HOME AND FAMILY.
In a large black leather pocket-book, from which Walter Bagehot’s father was seldom parted, are still to be found in this year (1914) papers containing the certificates of Walter Bagehot’s birth and of his baptism, events which took place eighty-six years ago. These were documents of momentous importance to a father who regarded his son from babyhood as his “greatest treasure”. Walter Bagehot was born in Langport in what was called the Bank House, on the 3rd day of February, 1826.
The two families, Stuckey and Bagehot, appear to have performed an old-dance-like “change of sides” respecting their abodes in Langport, each alternately having lived at either end of the town. Eventually on the summits of the opposite hills, the Stuckeys lived at Hill House, the Bagehots at Herd’s Hill. They led lives which were immensely interesting to themselves and to each other. Constant intercourse took place; a racy humour, vivid interest in public affairs, and intense interest of a friendly kind in each other’s concerns, kept this intercourse very much alive. Beyond the Hanging Chapel was the home of Walter Bagehot’s uncle Edward and his family, with whom his father and mother kept up a daily intercourse. Beyond that again, opposite Huish Episcopi Church, is the property of the Michell family, the squires of Huish parish, related through several marriages to the Bagehots and Stuckeys.
The earliest manuscript concerning Walter Bagehot’s family on the Stuckey side is the Diary of Thomas Beedall, written by Walter Bagehot’s great-grandfather, beginning Sunday, 18th September, 1768. The following extract, which is a fair specimen of the contents of the book, does not show any intellectual proclivities that might have accounted for his great-grandson’s genius. The handwriting is beautiful and the volume is bound handsomely in tooled vellum.
“Sunday, October 2nd, 1768. This morning had coak for breakfast—afterwards went to Langport Church to prayers and partook of the Holy Sacrament. Dined at home on a boiled leg of mutton with caper sauce, carrots, and potatoes. Drank water and treacle. In the afternoon went to Huish Church and heard a good sermon by the Rev. William Michell, on this text: 2nd Chapter of Ecclesiastes, 11th verse: ‘I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do, and behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.’ Daughter Jenny drank tea at our house and in the evening Daughter Stuckey went to super and spent the evening with us with Mr. Sawtle and his wife. This day dry weather.”
“Monday, October 3rd, 1768. This morning had coak for breakfast and rachit of a kidd of cyder sold to Daughter Stuckey, and went down several times to North Street House with John Hoare and with Long after apples to make cyder at Mr. Bagehot’s. Dined at home on hash mutton, drank water cyder. In the afternoon went down and picked up apples in the orchard and spent the evening at home—this night Betsy and Nancy went to the play. It was Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, with a farce called Chrononhotontlologos. Nancy is to sleep at Daughter Stuckey’s. This day was Bridgwater Fair and exceedingly fine weather.”
In like manner the Diary is continued till the last entry on Sunday, 1st June, 1783. The monuments of the Beedall family are to be found in the west porch of Langport Church on either side of the large west window which my sister placed to the memory of Walter Bagehot. “Daughter Stuckey” married George, father of the notable “Uncle Vincent,” and of Edith, Walter Bagehot’s mother.
For two families to have “dominated Langport for 150 years from the middle of the eighteenth century,” some of their members must have been possessed of remarkable qualities. The dominion over which they reigned resembled somewhat an ancient republic on a diminutive scale, the commercial magnates being its rulers in every sense. In both the Bagehot and Stuckey families we find gifts of mind and character which, no less than their material possessions, won for them the exceptional position they held. Walter Bagehot would explain his family in a very amusing manner. He felt a genuine interest in his relatives. The prominent characteristics of the two families were entirely different. Probably they worked together so successfully on account of this difference. Each family had a distinctive character of its own, and each held its own. The Stuckey nature was shrewd, wilful, sociable and very hospitable. The remarkable amount of mental and animal vitality which it possessed showed itself more in active life than in intellectual pursuits, though Edith Stuckey, Walter’s mother, was from a child as voracious a reader as her son. They were conscientious and masterful in carrying through all they undertook to do, and dominated those connected with them in business, not only through shrewd intelligence and forethought, but because they exercised their strong wills invariably on the side of straight dealing. They inspired the confidence necessary to dominate the unreasoning but not unshrewd West Country mind.
