Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V.: UNIVERSITY COLLEGE. - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 10 (The Life)
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CHAPTER V.: UNIVERSITY COLLEGE. - Mrs. Russell Barrington, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 10 (The Life) 
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. 10.
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Oxford and Cambridge were debarred owing to Mr. Bagehot objecting on principle to all doctrinal tests which were then required of the undergraduates at the older Universities. Mitigating the chance of dangers and temptations in London was the house of the guardian angels, “Aunt and Uncle Reynolds” at Hampstead, which was to be treated as a second home. University College, London, afforded the best schooling for youths whose fathers objected to doctrinal tests. A certain Dr. Hoppus, a Unitarian , had a house for pupils studying there, and it was decided that to University College Walter Bagehot should go, and that he should live with Dr. Hoppus at 39 Camden Street, Camden Town, where father and son presented themselves in the beginning of October, 1842.
“I must confess,” he writes to his mother after a few days’ residence there, “to having felt rather dismal, when Papa left me at the University in the midst of a thick London fog; and I cannot say but I felt rather dismal occasionally since, when I think of Herd’s Hill and you all sitting quietly and happily down amid all its beauties, while I am toiling here in the midst of dust and smoke. More especially I prefer the evenings at home, with Papa reading aloud Sir Samuel Romilly, to those we have here, although I have managed by dint of hard work to get through them pleasantly enough.”
About a month after he had been at College, Bagehot met with his first real trouble.
“My dearest Papa,
“I sit down in great perplexity of mind to write to you; I do not know whether the course of conduct I am now taking, will appear to you right or not, but I can only say that it has not been taken without the most anxious consideration. I hope I am doing right, certainly I am not doing what is pleasing to me; and I feel it is to be my duty to take a step before the distance between us will allow me to consult you, which would have been the greatest comfort to me.” He then describes a state of things highly reprehensible which had been going on in secret in the house of Dr. Hoppus, and which he had suspected for some time, “although,” he writes, “I have tried to disbelieve it as long as I could”. When he was fully convinced of the wrong conduct of two of his fellow-students which involved lies and deception, “I feel,” he writes, “that it cannot be my duty to allow this state of things to continue; I do not think it would be doing right either to Dr. Hoppus or to——himself; yet the office of tale bearer is so invidious and in general so contemptible that I confess I am exceeding loath to undertake it.” He then explains why immediate action is necessary, and continues, “What makes it still more painful to me is that——(mentioning the chief culprit) has so much good feeling and is altogether so pleasing, that I like what I have seen of him, except in this unfortunate affair, I have expressed my abhorrence of it to him, when I only suspected it. I am now going to seek a conversation with Dr. H.; I need not tell you how much anxiety this has cost me, or how much I dislike the duty I am going to perform, but my resolution has not been taken without the most careful deliberation, and I may add earnest prayer. It will give me much comfort to hear from you.”
Later—“The conversation is now over. Dr. H. was much shocked, and seems inclined to sift the matter to the bottom: further indeed than I had supposed, as he intends, if he finds my information correct, to send——away immediately. For this, I shall, in some respects be sorry, although I cannot but think it essential to——’s welfare that he should be immediately removed from London. I cannot say more, as it is more than time for me to go to college, and I have a racking headache, caused, I think, in great part by my not having slept well for the last night or two, scarcely at all last night, which was spent in resolving and doubting on the step I have now taken. I need not say how much good it will do me, to know that you think I have done right. Dr. H. assured me that he was greatly obliged to me for stating it to him, which makes me hope that I have done so.”
Mr. Bagehot writes in answer a letter of sympathy and approval.
“Many, many thanks for the kind sympathy of your note,” Bagehot answered. “Many difficulties have arisen out of this most painful affair. . . . The step I have taken has, of course, made my companions exceedingly angry, and for this I was prepared. They do not, however, break forth into any abuse, nor have any painful scenes of a quarrelsome nature occurred; on the contrary, they do not speak to me ‘either good or bad’. This perhaps is the very best course for all parties which they could have pursued. ——’s father is coming here to-day, and Dr. Hoppus informed me that he should probably wish me to repeat in his presence what I stated to him. The scene to-day will probably be an exceedingly painful one——. Friday morning. The painful scene of last night is over; it was trying to all of us:——’s father seemed at first inclined to be very angry, but after talking with Dr. Hoppus for some time, he became much calmer.”
The result of this action of Walter Bagehot’s was that Dr. Hoppus sent both culprits away. “It is my first taste of the troubles of life,” Bagehot wrote. “Henceforth I shall perhaps never be wholly free from them, and although overcoming one may render the others more easy, I felt the other day with some beautiful lines of Wordsworth:—
“I must say good-bye as I am scribbling, when I ought to be reading Mr. De Morgan on ‘the square roots of unity!’ ”
In the beginning of the next term Bagehot writes to his father: “I went to breakfast with Smith Osler, this morning, and on his offering to perform his promise of proposing me in the Debating Society, I told him frankly that I thought my being able to get in exceedingly doubtful, and on his inquiring told him the reason. He said that if I would put him in possession of the circumstances of the affair, he would try to get me elected.”
