View Single Post
Old Wednesday, October 31, 2012
kiyani's Avatar
kiyani kiyani is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Nov 2009
Location: Pakistan
Posts: 185
Thanks: 284
Thanked 161 Times in 96 Posts
kiyani will become famous soon enough
Default Literary Criticism (NUML Notes)

Matthew Arnold

The "eternal objects of poetry" are actions: "human actions; possessing an inherent interest in themselves."

The poet must not deal with the outer circumstances of a man's life, but with the "inward man; with [his] feelings and behavior in certain tragic situations."

Criticism prepares the way for great poetry by "see[ing] the object as in itself it really is."

Criticism strips away political agendas and makes "an intellectual situation of which the creative power can profitably avail itself."

"For the creation of a masterwork of literature two powers must concur, the power of the man and the power of the moment, and the man is not enough without the moment."

Criticism's primary quality is to be disinterestedness.
The law of criticism's being is "the idea of a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world."

For a poem to be of real quality, it must possess both a "higher truth" and a "higher seriousness."

For Arnold, the "eternal objects of poetry" are actions: "human actions; possessing an inherent interest in themselves." Those actions are "most excellent . . . which most powerfully appeal to the great primary human affections." Arnold believes that there is an elementary and shared part of human nature--"our passions." "That which is great and passionate is eternally interesting . . . A great human action of a thousand years ago is more interesting . . . than a smaller human action of today." In keeping with this necessity to appeal to human passion, the poet must not deal with the outer circumstances of a man's life, but with the "inward man; with [his] feelings and behavior in certain tragic situations." Arnold regarded the classical poets as superior to the moderns in this respect: the classical poets emphasized "the poetical character of the action in itself," while the moderns emphasize "the separate thoughts and images which occur in the treatment of an action." The classical authors "regarded the whole." The moderns "regard the parts." Arnold also prefers the simplicity of classical poetic language to the "overcuriousness of expression" found in Shakespeare, who "appears in his language to have tried all styles except that of simplicity."

Function of Criticism

Criticism is, for Arnold, a secondary pursuit, inferior to the creative function of writing good poetry. Criticism prepares the way for great poetry (John the Baptist as a voice crying out in the literary wilderness) by "see[ing] the object as in itself it really is." In this way, criticism strips away political agendas and makes "an intellectual situation of which the creative power can profitably avail itself." It establishes "an order of ideas, if not absolutely true, yet true by comparison with that which it displaces; to make the best ideas prevail." (This is now called--in the terminology stolen from Thomas Kuhn--a paradigm shift.) Out of the "stir and growth" of criticism "come the creative epochs of literature. Great literature cannot simply be written by anyone at anytime: "for the creation of a masterwork of literature two powers must concur, the power of the man and the power of the moment, and the man is not enough without the moment." Great artists must be nourished by their times in order to produce great art. "The English poetry of the first quarter of the [19th] century . . . did not know enough." The times in England were not conducive to great poetry: "In the England of the first quarter of this century there was neither a national glow of life and thought . . . nor yet a culture and a force of learning and criticism."
Criticism's primary quality is to be disinterestedness. It is to keep "aloof from what is called the practical view of things" by resolutely following the law of its own nature, which is to be a "free play of the mind on all subjects which it touches." It is resolutely to avoid political polemics of the sort which dominate criticism in the late 20th century: "Criticism must maintain its independence of the practical spirit and its aioms." The law of criticism's being is "the idea of a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world."

The Study of Poetry

This is where Arnold apotheosizes poetry:
"More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, so sutain us. Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete; and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry."
Arnold outlines three ways in which poems may have importance: 1) they "may count to us historically"; 2) "they may count to us on grounds personal to ourselves"; 3) "they may count to us really." A poem may be regarded as important due to its position in the development of a language--but this does not say anything about its intrinsic merit. A poem may appeal to readers for personal reasons which have nothing to do with intrinsic merit. For a poem to be of real quality, it must possess both a "higher truth" and a "higher seriousness." Chaucer is out.

Matthew Arnold and the Function of Criticism
• Published: Mon August 7th, 2006
• By: Timothy Sexton
• Category: Arts & Entertainment

What is the role of the critic in society? A common observation is that one shouldn't criticize another unless they are capable of doing that which they criticize. I've never understood that point of view. Just because I'm not capable of playing the guitar doesn't mean that I can't distinguish between good and bad guitar playing. This point of view may be regarded in light of the truly bad criticism so prevalent among movie critics today, but genuine criticism has proven to be a very valuable component in the evolution of literature.
Early in his career Matthew Arnold was himself a very popular admired poet. Later in his life, however, he turned his considerable talent toward literary criticism as well as social criticism. In his seminal work on the subject, The Function of Criticism at the Present Time, Matthew Arnold posits the idea that criticism is an endeavor that is not dependent upon any creative art form, but rather enjoys an intrinsic value in itself. The value of criticism lies in bringing joy to the writer of it as well as playing a prominent role in ensuring that the best ideas reach society.
Matthew Arnold echoes the thoughts of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle's views of poetry when he declares that the ultimate function of humankind lies in exercising its creative power. Arnold therefore is able to link criticism with creative power in his essay, ultimately asserting that writing criticism actually produces in its practitioner a sense of ecstatic creative joy very similar to that enjoyed by the person who engages in creative writing.
Matthew Arnold goes on to equate the emotional experience of writing criticism with the emotional experience of creative writing in order to undermine the typical rap against criticism that it serves no purpose, or is just the sour grapes expression of one who criticizes something that he can't do as well himself.
Throughout the essay, Matthew Arnold very carefully delineates the personal function of criticism, but he also leaps from the personal to the universal in his argument that one of the functions of criticism is to propagate the best ideas so that they trickle down to the masses. According to Arnold, truly great liteature and thinking springs forth from an epoch of great ideas, and these epochs are manifested when the great ideas reach the masses.
The critic's part in this process requires that he disinterestedly recognize greatness in writing and use his critical powers to impart this greatness to the common man. In turn, the common man will be so influenced by the great ideas that his creative juices reach a boil.
In other words, the reason that periods of great creativity and periods of dormant creativity seems to come in irregular intervals can be traced just as much to the critic who recognizes creative greatness and brings it to the public's attention as it can to the creator of the great work. Examples of what Matthew Arnold is talking about can be illustrated in recent times when periods of lackluster creativity in movies or music have been kickstarted by exciting new talent brought to the attention of the masses by critical success rather than commecial success.
To further define what he's talking about consider whether you would ever have heard the music of such relatively commercially unsuccessful artists as U2 or REM, or such filmmakers as Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino if critical acclaim had not extended their careers long enough to achieve commercial success. Now consider the influence of these bands and filmmakers and how the music and film industry would be vastly different if they'd never made it big.
Instead of merely laying out a blueprint for criticism, Arnold attempts to prove that criticism in and of itself has several vital functions and should be regarded as art form that is at least as significant as any creative art form.

