Matthew Arnold was born in December of 1822 in Laleham, Middlesex, England. As a boy Arnold attended Rugby School where his father, Thomas Arnold was a respected headmaster. He was quickly recognized as a talented student. During his time there he won awards for his essay writing and Latin and English poetry. One of his award-winning poems, ‘Alaric at Rome’ was printed at Rugby.
Arnold won a scholarship for, and attended Balliol College, Oxford University, starting in 1841. Arnold’s father died a year later in 1842. The following year Arnold’s poem, ‘Cromwell’ won the 1843 Newdigate prize, which is awarded to students at Oxford for the Best Composition in English verse by an undergraduate.
After Arnold graduated from Oxford he went on to publish his first book of poetry, The Strayed Reveller. A year later he published a number of memorial pieces about William Wordsworth. In 1851 Arnold was married to Frances Lucy, daughter of a Justice of the Queen’s Bench. He was unable to support a family on his current wages and was appointed as one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools. This was a position he would hold for a number of years, but not one he enjoyed. It did allow him to travel throughout England and continental Europe.
In 1852, he published his second collection, Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems. The next collection was released in 1853 and was titled Poems: A New Edition. These works established Arnold’s reputation. In 1857, he was named as a Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. He was the first instructor in this position to deliver his lecture in English rather than Latin and would hold this position for the rest of his life.
It was in the mid 60s that he published his collections of essays, Essays in Criticism: First Series. It appeared in 1865 and was followed many years later by Essays in Criticism: Second Series, after Arnold’s death in 1888. These works reflected the core beliefs of the Victorian era. In his later life Arnold went to the United States on two lecturing tours from 1883 to 1886.
Matthew Arnold died in Liverpool in April of 1888.