As a family the Bagehots were more intellectual than the Stuckeys. They were less robust, more retiring and dignified—perhaps more highly cultured. Their ancestors can be traced back to the fifteenth century, when one Richard Bagehot, alias Badger or Baghott, possessed the family property at Prestbury, Gloucestershire—a property held uninterruptedly by the Bagehots till the last century. Several of the members of the family were Knights, many were High Sheriffs, some were soldiers, others ecclesiastics. In 1684 William Bagehot of Prestbury married Anne de la Bere, a member of the ancient family who in 1635 purchased Southam, County Gloucester, from Cecil, Earl of Salisbury. In 1746 William Bagehot of Prestbury assumed the additional surname of De la Bere. In 1828, through the female line, his descendant succeeded to the De la Bere estates at Southam and those also of Bagehot at Prestbury. The former he sold to Lord Ellenborough in 1832. His brother, Sir Paul Bagehot of Woodchester, Rodborough and Upper Lypial, County Gloucester, was High Sheriff for Gloucester.
Walter Bagehot’s great-grandfather came to Langport about 1747. His great-great-grandfather left the Church of England, probably following the wave of Unitarianism which swept over the Midlands in the eighteenth century. As Mr. Ross relates, his great-grandfather rejoined the Church of England on taking up his residence at Hill House, immediately opposite the noble building—All Saints’ Church, Langport. But again Walter’s own father reverted to nonconformity and became a Unitarian.
The Bagehot family influenced the people of Langport by personal dignity and refinement, which qualities, though probably hardly recognised by the county folk for what they were, gave weight to their position. Walter Bagehot’s father had, moreover, a most determined will of his own, though he maintained it with quiet obstinate tenacity rather than with any show of power. He was a politician, a decided Whig, but he took an intellectual rather than a party view of politics. Though dignified and reserved in manner he was blessed with singularly deep and warm affections. He was a great lover of beauty in Nature. He planted and laid out the grounds of Herd’s Hill with the eye of an artist, securing delightful vistas through the trees of the churches of Langport and Huish Episcopi and of the distant moorlands and hills. These still exist and make lovely vignettes from the walks and lawns. A print of the old Langport Bridge in Mr. Ross’s book is a reproduction of one of Mr. Bagehot’s water-colour drawings. There is another of the Hanging Chapel preserved at Herd’s Hill. From childhood Walter Bagehot was devotedly attached to his father and his father to him.
When Walter Bagehot was born it was “Uncle Stuckey” who formed the social centre for the two families, both at Langport and in London. After leaving the Treasury he still kept open house in his London residence, 126 Sloane Street, where his relations would visit him during the season and enjoy some of the pleasures of the town. The following is a letter written by one Henry Sawtell, a distant cousin of the Stuckeys, containing a few graphic accounts of Walter Bagehot from the year 1835. It was written in answer to one from my sister, asking Mr. Sawtell to write down any memories he might have of him.
Buckingham, 29th May, 1882.
“My dear Mrs. Bagehot,
“I reserved your letter for a day in this quiet green spot, but with all the advantages of unwonted seclusion I can convey nothing to paper of the evanescent qualities of the humour which ‘came off’ your husband under all circumstances on to the surrounding facts and persons; the overhanging thatch of black hair, the marvellous eyes, the play of facial muscle, the lissom figure, the curiously impressive voice which nevertheless declined to adapt itself to platforms, even the preliminary gasp to bespeak attention and the flittering sense of fun as the paradox or unsuspected analogy found its way to the lips. While these are wanting, written description makes that seem tame which never failed to delight—never ‘hovered round the confines of a truth’ but darted at it and stereotyped it. It was a way of taking advantage of a peculiar state of things which was gone next minute, an insight into—coupled with an impatience of—anything which went half-way or missed the direct road altogether, which was half the charm of what never seemed meant for wit but just part of ordinary talk quaintly expressed.
