Matthew Arnold was not only a poet, but also an educator, a classical scholar, and one of the most brilliant literary and social critics of the Victorian age. His interest in education came naturally, for his father, Thomas Arnold, was the renowned headmaster of Rugby School who in the first half of the 19th century did much to revolutionise secondary-school education in England
Shortly after leaving Oxford, Arnold became a government inspector of schools, a post he held until two years before his death. He also made an extensive study of school systems in Europe for the government and wrote several books on continental education. In 1857 he was appointed to the Professorship of Poetry at Oxford (a part-time post) and lectured there for ten years.
Arnold was sharply critical of the materialism and narrow-mindedness of the Victorian middle classes (whom he called Philistines), and preached the gospel of culture as a corrective. He defined culture as a compound of “sweetness and light” consisting of a knowledge of “the best that has been thought and said in the world”. He maintained that no work of art could be great that did not possess both artistic merit and moral power.