Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Selections from the Prose Works of Matthew Arnold by Matthew Arnold

Part 1 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Produced by Charles Franks, Carol David and PG Distributed Proofreaders

[Transcriber's notes:

Bold text is denoted with ~.

In the original, footnote numbering restarted on each page, and they
were collated at the end of the text in page number order. In this
e-text, footnotes have been renumbered consecutively through the text.
However, they are still to be found in their original position after the
text, and the original page numbers have been retained in the

There is one footnote in the Preface, which is to be found in its
original position at the end of the Preface.]

* * * * *

Riverside College Classics







_Professor of English Literature in the University of Kansas_



The Riverside Press Cambridge

_The essays included in this issue of the Riverside College Classics are
reprinted by permission of, and by arrangement with, The Macmillan
Company, the American publishers of Arnold's writings._



The Riverside Press


This book of selections aims to furnish examples of Arnold's prose in
all the fields in which it characteristically employed itself except
that of religion. It has seemed better to omit all such material than to
attempt inclusion of a few extracts which could hardly give any adequate
notion of Arnold's work in this department. Something, however, of his
method in religious criticism can be discerned by a perusal of the
chapter on _Hebraism and Hellenism_, selected from _Culture and
Anarchy_. Most of Arnold's leading ideas are represented in this volume,
but the decision to use entire essays so far as feasible has naturally
precluded the possibility of gathering all the important utterances
together. The basis of division and grouping of the selections is made
sufficiently obvious by the headings. In the division of literary
criticism the endeavor has been to illustrate Arnold's cosmopolitanism
by essays of first-rate importance dealing with the four literatures
with which he was well acquainted. In the notes, conciseness with a
reasonable degree of thoroughness has been the principle followed.






1. Poetry and the Classics (1853)
2. The Function of Criticism at the Present Time (1864)
3. The Study of Poetry (1880)
4. Literature and Science (1882)


1. Heinrich Heine (1863)
2. Marcus Aurelius (1863)
3. The Contribution of the Celts to English Literature (1866)
4. George Sand (1877)
5. Wordsworth (1879)


1. Sweetness and Light (1867)
2. Hebraism and Hellenism (1867)
3. Equality (1878)




[Sidenote: Life and Personality]

"The gray hairs on my head are becoming more and more numerous, and I
sometimes grow impatient of getting old amidst a press of occupations
and labor for which, after all, I was not born. But we are not here to
have facilities found us for doing the work we like, but to make them."
This sentence, written in a letter to his mother in his fortieth year,
admirably expresses Arnold's courage, cheerfulness, and devotion in the
midst of an exacting round of commonplace duties, and at the same time
the energy and determination with which he responded to the imperative
need of liberating work of a higher order, that he might keep himself,
as he says in another letter, "from feeling starved and shrunk up." The
two feelings directed the course of his life to the end, a life
characterized no less by allegiance to "the lowliest duties" than by
brilliant success in a more attractive field.

Matthew Arnold was born at Laleham, December 24, 1822, the eldest son of
Thomas Arnold, the great head master of Rugby. He was educated at
Laleham, Winchester, Rugby, and Balliol College, Oxford. In 1845 he was
elected a fellow of Oriel, but Arnold desired to be a man of the world,
and the security of college cloisters and garden walls could not long
attract him. Of a deep affection for Oxford his letters and his books
speak unmistakably, but little record of his Oxford life remains aside
from the well-known lines of Principal Shairp, in which he is spoken of

So full of power, yet blithe and debonair,
Rallying his friends with pleasant banter gay.

From Oxford he returned to teach classics at Rugby, and
in 1847 he was appointed private secretary to Lord Lansdowne, then Lord
President of the Council. In 1851, the year of his marriage, he became
inspector of schools, and in this service he continued until two years
before his death. As an inspector, the letters give us a picture of
Arnold toiling over examination papers, and hurrying from place to
place, covering great distances, often going without lunch or dinner, or
seeking the doubtful solace of a bun, eaten "before the astonished
school." His services to the cause of English education were great, both
in the direction of personal inspiration to teachers and students, and
in thoughtful discussion of national problems. Much time was spent in
investigating foreign systems, and his _Report upon Schools and
Universities on the Continent_ was enlightened and suggestive.

Arnold's first volume of poems appeared in 1849, and by 1853 the larger
part of his poetry was published. Four years later he was appointed
Professor of Poetry at Oxford. Of his prose, the first book to attract
wide notice was that containing the lectures _On Translating Homer_
delivered from the chair of Poetry and published in 1861-62. From this
time until the year of his death appeared the remarkable series of
critical writings which have placed him in the front rank of the men of
letters of his century. He continued faithfully to fulfill his duties as
school inspector until April, 1886, when he resigned after a service of
thirty-five years. He died of heart trouble on April 15, 1888, at

The testimony to Arnold's personal charm, to his cheerfulness, his
urbanity, his tolerance and charity, is remarkably uniform. He is
described by one who knew him as "the most sociable, the most lovable,
the most companionable of men"; by another as "preeminently a good man,
gentle, generous, enduring, laborious." His letters are among the
precious writings of our time, not because of the beauty or
inimitableness of detail, but because of the completed picture which
they make. They do not, like the Carlyle-Emerson correspondence, show a
hand that could not set pen to paper without writing picturesquely, but
they do reveal a character of great soundness and sweetness, and one in
which the affections play a surprisingly important part, the love of
flowers and books, of family and friends, and of his fellow men. His
life was human, kindly and unselfish, and he allowed no clash between
the pursuit of personal perfection and devotion to the public cause,
even when the latter demanded sacrifice of the most cherished projects
and adherence to the most irritating drudgery.


[Sidenote: Arnold's Place among Nineteenth-Century Teachers]

By those who go to literature primarily for a practical wisdom presented
in terms applicable to modern life, the work of Arnold will be reckoned
highly important, if not indispensable. He will be placed by them among
the great humanizers of the last century, and by comparison with his
contemporaries will be seen to have furnished a complementary
contribution of the highest value. Of the other great teachers whose
work may most fitly be compared with his, two were preeminently men of
feeling. Carlyle was governed by an overmastering moral fervor which
gave great weight to his utterances, but which exercised itself in a
narrow field and which often distorted and misinterpreted the facts.
Ruskin was governed by his affections, and though an ardent lover of
truth and beauty, was often the victim of caprice and extravagance.
Emerson and Arnold, on the other hand, were governed primarily by the
intellect, but with quite different results. Emerson presents life in
its ideality; he comparatively neglects life in its phenomenal aspect,
that is, as it appears to the ordinary man. Arnold, while not without
emotional equipment, and inspired by idealism of a high order,
introduces a yet larger element of practical season. _Tendens manus ripae
ulterioris amore_, he is yet first of all a man of this world. His chief
instrument is common sense, and he looks at questions from the point of
view of the highly intelligent and cultivated man. His dislike of
metaphysics was as deep as Ruskin's, and he was impatient of
abstractions of any sort. With as great a desire to further the true
progress of his time as Carlyle or Ruskin, he joined a greater calmness
and disinterestedness. "To be less and less personal in one's desires
and workings" he learned to look upon as after all the great matter. Of
the lessons that are impressed upon us by his whole life and work rather
than by specific teachings, perhaps the most precious is the inspiration
to live our lives thoughtfully, in no haphazard and hand-to-mouth way,
and to live always for the idea and the spirit, making all things else
subservient. He does not dazzle us with extraordinary power prodigally
spent, but he was a good steward of natural gifts, high, though below
the highest. His life of forethought and reason may be profitably
compared with a life spoiled by passion and animalism like that of Byron
or of Burns. His counsels are the fruit of this well-ordered life and
are perfectly in consonance with it. While he was a man of less striking
personality and less brilliant literary gift than some of his
contemporaries, and though his appeal was without the moving power that
comes from great emotion, we find a compensation in his greater balance
and sanity. He makes singularly few mistakes, and these chiefly of
detail. Of all the teachings of the age his ideal of perfection is the
wisest and the most permanent.


[Sidenote: His Teachers and his Personal Philosophy]

Arnold's poetry is the poetry of meditation and not the poetry of
passion; it comes from "the depth and not the tumult of the soul"; it
does not make us more joyful, but it helps us to greater depth of
vision, greater detachment, greater power of self-possession. Our
concern here is chiefly with its relation to the prose, and this, too,
is a definite and important relation. In his prose Arnold gives such
result of his observation and meditation as he believes may be gathered
into the form of counsel, criticism, and warning to his age. In his
poetry, which preceded the prose, we find rather the processes through
which he reached these conclusions; we learn what is the nature of his
communing upon life, not as it affects society, but as it fronts the
individual; we learn who are the great thinkers of the past who came to
his help in the straits of life, and what is the armor which they
furnished for his soul in its times of stress.

One result of a perusal of the poems is to counteract the impression
often produced by the jaunty air assumed in the prose. The real
substance of Arnold's thought is characterized by a deep seriousness; no
one felt more deeply the spiritual unrest and distraction of his age.
More than one poem is an expression of its mental and spiritual
sickness, its doubt, ennui, and melancholy. Yet beside such poems as
_Dover Beach_ and _Stagirius_ should be placed the lines from
_Westminster Abbey_:--

For this and that way swings
The flux of mortal things,
Though moving inly to one far-set goal.

Out of this entanglement and distraction Arnold turned for help to those
writers who seemed most perfectly to have seized upon the eternal
verities, to have escaped out of the storm of conflict and to have
gained calm and peaceful seats. Carlyle and Ruskin, Byron and Shelley,
were stained with the blood of battle, they raged in the heat of
controversy; Arnold could not accept them as his teachers. But the Greek
poets and the ancient Stoic philosophers have nothing of this dust and
heat about them, and to them Arnold turns to gather truth and to imitate
their spirit. Similarly, two poets of modern times, Goethe and
Wordsworth, have won tranquillity. They, too, become his teachers.
Arnold's chief guides for life are, then, these: two Greek poets,
Sophocles and Homer; two ancient philosophers, Marcus Aurelius and
Epictetus; two modern poets, Goethe and Wordsworth.

In Homer and Sophocles, Arnold sought what we may call the Greek spirit.
What he conceived this spirit to be as expressed in art, we find in the
essay on _Literature and Science_, "fit details strictly combined, in
view of a large general result nobly conceived." In Sophocles, Arnold
found the same spirit interpreting life with a vision that "saw life
steadily and saw it whole." In another Greek idea, that of fate, he is
also greatly interested, though his conception of it is modified by the
influence of Christianity. From the Greek poets, then, Arnold derived a
sense of the large part which destiny plays in our lives and the wisdom
of conforming our lives to necessity; the importance of conceiving of
life as directed toward a simple, large, and noble end; and the
desirability of maintaining a balance among the demands that life makes
on us, of adapting fit details to the main purpose of life.

Among modern writers Arnold turned first to Goethe, "Europe's sagest
head, Physician of the Iron Age." One of the things that he learned from
this source was the value of detachment. In the midst of the turmoil of
life, Goethe found refuge in Art. He is the great modern example of a
man who has been able to separate himself from the struggle of life and
watch it calmly.

He who hath watch'd, not shared the strife,
Knows how the day hath gone.

Aloofness, provided it be not selfish, has its own value, and, indeed,
isolation must be recognized as a law of our existence.

Thin, thin the pleasant human noises grow,
And faint the city gleams;
Rare the lone pastoral huts--Marvel not thou!
The solemn peaks but to the stars are known,
But to the stars and the cold lunar beams;
Alone the sun rises, and alone
Spring the great streams.

From Goethe, also, Arnold derived the gospel of culture and faith in the
intellectual life. It is significant that while Carlyle and Arnold may
both be looked upon as disciples of Goethe, Carlyle's most
characteristic quotation from his master is his injunction to us to "do
the task that lies nearest us," while Arnold's is such a maxim as, "To
act is easy, to think is hard."

