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Passions in PoetryMatthew Arnold
1822 - 1888

by Ron

Matthew Arnold was born in Laleham, Surrey. His father was Dr Thomas Arnold, Headmaster of Rugby School. He was educated at Winchester, Rugby, and Balliol College, Oxford where he met another well-known poet of the age, A.H.Clough, and won the Newdigate prize with a poem on Cromwell (1843). In 1845 he was elected a fellow of Oriel, another Oxford college.

After working as private secretary to Lord Landsdowne (1847-51), he became an inspector of schools (1851) and travelled widely in England and the Continent observing how schools were organised and suggesting how they could be improved.

In 1851 he married Fanny Lucy Wightman and part of his famous poem 'Dover Beach' (1867) dates from his honeymoon on the Continent. He was to have six children, only three of whom outlived him.

His critical work, most of which was written after 1860, was to have a profound influence on many writers after his death, including the poet T.S.Eliot. In Essays and Criticism (1865) Arnold widened the limits of literary criticism by using it to attack the state of English culture. The focus of this attack was 'provinciality', or the narrowness of mind caused by people's preoccupation with local affairs.

His eagerness to escape the limits of 'provinciality' formed the basis of his work as an inspector of schools. He is now seen as having made a valuable contribution to the improvement of education in England.

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