Matthew Arnold (24 December 1822 – 15 April 1888) was a British poet and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold, the famed headmaster of Rugby School, and brother to both Tom Arnold, literary professor, and William Delafield Arnold, novelist and colonial administrator.
"The disparagers of culture make its motive curiosity; sometimes, indeed, they make its motive mere exclusiveness and vanity. The culture which is supposed to plume itself on a smattering of Greek and Latin is a culture which is begotten by nothing so intellectual as curiosity; it is valued either out of sheer vanity and ignorance, or else as an engine of social and class distinction, separating its holder, like a badge or title, from other people who have not got it."
"The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay."
"Culture has a goal beyond even that of religion: it strives for the inward, general, and harmonious development of the human personality. Culture is thus an invaluable corrective to the fragmentary view of life embraced by those who do not know it or who misunderstand it."
"Arnold often uses metaphor to voyage into the personal interior. In 'The Buried Life', metaphors from nature and the interior personal life become fused, so that Arnold's manipulation of language becomes the soul of the poem itself."
<i>Culture and Anarchy</i> is in some ways Arnold’s most central work. It is an expansion of his earlier attacks, in “The Function of Criticism” and “Heinrich Heine,” upon the smugness, philistinism, and mammon worship of Victorian England. Culture, as “the study of perfection,” is opposed to the prevalent “anarchy” of a new democracy without standards and without a sense of direction. By “turning a stream of fresh thought upon our stock notions and habits,” culture seeks to make “reason and the will of God prevail.”
Meditative and rhetorical, Arnold's poetry often wrestles with problems of psychological isolation. In "To Marguerite—Continued," for example, Arnold revises Donne's assertion that "No man is an island," suggesting that we "mortals" are indeed "in the sea of life enisled." Other well-known poems, such as "Dover Beach," link the problem of isolation with what Arnold saw as the dwindling faith of his time.
His two most celebrated verses were 'Dover Beach' and 'Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse'. In 1857 he became professor of poetry at Oxford and was a literary and religious critic.
After marrying in 1851, Arnold began work as a government school inspector, a grueling position which nonetheless afforded him the opportunity to travel throughout England and the Continent. Throughout his thirty-five years in this position Arnold developed an interest in education, an interest which fed into both his critical works and his poetry.
At age 30 he acquired the habit of always having with him a "little, long, narrow book" in which he entered his daily expenses, his comments upon the schools that he inspected, and extracts from books he had read. He maintained this habit for 37 years.
Matthew was the eldest son of the renowned Thomas Arnold, who was appointed headmaster of Rugby School in 1828. Matthew entered Rugby (1837) and then attended Oxford as a scholar of Balliol College; there he won the Newdigate Prize with his poem <i>Cromwell</i> (1843) and was graduated with second-class honours in 1844.