July 6, 2012

Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold

Leading English poet, literary & social critic, and essayist of the Victorian age.
  • Full Name: Matthew Arnold
  • Birth: December 24, 1822
  • Death: April 15, 1888
  • Cause of death: Heart Failure
  • Place of Death: Liverpool
  • Place of Birth: Laleham, Middlesex
  • Buried at: All Saints' Churchyard, Laleham, Middlesex
  • Father: Thomas Arnold
  • Mother: Mary Penrose Arnold
  • Siblings: 6 (three sisters and three brothers)?
  • Marriage: 1851
  • Spouse: Frances Lucy Wightman
  • Number of Children: 6
  • Education: Rugby School; graduated from Balliol College, Oxford in 1844
  • Known for: his classical criticism on the socio-cultural matters of England, especially the manners of the class structure which was comprised of three major classes: the “Barbarians” (the aristocracy), the “Philistines” (the middle class), and the “Populace” (the lower class)
  • Criticised for: not incorporating sufficient original ideas of his own in the critical studies
  • Influences: William Wordsworth, John Keats. Goethe, Sainte-Beuve, and Cardinal Newman
  • Influenced: T. S. Eliot, Lionel Trilling, Harold Bloom, Robert Pinsky W. B. Yeats, James Wright, Sylvia Plath, and Sharon Olds


“Our society distributes itself into Barbarians, Philistines, and Populace; and America is just ourselves, with the Barbarians quite left out, and the Populace nearly.” Culture and Anarchy (1969)

Major Themes:

  • Nature
  • Melancholy in life
  • Loss of religious faith
  • Loss of love
  • Sharp Discrimination between Intellectual and Moral Truth
  • Arnold's own essential homelessness in the Victorian world
  • Past present and future of Britain
  • Separation and hopelessness
  • Confusion in life

Notable Works:

  • The Strayed Reveller, 1849
  • Empedocles on Etna, 1852
  • Poems, 1853
  • Poems, Second Series, 1855
  • "The Modern Element in Literature," inaugural lecture at Oxford, November 1857
  • Merope, a Tragedy, 1858
  • On Translating Homer, 1861
  • The Study of Celtic Literature (lectures), 1867
  • Essays in Criticism (1st series), 1865
  • New Poems, 1867
  • Culture and Anarchy, 1869
  • St. Paul and Protestantism, 1870
  • Friendship's Garland, 1871
  • Literature and Dogma, 1873
  • God and the Bible, 1875
  • Last Essays on Church and Religion, 1877
  • Essays in Criticism (2nd series), 1888

Did you Know?

  • Matthew Arnold was born in 1822, the same year that Percy Shelley was drowned
  • He died in 1888, the same year that T. S. Eliot was born
  • Although Matthew Arnold began his literary career as a poet, nowadays he is chiefly remembered for his critical essays
  • Arnold invested only a quarter of his productive life to writing poetry
  • Even though Arnold is considered one of the major poets of the Victorian Era, behind Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning, he was not recognized in his own time
  • Matthew Arnold was 26 years old when his first book of poetry appeared
  • He published his first book of poetry The Strayed Reveller (1849) anonymously. Then he published his second book Empedocles on Etna (1852). But he was so dissatisfied with these books that ultimately withdrew them from circulation
  • As a lecturer Arnold was disappointing, both because of his awkward manner and the feebleness of his voice, which was inaudible to the greater part of his audience.
  • During travels in 1848, he met and fell in love with a French woman, but they did not marry.
  • Arnold went to 2 different Colleges: Winchester College and Balliol College.
  • After graduating from Balliol College at Oxford in 1844, Arnold accepted a teaching post at the university.
  • In 1857 Arnold was elected to the professorship of poetry at Oxford, and he held this post for the next decade. He was the first professor of poetry to give his lectures in English rather than in Latin
  • He was the Head chairman of Poetry at Oxford University.
  • He was a Private Secretary to Lord Lansdowne.
  • In 1851 he was appointed inspector of schools, a position he held until shortly before his death within two years
  • He died on a sudden heart attack in 1888 in Liverpool while walking with his wife to catch a tram to meet his beloved daughter, who was arriving on a boat from the USA
  • Several of Arnold's early poems express his hopeless love for a girl he calls Marguerite. Scholars have been unable to identify an original for this girl, and whether she existed at all is a question
  • Some of Arnold's most attractive poems are addressed to his children
  • Arnold himself could apprehend that his talent was not as great as the other major poets of his time, and therefore, he completely abandoned poetry during the airy heights of his career and tend to write literary criticism instead
  • He is often considered to be the founding father of academic criticism in English, and the principles for literary criticism
  • His longest poem is "Empedocles on Etna,"
  • Matthew Arnold had six children by his wife, three of whom died in childhood.
  • When Wordsworth died in 1850 Arnold published his "Memorial Verses" in Fraser's Magazine to pay a homage to the deceased poet


“Classic Literature Writer.” About.com. 2012. About.com. 20 June 2012
< http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-bio/bl-marnold.htm >.

Cummings, Della. “Biography of Matthew Arnold.” Athens Academy. 2012. Athens Academy.
20 June 2012 < http://www.athensacademy.org/teachers/asweetapple
/2008/Cummings_PoetryWeb/bio.htm >.

Kunitz, Stanley. “Matthew Arnold: A Biography.” The Victorian Web. 2012. The Victorian Web.
20 June 2012 < http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/arnold/index.html>.

“Matthew Arnold.” Poets.org. 1997-2012. Academy of American Poets. 20 June 2012
< http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/88>.

“Matthew Arnold.” Yahoo Education. 2009. Yahoo! Inc. 20 June 2012 .
“Matthew Arnold Biography.” Dromo's Den. 2012. Dromo's Den. 20 June 2012
< http://www.dromo.info/arnoldmbio.htm >.

“Matthew Arnold.” MatthewArnold. 2012. Tangient LLC. 20 June 2012
< http://matthewarnold.wikispaces.com/Interesting+Facts >.

“Matthew Arnold (1822 - 1888) Short Biography.” Adnax Publications. 2012.
Adnax Publications. 20 June 2012 < http://www.adnax.com/biogs/ma.htm>.

“Matthew Arnold | Biography.” BookRags. 2012. BookRags, Inc. 20 June 2012
< http://www.bookrags.com/biography/matthew-arnold/>.

Tanvir Shameem Tanvir Shameem is not the biggest fan of teaching, but he is doing his best to write on various topics of language and literature just to guide thousands of students and researchers across the globe. You can always find him experimenting with presentation, style and diction. He will contribute as long as time permits. You can find him on:


  1. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

  2. Good collection of info. Thanks for your painstaking effort.


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