It was not only in regard to duty that an unusual awareness and interest was evident in the literary works of England immediately after the translation of the Bhagavad-Gita in English and following the influx of German thought into England, but the same interest is also discernible in the concept of  Ideal man. The Bhagavad-Gita in clear words defines the characteristics of an ideal man and lays down that at the time of social chaos and disorder, it is an ideal man who ushers in an era of light and salvation. In Germany, Fichte and Herder expounded the idea of a great man. In English literature Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Shelley and Keats along with many others stressed the need of an ideal man in their words. Wordsworth referred to the idea of a leader in the following lines of the Prelude.

Age after age, till time shall be no more.

Such minds are truly from the Deity, for they are powers; and hence the highest bliss,

That flesh can know is theirs-the consciousness

Of whom they are, habitually infused

Through every image and through every thought,

And all affections by communion raised

For earth to heaven, from heaven to divine;

Hence endless occupation for the Soul,

Whether discursive or intuitive;

Hence cheerfulness for acts of daily life,

Emotions which best foresight need not fear,

Most worthy then of trust when most intense.-1


Echoing the idea of the Bhagavad-Gita, Wordsworth invites the soul of Milton to rescue England from doom. He refers to Milton as possessing the qualities of a truly ideal man:

The soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;

Thou hadst a voice whose sound like the see;

Pure as the naked heavens, majestic free,

So didst thou travel on life’s common way,

In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart

The lowliest duties on herself did lay.-2


Coleridge’s view of the statement as a “coadjutor with God” is set forth in The Friend. The Statesman’s Manual, and elsewhere. Shelley shows the liberator failing in The Revolt of Islam but triumphant in Prometheus Unbound. Keats in his sonnet ‘Addressed to the Same’ writes:

Great Spirit now on earth are sojourning,

….                                                           ….                                           ….                                           ….

And other spirits there are standing apart

Upon the forehead of the age to come,

These, these will give the world another heart,

And other pulses, Hear fet not the hum

Of mighty workings?-

Listen a while, ye nations, and be dumb,

But it was Carlyle who propagated the idea of the Hero or Ideal man in almost all his works. In his works there is no idea so deep-rooted or as multifariously expressed as that of the supreme importance of the ideal man and total surrender to him. It is the essence of his earlier works, like Burns (1828), Johnson (1832) and Sartor Resertus (1833-34). In Sartor Resartus, he writes that “Great Men are the inspired (speaking and acting) Texts of that divine Book of Revelations, where of a chapter is completed from epoch to epoch, and by some named History.”-3 In On Heroes And Hero Worship (1840), he declares that the history of the world is the biography of the great men. It is reaffirmed in Past and Present (1832) and Letter-Day Pamphlets (1850). Not only did he preach this doctrine theoretically but also illustrated it from history. In The French Revolution (1837), Cromwell (1845) and History of Frederick the Great (1858-65) he constantly endeavors to seek examples of his doctrine in history. In his own age like a Messianic prophet, Carlyle declared:

…. the Greatman was always as lightning out of heaven, the rest of men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would flame.-4


Needless to refer to the fact that this emphasis on and glorification of an ideal man was again immediately after the translations of the Bhagavad-Gita into English. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna reiterating enumerates the qualities and characteristics of an ideal man. In many respects these qualities of a perfect man as referred to in the Bhagavad-Gita correspond with those underlined by Wordsworth, Carlyle and others. Mathew Arnold who in his early years was quite intimate with Carlyle and who also carefully studied the Bhagavad-Gita, thought of a great man for the salvation of the evils of his age.

The Bhagavad-Gita in Chapter XIV identifies three types of persons in the world, with well-marked characteristics. Lord Krishna says to Arjuna:








(O Mighty armed (Arjuna): the goodness (sativa), passion (rajas) and dullness (tamas) constituents, which spring from nature (prakrati), keep tied within the body, the ‘avyaya’ that is, the unmodifiable (nirvikara), Atman, which resides in the Body.)-5

It shows that it is the power of the modes which leads to the appearance of the immortal soul in the cycle of birth and death. These modes are the primary constituents of nature and are the bases of all substances. These modes are three tendencies of nature. The Goodness (sattva) reflects the light of consciousness and irradiates by it; and so has the quality of radiance. Passion (rajas) has an outward movement and the third i.e. dullness, (tamas) is characterized by inertia and heedless indifference. Thus one who has goodness (sattva) possesses perfect purity and luminosity, while the passionate one (rajas) has impurity which leads to activity and the man with dullness (tamas) is full of darkness and inertia. The three divisions are on the ethical basis.-6

Almost corresponding to these three divisions Arnold also refers to three types of persons in the world. Resembling those with inertia and darkness (tamas) are the persons referred to in the following lines of ‘Rugby Chapel’:

What is the course of the life?

