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date: 14 June 2024

Trilling, Lionellocked

Trilling, Lionellocked

  • Sanford Pinsker


In an autobiographical lecture originally delivered at Purdue University in 1965 and later published in The Last Decade: Essays and Reviews 1965–75 (1979), Lionel Trilling recalled that the “great word in the College [Columbia] was INTELLIGENCE” and that he had early adopted the motto THE MORAL OBLIGATION TO BE INTELLIGENT from his teacher there, John Erskine. For Trilling, moral values coupled with an acute intelligence were at the center of what he did as a literary critic, cultural commentator, and educator. One could see these preoccupations as early as his dissertation on Matthew Arnold, which became a great success when it was published as a book in 1939. Trilling's study revealed much about Arnold's writing, and also about his thoughts as they related to the society in which he lived. As Trilling put it in the volume's preface: “I have undertaken in his book to show the thought of Matthew Arnold in its complex unity and to relate it to the historical and intellectual events of his time.” The result, Trilling concludes, “may be thought of as a biography of Arnold's mind.”


  • North American Literatures

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