17. The Function of Criticism—M. Arnold & T.S. Eliot
With this lecture, we begin a new unit, objective criticism. We shall offer first, an overview of the main theorists of this unit. We shall them examine closely, two seminal essays that laid the groundwork for objective theory, Matthew Arnold's, The Function of Criticism at the Present Time, and T.S. Eliot's, Tradition and the Individual Talent. In this unit, we shall consider a theoretical shift from the poet to the poem itself. In other words, we're going to move from expressive theories, interested in the relationship between poem and poet, to objective theories (the fourth and last of our perspectives), interested in the relationship between the poem and itself. You'll really understand what that means, by the end of this unit. Now, this shift to objective criticism, or objective theories, begins in the critical essays of Matthew Arnold, and T.S. Eliot. So that's what we'll do in this lecture. Now, although Arnold the poet was strongly Romantic, Arnold the critic sought to replace the Romantic focus on feeling, with the renewed focus on ideas. Matthew Arnold is a fascinating character, because his career breaks smoothly into two halves. The first is all poetry, and then at a certain point, he stops writing poetry completely, and begins to write prose. His poetry is all exceedingly Romantic, melancholy, over-wrought, and he never was able to move beyond that. So finally it's as if Arnold gave-up on the poetry and turned to criticism. So whereas, as I mentioned, his poetry is Romantic, his criticism turns away from Romanticism in many ways, and wants to go back to ideas. It's sort of like a return to the 18th century in some ways. So as a Victorian sage, Arnold attempted to set aesthetic standards for his age, harkening back to the systematic theories of Pope and Burke. So we go back to this NeoClassical idea of the critic setting a kind of refined aesthetic taste. Arnold is going back to that idea of the critic, and of the poet as well. Now Eliot, writing half a century later, taking us into the 20th century, continued this de-Romanticizing of theory, moving away from Romantics. In fact, Eliot will argue that poetry is essentially a de-personalizing process. We'll see that in the second half of this lecture. Now again, in this lecture, we shall consider the theories of Arnold and Eliot, in two ways, both as critics just in their own right, yet also as precursors of what we're calling objective theory. Then in lectures 18 and 19, we shall turn our focus to the full flowering of objective theory in the 20th century American school of New Criticism. Through a close look at essays by I.A. Richards, John Crowe Ransom, W.K. Wimsatt, and Cleanth Brook, we shall explore the new critical belief that each poem is a self-contained, self-referential artifact. We will see in lectures 18 and 19, how they turn the poem into its own little universe. That's pure objective theory! We shall also discuss how the new critics created a special aesthetic space for poetry that would preserve it from all external forces. In other words, the new critics are what we might call, Neo-Kantians. Just like Immanuel Kant, they want to create a separate aesthetic place. So it's a different kind of thing, poetry. We'll see that as well in lectures 18 and 19. Finally, also in those lectures, we shall discuss the battery of new tools and methods that the new critics taught us to use when explicating poetry. New Criticism is very practical and pragmatic, it gives us rules and methods and tools. Then in lecture 20, we'll take up the archetypal theories of Northup Frye. Now also like the new critics, Frye kept his eye on the internal structure of the poem, he delves even deeper to uncover vast, mythic networks, and so in the last lecture of the unit, we'll widen our perspective to look at this large-scale, mythic view of poetry. In studying Frye, we'll also view him not as only in the context of objective theory, but in that of Christian typology and allegory. That is a Medieval thing I skipped, so we'll go back to it them, because it's linked to Frye. Finally, in all four lectures of this unit, you'll want to note how we'll focus on how theorists since Arnold have increasingly emphasized the importance and centrality of criticism itself. Starting with Matthew Arnold, the critic comes into his own, and has only gotten more and more important as we move to the end of our century. All right, lets turn to Matthew Arnold. In his seminal essay, The Function of Criticism at the Present Time, he argues for the central role of the critic in fostering great literature. He begins his essay by asserting that criticism is a positive, noble task (agreeing with Alexander Pope in this, but even more fully on it). You know that even today, a lot of people look down on critics. For many, they are like parasites, like lawyers (no offense to lawyers in the audience), but a lot of people look down at them as sort of like sponges. Well, it was even more so in Arnold's time. So Arnold wants to say that criticism is positive and noble. Now, like Pope, he does agree that finally, the creative faculty is superior to the critical, but still he insists strongly that criticism is a worthwhile endeavor; it is worth doing, it is good, it is noble. Here's a little explanation he gives: “All people have the need to exercise (what he calls) 'free creative activity.' Indeed, the exercise of this power, constitutes man's greatest joy.” Now if you think back to lecture 11 and Schiller, his idea of the play-drive is very similar to this “free creative activity;” our need to sort of expand our mind, to emphasize ideas, to move-out, to think; that's called free creative activity. Now the problem is that not all men exercise this power through the production of literature. Very few of us are great poets. So if the only way to do this, is the only way to get to joy, then there are going to be very few happy people, since so very few are poets! So, Arnold tells us that for many people, criticism functions as their main outlet of mental play. Not everyone is a poet, so sometimes criticism can be a way to exercise free creative activity. Now, Arnold carefully distinguishes between the creative faculty, and the critical faculty, showing us the difference. Whereas the creative faculty most expresses itself in the synthesis of existing ideas, it's the critical faculty that creates these ideas. Let's see how this works. Critics create new ideas through analysis and discovery, by seeing objects as they are. So critics use analysis and then look at the object, in order to see it as it really is. They're very clear-minded, almost scientific in a way. Isn't that different than poets? Romantics said poets are interested in synthesis, and they're interested in perception, in how things are perceived by poets, not as how they are. So now, Arnold is doing something interesting. Criticism is analysis, and poetry is synthesis. So now the critic is not to be disparaged, as he so often was by Romantics. Why did Romantics spurn critics? They privileged synthesis and subjective perception, over objective analysis. So even Wordsworth, later in life, said that he shouldn't have wasted his time with criticism. Now, we're glad that he did waste his time with it, but even he eventually turned against it. So that's sort of a Romantic thing, almost a Romantic myth, to turn away from analysis. Now if you're listening carefully, note what else he says. If the critic does analysis in order to prepare the way for the poet, then the critic is the one who offers raw material to the poet. It's almost like the critic is the primary imagination, and poetry is the secondary imagination, if we want to think about it in that way. So it's the critic who comes up with new ideas, and it's the poet who uses those new ideas. Let me explain more fully, the way Arnold does. He carries this distinction between critic and poet, into a wider, aesthetic view of history, by distinguishing between two epochs or ages, in what we might call the life-cycle of a culture. So there are two different epochs. The first epoch is called an epoch of expansion. Well, there's really no first and second here. Yet this is where a culture is rich with new and fresh ideas. So ideas are expanding, they are lively, full of life, vivacious. Now, during such epochs, poets are needed to harness this intellectual energy and convert it into great works of art. Let's put it in Shelly's way. Poets are needed to embody the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. Now Arnold tell us, unfortunately, that such epochs are rare. In fact, he only really identifies two of them, with which most people would agree. The first is Periclean Athens, the age of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The second, you might guess, is Elizabethan England, the age of Shakespeare, the