In a letter written at the time of Walter Bagehot’s death Mr. Smith Osler says: “The first thing I knew about him when he was not long emerged from boyhood was an act of great moral courage”.1
Walter Bagehot seldom had other than friendly relations with those with whom he came in contact, but his real friends were few. Three of his fellow-students at University College were among these few.
The lasting friendship he formed there with Richard Hutton proved to be one of the important events in his life. Both were sixteen years of age when they first met. There was little similarity in their natures, but a mutual affection sprung up from the first days of their meeting, no less than a strong sympathy in intellectual and spiritual aims. They were bound also by the tie, perhaps the strongest, most lasting tie that can bind the friendship of two men. They lived and worked closely together in the springtime of their mental energies, in the years when wide portals were opening to splendid avenues of intellectual activity. In his memoir Mr. Hutton describes what they were to each other when receiving “the shock of mighty thoughts—with a pure natural joy”. No two students were ever fired with a purer enthusiasm in starting on that voyage of all voyages the most momentous in life, that of exploring the vast fields of knowledge accumulated in the past, and of seeking through such knowledge what this world of ours ought to mean to us—whither its teaching ought to lead. They enjoyed together higher ranges of thought and feeling than could be inspired by intellectual studies alone. To apply Bagehot’s own words, each possessed the “intense and glowing mind—the vision and faculty divine”. Soon also this friendship with Mr. Hutton enriched his life on the side of sentiment. Intellectually Mr. Hutton was at that time at least Walter Bagehot’s equal, but the character of Mr. Hutton’s devotion for his friend was one of dependence rather than of equality. Originality of thought and a striking imagination were Bagehot’s special characteristics; they were not Mr. Hutton’s. Very many letters exist filling large pages with minute handwriting, written one to the other, exhaustive ponderings on philosophical, moral, and religious problems, evincing mutual interest, sympathy, and affection. But this correspondence makes it evident that, though both were equally independent in their views, Walter Bagehot’s nature dominated over Mr. Hutton’s as being the more robust and confident. Mr. Hutton’s nature leaned somewhat towards an over-scrupulous, over-exacting conscientiousness. He would ever doubt his own conclusions, he was ever his own most severe critic.
In a letter to his father deprecating his nature as wanting the definite unscrutable mark of genius, the late Lord Lytton writes: “There can be no doubt about real genius. It is sure of the world, and the world sure of it.” The difference between the manner in which Mr. Hutton’s and Walter Bagehot’s minds worked was shown in the fact that any moral or intellectual light came as a flash of truth to Bagehot with this certainty of genius; whereas with Mr. Hutton, who had no less a powerful intellect, truths would work themselves out through thought and conscience. Throughout his life his conscience was extraordinarily sensitive and exacting. Walter’s influence on him was bracing, invigorating, joy-giving; the influence to which he owed, perhaps more than to any other, the power of moving on in life, and of advancing to firmer standpoints. One humorous sally from Walter, one conclusive witty criticism, would clear the air for him, he felt, better than days of solitary pondering and dissection. Mr. Hutton had an ample sense of humour wherewith to enjoy any joke against himself, and to feel his mind the crisper for it. In personal intercourse it was most often through the medium of humour that Walter’s advice was administered. Mr. Hutton accused his own mind of being ponderous and wanting in elasticity, and felt that it was the buoyant elasticity in Walter Bagehot that helped him so greatly. With affections feminine almost in their tenderness and tenacity, his intellect was remarkable for an insight which, through its uncompromising, crude directness, made his conclusions appear at times almost brutal. Whereas no fault he ever discovered in a friend could make the strength of his affection waver for a moment, his critical acumen made him severity itself when his disapproval was aroused towards faults in others which jarred on his moral sense. He displayed no satisfaction in exercising the severe side of his critical faculties; but no arguments could ever modify his condemnations. You might plead for extenuating circumstances for any length of time—all the same at the end Mr. Hutton would repeat the words with which he had begun the discussion, “But you must admit he (or she) is dreadful!” The moral disgust he felt for certain defects was incurable, and so instinctive and conclusive was this abhorrence that he did not trouble to give any reasons to justify it, though it appeared strangely opposed to the very Christian spirit which was characteristic of his nature generally. This uncompromising attitude gave his character a quaintness which amused Walter Bagehot, who, when with Mr. Hutton, would assume a cynically tolerant view towards most of the weaknesses of human nature. Mr. Hutton’s earnest devotions and his equally earnest disapprobations made a delightful playground for Walter’s humour and statire.
In letters which he wrote from Heidelberg in 1846, Mr. Hutton expressed the feeling of dependence with which he clung to Walter Bagehot:—
“. . . Of one thing I am certain that your mind will not feel the want of our daily discussions and conversations on subjects so deeply interesting to both of us nearly so much as mine. I have always thought it one of the most happy circumstances of my life that at college I was thrown with a mind so well calculated, not only to afford intellectual sympathy, but intellectual guidance, for to that has your influence on my opinions quite amounted. I have always found myself arrived at the same stage of opinion and progress that you have passed sometime, but through which I am following you, and have always felt that any beneficial influence I may have had upon you can only be in compelling you to re-traverse and re-consider old ground, while your influence on me has been that of one well able to strike out new paths for himself, on one who requires as an intellectual necessity, the aid of some more original thinker. This inter alia made me so anxious to carry you with me into the new region of German thought where I feel sure without you that I shall be a hopeless wanderer unable to discern the tracks of law.”