“The portentous solemnity with which a Radical Aberdeen Professor demanded at my table to know the kernel of all the machinery by which we were governed (in 1853)—‘that is what I want to get at, sirs,’ evoked from Walter Bagehot, after a short pause, ‘My impression is that the kernel is the consolidated fund, and I should like to get at that!’
“My own appearance, as the solicitor of a luckless hair-seating manufacturer at Crewkerne before the Bank Committee at Langport, to whom, on his behalf, I tendered—in aid of some rather short securities—a heap of policies on his life of long standing, was not rendered comfortable by the enquiry which broke the silence succeeding my statement—‘Henry, will your client undertake to expire as part of the arrangement?’
“These things with the accessories I have named were fun in perfection, without them they are just nothing. I roared when I took up Mr. Hutton’s memoir the other day and read the bit about a man’s wife being his fault and his mother his misfortune, but two persons not devoid of humour to whom I read it separately could see little in it because the interlocutors were unknown to them and they could not see and hear it as I could.
“Mrs. Bagehot must, I think, have been barely eighteen when she married Joseph Prior Estlin. She was twenty-five when the shower of prosperity burst on the deserving head of her surviving brother Vincent—at thirty-eight she had been many years a very lively widow, brilliant and fascinating, and then she rewarded with her hand a devotion which nothing ever quenched, and which she had excited in the breast of a remarkably plodding young gentleman of twenty-eight, Thomas Watson Bagehot. While the son of this marriage was a very young child one of the three sons of her first union died of some illness, another of the effects of a coach accident under circumstances well known doubtless to you, and the third was growing up bereft of reason. Her own mind had been completely unhinged by these untoward events and had been but just restored when I was first made free of the household in 1835.
“About the Bagehots a good deal of curious information could be quarried, but I daresay the Guillaume Bagehot who figures in the roll of Battle Abbey had settled himself in Cambridgeshire, and the possessor of the silver snuff-box of the seventeenth century was entitled to the arms there described. (This snuff-box still exists in Walter’s family.) They seem to have flourished in Gloucestershire in those days and there is a brief pedigree of them in Atkyns. They lived for a generation or two in the picturesque old house in Langport opposite the church which has within the last few years given way to the existing south portion of Hill House—then they got down by the river into a buff-coloured dwelling with the mullioned windows, and of the garden of which some relics yet abide in the present garden at Herd’s Hill, but which fell before the improvements which eased the traffic and ruined the effect of “Great Bow”. The Robert Codrington Bagehot (the Codringtons were cousins of the Bagehots) and Mrs. Bagehot of my first remembrances had not then long moved up to Herd’s Hill, and were most remarkable for a high tone of mind, great intelligence, an exalted standard of living and acting, and a sense of humour which indeed seemed to pervade the very air of the place from Herd’s Hill to the Bank, and across to Mrs. Michell’s—up again to Mrs. George Stuckey’s—and in full hilarious shine kept on at the Hill.
