Copyright
James Main Dixon.

Matthew Arnold online

. (page 1 of 9)
Online LibraryJames Main DixonMatthew Arnold → online text (page 1 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


61F-T OF
ROBERO"
BELCHER.




MODERN POETS



AND



HRISTIAN TEACHING



MATTHEW ARNOLD

BY

JAMES MAIN DIXON




NEW YORK: EATON & MAINS
CINCINNATI: JENNINGS & GRAHAM



BELCHER



Copyright, 1906, by
EATON & MAINS.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGB

I. Modern German Thought in Arnold's Teaching - 7

II. Arnold and French Thought 31

III. Arnold and Wordsworth as Religious Teachers - 48

IV. The Mirror and the Cup 71

V. Arnold's Sympathy with the Brute Creation - 97

VI. Matthew Arnold and Modern Science - - -113

VII. A Nineteenth Century Sadducee - - 123

VIII. The Fatherhood of God in Arnold- - - - 148

Index 163



BELCHER



Copyright, 1906, by
EATON & MAINS.






CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGB

I. Modern German Thought in Arnold's Teaching - 7

II. Arnold and French Thought 31

III. Arnold and Wordsworth as Religious Teachers - 48

IV. The Mirror and the Cup 71

V. Arnold's Sympathy with the Brute Creation - 97

VI. Matthew Arnold and Modern Science - - - 113

VII. A Nineteenth Century Sadducee - - 123

VIII. The Fatherhood of God in Arnold- - - - 148

Index 163




PREFATORY NOTE

THESE studies, thrown into the form of eight
lectures, deal with those phases and currents in the
life and philosophy of Matthew Arnold which
determined his religious creed and gave the final
drift to his poetry.

Good poetry ought to be taken seriously and
analytically. I remember the shock I received as
a youth in reading in an intensely orthodox journal
a favorable review of a book of poems which I
knew contained avowedly agnostic opinions. Had
these opinions been couched in prose, extreme
denunciation would have fallen upon them. Now,
true poetry is one of the subtlest mediums for
influencing thought and belief, and its aesthetic
appeal is only secondary. The theology in Arnold's
prose and poetry is essentially the same, otherwise
he would be no true poet; and the theology in
both is extraordinarily warped and defective. My
task has thus been somewhat of an ungracious one.
To have treated Arnold from the side of whole-
hearted eulogy would have meant an incursion
into fairyland, as in the "Forsaken Merman/ 1
or into legendary history, as in "Sohrab and
Rustum" or "Tristram and Iseult."

THE AUTHOR.
s




CHAPTER I



MODERN GERMAN THOUGHT IN ARNOLD'S
TEACHING

IF Matthew Arnold may be termed the poet-
critic of England, then Goethe, the poet-critic of
Germany, is to be regarded as his forerunner and
instructor. Few thinkers in the whole record of
literature have exercised upon men of light and
leading so remarkable an influence as the German
Goethe. In his lucid pages we find expounded
the principles which are guiding our modern world,
as distinguished from the world of mediaevalism
and authority which preceded it. Those who read
at all deeply into poetry must feel how great is the
gap that divides, say, Milton from Tennyson, or
Pope from Arnold. It was the mission of Germany
to place upon the most systematic basis the laws
which regulate our modern theories of good and
bad, of the admirable and the trivial. Of all
thinkers, Goethe, with his large mind, best under-
stood the full significance of the change; took in
the final meaning of the drift toward evolution as
an explanation of things, and weighed all human
matters in a critical balance.

Arnold's very apposite and weighty verses on

7



8 MATTHEW ARNOLD

Goethe I will deal with later. That he early came
under the spell of the sage of Weimar is apparent
to all acquainted with his life story. We find
him constantly making such references as this in
his Letters: "I read his [Goethe's] letters, Bacon,
Pindar, Sophocles, Milton, Thomas a Kempis, and
Ecclesiasticus;" and in his "Note-Book" Goethe's
name once and again recurs. For instance, in
the year 1878, he quotes Kestner on Goethe
at twenty-four: "Vor der Christlichen Religion
hat er Hochachtung, nicht aber in der Gestalt wie
sie unsere Theologen vorstellen" ("While highly
esteeming the Christian religion, it was not in the
way our theologians conceive it"). Goethe has
been called a modern pagan, and his conception
of Christianity was certainly very far from the
orthodox or evangelical conception. It does not
seem that Arnold ever broke away from his spell
as Tennyson did.