Later he writes: “You do not know how pleased I was to see your letter yesterday. The promptness of your reply is, I fear, but a slight induction on which to ground any augury for the future; but if it continues it will be some consolation or rather substitute (however slight) for our conversations. Your description of my state of mind ‘you know and believe, while I speculate and doubt,’ would have been much more accurate had you omitted the verb of knowledge. That I do believe long before I have the data for knowing, is indeed a peculiarity and no enviable one of my mind, one which is apt to lead me to take up creeds first, and find arguments with which to defend them afterwards, the essential peculiarity of an unphilosophical mind.”
This attitude of dependence on Walter Bagehot’s friendship was not in Mr. Hutton a mere ebullition of youthful enthusiasm. When writing to my sister on 1st October, 1877, referring to the memoir of Walter Bagehot he had just completed, he says: “The feeling that so much of the best part of my literary interests had vanished with him made me feel that in finishing this my career was closed. It is hard to put so much of life behind one”.
In the same autumn, in sending my sister this article for the Fortnightly, Mr. Hutton wrote: “I came across this sonnet which I wrote in 1847 to Bagehot, I fancied you might like to see it. Though I don’t think it’s good at all (it is very young), it shows you, as nothing else could, the strong feeling he excited”.
The other two intimate friendships which started from the University College days were with William Caldwell Roscoe, grandson of the historian of the times of Lorenzo de Medici and Leo X.,1 and with Timothy Smith Osler. Both were senior to him by a few years. The organising of a new Debating Society, of which Mr. Hutton, Walter, and Mr. Roscoe were the chief promoters, first brought them into close contact. “We have been getting up a new Society to supersede the old one,” Walter writes to his father, “Roscoe, Hutton, and myself are the chief prime movers. We have had one meeting to organise the Society, in which I was in the chair. Roscoe was unexpectedly prevented from attending the meeting and Hutton fought shy of the honour, which accounts for my elevation. I am to be replied to on Capital Punishments by a Mr. Stowell, whom I don’t know personally, but who is reckoned a crack speaker. My motion was very reasonable as there was a lack of subjects at first starting, De Morgan just beginning.”
A strenuous life of intellectual effort shared together was the bond which commenced the friendship between Walter Bagehot, Richard Hutton, and William Roscoe, but beyond this bond, interests of a character deeper than those purely intellectual were shared by the three friends. Literature was to all three more than a mere intellectual enjoyment. In choice books they found a stimulus which nourished feeling as well as mind. They had early learnt the art of reading the best things in the best way. Also, they had early caught vivid impressions from the aspects of nature, and through intimate companionship with Wordsworth and the poets who discern in nature meanings which arouse a sense of the spiritual life, they had awoken to the twofold joy felt by inter-weaving the delights of the eye with throbbing aspirations of the soul.
After Walter Bagehot’s death Mr. Hutton wrote in a letter to my sister—“You remember that sonnet of Wordsworth’s Bagehot was so fond of, beginning—
“It often comes back upon me now when I have something I want to talk to him about, and I remember I shall never hear his step coming up my stairs again.”
Beyond this again was a still firmer ground of union. A sense of the reality of the spiritual life was ever present in their lives. The parents of each were Unitarians, with the exception of Mrs. Bagehot. Walter Bagehot was never a Unitarian. Referring to those College days Mr. Hutton writes, “On theology, as on all other subjects, Bagehot was at this time more conservative than myself, he sharing his Mother’s orthodoxy, and I, at that time, accepting heartily the Unitarianism of my own people. Theology was, however, I think, the only subject on which, in later life, we, to some degree at least, exchanged places though he never at any time, however doubtful he may have become on some of the cardinal issues of historical Christianity, accepted the Unitarian position.” Many of the ideas which Walter Bagehot threshed out in conversation and in letters in those student days, are recalled in his Essays on Bishop Butler written in 1854, and on The Ignorance of Man written in 1862. The moral aspect of religion was ever prominent in the discussions between these friends; but what is perhaps the most salient mark in their attitude towards religion as suggested in their writings and letters, is the scrupulous conscientiousness with which they weighed and sifted all the influences affecting their belief, taking nothing for granted but the one all-important fact, namely, the reality of the spiritual life. Walter Bagehot writes in his Essay on Bishop Butler: “In every step of religious argument we require the assumption, the belief, the faith, if the word is better, in an absolutely perfect Being; in and by Whom we are, who is omnipotent as well as most holy; who moves on the face of the whole world, and ruleth all things by the word of His power. If we grant this, the difficulty of the opposition between what is here called the natural and the supernatural religion is removed; and without granting it, that difficulty is perhaps insuperable. It follows from the very idea and definition of an infinitely perfect Being, that He is within us as well as without us—ruling the clouds of the air and the fishes of the sea, as well as the fears and thoughts of men; smiling through the smile of nature as well as warning with the pain of conscience—‘sine qualitate, bonum; sine quantitate, magnum; sine indigentia, creatorem; sine situ, praesidentem; sine habitu, omnia continentem; sine loco, ubique totum; sine tempore, sempiternum; sine ulla suit mutatione, mutabilia facientem, nihilque patientem’. If we assume this, life is simple; without this, all is dark.”
