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Matthew Arnold

Howard Foster Lowry (ed.), The Letters of Matthew Arnold to Arthur Hugh Clough

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[It is a significant fact that each of Clough's three principal poems was inspired by vacations. The Bothie was one of these, and it was composed during the month after his return from pg 91the Lake Country, where he visited during late August and the first few days of September. The pastoral was directly prompted by a reading of Longfellow's Evangeline. The chief pleasure Clough derived from its publication was that of watching the amazement of serious gentlemen who expected him to write an apologia for his resigning at Oriel.

Meanwhile, Clough at home in Liverpool, Arnold had escaped to the Continent for a rest from Lansdowne House. The letter fairly explains itself.]

Baths of Leuk. Septber 29, 1848.   

My dear Clough

A woodfire is burning in the grate and I have been forced to drink champagne to guard against the cold and the café noir is about to arrive, to enable me to write a little. For I am all alone in this vast hotel: and the weather having been furious rain for the last few days, has tonight turned itself towards frost. Tomorrow I repass the Gemmi and get to Thun: linger one day at the Hotel Bellevue for the sake of the blue eyes of one of its inmates: and then proceed by slow stages down the Rhine to Cologne, thence to Amiens and Boulogne and England.

The day before yesterday I passed the Simplon—and yesterday I repassed it. The day before yesterday I lay at Domo d'Ossola and yesterday morning the old man within me and the guide were strong for proceeding to the Lago Maggiore: but no, I said, first impressions must not be trifled with: I have but 3 days and they, according to the public voice will be days of rain: coupons court à notre voyage—revenons en Suisse—So I ordered a char yesterday morning to remount the Simplon. It rained still . . . here and there was something unblurred by rain. Précisons: I have noticed in Italy—the chestnuts: the vines: the courtliness and kingliness of buildings and people as opposed to this land of a republican peasantry: and one or two things more: but d—n description. My guide assures me he saw one or two 'superbes filles' in Domo d'Ossola (nothing improper): but I rose late and disheartened by the furious rain, and saw nothing but what I saw from the carriage. So Italy remains for a second entry. From Isella to Simplon the road is glory to God. In these rains maps and guides have pg 92suffered more or less: but your Keller very little: I travel with a live guide as well as Murray: an expensive luxury: but if he is a good Xtian and a family man like mine, a true comfort. I gave him today a foulard for his daughter who is learning French at Neufchatel to qualify her first for the place of fille de chambre in a hotel and afterwards for that of soubrette in a private family. I love gossip and the smallwood of humanity generally among these raw mammoth-belched half-delightful objects the Swiss Alps. The lime stone is terribly gingerbready: the pines terribly larchy: and above all the grand views being ungifted with self-controul almost invariably desinunt in piscem. And the curse of the dirty water—the real pain it occasions to one who looks upon water as the Mediator between the inanimate and man is not to be described.—I have seen clean water in parts of the lake of Geneva (w[hi]ch whole locality is spoiled by the omnipresence there of that furiously flaring bethiefed rushlight, the vulgar Byron):1 in the Aar at the exit of the Lac de Thoune: and in the little stream's beginnings on the Italian side of the Simplon. I have however done very little, having been baffled in two main wishes—the Tschingel Glacier and the Monte Moro, by the weather. My golies, how jealous you would have been of the first: 'we fools accounted his calves meagre, and his legs to be without honor'. All I have done however is to ascend the Faulhorn—8300 above the sea, my duck.

This people, the Swiss, are on the whole what they should be; so I am satisfied.—L'homme sage ne cherche point le sentiment parmi les habitans des montagnes: ils ont quelque chose de mieux—le bonheur. That is but indifferent French though. For their extortion, it is all right I think—as the wise man pumpeth the fool, who is made for to be pumped.

I have with me only Beranger and Epictetus: the latter2 tho: familiar to me, yet being Greek, when tired I am, is not much read by me: of the former I am getting tired. Horace whom he resembles had to write only for a circle of highly cultivated desillusionés roués, in a sceptical age: we have the sceptical age, but a far different and wider audience: voilà pourquoi, with all his genius, there is pg 93something 'fade' about Beranger's Epicureanism. Perhaps you don't see the pourquoi, but I think my love does and the paper draws to an end. In the reste, I am glad to be tired of an author: one link in the immense series of cognoscenda et indagenda despatched. More particularly is this my feeling with regard to (I hate the word) women. We know beforehand all they can teach us: yet we are obliged to learn it directly from them. Why here is a marvellous thing. The following is curious—

  •                          'Say this of her:
  • The day was, thou wert not: the day will be,
  • Thou wilt be most unlovely: shall I chuse
  • Thy little moment life of loveliness
  • Betwixt blank nothing and abhorred decay
  • To glue my fruitless gaze on, and to pine,
  • Sooner than those twin reaches of great time,
  • When thou art either nought, and so not loved,
  • Or somewhat, but that most unloveable,
  • That preface and post-scribe thee?'—3

Farewell, my love, to meet I hope at Oxford: not alas in Heaven: tho: thus much I cannot but think: that our spirits retain their conquests: that from the height they succeed in raising themselves to, they can never fall. Tho: this uti possedetes principle may be compatible with entire loss of individuality and of the power to recognize one another. Therefore, my well-known love, accept my heartiest greeting and farewell, while it is called today.

  • Yours,                 
  • M. Arnold.   
pg 94

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Editor’s Note
1 In spite of the high service Arnold did Byron in making a selection of his poems and showing where his real power lay, he saw clearly 'the deep grain of coarseness and commonness, his affectation, his brutal selfishness' (Essay on Shelley, Essays in Criticism, 2nd series, p. 238). But the person 'who stops at the theatrical preludings does not know him' (Essay on Byron, Essays, 2nd series, p. 197). And Arnold's reflections on Heine, in 1863, were to persuade him that Byron, for all his weaknesses, was 'the greatest natural force, the greatest elementary power . . . in our literature since Shakspeare' (Essays in Criticism, 1st series, p. 192).
Editor’s Note
2 Epictetus is mentioned also in the early sonnet, To a Friend (see Poems, p. 40, and in these Letters No. 21). For other references to his work, see the essay on Wordsworth, Essays in Criticism, 2nd series, p. 145, and on Marcus Aurelius, Essays, 1st series, pp. 347–8, as well as 'A Speech at Eton', Mixed Essays, &c., p. 409.
Editor’s Note
3 The 'curious' thing is unquestionably Arnold's own. I was interested to find it scribbled, with one minor change, in the back of his copy of Burnett's Life of Matthew Hale. The thought is very close to that of the last part of the 'Horatian Echo'.
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