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Victorian Poetry 41.3 (2003) 364-376

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Matthew Arnold

Clinton Machann


When I mentioned in last year's essay that this year I would discuss the sixth and final volume of Cecil Y. Lang's edition of Matthew Arnold's letters (University Press of Virginia), which had appeared in late 2001, I [End Page 364] did not suspect that it would also be my solemn duty at this time to call attention to the passing of Lang himself—on February 15, 2003. Although an obituary appeared in the last issue of Victorian Poetry, it is appropriate to remind readers here that Lang's monumental edition of The Letters of Matthew Arnold can be seen as the capstone to his life's work, which included, as Victorian scholars well know, editions of correspondence by Swinburne and Tennyson. In the introduction to his first Arnold volume (1996), Lang expressed his opinion that Arnold's correspondence as a whole "may well be the finest portrait of an age and of a person, representing the main movements of mind and of events of nearly half a century and at the same time revealing the actual intimate life of the participant-observer, in any collection of English letters in the nineteenth century, possibly in existence." It is fitting that the final major project in the career of this important scholar and editor was one which he deeply believed to be of great significance, and I know that this opinion is widely shared among his surviving colleagues.

Volume six covers the years 1885-88. (Arnold himself died on April 15, 1888.) One of the most notable features of this volume is the 173-page cumulative index which helps guide readers through the entire collection. Throughout his adult life, as even casual readers of the Letters will notice, Arnold maintained a remarkable commitment to family correspondence, and letters to his mother, to his siblings, to his wife when they were apart, and, finally, to his grown children constitute important series within the collection that chronicle Arnold's personal, professional, and artistic development. By the early 1850s, he had established a routine of writing his widowed mother nearly every week, and he continued to do so until her death in 1873. As discussed earlier in these pages, Arnold's frequent letters to his sister Jane (always addressed as "K") are of particular value in providing insights into Arnold's ambitions and self-doubts as a writer, especially during the early stages of his development as a poet. His sister Frances ("Fan") is also an important correspondent, especially after the death of their mother in 1873, when Frances continued to live at Fox How, the Arnold family home, as the resident matriarch. Numerous letters to Frances, and some to Jane, as well, continue to be of interest in the sixth volume, but most prominent are those addressed to Arnold's daughter Lucy, who had married Frederick Whitridge, a young New York lawyer, after meeting him while accompanying her father on his American tour of 1883-84.

The first substantial letter in Lang's sixth volume, dated January 12, 1885, is addressed to Lucy: "This is my first letter to you, and the first time that I write Mrs Whitridge! I said I should write to you once a fortnight, but I shall write every Monday, you are so far off, and so dear to my heart." But the generous father does not want to be too demanding of his correspondent: [End Page 365] at the end of the letter he writes, "Never mind writing to me in particular; the letters to Mamma and Nelly [Lucy's younger sister, living with her mother and father] quite satisfy me." Arnold's interest in writing to Lucy is only intensified after the birth of granddaughter Eleanor (who comes to be known as "the Midget") in April 1886.

In that same letter, Arnold told his daughter that he was working on "a long promised thing for Knowles— 'A Word more about America.' I often think of you, as I write it, and that it would be unpleasant for you if...


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