In a letter to my sister written shortly before their marriage, Walter writes:—
“I assure you I still like to talk theology very much when I am started, but I am lazy—and quiescent in all intellectual conversation. I like talking and do talk a great deal somehow, still I require a stimulus—a nudge in my elegant native dialect—from without, or I do not begin. I am afraid, however, you give me credit for more digested and elaborated ideas on the subject than I really have. The faith of young men is rather tentative. Some points, of course, are very fixed, but a good many are wavering—are rather tendencies than conclusions. I have perhaps an unusual degree of this myself. From my father and mother being of different—I am afraid I might say—opposite sentiments on many points, I was never taught any scheme of doctrine as an absolute certainty in the way most people are. What I have made out is a great deal my own doing, and naturally it seems to require testing more than an hereditary belief would. I have always had an individual feeling that my inner life has been too harsh and vacant to give me an abiding hold of some parts of religion. At any rate, the outline wants deepening and the colours softening—you never know the intellectual consequences of a new moral experience. It is a new premiss and may combine with any one of your previous results. Women arrive more easily at their conclusions on these subjects because their spiritual experience is gentler and more continuous—less of a seizure, in fact. They are therefore often puzzled at the way men go to and fro, apparently settling a conclusion to-day and unsettling it to-morrow, and think it is aimless wandering and nothing is being gained. But it is not so. A new spiritual consciousness naturally recalls the mind to consideration, and if sometimes it brings us back to old opinions, and teaches us that our last opinions are not so well founded as we thought them, yet the ‘old’ opinion is really a new one because based on and cleared up by a new spirit—perhaps from God, and it is necessary for thinking men at each stage to think out the data they have, although they know that data may change to-morrow. If they did not do so, they would not know how to appreciate each change or be sure of its effects—the mind would become confusion. ‘On a sudden’ I have become metaphysical, I fear.”
Mr. Hutton’s published writings suffice to show what were his ultimate beliefs—and the haven to which he reached after passing through many perplexities and phases of doubt and speculation which were discussed in these early days. He writes of William Roscoe: “His religious faith was, indeed, rather the deepest of his personal relations than a field either for moral or intellectual questionings to his mind”.
Mr. T. Smith Osler was a distant cousin of Walter Bagehot’s. A pedigree of the Osler family shows that a Priscilla Osler, his great-grandfather’s sister, married a Thomas Bagehot, and her niece, Christian Poole, married another Thomas Bagehot. Walter knew Smith Osler before entering University College, but did not study there together as Mr. Osler was his senior by some years. Later, when Mr. Osler was practising as a barrister and Walter was reading for the Bar, they appear to have seen much of each other.1 Mr. Osler expressed with such forcible truth in the paragraph quoted by Mr. Hutton in his Memoir of Walter Bagehot, what many people felt about his talk, that it may be well to repeat it here: “As an instrument for arriving at truth, I never knew anything like a talk with Bagehot. It had just the quality which the farmers desiderated in the claret of which they complained that though it was very nice, it brought them ‘no forrader’; for Bagehot’s conversation did get you forward, and at a most amazing pace. Several ingredients went to this; the foremost was his power of getting to the heart of a subject, taking you miles beyond your starting point in a sentence, generally by dint of sinking to a deeper stratum. The next was his instantaneous appreciation of the bearing of everything you yourself said making talk with him, as Roscoe once remarked, ‘like riding a horse with a perfect mouth’. But most unique of all was his power of keeping up animation without combat. I never knew a power of discussion, of co-operative investigation of truth, to approach to it. It was all stimulus, and yet no contest.” No words that have ever been written about Walter Bagehot recall better than these the peculiar entrainement and charm of his talk, and the stimulus which his genius gave to it. Ideas seem to spring forward recklessly with a great leap—but always to alight on just the right, convincing spot.
