Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold


Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) was a British poet and critic during the Victorian era. Born in Laleham, a village in the valley to the Thames, Arnold spent his childhood near a river, which would act as a great influence later on in his life. In 1837, Arnold first attended the Rugby School where his father, Thomas Arnold, was the headmaster. Following the Rugby School, Arnold attended Oxford beginning in 1841 and while a student, focused less on his studies and was regarded as a “dandy.” The youthful frivolity displayed did not last long, as Arnold took the post of private secretary to Lord Lansdowne in 1847. Lord Lansdowne helped Arnold secure his job as Inspector of Schools in 1851 and for 35 years, he assumed this position. During the 1860s, Arnold acquired his reputation as a critic and shortly after became a public figure. His major works during this time period include Essays in Criticism, Culture and Anarchy, and Literature and Dogma. Following his time spent in the public spotlight, Arnold retired from school inspecting in 1886 and died of a heart failure on April 15, 1888. Arnold is remembered for his abilities as a poet and critic alike, as he stimulated change and inspiration in the world.

Arnold and The Church

Matthew Arnold had a very interesting relationship with religion, especially for living during the victorian era. He was raised in a very liberal Anglican household, yet was heavily influenced by John Henry Newman, who was a very important figure in the church at the time. Arnold highly respected Newman, a conservative Catholic, for his spirituality, Arnold became an agnostic later in life. Although he had his own religious doubts, a source of great anxiety for him, he sought to capture the true essence of Christianity in many of his essays. His arguments for a renewed religious faith and an adoption of classical and aesthetic morals were representative of the main stream ideas of the Victorian era. At this point in time, Oxford movements of evangelicals worked to re-establish the morals of Christianity in everyday life. Arnold supported a movement for spirituality, yet he had difficulty believing it for himself and much of this is reflected in his works such as “Last Essays On Church and Religion”.

For an analysis of Arnold’s poem Dover Beach, click here: Dover Beach

Arnold’s Prose Work
Arnold’s prose work could be dissected into several sections. The most common divisions that are suggested are Literary, Social & Theological Theory & Criticism.
It is said that when the poet in Arnold died, the critic was born; and it is true that from this time onward he turned almost entirely to prose. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
For a complete list of all of his works of prose, please refer to the following link:
This link includes prose that he completed throughout his lifetime. While Arnold was highly acclaimed for his work in these many areas, it is argued by many that his most notable was prose. Here is an excerpt of a letter written to his mother about his own self reflection:

“My poems represent, on the whole, the main movement of mind over the last quarter of a century, and thus they will probably have their day as people become conscious to themselves of what that movement of mind is, and interested in the literary productions which reflect it. It might be fairly urged that I have less practical sentiment than Tennyson, and less intellectual vigour and abundance than Browning; yet, because I have perhaps more of a fusion of the two than either of them, and have more regularly applied that fusion to the main line of modern development, I am likely enough to have my turn, as they have had theirs.” (

Criticism began to take a more important place in his output, and he published his Lectures on Translating Homer in 1861 (39), followed by Last Words on Translating Homer in 1862 (40) and Essays on Criticism in 1865 (43), most of his writings appearing initially as individual essays in periodicals. (

Theology and social theory
He began devoting his attention to social and theological subjects, and Literature and Dogma (1873, 51), which addressed the then huge market for religious publications, and dealt with the contemporary concerns of religious faith and the perceived crisis of Christianity, sold more than 100,000 copies. His Last Essays on Church and Religion (1877, 55) included the essay The Church of England, first delivered as a lecture to the London Clergy at [[@ College|Sion College]] at the invitation of Henry Milman, in which he berated them for their obsequiousness to the landed and propertied classes, pointing out that such attitudes had no place in the Christian religion. He concluded his writings on religion with the observation that he believed Christianity would survive because the teachings of Christ addressed issues central to the moral experience of mankind. (

