Alfred Lord Tennyson, Dover Beach, Eminent Victorians, Empedocles on Etna, John Keats, Mahabharatha, Mathew Arnold, Nature red in tooth and claw, Percy Bysshe Shelley, poems, Poetry, Robert Browning, Sarachchandra, Sinhabahu, Sohrab and Rustum, The Scholar Gypsy, To Marguerite, Tom Brown’s Schooldays
In the sense in which we generally use the term, Mathew Arnold was the most Victorian of the poets, perhaps of the writers, of the 19th century. Tennyson and Browning led highly individualistic lives, and the ideas and the emotions they conveyed were characteristic of that age of extremely exciting change. But we are more conscious now of the continuities of that age, and perhaps, under the influence of the debunking of the next generation, in particular Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, we see it as stolid and serious.
Mathew Arnold’s life was emphatically serious. He was an Inspector of Schools, in a context in which one might claim that in fact the greatest contribution of the Victorians to social continuity and development was education. Arnold was born to that tradition, for his father was Thomas Arnold, the legendary headmaster of Rugby, who transformed public school education into a serious and intellectually stimulating process. Unfortunately he is remembered best for his institutionalization of games, because of the rousing impact of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, written by one of his less brilliant pupils, Tom Hughes. But even the fact that Hughes was an idealist of sorts, concerned to do his bit for society, is a tribute to Arnold’s introduction of an ethos of commitment, and the socialization he brought to a system that had previously been indulgent to the idiosyncrasies of the rich and purely functional with regard to the less fortunate.