Matthew Arnold and Us
A hundred twenty-five years after it was first published, a new edition of Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy—the classic defense of high culture against the depredations of modernity—is still an event1 This is a work that speaks to us directly, even intimately; a work that still sets a challenge. And yet a reader coming to Culture and Anarchy for the first time, knowing nothing of it but its reputation, could soon find himself wondering whether this is the same book as the one he has heard so much about.
Samuel Lipman’s admirable edition is reinforced by a commentary consisting of four newly commissioned essays—by Lipman himself, by the American literary critics Gerald Graff and Steven Marcus, and by the British historian Maurice Cowling. The first three discuss the ways in which Culture and Anarchy is relevant to the needs and problems of our own time; the fourth, although it questions that relevance, recognizes that most of Matthew Arnold’s modern admirers (and many of his opponents) think otherwise. But Lipman—who in his “other” life is COMMENTARY’s music critic and the publisher of the New Criterion—has also provided twenty pages of badly-needed notes, explaining names and other allusions; and merely to glance at them is to be reminded how deeply rooted Culture and Anarchy is in a particular time and place, and a particular set of social developments.
About the Author
John Gross is the editor most recently of The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes. His “Mr. Virginia Woolf” appeared in the December 2006 COMMENTARY.