Practically, Tennyson's "In Memoriam" owes
its existence to the break he had to make
with Goethe's ideals of self-culture and perfection;
but Arnold never came to the forking of the roads.
It is no use attempting to place that great Chris-
tian apologetic, "In Memoriam," side by side with
Arnold's poems, as if the final teaching were the
same. Arnold remains in the lucidity or self-
culture fold from which Tennyson departed per-



MODERN GERMAN THOUGHT 9

force, never to return. Arnold always regarded
the poet-laureate as not much of a philosopher,
but rather as a builder of words into sonorous
phrases; the judgment, not of a jealous contem-
porary, but of an honest friend who saw things
differently. Others, and I think rightly, rate
Tennyson very high as a profound thinker.

Turn to the first section of "In Memoriam,"
immediately following the great invocation :

I held it truth, with him who sings
To one clear harp in divers tones,
That men may rise on stepping-stones

Of their dead selves to higher things.

This word "clear" denotes the lucidity so dear
to lovers of classical literature, the characteristic
of the best spirits of the pagan world. So Milton
uses it:

Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise

That last infirmity of noble mind

To scorn delights, and live laborious days.

Tennyson had this ideal before him when Ar-
thur Hallam died; and the bitter experience made
him root his faith deeper. But no crisis came
in Arnold's life such as might test his spirit to its
depths; he always remained essentially a fair-
weather vessel, never venturing into the deeps
where storms are raging, nor did any chance
tempest strike him. To the end he appears
lacking in finally rigorous logic and thoroughness



io MATTHEW ARNOLD

of thought, and in moral grasp and conviction of
an overmastering kind.

Goethe purposely kept away from stormy
waters. If we take his "Rule of Life," composed
in 1815 and afterward expanded, as expounding
his principles, we have exactly such a philosophy
as might please and charm a thoughtful man
except when he was fathoming the depths of
despair:

If thou wouldst live unruffled by care,
Let not the past torment thee e'er;
If any loss thou hast to rue,
Act as though thou wert born anew;
Inquire the meaning of each day,
What each day means itself will say:
In thine own actions take thy pleasure,
What others do thou'lt duly treasure.
Ne'er let thy breast with hate be supplied,
And to God the future confide.

This "clearness" is the goal sought after by
Matthew Arnold. In the poem which contains
an exposition of his philosophy, "A Summer
Night," there is a closing invocation to clearness:

Plainness and clearness without shadow of stain,

Clearness divine!

Ye heavens, whose pure dark regions have no sign

Of languor, though so calm, and though so great

Are yet untroubled and unpassionate ;

Who, though so noble, share in the world's toil,

And, though so tasked, keep free from dust and soil!

I will not say that your mild deeps retain

A tinge, it may be, of their silent pain



MODERN GERMAN THOUGHT n

Who have longed deeply once, and longed in vain

But I will rather say that you remain

A world above man's head, to let him see

How boundless might his soul's horizons be,

How vast, yet of what clear transparencyl

How prophetic was Milton in declaring that
the " clear spirit" had infirmities of its own! a
love of distinction, a proud acceptance, if need be,
of isolation. Dr. Thomas Arnold confessed that
he had a weakness to be either Caesar or nobody;
proudly to assert himself or as proudly efface
himself. This temper descended to his gifted son.
A recent commentator, Professor Saintsbury, in
estimating highly the poetic quality of this poem
from which I have just quoted, questions whether
the vague life-philosophy of Arnold expounded
here and elsewhere which, out of a melancholy
agnosticism, with a quantum of asceticism, erected
a creed was "anything more than a not-
ungraceful will-worship of pride." It is the
haughty stoicism that the world has rejected.
Very disappointing is it to find Arnold bidding
farewell to a beloved son, who died in the first
flush of manhood, not in the words of hope given
to us by revelation, but in the phraseology of a
heathen poet. "How fond you were of him," he
wrote to the lad's grandmother, "and how I like
to recall this! He looks beautiful, and my main
feeling about him is, I am glad to say, what I



12 MATTHEW ARNOLD

have put in one of my poems, the 'Fragment
of Dejaneira':

"But him on whom, in the prime
Of life, with vigor undimmed,
With unspent mind, and a soul
Unworn, undebased, undecayed,
Mournfully grating, the gates
Of the city of death have forever closed
Him, I count him, well-starred."

There is no hope born of the new life of the
soul that continues after death. With Goethe
and with Arnold the injunction, "Ye must be
born again," meant simply the attainment of
increased perfection in this present life. "Which
religion," asks Arnold in his "Progress,"

Which has not taught weak wills how much they can ?

Which has not fall'n on the dry heart like rain?
Which has not cried to sunk, self- weary man:
Thou must be born again/

Surely none except the religion of Jesus, who
hath abolished death and brought life and
immortality to light through the gospel. Arnold,
the lover of lucidity, has estimated the German
poet in lines of singular appositeness:

When Goethe's death was told, we said:
Sunk, then, is Europe's sagest head.
Physician of the iron age,
Goethe has done his pilgrimage.
He took the suffering human race,

He read each wound, each weakness clear,
And struck his finger on the place,

And said : Thou ailest here, and here!



MODERN GERMAN THOUGHT 13

He looked on Europe's dying hour

Of fitful dream and feverish power; ^*

His eye plunged down the weltering strife

The turmoil of expiring life

He said: The end is everywhere,

Art still has truth, take refuge there!

And he was happy, if to know

Causes of things, and far below

His feet to see the lurid flow

Of terror, and insane distress,

And headlong fate, be happiness!

In these lines Arnold ascribes to Goethe the
preeminent quality of lucidity: Felix qui potuit
rerum cognoscere causas. Skillful diagnosis, phil-
osophical insight into the workings of the world
these qualities characterized him. But there he
stops. If this can constitute happiness, then, says
Arnold, Goethe had happiness; suggesting, how-
ever, at the same time, that this insight does
not bring happiness. In the agonized prayer
of his own Stagirius:

When the soul, growing clearer,
Sees God no nearer;
When the soul, mounting higher,
To God comes no nigher;
But the arch-fiend Pride
Mounts at her side,
Foiling her high emprise,
Sealing her eagle eyes, . . .
Save, O! save.

From the serene height of his own elevation,
borne along in the current of an age that was fuU



14 MATTHEW ARNOLD

of lifiMind enthusiasm, the sage of Weimar never
lost rS buoyancy of temperament. His pupils,
however, with less vitality and poorer nerves,
found that his rule of life led to no such equable
contemplation of life. Goethe's optimism was tem-
peramental andlaccidental, rather than inherent
in his philosophy of life.

In two respects may Goethe's teaching be
pronounced unsatisfactory. His ideal of woman
is not lofty enough; and the defect may in a
measure be ascribed to a certain deliberate
resolve on his own part never to risk shipwreck
of fortune for a mere amatory passion. In
Goethe's love affairs we fail to discover that
ideal condition of things described by Tennyson,
in which

Love took up the harp of Life, and smote on all the chords

with might;
Smote the chord of Self, that, trembling, passed in music

out of sight.

The realization of perfection, so far as it can
be obtained here, was his ideal a pagan rather
than a Christian conception. This threw him
back on self, where a more ideal spirit would have
risked the earthly shipwreck of self. For in-
stance, in his love affair with Frederika there is
undoubtedly an element of unsatisfactoriness in
the cool way in which he left her just when the



MODERN GERMAN THOUGHT 15

claims of his own personality seemed to demand
the severance of their relations. "He sighed as a
lover, he obeyed as a man of the world" to parody
a saying of Gibbon's. This element of intellec-
tual coldness, visible here and elsewhere in the
story of Goethe's life, kept him indifferent on the
subject of immortality. He believed that a few
of the stronger and more select spirits might win
immortality; but the question did not trouble him
deeply. Now, immortality is a matter that cannot
be solved entirely in terms of the reason; it is
largely a question of the affections, in the highest
sense of the term. With Plato, the eternal was
symbolized by the heavenly Aphrodite, frequently
referred to by Tennyson in "In Memoriam" as
the "high Muse," or Urania. Goethe had wor-
shiped the earthly Aphrodite in but a half-
hearted fashion, and how could it be expected that
her heavenly sister would reveal herself to him ?
"He that loveth not his brother whom he hath
seen, how can he love God whom he hath not
seen?" Goethe's teaching was found lacking
by Tennyson when he stood by the recent grave
of his dearly loved friend. On one occasion Ten-
nyson and his friend Edward Fitzgerald were
gazing at the busts of Dante and Goethe in a shop
window in Regent Street, London. "What,"
asked Fitzgerald, "is there wanting in Goethe



1 6 MATTHEW ARNOLD

which the other has?" "The Divine," replied
the poet-laureate.

In this rarefied atmosphere Arnold's notes
are thin and unsatisfying. He devotes a lyric
to Urania, but she figures as a disdainful goddess.
Plato speaks of Urania in his Symposium, where
she represents heavenly love as distinguished from
mere earthly love. Milton confides himself to
the guidance of Urania in one of his most impas-
sioned passages:

Up led by thee

Into the heaven of heavens I have presumed,
An earthly guest, and drawn empyreal air,
Thy tempering; with like safety guided down,
Return me to my native element ....
Standing on earth, not rapt above the pole,
More safe I sing with mortal voice, unchanged
To hoarse or mute, though fall'n on evil days,
On evil days though fall'n, and evil tongues;
In darkness, and with dangers compassed round,
And solitude; yet not alone, while thou
Visit' st my slumbers nightly, or when morn
Purples the east; still govern thou my song,
Urania, and fit audience find, though few.

With that timid reverence with which he ap-
proached sacred things, Tennyson introduces
Urania as reproving his boldness in entering upon
the domain of religion :

Urania speaks with darkened brow:

"Thou pratest here where thou art least'
This faith has many a purer priest,

And many an abler voice than thou.



MODERN GERMAN THOUGHT 17

But later on in "In Memoriam" the heavenly
visitor speaks more encouragingly, as if touched
with love and sympathy for his sorrow:

The high Muse answered: "Wherefore grieve

Thy brethren with a fruitless tear?

Abide a little longer here,
And thou shalt take a nobler leave."

But Arnold's Urania, or Heavenly Wisdom, is
not an approachable personage, who stoops to
soothe and bless ordinary mortals. She reserves
all her smiles for some selecter being, better
worthy of her favors:

Eagerly once her gracious ken

.s turned upon the sons of men;
But light the serious visage grew
She looked, and smiled, and saw them through.

If she had only "seen them through" in the
modern slang sense, as a helper and a kind friend,
no one would have complained; but hers was a
mere critical inspection that revealed their flaws:

Our petty souls, our strutting wits,
Our labored, puny passion-fits
Ah, may she scorn them still, till we
Scorn them as bitterly as shel
Yet show her once, ye heavenly Powers,
One of some worthier race than ours!
One for whose sake she once might prove
How deeply she who scorns can love.

And she to him will reach her hand,
And gazing in his eyes will stand,
And know her friend, and weep for glee,
And cry: "Long, long I've looked for thee."



18 MATTHEW ARNOLD

Then will she weep: with smiles, till then,
Coldly she mocks the sons of men;
Till then, her lovely eyes maintain
Their pure, unwavering, deep disdain.

This word " disdain," not a pleasant word,
occurs in another of Arnold's lyrics one of his
finest the "Obermann Once More." He is paint-
ing the meeting of triumphant, stern Rome with
the grave Orient :

The brooding East with awe beheld

Her impious younger world.
The Roman tempest swelled and swelled,

And on her head was hurled.

The East bowed low before the blast

In patient, deep disdain;
She let the legions thunder past,

And plunged in thought again.

So well she mused, a morning broke

Across her spirit gray,
A conquering, newborn joy awoke,

And filled her life with day.

"Poor world," she cried, "so deep accurst!

That runn'st from pole to pole
To seek a draught to slake thy thirst

Go, seek it in thy soul!"

She heard it, the victorious West,

In crown and sword arrayed!
She felt the void which mined her breast,

She shivered and obeyed.

This is bad psychology and bad history. So far
from "disdaining" the might of armies, the



MODERN GERMAN THOUGHT 19

Oriental has ever been prone to worship and
glorify Power. "Disdain" of a dreamer, on the
one hand, "shivering" disillusion on the other,
do not interpret the situation. The first, the Dis-
dain, must be changed into warm, expansive Love,
fruitful in all helpful, patient deeds, which is more
powerful than armies; the second, the shivering
disillusion, into the heartful recognition of this
fuller humanity, the hearty acceptance of the
new life offered to man by the divine Friend.

The master and teacher of both Goethe and
Arnold in their final attitude to the physical world
was the Jewish philosopher, Benedict Spinoza.
"The two things," remarks Arnold in his
"Spinoza and the Bible," "which are most
remarkable about him [Spinoza], and by which, as
I think, he chiefly impressed Goethe, seem to me
not to come from his Hebrew nature at all I
mean his denial of final causes and his stoicism,
not passive, but active. For a mind like Goethe's
a mind profoundly impartial and passionately
aspiring after the science, not of men only, but of
universal nature the popular philosophy which
explains all things by reference to man and
regards universal nature as existing for the sake
of man, and even of certain classes of men, was
utterly repulsive. Unchecked, this philosophy
would gladly maintain that the donkey exists in



ao MATTHEW ARNOLD

order that the invalid Christian may have donkey's
milk before breakfast; and such views of nature
as this were exactly what Goethe's whole soul
abhorred. Creation, he thought, should be made
of sterner stuff; he desired to rest the donkey's
existence on larger grounds."

Arnold then goes on to quote some distinctive
passages from Spinoza's writings which outline
his standpoint: "God directs nature according
to the universal laws of nature, but not according
as the particular laws of human nature require;
and so God has regard, not of the human race
only, but of entire nature." Does not this level a
direct blow at the Puritan conception of God's
dealings with Adam, Noah, and his chosen
people ? Then follows a statement revealing
Spinoza's stoicism: "Our desire is not that
nature may obey us, but, on the contrary, that
we may obey nature."

"Here," remarks Arnold, "is the second source
of Spinoza's attractiveness for Goethe, and a
whole order of minds like him; he first impresses
him, and then composes him. Filling and satisfy-
ing his imagination by the width and grandeur of
his own view of nature, the Jewish thinker then
fortifies and stills his mobile, straining, passionate
temperament by the moral lesson he draws from
his view of nature."



MODERN GERMAN THOUGHT 21

In his "Saint Paul and Protestantism" Arnold
loses his complete sympathy with the man of
Tarsus when the latter "Hebraizes" and
"Judaizes"; which Spinoza is careful not to do
he keeps within the field common to philosophy,
literature, and natural religion. A combination of
Paul and Spinoza would have pleased Arnold
entirely. Spinoza conceives of religious things in
terms that are too intellectual, "crowning the intel-
lectual life with a sacred transport." Goethe so
conceived of them and so did Arnold, making
abstractions out of life. The close of Arnold's
"Spinoza and the Bible" is well worth quoting as
summing up his final attitude toward this
modern Plato, as he calls him: "One may say
to the wise and devout Christian, 'Spinoza's con-
ception of beatitude is not yours and cannot
satisfy you, but whose conception of beatitude
would you accept as satisfying ? Not even that
of the devoutest of your fellow Christians. Fra
Angelico, the sweetest and most inspired of
devout souls, has given us, in his great picture of
the Last Judgment, his conception of beatitude.
The elect are going round in a ring on long
grass under laden fruit-trees; two of them, more
restless than the others, are flying up a battle-
mented street a street blank with all the
ennui of the Middle Ages. Across a gulf is visible,



22 MATTHEW ARNOLD

for the delectation of the saints, a blazing cal-
dron in which Beelzebub is sousing the damned.
This is hardly more your conception of beatitude
than Spinoza's is. But "in my Father's house are
many mansions"; only, to reach any one of these
mansions, there are needed the wings of a genuine
sacred transport, of an "immortal longing."'
These wings Spinoza had; and because he had
them his own language about himself, about his
aspirations and his course, is true: his foot is in
the vera vita, his eye on the beatific vision. "

In these closing passages in "Spinoza and the
Bible" Arnold speaks as if he himself were dis-
tinctly in the Christian fold; where he always was
by inclination and training, but from which he
often seems to draw aside by a kind of intel-
lectual overscrupulousness. He strove to realize
two visions that are quite incompatible.

Another German thinker, a predecessor of
Goethe's, enters directly into Arnold's poetry
the Saxon Lessing. To him Arnold devotes a
poem which is but little noticed or quoted, his
"Epilogue to Lessing's Laocoon." And yet in
some respects the poem is equally significant to
us with Browning's " Abt Vogler, " in that it pro-
pounds and answers a question in the sphere of the
higher aesthetics, where the domain of aesthetics
touches that of religion. Browning gives music



MODERN GERMAN THOUGHT 23

a final preeminence over the other arts because
it is not subject to analysis:

But here is the finger of God, a flash of the will that

can,
Existent behind all laws, that made them, and lo!

they are.

Arnold discusses in his verses the question why
poetry so often fails of its mission when music
and art triumphantly succeed. He never allows
it to be doubted that poetry is the highest of all
arts; he merely wonders why first-rate poetry is
so rare, and tries to furnish a satisfactory answer.

Arnold is not a devotee of music, as was Brown-
ing, and is never warmed by its inspiration like
his contemporary. Music, after all, has but a
slight hold upon conduct, and is singularly unsatis-
fying on the moral side. For Browning's artistic
ends its symbolic use in " Abt Vogler" is justified,
and is appropriate; but, finally speaking, music
must rank below poetry; and Arnold is right in so
classing it.

To Arnold, Lessing was no mean prophet. In
the story of Germany he comes next after Luther
as an apostle of truth. While Luther was the
master spirit of the great religious upheaval of the
sixteenth century, Lessing was the chief light in
the intellectual revival of the eighteenth, known
as the period of Illuminism. Arnold was not



24 MATTHEW ARNOLD

exceedingly fond of Luther, whose frequent lack
of "dignity and distinction" displeased the fas-
tidious Englishman. Even as a final exponent of
God's eternal truths he has declared that Luther
was equaled or surpassed by the old Greeks; and
his Gemiinbeitj or commonness, prepared the


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryJames Main DixonMatthew Arnold → online text (page 1 of 9)