Trilling’s Matthew Arnold

Barzun, Jacques. "Trilling's Matthew Arnold." Review of Matthew Arnold, by Lionel TrillingColumbia University Quarterly, March 1939. Reprinted in Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves. 


“The Critic’s business is to carp; the scholar’s business is to bore.” No one, of course, has the courage to honor those maxims in words, but many of us show by our actions that our feelings approve them. We read the biographies of Lytton Strachey’s followers because they are “critical” and we shy away from this or that new book because it is too scholarly. What we (not as specialists, but as members of the general reading public) stand most in need of to counteract these prejudices is critical scholarly writing that is neither superficially faultfinding nor irretrievably dry-as-dust.

Lionel Trilling’s recently published Matthew Arnold is the model of such writing. The fruit of some ten years’ scholarly labor, it affords the solid intellectual pleasure that one has looked for in vain since Raymond Weaver’s Melville or Perry’s William James.

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