Much had Walter Bagehot, Richard Hutton and William Roscoe in common, but one of Walter Bagehot’s striking characteristics these two friends did not share. In his essay on Macaulay we find the delightful description of the nature of the Cavalier. In reading it we feel Walter Bagehot could not have written it had there not been a strain of the Cavalier in his own blood—a recurrence probably in his veins of his royalist ancestors, the Bagehots of Prestbury, that had filtered down to him through his more immediate Puritan grandfather and great-grandfather. He was a strange mixture of the Royalist and the Puritan, though he seemed to have realised the true nature of things more profoundly than do the minds of those who are typical examples of any isolated class or creed. Having inimitably pictured the Cavalier, he writes: “It might be thought, at first sight, that the insensibility and coldness which are unfavourable to the appreciation of the Cavalier, would be particularly favourable to that of the Puritan”. Quoting the éloge M. de Montalembert pronounced on the French historian, Droz, which wound up by the sentence—“he was hardened at once against good and evil,” Walter Bagehot proceeds, in one of the most stirring passages he ever wrote,1 to prove that this is not so. The limitations which blind a cold nature to the virtues in the Cavalier equally blind it to the spiritual passion of the Puritan. Deep underlying the surface of his intellect, Walter Bagehot possessed very consciously what he writes of as “the intense, peculiar, simple impulses which constitute the heart of man; the eager essence, the primitive desiring being”. This he felt to be the real moving power in human life, far and away more potent than any mere brain effort can be. “Try a little pleasure,” he advises as the best way of communicating and establishing the creed of Conservatism. How well he himself knew the inebriating effect of high spirits, the power they are, and how much of the world succumbs to that power. His was a nature stirred by beauty on the surface no less than by the beauty beneath. He could be thrilled by a deep spirit of human enjoyment, he could be alive as a child to the simple outward charm of the world—equally touched by the visible and the invisible—and it was at times with a wild reckless Cavalier spirit that he tasted this “deep spirit of human enjoyment”.
Neither Mr. Hutton nor Mr. Roscoe had, it may be presumed, anything of the Cavalier in their nature. Their love of the visible was of a Wordsworthian character and certainly nothing in Wordsworth suggests the Cavalier. Unitarian principles may preclude making for pleasure on principle. Nevertheless I believe it was the “Cavalier” in Walter Bagehot which in great measure was the magnet wherewith he drew his serious-minded friends so closely to him. The rollicking element was very refreshing when felt to be but an offshoot of a passionately religious nature, of a delightful character, of a sound understanding, and of a personal refinement quite remarkable. If his friends could not rollick themselves, they could be fascinated by rollicking in such a companion. What won for Walter Bagehot the position he is said to have held—namely that of a “sort of demi god” among his fellow students at the University College—was doubtless this finishing stroke of charm, the overflowing joy and strength of “the primitive, desiring being,” united with the power of running over a course of hard study with brilliant success.
Bagehot was consistently pessimistic as to his chances of success in passing examinations. He collapsed the day before the event—he came out with flying colours on the day itself.
On 10th July, 1843, he writes:—
“My dearest Mamma,
“I have just come back from Somerset House, and beg leave to inform you that, in spite of all croaking and forebodings, I am actually past and in the first-class. Also that I have been further recommended to go in for honours both in Classics and Mathematics. We had no business to hear this till to-morrow, but Hutton and myself with some others, by dint of bothering officials, got admitted to Dr. Jerrard’s august presence. He was kind indeed, I think affectionate is the only proper word, and especially congratulated Hutton and myself on our ‘distinguished success’ hitherto! He said that he strongly recommended us to go in for Classics, and said that though he could not personally give any opinion on Mathematics, he assured us that the Mathematical examiners spoke very highly of us. “It is rather an awful circumstance that out of 80 who passed only four had the courage to put their names down, namely Hutton, two King’s College men and myself. One of the King’s College men was faint-hearted at the important moment, and gave it up, so that we are only three candidates. I think I shall probably—almost certainly—be the last on the list if I get on it at all.”
On 17th July, he writes:—
“I have chosen not to go in for classical honours and this is the case. After writing that note to Papa on Saturday I determined on a last trial to see how I should get on. But after an hour’s work I got thoroughly exhausted and went to sleep over my books, and when I awoke, really felt as if I had not two ideas—and this decided me. I had persevered all day against a pain in my shoulder, and a slight difficulty in breathing, which are by no means incentives to hard study. It would have been useless to go on without learning a whole book of Thucydides, which in the interval there would have been just time for—and but just—in my usual state, and not time sufficient in my present state.”
On the same day from Somerset House, he writes:—
“A change has come o’er the spirit of my dream as will be observed from the date of my letter. I got remarkably better last evening, and have ventured on trying on a forlorn hope. I don’t expect to get placed at all, as I have had no preparation or cramming whatever. There are seven of us trying”. The result of the forlorn hope is conveyed from Herd’s Hill to his Aunt Reynolds.
“26th July, 1843.
“My dear Aunt,
“Being in a state of very great excitement, much in the way of epistolary correspondence is not to be expected The result for which you will be kind to turn over is most amazing. After all the pros and cons I had no right to expect anything of the kind and did not. The result in Classics:—
These were the only five mentioned. I could scarcely believe my own eyes when I found myself equal to Hutton. I think you have heard me speak of him, and if you have, you will know that I consider being equal to him no slight honour. I believe that my English essay was the cause of a good deal of my success. Dr. Jerrard told Hutton that his essay and Mr. Barry’s and mine were by far the best, and mine was the best of all. The subject was the character of Socrates, and the influence of his teaching, and we had to do it without reference to books, and without cramming, as the subject was only made known when we entered the examination room.”
