[PDF Notes] Point out the limitations of Mathew Arnold as a critic

There is no denying the fact that as a critic of literature, Arnold has well-marked limitations and shortcomings which may be listed as follows:

(i) He is incapable of connected reasoning at any length, and often contradicts himself. Thus first he lays down the test of total impression for judging the worth of a poet, but soon after contradicts himself and prescribes the well-known Touchstone method.

(ii) There is a certain want of logic and method in Arnold’s criticism. He is not a scientific critic. Often he is vague, and fails to define or state clearly his views.

(iii) He frowns upon mere literary criticism. He mixes literary criticism with socio-ethical cons elation and regards it as an instrument of culture. Pure literary criticism with him has no meaning and significance.

(iv) There is some truth in the criticism that he was a propagandist and salesman. As Wombat and Brooks point out, “very simply, very characteristically, and very repetitiously, Arnold spent his career in hammering the thesis that poetry is a ‘criticism of life”. All his practical criticism is but an illustration of this view.

(v) His criticism is lacking in originality. Practically all of his critical concepts are borrowed, in his emphasis on ‘action’ and ‘high seriousness’, he merely echoes Aristotle; his conceptive “grand style” is exactly the same thing as, “the sublime”, of Longinus.

(vi) He might be learned, but his learning is neither exact nor precise. He does not collect facts painstakingly. His illustrations of his touchstone method are all misquotations. Similarly, his biographical data are often inaccurate.

(vii) He is in favor of biographical interpretation; he is also conscious of the importance of “the moment”, and yet he is against the historical method of criticism.

(viii) He advocates “disinterestedness”, but ties the critic to certain socio-ethical interests. He would like him to rise above “practical” and “personal” interests, but he wants him to estab­lish a current of great and noble ideas and thus promote culture. But disinterestedness means that the critic should have no interests except aesthetic appreciation.

(ix) He speaks of the moral effects of Poetry, of its “high seriousness”, but never of its pleasure, the “aesthetic pleasure” which a poem must impart, and which is the true test of its excel­lence. His standards of judgment are not literary.

(x) His literary criticism is vitiated by his moral, classical and continental prejudices. He is sympathetic only to the classics, he rates the continental poets higher than the great En­glish poets, and the moral test which he applies often makes him neglect the literary quali­ties of a poet. The immoral in life of a poet, prejudices him against his poetry.

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