In some ways Wordsworth was for Arnold a personality even more congenial
than Goethe. His range, to be sure, is narrow, but he, too, has attained
spiritual peace. His life, secure among its English hills and lakes, was
untroubled in its faith. Wordsworth strongly reinforces three things in
Arnold, the ability to derive from nature its "healing power" and to
share and be glad in "the wonder and bloom of the world"; truth to the
deeper spiritual life and strength to keep his soul

Fresh, undiverted to the world without,
Firm to the mark, not spent on other things;

and finally, a satisfaction in the cheerful and serene performance of
duty, the spirit of "toil unsevered from tranquillity," sharing in the
world's work, yet keeping "free from dust and soil."

From the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and from the slave Epictetus alike,
Arnold learned to look within for "the aids to noble life." Overshadowed
on all sides by the "uno'erleaped mountains of necessity," we must learn
to resign our passionate hopes "for quiet and a fearless mind," to merge
the self in obedience to universal law, and to keep ever before our

The pure eternal course of life,
Not human combatings with death.

No conviction is more frequently reiterated in Arnold's poetry than that
of the wisdom of resignation and self-dependence.

These great masters, then, strengthened Arnold in those high instincts
which needed nourishment in a day of spiritual unrest. From the Greek
poets he learned to look at life steadily and as a whole, to direct it
toward simple and noble ends, and to preserve in it a balance and
perfection of parts. From Goethe he derived the lessons of detachment
and self-culture. From Wordsworth he learned to find peace in nature, to
pursue an unworldly purpose, and to be content with humble duties. From
the Stoics he learned, especially, self-dependence and resignation. In
general, he endeavored to follow an ideal of perfection and to
distinguish always between temporary demands and eternal values.


[Sidenote: Theory of Criticism and Equipment as a Critic]

In passing from poetry to criticism, Arnold did not feel that he was
descending to a lower level. Rather he felt that he was helping to lift
criticism to a position of equality with more properly creative work.
The most noticeable thing about his definition of criticism is its lofty
ambition. It is "the disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the
best that is known and thought in the world," and its more ultimate
purpose is "to keep man from a self-satisfaction which is retarding and
vulgarizing, to lead him towards perfection." It is not to be confined
to art and literature, but is to include within its scope society,
politics, and religion. It is not only to censure that which is
blameworthy, but to appreciate and popularize the best.

For this work great virtues are demanded of the critic. Foremost of
these is disinterestedness. "If I know your sect, I anticipate your
argument," says Emerson in the essay on _Self-Reliance_. Similarly
Arnold warns the critic against partisanship. It is better that he
refrain from active participation in politics, social or humanitarian
work. Connected with this is another requisite, that of clearness of
vision. One of the great disadvantages of partisanship is that it blinds
the partisan. But the critical effort is described as "the effort to see
the object as in itself it really is." This is best accomplished by
approaching truth in as many ways and from as many sides as possible.

Another precaution for the critic who would retain clearness of vision
is the avoidance of abstract systems, which petrify and hinder the
necessary flexibility of mind. Coolness of temper is also enjoined and
scrupulously practiced. "It is only by remaining collected ... that the
critic can do the practical man any service"; and again: "Even in one's
ridicule one must preserve a sweetness and good humor" (letter to his
mother, October 27, 1863). In addition to these virtues, which in
Arnold's opinion comprised the qualities most requisite for salutary
criticism, certain others are strikingly illustrated by Arnold's own
mind and methods: the endeavor to understand, to sympathize with, and to
guide intelligently the main tendencies of his age, rather than
violently to oppose them; at the same time the courage to present
unpleasant antidotes to its faults and to keep from fostering a people
in its own conceit; and finally, amidst many discouragements, the
retention of a high faith in spiritual progress and an unwavering belief
that the ideal life is "the normal life as we shall one day see it."

Criticism, to be effective, requires also an adequate style. In Arnold's
discussion of style, much stress is laid on its basis in character, and
much upon the transparent quality of true style which allows that basic
character to shine through. Such words as "limpidness," "simplicity,"
"lucidity," are favorites. Clearness and effectiveness are the qualities
that he most highly valued. The latter he gained especially through the
crystallization of his thought into certain telling phrases, such as
"Philistinism," "sweetness and light," "the grand style," etc. That this
habit was attended with dangers, that his readers were likely to get
hold of his phrases and think that they had thereby mastered his
thought, he realized. Perhaps he hardly realized the danger to the
coiner of apothegms himself, that of being content with a half truth
when the whole truth cannot be conveniently crowded into narrow compass.
Herein lies, I think, the chief source of Arnold's occasional failure to
quite satisfy our sense of adequacy or of justice, as, for instance, in
his celebrated handling of the four ways of regarding nature, or the
passage in which he describes the sterner self of the working-class as
liking "bawling, hustling, and smashing; the lighter self, beer."

By emotionalism, however, he does not allow himself to be betrayed, and
he does not indulge in rhythmical prose or rhapsody, though occasionally
his writing has a truly poetical quality resulting from the quiet but
deep feeling which rises in connection with a subject on which the mind
has long brooded with affection, as in the tribute to Oxford at the
beginning of the _Essay on Emerson_. Sometimes, on the other hand, a
certain pedagogic stiffness appears, as if the writer feared that the
dullness of comprehension of his readers would not allow them to grasp
even the simplest conceptions without a patient insistence on the
literal fact.

One can by no means pass over Arnold's humor in a discussion of his
style, yet humor is certainly a secondary matter with him, in spite of
the frequency of its appearance. It is not much found in his more
intimate and personal writing, his poetry and his familiar letters. In
such a book as _Friendship's Garland_, where it is most in evidence, it
is plainly a literary weapon deliberately assumed. In fact, Arnold is
almost too conscious of the value of humor in the gentle warfare in
which he had enlisted. Its most frequent form is that of playful satire;
it is the product of keen wit and sane mind, and it is always directed
toward some serious purpose, rarely, if ever, existing as an end in


[Sidenote: Literary Criticism]

The first volume of _Essays in Criticism_ was published in 1865. That a
book of essays on literary subjects, apparently so diverse in character,
so lacking in outer unity, and so little subject to system of any sort,
should take so definite a place in the history of criticism and make so
single an impression upon the reader proves its possession of a dominant
and important idea, impelled by a new and weighty power of personality.
What Arnold called his "sinuous, easy, unpolemical mode of proceeding"
tends to disguise the seriousness and unity of purpose which lie behind
nearly all of these essays, but an uninterrupted perusal of the two
volumes of _Essays in Criticism_ and the volume of _Mixed Essays_
discloses what that purpose is. The essays may roughly be divided into
two classes, those which deal with single writers and those discussing
subjects of more general nature. The purpose of both is what Arnold
himself has called "the humanization of man in society." In the former
he selects some person exemplifying a trait, in the latter he selects
some general idea, which he deems of importance for our further
humanization, and in easy, unsystematic fashion unfolds and illustrates
it for us. But in spite of this unlabored method he takes care somewhere
in the essay to seize upon a phrase that shall bring home to us the
essence of his theme and to make it salient enough so as not to escape
us. How much space shall be devoted to exposition, and how much to
illustration, depends largely on the familiarity of his subject to his
readers. Besides the general purpose of humanization, two other
considerations guide him: the racial shortcomings of the English people
and the needs of his age. The English are less in need of energizing and
moralizing than of intellectualizing, refining, and inspiring with the
passion for perfection. This need accordingly determines the choice in
most cases. So Milton presents an example of "sure and flawless
perfection of rhythm and diction"; Joubert is characterized by his
intense care of "perfecting himself"; Falkland is "our martyr of
sweetness and light, of lucidity of mind and largeness of temper";
George Sand is admirable because of her desire to make the ideal life
the normal one; Emerson is "the friend and aider of those who would live
in the spirit."

The belief that poetry is our best instrument for humanization
determines Arnold's loyalty to that form of art; that classical art is
superior to modern in clarity, harmony, and wholeness of effect,
determines his preference for classic, especially for Greek poetry. He
thus represents a reaction against the romantic movement, yet has
experienced the emotional deepening which that movement brought with it.
Accordingly, he finds a shallowness in the pseudo-classicism of Pope and
his contemporaries, and turns rather to Sophocles on the one hand and
Goethe on the other for his exemplars. He feels "the peculiar charm and
aroma of the Middle Age," but retains "a strong sense of the
irrationality of that period and of those who take it seriously, and
play at restoring it" (letter to Miss Arnold, December 17, 1860); and
again: "No one has a stronger and more abiding sense than I have of the
'daemonic' element--as Goethe called it--which underlies and encompasses
our life; but I think, as Goethe thought, that the right thing is while
conscious of this element, and of all that there is inexplicable round
one, to keep pushing on one's posts into the darkness, and to establish
no post that is not perfectly in light and firm" (letter to his mother,
March 3, 1865).


[Sidenote: Criticism of Society, Politics, and Religion]

Like the work of all clear thinkers, Arnold's writing proceeds from a
few governing and controlling principles. It is natural, therefore, that
we should find in his criticism of society a repetition of the ideas
already encountered in his literary criticism. Of these, the chief is
that of "culture," the theme of his most typical book, _Culture and
Anarchy_, published in 1869. Indeed, it is interesting to see how
closely related his doctrine of culture is to his theory of criticism,
already expounded. True criticism, we have seen, consists in an
"endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in
the world." The shortest definition that Arnold gives of culture is "a
study of perfection." But how may one pursue perfection? Evidently by
putting oneself in the way of learning the best that is known and
thought, and by making it a part of oneself. The relation of the critic
to culture thereupon becomes evident. He is the appointed apostle of
culture. He undertakes as his duty in life to seek out and to minister
to others the means of self-improvement, discriminating the evil and the
specious from the good and the genuine, rendering the former
contemptible and the latter attractive. But in a degree all seekers
after culture must be critics also. Both pursue the same objects, the
best that is thought and known. Both, too, must propagate it; for
culture consists in general expansion, and the last degree of personal
perfection is attained only when shared with one's fellows. The critic
and the true man of culture are, therefore, at bottom, the same, though
Arnold does not specifically point this out. But the two ideals united
in himself direct all his endeavor. As a man of culture he is intent
chiefly upon the acquisition of the means of perfection; as a critic,
upon their elucidation and propagation.

This sufficiently answers the charge of selfishness that in frequently
brought against the gospel of culture. It would never have been brought
if its critics had not perversely shut their eyes to Arnold's express
statements that perfection consists in "a general expansion"; that it
"is not possible while the individual remains isolated"; that one of its
characteristics is "increased sympathy," as well as "increased
sweetness, increased light, increased life." The other common charge of
dilettanteism, brought by such opponents as Professor Huxley and Mr.
Frederic Harrison, deserves hardly more consideration. Arnold has made
it sufficiently clear that he does not mean by culture "a smattering of
Greek and Latin," but a deepening and strengthening of our whole
spiritual nature by all the means at our command. No other ideal of the
century is so satisfactory as this of Arnold's. The ideal of social
democracy, as commonly followed, tends, as Arnold has pointed out, to
exalt the average man, while culture exalts man at his best. The
scientific ideal, divorced from a general cultural aim, appeals "to a
limited faculty and not to the whole man." The religious ideal, too
exclusively cultivated, dwarfs the sense of beauty and is marked by
narrowness. Culture includes religion as its most valuable component,
but goes beyond it.