Of Moral men on the earth?-

Most men eddy about

Here and there-eat and drink,

Chatter and love and hate,

Gather and squander, are raised

Aloft, are hurl’d in the dust,

Striving blindly, achieving

nothing; and then they die-

Perish; – and no one asks

Who or what they have been,

More than he asks what waves,

In the moonlit solitudes mild

Of the midmost Ocean, have swell’d,

Foam’d for a moment, and gene.-7

These persons are characterized by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita as:







(But the tamas (dullness) constituent springs from Ignorance; and keep, that it confuses all beings. O Bharata! It keeps (them) in bondage by ignorance of duty, idleness, and sleep.)-8

Those who possess the passion (rajas) are described by Arnold in the following lines:

And there are some, whom a thirst

Ardent, unquenchable, fires,

Not with the crowd to be spent,

Not without aim to go round

In an eddy of purposeless dust,

Effort unmeaning and vain,

Ah yes! Some of us strive

Not without action to die

Fruitless, but something to snatch

From dull oblivion, nor all

Glut the devouring grave.-9


About such persons Lord Krishna says:







(The characteristic of the rajas (Passion) constituent is to keep one engrossed; and know, that Desire and Attachment arise from this constituent, O Kaunteya! it keeps beings in bondage by the (Energetic) Attachment for performing Actions.)-10

Those who have goodness (sattva) are described by Arnold in the following Lines of ‘Rugby Chapel’:

But souls temper’d with fire,

Fervent, heroic, and good,

Helpers and friends of mankind.

Servants of God! – Or sons

Shall I do call you? Because

Not as servants ye knew

Your father’s innermost mind,

His, who unwillingly sees,

One of his little ones lost-

Yours is the praise, if mankind

Hath not as yet in its march

Fainted, and fallen, and died!-11

These characteristics of goodness (sattva) are summed up by Lord Krishna as follows:

(Out of these, the sattva (goodness) constituent, which illumines because it is pure, and which is faultless O sinless Arjuna! keep (being) in bondage by the Attachment for happiness and knowledge).-12

Here knowledge means lower intellectual knowledge. Goodness (sattva) does not free us from the ego-sense. It inspires desires though for noble objects. The self which is free from all attachment is in the cases of goodness is attached to happiness and knowledge. Without developing the power to cease to think and will work ego-sense, none can be liberated.  Knowledge is related to mind which a product of nature is and it should be distinguished from the pure consciousness which is the essence of soul. The three types of persons further characterized as follows by Lord Krishna:







(The sattva (goodness) constituent creates an Attachment for happiness, and the rajas constituent, for Action; but O Bharata! the tamas (dullness) constituent throws a cloak on knowledge, and creates an Attachment for pramade (that is, ignorance of duty or forgetfulness of duty).-13

The Bhagavad-Gita also makes it clear that the three modes – goodness, passion and darkness – are there in all human beings, though in different degrees. Nobody is free from them and in each should one or the other predominates. Men in the world are known as good (Sattavika) passionate (rajas) and ignorant (tamas) in accordance with the mode which prevails. According to the later theory of the “humours” men are divided into optimistic, the bilious, the lymphatic and the anxious, according to the prevalence of one or the other of the four humors. In the Hindus classification, the psychic characteristics are taken into account. The goodness (sattva) aims at light and knowledge; the man of passion (rajas) is restless, full of desires for things outward. While the activities of a man of goodness (Sattvika) are free, calm and selfless, the man of passion (rajas) wants always to be active and not still perfect and his activities are motivated by selfish desires. Man with heedless indifference (tamasa) is dreary and lifeless, his mind is full of darkness and disorder and his

whole life submitted to surroundings. Lord Krishna says:



(Defeating the rajas (passion) and tamas (dullness) constituents, the sattva (goodness) becomes (preponderant); (than he is said to be sattvika) and by defeating the sattva (goodness) and tamas (dullness) constituents, the rajas (passion constituent becomes (preponderant); and by defeating the sattva (goodness) and rajas (passion) constituents, the tamas (dullness) becomes (preponderant)-14


Arnold has created a number of characters who embody the characteristics described by Lord Krishna in the above lines. Empedocles and Scholar Gipsy are quite conspicuous in this regard. ‘Empedocles on Etna’ sets forth the moral and intellectual debate and condemns both intellectual aspirations and moral rebellion against the Powers of Destiny. In Act I of the poem Arnold show Empedocles advising his discipline Pausanias how to live in the world and ask him to go back to society. The essence of Empedocles’ argument is a blending of stoicism, dutifulness and idealistic monism. These three doctrines are elaborately discussed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita. Empedocles warns his disciple that the basic error a man commits is to think that he has a right to bliss, instead of informing himself to the necessities imposed by the nature of things, by what is:

The World”s course proves the terms

On which man wins content;

Reason the proof confirms –

We spurn it, and invent

A false course for the world, and for ourselves, false powers.-15


He advises in the element of Lord Krishna that man must ‘work as best he can/And win what’s won by strife:’ a man must not ‘fly to dreams, but moderate desires’, and accept ‘the joys thee are’. Here he seems to have been endowed with goodness (sattava). But Act II shows that Empedocles is unable to follow the advice he had given to his disciple only a few hours earlier. As one who is incapable of action and full of disinterest and gloom, he cries:

No, thou are come too late, Empedocles!

And the world hath the day, and must break thee,

Not thou the world. With men thou canst not live,

Their thoughts, their ways, their wishes, are not thine;

And being lonely thou art miserable,

For something has impair’d thy spirit’s strength,

And dried its self-sufficing fount of joy.

Thou canst not live with men nor with thyself-

O sage! O sage! – Take then the one way left;

And turn thee to the elements, thy friends,

Thy well-tried friends, thy willing ministers,

And say; ye helpers, her Empedocles,

Who asks this final service at our hand!

Before the sophist – brood hath overlaid

The last spark of man’s consciousness with words-

Ere quite the being of man, ere quite the world

Be disarray’s of their divinity-

Before the soul lose all her solemn joys,

And awe be dead, and hope impossible,

And the soul’s deep eternal night come on-

Receive me, hide me, quench me, take me home!-16


The three important characters in the poem- Empedocles, Pausanias and Callicles – objectify the three modes of nature described in the Bhagavad-Gita. Empedocles who begins marvelously in Act I embodies longing and discourse which in a way typify the inertia (tamas).  Pausanias, the disciple is more realistic, and is less obsessed by the recollections of past joys. He embodies the cheerful stoicism by which bright men can alone survive in the world. He represents passion (rajas). The third character, Callicles, is young and he is a poet. He embodies the aesthetic consciousness which records the movement of life with detachment and serenity, moving in the social world of the city, the mystical world of the past, and the lovely world of nature with ease and self-assistance. He represents the goodness (Sattva).

Scholar Gipsy is commingling of passion (rajas) and goodness (Sattva). Arnold describes him as full of passion prior to his leaving Oxford and going to the gypsies:

Of pregnant parts and quick inventive brain,

Who, tired of knocking at preferment’s door,

One, summer – morn forsook


His friends, and went to learn the Gipsy-lore,

And roam’d the world with that wild brotherhood,

And came, as most men deem’d, to little good.-17


Escapism from duty has never been approved of in the Bhagavad-Gita. The third mode of life, i.e. inertia (tamas) has been condemned by Lord Krishna. But Scholar Gipsy is not an escapist. He may be treated as one who renounces the world and all its pleasures for the sake of some ‘light’ or ‘spark’ which he might wrongly or rightly felt to attain in the midst of gypsies. He reminds us of Gautam Buddha, Mahavir Swami, Maharishi Dayanand and Swami Vivekanand. Wilson Knight’s assertion, that ‘Scholar Gipsy is the type of the sage extolled in, the Gita,-18 displays his correct understanding of the Indian scripture. Perhaps Arnold knew it that like Bhagavad- Gita, Scholar Gipsy could not be properly understood and appreciated. It was because of this fact that he wrote to Clough:”I am glad you like the ‘Gipsy-Scholar’- but what does it do for you?  Homer animates- Shakespeare, animates- in its own poor way. I think Soharb and Rustam animates, The Gipsy-scholar at best awakens a pleasing melancholy. But this is not what we want:

The complaining millions of men

Darken in labour and pain –


What they want is something to animate and enable them – not merely to add respite to their melancholy or elegance to their dreams.-19 Scholar Gipsy represents not only goodness (Sattva) of the Bhagavad-Gita, but also the higher ideal of rejecting action and all its fruits to attain the ‘light.’

