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' ,I I ' .··: :... ( . :,·' ,. '' •·~ . .. \ MATTHEW ARNOLD AND IRELAND ' I ' I WILLIAM RoBBINS··WHEN Frederic H'anison declared with, some acerbity that "the inan· of culture is in politics .the p'oorest mortal alive," a verdict which Arnold ·was to quote against himself with mock humility on se.veral oc- .casions, he expressed the common view of Arnold's political pronounce.: , ments.' His ·phrasing, UJ?-for.tunately for him, struck Arnold as exubera~tly Philistine, and it naturally suggests ·a query as to which is ·at fault, the man of cul.ture.or politics. Yet there is general agreement that Arnold·, when he. forsook ~road critical principles and got down to political cases,:was.not a sound observer. Certainly his letters and essays offer· erratic judgments on the political ~cene in Italy, on Franco-Prussian relations· , and on matter·s _ of domestic policy. In the field of education, of course, ,his experience as school inspector and foreign observ:.er produced penetrating and significant social criticism with valid political generalizations~ But the fact remains that even enthusiastic admirers would find it difficult to champion Arnold as a political commentator. · This negative finding must be -qualified by. one important exception. With re~pect to the Irish question, one of the persistent major problems of English politics, Arnold's prophetic insight is weak, but there is in his · writing on this subject a rare blend of sound diagnosis, practica) remedial proposals, and a balanced historical perspective. It is true that he showed no appreciation of the prophetic insight in Gladstone's.. Irish policy, or of wnat may be called its evolutionary· necessity. He condemned Gladstone :first for not doing enough, and then, with Home Rule, for going' too far. But they were moving in the same general direc.tion, with an impulse the result of more than mere expediency and aiming at more than mere comproI I .mise. It is tempting, in Arnold's case, to bring 'in the Celtic inheritance from his Cornish mother to account for his int~rest in and sympathy,with the Irish, but such speculations are unnecessary. The fact is that in the ' . Irish situation and its background there was not only something to appeal , to the cosmopolitan mind and the romantic imagination, but also ~perfect case for the :;tpplication of the doctrines which developed through Arnold's reading, thinking, and experience'to merge in Culture and Anarchy as the. gosp~l of Hsweetness and light." , The histor.ical aspect of the relations between Ireland and England, in terms of conquest,, rebe!Jion, and re-conquest, with all the misery that economic helotage could bring the Ir·ish, is too well known to need detailed .recounting. Military subjugation, anti-Catholicism, _ and economic exploi- , tation combined to create a s'i_ tuation which at its best showed complete ·· · misunderstanding by the dominantpower, and at its more frequent worst a savage oppression which ignored any claims ·of justice and humanjty. , · There was_cine decade when, with Presbyterian Ulster and Catholic Ireland 52 ,, ,. .. "" , ·.1 ' ' I• 'I . . I I. I ' • ¥' '•· ' ' MATTHEW ARNOLD AND IRELAND 53 . ' . . ' united against commercial stran.gulation, and with .the temper of England, . after the .fairly.quiescent domestic period in the later eighteenth century, 'o.n th~ whole easy-going and latitudinarian, a generous and workable compromise might have been arrived at. According to Trevelyan, 0 any time in the decade following 1782, a Reform Bill; Catholic Emancipation) and the payment of the Catholic priests. by· the Government would have diverted the whole history of Ireland into happier channels."1 The only alter~ative to' large concess'ions to Irish demands was the ex.termination of the Irish people, ~s those ·who. appreciated the .nature of th.e Irish temper and background realized. This was hardly an acceptable alternative, even for Tory and Protestant intolerance.2 But neither· were large concessions contemplated by Pitt and his ministers. Instead, the Union of 1800 wiped. out the Irl. sh Parliament and imposed a Protestant ~scendancy in a spirit of religious tyranny completely at odds with the treatment accorded ' ' . I Scotland in 170?. I~ is true Pitt tried to put through a measure of Catholic Emancip.ation, but the opposition of .George III made...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 52-67
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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