Matthew Arnold

On this date in 1822, Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold was born in Laleham on the Thames. He graduated from Oxford in 1844. His father was Dr. Thomas Arnold, the inspiration for Tom Brown's Schooldays, and head of the famous school of Rugby. Arnold parted ways with Christianity sometime in his teens, on intellectual and ethical grounds, and became an agnostic. In "Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse," he later wrote: "Rigorous teachers seized my youth / And purged its faith, and trimm'd its fire / Show'd me the high, white star of Truth." In 1851 he was appointed "Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools," an arduous responsibility he held for 35 years. His poem, "Empedocles on Etna," published only with the initial "A," appeared the following year. Religious critics censored sale of the book after only 50 were sold. Poems of Matthew Arnold was published in 1857, followed by other volumes. Arnold served for a decade as professor of poetry at Oxford. In his 40s he largely turned from poetry to critical writing. His Essays in Criticism came out in 1865. Arnold's freethinking was clearly delineated in Culture and Anarchy (1869), Saint Paul and Protestantism (1870), Literature and Dogma (1873) and Last Essays on Church and Religion (1877). In his poem, "Dover Beach," he described "The Sea of Faith . . . Retreating." Although Arnold gently defined religion as "morality touched with emotion" and some detect a tinge of regret in his rejection of faith, he was an ardent critic of Christian doctrine and the bible. "It is almost impossible to exaggerate the proneness of the human mind to take miracles as evidence, and to seek for miracles as evidence," he wrote in Literature and Dogma. "Miracles do not happen," he baldly wrote in the preface to the 1883 edition of Literature and Dogma. D. 1888.

"The personages of the Christian heaven and their conversations are no more matter of fact than the personages of the Greek Olympus and their conversations."

—Matthew Arnold, God and the Bible, preface, 1875. (Quote source: 2,000 Years of Disbelief by James Haught.)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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