Matthew Arnold (Coates, 1894)
T is told of one of our poets that, when in England, he was asked who took Matthew Arnold's place in America, and he answered, "Matthew Arnold." The reply would still be just, and, excepting as he fills it, the place of Matthew Arnold must long continue vacant. Men of genius are not replaced, and if, dying, they leave their work half done, the loss is irreparable. But Arnold's message was delivered, whether in verse or prose, with an amplitude and distinctness to which few messages may lay claim, and is "full of foretastes of the morrow."
Wordsworth expressed regret that the critics found so much fault with his poetry, because, as he remarked with Olympian simplicity, "They deprive the youth of my country of what would be a blessing to them." A similar feeling as to the ignorance and misapprehension which prevail regarding Matthew Arnold and his work induces me to write briefly as to the impression left by each upon my mind.
Readers of Mr. Arnold will recall the definiteness and meaning given by him to the use of the verb to know. To know the Greeks, in his sense, is not merely to have a knowledge of some set of facts concerning them; to be more or less accurately informed as to their appearance, dress, occupations, manners, tastes, language, etc.: it is to enter into the racial phenomena, the peculiar spirit, the elemental and developed genius, of that unique people.
Many say they knew Mr. Arnold whose conversation proves their knowledge to have consisted in having read, with ill choosing, some one or two of his poems, whence to conclude him not a poet; some one or two of his essays, whereby to discover him unsound; or in having met him once, twice perhaps, with the result of having misknown him utterly. It has been remarked that the comparative paucity of the reading public which really knows and appreciates his distinction is a phenomenon of contemporary literary taste.
There are melodies the full sweetness of which the ear immediately seizes. But who that is a musician does not learn to distrust their facile charm, knowing the tendency of too-easy strains to become, after frequent repetition, tame, if not wearisome?
In all art it is the same. The most lasting is rarely first to captivate. Great symphonies require more than one hearing; great poems more than one reading. Examples readily suggest themselves: Keats and Shelley rejected, Millet neglected, Browning and Wagner derided and reviled. It is stated that the directors of the National Gallery delayed during four years and nine months (the term of choice being five years) the acceptance of the Turner bequest, and were finally shamed into action only by the scornful and persistent representations of Ruskin. Mozart was followed to his grave by a single mourner, and in the art-temple of the most artistic city of modern Europe the Samothracian Nike has waited twenty years for the appreciation and homage which are its due.
The work of Matthew Arnold is no exception to the rule which obtains concerning things of highest excellence; nor, in relation to that rule, was he himself an exception. Really to know him, it was necessary to know him, if not long, at least long enough, and in an association of sufficient unrestraint, for free and sympathetic interchange of thought and sentiment; and from his sedate simplicity of mind—his distaste for anything approaching affectation—it almost certainly followed that those who, upon a first encounter, looked for pearls from his mouth would meet with disappointment.
Of men of culture Emerson remarks that, upon coming together, they do not straightway fall to discussing the problems which chiefly engross them, but choose rather to speak of the weather, the crops, and topics of a kindred and every-day interest. Only a poseur is always effective; he has a little speech ready for each occasion, and remembers constantly that he is in the eye of the world. Men like Arnold and Browning fail to realize that more is expected of them than to be themselves; and so occupied with being are they, that for seeming they have neither leisure nor inclination.
I asked of one who had had the honor of his friendship, "What, above all, impressed you in regard to Matthew Arnold?" He replied, "That he was the most genuine human being I ever knew."
False impressions, especially when intensified by our prejudices, are difficult to eradicate; but of the many prevalent concerning Mr. Arnold, I should like to modify a few; and since we shall look on him no more, it may not be out of place to begin with a word as to his appearance.
In reproduction the defects of his face were easily exaggerated, while its finer and more characteristic qualities were of the kind which no photograph can more than suggest. Of his features the mouth was at first disappointing, being unusually large; but the lines were firm, and in conversation the early unfavorable impression was quickly lost. It was the kind of mouth which we associate with generous and sensitive natures, and its smiles were of a winning and whimsical attractiveness.