The state of Walter Bagehot’s health at this time caused anxiety to his parents and it was settled that he should not return to University College till the New Year, 1844, thus missing the autumn term. A horse, “the grey” mentioned in his letters, was acquired, and, much to his enjoyment, he rode and hunted it during the five months he was at home.
Mr. Hutton wrote to him:—
“I am indeed sorry to hear of your cough as the cause of your only attending three classes, but I think it a very prudent measure and rejoice to hear that it is going off; be sure to mention it in your next letter and tell me whether you have ever taken laudanum since I forbade it. With respect to your remarks on Cobden, I partly agree with you; I think that he has not devoted his time very much to the study of any part of politics but political economy; but still from allusions to other points which I have read in his speeches, from his voting with a small minority so consistently in favour of all the liberal motions, from seeing his name amongst the supporters of Mr. Roebuck’s motion ‘that in all public schools supported by the state secular education only should be given and the religious left to the wish of the children’s parents,’ from seeing his name in all the divisions against the Irish arms bill, and from his support of Mr. Christie’s motion in favour of the admission of Dissenters to Cambridge, and last, but not least, his support of Mr. Sharman Cranford in his motion for an extension of suffrage to the people, I should say that he would be likely to extend to all other subjects that enlightened and liberal spirit which he is now showing in his patriotic (in the true use of the word) exertions to root out monopoly from this country. My objections to Lord John Russell are numerous but chiefly these, that I think him a man who votes against Sir R. Peel more for the sake of opposing the Tories than for the sake of promoting liberal principles, and it is this which is the cause of our never seeing his name in conjunction with the Tory party, even when the measures which they propose are really good. Then, too, he seconds Lord Palmerston in his hateful war policy, and I think Lord Palmerston is one who has done more harm in the Government by his war policy than Lord John Russell would ever be able to do good by his half and half measures. But you will be tired of my political talk, and I will mention Roebuck another time. I am now a teetotaller as far as total abstinence without taking the pledge goes. I think you are also one, are you not? Send me word if you have taken the pledge. I think I shall return home in a few days, so please to direct to me next at 5 Hamilton Place, King’s Cross. Do not you pity me for being at home again, in beautiful London, so soon? But I must conclude this prosy epistle and will conclude as thou didst, by begging that you will write soon to your affectionate friend,
“R. H. Hutton.”
On 9th January, 1844, Walter Bagehot returned to University College. Two important events mark this year. Mr. Hutton and he attended the meetings of the Anti-Corn Law League and for the first time heard O’Connell speak, which Walter considered a very “remarkable event”: and, consequent on the anxiety respecting his health, he made his first journey on the Continent. Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds arranged a tour for the autumn vacation, and Bagehot besides other friends were asked to accompany them.
Though forcing himself to do extra work for the examinations had told injuriously on Bagehot, as a rule intellectual effort seemed to have acted as a tonic. Work was enticing to him—he seems to have felt a keen sense of satisfaction in using the powers of his fertile, elastic brain. He greatly enjoyed his mathematical studies though they were among the stiffest.
“. . . De Morgan,” he writes, “has been taking us through a perfect labyrinth lately; he was quite lost by the whole class for one lecture, but we are, I hope, getting better, and more gleg at the uptake. We have been discussing the properties of infinite series, which are very perplexing—one is harassed by getting a glimpse of theorems and then to find that they are to be taken with so many limitations, that one has still greater difficulty in seeing them at all. My father will understand the difficulty, when he is asked to see how - 1 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 16 + 32 . . . to an infinite number of terms.”
“39 Camden Street,
“My dearest Father,
“I took a holiday on Thursday evening to go to the Anti-Corn League in Covent Garden Theatre. It is reckoned to have been a very good meeting though neither of the usual great guns, Cobden and Bright, were there. Mr. Fox however was a host in himself. Parts of his speech were very fine, and made very impressive by a peculiar but striking manner, and a deep and well modulated voice, and he made the most of the opportunity of going out of the beaten track of Corn Law speeches, afforded him by its being Burns’ birthday. He said ‘nature made him a poet, and aristocratic protection made him an exciseman’—a very effective parenthesis in his declamation against protection in general. Many passages in his speech were in very bad taste, and though they were those that told best in the pit, they certainly marred its effect on the more cultivated part of his audience. His invective is very stinging and he has the art to make passages, that are really, I have no question, very elaborately and carefully prepared, seem as if they were struck off the moment without the slightest effort. He had not a single note, and never left a sentence unfinished or went back to begin one again through the whole speech, which lasted a full hour. The other speakers were Bouverie (I am quite sure that everybody who heard him could not blame the Salisbury electors), a Dr. Burnet and Mr. Milner Gibson. The last spoke next best to Fox (though there was a great difference between them), and very like a gentleman, in which respect he was unrivalled. The great want in all their harangues was argument, which cannot be mended by any quantity of wit or declamation. One is always tempted to ask, as the landlady did Falstaff, ‘What, not a halfpenny-worth of bread to all that sack,’ and in treating of a great practical question, and one which as they are themselves striving to show, requires immediate decision, sound and comprehensive reasoning would seem the most essential requisite, though it is not the one most readily found. Such eloquence as Francis Horner’s is what one wants, dealing with the existing question with great precision, but at the same time and by the help of well-grounded and enlarged principles. I have just been galloping over a volume of his life with some of his speeches at the end, which Mr. Reynolds kindly lent me, and which has been an agreeable diversion at times, though I could have wished to have given it more fixed attention as it is well worthy of being studied. He quotes in one place a striking thought from Leibnitz: ‘There are secrets in the art of thinking, as in all other arts,’ and surely seeing accurately how such minds as his were trained to excellence, is not bad education in the art of reflection, and more likely to initiate one into its mysteries, than almost any other. At anyrate it is very pleasant to see great minds in their leisure moments, and when they are off the stage; but it certainly does not place genius one whit more within the reach of those who have not it by nature, nor, properly received, does it lessen their greatness, though it lets us into the secret of many faults, which one would not otherwise know of.”
