The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full … But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar …
—Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach” (1867)

A living wave from the world’s great sea, From its ceaseless, sad, commotion, Breaks with a song of praise and prayer On the sands of the solemn ocean.
—Ethel Lynn Beers, “At Ocean Grove” (1870?)

It is poignant to bring together these two passages of verse. Matthew Arnold’s famous “Dover Beach” is an anthology piece, perhaps even a great poem. The poet stands on the Dover shore as the tide goes out, and sees it as a simile for the nineteenth-century loss of Christian faith, a loss the product of skepticism, secularism, and the biblical scholarship of the Germans—“all the science of Tübingen,” as he puts it in his famous...


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