Arnold’s concept of ideal man as illustrated in ‘Rugby Chapel’ and in some other poems unmistakably recalls to mind the perfect man of the Bhagavad-Gita as the harmonious embodiments of all the virtues. An ideal man according to the Bhagavad-Gita is one who is active as well as thoughtful, who is dedicated and at the same time detached. Arnold’s father Dr. Thomas Arnold was in his own way a great man. He had extraordinary energy of character and strength of will. He was absolutely single minded and selflessly devoted to his duty. Carlyle who once stayed with Matthew Arnold’s father might have easily glorified Dr.Thomas Arnold as The Hero as Schoolmaster, as like a Carlylean leader, he was in communion with the universal truth. Trilling writes:

Every one knows the story of the Rugby Victory how, like the Abbot

Samson taking over St. Edmundbury. Arnold found a scene of material

and spiritual desolation, how he faced down the opposition of

subordinates and students, gathered power into his hand and molded

the school to his will, creating slowly its moral and intellectual tone.-20


To his son fifteen years after his death, Dr. Arnold was a light shining in darkness. Through his favorite images of radiance and gloom, Arnold sets out the spiritual light and dark of man’s minds in England of his time. He finds intellectual tiredness and paralyzed trust in his age. He feels that most of the people are selfish and worry for their own ends and success, unregardful of the luck of others. Sense of comradeship and fellow-being is missing and people are blindly given to worldly pursuits, casualness and deserting their companions. In the midst of such selfishness only his father could have worked not for himself but for others who were incapable of reaching their goal:

But thou would’st not alone

Be saved, my father! Alone

Conquer and come to thy goal,

Leaving the rest in the wild.

We were, weary, and we

Fearful, and we in our march

Fain to drop down and to die.

Still thou turnedst, and still

Beckonedst the tremble, and still

Gavest the weary thy hand.-21


Arnold, like Carlyle and Tennyson, feels that Victorian age presents a spectacle of wasteland in which helpless human beings are struggling hard to discover a ray of light which may help them to attain their goal. He is apprehensive of the future of mankind:

See! In the rocks of the world

Marches the host of mankind,

A feeble, wavering line,

Where are they tending? A God

Marshall’d them, gave them their goal.

Ah, but the way is so long!

Years they have been in the wild!

Sore thirst plagues them, the rocks,

Rising all rounds, overawe;

Factions divide the, their host

Threatens to break, to dissolve,

-Ah, keep, keep, them combined!

Else, of the myriads who fill

That army, not one shall arrive;

Sole they shall stray; in the rocks

Stagger for ever in vain,

Die one by one in the waste.-22


Arnold feels that in such an age only an enlightened man of the type of his father with spiritual aspirations, selfless dedication and moral commitment, could salvage the suffering humanity:

Still, like a trumpet, dost rouse

Those who with half-open eyes

Tread the border-land dim

‘Twixt vice and virtue; reviv’st,

Succourest! – This was thy work,

This was thy life upon the earth.-23


The idea of Matthew Arnold is almost a reproduction of the following words of Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita:




(O Bharata! whenever Righteousness declines and Unrighteousness becomes powerful, then I Myself come to birth).-24

(I take birth in different Yugas for protecting the Righteous and destroying the Unrighteous, and for establishing Righteousness).-25

Whenever righteousness wanes, and unrighteousness increases, the Almighty Lord creates himself. Whenever there is a serious tension in life, when a sort of all-pervasive materialism invades the hearts of human souls, to preserve the equilibrium, an answering expression of wisdom and righteousness is essential. The Supreme, though unborn and undying, becomes apparent in human-embodiment to over throw ignorance and selfishness. It is the function of God (as Vishnu), in Hindus, the guardian of the world, to keep the world going on lines of righteousness. He assumes birth to reestablish right when wrong pervades.

The Bhagavad-Gita gives the distinctiveness of a perfect man in detail in different chapters. Lord Krishna distinguishes the nature of the God like from the demoniac Mind. Referring to those endowed with divine nature Krishna says:






(Fearlessness, a pure and sattvika temperament, jhana-yoga-v yavesthiti [, that is, the well calculated proportionment of jhana (-marge) and (karma-) Yoga], generosity, endurance, sacrifice, ‘avadhyaya’ (that is, following the religion prescribed for one’s status-in-life), performing austerities, straight-forwardness)-26




(Harmlessness, veracity, not getting angry, tyaga’ (that is, Renunciation of the Fruit of Action), tranquility, ‘a paisunya (that is, overgrowing one’s narrow-mindedness, and acquiring a generous frame of mind); kindness toward all beings, absence of avarice, mildness, feeling ashamed (of evil action), acapala’(that is giving up useless activity).-27


The human race is not divided into the realm of Ormuzd and the territory of Ahriman. In each man are these two empires of light and darkness. The Bhagavad-Gita has lay down the distinctive qualities of those who are seeking for the divine excellence.

Lord Krishna lays importance on the status where one is unaffected by work. According to the natural law, we are bound by the results of our actions. Every act has its normal reaction and so is a source of burden committing the soul to the world of becoming and preventing its unification with the Supreme through the transcendence of the world. The Bhagavad-Gita does not advocate for renunciation of work but, renunciation of selfish desire.




