"Ah, what pitfalls are in that word Nature!" wrote Matthew Arnold in Literature and Dogma. And what pitfalls have many modern scholars fallen into as they have attempted to discern what precisely that charged word meant to Victorian literature's most renowned critic. Ambivalent, inconsistent, confused, incompatible, incomprehensible-all are adjectives used at one time or another to describe Arnold's uses of the word nature. In his landmark study The Concept of Nature in Ninteenth-Century English Poetry, Joseph Warren Beach concludes that Arnold's references to nature in the abstract show a distinct confusion of attitude, at times deprecating nature as "the world of things" opposed to the moral world of man and at other times exalting the "moral qualities felt in nature above the restlessness of man." Erik Frykman finds equal confusion in Arnold's thought, especially with what he calls the "inconsistency in Arnold's use of the concept of nature." John M. Robertson instills in his readers a sense of Arnold's pathetic inconsistency with such phrases as "intellectual defects," "want of logic and thoroughness of thought," "capricious sensibilities" and "fallacy" in logic. Even W.S. Johnson feels that Arnold has "two main conceptions" of nature-"one meaning a physical and moral order exclusive of human values, and the other a kind of pantheistic unity embracing all which exists, both human and non-human." While agreeing with Thrilling that there may be no "fundamental contradiction" in Arnold's view of nature, Johnson, nonetheless, maintains that there is "a constant conflict in Arnold between the idea of a nature alien to man and that of one with which man can be integrated."
Shurbutt, Slyvia Bailey
"The Poetry of Matthew Arnold: Nature and the Oriental Wisdom,"
University of Dayton Review: Vol. 17:
3, Article 6.
Available at: https://ecommons.udayton.edu/udr/vol17/iss3/6