Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) was an English poet, critic and educationist who proposed a division between “high culture” and “popular culture” as a safety walve against democracy.

Until 1867, the right to vote was restricted to land-holders but the Second Reform Bill, passed that year, extended the franchise to practically the entire urban male population. Arnold perceived it as “anarchy” and a threat to “culture”. Hence, in a series lectures starting that year and eventually published as Culture and Anarchy, Arnold suggested practical measures to check the development of democracy. Chief among them was the proposition that the culture of the educated elite should be different from the culture of the masses – something that would have been inconceivable to the greatest poets and artists in history, including Rumi, Shakespeare and Goethe.

Iqbal was apparently making an acute observation about such emerging trends when he wrote in his private notebook, Stray Reflections, in 1910: “The imperial ambitions of the various nations of Europe indicate that the Westerners are tired of Democracy. The reaction against Democracy in England and France is a very significant phenomenon. But in order to grasp the meaning of this phenomenon the student of political sciences should not content himself merely with the investigation and discovery of the purely historical causes which have brought it about; he must go deeper and search the psychological causes of this reaction.”

In another entry in the same notebook, the difference between the egalitarian worldview of Iqbal and the elitist propositions of Arnold are highlighted more explicitly: “Matthew Arnold defines poetry as criticism of life. That life is criticism of poetry is equally true.”

Iqbal’s comment about the poetry of Arnold, originally entered in the same notebook in 1910, appeared in its revised form seven years later in the journal New Era (Lucknow): “Matthew Arnold is a very precise poet. I like, however, an element of vagueness in poetry; since the vague appears profound to the emotions.”

See also Chapter 37, 'The Mind of Europe' in The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality (online revised edition)

1 comment:

  1. Greetings,

    Thank you for this post.

    It's quite amazing the degree to which poetry can be used to uplift, or not, humanity.

    All good wishes,