“Caricature is the tribute which mediocrity pays to genius.”
- Oscar Wilde
Click on these links to see and read Visual Caricatures & Analysis:
The Mystery of Edwin Drood Illustrations by Sir Samuel Luke Fildes
Vanity Fair by James Tissot
Cartoon Portraits & Men of the Day by Frederick Waddy
The Illustrated Review by R. Taylor
Punch by Edward Linley Sambourne
The Poets' Corner by Max Beerbohm
By all accounts, Matthew Arnold had a good sense of humor. He even admits in an early letter that his friends think he “laugh[s] too much.” When Matthew once got in trouble at Rugby and his own father sat Matthew behind him at the front of the classroom, the younger Arnold made faces at his father behind the eminent Victorian’s back, much to the delight of other students in the class. This sense of humor helped Arnold throughout his life, especially when he found himself, as he frequently did, the subject of political cartoons and caricatures.
Of course, caricature was nothing new to Arnold. When a child, he and his siblings published a family magazine, “The Fox How Magazine,” in which the children would frequently parody one another. One sibling parodied Matthew Arnold’s lifelong interest in his own appearance and his dandyism, writing of his rooms in Oxford, “Eau de Milles Fleurs, Eau de Cologne and twenty eaux beside, / Rowland’s Odonto, scented soaps, jostle his books aside.” In Friendship’s Garland, Arnold would make fun of himself, even, characterizing himself, in relationship to his doppelganger Arminius von Thunder-ten-Tronckh, as “a mere mouthpiece of this dogmatic young Prussian […] on the whole, my intellect was (there is no use denying it) overmatched by his” (Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold V. 3). And when he was parodied and satirized by the likes of Frederick Harrison, he found the satire to be well-done, and he took it in stride, telling one friend he laughed until he cried over one parody.
What follows on this page are some of the known published caricatures of Arnold, some context, and some interpretations. Not all were published during Arnold’s lifetime; however, their presence in the popular press attests to Arnold’s continued influence even after his death in 1888. Jerold Savory and Patricia Marks's book The Smiling Muse: Victoriana in the Comic Press (Philadelphia: The Art Alliance Press 1985) is an excellent text resource for more analysis of Matthew Arnold caricatures and those of many other Victorian personalities.
In addition to the visual caricatures and cartoons of Matthew Arnold, click on these links to verbal parodies or caricatures of Arnold.
The images used on these pages, unless noted otherwise, are out of copyright and their usage on this site is covered under at least one of the following: PD-1923; PD-1996.