“The parents of Walter Bagehot were then living in the Bank house, and he was just completing his ninth year. The first evening we met I got into trouble by proposing to assault him for beating me at chess (as Bishop Howley did Sydney Smith). The next day I was introduced to the scene of his studies which were being conducted (in the room over the entrance door of the Bank house) after a very singular fashion and apparently with a view to induce concentration of thought. He was “doing sums” with about twenty clocks all ticking in unison and striking to the minute around him (such being Vincent Estlin’s whim of the hour), while his mother read Quentin Durward in as high a key and as rapidly as was possible, for the benefit of poor Vincent. Next year I was there again for a short space, but I think Walter must have been absorbed in study, as my sole reminiscence is of the Sunday afternoons at the Hill when after Church there was a kind of levee on the lawn of Hill House. Everybody owed something (many, everything) to the master and mistress there, and Mrs. Bagehot rather liked to exhibit her clever boy, who eluded her efforts by swarming up a great tree, and there glaring down on the assembly from the topmost bough in a surprising manner and to the detriment of his Sabbath raiment. There was the Christmas of 1838 when we were mostly flooded in at Herd’s Hill, Mrs. Bagehot administering alternate layers of the Greek Testament (with her own annotations) and Oliver Twist, but I think Walter was in a shy preoccupied stage just then. Three and a half years later he was all himself, with his standing leaps, his daring ventures on horseback, his absorbing love of children, and his conversational freshness, chiefly, as far as I was concerned, interrogatively as to what I, three years older, learnt and saw and heard in the great city, always with the result of making me feel that I had got hold of the little end of the stick. The next year, I suppose, he was launched in London, dwelling at the house of one Dr. Hoppus in Camden Street, and getting Sunday rests at the quiet nook on Hampstead Heath where his aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds, lived, and where we always met and delighted chiefly in old Quarterly Reviews. At this point Mr. Hutton takes him up with consummate insight and appreciative affection.
“I don’t know that it was worth while to write all this in order to prove that my resources for the purpose in hand are utterly barren, but it is pleasant to go back to those days, and were it less so, I have the satisfaction of the little French maiden who lisped out her first song because she was asked:—
- ‘En attendant, j’ai toujours l’avantage
- De vous montrer que je sais obeir.’
“I remain, dear Mrs. Bagehot,
“G. H. Sawtell.”
Mrs. Bagehot’s principles were of the best, and her influence over Walter Bagehot was great. As it is necessary to mention the trouble which was brought into his life by the state of mental distress to which his mother was subject, it is all the more necessary to be explicit in recording the fine qualities her nature possessed. She had great charm and fascination. She had a power of infusing life into the atmosphere about her, of making it indeed vibrate with a sense of activity and movement, very contagious in its effect. Her presence gave a feeling of zest to the living of life. Her intellectual vivacity brought into family life a keen relish for intellectual pleasures; she never failed to show an unselfish devotion to the interest of others, and, best of all, she stimulated the existence of all those about her with the invigorating tonic of humour. Even as I first knew her, at the age of seventy-two, she had a lovely complexion and other traces of beauty. Her voice in speaking I recall as one of the most delightful I ever heard. I can imagine I hear it still—the tone soft and persuasive, but in it withal an emphatic ring which made people attend. Both from his father and from his mother Walter Bagehot acquired a high standard of morals. From his studious father, who spared no thought or time in forwarding the intellectual, moral, and religious development of his greatest treasure, Walter acquired a solid grounding in methods of working which without doubt helped him later. But his humour, his happy temperament, his intellectual vitality—the salient qualities, in fact, which stamp Walter Bagehot’s genius with so strong an individuality—were inherited from his mother.
There are doubtless disadvantages in postponing the writing of a memoir for many years after the subject has quitted this world’s stage; but in the case of Walter Bagehot it was necessary that the stage should be cleared of all his nearest relations before such a record were attempted. Even those who cared for him, but who were less immediately involved in the special trouble of his home life, would have shrunk from making any allusion to it, till time had somewhat taken the sting out of that which was most painful to him in his life, and till it had become somewhat vague in the memory of the rising generation. Entirely inadequate, nevertheless, would be any attempt to write a memoir of Walter Bagehot were the fact concealed that his mother was at times insane. This was the tragedy of his life, the iron that entered into the soul. “Every trouble in life is a joke compared to madness,” he would say. A tragedy it verily was; yet, had he not had to suffer the pain of it, the most admirable qualities in his nature might have remained but partially developed. Very pathetic and beautiful was the manner in which he met the conditions forced into his life by this calamity. The brilliant vivacity of his nature and his genius for shining as a light among all who were intellectually and socially of the best, was not dimmed by the shadow cast over his life; this home trouble made him in no sense morbid, yet he never sought enjoyment at the expense of any help he could give his father in the family trial. This willingness to bear his share of the burden arose not so much, I think, from any conscious sense of duty, as from a yet higher impulse, growing out of the rich soil of his natural affections. He could not have done otherwise. Never was the burden laid on another shared and borne with more loyalty and tender affection than was Mrs. Bagehot’s infirmity by her husband and her son.
