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KarenG

Culture and Anarchy by Matthew Arnold

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I'm just getting started. I read a bit from an e-text, and then ordered a physical copy. The thing that caught my attention in the first place is his discussion of "hebraism" and "hellenism"--a slightly different take on the modern "Greek vs. Hebrew" discussion. But there's a lot more to it than that.

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The more you read Charlotte Mason, the better you understand Charlotte Mason. However, the more you read other authors, the better you understand Charlotte Mason, too. I'm still reading very slowly through this book, but the first essay is called "Sweetness and Light." It appears that he borrowed the title from Jonathan Swift, who calls "sweetness and light" the two noblest things, based on some ideas from the Greeks (I just skimmed that part because I haven't gotten that far yet, so I'm still a little uncertain about it). Anyway, I was reading in CM's Philosophy of Education this week, and ran across this reference:

"The young people are for four years (a proper academic period) to be under influences that make for 'sweetness and light.'"

Now, when CM uses quotation marks like that, she is quoting, always. She rarely cites, however, and there is no citation. So, now I'm going to wonder forever if she is quoting Matthew Arnold (one of her mentors, so to speak) or Jonathan Swift???

Regardless, "sweetness and light" should be understood as representing the ideals of a liberal education.

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So what is meant by "sweetness"? As a modern Southern girl I think of how we call people "sweet" meaning "nice" or "kind". I doubt that is the connotation here? Light I would assume is inspiration, perception, etc...?

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On 1/6/2019 at 6:19 AM, Donald Hess said:

Sweetness & Light  = Beauty & Truth?

I don't know? I wonder if it's something like what Marie Kondo asks of her organizationally challenged clients. She asks them to consider each item they own to see whether it sparks "joy" for them. If it doesn't, they should "thank it" and then donate it or dispose of it. It makes me think of the "spark of joy" a great books brings, or that lightbulb moment when you suddenly comprehend the math lesson. I wonder if those ideas are what is being conveyed in "sweetness and light"? 

I'm not condoning the disposal of books or lessons based on whether a student or teacher feels joy at the thought of them. :) Sometime you learn to acquire "joy" for something after many encounters. Like brussels sprouts, or fine wine, or calculus. 

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I downloaded Culture and Anarchy from Gutenberg and did a search of the phrase "sweetness and light". It appears several times in the book. In light of Karen's observation that this phrase was also employed by Charlotte Mason and Jonathan Swift, I wonder if it is an (archaic) English idiom that may have been used in contexts other than education. That said, let's explore this idiom by asking others to think of examples of something that they would describe as "sweetness and light". It might be a good starting question for your next table conversation.

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I finally unearthed this book (don't ask), and skimmed a little, and find Arnold making reference to Swift's Battle of the Book. So that, I think, is the source for CM, too. "Sweetness and light" are "the two noblest things"--so I think Beauty (sweetness) and Truth (light) come pretty close to hitting the mark. It's not really the easiest reading, and skimming is not going to cut it, but I'm gathering that Arnold is connecting sweetness and light to culture, perfection of the human spirit, and what we might call poetic knowledge.

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That is great! I love the term, "poetic knowledge" though it's fullness is foggy to me. As two of the noblest things, I think of sweetness as innocence, and light as perception - which is really truth. Lovely things to contemplate!

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On ‎1‎/‎22‎/‎2019 at 2:14 PM, KarenG said:

It's not really the easiest reading, and skimming is not going to cut it, but I'm gathering that Arnold is connecting sweetness and light to culture, perfection of the human spirit, and what we might call poetic knowledge.

You're right, Karen, Culture and Anarchy is dense reading, but I think you got the gist of it. Arnold regards Culture as formative, with the potential to change society for the better, much in the same way that Education is formative. I recall that for the ancient Greeks culture and education were essentially synonymous. "Poetic knowledge" is a useful synthesis of the meaning of sweetness and light. Along those lines, here is quote from Robert Frost's essay The Figure a Poem Makes:

Quote

Just as the first mystery was how a poem could have a tune in such a straightness as meter, so the second mystery is how a poem can have wildness and at the same time a subject that shall be fulfilled. It should be the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom.

As I consider what passes as culture in our day, there seems to be more bitterness and darkness than sweetness and light, more sensuality and folly than delight and wisdom. And then I am reminded of Ps. 34:8: Taste and see that the Lord is good. Taste and see...sweetness and light! 

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