Matthew Arnold

(24 December 1822 – 15 April 1888)

Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold was an English poet and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools.

Sometime during his adolescence, Matthew Arnold abandoned Christianity, apparently on ethical grounds and turned to agnosticism. He thereafter spent a good bit of his life trying to tell others about it in a gentle, gentlemanly way that would not upset them too much.

Arnold was an alumni of Balliol College, Oxford and his work inspired Thomas Hardy who went on to reject the idea that Christianity could be adapted to modern thought.

Scholars of Arnold’s works disagree on the nature of Arnold’s personal religious beliefs. He rejected the superstitious elements in religion, even while retaining a fascination for church rituals. Arnold seems to belong to a pragmatic middle ground that is more concerned with the poetry of religion and its virtues and values for society than with the existence of God.

He wrote in the preface of God and the Bible in 1875

Two things about the Christian religion must surely be clear to anybody with eyes in his head. One is, that men cannot do without it; the other, that they cannot do with it as it is.

He also wrote in Literature and Dogma:

The word ‘God’ is used in most cases as by no means a term of science or exact knowledge, but a term of poetry and eloquence, a term thrown out, so to speak, as a not fully grasped object of the speaker’s consciousness — a literary term, in short; and mankind mean different things by it as their consciousness differs.

A blue plaque commemorates Arnold at 2 Chester Square, London where he lived and his portrait is on display in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

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