Matthew Arnold pp 169-186 | Cite as


  • Douglas Bush
Part of the Masters of World Literature Series book series


By the time of our first real contact with Arnold, in his letters to Clough (1845 f.), he had evidently given up orthodox Christian faith; but religion, his own evolving version of Christianity, remained a matter of ultimate concern throughout his life. Every chapter of this book has touched more or less on the subject, and a fair outline of Arnold’s attitudes and ideas could be drawn from his poems and from the first series of Essays in Criticism—essays on the Guérins, Marcus Aurelius, Spinoza, Joubert, Pagan and Mediaeval Religious Sentiment, A Persian Passion Play (this last of 1871)—and from Culture and Anarchy. The main theme of his religious books appeared, for instance, in the deeply felt essay on Marcus Aurelius, where Arnold emphasized “the necessity of an inspiration, a joyful emotion, to make moral action perfect”; “The paramount virtue of religion is, that it has lighted up morality” (Super, 3, 134). In other pieces of 1862–63 (Super, 3, 40–55, 65–82) he contrasted Bishop Colenso’s biblical operations with Dean Stanley’s liberal focus on essentials and with Spinoza, who treated the Bible and religious problems with the fruitful insight of a great philosopher. Spinoza—to whom, Arnold wrote to Huxley in 1878, he owed more than he could say—he discussed more fully in the later essay: the Jews of the Amsterdam synagogue who anathematized him “remained children of Israel, and he became a child of modern Europe” (Super, 3, 158). It was almost inevitable that Arnold, being himself and the son of a prominent religious liberal, should feel impelled to deal more directly and adequately with the issues of belief which were disturbing more and more people as the advance of both biblical criticism and science made those issues inescapable. (Of course Arnold moved well beyond his father’s position.)And, since belief or unbelief of any kind has a large bearing on conduct, at least on motives (Victorian skeptics were in general exemplary), Arnold was no less involved with that.


Religious Book Biblical Criticism Fruitful Insight Human Perfection Scientific Proposition 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1971

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  • Douglas Bush

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