(Brilliance, forgiveness, steadiness, purity, non-hatred, not being over-dignified, these (qualities), O Bharata! are acquired by persons, who are born to godlike endowments).-28


In the Victorian period, while on the one hand, with the grow of the middle class to power, the quick pace of all round economic and industrial growth and the political expansion of the empire, the idea of progress gathered momentum, on the other, owing to the attendant evils of industrialization, inequality and injustice, dirt, poverty, and moral laxity, “the condition of England question” became dominant. In the so called ‘unpoetic’ and ‘unheroic’ Victorian age, Matthew Arnold very significantly highlights the qualities of an ideal man in his father and invokes his spirit to save mankind from catastrophe :

Then, in such hour of need

Of your fainting, dispirited race,

Ye, like angels, appear,

Radiant with ardour divine!

Beacons of hope, ye appear!

Languor is not in your heart,

Weakness is not in your word,

Weariness not on your brow.

Ye alight in our van! At your voice,

Panic, despair, flee away,

Ye move through the ranks recall

The stragglers refresh the outworn,

Praise, reinspire the brave!

Order, courage, return.

Eyes, rekindling, and prayers,

Follow your steps as ye go,

Ye fill up the gaps in our files,

Strengthen the wavering line,

Establish, continue our march,

On, to the bound of the waste,

On, to the, city of God.-29


These lines embody the dedication, moral earnestness, stead-fastness of purpose and selfless devotion of an ethical and intellectual leader as envisaged in the Bhagavad-Gita.

In the view of a modern psychologist, Lord Krishna distinguishes two main types of seekers, recluse, who has natural bent to discover the internal life of Spirit and extrovert whose fondness is towards toil in the other world. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that there is yoga of knowledge for those whose internal being is bent towards flights of profound spiritual meditation, and the yoga of achievement for energetic personalities with love of actions. But this distinction is not complete, as all men are in diverse degrees both introverts and extroverts. According to the Bhagavad Gita, the course of work is a means of emancipation quite as effective as that of knowledge. The two modes of life are equally important. In the works of enlightened, the self-sense and expectation of reward are absent. Elucidating these ideals Lord Krishna says to Arjuna:








(O sinless Arjuna! I have said before (that is, in the Second chapter) that in this world, the path is of two kinds; that of the Samkhyas, by the jnana-yoga, and that of the Yogins, by the karma yoga).-30







(But) It is not that a man attains naiskarmya (that is, performing Action after destroying its binding force-Trans) by not commencing Action; nor lose one attain Perfection by merely making a Renunciation (tyaga) of Action)-31

The father of Arnold is delineated as a distinctive amalgamation of the two modes of life, enunciated in the above lines of the Bhagavad-Gita. Arnold portrays his father virtually as a prophet, one of the rare ‘souls tempered with fire’ who inwardly  converse with the higher ‘father’s inner most mind; ; he depicts him with a succession of life-going image – giver of light, ‘mighty Oak’, ‘faithful shepherd,’ through the world’s rocky wilderness; such men are themselves, fathers to ordinary mankind, included among ‘The Lord’s Messenger.’ His ideal was ‘work is worship’. The following description of Arnold’s father in ‘Rugby chapel’ corresponds to the perfect man of the Bhagavad-Gita :

O strong soul, by what shore

Terriest thou now? For that force,

Surely, has not been left vain!

Somewhere, surely, after,

In the sounding labour-house vast

Of being, is practiced that strength,

Zealous, beneficent, firm!

Yes, in some far-shining sphere,

Conscious or not of the past,

Still thou performest the word

Of the spirit in whom thou dost live –

Prompt, unwearied, as here!

Still thou upraisest with zeal

The humble good from the ground

Sternly represent the bad!-32


The Bhagavad-Gita attributes greatness to those who uphold equipoise in happiness and hurt. These attitudes of pleasure and pain are determined by the strength of habit. As a matter of reality there is no compulsion to be pleased with triumph and pained with failure. One can meet them with a perfect equanimity.  It is the ego-consciousness which enjoys and suffers and it will continue to do so, so long as it is bound up with the exercise of life and body and is dependent on them for its knowledge and action. But when the mind is liberated and disinterested and sinks into that secret serenity, when its awareness becomes illumined, it happily accepts whatever happens, knowing full well that these contacts come and go and are not itself, though they happen to it. Lord Krishna says :

(Because, O, pre-eminent among men! It is the Jhanin alone (who is equal towards happiness and unhappiness, who (on that account) is not affected by them, that becomes capable of attaining immortality, (that is to say, the state of the Immortal Brahman).-33


To be prone to pain and distress, to be disturbed by the worldly events, to be deflected by them from the corridor of duty that has to be traversed, show that we are devoid of illumination, Arnold shows that his father possessed the rare quality of emotional and mental equilibrium, irrespective of adverse situation and never left his path, though beset with unshakeable miseries:

If, in the paths of the world,

Stones might have wounded thy feet,

Toil or dejection have tried

Thy spirit, of that we saw

Nothing-to us thou west still

Cheerful, and helpful, and firm!

