Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)

With his wife and his daughter Lucy, Arnold sailed from Liverpool in October 1883 on the Cunard liner, Servia, and was met at the New York pier by Andrew Carnegie and his secretary . . .

Everyone has heard the story of Arnold's pointing to a plate of pancakes and saying to his wife, `Do try one, my dear, they are not nearly so nasty as they look.' But Dr. Leonard has found the story told, as at first hand, by a score of hostesses, and he concludes that it is apocryphal. . . . Still, it was increasingly whispered about that Arnold was a difficult and arrogant guest. America, proud of having culture, proud of having no culture, watched him with sharp eyes; his whiskers, his eyeglass, his clothes, his accent, his complexion, all came under scrutiny and comment. The knowledge that he had come to the country to make money gave a handle to irritation—that handle by which America can always lay hold of the foreign lecturer who comes to talk about things of the spirit; the attitude of Arnold's managers, apparently no more than business-like, added to the irritation. James Whitcomb Riley met Arnold on the train to Binghamton, N.Y., and found significant the care with which he stowed away his 2 change from a 3 newspaper; he admits that Arnold is poor but he finds the gesture distressing enough to make him say, ''Tis very good to be an American.'

And Arnold was cold; one wanted, said the Detroit News, to poke him in the ribs and say, `Hello Matt! Won't you have suthin'?' This friendly desire was perhaps what Arnold reprobated in democracy, its fear of distinction and its less of the discipline of respect.

Lionel Trilling, Matthew Arnold (9th impression, 1963), pp. 394, 395-396.

I Am ashamed to say that in spite of encouragement from Mother, and delightful hours spent with Aunt Fanny listening to poetry, I was a very backward child and could not read at six years old.

Mother failed to make me study, and one day she said: `I am going to bring someone to talk to you. He is a great poet, and perhaps he could persuade you to learn to read.'

This was Matthew Arnold, a friend of Aunt Fanny, whose poems she used to read to me. I was thrilled to see him, and after all these years I can still see his tall, angular figure, as he stood with his back to the fire looking down upon me from what seemed to me an immense height. He never smiled that day. His whiskers were thicker and longer than any I had seen; and I was glad that Father wore a neatly trimmed beard. This stern-looking man then sat down and took me on his knee while he talked to me about books, seeking to fire my interest; and in this he succeeded, for I could have listened to him all day. Then he stopped talking of poetry, and said very seriously:

`Your mother tells me that you do not know how to read, and are refusing to learn. It surprises me very much that a little girl of six should not know how to read, and expects to be read to. It is disgraceful, and you must promise me to learn at once; if you don't, I shall have to put your father and mother in prison.'

I was startled and frightened by this threat, and at the same time very puzzled that a poet could put people in prison. I asked Father whether he could put him in prison.

Father hesitated: `No, I don't think he could, although he is a Government Inspector of Schools.'

I still felt mystified, but his threat made me start in earnest to work with my nursery governess, and, to my surprise and pleasure, I found I could read Grimm's Fairy Tales within a few weeks.

Lina Waterfield, Castle in Italy. An Autobiography (1961), pp. 11-12.

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