The fact that Arnold, in his social as in his literary criticism, laid
the chief stress upon the intellectual rather than the moral elements of
culture, was due to his constant desire to adapt his thought to the
condition of his age and nation. The prevailing characteristics of the
English people he believed to be energy and honesty. These he contrasts
with the chief characteristics of the Athenians, openness of mind and
flexibility of intelligence. As the best type of culture, that is, of
perfected humanity, for the Englishman to emulate, he turns, therefore,
to Greece in the time of Sophocles, Greece, to be sure, failed because
of the lack of that very Hebraism which England possesses and to which
she owes her strength. But if to this strength of moral fiber could be
added the openness of mind, flexibility of intelligence, and love of
beauty which distinguished the Greeks in their best period, a truly
great civilization would result. That this ideal will in the end
prevail, he has little doubt. The strain of sadness, melancholy, and
depression which appears in Arnold's poetry is rigidly excluded from his
prose. Both despondency and violence are forbidden to the believer in
culture. "We go the way the human race is going," he says at the close
of _Culture and Anarchy_.

Arnold's incursion into the field of religion has been looked upon by
many as a mistake. Religion is with most people a matter of closer
interest and is less discussable than literary criticism. _Literature
and Dogma_, aroused much antagonism on this account. Moreover, it cannot
be denied that Arnold was not well enough equipped in this field to
prevent him from making a good many mistakes. But that the upshot of his
religious teaching is wholesome and edifying can hardly be denied.
Arnold's spirit is a deeply religious one, and his purpose in his
religious books was to save what was valuable in religion by separating
it from what was non-essential. He thought of himself always as a
friend, not as an enemy, of religion. The purpose of all his religious
writings, of which _St. Paul and Protestantism_, 1870, and _Literature
and Dogma_, 1873, are the most important, is the same, to show the
natural truth of religion and to strengthen its position by freeing it
from dependence on dogma and historical evidence, and especially to make
clear the essential value of Christianity. Conformity with reason, true
spirituality, and freedom from materialistic interpretation were for him
the bases of sound faith. That Arnold's religious writing is thoroughly
spiritual in its aim and tendency has, I think, never been questioned,
and we need only examine some of his leading definitions to become
convinced of this. Thus, religion is described as "that which binds and
holds us to the practice of righteousness"; faith is the "power,
preeminently, of holding fast to an unseen power of goodness"; God is
"the power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness"; immortality is
a union of one's life with an eternal order that never dies. Arnold did
not without reluctance enter into religious controversy, but when once
entered he did his best to make order and reason prevail there. His
attitude is well stated in an early essay not since reprinted:--

"And you are masters in Israel, and know not these things; and you
require a voice from the world of literature to tell them to you!
Those who ask nothing better than to remain silent on such topics, who
have to quit their own sphere to speak of them, who cannot touch them
without being reminded that they survive those who touched them with
far different power, you compel, in the mere interest of letters, of
intelligence, of general culture, to proclaim truths which it was your
function to have made familiar. And when you have thus forced the very
stones to cry out, and the dumb to speak, you call them singular
because they know these truths, and arrogant because they declare

In political discussion as in all other forms of criticism Arnold aimed
at disinterestedness. "I am a Liberal," he says in the Introduction to
_Culture and Anarchy_, "yet I am a Liberal tempered by experience,
reflection, and self-renouncement." In the last condition he believed
that his particular strength lay. "I do not wish to see men of culture
entrusted with power." In his coolness and freedom from bitterness is to
be found his chief superiority to his more violent contemporaries. This
saved him from magnifying the faults inseparable from the social
movements of his day. In contrast with Carlyle he retains to the end a
sympathy with the advance of democracy and a belief in the principles of
liberty and equality, while not blinded to the weaknesses of Liberalism.
Political discussion in the hands of its express partisans is always
likely to become violent and one-sided. This violence and one-sidedness
Arnold believes it the work of criticism to temper, or as he expresses
it, in _Culture and Anarchy_, "Culture is the eternal opponent of the
two things which are the signal marks of Jacobinism,--its fierceness and
its addiction to an abstract system."


[Sidenote: Conclusion]

"Un Milton jeune et voyageant" was George Sand's description of the
young Arnold. The eager pursuit of high aims, implied in this
description, he carried from youth into manhood and age. The innocence,
the hopefulness, and the noble curiosity of youth he retained to the
end. But these became tempered with the ripe wisdom of maturity, a
wisdom needed for the helpful interpretation of a perplexing period. His
prose writings are surpassed, in that spontaneous and unaccountable
inspiration which we call genius, by those of certain of his
contemporaries, but when we become exhausted by the perversities of
ill-controlled passion and find ourselves unable to breathe the rarified
air of transcendentalism, we may turn to him for the clarifying and
strengthening effect of calm intelligence and pure spirituality.

[Footnote 1: From _Dr. Stanley's Lectures on the Jewish Church,
Macmillan's Magazine_, February, 1863, vol. 7, p. 336.]



1849. _The Strayed Reveller, and other Poems_. 1852. ~Empedocles on
Etna, and other Poems~. 1853. _Poems_. 1855. _Poems_ (Second Series).
1858. _Merope_. 1867. _New Poems_. 1869. _Poems_ (First Collected
Edition). (A few new poems were added in the later collections of 1877,
1881, 1885, and 1890.)


1859. _England and the Italian Question_. 1861. _Popular Education in
France_. 1861. _On Translating Homer_. 1862. _Last Words on Translating
Homer_. 1864. _A French Eton_. 1865. _Essays in Criticism_. 1867. _On
the Study of Celtic Literature_. 1868. _Schools and Universities on the
Continent_. 1869. _Culture and Anarchy_. 1870. _St. Paul and
Protestantism_. 1871. _Friendship's Garland_. 1873. _Literature and
Dogma_. 1875. _God and the Bible_. 1877. _Last Essays on Church and
Religion_. 1879. _Mixed Essays_. 1882. _Irish Essays_. 1885. _Discourses
in America_. 1888. _Essays in Criticism_ (Second Series). 1888.
_Civilization in the United States_. 1891. _On Home Rule for Ireland_.
1910. _Essays in Criticism_ (Third Series).

For a complete bibliography of Arnold's writings and of Arnold
criticism, see _Bibliography of Matthew Arnold_, by T.B. Smart, London,
1892. The letters of Matthew Arnold, 1848-88, were edited by G.W.E.
Russell in 1896.


BIRRELL, AUGUSTINE: _Res Judicatae_, London, 1892.

BROWNELL, W.C.: _Victorian Prose Masters_, New York, 1902.

BURROUGHS, JOHN: _Indoor Studies_, Boston, 1889.

DAWSON, W.H.: _Matthew Arnold and his Relation to the Thought of our
Time_, New York, 1904.

FITCH, SIR JOSHUA: _Thomas and Matthew Arnold and their Influence on
English Education_, New York, 1897.

GATES, L.E.: _Selections from the Prose Writings of Matthew Arnold_, New
York, 1898.

HARRISON, FREDERIC: _Culture; A Dialogue_. In _The Choice of Books_,
London, 1886.

HUTTON, R.H.: _Modern Guides of English Thought in Matters of Faith_,
London, 1887.

JACOBS, JOSEPH: _Literary Studies_, London, 1895.

PAUL, HERBERT W.: _Matthew Arnold_. In _English Men of Letters Series_,
London and New York, 1902.

ROBERTSON, JOHN M.: _Modern Humanists_, London, 1891.

RUSSELL, G.W.E.: _Matthew Arnold_, New York, 1904.

SAINTSBURY, GEORGE: _Corrected Impressions_, London, 1895. _Matthew
Arnold_. In _Modern English Writers Series_, London, 1899.

SHAIRP, J.C.: _Culture and Religion_, Edinburgh, 1870.

SPEDDING, JAMES: _Reviews and Discussions_, London, 1879.

STEPHEN, SIR LESLIE: _Studies of a Biographer_, vol. 2, London, 1898.

WOODBERRY, GEORGE E.: _Makers of Literature_, London, 1900.




In two small volumes of Poems, published anonymously, one in 1849, the
other in 1852, many of the Poems which compose the present volume have
already appeared. The rest are now published for the first time.

I have, in the present collection, omitted the poem[2] from which the
volume published in 1852 took its title. I have done so, not because the
subject of it was a Sicilian Greek born between two and three thousand
years ago, although many persons would think this a sufficient reason.
Neither have I done so because I had, in my own opinion, failed in the
delineation which I intended to effect. I intended to delineate the
feelings of one of the last of the Greek religious philosophers, one of
the family of Orpheus and Musaeus, having survived his fellows, living on
into a time when the habits of Greek thought and feeling had begun fast
to change, character to dwindle, the influence of the Sophists[3] to
prevail. Into the feelings of a man so situated there are entered much
that we are accustomed to consider as exclusively modern; how much, the
fragments of Empedocles himself which remain to us are sufficient at
least to indicate. What those who are familiar only with the great
monuments of early Greek genius suppose to be its exclusive
characteristics, have disappeared; the calm, the cheerfulness, the
disinterested objectivity have disappeared; the dialogue of the mind
with itself has commenced; modern problems have presented themselves; we
hear already the doubts, we witness the discouragement, of Hamlet and of

The representation of such a man's feelings must be interesting, if
consistently drawn. We all naturally take pleasure, says Aristotle,[4]
in any imitation or representation whatever: this is the basis of our
love of poetry: and we take pleasure in them, he adds, because all
knowledge is naturally agreeable to us; not to the philosopher only, but
to mankind at large. Every representation therefore which is
consistently drawn may be supposed to be interesting, inasmuch as it
gratifies this natural interest in knowledge of all kinds. What is _not_
interesting, is that which does not add to our knowledge of any kind;
that which is vaguely conceived and loosely drawn; a representation
which is general, indeterminate, and faint, instead of being particular,
precise, and firm.

Any accurate representation may therefore be expected to be interesting;
but, if the representation be a poetical one, more than this is
demanded. It is demanded, not only that it shall interest, but also that
it shall inspirit and rejoice the reader: that it shall convey a charm,
and infuse delight. For the Muses, as Hesiod[5] says, were born that
they might be "a forgetfulness of evils, and a truce from cares": and it
is not enough that the poet should add to the knowledge of men, it is
required of him also that he should add to their happiness. "All art,"
says Schiller, "is dedicated to joy, and there is no higher and no more
serious problem, than how to make men happy. The right art is that
alone, which creates the highest enjoyment."

A poetical work, therefore, is not yet justified when it has been shown
to be an accurate, and therefore interesting representation; it has to
be shown also that it is a representation from which men can derive
enjoyment. In presence of the most tragic circumstances, represented in
a work of art, the feeling of enjoyment, as is well known, may still
subsist: the representation of the most utter calamity, of the liveliest
anguish, is not sufficient to destroy it: the more tragic the situation,
the deeper becomes the enjoyment; and the situation is more tragic in
proportion as it becomes more terrible.

What then are the situations, from the representation of which, though
accurate, no poetical enjoyment can be derived? They are those in which
the suffering finds no vent in action; in which a continuous state of
mental distress is prolonged, unrelieved by incident, hope, or
resistance; in which there is everything to be endured, nothing to be
done. In such situations there is inevitably something morbid, in the
description of them something monotonous. When they occur in actual
life, they are painful, not tragic; the representation of them in poetry
is painful also.

To this class of situations, poetically faulty as it appears to me, that
of Empedocles, as I have endeavored to represent him, belongs; and I
have therefore excluded the poem from the present collection.

And why, it may be asked, have I entered into this explanation
respecting a matter so unimportant as the admission or exclusion of the
poem in question? I have done so, because I was anxious to avow that the
sole reason for its exclusion was that which has been stated above; and
that it has not been excluded in deference to the opinion which many
critics of the present day appear to entertain against subjects chosen
from distant times and countries: against the choice, in short, of any
subjects but modern ones.