Before me is a partial copy of a letter written by Lord Coleridge to his friend, Mr. Ellis Yarnall of Haverford, soon after Mr. Arnold's death. In this connection, the following reference to him is not without interest.
I believe [he writes] that a more blameless, nay, a more admirable, man in every relation never lived. He was one of the noblest and most perfect characters I have ever known, and I have known him sixty years. I would not withdraw one word of what I said at the Union [League] Club at New York. It was not generous, it was true. I think him the most distinguished person in the old and right sense of that word that we had among us. To think we shall never have such papers any more, never hear him talk to us, never see that bright, manly, beautiful face any more!
"Bright, manly, beautiful!" To those who knew him, so it was.
His look was altogether noble, and though it might not have been true of him, as was said of Edmund Burke, that one could not stand with him five minutes under an awning where he had gone to escape the rain without knowing him to be the greatest man in England, yet one could not, I think, have been long in his presence without recognizing in Matthew Arnold one of the foremost of his time. His unusual height and erect bearing, the thick brown hair, scarcely changed, despite his sixty years, and growing in lines of perfect grace about a brow of peculiar breadth and beauty, the clear, benignant gaze of the blue-gray eyes—these alone must have given him always and everywhere an air of preëminent distinction.
"Male ugliness," it has recently been remarked, "is an endearing quality, and in a man of great talents assists the reputation by mollifying our sense of inferiority." Certain it is that Mr. Arnold's superiority of mien gave offense in some directions, appearing to be regarded as a kind of involuntary criticism. In addition to this, his lofty mental attitude and gravity of demeanor were by some felt to be oppressive, and were misconstrued as pride. Yet proud, in a narrow and selfish sense, Arnold was not. His nature, full of dignity, was yet gentle and singularly sweet, and his interest in the masses was sympathetic and sincere. Though he dreaded the domination of ignorance and vice, believing that salvation comes not by the might of the unenlightened many, but through the influence of the enlightened few, he was always the friend of the people.
During his visits to this country, there were few things in which he manifested so eager an interest as in the conversation of our laboring men as overheard by him from time to time. Frequently he repeated to me sentences which had reached him in the street, upon the trains, or at railway stations, asking, "Is not such intelligence uncommon amongst your working people?" Upon my replying in the negative, he would say, "It is surprising; you would not meet with it in England." A democrat by conviction rather than by temperament, urging democracy as "the only method consistent with the human instinct toward expansion," he was yet an educator, and believed in equality upon a high, not upon a low, plane. Like Ruskin, he demanded of men their best, and with less than their best refused to be satisfied.
Culture,—the sentiment for beauty, the passion for perfection, "the acquaintance with the best that has been thought and said in the world,"—this he deemed the remedy for the unideaed frivolity of the barbarian, the arid, self-complacent dullness of the Philistine, the hopeless intellectual squalor of the populace. Against vice and stupidity he waged uncompromising war, assailing them with all the arms of light, with "lucid wit and lambent irony"; but his true temper was "uncontentious, mild, and winning," and his longing was for peace—for tranquil thoughts and equable delights. Life was not to him, as to so many, a series of sorrowful frustrations. He had ability equal to every task imposed; and with his simple tastes and inexhaustible interests, it would have been easy for him to live in the enjoyment of a home wholly congenial, writing, amidst temperate scenes beloved, poetry and criticism which should not die. But the "hopeless tangle of the age," his earnest, wistful solicitude for men, the spectacle of their lives,—ignorant, unlovely, joyless, debased,—compelled him to seek a solution and a remedy for the evils which beset them.
Like Newman, he had weapons of wit, of raillery, of disdain; and he used them freely, unsparingly, hesitating not to wound, if only he might heal. Many, failing to see the importance of his mission, ridiculed him as "an elegant and spurious Jeremiah," and as the apostle of "sweetness and light." But he brought them sweetness, and he brought them light. He overthrew the Philistinism, corrected the taste, and enriched the ideals of two continents.
