Matthew Arnold's Criticism: A Reconsideration

C.A. Runcie


In his discussion of Matthew Arnold in The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933), T. S. Eliot wrote:

Arnold hardly looks ahead to a new stage of experience; and though he speaks to us of discipline, it is the discipline of culture, not the discipline of suffering. Arnold represents a period of stasis; of relative and precarious stability, it is true, a brief halt in the endless march of humanity in some, or in any direction.

While this may be unfair in some ways to the author of Empedocles an Etna or Sahrab and Rustum, what Eliot says about Arnold's precarious stability is true. Arnold's literary criticism does not look ahead to a new stage of experience. It does mark time. It cannot cope with change. In one particular direction, it is fair to say, Arnold brings criticism to an impasse.

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