Monday, November 18, 2013

Matthew Arnold "Think clear, feel deep, bear fruit well." Anyone else want to fix these adverbs like I do?

by Megan Hoyt

"In Mr. Arnold's opinion too much time is still spent in the introductory discipline of grammar and mathematics, which, though most valuable in the cultivation of exact habits of mind, are not ends in themselves except for a few philological and mathematical specialists. Most people's aptitudes lead them best to knowledge of themselves and of the world through literature, philosophy, history, or through some one or more of the natural sciences. We should then treat Greek, Latin, and modern languages more as literature and less as mere scholarship, so as to enter into vital contact with other nations, and to seize the spirit and power of their highest thoughts."

I knew Matt wouldn't let me down. 

Sometimes I think as Charlotte Mason educators we see vitality measured by moments of human connection or mutual understanding. And Matthew Arnold seems to agree. He's not recommending loads of memory work and lots of problems and a heavy dose of textbook reading. Not that those are bad things. But he seems to see a bigger picture -- "to enter into vital contact with other nations, and to seize the spirit and power of their highest thoughts." His aim is toward noble, magnanimous thoughts. 

I wonder what the big picture goal of our NEA leaders here in the USA is. Wait, no, I don't. I already know. Their goal is to prepare students for college and the work force. That rings a bit hollow in light of the lofty goals of Matthew Arnold, doesn't it? It's very utilitarian. It doesn't exactly ring true when you think of your own life either. Proverbial you. When I ponder the saying that life is measured "in moments that take your breath away," I can't help but wonder why our children are forced to spend so many of them indoors sitting on hard chairs at desks, listening to adults drone on about a subject when they could be focusing in on more impactful moments. Here are a few of mine -- both real and imagined:

Sitting quietly with a friend watching the sun setting over the ocean amid the sound of gently rolling waves.

breathing in the fresh aroma of pine on a chilly mountainside as we chop down our first Christmas tree and drag it to the car through powdery snow. 

The sight of our first child being born, holding her in my arms for the first time, seeing all that bright red hair and wondering how in the world God packed all that incredible DNA within such a delicate frame. 

Feeling the exact same sense of wonder at the births of each of our other children and experiencing the awe of new life alongside every new believer. 

Watching baby birds learn to fly with my two little girls by my side. 

Leaning forward to listen to mourning doves coo and watching them cuddle because they built their nest in our gutter and it's right outside my son's window. 

Knowing that these moments are holy and precious and recognizing how fleeting they will feel once they are in the past and not the future. 

I am 50 years old now. These special times ARE in the past. And I treasured each one as they came. I jumped in the leaves with my children. We laughed giddily as we read silly books out loud. I let them blow bubbles in their chocolate milk. On purpose. Because every moment of life is sacred and special. 

Yes, these are the hushed undertones of the miraculous. These are the moments of vitality that make up our days as Charlotte Mason families. This is how we choose to live. And this is the vitality Matthew Arnold recommends for us. The one that Miss Mason chose to write about in her Parents' Review article about him so many years ago. 

But what about the mind that has a natural bent toward numbers, statistics, scientific data and notation, patterns, figures, numbers, and such? 

There is absolutely a holiness to having a methodical mind for numbers and details and data. I should know because I don't lean in that direction and time and time again I have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as a result of "not having my ducks in a row" or, on a deeper level, not safeguarding myself against those who had unfettered access to my soul when I really should have analyzed the situation rather than jumping in impulsively with my heart on my sleeve. 

If you are a numbers person, you are loved and appreciated! I think it's important to strengthen the areas in our personalities where there is a lack. Just like I read about in the Bacon essay in my last blog post. There is always room for stretching higher toward skills we aren't naturally gifted in, right? 

Here's an example. I am not a particularly financially savvy person, but I was listening to the radio one day and heard "the fifth caller will win a free investment class." I called and I won. I think probably everyone wins and that it may have been an advertisement to get people to take a sample class, but impulsive me took the bait! So we went to the class and learned quite a lot about investing and strategies. I haven't yet used this newfound ability, but I'm really happy that I stretched and reached for it. I'll keep you posted. 

But back to Matthew Arnold... Here's another snippet:

"Arnold was not ungrateful to his own public school training, and when his work at the Education Office brought before him the state of the country generally as regards education, he grieved to see the dismal swamp in which middle-class education was allowed to flounder, while that of the aristocracy was fairly provided for, and that of the working classes was becoming efficiently organised. ... With incisive iteration he tells them that they have 'a defective type of religion, a narrow range of intellect and knowledge, a stunted sense of beauty, and a low standard of manners.' And these defects he ascribes chiefly to the mean type of school in which the middle-class Englishman is trained."

Ouch. Sounds like he was pretty appalled at the state of middle class education in his day! Well, if the opposite of narrow is broad, Charlotte Mason came to their rescue with her broad, liberal education for all and her focus on beauty. 

Thank you, Miss Mason! Here's more:

"...he was always ready to drive home his favourite doctrine--Organise, organise your secondary education, make it a public business, give it prestige. Your children are badly taught and ignobly trained, and this deteriorates their standard of life, their civilization. With organisation would come the special preparation of teachers, as well as that of other public servants, for their office. The need for such preparation Arnold was never weary of inculcating. He puts the case for training so well and so clearly that we must have his own words--

'The end to have in view is that every one who presents himself to exercise any calling shall have received, for a certain length of time, the best instruction preliminary to that calling. This is not, it must be repeated again and again, an absolute security for his exercising the calling well, but it is the best security. It is a thousand times better security than the mere examination test, on which, with such ignorant confidence, we are now, in cases where we take any security at all, leaning with our whole weight. ...' " 

I think I'll read more of Matthew Arnold's work in the coming days. Here's what's on my list:

Essays in Criticism
Literature and Dogma: An Essay Towards a Better Apprehension of the Bible
Culture and Anarchy
The Letters of Matthew Arnold to Arthur Hugh Clough

From Matthew Arnold's The Scholar Gypsy:

But fly our paths, our feverish contact fly! 
For strong the infection of our mental strife, 
Which, though it gives no bliss, yet spoils for rest; 
And we should win thee from thy own fair life, 
Like us distracted, and like us unblest. 
Soon, soon thy cheer would die, 
Thy hopes grow timorous, and unfix’d thy powers, 
And thy clear aims be cross and shifting made; 
And then thy glad perennial youth would fade, 
Fade and grow old at last, and die like ours.

May we not be distracted or unblest. 
And may our aims be clear and not cross or shifting. 

From wiki: 
Matthew Arnold (24 December 1822 – 15 April 1888) was a British poet and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold, the famed headmaster of Rugby School, and brother to both Tom Arnold, literary professor, and William Delafield Arnold, novelist and colonial administrator. Matthew Arnold has been characterized as a sage writer, a type of writer who chastises and instructs the reader on contemporary social issues.


  1. If your aim is to help a person live more richly and fully, then finding a job will take care of itself.

  2. Amen! So true! I had not heard of the genre known as sage writers until reading about Matthew Arnold. I wonder who our current sage writers are... Matt Walsh? Any others you can think of?