These studies, thrown into the form of eight lectures, deal with those phases and currents in the life and philosophy of Matthew Arnold which determined his religious creed and gave the final drift to his poetry. Good poetry ought to be taken seriously and analytically. I remember the shock I received as a youth in reading in an intensely orthodox journal a favorable review of a book of poems which I knew contained avowedly agnostic opinions.
Had these opinions been couched in prose, extreme denunciation would have fallen upon them. Now, true poetry is one of the subtlest mediums for influencing thought and belief, and its aesthetic appeal is only secondary.
The theology in Arnold's prose and poetry is essentially the same, otherwise he would be no true poet; and the theology in both is extraordinarily warped and defective. My task has thus been somewhat of an ungracious one.
To have treated Arnold from the side of wholehearted eulogy would have meant an incursion into fairyland, as in the "Forsaken Merman," or into legendary history as in "Sohrab and Rustum" or "Tristram and Iseult."