Therefore to thee it was given

Many to have with thyself;

And, at the end of thy day,

O faithful shepherd! To come,

Bringing thy sheep in thy hand.-34


Arnold believes that his father was in the line of the great men of the past who helped people attain salvation and light. The pious life, commitment to duty and achievements of his father convince him that the stories commonly told about the great men of the past must be true:

And through thee I believe

In the noble and great who are gone;

Pure souls honour’d and blest

By former ages, who else-

Such, so soulless, so poor,

In the race of men whom I see-

Seem’d but a dream of the heart

Seem’d but a cry of desire.

Yes! I believe that there lived

Others like thee in the past,

Not like the men of the crowd

Who all round me today

Bluster or cringe, and make life

Hideous, and arid, and vile;..-35


These lines by inference also connote that deliverance of people has always been due to the efforts of great men. They are patterns of virtue and become social ideals to be followed by posterity. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita:








(Ordinary people do what is done by the Exalted (that is, by the self-Realized karma-yogin). That thing which is accepted by him as corrects is followed by people).-37

Masses emulate the standards set by great men. The Bhagavad-Gita underlines the reality that the great men are the pathfinders and trend-setters who rage the test that other man follow. The illumination generally comes through individuals who are in advance of society, when they declare the grandeur of that glow; a few identify it and slowly the many are persuaded to pursue them.

In this prose piece Culture And Anarchy, Arnold declares that men of culture are the true promoters of fairness. He points out that the great men of culture are those who have had a zeal for diffusing, for making things prevail, for carrying from one ending of society to the other. It was the best knowledge, and the best idea of their time. These ideals of a great man are exemplified by Arnold in his shorter and long poems written on persons like Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Soharb and Rustam, Clough, Wellington, Cromwell, etc. Besides in many of his poems, he has spasmodically referred to the qualities of a perfect man as envisaged in the Bhagavad-Gita. In a small poem ‘Written in Emerson’s Essays’, Matthew Arnold shows that the manifestation of the qualities of a perfect man is possible in any form. A man endowed with exceptional abilities may assume any role in society to salvage mankind:

—–Yet the will is free;

Strong is the soul, and wise, and beautiful;


The seeds of godlike power are in us still;

Gods are we, bards, saints, heroes, if we will:-

Dumb judges, answer, truth or mockery?-38


In his earlier sonnets he describes man as an important part of this universe. In his famous sonnet ‘Shakespeare’ first published in 1849, he in the bard finds the image of a perfect man as underlined in the Bhagavad-Gita. He describes Shakespeare, as surpassing all men in all fields and yet guiding them by delineating all their sentiments in his works:

…For the loftiest hill,

Who to the stars uncrowns his majesty,


Planting his steadfast footsteps in the sea,

Making the heaven of heaven his dwelling place,

Spares but the cloudy border of his base

To the foil’d searching of mortality;

And thou, who didst the starts and sunbeams know,

Self-school’d, self-scann’d, self-honour’d, self-secure,

Didst tread on earth unguess’d at.-…-39


The men Arnold most admired were those who had demonstrated their capability to evaluate society from a position of intellectual objectivity, while avoiding the blandishments of world factions. The images he used to admire such men are significantly those of coolness or calmness, usually set against contrasting in ages of frenzied movement or unsighted energy. As in the case of the Bhagavad-Gita as well as of Carlyle, Arnold’s hope for the future rests almost entirely on the ability of deal man who has the capacity to develop within themselves the qualities of high reason and detachment and who place themselves at the service of the mankind as a whole. According to the Bhagavad-Gita a man can attain perfection by knowing (Jhana), the Reality or by adoration and love (Bhakti) of the Supreme or by­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ doing duty (karma) after subjecting the will to the Divine purpose. But faith is the basis of Bhakti and Bhakti my show the way to knowledge or Jhana or wisdom:





(That person having Faith, who having acquired control over the senses, peruses this knowledge, (also) acquire it; and when he has acquired Knowledge, he immediately afterwards experiences the highest peace)-40

Matthew Arnold creates a character of an ascetic in one of his poems ‘Stagirius ‘published in 1849. The ascetic is devoid of any desire and has an undaunted faith in God. His picture, given in the following lines of the poems, resembles the ideals enshrined in the above-quoted sloka of the Bhagavad-Gita:

Thou, who dost dwell alone –

Thou, who dost know thine own-

Thou, to whom all are known,

From the cradle to the grave-

Save, oh! Save.