Mr. Arnold's criticism of America has been widely discussed. I remember that after the marriage of his daughter to an American, a friend laughingly remarked to him, "And now you have given us hostages, and you will never be able to tell us the truth about ourselves any more." Mr. Arnold smiled, and made no answer; but of him it may be said, if of any, "He was so severe a lover of justice, and so precise a lover of truth, that he was superior to all possible temptations for the violation of either."
When to our ears came the first intimation that in us also he had found things of which he did not wholly approve, we were filled with amazement, and a storm of indignation swept over the land. But even in the midst of our wrath, hushing it to sudden stillness, came the news that the great world-critic was dead—that in praise or in blame he would speak to men no more. Then sorrowfully we remembered how wise had been his judgments as to other countries, and we bethought ourselves that of us and of our institutions he had indeed said nothing unkind, but had spoken only as he had spoken of peoples and of institutions old and new. Our size had not impressed him, our numbers had not awed him, our wealth had not inspired him. He had recalled the great nations of the earth, and had remembered that they were neither the largest nor the richest nor the most populous nations. He had thought of little Greece and little England, and had realized that races, like individuals, are developed by adversity; and he had felt that in our strength there lay a weakness; in our extent, our numbers, and our wealth, a menace to our future. "A revealer of racial faults and racial virtues," it was not given him to flatter and prophesy smooth things; rather to awaken in men divine dissatisfactions, to quicken in them the sense of their infirmities, to lead them to the study of perfection.
His love for England will not be questioned: it is written in enduring monuments, in many paragraphs as deathless as the panegyric, familiar to all, which he pronounced upon Oxford, the home of his youth:
Beautiful city! so venerable, so lovely, so unravaged by the fierce intellectual life of our century, so serene!—
"There are our young barbarians all at play!"
And yet, steeped in sentiment as she lies, spreading her gardens to the moonlight, and whispering from her towers the last enchantments of the Middle Age, who will deny that Oxford, by her ineffable charm, keeps ever calling us nearer to the true goal of all of us, to the ideal, to perfection,—to beauty, in a word, which is only truth seen from another side? Adorable dreamer, whose heart has been so romantic! who hast given thyself so prodigally, given thyself to sides and to heroes not mine, only never to the Philistines! Home of lost causes and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names and impossible loyalties! what example could ever so inspire us to keep down the Philistine in ourselves, what teacher could ever so save us from that bondage to which we are all prone? ... Apparitions of a day, what is our puny warfare against the Philistines compared with that warfare which this queen of romance has been waging against them for centuries, and will wage after we are gone?
But Arnold's devotion to his native land is not more apparent in passages such as these than in those sentences wherein he reproves her.
Philistinism! [he says] we have not the expression in England. Perhaps we have not the expression because we have so much of the thing. At Soli, I imagine, they did not talk of solecisms; and here, at the headquarters of Goliath, nobody talks of Philistinism.... Philistia has come to be thought by us the true Land of Promise, and it is anything but that; the born lover of ideas, the born hater of commonplaces, must feel in this country that the sky over his head is of brass and iron.
Nor is a true devotion more marked in his praise than in the temper with which he answers the critics of his nation's faults; to Heine's bitter censures replying:
I chide with thee not, that thy sharp
Upbraidings often assail'd
England, my country—for we,
Heavy and sad, for her sons,
Long since, deep in our hearts,
Echo the blame of her foes.
We, too, sigh that she flags;
We, too, say that she now—
Scarce comprehending the voice
Of her greatest, golden-mouth'd sons
Of a former age any more—
Stupidly travels her round
Of mechanic business, and lets
Slow die out of her life
Glory, and genius, and joy.
So thou arraign'st her, her foe;
So we arraign her, her sons.
Yes, we arraign her! but she,
The weary Titan, with deaf
Ears, and labour-dimm'd eyes,
Regarding neither to right
Nor left, goes passively by,
Staggering on to her goal;
Bearing on shoulders immense,
Atlanteän, the load,
Wellnigh not to be borne,
Of the too vast orb of her fate.