Only a quarter of his productive life was given to writing poetry, but many of the same values, attitudes, and feelings that are expressed in his poems achieve a fuller or more balanced formulation in his prose. This unity was obscured for most earlier readers by the usual evaluations of his poetry as gnomic or thought-laden, or as melancholy or elegiac, and of his prose as urbane, didactic, and often satirically witty in its self-imposed task of enlightening the social consciousness of England. (

Although he continued to publish and write poems, Arnold turned increasingly to prose and became in the last three decades of his life a widely influential social and literary critic whose works continue to shape and provoke contemporary debate. (

Complete List of Prose
Essays, Letters, and Reviews by Matthew Arnold Essays, Letters, and Reviews by Matthew Arnold (1960)Friendship’s Garland (1883)”Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve,” in Encyclopedia Britannica, ninth edition, IX: 162-165 (1886)”Isaiah of Jerusalem” in the Authorized English Version, with an Introduction, Corrections and Notes (1883)”Schools,” in The Reign of Queen Victoria (1887)A Bible-Reading for Schools: The Great Prophecy of Israel’s Restoration (1872)A French Eton; or, Middle Class Education and the State (1864)Arnold as Dramatic Critic (1903)Civilization in the United States: First and Last Impressions of America (1888)Complete Prose Works (1960)Culture and Anarchy (1883)Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism (1869)Culture and the State (1965)Discourses in America (1885)Education Department (1886)England and the Italian Question (1859)England and the Italian Question, (1953)Essays in Criticism (1865)Essays in Criticism: Second Series (1888)Essays in Criticism: Third Series (1910)Five Uncollected Essays of Matthew Arnold (1953)General Grant, with a Rejoinder by Mark Twain (1966)General Grant: An Estimate (1887)God and the Bible: A Review of Objections to “Literature and Dogma” (1875)Heinrich Heine (1863)Higher Schools and Universities in Germany (1874)Irish Essays, and Others (1882)Isaiah XLLXVI; with the Shorter Prophecies Allied to It (1875)Last Essays on Church and Religion (1877)Letters of Matthew Arnold, 1848-1888 (1895)Letters of an Old Playgoer (1919)Letters, Speeches and Tracts on Irish Affairs by Edmund Burke (1881)Literature and Dogma: An Essay towards a Better Apprehension of the Bible (1873)Matthew Arnold’s Letters: A Descriptive Checklist (1968)Matthew Arnold’s Notebooks (1902)Mixed Essays (1879)On Home Rule for Ireland: Two Letters to “The Times” (1891)On Translating Homer: Last Words: A Lecture Given at Oxford (1862)On Translating Homer: Three Lectures Given at Oxford (1861)On the Modern Element in Literature (1869)On the Study of Celtic Literature (1883)Poems of Wordsworth (1879)Poetry of Byron (1881)Reports on Elementary Schools 1852-1882 (1889)Schools and Universities on the Continent (1867)St. Paul and Protestantism; with an Introduction on Puritanism and the Church of England (1883)The Hundred Greatest Men: Portraits of the One Hundred Greatest Men of History (1879)The Letters of Matthew Arnold to Arthur Hugh Clough (1932)The Note-Books of Matthew Arnold (1952)The Popular Education of France, with Notices of That of Holland and Switzerland (1861)The Six Chief Lives from Johnson’s “Lives of the Poets,” with Macaulay’s “Life of Johnson,” (1878)The Study of Poetry (1880)Thoughts on Education Chosen From the Writings of Matthew Arnold (1912)Unpublished Letters of Matthew Arnold (1923)

The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Gen. ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. 4th ed. Vol. 1C. New York: Longman, 2010.
2441-58. Print.
Collini, Stefan. Arnold. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Print.
Hamilton, Ian. A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold. London: Bloomsbury, 1998. Print.
George Levine
Victorian Poetry , Vol. 26, No. 1/2, Centennial of Matthew Arnold: 1822-1888 (Spring – Summer, 1988), pp. 143-162