The effect of such a trial is naturally to isolate a family from the ordinary social life led in most country homes where neighbours keep up a friendly intercourse with one another. Such an isolation in itself was uncongenial to Walter’s natural bent. He had genial feelings towards his fellow-creatures; still, until he married, he felt himself too much one with his father’s and mother’s home life to desire to seek much society beyond Herd’s Hill. In a letter written to him by his friend Richard Hutton we find a criticism of this disinclination to attach himself closely to any one out of the home circle.
Sunday, 10th December, 1845.
Bei der Madame Schmidt 13 Behrenstrasse—Berlin.
“My dear Bagehot,
“It is a great pleasure to sit down to answer your letter which was indeed with its enclosure exceedingly welcome. I am glad to hear you have been nearly free from giddiness which I fear most, and not had much headache. I don’t care for your apathy much, for it is not a state likely to last. Only I wish you had more interests around you, not merely of intellect but of feeling, which are with you too much limited to the exclusive interests of home. In London you always appear to me to be a perfect expression of the class idea of a young man studying in lodgings, without differentia specifica. Of course as regards social relations you go to places and to fellow-students, but biding nowhere; and while others seem to be always definable with respect to some distinct circle of individuals, there is no particular distance from your lodgings that enters more than any other into your functional equation. I don’t think this is either good for you, or your intellect; the apathy you describe I think arises from this absence of positive interest and forces in your London life, which none can help missing though in very different degrees. I know I could never work well and with energy without real friends near me, to whom my thoughts and attention may sometimes turn entirely. I do not mean simply men one likes, but men one loves; and I should be here in a state of quiet apathy, just like yours, if I had not Martineau near me to supply the attractive force that intellectual pursuits must often fail in, when the mind is ill or weary. All your friends you seem to like, but they do not seem to be resources that instantly and spontaneously fill the vacuum that rational, moral, and even religious interests will often leave. And I know when this is the case, a kind of reverie, which is not over-beneficial to the mind, supplies the place which human interests were, I think, meant to fill. I wish you had not simply more friends but more attachments.”
Though Mr. Hutton was so devoted and intimate a friend, I doubt whether Walter confided much of his home trouble to him. He stayed at Herd’s Hill before and after Mrs. Bagehot’s death, and he must have known of her mental infirmity; but she did not take to him, notwithstanding Walter’s endeavour to make them friends. Mr. Hutton’s noble, simple nature was not, I think, keenly alive to intricacies in sensitiveness. He would have had to be told of the pain, and might have been too explicit in expressing his sympathy, and that would not have suited Walter’s nerves. Walter most openly mentioned it to those who understood more instinctively, but who did not discuss it with him. In the letter quoted Mr. Hutton did not guess what probably was the fact, namely, that the apathy from which Walter suffered was but the reaction of over-strung nervous excitement.
He left his life in London, giving up the Bar, to which he had been called in 1852, to associate himself with his father in business so as to live at home. He gave other reasons for abandoning law as a profession, and these probably might of themselves have induced him to do so; but the choice he made of joining the business at Langport was made clearly with the object of helping in the home trouble. A less unselfish nature, gifted with genius such as Walter Bagehot’s, endowed with such social powers that, without any effort on his part, he could readily acquire influence over his fellow-men, would not have probably chosen a career so distasteful as that of the counting-house at Langport, in order to brighten the atmosphere in a home overshadowed by this cloud. It may appear presumption to venture an opinion as to how far the trial that Walter Bagehot had to bear was favourable or unfavourable to the development of his genius. In a sense such trouble may have stimulated his faculties by adding zest to his intellectual pursuits; but possibly if he had enjoyed more leisured conditions, had the constant strain on his nervous system been at times relaxed, this might have induced a musing habit of mind more calculated to inspire work of a distinctly creative kind. His salient gifts being imagination and originality, it is difficult to believe that some deterrent obstacle did not exist which kept the more distinctly inventive faculties in the background. The extraordinary physical vitality and happiness of temperament which he enjoyed in early youth had certainly much to subdue them in after years. The disturbing influences developed doubtless fine qualities of character, but it is possible that they had also a numbing effect on any creative proclivities that may have been latent in him. For the full development of these, a certain spring and unfettered impulsiveness in the working of the mind may be required. It is possible that the subduing nature of his conditions may have suppressed such an impetus; who can say?