"It is impossible," says a recent writer, "for any sane person who knows England, and who knows America, to read Matthew Arnold's exposition of the English character, and say that it is in the main untrue." For ourselves, we may deplore, not that he criticized us, but that one so exceptionally qualified had not the opportunity of knowing and of telling us more as to our defects.
It should perhaps not seem strange that since his death there has been manifest in certain quarters a desire to lessen the influence of Arnold by emphasizing in him the quality of unbelief. "Truth provokes those whom she does not convert," and we are slow to forgive the disturbers of our doctrine. Still, it becomes us to acquaint ourselves with the character of the unbelief we condemn, remembering that it is St. Paul who says, "After the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers."
There were published some time ago, and by an authority whose literary decisions as to Mr. Arnold—excepting in so far as they are biased by theological prejudice—are of the best we have yet had, two papers, treating of Newman as the poet of faith and of Arnold as the poet of doubt. And since the writer is not alone in his attempt to magnify the faith of Newman by contrasting it with what is termed Arnold's "doubt," we should ask ourselves upon what grounds such comparisons are based, and for what good reasons these two are selected as typical of qualities so opposed. In this connection, it is interesting to remember that of modern men of genius Matthew Arnold's favorite was John Henry Newman. Many will recall the noble and characteristic sentences which open the lecture on Emerson; wherein, recalling the days when he was an undergraduate at Oxford, Arnold declares, "Voices were in the air there which haunt my memory still," "Happy the man who in that susceptible season of youth hears such voices! They are a possession to him forever." Of those voices Newman's most deeply penetrated the heart of the impressionable student, and though Arnold afterward came to feel that in becoming a Roman Catholic Newman had adopted "for the doubts and difficulties which beset men's minds to-day a solution which, to speak frankly, is impossible," he never ceased to admire in him the combination of traits—the mingled gentleness and irony, lucidity and urbanity—which had captivated his boyish imagination, nor to revere in him the inspirer of his youth. I know of no picture of Newman so winning, so altogether gracious, as that at the beginning of the lecture on Emerson.
Faith and doubt are dangerous terms, readily interchangeable, and requiring at each recurrence to be freshly defined. That Matthew Arnold had "doubts," there can be no question. But how was he singular in this regard? Had the author of Job no doubts? Had Milton, Goethe, Coleridge, Heine, Shelley, Kingsley, Clough, Tennyson, Emerson, no doubts? Had Newman himself no doubts? In a pamphlet published in 1838,the cardinal attempted, so he tells us, "to place the doctrine of the Real Presence on an intellectual basis, by the denial of the existence of Space, except as a subjective idea of our minds." From this it would appear that he had important doubts, since he doubted the existence of space itself. But the entire "Apologia pro Vita sua" is the history of doubt—the apology of a doubter despairingly seeking shelter from "the devouring flame of thought."
That there is no via media in the service of truth, Newman perfectly realized. "My battle," he wrote, "is with liberalism—scarcely now a party; it is the educated lay world." Naturally for him the appeals of truth sounded fainter, and because of his doubts, and the intolerable burden of them, he fled to Rome, finding rest beneath the ægis of authority.
To most of us there come moments of like spiritual lassitude when, wearied in the conflict, we long for like relief; when, the whole head sick, and the whole heart faint, we would gladly fling ourselves upon the bosom of an infallible Church which should bid us think no more. But such moments we account not our noblest moments, nor do we esteem them periods of faith. In the words of Newman—the Newman of an earlier day—we, too, may say: "Considering the high gifts and strong claims of the Church of Rome, and its dependencies on our admiration, reverence, love, and gratitude, how could we withstand it as we do, how could we refrain from being melted into tenderness and rushing into communion with it, but for the words of truth itself, which bid us prefer it to the whole world? 'He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me!'"