British Renaissance. Those are really the only two he sees as full-fledged epochs of expansion. Yet oddly, unlike Shelly, Arnold did not consider the Romantic age, that which was born of the French Revolution, to be an epoch of expansion. He thought it almost was, but it failed. Instead, he considered his age (recall he's still thinking of himself as a Romantic until he really thinks of himself as Victorian), to be an epoch of concentration, one in which ideas are stagnant and the free exchange of ideas is stifled. So if you think about concentrated in terms of stifled, like a swamp or something, that's what he means by an epoch of concentration. There are no new ideas; they've grown stagnant, cliched, and old. Well, you might be thinking about something now, and come up with the idea before I even say it. Just as poets are needed to harness the energy of epochs of expansion, so critics are needed during epochs of concentration, in order to help create and foster a free flow of ideas that will initiate a new epoch of expansion. So you see, during epochs of concentration, a poet can't do anything, because there are no new ideas. So you need the critic in order to create those new ideas, through analysis and objective observation. Louis thinks it's a fascinating idea. Now for Arnold, great literature is the product of a creative fusion between a great poet (“the man”), and an epoch of expansion (“the moment”). So just being a great poet is not enough. You've got to be one living during an epoch of expansion, because if not, there will not be the raw material for you to write your great poetry. Allright, let's be a little bit critical of Matthew Arnold. Louis thinks it's very possible that the reason he invented this idea, was because he wanted to give us an excuse for why he wasn't a great poet! He tried to, and failed! His poetry is still worth reading, but he's not on the level of a Wordsworth or anything. Perhaps what he's doing is saying, hey, the reason I couldn't be a great poet, is because here I am, stuck in this epoch of concentration! So let me turn to criticism and do something. Now even if it's true that this is Arnold's motivation, Louis still thinks the system makes a lot of sense and really works. There are ages when poetry flourishes more, because there are more ideas. Again, epochs of concentration need the analysis of criticism, whereas the epochs of expansion need the synthesis of poetry. Again, it's not enough to be a gifted poet, without the fresh ideas available in an epoch of expansion. The poet will lack the necessary raw material for great art. What is the upshot of this? Poets and critics are interdependent, they need each other. Without the critic, there can be no poet. Without the poet, there is not much reason for the critic, so they are interdependent. This notion helps set-off a steady increase in the role and status of the critic. Now I would say, as I will later again, that we've gone a little bit overboard. We've made the critic too much. Arnold would still say that the critic is the handmaiden of the poet, like Alexander Pope did. So again, he opened the way, and nowadays criticism sometimes even takes itself more seriously than poetry. Allright, if criticism is so important for Arnold, what is criticism? Well very luckily, he gives us a very famous definition of what criticism is, and we encourage you to memorize this, because it's a great one: “Criticism is a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world.” There are two parts to that, the disinterested part, and the part that is best known in thought. Let's look at the disinterested part first. Now, the word disinterested, as opposed to uninterested, signifies a critical approach that is removed, objective, and free from all political agendas. It's not uninterested, so it doesn't say, I don't care. Disinterested means again, that it's above these things. It doesn't worry about political agendas and ideologies, but it rises above, it's objective and removed. Note how this has a little touch of Kant here, this idea of poetry. Basically, what Kant says about poetry, he says about criticism, but it's aesthetic criticism after all. Criticism is free from all agendas. Arnold says that: “Criticism constitutes a higher kind of curiosity, a free play of mind that follows the flow of ideas wherever that flow may lead.” Now recall again in our Schiller lecture, we actually got you thinking about Arnold when we said that he became upset because in his day, curiosity had a negative connotation in the British language, as something childish; while in France, it has a good reputation, as something intelligent adults do. Well, here's where this comes from. Curiosity is a good thing, linked to the free play of mind; it is criticism. Now, Arnold was upset with the critics of his day, because he felt they were too partisan. We've heard a lot about partisan politics these days of course. They only engaged in as much free play of mind, as their party platform allowed. In other words, there were lots of great journals in Britain during this time, but some of them were Tory journals, and some were with Whigs, or other different parties. Each party had journals that were linked to that party. So what would happen was, if you were writing for a Tory journal, you would only allow for as much free play of mind as would fit-in with the Tory political agenda, and the same thing for the Whig agenda. Yet for Arnold, criticism has got to rise above any kind of party politics or partisan ideologies. So again, it's linked to this British view of negative curiosity. They think , ah, that's just too childish. Criticism has got to be pragmatic, linked to a party. No, Arnold says that true criticism has to be free, free to explore. If it's linked to a platform, it's not free. So what we're saying is that for Arnold, criticism has a value that transcends pragmatism (very Kantian). Indeed, it even transcends narrow, national boundaries, to interest itself in the culture and traditions of all Europe. In other words, Criticism can't only not join the bandwagon of Tory or Whig, but also cannot get involved in any British jingoism that says Britain is better than France, is better than Germany, etc. Criticism should be truly disinterested and treat all of European literature with equal respect. Now in addition to propagating new ideas to inspire poets, the job of the critic includes identifying (again the definition), the best that is known and thought. That's why the critic has to be free to explore all of Europe, because England no got got the sole authority on the best that is known and thought. You've got to go out and... Now this tends to be pretty European. We could expand it to Asia or something, but he's thinking in a European context here. So you've got to be open to all the literature throughout Europe, if you are going to identify the best that is known and thought. Now, by the best, what Arnold means is what we today call the canon, or the great books of the western world. You know what I mean, those by Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Chaucer, etc. In other words, this is the canon, the great books that traditionally formed the core of great studies. Until fairly recently, everyone accepted that this was the western tradition, and this is what we should study. Now Arnold firmly believed that these works in the canon (like the canonical books of the bible), were aesthetically superior, and that they could be shown to be so, by objective disinterested criticism. In other words, he believed that you could prove that certain books belonged in the canon by objective, non-political criteria. He basically believed it to be self-evident and obvious. Now most people felt that way as well, but many critics today, moderns and post-moderns, totally disagree with Arnold. They view the canon as the product of socio-political forces, which determine what is acceptable and what isn't. We'll use the phrase you all know, that everything which is in the canon, is not because it's not great, but because it was written by dead, white, male heterosexuals. We've heard this before in the vernacular. In other words, what modern and postmodern people often say, is that those things are not in the canon because they are aesthetically, objectively superior, as Arnold claims, but because they are politically correct to that time period. So as you can imagine, Arnold is a huge bugbear of modern and postmodern theory. Guess what, Eliot is also a bugbear, because they both are at one in their view of the canon. In fact, they helped to sort of organized it. Now people knew what it was already, but they helped to get it as a sort of system in schools. So Arnold and Eliot are out of favor in many ways, because of their canonical view of literature, and just the western tradition in general. Well, let's turn to Eliot now.

