Matthew Arnold and T. S. Eliot suggest comparison not only because of the decisive influence they exerted on the literary taste of their age, but also their unusual self-awareness of the function they felt themselves called upon to perform, an awareness revealed in their poetry no less than their criticism. We find Arnold writing to his mother in 1863, ‘[I] hope to have a busy year. It is very animating to think that one at last has a chance of getting at the English public. Such a public as it is, and such a work as one wants to do with it.’1 Eliot, reviewing Arnold’s work, is prompted into describing the public role of the critic, ‘From time to time, every hundred years or so, it is desirable that some critic shall appear to review the past of our literature, and set the poets and the poems in a new order.... Dryden, Johnson and Arnold have each performed the task as well as human frailty will allow’ (UPUC pp. 108–9). That Eliot is also of this exclusive company it would be difficult for anyone aware of the modern literary scene to deny. Uniquely and economically, Arnold and Eliot sum up in their respective writings, as poets who were also critics, the fine point of the literary consciousness of their age, and to consider them in juxtaposition is to consider the different sensibilities of an age, as much as that of individuals.
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.