MATTHEW, ARNOLD(1822-1888). Matthew Arnold was the son of Thomas Arnold, who was a noted and innovative headmaster of Rugby school. Matthew Arnold studied at Rugby and Balliol College, Oxford. After graduating he returned to Rugby for a short time to teaching classics In 1851 he married and after this he began work as a schools inspector. This was a demanding job but enabled him to travel widely throughout the UK and Europe.
His early poetic works included Empedocles on Etna(1852) and Poems(1853) these established his reputation as a poet. In 1857 he was appointed to be professor of poetry at Oxford University a post he held for ten years. He was the first professor to lecture in English rather than Latin. During his time as professor of poetry at Oxford Matthew produced many essays of literary criticism such as ‘On Translating Homer'(1861 and 1862), ‘On the Study of Celtic Literature'(1867), and ‘Essays in Celtic Literature’
Matthew Arnold’s writings, to some extent characterized many of the Victorian beliefs with regard to religious faith and morality. However one significant development in his poetry was that he shared with great clarity his own inner feelings. This poetic transparency has had an influence on many other poets such as W.B.Yeats and even Sylvia Plath.
One important theme which runs through the poetry of Matthew Arnold is the issue of faith and the sense of isolation that man can feel without faith. This theme is evident in poems such as ‘Dover Beach’.
“The sea of faith Was once, too, at the full,
and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.”
Whilst Matthew Arnold’s poetry did not have the poetic fire of say Blake or Wordsworth his writings are ‘characterised by the finest culture, high purpose, sincerity and a style of great distinction and much of his poetry had ‘an exquisite and subtle beauty’