Introduction: Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), the Victorian poet and critic, was 'the first modern critic' [1], and could be called 'the critic's critic', being a champion not only of great poetry, but of literary criticism itself. The purpose of literary criticism, in his view, was 'to know the best that is known and thought in the world, and by in its turn making this known, to create a current of true and fresh ideas', and he has influenced a whole school of critics including new critics such as T. S. Eliot, F. R. Leavis, and Allen Tate. He was the founder of the sociological school of criticism, and through his touchstone method introduced scientific objectivity to critical evaluation by providing comparison and analysis as the two primary tools of criticism.
Arnold's evaluations of the Romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, and Keats are landmarks in descriptive criticism, and as a poet-critic he occupies an eminent position in the rich galaxy of poet-critics of English literature.
T. S. Eliot praised Arnold's objective approach to critical evaluation, particularly his tools of comparison and analysis, and Allen Tate in his essay Tension in Poetry imitates Arnold's touchstone method to discover 'tension', or the proper balance between connotation and denotation, in poetry. These new critics have come a long way from the Romantic approach to poetry, and this change in attitude could be attributed to Arnold, who comes midway between the two schools.

The social role of poetry and criticism
To Arnold a critic is a social benefactor. In his view the creative artist, no matter how much of a genius, would cut a sorry figure without the critic to come to his aid. Before Arnold a literary critic cared only for the beauties and defects of works of art, but Arnold the critic chose to be the educator and guardian of public opinion and propagator of the best ideas.
Cultural and critical values seem to be synonymous for Arnold. Scott James, comparing him to Aristotle, says that where Aristotle analyses the work of art, Arnold analyses the role of the critic. The one gives us the principles which govern the making of a poem, the other the principles by which the best poems should be selected and made known. Aristotle's critic owes allegiance to the artist, but Arnold's critic has a duty to society.
To Arnold poetry itself was the criticism of life: 'The criticism of life under the conditions fixed for such criticism by the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty', and in his seminal essay The Study of Poetry' 1888) he says that poetry alone can be our sustenance and stay in an era where religious beliefs are fast losing their hold. He claims that poetry is superior to philosophy, science, and religion. Religion attaches its emotion to supposed facts, and the supposed facts are failing it, but poetry attaches its emotion to ideas and ideas are infallible. And science, in his view is incomplete without poetry. He endorses Wordsworth's view that 'poetry is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all Science', adding 'What is a countenance without its expression?' and calls poetry 'the breath and finer spirit of knowledge'.

A moralist
As a critic Arnold is essentially a moralist, and has very definite ideas about what poetry should and should not be. A poetry of revolt against moral ideas, he says, is a poetry of revolt against life, and a poetry of indifference to moral ideas is a poetry of indifference to life.
Arnold even censored his own collection on moral grounds. He omitted the poem Empedocles on Etna from his volume of 1853, whereas he had included it in his collection of 1852. The reason he advances, in the Preface to his Poems of 1853 is not that the poem is too subjective, with its Hamlet-like introspection, or that it was a deviation from his classical ideals, but that the poem is too depressing in its subject matter, and would leave the reader hopeless and crushed. There is nothing in it in the way of hope or optimism, and such a poem could prove to be neither instructive nor of any delight to the reader.
Aristotle says that poetry is superior to History since it bears the stamp of high seriousness and truth. If truth and seriousness are wanting in the subject matter of a poem, so will the true poetic stamp of diction and movement be found wanting in its style and manner. Hence the two, the nobility of subject matter, and the superiority of style and manner, are proportional and cannot occur independently.
Arnold took up Aristotle's view, asserting that true greatness in poetry is given by the truth and seriousness of its subject matter, and by the high diction and movement in its style and manner, and although indebted to Joshua Reynolds for the expression 'grand style', Arnold gave it a new meaning when he used it in his lecture On Translating Homer (1861):
I think it will be found that that the grand style arises in poetry when a noble nature, poetically gifted, treats with simplicity or with a severity a serious subject.
According to Arnold, Homer is the best model of a simple grand style, while Milton is the best model of severe grand style. Dante, however, is an example of both.
Even Chaucer, in Arnold's view, in spite of his virtues such as benignity, largeness, and spontaneity, lacks seriousness. Burns too lacks sufficient seriousness, because he was hypocritical in that while he adopted a moral stance in some of his poems, in his private life he flouted morality.

Return to Classical values
Arnold believed that a modern writer should be aware that contemporary literature is built on the foundations of the past, and should contribute to the future by continuing a firm tradition. Quoting Goethe and Niebuhr in support of his view, he asserts that his age suffers from spiritual weakness because it thrives on self-interest and scientific materialism, and therefore cannot provide noble characters such as those found in Classical literature.
He urged modern poets to look to the ancients and their great characters and themes for guidance and inspiration. Classical literature, in his view, possess pathos, moral profundity and noble simplicity, while modern themes, arising from an age of spiritual weakness, are suitable for only comic and lighter kinds of poetry, and don't possess the loftiness to support epic or heroic poetry.
Arnold turns his back on the prevailing Romantic view of poetry and seeks to revive the Classical values of objectivity, urbanity, and architectonics. He denounces the Romantics for ignoring the Classical writers for the sake of novelty, and for their allusive (Arnold uses the word 'suggestive') writing which defies easy comprehension.

Preface to Poems of 1853
In the preface to his Poems (1853) Arnold asserts the importance of architectonics; ('that power of execution, which creates, forms, and constitutes') in poetry - the necessity of achieving unity by subordinating the parts to the whole, and the expression of ideas to the depiction of human action, and condemns poems which exist for the sake of single lines or passages, stray metaphors, images, and fancy expressions. Scattered images and happy turns of phrase, in his view, can only provide partial effects, and not contribute to unity. He also, continuing his anti-Romantic theme, urges, modern poets to shun allusiveness and not fall into the temptation of subjectivity.
He says that even the imitation of Shakespeare is risky for a young writer, who should imitate only his excellences, and avoid his attractive accessories, tricks of style, such as quibble, conceit, circumlocution and allusiveness, which will lead him astray.
Arnold commends Shakespeare's use of great plots from the past. He had what Goethe called the architectonic quality, that is his expression was matched to the action (or the subject). But at the same time Arnold quotes Hallam to show that Shakespeare's style was complex even where the press of action demanded simplicity and directness, and hence his style could not be taken as a model by young writers. Elsewhere he says that Shakespeare's 'expression tends to become a little sensuous and simple, too much intellectualised'.
Shakespeare's excellences are 1)The architectonic quality of his style; the harmony between action and expression. 2) His reliance on the ancients for his themes. 3) Accurate construction of action. 4) His strong conception of action and accurate portrayal of his subject matter. 5) His intense feeling for the subjects he dramatises.

His attractive accessories (or tricks of style) which a young writer should handle carefully are 1) His fondness for quibble, fancy, conceit. 2) His excessive use of imagery. 3) Circumlocution, even where the press of action demands directness. 4) His lack of simplicity (according to Hallam and Guizot). 5) His allusiveness.

