chapter  11
26 Pages

MATTHEW ARNOLD AS PROPHET

IN HIS essay on the eighteenth-century poet, Thomas Gray, Arnold summed him up in four words: “He never spoke out.” 1 He might equally have applied the same description to his own poetry. What he produced was small in quantity compared with the output of his leading contemporaries, and for the most part in a minor key. But in his prose works the situation was reversed. He was an indefatigable essayist, not voluminous, but reasonably copious, and certainly forthright. It is this characteristic of forthrightness that largely justifies the title of “Prophet” that has been applied to him by various writers from time to time. For prophecy is a word of two meanings: it means both to speak out, and to foretell. And in both these senses Arnold qualified for the title, but to his contemporaries at least he was more conspicuous as an outspoken critic of current social shortcomings, and an advocate of certain plain, and often reiterated, solutions.