"The poet," it is said,[6] and by an intelligent critic, "the poet who
would really fix the public attention must leave the exhausted past, and
draw his subjects from matters of present import, and _therefore_ both
of interest and novelty."

Now this view I believe to be completely false. It is worth examining,
inasmuch as it is a fair sample of a class of critical dicta everywhere
current at the present day, having a philosophical form and air, but no
real basis in fact; and which are calculated to vitiate the judgment of
readers of poetry, while they exert, so far as they are adopted, a
misleading influence on the practice of those who make it.

What are the eternal objects of poetry, among all nations and at all
times? They are actions; human actions; possessing an inherent interest
in themselves, and which are to be communicated in an interesting manner
by the art of the poet. Vainly will the latter imagine that he has
everything in his own power; that he can make an intrinsically inferior
action equally delightful with a more excellent one by his treatment of
it: he may indeed compel us to admire his skill, but his work will
possess, within itself, an incurable defect.

The poet, then, has in the first place to select an excellent action;
and what actions are the most excellent? Those, certainly, which most
powerfully appeal to the great primary human affections: to those
elementary feelings which subsist permanently in the race, and which are
independent of time. These feelings are permanent and the same; that
which interests them is permanent and the same also. The modernness or
antiquity of an action, therefore, has nothing to do with its fitness
for poetical representation; this depends upon its inherent qualities.
To the elementary part of our nature, to our passions, that which is
great and passionate is eternally interesting; and interesting solely in
proportion to its greatness and to its passion. A great human action of
a thousand years ago is more interesting to it than a smaller human
action of to-day, even though upon the representation of this last the
most consummate skill may have been expended, and though it has the
advantage of appealing by its modern language, familiar manners, and
contemporary allusions, to all our transient feelings and interests.
These, however, have no right to demand of a poetical work that it shall
satisfy them; their claims are to be directed elsewhere. Poetical works
belong to the domain of our permanent passions: let them interest these,
and the voice of all subordinate claims upon them is at once silenced.

Achilles, Prometheus, Clytemnestra, Dido[7]--what modern poem presents
personages as interesting, even to us moderns, as these personages of an
"exhausted past"? We have the domestic epic dealing with the details of
modern life, which pass daily under our eyes; we have poems representing
modern personages in contact with the problems of modern life, moral,
intellectual, and social; these works have been produced by poets the
most distinguished of their nation and time; yet I fearlessly assert
that _Hermann and Dorothea_, _Childe Harold_, _Jocelyn_, the
_Excursion_,[8] leave the reader cold in comparison with the effect
produced upon him by the latter books of the _Iliad_, by the _Oresteia_,
or by the episode of Dido. And why is this? Simply because in the three
last-named cases the action is greater, the personages nobler, the
situations more intense: and this is the true basis of the interest in a
poetical work, and this alone.

It may be urged, however, that past actions may be interesting in
themselves, but that they are not to be adopted by the modern poet,
because it is impossible for him to have them clearly present to his own
mind, and he cannot therefore feel them deeply, nor represent them
forcibly. But this is not necessarily the case. The externals of a past
action, indeed, he cannot know with the precision of a contemporary; but
his business is with its essentials. The outward man of Oedipus[9] or of
Macbeth, the houses in which they lived, the ceremonies of their courts,
he cannot accurately figure to himself; but neither do they essentially
concern him. His business is with their inward man; with their feelings
and behavior in certain tragic situations, which engage their passions
as men; these have in them nothing local and casual; they are as
accessible to the modern poet as to a contemporary.

The date of an action, then, signifies nothing: the action itself, its
selection and construction, this is what is all-important. This the
Greeks understood far more clearly than we do. The radical difference
between their poetical theory and ours consists, as it appears to me, in
this: that, with them, the poetical character of the action in itself,
and the conduct of it, was the first consideration; with us, attention
is fixed mainly on the value of the separate thoughts and images which
occur in the treatment of an action. They regarded the whole; we regard
the parts. With them, the action predominated over the expression of it;
with us, the expression predominates over the action. Not that they
failed in expression, or were inattentive to it; on the contrary, they
are the highest models of expression, the unapproached masters of the
_grand style_:[10] but their expression is so excellent because it is so
admirably kept in its right degree of prominence; because it is so
simple and so well subordinated; because it draws its force directly
from the pregnancy of the matter which it conveys. For what reason was
the Greek tragic poet confined to so limited a range of subjects?
Because there are so few actions which unite in themselves, in the
highest degree, the conditions of excellence; and it was not thought
that on any but an excellent subject could an excellent poem be
constructed. A few actions, therefore, eminently adapted for tragedy,
maintained almost exclusive possession of the Greek tragic stage. Their
significance appeared inexhaustible; they were as permanent problems,
perpetually offered to the genius of every fresh poet. This too is the
reason of what appears to us moderns a certain baldness of expression in
Greek tragedy; of the triviality with which we often reproach the
remarks of the chorus, where it takes part in the dialogue: that the
action itself, the situation of Orestes, or Merope, or Alcmaeon,[11] was
to stand the central point of interest, unforgotten, absorbing,
principal; that no accessories were for a moment to distract the
spectator's attention from this, that the tone of the parts was to be
perpetually kept down, in order not to impair the grandiose effect of
the whole. The terrible old mythic story on which the drama was founded
stood, before he entered the theatre, traced in its bare outlines upon
the spectator's mind; it stood in his memory, as a group of statuary,
faintly seen, at the end of a long and dark vista: then came the poet,
embodying outlines, developing situations, not a word wasted, not a
sentiment capriciously thrown in: stroke upon stroke, the drama
proceeded: the light deepened upon the group; more and more it revealed
itself to the riveted gaze of the spectator: until at last, when the
final words were spoken, it stood before him in broad sunlight, a model
of immortal beauty. This was what a Greek critic demanded; this was
what a Greek poet endeavored to effect. It signified nothing to what
time an action belonged. We do not find that the _Persae_ occupied a
particularly high rank among the dramas of AEschylus because it
represented a matter of contemporary interest: this was not what a
cultivated Athenian required. He required that the permanent elements of
his nature should be moved; and dramas of which the action, though taken
from a long-distant mythic time, yet was calculated to accomplish this
in a higher degree than that of the _Persae_, stood higher in his
estimation accordingly. The Greeks felt, no doubt, with their exquisite
sagacity of taste, that an action of present times was too near them,
too much mixed up with what was accidental and passing, to form a
sufficiently grand, detached, and self-subsistent object for a tragic
poem. Such objects belonged to the domain of the comic poet, and of the
lighter kinds of poetry. For the more serious kinds, for _pragmatic_
poetry, to use an excellent expression of Polybius,[12] they were more
difficult and severe in the range of subjects which they permitted.
Their theory and practice alike, the admirable treatise of Aristotle,
and the unrivalled works of their poets, exclaim with a thousand
tongues--"All depends upon the subject; choose a fitting action,
penetrate yourself with the feeling of its situations; this done,
everything else will follow."

But for all kinds of poetry alike there was one point on which they were
rigidly exacting; the adaptability of the subject to the kind of poetry
selected, and the careful construction of the poem.

How different a way of thinking from this is ours! We can hardly at the
present day understand what Menander[13] meant, when he told a man who
enquired as to the progress of his comedy that he had finished it, not
having yet written a single line, because he had constructed the action
of it in his mind. A modern critic would have assured him that the merit
of his piece depended on the brilliant things which arose under his pen
as he went along. We have poems which seem to exist merely for the sake
of single lines and passages; not for the sake of producing any
total-impression. We have critics who seem to direct their attention
merely to detached expressions, to the language about the action, not to
the action itself. I verily think that the majority of them do not in
their hearts believe that there is such a thing as a total-impression to
be derived from a poem at all, or to be demanded from a poet; they think
the term a commonplace of metaphysical criticism. They will permit the
poet to select any action he pleases, and to suffer that action to go as
it will, provided he gratifies them with occasional bursts of fine
writing, and with a shower of isolated thoughts and images. That is,
they permit him to leave their poetical sense ungratified, provided that
he gratifies their rhetorical sense and their curiosity. Of his
neglecting to gratify these, there is little danger; he needs rather to
be warned against the danger of attempting to gratify these alone; he
needs rather to be perpetually reminded to prefer his action to
everything else; so to treat this, as to permit its inherent excellences
to develop themselves, without interruption from the intrusion of his
personal peculiarities: most fortunate when he most entirely succeeds in
effacing himself, and in enabling a noble action to subsist as it did in

But the modern critic not only permits a false practice: he absolutely
prescribes false aims. "A true allegory of the state of one's own mind
in a representative history," the poet is told, "is perhaps the highest
thing that one can attempt in the way of poetry." And accordingly he
attempts it. An allegory of the state of one's own mind, the highest
problem of an art which imitates actions! No assuredly, it is not, it
never can be so: no great poetical work has ever been produced with such
an aim. _Faust_ itself, in which something of the kind is attempted,
wonderful passages as it contains, and in spite of the unsurpassed
beauty of the scenes which relate to Margaret, _Faust_ itself, judged as
a whole, and judged strictly as a poetical work, is defective: its
illustrious author, the greatest poet of modern times, the greatest
critic of all times, would have been the first to acknowledge it; he
only defended his work, indeed, by asserting it to be "something

The confusion of the present times is great, the multitude of voices
counselling different things bewildering, the number of existing works
capable of attracting a young writer's attention and of becoming his
models, immense: what he wants is a hand to guide him through the
confusion, a voice to prescribe to him the aim which he should keep in
view, and to explain to him that the value of the literary works which
offer themselves to his attention is relative to their power of helping
him forward on his road towards this aim. Such a guide the English
writer at the present day will nowhere find. Failing this, all that can
be looked for, all indeed that can be desired, is, that his attention
should be fixed on excellent models; that he may reproduce, at any rate,
something of their excellence, by penetrating himself with their works
and by catching their spirit, if he cannot be taught to produce what is
excellent independently.

Foremost among these models for the English writer stands Shakespeare: a
name the greatest perhaps of all poetical names; a name never to be
mentioned without reverence. I will venture, however, to express a doubt
whether the influence of his works, excellent and fruitful for the
readers of poetry, for the great majority, has been an unmixed advantage
to the writers of it. Shakespeare indeed chose excellent subjects--the
world could afford no better than _Macbeth_, or _Romeo and Juliet_, or
_Othello_: he had no theory respecting the necessity of choosing
subjects of present import, or the paramount interest attaching to
allegories of the state of one's own mind; like all great poets, he knew
well what constituted a poetical action; like them, wherever he found
such an action, he took it; like them, too, he found his best in past
times. But to these general characteristics of all great poets he added
a special one of his own; a gift, namely, of happy, abundant, and
ingenious expression, eminent and unrivalled: so eminent as irresistibly
to strike the attention first in him and even to throw into comparative
shade his other excellences as a poet. Here has been the mischief. These
other excellences were his fundamental excellences, _as a poet_; what
distinguishes the artist from the mere amateur, says Goethe, is
_Architectonice_ in the highest sense; that power of execution which
creates, forms, and constitutes: not the profoundness of single
thoughts, not the richness of imagery, not the abundance of
illustration. But these attractive accessories of a poetical work being
more easily seized than the spirit of the whole, and these accessories
being possessed by Shakespeare in an unequalled degree, a young writer
having recourse to Shakespeare as his model runs great risk of being
vanquished and absorbed by them, and, in consequence, of reproducing,
according to the measure of his power, these, and these alone. Of this
prepondering quality of Shakespeare's genius, accordingly, almost the
whole of modern English poetry has, it appears to me, felt the
influence. To the exclusive attention on the part of his imitators to
this, it is in a great degree owing that of the majority of modern
poetical works the details alone are valuable, the composition
worthless. In reading them one is perpetually reminded of that terrible
sentence on a modern French poet,--_il dit tout ce qu'il veut, mais
malheureusement il n'a rien a dire._[14]

Let me give an instance of what I mean. I will take it from the works of
the very chief among those who seem to have been formed in the school of
Shakespeare; of one whose exquisite genius and pathetic death render him
forever interesting. I will take the poem of _Isabella, or the Pot of
Basil_, by Keats. I choose this rather than the _Endymion_, because the
latter work (which a modern critic has classed with the Faery Queen!),
although undoubtedly there blows through it the breath of genius, is yet
as a whole so utterly incoherent, as not strictly to merit the name of a
poem at all. The poem of _Isabella_, then, is a perfect treasure-house
of graceful and felicitous words and images: almost in every stanza
there occurs one of those vivid and picturesque turns of expression, by
which the object is made to flash upon the eye of the mind, and which
thrill the reader with a sudden delight. This one short poem contains,
perhaps, a greater number of happy single expressions which one could
quote than all the extant tragedies of Sophocles. But the action, the
story? The action in itself is an excellent one; but so feebly is it
conceived by the poet, so loosely constructed, that the effect produced
by it, in and for itself, is absolutely null. Let the reader, after he
has finished the poem of Keats, turn to the same story in the
_Decameron_:[15] he will then feel how pregnant and interesting the same
action has become in the hands of a great artist, who above all things
delineates his object; who subordinates expression to that which it is
designed to express.

