Education, Society, and Politics
In his letters to Clough and increasingly in his poetry Arnold had shown his concern about society at large; it was strong in Essays in Criticism and appeared even in the lectures on Celtic literature. One explicit statement of his belief in the social function of criticism is made in a context of special interest, his obituary article, written in 1869, the year of Culture and Anarchy, on Sainte-Beuve, whom he had long admired as the chief of modern critics and had taken, in his earlier essays, as a model and aid for his own. Arnold’s admiration is still high, but he is impelled to acknowledge that Sainte-Beuve, because of his character and especially “his date, his period, his circumstances,” “stopped short at curiosity, at the desire to know things as they really are, and did not press on with faith and ardour to the various and immense applications of this knowledge which suggest themselves, and of which the accomplishment is reserved for the future” (Super, 5, 309). Arnold’s own “Hellenic” ideal, “to know things as they really are,” is a prerequisite, not a final goal; the difference is elaborated in the opening paragraphs of the first chapter of Culture and Anarchy. Arnold himself did not stop short at “curiosity”; because of his period and circumstances and especially his character and heritage, he was moved to press on with faith and ardor (and abundant wit) to apply his knowledge and wisdom to the enlightening and refining of his countrymen. Obviously the second stage was, in principle if not always in practice, no less “disinterested” than the first.
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