The name of Cardinal Newman has been a great name,— many things besides his own rare gifts conspired to make it so,—but it may safely be assumed that it will be a name less potent in the future. For his faith—a faith in darkness and in ignorance we are obliged to consider it—he battled against the enlightenment of the age, against the spirit of "the educated lay world." He distrusted man's highest endowment, and, in dishonoring reason, dishonored, to quote Bishop Butler, "the only faculty given unto man whereby he can judge of anything." His doctrines are already a kind of anachronism, and many of his pages read like protests from the middle ages. He rejected the ideals of the future, and his ideals will the future reject, remembering him tenderly, yet with compassion, as one whose voice still pleaded in the dawn for the return of a night wholly past. Newman may stand for much that is valuable, for much that is appealing, lofty, spiritual, beautiful, but unless by "faith" we mean the abdication of the throne of intelligence, in a voluntary subordination to visible authority, for faith he may not stand.
"No man can be great," says Emerson, "who is not a nonconformist," and certain it is that in their generation the greatest have been accounted heretics, and as heretics condemned. The doubt of to-day becomes the faith of to-morrow, and "incredulity," as Aristotle tells us, "is the beginning of wisdom."
It is not my purpose to attempt a vindication of the religious opinions and teachings of Matthew Arnold. It is necessary only to state what those teachings and opinions actually were, and to free them from some misconceptions. Upon this subject I speak with less timidity because, moved by what seemed to me the erroneous interpretations placed upon them, some years ago I wrote in full my understanding of what the author of "Literature and Dogma" had in that work intended to convey, and, after reading the statement, Mr. Arnold indorsed it fully.
Says the Persian proverb: To know that we know that which we know, and to know that we do not know that which we do not know—that is true knowledge. Matthew Arnold had a fondness for knowing that which he knew, and he disliked what he termed "men's insane license of affirmation about God"—their way of talking of him as of "a magnified and non-natural man in the next street." Holding with Bishop Butler that "religion after all is nothing if it is not true," he believed that our faith should at least rest upon foundations which are verifiable; and for these foundations he looked within, finding in the sense of right and wrong in man—in the Ought, the mysterious Thou shalt, which we name the voice of duty—what seemed to him irrefutable evidence of an enduring power, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness! In other words,he believed that we may verify God, may assure ourselves as to the Eternal who cares for, and who demands of us, righteousness.
The Bible was dear to him as it is dear to few, and his knowledge of the Bible was so exceptional as to be, among laymen, well nigh unique. He recommended men to read it, not as a miraculous and talismanic book, but as the best account of the spiritual life of that people who, of all the peoples of the earth, had the greatest genius for conduct—the clearest intuitions concerning the Eternal who loveth righteousness. Conduct he estimated as three fourths of life, and he held with the prophet Micah, that "To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly" is to fulfil the requirement of the Eternal. O ye that love the Eternal, see that ye hate the thing which is evil! To him that ordereth his conversation right shall be shown the salvation of God!
Religion he defined, not as the acceptance or rejection of dogmas, but as "a temper and a behavior," and he urged men to the Bible that they might win from its teachings something of the secret and the method of Christ, something of the mildness and sweet reasonableness of Jesus; that, through its influence, they might come to believe that "the path of the just is as a shining light," that "the gentle shall inherit the earth," that "the pure in heart shall see God."
I once repeated to him some lines of Clough's which pleased him. They were these: "Let there be priests to preserve the known, and let them, as is their office, magnify their office, and say, 'It is all'; but there shall also be priests to vindicate the unknown, nor shall it be accounted presumption in them to maintain, 'It is not all!'" Matthew Arnold had no quarrel with the known, but he himself was a priest of the unknown, and for its vindication he labored till the end. We talk of doubt, but the real doubt was not in him. His eye was single, and in all that is most lovely, most sacred, most abiding he believed; but he spoke, in a time of spiritual conflict and transition-state of opinion, to the needs of a doubt-sick world—a world grown material and skeptical of good, which, casting all faith behind, questions whether it be not well to eat, drink, and be merry, since to-morrow we die.
Long fed on boundless hopes, O race of man,
How angrily thou spurn'st all simpler fare!
"Christ," some one says, "was human as we are;
No judge eyes us from Heaven, our sin to scan;
We live no more when we have done our span."—
"Well, then, for Christ," thou answerest, "who can care?
From sin, which Heaven records not, why forbear?
Live we like brutes, our life without a plan?"