I have said that the imitators of Shakespeare, fixing their attention on
his wonderful gift of expression, have directed their imitation to this,
neglecting his other excellences. These excellences, the fundamental
excellences of poetical art, Shakespeare no doubt possessed them--
possessed many of them in a splendid degree; but it may perhaps be
doubted whether even he himself did not sometimes give scope to his
faculty of expression to the prejudice of a higher poetical duty. For we
must never forget that Shakespeare is the great poet he is from his
skill in discerning and firmly conceiving an excellent action, from his
power of intensely feeling a situation, of intimately associating
himself with a character; not from his gift of expression, which rather
even leads him astray, degenerating sometimes into a fondness for
curiosity of expression, into an irritability of fancy, which seems to
make it impossible for him to say a thing plainly, even when the press
of the action demands the very directest language, or its level
character the very simplest. Mr. Hallam,[16] than whom it is impossible
to find a saner and more judicious critic, has had the courage (for at
the present day it needs courage) to remark, how extremely and faultily
difficult Shakespeare's language often is. It is so: you may find main
scenes in some of his greatest tragedies, _King Lear_, for instance,
where the language is so artificial, so curiously tortured, and so
difficult, that every speech has to be read two or three times before
its meaning can be comprehended. This over-curiousness of expression is
indeed but the excessive employment of a wonderful gift--of the power
of saying a thing in a happier way than any other man; nevertheless, it
is carried so far that one understands what M. Guizot[17] meant when he
said that Shakespeare appears in his language to have tried all styles
except that of simplicity. He has not the severe and scrupulous
self-restraint of the ancients, partly, no doubt, because he had a far
less cultivated and exacting audience. He has indeed a far wider range
than they had, a far richer fertility of thought; in this respect he
rises above them. In his strong conception of his subject, in the
genuine way in which he is penetrated with it, he resembles them, and is
unlike the moderns. But in the accurate limitation of it, the
conscientious rejection of superfluities, the simple and rigorous
development of it from the first line of his work to the last, he falls
below them, and comes nearer to the moderns. In his chief works, besides
what he has of his own, he has the elementary soundness of the ancients;
he has their important action and their large and broad manner; but he
has not their purity of method. He is therefore a less safe model; for
what he has of his own is personal, and inseparable from his own rich
nature; it may be imitated and exaggerated, it cannot be learned or
applied as an art. He is above all suggestive; more valuable, therefore,
to young writers as men than as artists. But clearness of arrangement,
rigor of development, simplicity of style--these may to a certain extent
be learned: and these may, I am convinced, be learned best from the
ancients, who, although infinitely less suggestive than Shakespeare, are
thus, to the artist, more instructive.

What then, it will be asked, are the ancients to be our sole models? the
ancients with their comparatively narrow range of experience, and their
widely different circumstances? Not, certainly, that which is narrow in
the ancients, nor that in which we can no longer sympathize. An action
like the action of the _Antigone_ of Sophocles, which turns upon the
conflict between the heroine's duty to her brother's corpse and that to
the laws of her country, is no longer one in which it is possible that
we should feel a deep interest. I am speaking too, it will be
remembered, not of the best sources of intellectual stimulus for the
general reader, but of the best models of instruction for the individual
writer. This last may certainly learn of the ancients, better than
anywhere else, three things which it is vitally important for him to
know:--the all-importance of the choice of a subject; the necessity of
accurate construction; and the subordinate character of expression. He
will learn from them how unspeakably superior is the effect of the one
moral impression left by a great action treated as a whole, to the
effect produced by the most striking single thought or by the happiest
image. As he penetrates into the spirit of the great classical works, as
he becomes gradually aware of their intense significance, their noble
simplicity, and their calm pathos, he will be convinced that it is this
effect, unity and profoundness of moral impression, at which the ancient
poets aimed; that it is this which constitutes the grandeur of their
works, and which makes them immortal. He will desire to direct his own
efforts towards producing the same effect. Above all, he will deliver
himself from the jargon of modern criticism, and escape the danger of
producing poetical works conceived in the spirit of the passing time,
and which partake of its transitoriness.

The present age makes great claims upon us: we owe it service, it will
not be satisfied without our admiration. I know not how it is, but their
commerce with the ancients appears to me to produce, in those who
constantly practise it, a steadying and composing effect upon their
judgment, not of literary works only, but of men and events in general.
They are like persons who have had a very weighty and impressive
experience; they are more truly than others under the empire of facts,
and more independent of the language current among those with whom they
live. They wish neither to applaud nor to revile their age: they wish to
know what it is, what it can give them, and whether this is what they
want. What they want, they know very well; they want to educe and
cultivate what is best and noblest in themselves: they know, too, that
this is no easy task--[Greek: Chalepon] as Pittacus[18] said,[Greek:
Chalepon esthlonemmenai]--and they ask themselves sincerely whether
their age and its literature can assist them in the attempt. If they are
endeavoring to practise any art, they remember the plain and simple
proceedings of the old artists, who attained their grand results by
penetrating themselves with some noble and significant action, not by
inflating themselves with a belief in the preeminent importance and
greatness of their own times. They do not talk of their mission, nor of
interpreting their age, nor of the coming poet; all this, they know, is
the mere delirium of vanity; their business is not to praise their age,
but to afford to the men who live in it the highest pleasure which they
are capable of feeling. If asked to afford this by means of subjects
drawn from the age itself, they ask what special fitness the present age
has for supplying them. They are told that it is an era of progress, an
age commissioned to carry out the great ideas of industrial development
and social amelioration. They reply that with all this they can do
nothing; that the elements they need for the exercise of their art are
great actions, calculated powerfully and delightfully to affect what is
permanent in the human soul; that so far as the present age can supply
such actions, they will gladly make use of them; but that an age wanting
in moral grandeur can with difficulty supply such, and an age of
spiritual discomfort with difficulty be powerfully and delightfully
affected by them.

A host of voices will indignantly rejoin that the present age is
inferior to the past neither in moral grandeur nor in spiritual health.
He who possesses the discipline I speak of will content himself with
remembering the judgments passed upon the present age, in this respect,
by the men of strongest head and widest culture whom it has produced; by
Goethe and by Niebuhr.[19] It will be sufficient for him that he knows
the opinions held by these two great men respecting the present age and
its literature; and that he feels assured in his own mind that their
aims and demands upon life were such as he would wish, at any rate, his
own to be; and their judgment as to what is impeding and disabling such
as he may safely follow. He will not, however, maintain a hostile
attitude towards the false pretensions of his age; he will content
himself with not being overwhelmed by them. He will esteem himself
fortunate if he can succeed in banishing from his mind all feelings of
contradiction, and irritation, and impatience; in order to delight
himself with the contemplation of some noble action of a heroic time,
and to enable others, through his representation of it, to delight in it

I am far indeed from making any claim, for myself, that I possess this
discipline; or for the following poems, that they breathe its spirit.
But I say, that in the sincere endeavor to learn and practise, amid the
bewildering confusion of our times, what is sound and true in poetical
art, I seemed to myself to find the only sure guidance, the only solid
footing, among the ancients. They, at any rate, knew what they wanted in
art, and we do not. It is this uncertainty which is disheartening, and
not hostile criticism. How often have I felt this when reading words of
disparagement or of cavil: that it is the uncertainty as to what is
really to be aimed at which makes our difficulty, not the
dissatisfaction of the critic, who himself suffers from the same
uncertainty. _Non me tua fervida terrent Dicta; ... Dii me terrent, et
Jupiter hostis._[20] Two kinds of _dilettanti_, says Goethe, there are
in poetry: he who neglects the indispensable mechanical part, and thinks
he has done enough if he shows spirituality and feeling; and he who
seeks to arrive at poetry merely by mechanism, in which he can acquire
an artisan's readiness, and is without soul and matter. And he adds,
that the first does most harm to art, and the last to himself. If we
must be _dilettanti_: if it is impossible for us, under the
circumstances amidst which we live, to think clearly, to feel nobly, and
to delineate firmly: if we cannot attain to the mastery of the great
artists--let us, at least, have so much respect for our art as to prefer
it to ourselves. Let us not bewilder our successors: let us transmit to
them the practice of poetry, with its boundaries and wholesome
regulative laws, under which excellent works may again, perhaps, at some
future time, be produced, not yet fallen into oblivion through our
neglect, not yet condemned and cancelled by the influence of their
eternal enemy, caprice.


Many objections have been made to a proposition which, in some remarks
of mine[22] on translating Homer, I ventured to put forth; a proposition
about criticism, and its importance at the present day. I said: "Of the
literature of France and Germany, as of the intellect of Europe in
general, the main effort, for now many years, has been a critical
effort; the endeavor, in all branches of knowledge, theology,
philosophy, history, art, science, to see the object as in itself it
really is." I added, that owing to the operation in English literature
of certain causes, "almost the last thing for which one would come to
English literature is just that very thing which now Europe most
desires,--criticism"; and that the power and value of English literature
was thereby impaired. More than one rejoinder declared that the
importance I here assigned to criticism was excessive, and asserted the
inherent superiority of the creative effort of the human spirit over its
critical effort. And the other day, having been led by a Mr.
Shairp's[23] excellent notice of Wordsworth[24] to turn again to his
biography, I found, in the words of this great man, whom I, for one,
must always listen to with the profoundest respect, a sentence passed on
the critic's business, which seems to justify every possible
disparagement of it. Wordsworth says in one of his letters[25]:--

"The writers in these publications" (the Reviews), "while they prosecute
their inglorious employment, cannot be supposed to be in a state of mind
very favorable for being affected by the finer influences of a thing so
pure as genuine poetry."

And a trustworthy reporter of his conversation quotes a more elaborate
judgment to the same effect:--

"Wordsworth holds the critical power very low, infinitely lower than the
inventive; and he said to-day that if the quantity of time consumed in
writing critiques on the works of others were given to original
composition, of whatever kind it might be, it would be much better
employed; it would make a man find out sooner his own level, and it
would do infinitely less mischief. A false or malicious criticism may do
much injury to the minds of others, a stupid invention, either in prose
or verse, is quite harmless."

