Изображения страниц

appreciate his own style of thought, and not only here, but especially in his later work,

Matthew Arnold may be cited as an instance of poetical heredity: for his father had composed a tragedy in blank verse at the age of seven, and when at school was the author of a poetic drama which took his. school fellows for characters, and with other effusions earned him the appellation of Poet Arnold, by which he was distinguished from another boy of the same surname. In 1812, moreover, Thomas Arnold competed for a Latin verse prize at Oxford. He was poetic, but not a poet.

Along the pleasant path that was wont to follow scholastic success, Matthew Arnold stepped out into the world. Having taken a second class, he graduated in 1844, obtained an Oriel Fellowship in 1845, and in 1847 became the private secretary of the then Marquis of Lansdowne. This post he held for several years, learning much that no school or college could have taught him, in the view behind the scenes of political and diplomatic life. In 1851 he married the daughter of the late Mr. Justice Wightman, resting, no doubt, for his material prospects on kindly promises of patronage; for an appointment as one of the Lay Inspectors of Schools, under the Committee of Council of Education, was bestowed him at a date so near to that of his marriage, that it may be considered to have been Lord Lansdowne's wedding present.

We regard Mr. Arnold, in spite of the start in life which in great part must have been owed to favouring circumstances and friends, as a strong believer in a man's making his way, if at all, by his own powers, and not by the favour of others. An instance of his adherence to this principle may be found in the fact that his first venture into the wide world of letters was not made under his own name, which, through his father's position and friends and his own, would have given adventitious aid toward his success, nor brought out by any University bookseller who might have forced a sale. Matthew Arnold went out of the channels where might have been a specially favouring tide,

and published his little volume signed "A" (a signature used by his father also in a periodical of which he was one of the conductors), in Ludgate Street, whither aspirants to Parnassus rarely stray, and where was found a bookseller not much known to fame, one, however, who in former years had brought out his father's pamphlets, and afterwards published Stanley's “Life and Correspondence."

In the principal poem of this early volume, afterwards included in the “Poems by Matthew Arnold " of 1853, there is a certain beauty, but no



After this he was sent to Winchester for two years, but did not much like the life there, and was thence removed to Rugby, where he lived at home, his father being then head-master, and attended lessons at the school. Having gained an exhibition, he went in 1840 to Balliol College, Oxford.

In 1843 Matthew Arnold won the Newdegate prize for English Ferse with his poem entitled “Cromwell.” This was printed in the same year as having been recited in the Theatre on the 28th of June, but Commemoration Day of that year was so uproarious that the poem never delivered aloud.

The young poet's first contact with “Philistinism," therefore, was among his own fellows, and he might have thought, with his longing glance toward Greece, that so unseemly a disturbance would not have been allowed at the Olympic games, or the Panathenaic festival. Perhaps, never being one to unduly estimate himself, he might have been glad to escape the ordeal of employing against these uncircumscribed Philistines the jaw-bone of power in the recitation of his own poem.

" Cromwell” is of no remarkable promise; of no manifest genius; but it is much above the average of Prize Poems. It contains beautiful passages, and shews a practised fluency, but there is no mighty presence of Cromwell in the poem. We may surmise that it would have been a very different work if its year

of appearance

had been but two or three delayed, for in 1845 appeared the first edition of the "elucidations” of Thomas Carlyle. The following from “Cromwell ” has been objected to :

With feet that spurned the ground, lo ! Milton there
Stood like a statue ; and his face was fair-
Fair beyond human beauty ; and his eye,

That knew not earth, soared upwards to the sky. But the objection is a piece of Philistinism that may match much that has since appeared in misappreciation of Matthew Arnold. The theory of the objection is, no doubt, that eye closed like Milton's could not soar upwards to the sky. If it were to be said, however, of a man who now and again grew weary of the pettiness of earth, that he found comfort in the sky, would it mean on a cloud ? The sky is an old, old symbol for life that is not of earth. Milton's eye, debarred of the external orb, looked up and found no blank, but the skyey portal of the inner world. When Mr. Matthew Arnold has shewn a literal generation how to interpret Oriental symbolism, he will have added to the number of those able to


with no glad worshipper therein. Fully allowing the present lack of the larger actions of poetic inspiration, we think aspirants would be truer to themselves if they followed Thomas Arnold than his son. The former speaks of poetry as "the most natural thing in the world,” often “regarded as the most artificial." “ It has accidentally happened,” he says, " that the language of poetry for many years in this country was quite unnatural.” “Poetical feelings,” however, "are merely, in other words, all the highest and purest feelings of our nature," and he quotes. the following in illustration of our common temper :

Our better mind
Is like a Sunday's garment, then put on
When we have nought to do,—but at our work

We wear a worse for thrift. But our rarer awakenings, our holiday garments, so to speak, neither of Sunday nor week-day, these are of the nature of poetry. If we follow the father, with these we should content ourselves, and in these find some joy; the son would say, Select your subject, make yourself feel fully its possibilities, carefully work out the whole.