So answerest thou; but why not rather say:
"Hath man no second life?—Pitch this one high!
Sits there no judge in Heaven, our sin to see?—
More strictly, then, the inward judge obey!
Was Christ a man like us?—Ah! let us try
If we then, too, can be such men as he!"
So replied he to the forlorn unbelief of the age; so, and in even loftier strains, in his "East London."
A recent writer, in speaking of these two sonnets, says, "There may be better poetry in the English language, but there are no better sermons." Whatever our differences of opinion, it must be admitted that Matthew Arnold was always, and clearly, on the side of religion, virtue, and the ideal. The last years of his life he devoted to the salvation of men from their doubts, and some he saved. In a quotation of incomparable felicity he has defined the infallible Church Catholic, as "the prophetic soul of the wide world, dreaming on things to come." Of that church he preached the evangel, and its wistful musings; its deathless aspirations he declared. Many will say they believed more than he, and therefore did not need him. Let them rejoice, who were already so happy, but let them remember, what in "Literature and Dogma" he distinctly avows, that "he did not speak to them." A benefactor of the race, eagerly interested in its mental and spiritual progress, the future will award him the praise he bestowed on Emerson: "He was the friend and aider of those who would live in the spirit."
It is habitual with some, at mention of the name of Matthew Arnold, to speak of what they call his gloom. "He is so sad," they say, "so hopeless, so depressing." Of the prevalent misapprehensions concerning him, this seems the most curious; and marveling how any who have read him can have arrived at so inadequate a conclusion, one is tempted to question whether the objectors to his "gloom" can, indeed, have read him, save in the most fragmentary way. Those to whom his writings are undoubtedly known, even where their prejudices lead them to feel that one holding his heretical opinions should be gloomy, hopeless, sad, admit that he was not so, and bear ready witness to his buoyancy, to the high courage and cheerfulness with which, under conditions the most adverse and dispiriting, "he onward fared, by his own heart inspired." Of his verse Richard Holt Hutton remarks: "It is this sense of pure refreshment in Nature, this calm amid feverish strife, this dew after hot thought, that determines the style of his studies of Nature. His poetry of this kind is the sweetest, the most tranquilizing, the most quieting of its sort to be found in English literature." Mr. Augustine Birrell calls attention to an assertion made in the London "Spectator" that Mr. Arnold's poetry "has never consoled anybody." Of this assertion he indignantly declares:
A falser statement was never made innocently. Mr. Arnold's poetry has been found full of consolation! How could it be otherwise? His love of nature and treatment of nature have been to many a vexed soul a great joy and an intense relief. . . . He was most distinctly on the side of human enjoyment. The world's sights and sounds were dear to him: "the uncrumpling fern," "the eternal moon-lit snow," "sweet-william, with its homely cottage-smell," "the red grouse, springing at our sound," "the tinkling bells of the high-pasturing kine"—human loves, joys, sorrows, all interested, touched, or amused him. He is not a bulky poet,—three volumes contain him,—but hardly a page can be opened without the eye lighting on verse which at one time or another has been, either to you or some one dear to you, strength or joy.
And in this connection we have Arnold's own testimony. Of Emerson he says:
Yes, truly, his insight is admirable; his truth is precious. Yet the secret of his effect is not in these; it is in his temper. It is in the hopeful, serene, beautiful temper wherewith these, in Emerson, are indissolubly joined. He says himself: "We judge of a man's wisdom by his hope, knowing that the perception of the inexhaustibleness of nature is an immortal youth." . . . His abiding word for us, the word by which being dead he yet speaks to us, is this: "That which befits us, embosomed in beauty and wonder as we are, is cheerfulness and courage, and the endeavor to realize our aspirations." One can scarcely overrate the importance of thus holding fast to happiness and hope. It gives to Emerson's work an invaluable virtue.... Carlyle's perverse attitude toward happiness cuts him off from hope. He fiercely attacks the desire for happiness. He is wrong; "We judge of a man's wisdom by his hope." ... Wise men everywhere know that we must keep up our courage and hope; that hope is, as Wordsworth well says,
"The paramount duty
For its own honour, on man's suffering heart."
