Front Page Titles (by Subject) PREFACE TO VOLUME IX. - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
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PREFACE TO VOLUME IX. - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
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PREFACE TO VOLUME IX.
Walter Bagehot’s connection with the Economist began in 1857. On 7th February of that year, the first of a series of letters by him signed “A Banker” appeared in its pages.
In the obituary notice of Walter Bagehot which appeared in The Nation (New York, 5th April, 1877) Mr. George Walker wrote:—
“The position of the Economist among newspapers is exceptional. Although attached to the views of the Liberal party in Great Britain, there is hardly another journal printed in our language which is so judicial in its character, and which has acquired such a hold on public confidence not in England only, but also on the Continent of Europe and in the United States. It is not merely a financial paper, though primarily devoted to the interests of commerce, banking and railways, but equally vindicates its claim to the title of a ‘political, literary and general newspaper’.
“The birth of the Economist in 1843 was significant of the revolution which had taken place in English politics; a chapter whose first pages were written by William Pitt, and its closing lines by Macaulay and Lord Brougham. Many years elapsed before the question of the suffrage—of personal participation by the subject in the Government of the country—became again prominent. In that interval the ascendancy of material interests in English politics, now the controlling influence in the Government of Great Britain, was definitely established. The Economist was the fruit and exponent of the new régime. Singularly enough, its establishment was partly due to the incapacity of the Examiner to realise and conform to the new aspect of public questions; or what is equally probable, to the reluctance of its editor to share the honours of his position with a new and ambitious aspirant. Sed non omnes omnia possumus. What Albany Fonblanque had so brilliantly accomplished in the field of political reform, it remained for another master-mind to achieve in the new field of commercial and financial subjects. The prophet of the new dispensation was James Wilson. He proposed to Mr. Fonblanque to contribute gratuitously to the Examiner papers on economical and financial subjects. His offer was refused, and he then established a journal which should be the special vehicle of his philosophy on these Sciences, and which he proposed to sustain mainly by his own exertions. In its early years the Economist was almost wholly the work of his own hands. He wrote not only the leaders, but a majority of the lesser articles; and what is of hardly inferior importance in journalism, he arranged and classified all its various information in such a manner that readers of every class knew just where to find the matter that concerned them and were sure to find it.
“In the seventeen years which intervened between the establishment of the Economist in 1843, and the relinquishment of its control by Mr. Wilson, on going to India as Finance Minister, at the end of 1859, there occurred a series of economical events not less momentous than those political ones which had made the reputation of the Examiner. The father of the modern commercial system of England was doubtless Mr. Huskisson. If Canning and Huskisson had not prematurely died, the public affairs of Great Britain would probably have taken a different turn after 1827. Political and religious reforms might have been postponed, but commercial and financial reforms would certainly have been hastened. Even after Canning’s death a good beginning was made by Mr. Huskisson, Sir Henry Parnell, and Mr. Poulett Thompson. The Finance Committee, from which great things were expected, was created in 1828, and in 1830 the question of taxation was discussed by these statesmen with a breadth and liberality hardly surpassed in later times. The very measures which were successfully carried by Sir Robert Peel fifteen years afterwards were brought forward by them at this time. They all agreed in recommending large remissions of taxation upon various raw materials of industry and articles of consumption and they were equally agreed in favouring the imposition of a property or income-tax. The further prosecution of these economical objects was, however, arrested by the all-absorbing question of Parliamentary reform, and after that question had been disposed of, by the emergence of Irish issues, which first divided, and ultimately destroyed the Reform Cabinet. The agitation of revenue reform, and especially the demand for relief from popular burdens, began about 1838, and for twenty years afterwards hardly any other domestic questions were considered than such as related to taxation, commerce, industry, or finance. The income-tax was imposed by Sir Robert Peel in 1842, in the face of great opposition from the Whigs, and solely for the purpose of balancing the Budget. He had at that time no disposition to reduce duties for the sake of revenue, but a partial readjustment and remission of certain duties adopted by him in the interests of Protection, produced results so advantageous to the Treasury, that the great Tory statesman became an unwilling convert to the doctrine of Free Trade. Thus, under Tory auspices, by Huskisson first, and by Sir Robert Peel and his political legatee, Mr. Gladstone, afterwards, were the great commercial reforms which have made England the first of producing and trading nations conceived, promulgated and carried into operation. The Bank Act of 1844 was also the work of Sir Robert Peel, as had been the Act for resuming specie payments in 1819.
“Such were the influences under which the Economist was established, and such were the questions in the discussion of which its pre-eminence and influence were attained. Mr. Bagehot succeeded to this great inheritance in 1860, when by the removal of his father-in-law, Mr. Wilson, the control and management of the paper passed into his hands.
“In the Economist he occupied a judicial and not a partisan position, and no journalist in England has with equal conscientiousness and impartiality judged the domestic, foreign and international questions with which English journalism has had to deal. America owes him great respect and gratitude for his honest treatment of her civil war. . . . Since the war the Economist has, in America, entirely supplanted the Times as the representative of financial opinion in Europe; yet during all those years of heated railway speculation, when a word in its columns would have made the fortune of any enterprise seeking English capital, the integrity of its judgments was never questioned, and it has never even been suspected of improper influences. Nor has its place in American confidence been won by flattery of our country or its institutions. In all its discussions of our affairs there has been a manifest desire to get at the truth and to speak it fearlessly.
