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Matthew Arnold's Touchstone Method of Criticism was really a comparative system of criticism.  Arnold was mostly a classicist.  He admired the ancient Greek, Roman and French authors as the models to be followed by the modern English authors.  The old English like Shakespeare, Spenser or Milton were also to be taken as models.  Arnold took selected passages from the modern authors and compared them with selected passages from the ancient authors and thus decided their merits.  This method was called Arnold's Touchstone Method.             However, this system of judgement has its own limitations.  The method of comparing passage with a passage is not a sufficient test for determining the value of a work as a whole.  Arnold himself insisted that we must judge a poem by the 'total impression' and not by its fragments.  But we can further extend this method of comparison from passages to the poems as whole units.  The comparative method is an invaluable aid to appreciation of any kind of art.  It is useful to compare the good with the not so good work, the sincere with the not quite sincere, and so on.

For Arnold poetry is a component of any human’s welfare. The only way you can find good poetry is by comparing with the “great masters” to see whether it can balance it. These lines and expressions of the great masters used to find good poetry are the touchstones. He found 11 touchstones (Homer, Dante, Shakespeare & Milton).

But the problem is who the great masters are? And, which are the best lines of them? The answer is: those who Arnold likes. But since these are personal statements, are bad. The touchstones he chose had sad and melancholy tone, very alike to his poems. By doing so, he is manipulating the system he built. Although he wanted to bring objectivity to criticism, he failed.

The second problem has to do with the organic unity of poetry. Poems are organism, not a mechanism, and the moment you take a line or expression out of it would lose its poeticity, so you’ll never be able to create good touchstones.

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