Matthew Arnold was an English poet and cultural critic, whose work remains amongst the best known of 19th century British poetry. Though he wrote on a variety of subjects, he is best known for his themes of nature, modern society, and moral instruction.
Arnold was born to Thomas and Mary Pensworth Arnold in Laleham, England. When Matthew was young, Thomas was named headmaster of the famed Rugby School, and moved his family to Rugby, England to take residence. In 1836, Arnold was sent to Winchester College, but eventually returned to the Rugby School, where he studied under his father. He won multiple prizes there, for English essay writing and for Latin and English poetry.
Arnold had a distinguished career as a student and professional. In 1841, he began studying at Balliol College, Oxford on an open scholarship. His father died in 1842 of heart disease, and his family then moved permanently to their vacation home, Fox How. He graduated Oxford with a 2nd class honors degree in Literae Humaniores, or what we now know as Classics. He went on to teach briefly at Rugby, then was elected Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford. In 1847, he was named Private Secretary to Lord Lansdowne, Lord President of the Council. After being appointed in 1851 as an inspector of schools, Arnold married Frances Lucy and had six children.
However, Arnold's greatest work was as a writer. Though he published his his first book of poetry, The Strayed Reveler, in 1849, his literary career really took off in 1852, when he began to publish more poetry volumes. His second volume included a verse drama, Empedocles on Etna, though he garnered the most attention for the poetry which he continued to write until his death. Additionally, Arnold was well known as a cultural critic, publishing volumes like Culture and Anarchy, in 1869. Today, his work as critic is as well-known as his poetry is.
Throughout this phase of his life, Arnold found great success as a writer. He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1857, and re-elected in 1862. Further, he toured both the United States and Canada on the lecture circuit. In 1883, he was elected as a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Arnold died suddenly in 1888 of heart failure, while rushing to catch a tram. His work has remained popular and loved since his death.