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MATTHEW ARNOLD

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MATTHEW ARNOLD:

THE INTELLECTUAL CRITIC

W

E have defined a critic as a writer whose

chief interest is in his subject. He

devotes himself to discovering and presenting the truth about that subject. If he is an impassioned critic like Ruskin, his writing is highly colored by his own personality. Let the element of passion be subjected to reason, and we have the true intellectual critic, whose motto is, Truth for Truth's sake, as well as, Truth for the sake of humanity.

Matthew Arnold was perhaps the creator of pure, intellectual criticism in modern prose. Starting in life as a poet whose work as far as he went was comparable with Tennyson's, at thirty he became a school inspector, lecturer, and literary critic. As a critic of the literary value of other men's work, both in poetry and prose, but especially in poetry, he is the first of English writers, ranking with the French critics of whom Sainte-Beuve is the type. Like them, he went back to Greek models. Indeed, he led the revival in English of the style of writing and the method of thinking of which Plato is the great exemplar.

And now let us ask, What is the Greek critical style?

Matthew Arnold himself has differentiated the Hellenic and the Hebraic by saying that the Hellenic represents ideas, the Hebraic moral emotions. The one devotes itself to making truth prevail, the other to making goodness prevail. Moreover, to the Greek “ Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty,” as Keats, the typical modern Grecian in poetry, has told us. Likewise, Truth and Beauty are Simplicity. The Greek artists depended on the fiâtural lines of the human body. for their notions of the beautiful in art, leaving tớ barbarous nations intricate design and gorgeous coloring

Matthew Arnold's style is severely simple and direct. He defines his terms with the utmost accuracy and care. He tries to remove from his mind all prejudice for òr against. Before taking sides against a subject, he is careful to understand all that can be said in behalf of it. In his literary criticisms he comes as near telling us the truth about an author as perhaps any writer ever can. And then he passes on and tries to tell us the truth about ourselves, especially with regard to the element of simple beauty and perfection in our lives. This is the culture he would have us make to prevail.

Undoubtedly the essay by which Matthew Arnold is best known is that on “ Sweetness and Light,” which forms a chapter in his book

Culture and Anarchy.It was written at the point of his transition from purely literary criticism to his theological discussions such as “ St. Paul and Protestantism.” Its subject is almost identical with that of Ruskin in the introduction to “The Crown of Wild Olive," and the student of style will find great interest in comparing and contrasting the two methods of treatment.

Though passion in Matthew Arnold is always subjected to reason, still passion exists in his nature just as truly as in Ruskin. Passion is the motive force that drives on man's interest, and without it no man could devote his life to a great cause with any success.

Ruskin's passion, often prevailing over his reason, leads him into many absurdities of statement, and even into points of view essentially false. Matthew Arnold's passion never allowed him to distort his statements, or swerve from what he saw as truth and accuracy. It did, however, drive him into many barren and unprofitable subjects, such, for example, as the later theological discussions into which he was led by the same motives that caused him to write “ Culture and Anarchy.”

A later representative of the Greek spirit and literary style is Walter Pater. His writings are more polished, more severely simple, more purely classic than Matthew Arnold's; but he never rose to the range of subject and breadth of view that we find in the older writer, and, after all that

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