to Cambridge (where, like a good Wordsworthian, he wanted above all things to see the statue of Newton) saying what all of us say, "I feel that the Middle Ages, and all their poetry and impressiveness, are in Oxford and not here." In one letter —written to his sister "K" (Mrs Forster) as his critical letters usually are—we find three noteworthy criticisms on contemporaries, all tinged with that slight want of cordial appreciation which characterises his criticism of this kind throughout (except, perhaps, in the case of Browning). The first is on Alexander Smith—it was the time of the undue ascension of the Life-Drama rocket before its equally undue fall. "It can do me no good [an odd phrase] to be irritated with that young man, who certainly has an extraordinary faculty, although I think he is a phenomenon of a very dubious character." The second, harsher but more definite, is on Villette. "Why is Villette disagreeable? Because the writer's mind [it is worth remembering that he had met Charlotte Bronte at Miss Martineau's] contains nothing but hunger, rebellion, and rage, and therefore that is all she can in fact put into her book. No fine writing can hide this thoroughly, and it will be fatal to her in the long-run." The Fates were kinder: and Miss Bronte's mind did contain something besides these ugly things. But it was her special weakness that her own thoughts and experiences were insufficiently mingled and tempered by a wider knowledge of life and literature. The third is on My Novel, which he says he has "read with great pleasure, though Bulwer's nature is by no means a perfect one either, which makes itself felt in his book; but his gush, his better humour, his abundant materials, and his mellowed constructive skill—all these are great things." One would give many pages of the Letters for that naif admission that "gush" is "a great thing."

A little later (May 1853), all his spare time is being spent on a poem, which he thinks by far the best thing he has yet done, to wit, Sohrab and Rustum. And he "never felt so sure of himself or so really and truly at ease as to criticism." He stays in barracks at the depot of the 17th Lancers with a brother-in-law, and we regret to find that "Death or Glory" manners do not please him. The instance is a cornet spinning his rings on the table after dinner. "College does civilise a boy," he ejaculates, which is true—always providing that it is a good college. Yet, with that almost unconscious naturalness which is particularly noticeable in him, he is much dissatisfied with Oxford—thinks it (as we all do) terribly fallen off since his days. Perhaps the infusion of Dissenters' sons (it is just at the time of the first Commission in 1854) may brace its flaccid sinews, though the middle-class, he confesses, is abominably disagreeable. He sees a good deal of this poor middle-class in his inspecting tours, and decides elsewhere about the same time that "of all dull, stagnant, unedifying entourages, that of middle-class Dissent is the stupidest." It is sad to find that he thinks women utterly unfit for teachers and lecturers; but Girton and Lady Margaret's may take comfort, it is "no natural incapacity, but the fault of their bringing-up." With regard to his second series of Poems (v. infra) he thinks Balder will "consolidate the peculiar sort of reputation he got by Sohrab and Rustum;" and a little later, in April 1856, we have his own opinion of himself as a poet, whose charm is "literalness and simplicity." Mr Ruskin is also treated—with less appreciation than one could wish.

The second series just mentioned was issued in 1855, a second edition of the first having been called for the year before. It contained, like its predecessor, such of his earlier work as he chose to republish and had not yet republished, chiefly from the Empedocles volume. But Empedocles itself was only represented by some scraps, mainly grouped as The Harp-Player on Etna. Faded Leaves, grouped with an addition, here appear: Stagirius is called Desire, and the Stanzas in Memory of the Author of Obermann now become Obermann simply. Only two absolutely new poems, a longer and a shorter, appear: the first is Balder Dead, the second Separation, the added number of Faded Leaves. This is of no great value. Balder is interesting, though not extremely good. Its subject is connected with that of Gray's Descent of Odin, but handled much more fully, and in blank-verse narrative instead of ballad form. The story, like most of those in Norse mythology, has great capabilities; but it may be questioned whether the Greek-Miltonic chastened style which the poet affects is well calculated to bring them out. The death of Nanna, and the blind fratricide Hoder, are touchingly done, and Hermod's ride to Hela's realm is stately. But as a whole the thing is rather dim and tame.