In the first few pages of Walter Bagehot’s essay on Macaulay is found the description of the particular kind of nature possessed by those who “are unfortunately born scientific,” and an amusing description it is. He further analyses “the minds of the crowd of men”. This is also amusingly described, and ends with the following: “The impulse to busy ourselves with the affairs of men goes further than the simple attempt to know and comprehend them; it warms us with a further life; it incites us to stir and influence those affairs; its animated energy will not rest till it has hurried us into toil and conflict.” This impulse Walter Bagehot possessed in a marked degree, and so did his mother. It might be asked why this impulse did not lead him to a more definite public position than he ever occupied?
He made three attempts to enter Parliament, but failed. His genius has been more widely appreciated since his death than it was during his lifetime. I think the true answer to this query may be found in the fact that there was ever an unrecognised deterring influence which slackened the issues of success on obvious and popular lines. Insanity isolates. It causes a reserve in the natures of those suffering from contact with it, depriving them of the feeling of absolute sympathy and open comradeship with those who know nothing of “the dark realities”. Genial, sympathetic, sociable, witty, Walter Bagehot undoubtedly was, yet at the same time profoundly reserved. The things that touched him the nearest were but rarely disclosed. This reserve was felt, though not understood by the populus who ordains notoriety. It was only through intercourse with his few intimate friends and with the great men with whom he came into contact in later days, that his extraordinary gifts were discerned and duly appreciated; and he died before such estimates had filtered through to the multitude.
But even if his exceptional circumstances stunted his inventive side and his career as regards popular success, they clearly developed his philosophical lines of thought. The weight of “dark realities” was ever present to test the proportion of things, to give a standard of the relative importance of human thought and feelings. These “dark realities” can prove to the uttermost what is in reality sorrow, and what condition of mind can induce resignation. They open the doors to many mysteries, though, while doing so, they prove that in human experience there is no reaching the outlet which can explain why they are sent to bewilder and pain us. A firm faith in an over-ruling spiritual guidance through the most troubled waters was the ever-present source of strength to Walter’s father in his life’s trial. With such an example before him, Walter, from early childhood, gained a profound sense of the reality of the spiritual life, a belief which he ever retained as a fundamental fact in our humanity. Many of the earlier essays contain allusions to “dark realities,” though probably such allusions might not be obvious to those who were not intimately acquainted with Walter Bagehot’s home life; but in the essay on William Cowper every reader must, I think, feel that he had had a personal experience of such mysteries.
It must not be gathered from the fact that this tragedy existed, that the life at Herd’s Hill was a melancholy life. Tragic it might be at times, but never was it tame or dull. Events were never lacking—painful events at times, but events. There was no stagnation, there was always the possibility of something unexpected. Anxiety in itself is a moving quantity. Moreover, the delightful qualities in Mrs. Bagehot and Walter gave the happy days a great charm. Never, probably, was there a case where insanity produced a slighter permanent effect. This, doubtless, was the result of the atmosphere of love and affection which surrounded her.
Mrs. Bagehot was instrumental in obtaining a church for Hambridge, a village five miles distant from Herd’s Hill. She wrote a volume of sacred verses which she sold for the benefit of the building fund, and initiated the raising of a subscription for the same.