“Wednesday, 27th September.
“There are but two events to characterise this day; the first is of a negative character, that I have not had a letter, but the second is that I have been to a Repeal meeting, and have heard O’Connell—a very remarkable event, to describe which I ought to invoke the aid of every god in the Pantheon, and every saint in the calendar. In sober prose it was a great treat. I never heard any eloquence at all to be compared with O’Connell’s. The meeting lasted from two to five, and more than two-thirds of the time was occupied by his speech, or rather speeches, for there were several, as he spoke on every subject which came before the meeting, and these were many. The business commenced by the secretary reading some letters from various branch societies, some of them wordy, which were applauded in proportion to the amount of rant they enclosed. One of these was from the Southern States of America, in which slavery still exists, and which in alluding to some expressions of O’Connell on the subject of Negro slavery, called the god of justice to witness that in opposing ‘Emancipation’, they were actuated by no motive save a regard to the highest ultimate interests of mankind. All this the meeting heard in perfect silence, until O’Connell rose, and observed that he was perfectly indifferent to the terms of reproach in which the writer of that letter chose to mention him, but he would not allow the cause of Irish Freedom to be sullied by an alliance so unhallowed. He was quite willing to hear; nay! he gloried in the name of fanatic (this was one of the epithets in the letter) if to be a fanatic was to love, and honour the cause of freedom, however it might be opposed by distinctions of man’s erecting, whether they were of sect, party, or colour. The invocation to the god of justice seemed to him something like blasphemy. It amounted to imputing to the Ruler of Nations, distinctions between one man and his fellow, founded on the bodily difference of colour, which the most enlightened of his creatures had agreed to disregard. I can’t pretend to give his words, and even if I could, I could not give you any idea of the voice in which they were uttered. Its higher tones are very dignified and impressive, and the lower ones very sweet, and are heard distinctly in every part of the room. There was much, too, on a proposition made by a Mr. Connor, that no Rent should be paid by the Repealers; O’Connell quite hinted that he was an emissary of the Tory Government, and desired to be informed, whether it would not have been but justice to himself, if Mr. Connor had waited until his return before he made a proposition so important, being in truth nothing less than treason. Thence he branched off into a discussion of the present state of the connection between landlord and tenant, and advocated very strongly a plan of which the main feature was to take away from the landlord the right of immediate eviction on the non-payment of rent, and thus to put him on the same footing with other creditors. The second part of his plan was to prohibit by act of parliament leases for any time shorter than twenty-one years, and to give by this means to the tenant a firmer assurance that he would enjoy the fruits of his industry. The audience consisted principally of the Irish not remarkable for the goodness of their garments, and more good-tempered than genteel. At each proposition made by the ‘Liberator,’ there was an impressive aye. It was a very tumultuous ‘aye’ when he proposed that Mr. Connor’s name should be effaced from the list of their members. The room was hung round with inscriptions of which these are specimens: ‘A people strong enough to be a nation should never consent to be a province’; a better one is: ‘Whoever commits a crime, strengthens the hands of our enemies’.”
