Matthew Arnold’s Concept of ‘Sweetness and Light’

Matthew Arnold is a well- known figure of Victorian Age. This era is very glorious in the history of England because of It’s an exemplary progress in all branches of life. This age is very popular by its material prosperity, political awakening, democratic reforms, industrial and mechanical progress, scientific development, social unrest etc. He remained pessimist in the age due to a conflict between religion and science. He wrote a book ‘Culture & Anarchy’ with a view to reviving the values which were like honey in ancient Greek. He checks the values of his own time by the light of that culture. His work ‘Culture & Anarchy’ is a collection of a few separate essays; they show his fighting and struggle against material affluence.

Here, we analyze his concept about ‘Sweetness &Light’. In this treatise, his central focus and argument is on curiosity. It is defined as a liberal and intelligent eagerness about the things of mind or mental activities. According to him, the natal place of curiosity is a desire. It is desires that make some body pursue. The work of desire is to see the things as they are. If it is pursued by an intelligent person with an impartial understanding of mind, it becomes praise worthy. It bears a genuine scientific passion that is the right kind of curiosity. Such curiosity leads us to real culture. So, beyond the man of culture is curiosity.

Matthew Arnold views about a social aspect of culture. It comes out from the love of neighbor. In other words, it can be said that this aspect of culture gets birth from the desire for removing human errors and diminishing human misery. It is a person of culture who works in the society for its betterment. Such desire sees the things as they are, and the man of culture works impartially with eagerness. So, it gives birth to sweetness and light. He calls it a real culture that inspires a person to lean the world better and happier than he found it. Indeed, it occupies a genuine scientific passion and a balance and instruction of mind to fight against the diseased inclination of mind.

The author goes to the origin of culture that lies in the love of perfection. In other words, it can be called that culture is a study of perfection. In it two dominant desires work in harmony__the scientific passion for pure knowledge and moral and social passion for doing well. The man of culture should have the pursuit of pure knowledge with impartial desire or passion and prevail it in society for diminishing human miseries. Such miseries can be diminished by prevailing sweetness and light that is the job of a man of culture or a man of pursuing perfection. Such job is easy for a man of culture.

Culture is inclined to real reason and the will of God to prevail. It consists of the study and the pursuit of perfection. The direct inspiration for man to desire for perfection comes from religion. Arnold calls religion’ the voice of the deepest of human experience’. All the voices of human experience are available in art, science, poetry, philosophy and history which a man of true culture listens with a distinguished attention. All the above fields make man perfect internally, or its aim is total human perfection. The out ward expression of culture is shown in the general sweet expansion of thoughts and feelings, rich in dignity, wealth and happiness of human nature. The culture brings internal as well as external perfection of human. It quits all partialities and errors of man. Partialities and errors make anarchy in society.

Arnold finds sincere and genuine connection between culture and the idea of sweetness and light. His ideal man of culture is a Greek man called Euphuasis. Arnold borrowed the phrase ‘sweetness and light’ from Swift. The character of a man of culture is moulded by religion and poetry. The aim of religion is to make man perfect ethically, where as the poetry possesses the idea of beauty and of human nature perfect on all its sides. Culture has the power to prevail peace and satisfaction by killing our bestiality and drawing nearer to the world of spirituality with perfection. Indeed, religion fails to lead us to such perfection. He describes about religious organizations of his time in England that they seem to have failed morally. He submits example of Puritanism that is based on the impulse of man towards moral development and self -conquest. This perfection leads to the idea or impulse of narrowness and insufficiency. He jumps to such conclusion by judging the religious organizations in terms of sweetness and light.

Culture has perfection that is free from all kinds of narrowness.it stands against all the mischief men who have blind faith in machinery. In his opinion, the pursuit of perfection is the pursuit of sweetness and light. He who works for sweetness works in the end for light also; he who works for light works in the end for sweetness also. Those who work united for sweetness and light, work to make the reason and the will of God to prevail. Culture looks beyond machinery___ social, political and economic, beyond population, wealth and industry, beyond middle class liberalism and avoids all kinds of narrowness and hatred. Culture has one great opinion, the passion for sweetness and light.

Arnold shows pleasure to insist on the arousing of his contemporaries in all spheres of creative activities in art, literature and life. He insists that the light of culture must guide this national re-awakening to sweetness and light. Culture works differently, and it does not work with ready- made judgment and watch words. Its appeal is not confined to any one peculiar class in society. It deals with the best self that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere. Culture implies itself to make all men to live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light, where they may use ideas as it uses them itself freely.

The great men of culture believe in equality and broad mindedness. They are possessed by a passion to spread culture from one end of society to the other. They carry the best knowledge and the best ideas of their times. It is the duty of these men to humanize knowledge, and therefore, it becomes the best knowledge and thought of the ages, and becomes a true source of sweetness and light. The great men of culture broaden the basis of life and intelligence and work powerfully to expand sweetness and light to make reason and the will of God to prevail.

Consequently, a man of culture is like a honey bee. The job of honey bee is to suck the juice from all flowers (sweet or sour) and to make honey. Honey is sweet and liked by all in all forms. Honey has wax that is not useless because the candles are made of it light. Hence, in the end of sweetness is light. In this way, a man of culture seeks knowledge from all departments and shares it to all. He is not narrow-minded because such knowledge brings perfection. So his pursuit of perfection is sweetness and light.

Source by Ali Asghar Joyo

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