It is almost too much to expect of poor human nature, that a man capable
of producing some effect in one line of literature, should, for the
greater good of society, voluntarily doom himself to impotence and
obscurity in another. Still less is this to be expected from men
addicted to the composition of the "false or malicious criticism" of
which Wordsworth speaks. However, everybody would admit that a false or
malicious criticism had better never have been written. Everybody, too,
would be willing to admit, as a general proposition, that the critical
faculty is lower than the inventive. But is it true that criticism is
really, in itself, a baneful and injurious employment; is it true that
all time given to writing critiques on the works of others would be much
better employed if it were given to original composition, of whatever
kind this may be? Is it true that Johnson had better have gone on
producing more _Irenes_[26] instead of writing his _Lives of the Poets_;
nay, is it certain that Wordsworth himself was better employed in making
his Ecclesiastical Sonnets than when he made his celebrated Preface[27]
so full of criticism, and criticism of the works of others? Wordsworth
was himself a great critic, and it is to be sincerely regretted that he
has not left us more criticism; Goethe was one of the greatest of
critics, and we may sincerely congratulate ourselves that he has left us
so much criticism. Without wasting time over the exaggeration which
Wordsworth's judgment on criticism clearly contains, or over an attempt
to trace the causes,--not difficult, I think, to be traced,--which may
have led Wordsworth to this exaggeration, a critic may with advantage
seize an occasion for trying his own conscience, and for asking himself
of what real service at any given moment the practice of criticism
either is or may be made to his own mind and spirit, and to the minds
and spirits of others.

The critical power is of lower rank than the creative. True; but in
assenting to this proposition, one or two things are to be kept in mind.
It is undeniable that the exercise of a creative power, that a free
creative activity, is the highest function of man; it is proved to be so
by man's finding in it his true happiness. But it is undeniable, also,
that men may have the sense of exercising this free creative activity in
other ways than in producing great works of literature or art; if it
were not so, all but a very few men would be shut out from the true
happiness of all men. They may have it in well-doing, they may have it
in learning, they may have it even in criticizing. This is one thing to
be kept in mind. Another is, that the exercise of the creative power in
the production of great works of literature or art, however high this
exercise of it may rank, is not at all epochs and under all conditions
possible; and that therefore labor may be vainly spent in attempting it,
which might with more fruit be used in preparing for it, in rendering it
possible. This creative power works with elements, with materials; what
if it has not those materials, those elements, ready for its use? In
that case it must surely wait till they are ready. Now, in literature,--
I will limit myself to literature, for it is about literature that the
question arises,--the elements with which the creative power works are
ideas; the best ideas on every matter which literature touches, current
at the time. At any rate we may lay it down as certain that in modern
literature no manifestation of the creative power not working with these
can be very important or fruitful. And I say _current_ at the time, not
merely accessible at the time; for creative literary genius does not
principally show itself in discovering new ideas: that is rather the
business of the philosopher. The grand work of literary genius is a work
of synthesis and exposition, not of analysis and discovery; its gift
lies in the faculty of being happily inspired by a certain intellectual
and spiritual atmosphere, by a certain order of ideas, when it finds
itself in them; of dealing divinely with these ideas, presenting them in
the most effective and attractive combinations,--making beautiful works
with them, in short. But it must have the atmosphere, it must find
itself amidst the order of ideas, in order to work freely; and these it
is not so easy to command. This is why great creative epochs in
literature are so rare, this is why there is so much that is
unsatisfactory in the productions of many men of real genius; because,
for the creation of a master-work of literature two powers must concur,
the power of the man and the power of the moment, and the man is not
enough without the moment; the creative power has, for its happy
exercise, appointed elements, and those elements are not in its own

Nay, they are more within the control of the critical power. It is the
business of the critical power, as I said in the words already quoted,
"in all branches of knowledge, theology, philosophy, history, art,
science, to see the object as in itself it really is." Thus it tends, at
last, to make an intellectual situation of which the creative power can
profitably avail itself. It tends to establish an order of ideas, if not
absolutely true, yet true by comparison with that which it displaces; to
make the best ideas prevail. Presently these new ideas reach society,
the touch of truth is the touch of life, and there is a stir and growth
everywhere; out of this stir and growth come the creative epochs of

Or, to narrow our range, and quit these considerations of the general
march of genius and of society,--considerations which are apt to become
too abstract and impalpable,--every one can see that a poet, for
instance, ought to know life and the world before dealing with them in
poetry; and life and the world being in modern times very complex
things, the creation of a modern poet, to be worth much, implies a great
critical effort behind it; else it must be a comparatively poor, barren,
and short-lived affair. This is why Byron's poetry had so little
endurance in it, and Goethe's so much; both Byron and Goethe had a great
productive power, but Goethe's was nourished by a great critical effort
providing the true materials for it, and Byron's was not; Goethe knew
life and the world, the poet's necessary subjects, much more
comprehensively and thoroughly than Byron. He knew a great deal more of
them, and he knew them much more as they really are.

It has long seemed to me that the burst of creative activity in our
literature, through the first quarter of this century, had about it in
fact something premature; and that from this cause its productions are
doomed, most of them, in spite of the sanguine hopes which accompanied
and do still accompany them, to prove hardly more lasting than the
productions of far less splendid epochs. And this prematureness comes
from its having proceeded without having its proper data, without
sufficient materials to work with. In other words, the English poetry of
the first quarter of this century, with plenty of energy, plenty of
creative force, did not know enough. This makes Byron so empty of
matter, Shelley so incoherent, Wordsworth even, profound as he is, yet
so wanting in completeness and variety. Wordsworth cared little for
books, and disparaged Goethe. I admire Wordsworth, as he is, so much
that I cannot wish him different; and it is vain, no doubt, to imagine
such a man different from what he is, to suppose that he _could_ have
been different. But surely the one thing wanting to make Wordsworth an
even greater poet than he is,--his thought richer, and his influence of
wider application,--was that he should have read more books, among them,
no doubt, those of that Goethe whom he disparaged without reading him.

But to speak of books and reading may easily lead to a misunderstanding
here. It was not really books and reading that lacked to our poetry at
this epoch: Shelley had plenty of reading, Coleridge had immense
reading. Pindar and Sophocles--as we all say so glibly, and often with
so little discernment of the real import of what we are saying--had not
many books; Shakespeare was no deep reader. True; but in the Greece of
Pindar and Sophocles, in the England of Shakespeare, the poet lived in a
current of ideas in the highest degree animating and nourishing to the
creative power; society was, in the fullest measure, permeated by fresh
thought, intelligent and alive. And this state of things is the true
basis for the creative power's exercise, in this it finds its data, its
materials, truly ready for its hand; all the books and reading in the
world are only valuable as they are helps to this. Even when this does
not actually exist, books and reading may enable a man to construct a
kind of semblance of it in his own mind, a world of knowledge and
intelligence in which he may live and work. This is by no means an
equivalent to the artist for the nationally diffused life and thought of
the epochs of Sophocles or Shakespeare; but, besides that it may be a
means of preparation for such epochs, it does really constitute, if many
share in it, a quickening and sustaining atmosphere of great value. Such
an atmosphere the many-sided learning and the long and widely combined
critical effort of Germany formed for Goethe, when he lived and worked.
There was no national glow of life and thought there as in the Athens of
Pericles or the England of Elizabeth. That was the poet's weakness. But
there was a sort of equivalent for it in the complete culture and
unfettered thinking of a large body of Germans. That was his strength.
In the England of the first quarter of this century there was neither a
national glow of life and thought, such as we had in the age of
Elizabeth, nor yet a culture and a force of learning and criticism such
as were to be found in Germany. Therefore the creative power of poetry
wanted, for success in the highest sense, materials and a basis; a
thorough interpretation of the world was necessarily denied to it.

At first sight it seems strange that out of the immense stir of the
French Revolution and its age should not have come a crop of works of
genius equal to that which came out of the stir of the great productive
time of Greece, or out of that of the Renascence, with its powerful
episode the Reformation. But the truth is that the stir of the French
Revolution took a character which essentially distinguished it from such
movements as these. These were, in the main, disinterestedly
intellectual and spiritual movements; movements in which the human
spirit looked for its satisfaction in itself and in the increased play
of its own activity. The French Revolution took a political, practical
character. The movement, which went on in France under the old regime,
from 1700 to 1789, was far more really akin than that of the Revolution
itself to the movement of the Renascence; the France of Voltaire and
Rousseau told far more powerfully upon the mind of Europe than the
France of the Revolution. Goethe reproached this last expressly with
having "thrown quiet culture back." Nay, and the true key to how much in
our Byron, even in our Wordsworth, is this!--that they had their source
in a great movement of feeling, not in a great movement of mind. The
French Revolution, however,--that object of so much blind love and so
much blind hatred,--found undoubtedly its motive-power in the
intelligence of men, and not in their practical sense; this is what
distinguishes it from the English Revolution of Charles the First's
time. This is what makes it a more spiritual event than our Revolution,
an event of much more powerful and world-wide interest, though
practically less successful; it appeals to an order of ideas which are
universal, certain, permanent. 1789 asked of a thing, Is it rational?
1642 asked of a thing, Is it legal? or, when it went furthest, Is it
according to conscience? This is the English fashion, a fashion to be
treated, within its own sphere, with the highest respect; for its
success, within its own sphere, has been prodigious. But what is law in
one place is not law in another; what is law here to-day is not law even
here to-morrow; and as for conscience, what is binding on one man's
conscience is not binding on another's. The old woman[28] who threw her
stool at the head of the surpliced minister in St. Giles's Church at
Edinburgh obeyed an impulse to which millions of the human race may be
permitted to remain strangers. But the prescriptions of reason are
absolute, unchanging, of universal validity; _to count by tens is the
easiest way of counting_--that is a proposition of which every one, from
here to the Antipodes, feels the force; at least I should say so if we
did not live in a country where it is not impossible that any morning we
may find a letter in the _Times_ declaring that a decimal coinage is an
absurdity. That a whole nation should have been penetrated with an
enthusiasm for pure reason, and with an ardent zeal for making its
prescriptions triumph, is a very remarkable thing, when we consider how
little of mind, or anything so worthy and quickening as mind, comes into
the motives which alone, in general, impel great masses of men. In spite
of the extravagant direction given to this enthusiasm, in spite of the
crimes and follies in which it lost itself, the French Revolution
derives from the force, truth, and universality of the ideas which it
took for its law, and from the passion with which it could inspire a
multitude for these ideas, a unique and still living power; it is,--it
will probably long remain,--the greatest, the most animating event in
history. And as no sincere passion for the things of the mind, even
though it turn out in many respects an unfortunate passion, is ever
quite thrown away and quite barren of good, France has reaped from hers
one fruit--the natural and legitimate fruit though not precisely the
grand fruit she expected: she is the country in Europe where _the
people_ is most alive.

