Cornhill Magazine,  10 (1864), 154–172.

The Literary Influence of Academies

Matthew Arnold




Genius, Invention, Creativity, Institutions, Nationalism, Mathematics, Comparative Philology, Error, Education

    Argues for the creation of a French-style state-endowed literary academy in Britain. Admits, however, that 'the highest reach of science is, one may say, an inventive power, a faculty of divination, akin to the highest power exercised in poetry: therefore, a nation whose spirit is characterized by energy may well be eminent in science—and we have Newton. [...] And what that energy, which is the life of genius, above everything demands and insists upon, is freedom; entire independence of all authority, prescription, and routine' (158). Nevertheless, on the Continent, where the intellectual authority of centralized academies has long existed, 'as a sort of counterpart to Newton, there was Leibnitz; a man, it seems to me (though on these matters I speak under correction), of much less creative energy of genius, much less power of divination than Newton, but rather a man of admirable intelligence, a type of intelligence in science, if ever there was one. Well, and what did they each directly lead up to in science? [...] The man of genius was continued by the English analysts of the eighteenth century, comparatively powerless and obscure followers of the renowned master; the man of intelligence was continued by successors like Bernoulli, Euler, Lagrange, and Laplace, the greatest names in modern mathematics' (159–60). Compares the general intellectual standards of Britain with those of France and Germany, and complains at 'the absence in this country, of any force of educated literary and scientific opinion, making aberrations like those of the author of The One Primeval Language out of the question' (162). Only the founding of 'influential centres of correct information will tend to raise the standard amongst us' and 'free us from the scandal of such [...] philological freaks as Mr. Forster's about the one primeval language' (172).


Arnold 1865

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