"The Grand Style"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Matthew Arnold, like so many of his contemporaries, was caught in the agonizing throes of the intense religious and social transition of the Victorian era. Yet, unlike Newman on the one hand–who rejected the present and took refuge in the dogma of the past–and Huxley on the other–who rejected the past and became an ardent disciple of the New Science–Arnold accepted the modern age with full recognition of its scientific bias and worldly preoccupations. He saw and felt the social crudeness and the spiritual dislocation of his society, but he had a firm faith in the instincts and ideals which the human race had developed. Thus, in the work of his later life, he became a prophet of a new religion, culture–"the best that has been thought and said in the world." Through proper education he would envision a cultured middle-class cognizant of the values of human dignity as they have been articulated in the great aesthetic creations of the past. In 1860, as Professor of Poetry at Oxford, he delivered a series of three lectures in which, as he described it, "I shall try to lay down the true principles on which a translation of Homer should be founded." Among other matters, his lectures criticized a recent translation of the Iliad by Francis W. Newman, who printed a rebuttal to the charges. Arnold replied to Newman with an additional lecture, dealing primarily with the style and tone proper to the cultural values of the Greek epic:

. . . Nothing has raised more questioning among my critics than these words, "noble, the grand style." People complain that I do not define these words sufficiently, that I do not tell them enough about them. "The grand style, but what is the grand style?" they cry; some with an inclination to believe in it, but puzzled; others mockingly and with incredulity. Alas! the grand style is the last matter in the world for verbal definition to deal with adequately.
. . .
I think it will be found that the grand style arises in poetry, "when a noble nature, poetically gifted, treats with simplicity or with severity a serious subject." I think this definition will be found to cover all instances of the grand style in poetry which present themselves.