The Critical assessment of Arnold of the poetry written in the 17th and 18th centuries in England
Question: Critically analyze Arnold’s assessment of the poetry written in the 17th and 18th centuries in England.
Or, how does Arnold evaluate Dryden, Pope, Gray, and Burns? Do you agree with him?
“The Study of Poetry” by Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) deals with poetry from Chaucer onward. The purpose of this essay is to define the classics and non-classics by applying the ‘touchstone method’. As a pure lover of poetry, Arnold has long discussed the poets of the 17th and 18th century and he is reluctant to recognize them as classical poets without Gray.
Group of 17th and 18th-century poets
Before starting the detailed discussion of this group of poets, Arnold has made it transparent that Shakespeare and Milton are undoubtedly classics. Arnold has limned in detail about Dryden, Pope, Gray, and Burns as the group of 17th and 18th century poets. He has focused on these poets and recognized them at the same time. By this group of poets, he means to say the poets of the “Neo-classical Age” (1660-1785).
John Dryden (1631-1700) and Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Though Dryden and Pope are ever accepted as the prominent poets in the history of English literature, Arnold is reluctant to recognize them as poets, let alone classical poets. According to him, they are the puissant or influential and glorious founder and priest of prose. It is in Arnold’s tongue:
“We are to regard Dryden as the puissant and glorious founder, Pope as the splendid high priest,
of our age of prose and reason, of our excellent and indispensable eighteenth century”.
Arnold further argues that if he is asked about the verse of Dryden and Pope, he will admirably answer that they are the inaugurator and priest of prose and reason because of lacking inseparable manner of adequate poetic criticism. Their poetry has been considered to be the builders of an age of prose and reason although they may be in certain sense the masters of the art of versification.
” Dryden and Pope are not classics of our poetry,
they are classics of our prose.”
Thomas Gray (1716-1771)
Gray has a singular position in poetry form the perspective of independent criticism of life in conformity with Arnold. He studies the Greek classical poets and has not only been to catch their poetic manner but also to apply them in times. Arnold asserts though Gray has not composed a lot of volumes of poetry, he is classic in our poetry.
“He is the scantiest and frailest of classics in our poetry, but he is classic.”
Thus, Arnold has presented Gray as the only classical poet among the founder and priest of an age of prose and reason.
Click here: For all the notes of Literary Criticism
Robert Burns (1759-1796)
Robert Burns is an illustrious Scottish poet who in general belongs to the eighteenth century. Arnold has made a long discussion on Burns but started declaring that Burns has little importance for English poetry. Arnold boldly says that Burns’ poetry permanently deals with Scotch drink, religion, and manners which are often harsh and sordid or nasty that is why he has told that Burns has not even followed the proper seriousness of ‘bacchanalian poetry’.
Arnold further argues that the admirers of Burns’ poetry may assert that he has high seriousness of life but Arnold does not agree with this. He has compared him with Chaucer who has short of the high seriousness of the great classics. So, Burns is not included in the group of classics by Arnold as well.
Arnold’s appreciation of the poets of 17th and 18th poets has possessed a strong platform since the Neo-Classical Age is considered to be the age of prose and reason in the history of English literature.