Sainte-Beuve's Influence on Matthew Arnold

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Author: J. Warshaw
Editor: Michelle Lee
From: Poetry Criticism(Vol. 110)
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,162 words

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[(essay date March 1910) In the following essay, Warshaw discusses the influence of Sainte-Beuve on the English poet and critic Matthew Arnold and argues that Arnold would have benefitted by absorbing more of Sainte-Beuve's sense of tolerance and rejection of overarching generalizations.]

"L'art de la critique ... dans son sens le plus pratique et le plus vulgaire, consiste à savoir lire judicieusement les auteurs, et à apprendre aux autres à les lire de même, en leur épargnant les tâtonnements et en leur dégageant le chemin."

The duty of English criticism is "simply to know the best that is known and thought in the world, and by in its turn making this known, to create a current of true and fresh ideas."

A careful collation of the critical works of Arnold and Sainte-Beuve would show an astonishing number of parallelisms of the kind indicated above. Often, the similarity is not in the thought only, but even in the words. A study of Sainte-Beuve leaves no doubt as to Arnold's parentage in literary criticism.

It sometimes occurred to Arnold to present continental subjects to that dense mass of Philistines in whom he was trying to "inculcate intelligence, in a high sense of the word." What more simple than that he should pitch upon Maurice de Guérin, upon Eugénie de Guérin, upon Joubert, because Sainte-Beuve had written illuminating, and above all, handy little articles on them? Also, there was the advantage of maintaining an appearance of recondite wisdom before his benighted people: and Arnold was not above such trivial vanities.

In 1859, Arnold was enjoying the liberating influence of a "certain circle of men, perhaps the most truly cultivated in the world," for whom he had the deepest respect. This circle existed...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420100933