Billeder på siden

of his peculiar theories, Mr. Ruskin has chosen to sell his books only through a provincial bookseller, to sell them at the same price to the trade as to the public, and, last but not least, to sell them at such a price as places them almost quite beyond the reach of people of moderate means. Moreover, some of them are out of print, and not to be procured save for a sum which would seem a small fortune to many a working man. Hence arises the fact, probably unique in literary history, of the writings of a man universally admitted to be one of the greatest geniuses of his time, being very little known to the reading public at large, and being absent from the book. shelves of many of the most assiduous collectors of modern literature,

The greatest living critic and one of the greatest living poets is Matthew Arnold, son of the famous Dr. Arnold of Rugby, who revolutionised the discipline of our great public schools, and who occupies no mean rank as an historian. Mr. Arnold, who was born in 1822, was educated at Rugby, on leaving which he was elected to a scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford. The following passage from a poem by Principal Shairp, himself a distinguished critic, describes how Mr. Arnold at Oxford

“ Wide-welcomed for a father's same,
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 hall a-dream, chaunting with jaunty air

Great words of Goethe, scrap of Béranger,
We see the banter sparkle in his prose,

But knew not then the undertone that flows,
So calmly sad through all his stately lay."

During his undergraduate career, Mr. Arnold, like Mr. Ruskin, obtained the New.ligate prize for English verse. He graduated with second-class honours; and was, in 1845, elected to a Fellowship at Oriel. In 1847 he was appointed private secretary to the late Lord Landsowne, which office he retained till his marriage in 1851, when he became an Matthew Arnold.


inspector of schools, a position he still holds. His first volume, “ The Strayed Revelier, and other Poems, by A.,' appeared in 1849; the second, “Empedocles on Etna, and other Poems, by A.,” in 1852. In 1853 he published a volume of poems under his own name, consisting of selections from the two previously published volumes, along with some new pieces. Another volume followed in 1855. In 1858,

Merope," a tragedy in the Greek manner, was published, and in 1867 “ New Poems,” in which “Empedocles,” only scraps of which had been reprinted since 1852, was republished in entirety, at the request of Mr. Robert Browning. Mr. Arnold belongs to the classical school of poetry, regarding the Greeks, with their strength and simplicity of phrase and their perfect sense of form, as his masters. To the imaginative power of a true poet, he adds a delicacy and refinement of taste, and a purity and severity of phrase which uncultivated readers often mistake for boldness. Nowhere in his poems do we find those hackneyed commonplaces, decked out with gaudy and ungraceful ornament, which pass for poetry with many people. His fault rather is that he is too exclusively the poet of culture. Many of his verses will always seem flat and insipid to those who have not received a classical education, while, on the other hand, students of Greek literature will be disposed to praise certain of his pieces more highly than their intrinsic merit demands. Yet it may be doubted whether some of his work as a poet will not stand the ordeal of time better than that of any contemporary poet, Mr. Tennyson and Mr. Browning excepted. There are few poems which show such a refined sense of beauty, such dignity and self-restraint, such admirable adaptation of the form to the subject, as, to give one or two examples, Mr. Arnold's "Sohrab and Rustum,” “ Tristram and Iseult,” and the “ Forsaken Merman." On the last of these, Mr. Swinburne's eloquent and enthusiastic criticism may be quoted. The song is a piece of the sea-wind, a stray breath of the air and bloom of the bays and hills. Its mixture of mortal sorrow with the strange wild sense of a life that is not aíter mortal law, the child-like moan after lost love mingling with the pure outer note of a song not human, the look in it as of bright, bewildered eyes with tears not theirs and alien wonder in the watch of them, the tender, marvellous, simple beauty of the poem, its charm, as of a sound or a flower of the sea, set it and save it apart from all others in a niche of the memory." These glowing words of Mr. Swinburne cause us to recollect that readers have now an excellent opportunity of comparing his style with Mr. Arnold's by reading together “Tristram of Lyonesse ” and “Tristram and Iseult," in which the same legend is handled. Mr. Swinburne has many qualities as a poet which Mr. Arnold has not, yet not a few will be inclined io think that Mr. Arnold's thoughtful and touching treatment of the story is superior to Mr. Swinburne's more gorgeous but less impressive mode of dealing with it.