As an example of the danger of imitating Shakespeare he gives Keats's imitation of Shakespeare in his Isabella or the Pot of Basil. Keats uses felicitous phrases and single happy turns of phrase, yet the action is handled vaguely and so the poem does not have unity. By way of contrast, he says the Italian writer Boccaccio handled the same theme successfully in his Decameron, because he rightly subordinated expression to action. Hence Boccaccio's poem is a poetic success where Keats's is a failure.
Arnold also wants the modern writer to take models from the past because they depict human actions which touch on 'the great primary human affections: to those elementary feelings which subsist permanently in the race, and which are independent of time'. Characters such as Agamemnon, Dido, Aeneas, Orestes, Merope, Alcmeon, and Clytemnestra, leave a permanent impression on our minds. Compare 'The Iliad' or 'The Aeneid' with 'The Childe Harold' or 'The Excursion' and you see the difference.
A modern writer might complain that ancient subjects pose problems with regard to ancient culture, customs, manners, dress and so on which are not familiar to contemporary readers. But Arnold is of the view that a writer should not concern himself with the externals, but with the 'inward man'. The inward man is the same irrespective of clime or time.

The Function of Criticism
It is in his The Function of Criticism at the Present Time (1864) that Arnold says that criticism should be a 'dissemination of ideas, a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world'. He says that when evaluating a work the aim is 'to see the object as in itself it really is'. Psychological, historical and sociological background are irrelevant, and to dwell on such aspects is mere dilettantism. This stance was very influential with later critics.
Arnold also believed that in his quest for the best a critic should not confine himself to the literature of his own country, but should draw substantially on foreign literature and ideas, because the propagation of ideas should be an objective endeavour.

The Study of Poetry
In The Study of Poetry, (1888) which opens his Essays in Criticism: Second series, in support of his plea for nobility in poetry, Arnold recalls Sainte-Beuve's reply to Napoleon, when latter said that charlatanism is found in everything. Sainte-Beuve replied that charlatanism might be found everywhere else, but not in the field of poetry, because in poetry the distinction between sound and unsound, or only half-sound, truth and untruth, or only half-truth, between the excellent and the inferior, is of paramount importance.
For Arnold there is no place for charlatanism in poetry. To him poetry is the criticism of life, governed by the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty. It is in the criticism of life that the spirit of our race will find its stay and consolation. The extent to which the spirit of mankind finds its stay and consolation is proportional to the power of a poem's criticism of life, and the power of the criticism of life is in direct proportion to the extent to which the poem is genuine and free from charlatanism.
In The Study of Poetry he also cautions the critic that in forming a genuine and disinterested estimate of the poet under consideration he should not be influenced by historical or personal judgements, historical judgements being fallacious because we regard ancient poets with excessive veneration, and personal judgements being fallacious when we are biased towards a contemporary poet. If a poet is a 'dubious classic, let us sift him; if he is a false classic, let us explode him. But if he is a real classic, if his work belongs to the class of the very best . . . enjoy his work'.
As examples of erroneous judgements he says that the 17th century court tragedies of the French were spoken of with exaggerated praise, until Pellisson reproached them for want of the true poetic stamp, and another critic, Charles d' Hricault, said that 17th century French poetry had received undue and undeserving veneration. Arnold says the critics seem to substitute 'a halo for physiognomy and a statue in the place where there was once a man. They give us a human personage no larger than God seated amidst his perfect work, like Jupiter on Olympus.'
He also condemns the French critic Vitet, who had eloquent words of praise for the epic poem Chanson de Roland by Turoldus, (which was sung by a jester, Taillefer, in William the Conqueror's army), saying that it was superior to Homer's Iliad. Arnold's view is that this poem can never be compared to Homer's work, and that we only have to compare the description of dying Roland to Helen's words about her wounded brothers Pollux and Castor and its inferiority will be clearly revealed.

The Study of Poetry: a shift in position - the touchstone method
Arnold's criticism of Vitet above illustrates his 'touchstone method'; his theory that in order to judge a poet's work properly, a critic should compare it to passages taken from works of great masters of poetry, and that these passages should be applied as touchstones to other poetry. Even a single line or selected quotation will serve the purpose.
From this we see that he has shifted his position from that expressed in the preface to his Poems of 1853. In The Study of Poetry he no longer uses the acid test of action and architectonics. He became an advocate of 'touchstones'. 'Short passages even single lines,' he said, 'will serve our turn quite sufficiently'.
Some of Arnold's touchstone passages are: Helen's words about her wounded brother, Zeus addressing the horses of Peleus, suppliant Achilles' words to Priam, and from Dante; Ugolino's brave words, and Beatrice's loving words to Virgil.
From non-Classical writers he selects from Henry IV Part II (III, i), Henry's expostulation with sleep - 'Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast . . . '. From Hamlet (V, ii) 'Absent thee from felicity awhile . . . '. From Milton's Paradise Lost Book 1, 'Care sat on his faded cheek . . .', and 'What is else not to be overcome . . . '

The Study of Poetry: on Chaucer
The French Romance poetry of the 13th century langue d'oc and langue d'oil was extremely popular in Europe and Italy, but soon lost its popularity and now it is important only in terms of historical study. But Chaucer, who was nourished by the romance poetry of the French, and influenced by the Italian Royal rhyme stanza, still holds enduring fascination. There is an excellence of style and subject in his poetry, which is the quality the French poetry lacks. Dryden says of Chaucer's Prologue 'Here is God's plenty!' and that 'he is a perpetual fountain of good sense'. There is largeness, benignity, freedom and spontaneity in Chaucer's writings. 'He is the well of English undefiled'. He has divine fluidity of movement, divine liquidness of diction. He has created an epoch and founded a tradition.
Some say that the fluidity of Chaucer's verse is due to licence in the use of the language, a liberty which Burns enjoyed much later. But Arnold says that the excellence of Chaucer's poetry is due to his sheer poetic talent. This liberty in the use of language was enjoyed by many poets, but we do not find the same kind of fluidity in others. Only in Shakespeare and Keats do we find the same kind of fluidity, though they wrote without the same liberty in the use of language.
Arnold praises Chaucer's excellent style and manner, but says that Chaucer cannot be called a classic since, unlike Homer, Virgil and Shakespeare, his poetry does not have the high poetic seriousness which Aristotle regards as a mark of its superiority over the other arts.

The Study of Poetry: on the age of Dryden and Pope
The age of Dryden is regarded as superior to that of the others for 'sweetness of poetry'. Arnold asks whether Dryden and Pope, poets of great merit, are truly the poetical classics of the 18th century. He says Dryden's post-script to the readers in his translation of The Aeneid reveals the fact that in prose writing he is even better than Milton and Chapman.
Just as the laxity in religious matters during the Restoration period was a direct outcome of the strict discipline of the Puritans, in the same way in order to control the dangerous sway of imagination found in the poetry of the Metaphysicals, to counteract 'the dangerous prevalence of imagination', the poets of the 18th century introduced certain regulations. The restrictions that were imposed on the poets were uniformity, regularity, precision, and balance. These restrictions curbed the growth of poetry, and encouraged the growth of prose.
Hence we can regard Dryden as the glorious founder, and Pope as the splendid high priest, of the age of prose and reason, our indispensable 18th century. Their poetry was that of the builders of an age of prose and reason. Arnold says that Pope and Dryden are not poet classics, but the 'prose classics' of the 18th century.
As for poetry, he considers Gray to be the only classic of the 18th century. Gray constantly studied and enjoyed Greek poetry and thus inherited their poetic point of view and their application of poetry to life. But he is the 'scantiest, frailest classic' since his output was small.

