The value of imitation: a vision of Aristotle's Poetics
Aristotle wrote his Poetics thousands of years before Matthew Arnold's birth. His reasons for composing it were different from Arnold's reasons for using it as an element of his own poetic criticism. We can safely say that Arnold was inclined to use the Poetics as an inspiration for his own poetry, and as a cultural weapon in the fight for artistic and social renewal. Aristotle, by contrast, was more concerned with discovering general truths, and with formalising truths already known intuitively within his own society.
I wish, in this article, to make some observations about the way in which some of the seminal ideas in the Poetics affected one key writer within the English literary tradition. Curiously enough the first thing to be said about Arnold's view of Aristotle is that it is more a Platonic than an Aristotelian view. In short Arnold was primarily, though not merely, an idealist. If, for the sake of clarity we could for the purpose of this analysis call Aristotle a realist, we might be better able to see the proper scope of this account. What we have then is the case of a man who was primarily a scientist and philosopher -- a realist in the best sense of the word, influencing a poet and visionary -- an idealist in the best sense of the word.
I have decided, despite many references in Arnold's work to Aristotelian ideas generally, to concentrate on one piece of work by Arnold; a piece of work where he more specifically refers to Aristotelian ideas of imitation. This is the 1853 Preface to The Poems of Matthew Arnold 1840-1866. I will therefore, where appropriate, compare and contrast this Preface to the Poetics. Such an approach gives us a chance to look at Ari...
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... by Ingram Bywater (Oxford 1909).
Aristotle, Aristotle on the Art of Poetry, Introduction and Translation by T. S. Dorsch, in Betty Radice (ed.), Aristotle, Horace, Longinus: Classical Literary Criticism, (London 1978).
M. Arnold, Preface to The Poems of Matthew Arnold 1840-1866, (London 1908) 3-17
M. Arnold, "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time", National Review (November 1864), Rpt. in Matthew Arnold's Essays in Criticism, (London 1964) 9-34
S. Collini, Arnold, Past Masters series, (Oxford 1988).
L. Johnson, "Review of the 1891 Edition of The Poetical Works of Matthew Arnold", Academy (1891) in Carl Dawson (ed.), Matthew Arnold: The Poetry: The Critical Heritage, (London 1973) 386-91.
Plato, The Symposium Translation by Benjamin Jowett as part of The Works of Plato (New York n. d.) in Candace Ward (ed.), Plato: Symposium and Phaedrus (New York 1993).