When it comes to Victorian critics, Matthew Arnold is unsurpassed. He is most widely known as a literary critic. However, his literary criticism is closely associated with society and life in general. He was the first critic to declare that people could be consoled, healed and changed by reading literature.
After Aristotle, Arnold was the only one who laid rules about on criticism. His input towards English criticism was phenomenal. He had several fine qualities as a critic and at the same time, certain disadvantages as a critic.
After the romantic period, which was known as the period of confusion in criticism Arnold again forced authority. He was a stern and grave critic who put down certain ideologies of criticism and educated others how to criticize.
Matthew Arnold perceived the critic quite different from any other before him. According to him, criticism did not come from the branch of philosophy. It was not even a craft; it was a form of art, the art of judgment. He says that a critic should belong to no party whether intellectual, religious or political. He should learn to think objectively, he should demonstrate that this is better than that.
Criticism ought to be a ‘dissemination of ideas, an unprejudiced and impartial effort to study and spread the best that is known and thought in the world’, is what Matthew Arnold says in his essay- The Function of Criticism at the Present Time (1864). He writes that when assessing a particular work, the goal is ‘to see the object as in itself it really is’. Psychological, historical and sociological backgrounds are immaterial. This attitude was very influential and particularly noteworthy with later critics.
In his pursuit for the best, a critic Arnold believed that it should not only restrict or limit himself to the literature works of his own country but should draw significantly on foreign literature and ideas to a large extent because the spreading of ideas should be an objective venture.
Arnold says criticism is nothing if it is not related to life. Life is the main thing. So his criticism of literature, society, politics, and religion all tends towards being a criticism of life. So does his poetic activity. Thus criticism with Arnold denotes a comprehensive activity which embraces all the departments of life. He himself defines criticism as “the endeavor, in all branches of knowledge, theology, philosophy, history, art, science, to see the object as in itself it really is.
The critic’s part in this procedure necessitates that he disinterestedly identifies the greatness in writing and use his critical powers to communicate this greatness to the common man. Arnold makes an effort to demonstrate that criticism in and of itself has several significant functions and should be observed as an art form that is as high and important as any creative art form.