“While Mr. Bagehot probably lacked the creative and organising power which enabled Mr. Wilson to establish the Economist and place it on so firm a footing, he has nevertheless greatly increased its reputation and authority. In 1843 there was neither precedent nor constituency for such a paper. Its precedent has been numerously followed—sed longo intervallo—both on the Continent of Europe and in the United States, and it has created a constituency of its own over which Mr. Bagehot has exercised a greater personal influence than was ever acquired by his predecessor. He has been a recognised authority in Europe on financial questions.”
It was also written of Bagehot at the time of his death: “All the interests connected with banking and the money market, from the Directors of the Bank of England down to the smallest discount establishments, will miss the acute criticism, the steady guidance, the admirable lucid reasonings, which made the Economist, on its own ground, a power in the business world. And this power was strengthened by moral forces. The Economist, under Mr. Bagehot’s management, never fell under the shadow of a suspicion. Its censures were often severe, and its warnings to the public could not fail sometimes to damage the repute of insecure investments. But the anger of the irritated investor, or of the disappointed speculator, never took the form of an impeachment of the motives of the critic. Even in Capel Court, where the belief in human virtue is scarcely developed, a suggestion that Mr. Bagehot’s praise or blame was anything else than strictly impartial would have been scouted as an absurdity.” And again: “Where shall we find articles on city matters that week after week command the attention and sustain the interest of educated men who have no personal concern in such subjects and no knowledge of them beyond that which Mr. Bagehot has himself imparted to them.”
The articles treating of these financial questions have not, however, been those chosen for re-publication in the present volume. Information imparted and judgment delivered on these subjects in each issue of the Economist were doubtless of infinite value to those concerned in finance, and even of interest to those who were not, but it may be questioned whether these articles would have as much permanent interest for the public as those written on other subjects, namely on people, politics, and literature.
Moreover, the principles underlying the fluctuating phases of finance, have been exhaustively expounded in Bagehot’s deliberate writings printed in the earlier volumes of this edition. Bagehot consistently applied general principles to all questions on which he gave judgment, on the characters and actions of men no less than when criticising political situations and books. Hence the permanent value of his criticisms on the great men and the great questions of his day. In an article of two or three columns in the Economist he would epitomise the whole life and character of a great statesman, or of a great political situation. In a speech Lord Granville delivered at University College in March, 1877, he paid the following tribute to the judicial character of Walter Bagehot’s opinions: “Mr. Bagehot was a valued friend of mine, but I do not speak of him in that capacity. I consider his loss to be a great loss to politics, to economics, to literature, and to the community. . . . He resisted the temptation which all journalists must feel in writing on the topics of the day, to turn their thoughts to the currents of opinion on the subject, whether with a view of supporting or counteracting them, rather than to a full and abstract consideration of the subject itself. Mr. Bagehot always appeared to me, while consistently applying the general principles he held, to consider the subject on its own merits, and the result was an almost judicial opinion on his part. I can say with truth that it has constantly happened to me that when unable, either from want of knowledge or from other circumstances, to come to a conclusion, I have resolved to postpone the consideration of the matter till I had seen what the next Economist said about it; and I have reason to know that more important persons than myself used constantly to consult him.”
In another tribute paid him it was written: “He was a teacher of teachers. Among his disciples were not a few of the men who are the political leaders of the day. He was to politicians what Gortschakoff has long been to Russian diplomatists—an inspiring influence who made others able to do what they could not have done without him. Some of the most beneficial conceptions woven into recent legislation received their finish in Bagehot’s busy brain. The public associate them with other and better known names, but most legislators generously ascribe them to the thinker that gave them life.”
Perhaps the most interesting among the articles chosen are those on public men. Though possessed of an uncommon power of “intellectual detachment,” Bagehot’s mind was in no sense self-absorbed. On the contrary his sympathies were drawn out towards his fellow creatures by a singularly unegotistic kind of interest. Probing the individual qualities in the minds and characters of prominent statesmen and writers was a study he found profoundly interesting, and he enjoyed unusual opportunities of pursuing this study, and giving it expression in a literary form. Often his articles read like the best kind of letters—frank, outspoken letters written to the public—never indiscreet, but singularly fearless. He wrote of Matthew Arnold: “Mr. Arnold is bolder than a mere critic can be”. Walter Bagehot was likewise bolder than a mere critic—he also saw with a poet’s intuition, and, to quote words from his essay on Hartley Coleridge, “the poet, being himself, speaks like one who has authority; he knows and must not deceive”.
The European reputation Bagehot enjoyed as director of the Economist vouches for the appreciation which such unbiassed candour inspired, and as these utterances have, since his death, been entombed in old numbers of the Economist which but comparatively few possess, it is obviously right to rescue from oblivion a certain number by including them in this complete edition of Bagehot’s works.
E. I. B.