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By Martinson, Harry

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For the excited crowd gathered outside the court building, on the other hand, the Parlement is expressing a looser 'universal spirit of a Nation'. It is all pretty confusing, of course. But in Sartor Resartus, Carlyle had already confronted this very confusion in the meaning of human life. And his manner of writing history has been crafted to accommodate it. Anticipating post-modernism, Carlyle conveys an historical universe full of contending meanings with no privileged position from which to say authoritatively : this is the one definitive direction that supervenes our actions.

In Arnold's theory literature is given a new centrality, ranking in importance higher than the philosophy and ethics which also constituted, for him, the staple necessities of a humane education. The centrality of literature (here redefined as 'poetry') is connected with the decline of religion, which requires a new body of humane belief to replace its erstwhile functions: The future of poetry is immense, because in poetry, where it is worthy of its high destinies, our race, as time goes on, will find an ever surer and surer stay.

But for poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Matthew Arnold: Discourse of Criticism Poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the idea is the fact. p. 238) 33 (SP, This concern with a perceived need on the part of 'our race' to find some substitute for its decaying religion- a body of cultural practice which will provide both an ethical system, a philosophical attitude, and an emotional consolation - is central to Arnold's theory of literature. 'More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us' (SP, p.

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