But the mania for giving an immediate political and practical
application to all these fine ideas of the reason was fatal. Here an
Englishman is in his element: on this theme we can all go on for hours.
And all we are in the habit of saying on it has undoubtedly a great deal
of truth. Ideas cannot be too much prized in and for themselves, cannot
be too much lived with; but to transport them abruptly into the world of
politics and practice, violently to revolutionize this world to their
bidding,--that is quite another thing. There is the world of ideas and
there is the world of practice; the French are often for suppressing the
one and the English the other; but neither is to be suppressed. A member
of the House of Commons said to me the other day: "That a thing is an
anomaly, I consider to be no objection to it whatever." I venture to
think he was wrong; that a thing is an anomaly _is_ an objection to it,
but absolutely and in the sphere of ideas: it is not necessarily, under
such and such circumstances, or at such and such a moment, an objection
to it in the sphere of politics and practice. Joubert has said
beautifully: "C'est la force et le droit qui reglent toutes choses dans
le monde; la force en attendant le droit."[29] (Force and right are the
governors of this world; force till right is ready.) _Force till right
is ready_; and till right is ready, force, the existing order of things,
is justified, is the legitimate ruler. But right is something moral, and
implies inward recognition, free assent of the will; we are not ready
for right,--_right_, so far as we are concerned, _is not ready_,--until
we have attained this sense of seeing it and willing it. The way in
which for us it may change and transform force, the existing order of
things, and become, in its turn, the legitimate ruler of the world,
should depend on the way in which, when our time comes, we see it and
will it. Therefore for other people enamored of their own newly
discerned right, to attempt to impose it upon us as ours, and violently
to substitute their right for our force, is an act of tyranny, and to be
resisted. It sets at naught the second great half of our maxim, _force
till right is ready_. This was the grand error of the French Revolution;
and its movement of ideas, by quitting the intellectual sphere and
rushing furiously into the political sphere, ran, indeed, a prodigious
and memorable course, but produced no such intellectual fruit as the
movement of ideas of the Renascence, and created, in opposition to
itself, what I may call an _epoch of concentration_. The great force of
that epoch of concentration was England; and the great voice of that
epoch of concentration was Burke. It is the fashion to treat Burke's
writings on the French Revolution[30] as superannuated and conquered by
the event; as the eloquent but unphilosophical tirades of bigotry and
prejudice. I will not deny that they are often disfigured by the
violence and passion of the moment, and that in some directions Burke's
view was bounded, and his observation therefore at fault. But on the
whole, and for those who can make the needful corrections, what
distinguishes these writings is their profound, permanent, fruitful,
philosophical truth. They contain the true philosophy of an epoch of
concentration, dissipate the heavy atmosphere which its own nature is
apt to engender round it, and make its resistance rational instead of

But Burke is so great because, almost alone in England, he brings
thought to bear upon politics, he saturates politics with thought. It is
his accident that his ideas were at the service of an epoch of
concentration, not of an epoch of expansion; it is his characteristic
that he so lived by ideas, and had such a source of them welling up
within him, that he could float even an epoch of concentration and
English Tory politics with them. It does not hurt him that Dr. Price[31]
and the Liberals were enraged with him; it does not even hurt him that
George the Third and the Tories were enchanted with him. His greatness
is that he lived in a world which neither English Liberalism nor English
Toryism is apt to enter;--the world of ideas, not the world of
catchwords and party habits. So far is it from being really true of him
that he "to party gave up what was meant for mankind,"[32] that at the
very end of his fierce struggle with the French Revolution, after all
his invectives against its false pretensions, hollowness, and madness,
with his sincere convictions of its mischievousness, he can close a
memorandum on the best means of combating it, some of the last pages he
ever wrote,--the _Thoughts on French Affairs_, in December 1791,--with
these striking words:--

"The evil is stated, in my opinion, as it exists. The remedy must be
where power, wisdom, and information, I hope, are more united with good
intentions than they can be with me. I have done with this subject, I
believe, forever. It has given me many anxious moments for the last two
years. _If a great change is to be made in human affairs, the minds of
men will be fitted to it; the general opinions and feelings will draw
that way. Every fear, every hope will forward it: and then they who
persist in opposing this mighty current in human affairs, will appear
rather to resist the decrees of Providence itself, than the mere designs
of men. They will not be resolute and firm, but perverse and

That return of Burke upon himself has always seemed to me one of the
finest things in English literature, or indeed in any literature. That
is what I call living by ideas: when one side of a question has long had
your earnest support, when all your feelings are engaged, when you hear
all round you no language but one, when your party talks this language
like a steam-engine and can imagine no other,--still to be able to
think, still to be irresistibly carried, if so it be, by the current of
thought to the opposite side of the question, and, like Balaam,[33] to
be unable to speak anything _but what the Lord has put in your mouth_. I
know nothing more striking, and I must add that I know nothing more

For the Englishman in general is like my friend the Member of
Parliament, and believes, point-blank, that for a thing to be an anomaly
is absolutely no objection to it whatever. He is like the Lord
Auckland[34] of Burke's day, who, in a memorandum on the French
Revolution, talks of "certain miscreants, assuming the name of
philosophers, who have presumed themselves capable of establishing a new
system of society." The Englishman has been called a political animal,
and he values what is political and practical so much that ideas easily
become objects of dislike in his eyes, and thinkers "miscreants,"
because ideas and thinkers have rashly meddled with politics and
practice. This would be all very well if the dislike and neglect
confined themselves to ideas transported out of their own sphere, and
meddling rashly with practice; but they are inevitably extended to ideas
as such, and to the whole life of intelligence; practice is everything,
a free play of the mind is nothing. The notion of the free play of the
mind upon all subjects being a pleasure in itself, being an object of
desire, being an essential provider of elements without which a nation's
spirit, whatever compensations it may have for them, must, in the long
run, die of inanition, hardly enters into an Englishman's thoughts. It
is noticeable that the word _curiosity_, which in other languages is
used in a good sense, to mean, as a high and fine quality of man's
nature, just this disinterested love of a free play of the mind on all
subjects, for its own sake,--it is noticeable, I say, that this word has
in our language no sense of the kind, no sense but a rather bad and
disparaging one. But criticism, real criticism, is essentially the
exercise of this very quality. It obeys an instinct prompting it to try
to know the best that is known and thought in the world, irrespectively
of practice, politics, and everything of the kind; and to value
knowledge and thought as they approach this best, without the intrusion
of any other considerations whatever. This is an instinct for which
there is, I think, little original sympathy in the practical English
nature, and what there was of it has undergone a long benumbing period
of blight and suppression in the epoch of concentration which followed
the French Revolution.

But epochs of concentration cannot well endure forever; epochs of
expansion, in the due course of things, follow them. Such an epoch of
expansion seems to be opening in this country. In the first place all
danger of a hostile forcible pressure of foreign ideas upon our practice
has long disappeared; like the traveller in the fable, therefore, we
begin to wear our cloak a little more loosely. Then, with a long peace,
the ideas of Europe steal gradually and amicably in, and mingle, though
in infinitesimally small quantities at a time, with our own notions.
Then, too, in spite of all that is said about the absorbing and
brutalizing influence of our passionate material progress, it seems to
me indisputable that this progress is likely, though not certain, to
lead in the end to an apparition of intellectual life; and that man,
after he has made himself perfectly comfortable and has now to determine
what to do with himself next, may begin to remember that he has a mind,
and that the mind may be made the source of great pleasure. I grant it
is mainly the privilege of faith, at present, to discern this end to our
railways, our business, and our fortune-making; but we shall see if,
here as elsewhere, faith is not in the end the true prophet. Our ease,
our travelling, and our unbounded liberty to hold just as hard and
securely as we please to the practice to which our notions have given
birth, all tend to beget an inclination to deal a little more freely
with these notions themselves, to canvass them a little, to penetrate a
little into their real nature. Flutterings of curiosity, in the foreign
sense of the word, appear amongst us, and it is in these that criticism
must look to find its account. Criticism first; a time of true creative
activity, perhaps,--which, as I have said, must inevitably be preceded
amongst us by a time of criticism,--hereafter, when criticism has done
its work.

It is of the last importance that English criticism should clearly
discern what rule for its course, in order to avail itself of the field
now opening to it, and to produce fruit for the future, it ought to
take. The rule may be summed up in one word,--_disinterestedness_. And
how is criticism to show disinterestedness? By keeping aloof from what
is called "the practical view of things"; by resolutely following the
law of its own nature, which is to be a free play of the mind on all
subjects which it touches. By steadily refusing to lend itself to any of
those ulterior, political, practical considerations about ideas, which
plenty of people will be sure to attach to them, which perhaps ought
often to be attached to them, which in this country at any rate are
certain to be attached to them quite sufficiently, but which criticism
has really nothing to do with. Its business is, as I have said, simply
to know the best that is known and thought in the world, and by in its
turn making this known, to create a current of true and fresh ideas. Its
business is to do this with inflexible honesty, with due ability; but
its business is to do no more, and to leave alone all questions of
practical consequences and applications, questions which will never fail
to have due prominence given to them. Else criticism, besides being
really false to its own nature, merely continues in the old rut which it
has hitherto followed in this country, and will certainly miss the
chance now given to it. For what is at present the bane of criticism in
this country? It is that practical considerations cling to it and stifle
it. It subserves interests not its own. Our organs of criticism are
organs of men and parties having practical ends to serve, and with them
those practical ends are the first thing and the play of mind the
second; so much play of mind as is compatible with the prosecution of
those practical ends is all that is wanted. An organ like the _Revue des
Deux Mondes_,[35] having for its main function to understand and utter
the best that is known and thought in the world, existing, it may be
said, as just an organ for a free play of the mind, we have not. But we
have the _Edinburgh Review_, existing as an organ of the old Whigs, and
for as much play of the mind as may suit its being that; we have the
_Quarterly Review_, existing as an organ of the Tories, and for as much
play of mind as may suit its being that; we have the _British Quarterly
Review_, existing as an organ of the political Dissenters, and for as
much play of mind as may suit its being that; we have the _Times_,
existing as an organ of the common, satisfied, well-to-do Englishman,
and for as much play of mind as may suit its being that. And so on
through all the various fractions, political and religious, of our
society; every fraction has, as such, its organ of criticism, but the
notion of combining all fractions in the common pleasure of a free
disinterested play of mind meets with no favor. Directly this play of
mind wants to have more scope, and to forget the pressure of practical
considerations a little, it is checked, it is made to feel the chain. We
saw this the other day in the extinction, so much to be regretted, of
the _Home and Foreign Review_.[36] Perhaps in no organ of criticism in
this country was there so much knowledge, so much play of mind; but
these could not save it. The _Dublin Review_ subordinates play of mind
to the practical business of English and Irish Catholicism, and lives.
It must needs be that men should act in sects and parties, that each of
these sects and parties should have its organ, and should make this
organ subserve the interests of its action; but it would be well, too,
that there should be a criticism, not the minister of these interests,
not their enemy, but absolutely and entirely independent of them. No
other criticism will ever attain any real authority or make any real way
towards its end,--the creating a current of true and fresh ideas.

It is because criticism has so little kept in the pure intellectual
sphere, has so little detached itself from practice, has been so
directly polemical and controversial, that it has so ill accomplished,
in this country, its best spiritual work; which is to keep man from a
self-satisfaction which is retarding and vulgarizing, to lead him
towards perfection, by making his mind dwell upon what is excellent in
itself, and the absolute beauty and fitness of things. A polemical
practical criticism makes men blind even to the ideal imperfection of
their practice, makes them willingly assert its ideal perfection, in
order the better to secure it against attack: and clearly this is
narrowing and baneful for them. If they were reassured on the practical
side, speculative considerations of ideal perfection they might be
brought to entertain, and their spiritual horizon would thus gradually
widen. Sir Charles Adderley[37] says to the Warwickshire farmers:--

"Talk of the improvement of breed! Why, the race we ourselves
represent, the men and women, the old Anglo-Saxon race, are the best
breed in the whole world.... The absence of a too enervating climate,
too unclouded skies, and a too luxurious nature, has produced so
vigorous a race of people, and has rendered us so superior to all the

Mr. Roebuck[38] says to the Sheffield cutlers:--

"I look around me and ask what is the state of England? Is not property
safe? Is not every man able to say what he likes? Can you not walk from
one end of England to the other in perfect security? I ask you whether,
the world over or in past history, there is anything like it? Nothing. I
pray that our unrivalled happiness may last."

Now obviously there is a peril for poor human nature in words and
thoughts of such exuberant self-satisfaction, until we find ourselves
safe in the streets of the Celestial City.

"Das wenige verschwindet leicht dem Blicke
Der vorwaerts sieht, wie viel noch uebrig bleibt--"[39]

says Goethe; "the little that is done seems nothing when we look forward
and see how much we have yet to do." Clearly this is a better line of
reflection for weak humanity, so long as it remains on this earthly
field of labor and trial.