People have a way of speaking of fascinating women as if they were a species of witches, who, with black arts, bring evil into the lives of men. The most fascinating women, on the contrary, are those who, like Mrs. Bagehot, use their natural gift of charm to throw sunshine into the whole atmosphere around them; who are, moreover, clever and endowed with a right judgment; whose qualities of heart and head are equally enlisted in making themselves and others happy and good. Her maternal feelings were unusually strong. She had a motherly affection to give to all children. A Bagehot cousin lost his wife and was left with two children. As he was an officer in the navy and sent on foreign service, Mr. and Mrs. Bagehot took his boy and gave him the position of foster-brother to Walter, and he received the same loving care and attention they lavished on their own child. Her nature soared above all the littlenesses often found in a small town, and though by nature socially inclined and interested in the lives of all her neighbours, she entered into their interests from a larger, more human and humorous point of view than is common. Her sense of humour carried her over many difficulties in her relations with her neighbours, though her principles insisted on her telling “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” on every possible occasion, and the whole truth is not always welcome. Her letters, of which hundreds are preserved, are very amusing reading. Certain subjects especially aroused her argumentative inclinations. Prominent among these were religion; the Poor Law which, as it then existed, she entirely condemned; and the shortcomings of the Unitarian creed. Characteristic of the style of her letters is the following which Mrs. Bagehot wrote to Walter when he was sixteen:—
“10th May, 1842.
“My dearest Walter,
“. . . I have been reading over many of my beloved Stuckey’s letters to dearest Papa this week, and he and I were much struck with the similarity of the style with yours and in affection for his own Mamma—or rather in parental affection I hope you resemble each other. Oh! I have the blessed assurance that that is a feeling which survives the grave and lives purified and anew through all eternity.
“Now that Aunt and Uncle are gone (Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Stuckey went every spring to London for the season), my popping place is to Mrs. Kent. I scold her much for caring totally (unlike you and Papa and me now) about people and their attentions. She has always got some little fad about ‘cold manners,’ default of courtesies and enquiries, and fresh peccadilloes of the kind she punishes by a cross proud look (entre nous), and then—there they are—all turned to icicles, and send each other to Coventry! She is just in this way now with——who has a tendency not to think ‘small beer’ of himself and to swell out to a barrel or a butt. How one does wish to expand the good in humanity, to repress the bad, and raise all hearts and minds above the petty jealousies of life, and fix them upon the sublime views of the immortal soul and its life to come and which is to last for ever!! Instead of which the petty interests, and petty complaints of the body—body, body are filling every mind and occupying every tongue, and yet one must not wish to be ‘no-body’ either—by way of a pun for you!”
Again three years later she writes:—
“11th June, 1845.
Day of St. Barnabas and my
beloved Stuckey’s death.
“My own Blessing,
“A line I must dash off to thank you for yours. I was a leetle disappointed to hear that you thought we had better not have the pleasure of your company before next week, and, being thankful you feel well enough to stay, must not, I suppose, say a word against it upon my principle of ‘trimming the lamps’ vigorously, and ‘watching in our various duties and callings with our various talents that we may return those “who have the rule over us” and our Lord His own with usury’; but if Dr. Bright recommends a quicker transition to purer air, which he might, as there is now quite a change in the weather and you suffer from the heat so much, how fervently we shall delight to welcome you. I need not say I love and value you as much as I loved and valued Stuckey at the same age, more I cannot; but I think my love for you has been happier, more roses and fewer thorns, because you have been since your birth so much more happily situated, and from the least boy ever joined with joy and pleasure in the same mental pursuits I have ever followed the most myself—not that I must ape the literature that you have (though I have always been fond of books, since, as a child, it was often a loud sentence of reproach to me—‘Edith Stuckey, do not sit so lost over a book’), for when I was talking over your argument with William Wood, not only Papa had told me I was stupid, by giving me your explanation of the fact about Burke, but Aunt Reynolds gravely said ‘now Edith, you are not to infer that Walter was wrong because you think him so, for you know you are ignorant,’ which I am quite ready to admit, only I thought to myself—I do like Walter to make that clear to others what is clear I dare say to his own research, so rapidly improving and telling; and when he does, I think I can sense him, though profoundity in the subject may still be wanting. I am not sure whether Aunt Reynolds wanted to put you up or me down—both I hope. My elastic mind is daily recovering from the loss of my beloved brother. My mind, like his must be cheerful, from its vivid enjoyment of blessings left; but your dear Aunt is exactly the same. I think of my own brother constantly as if, in the transfer to a purer state, conversation and communion, that I thank God I sought on earth, are still carried on with him—and to indulge and repeat the hope which scripture allows, as one dear friend after another is borne to Heaven,
- That through their Soul as angels bright
- They hover o’er our sphere,
- And shed new beams of grace and light
- On those who loved them here;
and it seems as if your dear Uncle’s voice could say to you, in better prose perhaps than my poetry,—‘Walter, you must make yourself a clever fellow and be a stay of the family, and a comfort to your mother when I am gone’.”
