Cover image for A gift imprisoned : the poetic life of Matthew Arnold
A gift imprisoned : the poetic life of Matthew Arnold
Hamilton, Ian, 1938-2001.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiii, 241 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
First published: Great Britain : Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998.
Reading Level:
1250 Lexile.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR4023 .H35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



English poet Matthew Arnold had two lives. In his youth, he was an impassioned lyric poet. In his later years, he was Victorian England's best-known social prophet, educational reformer, and literary critic. Arnold's poetic life that gave us " Dover Beach," "The Scholar-Gipsy," and "Empedocles on Etna" --was effectively over by the age of forty, when he began to devote all his energies to "purposeful" prose composition. As Auden said, he "thrust his gift in prison till it died." From the very start, though, Arnold had viewed his poetry-writing self as irresponsible, delinquent. As the eldest son of Dr. Arnold of Rugby, the great shaper of Victorian morality, his destiny--he knew--was inescapable. He had been born to "make a difference" to the age in which he lived.For about twenty years, however, Matthew Arnold made efforts to resist his destiny as a social moralist, and this book is the story of that losing battle. As a biographical narrative, A Gift Imprisoned confronts a number of intriguing puzzles. Chief among these, of course, is the much-pondered Marguerite. Who was she: a dream-girl, an invention born of too much exposure to the novels of George Sand, or a real person met in Switzerland in 1848? Then there is Dr. Arnold himself: a devitalizing ogre or an inspiration? And, overarchingly, there is the matter of Arnold's attitude to his own gifts as a poet: Why did he so early on abandon the poetic life and settle for three decades of drudgery as an inspector of elementary schools? Was it really a fierce love of duty that took him down this path--or was it, rather, that he all along had insufficient faith in his own talent? And this leads to the question that matters most of all: How much faith do we and should we have in his talent?In this compelling study, Ian Hamilton brings his own formidable gifts and his lifelong passion for his subject to bear on one of the most mysterious literary figures of the last century--and a figure who still fascinates today. The result is a biography of rare originality and significance.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Well written and coherent, this book discusses "biographical questions relating to the poems." Hamilton (Univ. of Western Ontario) stops at the year 1867 (Arnold lived until 1888) and avoids discussion of Arnold's influential prose works. Topics include Arnold's relationship with his father; his inglorious university career; the mysterious Marguerite; his marriage to Frances Lucy Wightman; the aristocratic and powerful patronage of Lord Landsdowne; the drudgery of Arnold's worldly affairs, including work as Inspector of Schools; and the dismal fate that befell his poetry amidst money worries and quotidian concerns at home and on the turbulent, Victorian national scene. In contrast to Clinton Machann's Matthew Arnold: A Literary Life (CH, Oct'98), the present volume neglects most scholarly and critical work on Arnold, though the author uses some biographical sources (in print and in manuscript archives) to good effect. Apart from its coverage, this book differs significantly from Machann's: Hamilton is more critical of Arnold's elitist views, contempt for the masses, and lack of religious belief and of the power of money over his literary decisions; Machann sketches more fully the intellectual background. Neither volume replaces the standard biography, Park Honan's Matthew Arnold: A Life (CH, Dec'81). Recommended for general and academic collections that can afford more than one new life of Arnold. T. Hoagwood; Texas A&M University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
Acknowledgementsp. xiii
1 Dr Arnold of Rugbyp. 1
2 'Crabby' in Childhoodp. 13
3 Schooldaysp. 26
4 Oxfordp. 43
5 First Poemsp. 55
6 'Days of Lelia and Valentine'p. 73
7 Lansdowne, Clough and Margueritep. 92
8 The Strayed Reveller, Obermann and Marguerite, Once Morep. 109
9 Marriage to Miss Wightmanp. 128
10 Empedocles Renouncedp. 148
11 'This for our wisest!'p. 164
12 A Professor of Poetryp. 179
13 Last Poemsp. 197
Chronologyp. 219
Notesp. 221
Indexp. 237