Education Spencer Herbert

Title: Matthew Arnold and Herbert Spencer: A Neglected Connection in the Victorian Debate About Scientific and Literary Education. - Nineteenth-Century Prose

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Author: Nineteenth-Century Prose

Release date: 2001-03-22

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Arnold's defense of literary culture and education against the advances of science has usually been examined with regard to his arguments with T.H. Huxley. But though little notice has been paid to it, Herbert Spencer was also an important figure for Arnold in the shaping of his ideas about the value of literature in a scientific age. Arnold had no personal respect for Spencer the self-taught philosopher of science, but the popularity and influence of Spencer's multitudinous writings on every subject under the sun, together with the respect given to his ten volumes of "Synthetic Philosophy" by people such as J.S. Mill, Charles Darwin, George Eliot, and T.H. Huxley, meant that he was someone impossible to ignore in the intellectual world of the time. Accordingly, Spencer makes several appearances in Arnold's writings, normally as the purveyor of cranky ideas on evolution, religion, science, and ethics, and as a target for some easy Arnoldian irony. Spencer's Essays on Education (1861), however, which argued the case for scientific education against the claims of literary education, demanded more serious treatment. Though Arnold does not cite these essays specifically, his own case for literary education, which makes much of particular Spencerian terms and concepts, suggests that they played an important part in the formulation of his thinking about the primacy of literary study. Evidence also suggests that Arnold's dismissive attitude toward Spencer and his writings was partly related to a personal resentment at what Spencer's popularity and influence represented: namely, the transfer of authority and power from the literary to the scientific intellectual in the late nineteenth century. Arnold's defense of literary culture and education can therefore be seen as an attempt to recuperate some of this dwindling power for the man of letters. Arnold did little damage to Spencer's reputation at the time, but his arguments helped deepen the divide between the "two cultures," and gave grounds for a continuing hostility toward science on the part of literary teachers. **********

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