From the world’s temptations,

From tribulations,

From that fierce anguish

Wherein we languish

From that torpor deep

Wherein we lie asleep,

Heavy as death, cold as the grave,

Save, oh! Save.-41

As the Bhagavad-Gita preaches, Arnold shows that faith is necessary for gaining wisdom. But for him faith is not blind belief. It rather implies ambition of the soul to gain wisdom. It is the reflection in the pragmatic self of the wisdom that dwells in the deepest levels of our being. If faith is constant, “it leads us to the realization of wisdom. Wisdom is not acquired by sense data and logical inferences. One has to live inwardly and grow into its reality. The way to it is through faith and self control.

The teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita had a strong appeal to Arnold because his inner life was governed by striving towards an ideal of moral projection. His emphases on inner cultivation was directed against the Victorian worship of material gains, the triumphs of the mechanical individualism and ‘do as you like’ which became the common mode of life in the society. Arnold in according with the essence of the Bhagavad-Gita, maintained that self-control, self-renunciation, love for others and consideration for their well-being as much as one’s own could bring almost happiness and joy in life. Describing the characteristics of the Perfect Sage in Chapter II of the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna says:



(O Partha! when (a person) abandons all desires (that is, Vasana) of his heart, and is pleased by himself in his own self, then he is called a Sthitaprajna-42

In these lines emphasis is laid on self-mastery, conquest of desire and passion. Arnold’s in the following lines from his poem, ‘The Second Best’ deals with a perfect man and they seem to be the English transcriptions of the above sloka of the Bhagavad-Gita:

Moderate tasks and moderate leisure,

Quiet living, strict-kept measure

Both in suffering and in pleasure–

‘Tis for this thy nature yearns,-43


In his poem ‘The Lord’s Messenger’s’ first published in 1860, Arnold gives a clear distinction between ignorant people who perish in the course of life and the enlightened souls who attain salvation or Moksha. The Bhagavad-Gita in Chapter IV refers to the ignorant people thus:



(But (he) who has himself neither knowledge nor Faith, such a doubter is utterly destroyed. For the doubter, there is neither this world, nor the next, nor any happiness whatsoever).-44

It shows that those who do not have an optimistic foundation for life, and an unwavering faith which shows the trial of life perish unnoticed. Arnold has these persons in mind when he writes in ‘The Lords’ Messengers’:

Some in the tumult are lost;

Baffled, bewilder’d, they stray.

Some, as prisoners, draw breath.

Some, unconquer’d, are cross’d

(Not yet half through the day)

By a pitiless arrow of Death.-45


But only an enlightened soul who has performed his duty in harmony with the wishes of God is able to reach back his creator:

Hardly, hardly shall one

Come, with countenance bright,

At the close of day, from the plain;

His Master’s errand well done,

Safe through the smoke of the fight,

Back to his Master again.-46


These lines echo the idea of the following words of Lord Krishna spoken in the Bhagavad Gita:

(Only some persons out of thousands make an attempt to attain Perfection; and out of these (numerous) Perfect Beings, who make the attempt, only some gain true knowledge of Me).-47


The ideal of Arnold for a perfect man is to attain the divinity of Christ. In the poem ‘The Better Part’ published in 1867, he writes:

‘Hath man no second life? – Pitch this one high!

Sits there no judge in Heaven, our sin to see?-

‘More strictly, then, the inward judge obey!

Was Christ a man like us? Ah! Let us try

If we then, too, can be such men as he!-48

And Arnold knew it that this could be possible only when the following words of the Bhagavad-Gita were followed, as Christ’s life was a living embodiment of these ideals:






(That man, whose Reason has become equal towards dear persons, friends, enemies, Unasinas, madhyasthas, persons fit to be hated, and brethren, as also towards saints, and evil minded persons, may be said to be of special worth).-49

While Lord Krishna’s appeal to duty prevails and Arjuna professes himself freed from doubt, the cataclysms of the war — described in detail in the rest of the epic — add resonance to his earlier qualms. This central work of Hindu thought embodied both an exhortation to war and the importance not so much of avoiding but of transcending it. Morality was not rejected, but in any given situation the immediate considerations were dominant, while eternity provided a curative perspective. What some readers lauded as a call to fearlessness in battle, Gandhi would praise as his “spiritual dictionary.”      –Henery Kissinger



1.The Poetical Works of Wordsworth (ed.), T.Hutchinson, (London, 1953), pp.584-585.


3- Sartor Resartus, p.122.

4- Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroine in History, (Macmillan, 1925), I, p.94. (rpt.