The moral afforded by a consideration of the effect of Matthew Arnold's poetry goes against his theories. His larger efforts have won rather the forced approbation of critics than the favour of spontaneous minds. His “Merope" will be forgotten before his “Merman.” Strangest fact of all, his “occasional bursts,” his subtle flashes, thoughts occupying not more than a line or two of language, form the element of his work which has received the natural sanction of absorption into current thought.

For so recent a poetic appearance, Matthew Arnold's lines have become proverbial to a greater extent than is common even with the work of great poets. How often have we not taken his form upon our thoughts without remembering at the moment that his form it was ?

Yes : in the sea of life enisled,

With echoing straits between us thrown,
Dotting the shoreless watery wild,

We mortal millions live alone.

Light half-believers of our casual creeds.
Or again, from the sad and splendid “Scholar Gipsy":-

This strange disease of modern life,

With its sick hurry, its divided aims.
Who is not familiar with the epigrammatic passage from the same

Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born.

poem 2

The following seems at least to have the prestige of a few hundred years of appreciation. What is “Growing Old”

It is—last stage of all-
When we are frozen up within, and quite
The phantom of ourselves,
To hear the world applaud the hollow ghost
Which blamed the living man.

This too, we imagine, is pretty well known :

Calm soul of all things ! make it mine
To feel, amid the city's jar,
That there abides a peace of thine,
Man did not make, and cannot mar !
The will to neither strive or cry,
The power to feel with others give !
Calm, calm me more ! nor let me die
Before I have begun to live.

And here is a great truth, expressed very simply :

What poets feel not, when they make,

A pleasure in creating,
The world, in its turn, will not take

Pleasure in contemplating. In 1855 appeared a second series of “Poems," and in 1858, "Merope,” which has been already referred to, a one-act tragedy on a classic model, with a preface that some might deem the more important part of the work. Nine years later was published a second collection of verse, “ New Poems.” It seems strangely easier for poetic writers generally to allow their later works some years to mature in than to keep their first efforts back till the ink is dry. Of these “New Poems" a second edition was called for in the year following their publication: which is great honour to verse in this country at the present time. In 1869 the public was ready for more, if we may judge from the fact that in that year appeared a collective edition in two volumes; a very satisfactory work, gathering up all that was best of the author's up to

its date.

In 1858, Matthew Arnold was elected to the chair of Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford, a post for which an art-purist like himself is, no doubt, much better fitted than the masterful minstrel of the troubadour kind, who will be happy in a ragged shirt, but sees everything transfigured in the sunny land of poetic elevation. The professorial chair Matthew Arnold occupied until 1867.

[ocr errors]

The “New Poems" begin with the mournful confession of an idea which has haunted Mr. Arnold too much through life :

Though the Muse be gone away,
Though she move not earth to-day,
Souls, erewhile who caught her word,

Ah, still harp on what they heard. He feels, in other spheres also, the lack of originality which he so sweetly deplores in poetry.

In sympathy with this feeling is the saying that his father cites from Harrington, “that we are living in the dregs of the Gothic empire," and have not yet come into our own kingdom.

The noble schoolmaster, to whom we feel a personal indebtedness, since we received the benefits of the school which he had impregnated with his influence, was such a father that his son, without some great inversion, could not well have been without some measure of light. For political bias he had the splendid true Conservatism of Thomas Arnold, that “there is nothing so revolutionary, because there is nothing so unnatural and so convulsive to society, as the strain to keep things fixed.”

Here is another example of Thomas Arnold's thought:-"I am delighted that you like Oxford.

My love for any place or person, or institution, is exactly the measure of my desire to reform them; a doctrine which seems to me as natural now as it seemed strange when I was a child, when I could not make out how, if

my mother loved me more than strange children, she should find fault with me and not with them." This may be misunderstood by persons afflicted with the gadfly of discontent, or the nervous restlessness of reform ; but it can only be misunderstood by those who ignore the antecedence of love to the idea of reform.

Thomas Arnold looked upon the central idea of doctrinal Christianity as an aid, suitable to our present state, toward understanding the notion of God; or, as "supplying safely and wholesomely that want in human nature, which has shewn itself in false religions, in * making Gods after our own devices.'" “To know God the Father, that is, God as He is in Himself, in His to us incomprehensible essence, seems the great and most blessed promise reserved for us when this mortal shall have put on immortality.” One who should have said to Thomas Arnold, I know nothing of your sacred traditions, but I find God supplying my want through the large pulse of Nature, and reminding me of Himself by the voice of humanity, however disturbed,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »