Arnold is represented among both the Poets (E375L) and the Sages (E370) on this web site, but he also figures in my course on the Victorian novel (E328) as a commentator on the social and cultural landscape of the Victorian period. His significance as a writer has never been better stated than in this passage (slightly emended) from William A. Madden's, Matthew Arnold (1967).
Arnold's place in English literary history is mainly determined by the general predicament of the artist in the mid-nineteenth century. [As] the century progressed and truth in most areas of experience seemed to become more and more problematical, the aesthetic power took on, with increasing explicitness, the functions formerly borne by philosophy and religion. Arnold's place in this process is indicated by his attempt to defend the aesthetic consciousness without allowing it to lose touch with these other areas of human experience. But the task of assimilating and mastering the accumulation of knowledge and experience proved more difficult in Arnold's generation than it had been for Goethe and the earlier generation of Romantics. Arnold's lot as a poet--as for most poets since--was to embody the pain of the struggle . . . without pretending to solve the baffling experience of life in a multitudinous world . . . . Both as a poet and as a critic, Arnold was the first writer in England to respond to this predicament by offering the aesthetic condition as the supreme achievement available to men in a civilization threatened by dehumanization. Unlike writers of the very first rank, Arnold lacked energy, scope, and final penetration to that area behind silence where Prospero dwells, but his writings retain the marks of an innocence and integrity which continue to make him one of the most attractive figures in literary history.
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