"France, Famed In All Great Arts, In None Supreme"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In 1848, the year that Arnold wrote this poem to Arthur Hugh Clough, the overthrow of the French monarchy marked the beginning of a series of revolutions that spread through Europe. At the time liberals like Clough optimistically forecast that an age of equality and freedom was being ushered in, but Arnold had reservations. By nature melancholy and in philosophy a determinist, Arnold does not believe that political revolutions inaugurate ages of peace; instead, he believes that the cry for freedom will be again stifled by tyrants' greed. France had already demonstrated the course of revolutions when a Napoleon stepped in after the monarchy fell; yet France was being praised for repeating its own bloody history. Rather than copy the French, the liberals should, Arnold believes, emulate the English, who had successfully endured ages of tyranny to evolve into a constitutional government; such evolution requires patience, but it is bloodless and more "artistic" than the violent French way of seeking immediate ends.

. . . when I muse on what life is, I seem
Rather to patience prompted, than that proud
Prospect of hope which France proclaims so loud–
France, famed in all great arts, in none supreme;
Seeing this vale, this earth, whereon we dream,
Is on all sides o'ershadow'd by the high
Uno'erleap'd Mountains of Necessity,
Sparing us narrower margin than we deem.