But neither Sir Charles Adderley nor Mr. Roebuck is by nature
inaccessible to considerations of this sort. They only lose sight of
them owing to the controversial life we all lead, and the practical form
which all speculation takes with us. They have in view opponents whose
aim is not ideal, but practical; and in their zeal to uphold their own
practice against these innovators, they go so far as even to attribute
to this practice an ideal perfection. Somebody has been wanting to
introduce a six-pound franchise, or to abolish church-rates, or to
collect agricultural statistics by force, or to diminish local
self-government. How natural, in reply to such proposals, very likely
improper or ill-timed, to go a little beyond the mark and to say
stoutly, "Such a race of people as we stand, so superior to all the
world! The old Anglo-Saxon race, the best breed in the whole world! I
pray that our unrivalled happiness may last! I ask you whether, the
world over or in past history, there is anything like it?" And so long
as criticism answers this dithyramb by insisting that the old
Anglo-Saxon race would be still more superior to all others if it had no
church-rates, or that our unrivalled happiness would last yet longer
with a six-pound franchise, so long will the strain, "The best breed in
the whole world!" swell louder and louder, everything ideal and refining
will be lost out of sight, and both the assailed and their critics will
remain in a sphere, to say the truth, perfectly unvital, a sphere in
which spiritual progression is impossible. But let criticism leave
church-rates and the franchise alone, and in the most candid spirit,
without a single lurking thought of practical innovation, confront with
our dithyramb this paragraph on which I stumbled in a newspaper
immediately after reading Mr. Roebuck:--

"A shocking child murder has just been committed at Nottingham. A girl
named Wragg left the workhouse there on Saturday morning with her young
illegitimate child. The child was soon afterwards found dead on Mapperly
Hills, having been strangled. Wragg is in custody."

Nothing but that; but, in juxtaposition with the absolute eulogies of
Sir Charles Adderley and Mr. Roebuck, how eloquent, how suggestive are
those few lines! "Our old Anglo-Saxon breed, the best in the whole
world!"--how much that is harsh and ill-favored there is in this best!
_Wragg!_ If we are to talk of ideal perfection, of "the best in the
whole world," has any one reflected what a touch of grossness in our
race, what an original short-coming in the more delicate spiritual
perceptions, is shown by the natural growth amongst us of such hideous
names,--Higginbottom, Stiggins, Bugg! In Ionia and Attica they were
luckier in this respect than "the best race in the world"; by the
Ilissus there was no Wragg, poor thing! And "our unrivalled happiness";
--what an element of grimness, bareness, and hideousness mixes with it
and blurs it; the workhouse, the dismal Mapperly Hills,--how dismal
those who have seen them will remember;--the gloom, the smoke, the cold,
the strangled illegitimate child! "I ask you whether, the world over or
in past history, there is anything like it?" Perhaps not, one is
inclined to answer; but at any rate, in that case, the world is very
much to be pitied. And the final touch,--short, bleak and inhuman:
_Wragg is in custody_. The sex lost in the confusion of our unrivalled
happiness; or (shall I say?) the superfluous Christian name lopped off
by the straightforward vigor of our old Anglo-Saxon breed! There is
profit for the spirit in such contrasts as this; criticism serves the
cause of perfection by establishing them. By eluding sterile conflict,
by refusing to remain in the sphere where alone narrow and relative
conceptions have any worth and validity, criticism may diminish its
momentary importance, but only in this way has it a chance of gaining
admittance for those wider and more perfect conceptions to which all its
duty is really owed. Mr. Roebuck will have a poor opinion of an
adversary who replies to his defiant songs of triumph only by murmuring
under his breath, _Wragg is in custody_; but in no other way will these
songs of triumph be induced gradually to moderate themselves, to get rid
of what in them is excessive and offensive, and to fall into a softer
and truer key.

It will be said that it is a very subtle and indirect action which I am
thus prescribing for criticism, and that, by embracing in this manner
the Indian virtue of detachment[40] and abandoning the sphere of
practical life, it condemns itself to a slow and obscure work. Slow and
obscure it may be, but it is the only proper work of criticism. The mass
of mankind will never have any ardent zeal for seeing things as they
are; very inadequate ideas will always satisfy them. On these inadequate
ideas reposes, and must repose, the general practice of the world. That
is as much as saying that whoever sets himself to see things as they are
will find himself one of a very small circle; but it is only by this
small circle resolutely doing its own work that adequate ideas will ever
get current at all. The rush and roar of practical life will always have
a dizzying and attracting effect upon the most collected spectator, and
tend to draw him into its vortex; most of all will this be the case
where that life is so powerful as it is in England. But it is only by
remaining collected, and refusing to lend himself to the point of view
of the practical man, that the critic can do the practical man any
service; and it is only by the greatest sincerity in pursuing his own
course, and by at last convincing even the practical man of his
sincerity, that he can escape misunderstandings which perpetually
threaten him.

For the practical man is not apt for fine distinctions, and yet in these
distinctions truth and the highest culture greatly find their account.
But it is not easy to lead a practical man,--unless you reassure him as
to your practical intentions, you have no chance of leading him,--to see
that a thing which he has always been used to look at from one side
only, which he greatly values, and which, looked at from that side,
quite deserves, perhaps, all the prizing and admiring which he bestows
upon it,--that this thing, looked at from another side, may appear much
less beneficent and beautiful, and yet retain all its claims to our
practical allegiance. Where shall we find language innocent enough, how
shall we make the spotless purity of our intentions evident enough, to
enable us to say to the political Englishmen that the British
Constitution itself, which, seen from the practical side, looks such a
magnificent organ of progress and virtue, seen from the speculative
side,--with its compromises, its love of facts, its horror of theory,
its studied avoidance of clear thoughts,--that, seen from this side, our
august Constitution sometimes looks,--forgive me, shade of Lord
Somers![41]--a colossal machine for the manufacture of Philistines? How
is Cobbett[42] to say this and not be misunderstood, blackened as he is
with the smoke of a lifelong conflict in the field of political
practice? how is Mr. Carlyle to say it and not be misunderstood, after
his furious raid into this field with his _Latter-day Pamphlets?_[43]
how is Mr. Ruskin,[44] after his pugnacious political economy? I say,
the critic must keep out of the region of immediate practice in the
political, social, humanitarian sphere, if he wants to make a beginning
for that more free speculative treatment of things, which may perhaps
one day make its benefits felt even in this sphere, but in a natural and
thence irresistible manner.

Do what he will, however, the critic will still remain exposed to
frequent misunderstandings, and nowhere so much as in this country. For
here people are particularly indisposed even to comprehend that without
this free disinterested treatment of things, truth and the highest
culture are out of the question. So immersed are they in practical life,
so accustomed to take all their notions from this life and its
processes, that they are apt to think that truth and culture themselves
can be reached by the processes of this life, and that it is an
impertinent singularity to think of reaching them in any other. "We are
all _terrae filii_,"[45] cries their eloquent advocate; "all
Philistines[46] together. Away with the notion of proceeding by any
other course than the course dear to the Philistines; let us have a
social movement, let us organize and combine a party to pursue truth and
new thought, let us call it _the liberal party_, and let us all stick to
each other, and back each other up. Let us have no nonsense about
independent criticism, and intellectual delicacy, and the few and the
many. Don't let us trouble ourselves about foreign thought; we shall
invent the whole thing for ourselves as we go along. If one of us speaks
well, applaud him; if one of us speaks ill, applaud him too; we are all
in the same movement, we are all liberals, we are all in pursuit of
truth." In this way the pursuit of truth becomes really a social,
practical, pleasurable affair, almost requiring a chairman, a secretary,
and advertisements; with the excitement of an occasional scandal, with a
little resistance to give the happy sense of difficulty overcome; but,
in general, plenty of bustle and very little thought. To act is so easy,
as Goethe says; to think is so hard![47] It is true that the critic has
many temptations to go with the stream, to make one of the party
movement, one of these _terrae filii_; it seems ungracious to refuse to
be a _terrae filius_, when so many excellent people are; but the critic's
duty is to refuse, or, if resistance is vain, at least to cry with
Obermann: _Perissons en resistant_[48].

How serious a matter it is to try and resist, I had ample opportunity of
experiencing when I ventured some time ago to criticize the celebrated
first volume of Bishop Colenso.[49] The echoes of the storm which was
then raised I still, from time to time, hear grumbling round me. That
storm arose out of a misunderstanding almost inevitable. It is a result
of no little culture to attain to a clear perception that science and
religion are two wholly different things. The multitude will forever
confuse them; but happily that is of no great real importance, for while
the multitude imagines itself to live by its false science, it does
really live by its true religion. Dr. Colenso, however, in his first
volume did all he could to strengthen the confusion,[50] and to make it
dangerous. He did this with the best intentions, I freely admit, and
with the most candid ignorance that this was the natural effect of what
he was doing; but, says Joubert, "Ignorance, which in matters of morals
extenuates the crime, is itself, in intellectual matters, a crime of the
first order."[51] I criticized Bishop Colenso's speculative confusion.
Immediately there was a cry raised: "What is this? here is a liberal
attacking a liberal. Do not you belong to the movement? are not you a
friend of truth? Is not Bishop Colenso in pursuit of truth? then speak
with proper respect of his book. Dr. Stanley[52] is another friend of
truth, and you speak with proper respect of his book; why make these
invidious differences? both books are excellent, admirable, liberal;
Bishop Colenso's perhaps the most so, because it is the boldest, and
will have the best practical consequences for the liberal cause. Do you
want to encourage to the attack of a brother liberal his, and your, and
our implacable enemies, the _Church and State Review_ or the _Record_,--
the High Church rhinoceros and the Evangelical hyena? Be silent,
therefore; or rather speak, speak as loud as ever you can! and go into
ecstasies over the eighty and odd pigeons."

But criticism cannot follow this coarse and indiscriminate method. It is
unfortunately possible for a man in pursuit of truth to write a book
which reposes upon a false conception. Even the practical consequences
of a book are to genuine criticism no recommendation of it, if the book
is, in the highest sense, blundering. I see that a lady[53] who herself,
too, is in pursuit of truth, and who writes with great ability, but a
little too much, perhaps, under the influence of the practical spirit of
the English liberal movement, classes Bishop Colenso's book and M.
Renan's[54] together, in her survey of the religious state of Europe, as
facts of the same order, works, both of them, of "great importance";
"great ability, power, and skill"; Bishop Colenso's, perhaps, the most
powerful; at least, Miss Cobbe gives special expression to her gratitude
that to Bishop Colenso "has been given the strength to grasp, and the
courage to teach, truths of such deep import." In the same way, more
than one popular writer has compared him to Luther. Now it is just this
kind of false estimate which the critical spirit is, it seems to me,
bound to resist. It is really the strongest possible proof of the low
ebb at which, in England, the critical spirit is, that while the
critical hit in the religious literature of Germany is Dr. Strauss's[55]
book, in that of France M. Renan's book, the book of Bishop Colenso is
the critical hit in the religious literature of England. Bishop
Colenso's book reposes on a total misconception of the essential
elements of the religious problem, as that problem is now presented for
solution. To criticism, therefore, which seeks to have the best that is
known and thought on this problem, it is, however well meant, of no
importance whatever. M. Renan's book attempts a new synthesis of the
elements furnished to us by the Four Gospels. It attempts, in my
opinion, a synthesis, perhaps premature, perhaps impossible, certainly
not successful. Up to the present time, at any rate, we must acquiesce
in Fleury's sentence on such recastings of the Gospel story: _Quiconque
s'imagine la pouvoir mieux ecrire, ne l'entend pas_.[56] M. Renan had

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest