The University Press of Virginia edition of The Letters of Matthew Arnold, edited by Cecil Y. Lang, represents the most comprehensive and assiduously annotated collection of Arnold's correspondence available. When complete in six volumes, this edition will include close to four thousand letters, nearly five times the number in G.W.E. Russell's two-volume compilation of 1895. The letters, at once meaty and delightful, appear with a consecutiveness rare in such editions, and they contain a great deal of new information, both personal (sometimes intimate) and professional. Two new diaries are included, a handful of letters to Matthew Arnold, and many of his own that will appear in their entirety here for the first time. Renowned as a poet and critic, Arnold will be celebrated now as a letter writer. Nowhere else is Arnold's appreciation of life and literature so extravagantly evident as in his correspondence. His letters amplify the dark vision of his own verse, as well as the moral background of his criticism. As Cecil Lang writes, the letters "may well be the finest portrait of an age and of a person, representing the main movements of mind and of events of nearly half a century and at the same time revealing the intimate life of the participant-observer, in any collection of letters in the nineteenth century, possibly in existence."

Volume 1 begins with an account of the Arnold children by their father, headmaster of Rugby School. The letters show Arnold as a precocious schoolboy, doted on and remonstrated by his extended family; as a foppish Oxonian; as a young man enjoying the pleasures of Paris and working at a perfect and undemanding job; then as a new husband in an imperfect, too-demanding job; as Professor of Poetry at Oxford; and finally as an emergent European critic. As Cecil Lang writes in his engaging and spacious introduction, "Arnold learned to live with a boring, demanding, underpaid, unrewarding occupation largely because—questing intellectual, husband and father, school inspector, clubbable man-about-town and cosmopolite-about-Europe and America, hunter, fisherman, skater, voracious reader—he lived to learn."

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