5–OM-TAT-SAT SRIMAD BHAGAVAD GITA RAHASYA OR KARMA-YOGA-SASTA, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Third Edition, (Poona, 1971) Revised, July-1975, p. 1125.

***Hereafter referred as the Gita. Sanskrit, Roman, and first translation are downloaded    from Goggle.

6-The cosmic trinity reflects the dominance of one of the three modes, sattva in Visnu, the preserver, rajas in Brahama, the creator and tamas in Siva, the destroyer. Sattva contribute to the stability of the universe, rajas to its creative movement and tamas represents the tendency of things to decay die. They are responsible for the maintenance, origin and dissolution of the world. The application of the gunas to the three aspect of the Personal Lord shows that the latter belongs to the objective or the manifested wold. God is struggling in humanity; to redeem it and the God like souls co-operative with Him in this work of redemption.

7-Poetical Works, p.277.

8-Gita, p.1126.

9-Ibid., p.288.


11-Poetical Works, p.291.

12-Gita, p.1125.


14-ibid., p.11127.

15-Poetical Works, p. 419.

16-ibid., p.429.

17-ibid., p.256.

18-G.Wilson Knight “The Scholar Gipsy” : An Interpretation,” RES, VI (1955), pp.53-62 and

V.S. Saturaman, The Scholar Gipsy and Oriental Wisdom” RES, IX (1958), pp.411-13.

19- The Letters of Matthew Arnold to Arthur Hugh Clough, (ed.) H.F. Lowry, (London, 1932), p.146. 30 November, 1853.

20-Trilling, p.63.

21-Poetical Works, p.290.

22-ibid., p.291.

23-Ibid., pp.287-88.

24-Gita, pp.943-44.

It reminds us of Bacon’s statement in his essay ‘Of Truth’:

Surely, the wickedness of falsehood and breach of faith cannot possibly be so highly expressed, as in that it shall be the last peal to call the judgment of God upon the generations of man; it being foretold that when Christ Cometh, he shall not find faith upon the earth.

25-Gita, p.944.

Avtara means descent, one who has descended. The divine comes down to the earthly plaine to raise it to a higher status, God descends when man rises. The purpose of the avatar is to inaugurate a new world, a new dharma.  By his teaching and example, he shows how a human being can raise himself to a higher grade of life. The issue between right and wrong is a decisive one. God works on the side of the right, love and merry are more powerful than hatred and cruelty. Dharma will conquer adharma, truth will conquer falsehood; the power behind death disease and sin will be over thrown by and reality which is Being, Intelligence and Bliss.

26-Gita, p.1148.


In Indian religion symbolism, the distinction between the devas, the shining ones and asuras, the titans, the children of darkness in an ancient one. In Rig-Veda, we have the struggle between the gods and their opponents. The Ramayana represents a similar conflict between the representatives of high culture and those of unbridled egoism. Mahabharata tells us of the struggle between the Pandevas, who are devotees of dharma, of law and justice, and the Kauravas who are lovers of power. Historically, mankind remains remarkably true to this type, and we have today as in the period of Mahabharata, some men who are divinely good, some who are diabolically fallen and some who are demon ably, indifferent. These are possible developments of men who are more or less like ourselves. The devas and asuras are both born of Prajapati.


29-Poetical Works, pp.291-292.

30-Gita, p.910.

31-ibid., p.911.

32-Poetical Works, p.287.

33-Gita, p.872.

34-Poetical Works, p.290.


36-Gita, p.927.

37-It reminds us of Carlyle’s concept of the hero:

He is the living light fountain, which is good and pleasant to be near the light which enlightens, which has enlightened the darkness of the world; and this not as kindled lamp only, but rather as a natural luminary shining by the gift of heaven; a flowing light fountain, as I say of native original in sight of manhood and heroic nobleness; in whose radiance all souls feels that it is well with them.

(On Heroes, Hero Worship and The Heroine in History (Macmillan, 1925), Vol.I, p.94).

38-Poetical Works, p.4.

39-ibid., pp.2-3.

40-Gita, p.965.

41-The Poetical Works, p.38.

42-Gita, p.900.

43-Poetical Works, p.49.

44-Gita, p.965.

45-Poetical Works, p.216.

46-Ibid., p.217.

47-Gita, p.1013.

48-Poetical Works, p.171.

49-Gita, p.990.

N.B. In this article information has been gathered from different sources. Only comparisons and findings between the Gita and Arnold are mine. Interpretations about the Gita are collected from different sources.  It has been tried to give their sources but due to shortage of space some references are not given. Every effort has been made to trace the owners of copyrighted material, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked, the writer will be pleased to make necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.  It should be seen as unintentional lapse. Kindly bear this omission.

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