In 1850 Matthew Arnold met and fell in love with Frances Lucy Wightman, the daughter of Sir William Wightman, Judge of the Court of Queen's Bench. (Hamilton and Murray differ on the correct form of Miss Wightman's Christian names. Hamilton cites it as "Frances Lucy", whereas Murray speaks of "Fanny Lucy". On a photograph of the couple's gravestone at Laleham, printed in Murray's book, the name is given as "Frances Lucy", which I therefore chose to use.) He wished to marry her, but her father objected to this because Arnold did not seem to have the financial means to support a wife and future children. According to Hamilton, "Arnold earned about £ 300 a year from his Lansdowne House appointment. The Oriel fellowship was worth a further £ 120, but this of course would not be paid if he got married" (133). He was forbidden to see his beloved until he could prove that his financial situation had changed. However, both were able to exchange letters on a regular basis.
In August 1850, the Judge took his family on a trip to Flanders (via Calais) and Germany. Arnold, himself on a trip to the Italian lakes, stayed in Calais for a few days, just hoping to catch a glimpse of Frances Lucy. "Calais Sands" must have been written at that time, for the poem clearly shows what his emotions were at that time.
In the spring of the following year, Matthew Arnold was appointed an Inspector of Schools, a job which would earn him £ 700 a year — enough to support a family. The couple announced their engagement in early April , married on the 10 June 1851, and spent their one-week honeymoon at Alverston in Hampshire. On the 1 September, they took a ferry from Dover to Calais and then travelled on to Paris. It is not clear whether the "Dover Beach" was written on 1 September, or whether Arnold had already written a draft of it earlier. Hamilton explains: Arnold's "diary records a visit three months earlier to Dover and he and his wife stayed there on the last night of their honeymoon" (143).
Parts of "Dover Beach" seem to be quite compatible with the honeymoon scenery. Others, though, seem to express deeper thoughts and questions that seem to have been considered beforehand. The general melancholy of the poem greatly contrasts the happy situation in which Matthew Arnold found himself.
Hamilton, Ian. A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold. London: Bloomsbury, 1999.
Murray, Nicholas. A Life of Matthew Arnold. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1996.
Riede, David G. Matthew Arnold and The Betrayal of Language. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988
Last modified June 2000