Once it was a question, when Walter was studying at the Bristol College, of her joining him at Clevedon without his father. She writes:—
“Papa said, ‘you can go if you like,’ but upon my eyes sparkling, and heart leaping, added, ‘but I think you had better stay at home’. Now I think both of us are aware, that without him to take care of me and keep me together, as my imagination and feelings are so prone to travel rail-road speed, my body must be kept at a more temperate pace, and not be allowed to do too much in a short time.”
Many of Mrs. Bagehot’s letters afford an interesting psychological study. Her mind never appeared to be enfeebled by her deranged ideas; at times she might almost have been said to have flirted with her delusions, not treating them quite seriously herself. Walter told us of a characteristic scene which took place towards the end of her life. One morning, for some unknown reason, she got it into her head during breakfast that she could not speak to Walter, and therefore remained dumb; but this silent situation before long became dull; so she wrote on a slate something she wanted him to know, and hung the slate round her neck and appeared in his study where he was writing. She was standing mute in the doorway when he looked up suddenly, and saw her and the slate, and the two burst out laughing together. Her tongue was loosed, and they talked together in a perfectly rational manner.
After his mother had seen my sister for the first time, Walter writes:—
“Langport, 19th March, 1858.
“My mother was delighted with you and did nothing but talk about your bright expression. This morning she is not very well, and her mind will not be clear for a day or two till it has cleared itself by writing and time. She is generally not so well for a day or two after an unusually good day which yesterday was. Her mind is such a strange mixture of sanity and insanity that it is impossible to say what will or will not be good for her.”
In many directions Walter and his mother had much in common. He felt a sympathy with many of her attitudes of mind which might by others have been thought to belong to her delusions. He was often more lenient to his mother’s views, however unusual they might appear, than to the foolishnesses of many so-called sane persons. He had little patience with the pompous nonsense of the worldly and self-interested who override any sign of want of balance in others with contemptuous pity, these being nevertheless in essential qualities of heart and understanding immeasurably their superiors.
With all its trials and “dark realities,” the home life at Herd’s Hill was a beautiful life. Religion, affection, both deep and real, a high intellectual standard of culture and unselfish aims, gave to the atmosphere of this home life a distinction but rarely found, and developed sound thought and feeling that proved to Walter Bagehot an unusually good equipment in life. Especially is it interesting to recognise the strong impression religion made on a mind which has proved so illuminating to the present generation of thinkers perhaps not too prone to receive deep religious impressions. Walter Bagehot would say when it was a question of abolishing religious teaching in schools,—“It is one thing to have a dogmatic religion implanted in children from their babyhood, however less dogmatic their views may become as they grow to be men and women, and quite another to bring up children without any religious creed at all. We have yet to see what a nation would be like whose men and women had never had any religious training whatever given to them as children.”
Extracted from the Records of the College of Arms, London, and examined therewith this 3rd day of August, 1888. Albert W. Wood Garter.
Stuckey Estlin, her son by her first marriage, was at the age of twenty killed in a coach accident.
Mr. Vincent Stuckey, founder of Stuckey’s Bank, died in 1845.