The Study of Poetry: on Burns
Although Burns lived close to the 19th century his poetry breathes the spirit of 18th Century life. Burns is most at home in his native language. His poems deal with Scottish dress, Scottish manner, and Scottish religion. This Scottish world is not a beautiful one, and it is an advantage if a poet deals with a beautiful world. But Burns shines whenever he triumphs over his sordid, repulsive and dull world with his poetry.
Perhaps we find the true Burns only in his bacchanalian poetry, though occasionally his bacchanalian attitude was affected. For example in his Holy Fair, the lines 'Leeze me on drink! it gies us mair/ Than either school or college', may represent the bacchanalian attitude, but they are not truly bacchanalian in spirit. There is something insincere about it, smacking of bravado.
When Burns moralises in some of his poems it also sounds insincere, coming from a man who disregarded morality in actual life. And sometimes his pathos is intolerable, as in Auld Lang Syne.
We see the real Burns (wherein he is unsurpassable) in lines such as, 'To make a happy fire-side clime/ to weans and wife/ That's the true pathos and sublime/ Of human life' (Ae Fond Kiss). Here we see the genius of Burns.
But, like Chaucer, Burns lacks high poetic seriousness, though his poems have poetic truth in diction and movement. Sometimes his poems are profound and heart-rending, such as in the lines, 'Had we never loved sae kindly/ had we never loved sae blindly/ never met or never parted/ we had ne'er been broken-hearted'.
Also like Chaucer, Burns possesses largeness, benignity, freedom and spontaneity. But instead of Chaucer's fluidity, we find in Burns a springing bounding energy. Chaucer's benignity deepens in Burns into a sense of sympathy for both human as well as non-human things, but Chaucer's world is richer and fairer than that of Burns.
Sometimes Burns's poetic genius is unmatched by anyone. He is even better than Goethe at times and he is unrivalled by anyone except Shakespeare. He has written excellent poems such as Tam O'Shanter, Whistle and I'll come to you my Lad, and Auld Lang Syne.
When we compare Shelley's 'Pinnacled dim in the of intense inane' (Prometheus Unbound III, iv) with Burns's, 'They flatter, she says, to deceive me' (Tam Glen), the latter is salutary.

Arnold on Shakespeare
Praising Shakespeare, Arnold says 'In England there needs a miracle of genius like Shakespeare's to produce a balance of mind'. This is not bardolatory, but praise tempered by a critical sense. In a letter he writes. 'I keep saying Shakespeare, you are as obscure as life is'.
In his sonnet On Shakespeare he says; 'Others abide our question. Thou are free./ We ask and ask - Thou smilest and art still,/ Out-topping knowledge'.

Arnold's limitations
For all his championing of disinterestedness, Arnold was unable to practise disinterestedness in all his essays. In his essay on Shelley particularly he displayed a lamentable lack of disinterestedness. Shelley's moral views were too much for the Victorian Arnold. In his essay on Keats too Arnold failed to be disinterested. The sentimental letters of Keats to Fanny Brawne were too much for him.
Arnold sometimes became a satirist, and as a satirical critic saw things too quickly, too summarily. In spite of their charm, the essays are characterised by egotism and, as Tilotson says, 'the attention is directed, not on his object but on himself and his objects together'.
Arnold makes clear his disapproval of the vagaries of some of the Romantic poets. Perhaps he would have agreed with Goethe, who saw Romanticism as disease and Classicism as health. But Arnold occasionally looked at things with jaundiced eyes, and he overlooked the positive features of Romanticism which posterity will not willingly let die, such as its humanitarianism, love of nature, love of childhood, a sense of mysticism, faith in man with all his imperfections, and faith in man's unconquerable mind.
Arnold's inordinate love of classicism made him blind to the beauty of lyricism. He ignored the importance of lyrical poems, which are subjective and which express the sentiments and the personality of the poet. Judged by Arnold's standards, a large number of poets both ancient and modern are dismissed because they sang with 'Profuse strains of unpremeditated art'.
It was also unfair of Arnold to compare the classical works in which figure the classical quartet, namely Achilles, Prometheus, Clytemnestra and Dido with Heamann and Dorothea, Childe Harold, Jocelyn, and 'The Excursion'. Even the strongest advocates of Arnold would agree that it is not always profitable for poets to draw upon the past. Literature expresses the zeitgeist, the spirit of the contemporary age. Writers must choose subjects from the world of their own experience. What is ancient Greece to many of us? Historians and archaeologists are familiar with it, but the common readers delight justifiably in modern themes. To be in the company of Achilles, Prometheus, Clytemnestra and Dido is not always a pleasant experience. What a reader wants is variety, which classical mythology with all its tradition and richness cannot provide. An excessive fondness for Greek and Latin classics produces a literary diet without variety, while modern poetry and drama have branched out in innumerable directions.
As we have seen, as a classicist Arnold upheld the supreme importance of the architectonic faculty, then later shifted his ground. In the lectures On Translating Homer, On the Study of Celtic Literature, and The Study of Poetry, he himself tested the greatness of poetry by single lines. Arnold the classicist presumably realised towards the end of his life that classicism was not the last word in literature.
Arnold's lack of historic sense was another major failing. While he spoke authoritatively on his own century, he was sometimes groping in the dark in his assessment of earlier centuries. He used to speak at times as if ex cathedra, and this pontifical solemnity vitiated his criticism.
As we have seen, later critics praise Arnold, but it is only a qualified praise. Oliver Elton calls him a 'bad great critic'. T. S. Eliot said that Arnold is a 'Propagandist and not a creator of ideas'. According to Walter Raleigh, Arnold's method is like that of a man who took a brick to the market to give the buyers an impression of the building.

