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Matthew Arnold (1822 1888)

Lifespan: 1822 - 1888

Culture and Anarchy (1869) - Matthew Arnold[Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Related: cultural criticism - high culture - cultural elitism - Victorian age

Contemporaries: Charles Baudelaire - John Ruskin

When Matthew Arnold wrote that to have culture is to "know the best that has been said and thought in the world," he captured the conceptual essence of high culture. As the term "culture" has come to have a broader meaning, more inclusive of everything within a given culture rather than simply the most elite cultural manifestations, the term "high culture" has begun to serve for referring to those aspects of culture which are most highly valued and esteemed by a given society's political, social, economic, and intellectual elite. Opera, yachting, and Tom Stoppard are associated with high culture in the U.S. Note: What constitutes high power is a site of conflict. Generally, the most powerful members of a society are the ones who have the most influence over cultural meaning systems, and therefore the more powerful classes tend to enjoy the privilege of defining "high culture." --http://www.wsu.edu [May 2006]

Compare this view with that of Raymond Williams -- who argues that culture isn't just the "best that has been thought and said," but rather that "culture is ordinary" -- and with the anthropological perspectives of John Bodley and Clifford Geertz, which attempt to view culture more descriptively and to approach the study of human societies with an assumption that values, behaviors, and ideologies are different from people to people. Taken together, this group of excerpts illustrates the general move away from the Arnoldian conception of culture. --http://www.wsu.edu [May 2006]


Matthew Arnold (24 December 1822 15 April 1888) was an English poet and cultural critic, who worked as an inspector of schools. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Arnold [Oct 2005]

Culture and Anarchy (1869) - Matthew Arnold

Culture and Anarchy is a book by Matthew Arnold, first published in 1869.

Arnold's famous piece of writing on culture established his High Victorian cultural agenda which remained dominant in debate from the 1860s until the 1950s.

According to his view advanced in the book, "Culture [...] is a study of perfection". He further wrote that: "[Culture] seeks to do away with classes; to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere; to make all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light [...]".

This passage is often misquoted as "[culture is] the best that has been thought and said". --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_and_Anarchy [Oct 2005]

Amazon Book Description
Without the challenging precedent of Culture and Anarchy, literary criticism and sociology in England and the United States would want both purpose and direction. Manifesting the special intelligence of a literary critic of original gifts, Culture and Anarchy is still a living classic. It is addressed to the flexible and the disinterested, to those who are not committed to the findings of their particular discipline, and it assumes in its reader a critical intelligence that will begin its work with the reader himself. Arnold employs a delicate and stringent irony in an examination of the society of his time: a rapidly expanding industrial society, just beginning to accustom itself to the changes in its institutions that the pace of its own development called for. Coming virtually at the end of the decade (1868) and immediately prior to W. E. Forster's Education Act, Culture and Anarchy phrases with a particular cogency the problems that find their centre in the questions: what kind of life do we think individuals in mass societies should be assisted to lead? How may we best ensure that the quality of their living is not impoverished? Arnold applies himself to the detail of his time: to the case of Mr Smith 'who feared he would come to poverty and be eternally lost', to the Reform agitation, to the commercial values that working people were encouraged to respect, and to the limitations of even the best Rationalist intelligence. The degree of local reference is therefore high, but John Dover Wilson's introduction and notes to this edition supply valuable assistance to a reader fresh to the period. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

See also: anarchy - 1869

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