Matthew Arnold pp 187-188 | Cite as


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


Arnold is sometimes discounted or dismissed on the ground that his attitudes and ideas were only those of an English-man of a particular class in a particular period, so that he is now a figure of limited historical interest. This mode of judgment—which obviously might be used against any writer of any age and which implies that Arnold was a mirror rather than a critic of his world—suggests the more positive fact that he is an eminent example of a man who speaks with something more than personal authority. His note-books, which we just looked at, are only the last of many reminders that, whether or not he had any awareness of it, Arnold was a lineal descendant of the Christian humanists of the Renaissance. Like them, he combined devotion to the ancient classics with a firm belief in the ennobling power of great literature. Like them, he believed in the transforming possibilities of education, in gradual enlightenment; and, like the greatest humanists (Erasmus, Budé, Vives, Rabelais, Montaigne, Milton, and others) and unlike modern authors and scholars, he did not disdain to write—in his case at the cost of hundreds of days—about the substance and methods of education, education for the many, not for the few. Like the humanists, he saw the end of education and life in wise and virtuous action, and envisioned a peaceful, harmonious society which would rise above individual, nationalistic, and religious struggles for power. While Arnold did not accept the super-naturalism of the Christian religion, he was close to Erasmus and the Cambridge Platonists in exalting the “philosophy” and the imitation of Christ. It might be added that it was Erasmus and Sir Thomas More who brought back into literature one of Arnold’s most effective weapons, irony.


Ancient Classic Virtuous Action Harmonious Society Christian Religion Firm Belief 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1971

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  • Douglas Bush

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