Arnold's legacy
In spite of his faults, Arnold's position as an eminent critic is secure. Douglas Bush says that the breadth and depth of Arnold's influence cannot be measured or even guessed at because, from his own time onward, so much of his thought and outlook became part of the general educated consciousness. He was one of those critics who, as Eliot said, arrive from time to time to set the literary house in order. Eliot named Dryden, Johnson and Arnold as some of the greatest critics of the English language.
Arnold united active independent insight with the authority of the humanistic tradition. He carried on, in his more sophisticated way, the Renaissance humanistic faith in good letters as the teachers of wisdom, and in the virtue of great literature, and above all, great poetry. He saw poetry as a supremely illuminating, animating, and fortifying aid in the difficult endeavour to become or remain fully human.
Arnold's method of criticism is comparative. Steeped in classical poetry, and thoroughly acquainted with continental literature, he compares English literature to French and German literature, adopting the disinterested approach he had learned from Sainte-Beuve.
Arnold's objective approach to criticism and his view that historical and biographical study are unnecessary was very influential on the new criticism. His emphasis on the importance of tradition also influenced F. R. Leavis, and T. S. Eliot.
Eliot is also indebted to Arnold for his classicism, and for his objective approach which paved the way for Eliot to say that poetry is not an expression of personality but an escape from personality, because it is not an expression of emotions but an escape from emotions.
Although Arnold disapproved of the Romantics' approach to poetry, their propensity for allusiveness and symbolism, he also shows his appreciation the Romantics in his Essays in Criticism. He praises Wordsworth thus: 'Nature herself took the pen out of his hand and wrote with a bare, sheer penetrating power'. Arnold also valued poetry for its strong ideas, which he found to be the chief merit of Wordsworth's poetry. About Shelley he says that Shelley is 'A beautiful but ineffectual angel beating in a void his luminous wings in vain'.
In an age when cheap literature caters to the taste of the common man, one might fear that the classics will fade into insignificance. But Arnold is sure that the currency and the supremacy of the classics will be preserved in the modern age, not because of conscious effort on the part of the readers, but because of the human instinct of self-preservation.
In the present day with the literary tradition over-burdened with imagery, myth, symbol and abstract jargon, it is refreshing to come back to Arnold and his like to encounter central questions about literature and life as they are perceived by a mature and civilised mind.

What are merits and demerits of Arnold as a critic?
Matthew Arnold, the greatest of the Victorian critics, has been both eulogized and condemned by scholars. In recent times too T.S. Eliot has criticised him. He calls him a propagandist, a salesman, a clever advertiser, rather than a great critic. He finds him lacking in the power of connected reasoning at any length says that “his flights are short flights or circular flights.” F.R. Leavis accuses him of “high pamphleteering”. Prof. Garrod, who otherwise is an admirer of Arnold, feels that Arnold became a critic only by accident (the accident of Oxford Professorship), and names him “the vendor of Frenchified disin terestedness.”
His Shortcomings
Arnold’s limitations as a critic can be summarised in the following manner:—
(1) He is incapable of connected reasoning at any length, and often contradicts himself. Thus first he lays down the test of total impression for judging the worth of a poet, but soon after contradicts himself and prescribes the well-known, “Touchstone method.”
(2) There is a certain want of logic and method in Arnold’s criticism. He is not a scientific critic. Often he is vague, and fails to define or state clearly his views. Often he is lop-sided as in his Essay on Shelley which is all biography except a brief concluding paragraph. His criticism is often gappy; before he has fully established a point, he would hastily hurry onto another.
(3) He frowns upon mere literary criticism. He mixes literary criticism with socio-ethical considerations and regards it as an instrument of culture. Purely literary criticism with him has no meaning and significance.
(4) There is some truth in the criticism that he was a propagandist and a salesman. As Wimsatt and Brooks point out, “very simply, very characteristically, and repetitiously, Arnold spent his career in hammering the thesis that poetry is a, “criticism of life.” All his practical criticism is but an illusion of this view.
(5) His criticism is lacking in originality. Practically all of his critical concepts are borrowed. In his emphasis on ‘action’ and high seriousness,’ he merely echoes Aristotle; his concept of “grand style” is exactly the same thing as, ‘the sublime,’ of Longinus and his biographical method is the method of the French Saint-Beauve. As George Watson says, “he plagiarises too heavily.”
(6) He might be learned, but his learning is neither exact, nor precise. He does not collect his facts painstakingly. His illustrations of his touchstone method are’all misquotations. Similarly, his biographical data are often inaccurate.
(7) He is in favour of biographical interpretation; he is also conscious he importance of “the moment,” and yet he is against the historical method of criticism.
(8) He advocates ‘disinterestedness,’ but ties the critic to certain socio- ethical interests. He would like him to rise above ‘practical’ and ‘personal’ interests, but he wants him to establish a current of great and noble ideas and thus promote culture. But disinterestedness means that the critic should have no interests except aesthetic appreciation.
(9) He speaks of the moral effects of poetry, of its ‘high seriousness,’ but never of its pleasure, the ‘aesthetic pleasure’ which a poet must impart, and which is the true test of its excellence. His standards of judgment are not literary.
(10)His literary criticism is vitiated by his moral, classical, and continental prejudices. He is sympathetic only to the classical, he rates the continental poets higher than the great English poets, and the moral test which he applies often makes him neglect the literary qualities of a poet. The immoral in the life of a poet, prejudices him against his poetry.

His Merits and Achievements
Arnold’s faults are glaring, but more important are his merits and achievements. He is the most imposing figure in Victorian criticism. In his own day, and for years afterwards, he was venerated and respected almost like Aristotle. After him the cry, for years, was, “Arnold has said so.” “For half a century, Arnold’s position in this country was comparable with that of the venerable Greek, in respect of the wide influence he exercised, the mark he impressed upon criticism, and the blind faith with which he was trusted by his votaries.” (Scott-James). Another critic praises him because his criticism is more “compellingly alive”, more thought-provoking than that of any other critic of his age. Harbert Paul goes to the extent of saying that Arnold did not merely criticise books, he taught others to criticise books.
Judged historically, Arnold rendered a great service to criticism. He rescued it from the disorganised state in which it had fallen by stressing the need of system in critical judgement. He also waged a relentless battle against the intrusion of personal, religious, or political considerations in the judgement of authors and works. Lastly, he raised criticism to a higher level than was ever thought by making it the care-taker of literature in epochs unfavourable to its growth. But more than one critic has been struck by the incongruity between Arnold, the more or less romantic poet, and Arnold, the more or less classical critic.
In certain respects, as shown by Scott-James, Arnold is superior to Aristotle. Aristotle knew none but the classics of Greece, the only literary models available to him, whilst Arnold, having the literature of many nations and ages before him, was limited only, of his own choice, to, “the best that is known and thought in the world.” Further, Arnold repudiated the idea that the critic should be an “abstract lawgiver.” Above all, “Aristotle shows us the critic in relation to art. Arnold shows us the critic in relation to the public. Aristotle dissects a work of art Arnold dissects a critic.” The one gives us the principles which govern the making of a poem : the other, the principles by which the best poems should be selected and made known. Aristotle’s critic owes allegiance to the Artist, but Arnold’s critic has a duty to society. He is a propagandist tilling the soil so that ‘the best ideas.’ may prevail, making “an intellectual situation of which the creative power can profitably avail itself.

