The Start Of The World War One

3625 words - 15 pages

Introduction: Matthew Arnold: The Writer as Touchstone
JOHN P. FARRELL Matthew Arnold died in 1888. So too did Sir Henry Maine, Edward Lear, and Bronson Alcott. The year marked the centenary of Byron's birth. The Times celebrated its one hundredth anniversary. Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone celebrated their fiftieth. There was bitter cold in July. John L. Sullivan fought to a draw in a match lasting thirty-nine rounds. Biographies of Hannah More and Elizabeth Barrett Browning appeared in the Eminent Women Series. And Mr. Rennell Rodd published The Unknown Madonna and Other Poems. The question immediately provoked by such a miscellany is, insistently, the question of significance. How much do any of ...view middle of the document...

New documents and new contexts for studying basic documents are provided in this issue by Jerold Savory and Sidney Coulling. Coulling incorporates in his essay on "The Scholar-Gipsy" some unpublished and very poignant letters. In one of the letters, Arnold remarks on the sparse attention given to The Strayed Reveller and Other Poems: "Sometimes I feel disheartened by the universal indifference: sometimes I think it good for me." The sentence forms a commentary on the sorts of strains, divisions, and disillusionments that so many of the following essays, including Coulling's own, identify in Arnold's life and work. Thomas Mann, thinking of Goethe, asked: "Who is a poet?" And he answered: "He whose life is symbolic."' Arnold certainly felt his own life to be both symbolic and ironic the more he saw his experience reflecting the impossibility of a poetic vocation. A fundamental tension between symbolic poignancy and ironic pointlessness governs almost all of Arnold's commentary on his life and is especially worth recalling at the present time which finds contemporary critical discourse more or less preoccupied with turning into a polemic on cultural dissonances what Arnold offered as a diagnosis. The salient symptom for Arnold was the dialogue of the mind with itself. This particular problem is much discussed by our contributors. The polemic, however, is only glanced at here-though it has been set out in beguiling form by J. Hillis Miller in the searching analysis of Empedocles on Etna that appears in The Linguistic Moment.' Of course, Arnold's sense of tension and division can be, and has been, assessed in a variety of ways. Alan Grob, in a reading of "Resignation," traces the fundamental conflict to an ontological crisis illuminated best by Schopenhauer. Clyde de L. Ryals encloses some of the themes and problems observed by Grob (and by Miller) within the framework of Romantic irony. Ryals concentrates on the ironist as opposed to the Romantic, a development in Arnold criticism that will surely become more prominent.

The essays on the prose writings are more diverse in the issues they raise and the perspectives they offer. Yet all of them, except for Mary Schneider's, focus more, perhaps, on Arnold's concern with the activities of the critical mind than on the objects of his criticism. Schneider provides the background for Arnold's comments on Burns's poetry by showing how J. C. Shairp's praise of Burns influences "The Study of Poetry." The remaining essays contemplate and explore the Arnoldian style of thought. All of them do so, to some extent, by looking at Arnold in relation to another eminent Victorian (or pre-Victorian). Joseph Carroll returns to the Arnold-Newman relationship, in order to argue that Arnold's notion of a "universal order" is assimilated from Newman's model of discourse which relies heavily on the imagery of a clearly structured cosmos. David J. DeLaura has made the Newman-ArnoldPater connection so prominent in Arnold...

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