Mr Arnold's election to the Professorship of Poetry at Oxford (May 1857) was a really notable event, not merely in his own career, but to some, and no small, extent in the history of English literature during the nineteenth century. The post is of no great value. I remember the late Sir Francis Doyle, who was Commissioner of Customs as well as Professor, saying to me once with a humorous melancholy, "Ah! Eau de Cologne pays much better than Poetry!" But its duties are far from heavy, and can be adjusted pretty much as the holder pleases. And as a position it is unique. It is, though not of extreme antiquity, the oldest purely literary Professorship in the British Isles; and it remained, till long after Mr Arnold's time, the only one of the kind in the two great English Universities. In consequence partly of the regulation that it can be held for ten years only—nominally five, with a practically invariable re-election for another five—there is at least the opportunity, which, since Mr Arnold's own time, has been generally taken, of maintaining and refreshing the distinction of the occupant of the chair. Before his time there had been a good many undistinguished professors, but Warton and Keble, in their different ways, must have adorned even a Chair of Poetry even in the University of Oxford. Above all, the entire (or almost entire) freedom of action left to the Professor should have, and in the case of Keble at least had already had, the most stimulating effect on minds capable of stimulation. For the Professor of Poetry at Oxford is neither, like some Professors, bound to the chariot-wheels of examinations and courses of set teaching, nor, like others, has he to feel that his best, his most original, efforts can have no interest, and hardly any meaning, for all but a small circle of experts. His field is illimitable; his expatiation in it is practically untrammelled. It is open to all; full of flowers and fruits that all can enjoy; and it only depends on his own choice and his own literary and intellectual powers whether his prelections shall take actual rank as literature with the very best of that other literature, with the whole of which, by custom, as an extension from poetry, he is at liberty to deal. In the first century of the chair the custom of delivering these Prelections in Latin had been a slight hamper—indeed to this day it prevents the admirable work of Keble from being known as it should be known. But this was now removed, and Mr Arnold, whose reputation (it could hardly be called fame as yet) was already great with the knowing ones, had not merely Oxford but the English reading world as audience.

And he had it at a peculiarly important time, to the importance of which he himself, in this very position, was not the least contributor. Although the greatest writers of the second period of the century—Tennyson, Browning, Carlyle, Thackeray—had, in all cases but the last, a long, and in the two first a very long and a wonderfully fruitful career still before them, yet the phase to which they belonged was as a dominant phase at its height, and as a crescent was beginning to give place to another. Within a few years—in most cases within a few months—of Mr Arnold's installation, The Defence of Guenevere and FitzGerald's Omar Khayyam heralded fresh forms of poetry which have not been superseded yet; The Origin of Species and Essays and Reviews announced changed attitudes of thought; the death of Macaulay removed the last writer who, modern as he was in some ways, and popular, united popularity with a distinctly eighteenth-century tone and tradition; the death of Leigh Hunt removed the last save Landor (always and in all things an outsider) of the great Romantic generation of the first third of the century; The Ordeal of Richard Feverel started a new kind of novel.

The division which Mr Arnold, both by office and taste, was called to lead in this newly levied army, was not far from being the most important of all; and it was certainly that of all which required the most thorough reformation of staff, morale,[3] and tactics. The English literary criticism of 1830-1860, speaking in round numbers, is curiously and to this day rather unintelligibly bad. There is, no doubt, no set of matters in which it is less safe to generalise than in matters literary, and this is by no means the only instance in which the seemingly natural anticipation that a period of great criticism will follow a period of great creation is falsified. But it most certainly is falsified here. The criticism of the great Romantic period of 1798-1830 was done for it by itself, and in some cases by its greatest practitioners, not by its immediate successors. The philosophic as well as poetical intuition of Coleridge; the marvellous if capricious sympathy and the more marvellous phrase of Lamb; the massive and masculine if not always quite trustworthy or well-governed intellect of Hazlitt, had left no likes behind. Two survivors of this great race, Leigh Hunt and De Quincey, were indeed critics, and no inconsiderable ones; but the natural force of both had long been much abated, and both had been not so much critics as essayists; the tendency of Hunt to flowery sentimentality or familiar chat, and that of De Quincey to incessant divergences of "rigmarole," being formidable enemies to real critical competence. The greatest prosemen —not novelists—of the generation now closing, Carlyle and Macaulay, were indeed both considerable critics. But the shadow of death in the one case, the "shadow of Frederick" in the other, had cut short their critical careers: and presumptuous as the statement may seem, it may be questioned whether either had been a great critic—in criticism pure and simple—of literature.

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