While reading Lynette Hunter's lecture text "What Is Literary Value?" (Gresham College, 1997), I came across the following passage (emphasis mine):

What gets into and what stays out of the canon is largely decided by an interlocking relationship between education and publishing, and I will now go on to talk about each of these. First, education. When Matthew Arnold, in the 1860s to 70s, along with others, proposed and saw through the passing of the Education Acts, he was faced with, among many other things, a problem of what the pupils were to learn. (...) The teachers were frequently women, or impoverished men, neither with sufficient income to buy several copies of individual authors, so Arnold and his associates compiled a textbook, an anthology of the texts thought most appropriate for teaching the young people of England, and of course making it possible to examine them all on the same basis.

Hunter adds that Arnold's canon remained in place for 50 years, when it was updated by people such as F. R. Leavis and T. S. Eliot, resulting in a canon that was still largely in place in the late 1990s. However, I have been unable to find the textbook or anthology Hunter refers to. The Wikipedia article on Matthew Arnold does not appear to mention it, in spite of the influence it must have had. Searching Archive.org gives results for Arnold's fiction and non-fiction but nothing that looks like a textbook or anthology for use in schools.

When was this textbook or anthology published for the first time, what was its title and who, besides Arnold, compiled it?

1 Answer 1


Hunter may have been referring to the four-volume "The English Poets. Selections with Critical Introductions by Various Writers and a General Introduction by Matthew Arnold", edited by Thomas Humphry Ward, published by Macmillan in 1880. Ward was married to Arnold's niece (novelist, Mrs. Humphry Ward).

The Preface to the anthology begins, "The aim of this book is to supply an admitted want -- that of an anthology which may adequately represent the vast and varied field of English Poetry. Nothing of the kind at present exists."

  • That may be it, although I didn't expect a work in four volumes.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 15:37
  • Yes. It's not exactly a textbook. Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 16:08
  • Although, come to think of it, the inclusion of critical introductions to the various authors is textbook-like. Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 16:09
  • 1
    I have now been able to find these volumes on Archive.org; here is volume 1.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 17:36
  • Taking a look at what you found on Archive.org, makes me pretty sure that this is the "textbook" referred to by Hunter. Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 18:11

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