Mr. Arnold's first, and certainly not worst, work as a critic appeared in the form of prefaces to his poems. In 1857 he was appointed Professor of Poetry in Oxford University, which led to his publishing two series of " Lectures on Translating Homer” (1861-62), in which he advocates the use of the hexameter as the proper metre for the English translator of the author of the “Iliad.” In 1865 appeared his most celebrated prose work, the “Essays in Criticism," a precious little book, to the influence of which much of the spirit of current criticism may be traced. Defining criticism as “a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world," Mr. Arnold spared no pains to make critics feel that their duty is “to see things as they are," to shun insular prejudice and self-complacency, to avoid all eccentricity and exaggeration, never to praise with blind enthusiasm or to condemn with equally blind indignation, and to keep themselves pure from the contagion of personal, or political, or national bias. In this, as in all his prose writings, he treated with an air of bantering ridicule, beneath which lay a serious purpose, the “ Philistinism” of his countrymen, defining Philistinism as “on the side of beauty and taste, vulgarity; on the side of morality and seeling: coarseness ; on the side of mind and spirit, unintelli

Sir Arthur Helps.


gence.” One book, "Friendship’s Garland” (1871), he has entirely devoted to an assault on the kingdom of Philistia. To religious thought Mr. Arnold has contributed largely. Among his writings in this department may be mentioned “Literature and Dogma," "St. Paul and Protestantism," and “ Last Essays on Church and State." These cannot be criticised here. Their main purport has been thus tersely summarised : “His design is to retain the morality of the Old and New Testament without retaining what he thinks superstitious excrescences—the miracles, the promises of a physical life after death, and the like. In his view it was in righteousness, in "conduct,” that the prophets and our Lord placed the kingdom of heaven. He, too, holds that happiness depends on morality, and that the Bible is the great teacher and inspirer of morality. On the Continent it is being rejected because of its want of corformity to physical science. In England and America, where religion is still so strong, Mr. Arnold hopes to anticipate and weaken the crude scepticism which rejects what is true and divine because it is mixed up with what is human and erroneous." Such views as these, it is hardly necessary to say, have met with much powerful opposition; and there are few of Mr. Arnold's admirers who will not join in regretting that his advocacy of them has occupied so much time that he would have better employed in the field of literary and social criticism. Other writings of Mr. Arnold's, besides those mentioned, are “Culture and Anarchy,” “Mixed Essays,” and “Irish Essays." He has also edited selections from Wordsworth and from Byron, with very suggestive introductory essays; and has done other similar work.

One of the most pleasing of the few writers of the Victorian era whose fame has been won by essay-writing, as distinct from critical and biographical articles, is Sir Arthur Helps (18171875).

Essays Written in the Intervals of Business (1841), “Claims of Labour" (1844), and "Friends in Councii” (1847-49', are full of wise and kindly reflections on our everyday experiences, and of sagacious and high-minded advice

[ocr errors]

His o

on the conduct of life. He also won for himself a high position as an historian by his “Conquerors of the New World and their Bondsmen” (1848-51), and his “Spanish Conquest in America" (1855-61), and wrote one or two interesting novels touching on social questions. The chief attraction of his writings lies in their pure and graceful style and their elevated and healthy moral tone.

One of the ablest journalists of the day, and one of the first writers on subjects connected with political history, is John Morley (born 1838). Mr. Morley early took to journalism, and was connected as editor with several not very successful journalistic adventures. In 1867 he succeeded Mr. G. H. Lewes as editor of the Fortnightly Review, which he conducted with marked ability till October 1882, when he was succeeded by Mr. T. H. S. Escort Towards the close of 1880 he became editor of the fall Mall Gazette, when that post was vacated by Mr. Frederick Greenwood, owing to the political views of himself and the proprietor of that paper being found to be at variance. On his journalistic labours Mr. Morley has brought to bear a moral earnestness, a depth of conviction, and a ripeness and power of style surpassed by no living newspaper-writer. His principal works are two volumes on “Eimund Burke," an “Essay on Compromise;" studies of some of the leading characters of the period of the French Revolution, Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot; and a “Life of Richard Cobden," which may fairly claim to be more powerfully written and to contain more suggestive thought than any political biography in the language.

There are many other living essayists and critics who do credit to their age both by their literary skill and their patient research and wide knowledge. Among authors of the socalled “æsthetic” school, who have written with a refinement and subtlety of thought and an elaboration of form which would have been a stumbling-block to critics of the Macaulay and Jeffrey type, and which is foolishness to the Philistines, Mr. Walter H. Pater (born 1838) is especially noteworthy. - His “Studies in the History of the Renaissance" (1873),

« ForrigeFortsæt »