Those who talk of Arnold's gloom ignore that playful and unique vein of humor which, threading his thought and conversation like a sunlit strand, lent them charm and brightness. In him the world lost a source of gladness. "He always conspired and contrived to make things pleasant." From those of his own household the statement is ever the same. "He was the very center and joy of our lives." His mirth was as spontaneous and irresistible as that of a child, and the buoyancy and elasticity of his temper were as wonderful as were its mildness and benignity.
But humor, we are told, finds no place at the top of Parnassus, and it would be absurd to claim that there is not in Arnold's poetry, as in most things wholly exquisite, a note of sadness and melancholy yearning. He is the greatest of our elegiac poets; yet "the irrepressible elation of the idealist" was his, and his verse, written with intense sincerity and exaltation of touch, has an out-of-door and incommunicable charm which restores and elevates the mind. If it is true, as Hutton tells us, that in his poems there are the qualities ascribed by Hazlitt to Wordsworth's "Laodamia," "the sweetness, the strength, the gravity, the beauty, and the languor of death—calm contemplation and majestic pains," equally true is it that to certain minds there have come "a refreshment and illumination from his pages, which they have found nowhere else"; that living, as he lived, very near to us, "his verse inspires, in those who care for it at all, an almost passionate devotedness." "One reads his poems," wrote an eminent critic years ago—"one reads his poems for the fiftieth time, and for the fiftieth time one feels inclined to esteem their author for the chief of living poets!"
To our great ones we pardon much, condoning often where we should condemn, but Arnold requires of us neither excuses nor compassion. In him was that rare combination of qualities ascribed to Pericles—a genius the most fervid, with passions the best regulated.
In an article published in the "Manchester Guardian," and entitled "Matthew Arnold—by One who Knew him Well," Mr. Thomas Arnold, the father of Mrs. Humphry Ward, and a man distinguished as one of the more important of those who followed Newman into the Church of Rome, thus writes of his brother:
When we survey the wide field over which ranged the powerful mind of him whom we have lost,—the poetry of every age, classical literature, the philosophy of the Græco-Roman and Christian worlds, all that is best in modern literature, besides the special knowledge of education and its methods which his calling required,—and then consider that more than forty years ago, when he was but twenty-four years old, this man knew that he was, in a certain sense, doomed,—an eminent physician having told him that the action of his heart was not regular,—the spectacle of his unflagging energy all these years, of his cheerfulness, his hopefulness, his unselfish helpfulness, his tender sympathy with all the honest weak, and all the struggling good, seems to bring before us one of the most pathetic and beautiful pictures that modern life affords.
Yes, he who at the time of his death "was probably, all things considered, the most distinguished man of letters of the English-speaking world," while laboring with entire devotedness for the happiness and elevation of men, was himself "surely and visibly touched by the finger of doom."
In this relation a deeper interest attaches to the following extract from one of the last letters which he wrote to this country.
I had been thinking of you [he says], and had sent off to you a republication of one of my books, which contains some new matter, and would, I thought, interest you. Now comes your letter, which I am glad to receive though it tells me of ——'s death. I remember her perfectly; she was a woman of great vigor of mind, and it was a pleasure to me to make her acquaintance. One should try to bring oneself to regard death as a quite natural event, and surely in the case of the old it is not difficult to do this. For my part, since I was sixty, I have regarded each year, as it ended, as something to the good beyond what I could naturally have expected. This summer in America I began to think that my time was really coming to an end—I had so much pain in my chest, the sign of a malady which had suddenly struck down in middle life, long before they came to my present age, both my father and grandfather. I feel sure that the University lecture in Philadelphia had nothing to do with it; the heat did not oppress me, and the beauty of your vegetation was a perpetual pleasure.... My remembrance of our last visit to you, and of your tulip-trees and maples, I shall never lose.... Think of me when the tulip-trees come into blossom in June.
Five years have passed since those words were written, and it is June. Once more I see the maple green, and the tulip-trees in flower—but
Florence Earle Coates.