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Matthew Arnold was a major nineteenth-century British poet and literary critic, whose poems include "The Scholar-Gypsy," "Rugby Chapel" and "Dover Beach." Arnold was educated at Rugby School, where his father was Headmaster, and at Oxford University. The poet William Wordsworth was a family friend.
Although Matthew Arnold was greatly respected as a poet, a literary critic, and a writer on social, political and religious issues, he never earned his living by writing. To support himself and his family, he spent most of his working life as a government school inspector. He was also a professor of poetry at Oxford from 1857 to 1867.
Mackenzie King became particularly interested in Arnold's poems after reading some aloud one evening with his friend Marjorie Herridge. "My whole nature roused as I read them...The night was a revelation to me of a new soul, a supremely refined intellectual & spiritual beauty characterized its thought & expression. I became an admirer of Matthew Arnold's," King wrote. (Diary, September 7, 1901)
When King wrote The Secret of Heroism, he used a quotation from the poem "Rugby Chapel" as part of the introduction.
King met Arnold's niece, Mrs. Humphry Ward, in 1899, and through her he met Arnold's granddaughter, Eleanor Whitridge (later Greenough, then Thwaites), who lived in the United States. King and Eleanor Whitridge became friends, and over the years she gave him many Matthew Arnold items - 29 autographed letters, mainly to members of the family, including one holograph letter from Matthew Arnold to his wife Frances Lucy Arnold, and four letters from his father, Dr. Thomas Arnold. These letters are now in the W.L. Mackenzie King Papers at Library and Archives Canada. Eleanor Whitridge also gave King a number of books by Arnold, some annotated. These are now in Library and Archives Canada or in Laurier House.
All through his diary, King wrote occasional admiring comments about Matthew Arnold, when events in his life reminded him of Arnold's writings.