In the words of Saintsbury, “His services, therefore, to English Criticism, whether as a “receptist” or as an actual craftsman cannot possibly be overestimated. In the first respect he was, if not the absolute reformer, the leader in reform, of the slovenly and disorganised condition into which Romantic criticism had fallen. In the second, the things which he had not, as well as those which he had, combined to give him a place among the very first. He had not the sublime and ever new-inspired inconsistency of Dryden. He had not the robustness of Johnson, the supreme critical “reason” of Coleridge; scarcely the exquisite, fitful, appreciation of Lamb, or the full-blooded and passionate appreciation of Hazlitt. But he had an exacter knowledge than Dryden; the fitness of his judgment seems finer beside Johnson’s bluntness; he could not wool-gather like Coleridge; his range was far wider than Lamb’s; his scholarship and his delicacy alike were superior to those of Hazlitt.”

Touchstone Method: Arnold
"Poetry is interpretative by having natural magic in it,
and moral profundity".
Touchstone Method is a short quotation from a recognized poetic masterpiece ‘The Study of Poetry’ (1880), employed as a standard of instant comparison for judging the value of other works. Here Arnold recommends certain lines of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton as touchstones for testing ‘the presence or absence of high poetic quality’ in samples chosen from other poets.
The" Touchstone Method" - introduced scientific objectivity to critical evaluation by providing comparison and analysis as the two primary tools for judging individual poets. Thus, Chaucer, Dryden, Pope, and Shelley fall short of the best, because they lack "high seriousness". Even Shakespeare thinks too much of expression and too little of conception. Arnold's ideal poets are Homer and Sophocles in the ancient world, Dante and Milton, and among moderns, Goethe and Wordsworth. Arnold puts Wordsworth in the front rank not for his poetry but for his "criticism of life".
Arnold writes, in order to judge a poet's work properly, a critic should compare it to passages taken from works of great masters of poetry, and that these passages should be applied as touchstones to other poetry. Even a single line or selected quotation will serve the purpose. From this we see that he has shifted his position from that expressed in the preface to his Poems of 1853. In The Study of Poetry he no longer uses the acid test of action and architectonics. He became an advocate of 'touchstones'. 'Short passages even single lines,' he said, 'will serve our turn quite sufficiently'.
Some of Arnold's touchstone passages are: Helen's words about her wounded brother, Zeus addressing the horses of Peleus, suppliant Achilles' words to Priam, and from Dante; Ugolino's brave words, and Beatrice's loving words to Virgil. From non-Classical writers he selects from Henry IV Part II (III, i), Henry's expostulation with sleep - 'Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast . . . '. From Hamlet (V, ii) 'Absent thee from felicity awhile . . . '. From Milton's Paradise Lost Book 1, 'Care sat on his faded cheek . . .', and 'What is else not to be overcome . . . '
Like Ruskin Arnold too wanted the contemporary reader against certain fallacies; the ‘fallacy’ of “historical estimate” and the “fallacy” of “personal estimate” were both, in Arnold’s view, reflections of inadequate and improper response to literature. According to him, both the historical significance of a literary work as well as its significance to the critic in personal terms tend to obliterate the real estimate of that work as in itself reality is. The best way to know the class, to which a work belongs in terms of the excellence of art, Arnold recommends, is
“to have always in one’s mind lines and expressions of
the great masters, and to apply them
as a touchstone to other poetry.”
Comparing with the best lines and passages from Homer and Shakespeare, Arnold surveys the entire track of English poetry, and divides the various poets into the categories of the good-and-great and the not-so-good and not-so-great. His idea of tradition is select in that only the great constitute the body of literary history we should care for, and the rest we better ignore. Arnold’s view of the greatness in poetry and what a literary critic should look for are summed up as follows:
“it is important, therefore, to hold fast to this: that poetry is at
bottom a criticism of life; that the greatness of a poet lies in his
powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life,
—to the question: how to live.”
here is sort of manifesto for the criticism of the early Victorians as well as an indictment of the critical creed, ‘art for art’s sake,’ as propounded and advocated by the later Victorians.

Link 2
Arnold’s touchstone method is a comparative method of criticism. According to this method, in order to judge a poet's work properly, a critic should compare it to passages taken from works of great masters of poetry, and that these passages should be applied as touchstones to other poetry. Even a single line or selected quotation will serve the purpose. If the other work moves us in the same way as these lines and expressions do, then it is really a great work, otherwise not.
This method was recommended by Arnold to overcome the shortcomings of the personal and historical estimates of a poem. Both historical and personal estimate goes in vain. In personal estimate, we cannot wholly leave out the personal and subjective factors. In historical estimate, historical importance often makes us rate a work as higher than it really deserves. In order to form a real estimate, one should have the ability to distinguish a real classic. At this point, Arnold offers his theory of Touchstone Method. A real classic, says Arnold, is a work, which belongs to the class of the very best. It can be recognized by placing it beside the known classics of the world. Those known classics can serve as the touchstone by which the merit of contemporary poetic work can be tested. This is the central idea of Arnold’s Touchstone Method.

Doodle with Literature
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Touchstone method - Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold is a Victorian critic and a poet.Who can forget his famous poem "Dover Beach" , which presents the cardinal voice of Victorian literature , the doubt and faith in religion. But Arnold is more renowned for his contribution in literary criticism .
Literary Criticism -
Literary criticism is the study, discussion, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. There were two prominent schools in literary criticism - one is , Classical school of criticism and other one is , Romantic school of criticism. Matthew Arnold belonged to the classical school of criticism. Essays in Criticism contains the best of his critical work, which is marked by wide reading and critical thought. There is one essay The Study of Poetry in this collection which talks about the problems of evaluating literature and the real method to evaluate a true and worthy literature.
The Study of Poetry -
Arnold believes and states in the present essay that the future of poetry is "immense" because poetry is Truth and truth always elevates our heart and soul and it survives through all odds. Somebody has rightly said, "Poetry is first and the last of all knowledge . It is as old as the human heart." Arnold then recalls Wordsworth's theory of poetry that poetry is "the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge."
Further , critic talks about the difficulties which come while evaluating poetry. He says there are two estimates - Personal and Historical estimate which we should discard while evaluating literature and specially in terms of poetry.
Historical Estimate -
We regard anything of History with respect because it has survived through time . But we shall not estimate poetry in this way . Critic says that we should discard historical estimate becase whatever is ancient may not be true or worthy. Another point he gives that every work of great author may not be great. For instance, Shakespeare's all dramas may not be as great as his four great tragedies .
Personal Estimate -
Arnold says Personal estimate is another fallacy in criticism. It generally happens with the contemporary writers. Suppose , if I am a writer and my friend is a critic or another writer then she will give mild , soft , praising comments and so she won't criticize my poem or judge it honestly. This is Personal Estimate. According to Arnold , we should save ourselves from such dishonest judgments. We should be objective while criticizing our contemporaries .
Touchstone Method -
Arnold has proposed a new method to evaluate poetry. He invents touchstone method and says that it is a real estimate to evaluate poetry.First one should see that if a work has stood the test of time then it is worthy. Another thing is that whenever you want to judge a poem place it beside the great lines of Famous poet's poem . For instance - place it beside Milton's poem (Paradise Lost) -
Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,.....
and Shakespeare's Hamlet's words -
To be or not to be ...
Etc etc...
Reply With Quote