ANTONY H. HARRISON MATTHEW A RNOLD WAS PUBLISHING HIS FIRST TWO VOLUMES of poetry (anonymously, in 1849 and 1852), he appears to have been fighting what we might well perceive, early in the twenty-first century, as a culture war. Arnold's famous "Preface" to his 1853 Poems suggests that the most powerful enemies of the poetic principles he formulates there, and (as I hope to demonstrate) of his foundational philosophical, moral, and spiritual values, are the phenomenally popular Spasmodic poets, or, as Arnold terms them in his "Preface," "the school of Keats." In fact, Arnold's "Preface," which has traditionally been read as a poetic and aesthetic manifesto, is, in addition, a political manifesto. As the generally negative reviews of Arnold's work that appeared between 1849 and 1853 make clear, Arnold's literary and aesthetic values, his "taste," opposed that of most middle-class readers of poetry and fiction. As has been frequently discussed, most of those reviews damn Arnold's work with faint praise; the poetry, although (as Clough himself characterized it) that of "a scholar and a gentleman,"1 is described as out of tune with the modern world, self-absorbed, uselessly erudite. About the 1849 volume, Charles Kingsley asked, "To what purpose
Victorian Poetry – West Virginia University Press
Published: Aug 2, 2004
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