Later Bagehot writes: “I was at the Anti-Corn Law League meeting at Covent Garden Theatre on Wednesday evening and witnessed their enthusiastic reception of O’Connell. It was a very imposing sight to see the whole house crammed full as it was in every corner, pit, stage boxes, and galleries, rise at once at his entrance, and remain standing for more than ten minutes, cheering him the whole time, some waving hats and pocket handkerchiefs, and very many shouting welcome. What made it still more striking was that the crowd outside, which must, from the loudness of their shouts, have been very large, began to cheer several times under the mistaken impression that he was coming, and the audience inside rose each time and cheered, to the very great annoyance of Mr. James Wilson. O’Connell’s speech was witty enough, and he continued to express more by the tone of his voice than by anything which he said, the gratitude which he felt for their sympathy when he most wanted it. No man was ever under more disadvantageous circumstances for making a fine speech, as his audience would hardly let him say ten words consecutively without interrupting him by their applause. Certain it is that he was very quiet, nor did he venture on anything half so violent as I have heard Mr. Fox say in the same place, who wound up a long invective against the aristocracy, and the great Pro-Corn Law League, as he calls the House of Lords, with saying that ‘he would hurl defiance in their teeth’. The number of people who went away without being admitted was immense, as they posted on the walls of the neighbouring streets in less than half an hour after the doors were opened, that there was no more room. I was on the front of the crowd on the stage, and I could not see a vacant place in the boxes, galleries, or the pit, and we were so crowded that after a great deal of rolling backwards and forwards we carried the platform by storm, very much I have no doubt to the annoyance of those who had tickets for that part of the house and who, relying on the sacredness of the place, came late and found their places occupied. I had to stand the whole evening, but as I heard very well and was very near all the ‘dons,’ I had no reason to complain. It will give you some idea of the enthusiasm that is felt for him in London, when I tell you that they began to issue tickets at half-past twelve on Monday and that at a quarter before one they had none left in the outer office, and numbers of people were going away without them. Hutton and myself, however, by dint of very great exertions, and contempt of the repeated refusals of all inferior satellites, made our way to the head committee room and by dint of eloquence obtained a ticket apiece there. I don’t know whether you have not reason to complain of all this description, but I was very full of it for a day or two, as it was a scene quite new to me, and write now to let off the steam. I must add that I had hardly ever so distinct a notion of the greatness of London, as when I came out, and saw how little interest all this great assemblage seemed to excite three streets off, and how little effect it had on either the numbers or direction of the throng of passengers.”
On 1st March, Bagehot writes to his mother:—
“I can communicate no intelligence on any matters of fact whatever, except that I went a few evenings ago to hear a chartist lecturer on the present state of the country. His name is Vincent. He is a clever and eloquent man, and by no means wholly in error as to his views of political matters. He is very opposed to the use of physical force, and is half his time talking about Christian principles. I have been reading some more of Carlyle’s French Revolution which I think I told you I had begun. His political opinions are very strange. In fact, I think he utterly disbelieves in the usefulness of any institutions. For Hereditary Monarchy and Hereditary Aristocracy he has a thorough contempt. Representative assemblies he commonly calls National Debating Clubs, the right of suffrage, the power to send the 1/5000 part of a dumb voice to the central spouting club. Political science is a hard subject, but this rejection of all the common expedients for governing a community strikes one as strange. He, I think, is for a Natural Aristocracy as he calls it. He thinks that it would be an advantage if the highest minds in every generation were engaged in the actual direction of the state power. But I cannot see why the highest intellects should not be employed rather in communicating new truth to mankind, or labouring to illustrate known truth and to instruct the mass of the population in old and valuable knowledge. This is, I think, a far higher way of influencing the happiness of the world, than the application of physical force to protect men’s lives and properties. It is a not unfrequent source of error in such reasonings to confound the influence exercised by the finest minds over their fellow-men by persuasion and conviction with the Government by laws and Acts of Parliament. The two things seem very distinct, but I could quote from writers of very high reputation instances of their being confounded. As far as I understand Dr. Arnold’s theory that Government ought to be sovereign over human life, it seems grounded on nothing else but the assumption that the Government by argument and the Government by force must necessarily be the same. We had a debate on a subject very like this a few days ago in our Debating Society. The question was ‘whether Government ought to interfere with the dissemination of basphemous or seditious publications’. I took the negative. The debate was spirited. More like a real description of actual business than I ever knew in a society for the purpose of speaking. Everybody seemed to feel the question to be one of interest and importance. If you or my father are interested about it, I will send you my speech in a day or two. Mr. De Morgan has lately had an amusing feud with one of his lower classes. Some students would come late, and the professor, to keep them out, locked the door, which has made him rather unpopular. It is not so bad as last year, however, when he told the same class with much bitterness, that they were robbing their parents and insulting him! The rest of the students thought of asking him to take the Chair of Rhetoric in consequence.”
Subject discussed at the Debating Society, University College, February, 1844 (address by Walter Bagehot alluded to in preceding letter), “Whether Government ought to interfere with the dissemination of blasphemous or seditious publications”.
“Mr. President and Gentlemen,
“As no other gentleman seems to wish to address the society, I will endeavour to set before you as clearly as I can what I deem the true view of this interesting question. Before enquiring what Government ought to do, we must answer the preliminary question, ‘What can Government do?’ We must ask ‘What means has a Government as a Government of influencing the minds of its subjects in matters of opinion?’ The answer is plain, I think; laws as laws neither convince nor persuade but threaten; they address neither the intellect nor the conscience, but fear and the will. An Act of Parliament presents with a catalogue of actions, and states that those who do them shall pay certain stated penalties! Nor does it appear that laws can do anything more than this. They might indeed reward certain courses of conduct, although they have in general failed in the attempt. But then it would be only physical rewards which would come within their province. It is so obvious, that were it not very important for the present argument I should not state it that no law can promise the mental pleasures, arising from the acquisition of the truth nor from the peace of a satisfied conscience. Now if these facts are so, what means has Government for influencing the convictions of its subjects? Let it threaten and bribe as much as it may, a man’s belief is not influenced by such means. Motives addressed to the Will may and do direct the conduct, but arguments addressed to the understanding alone determine conviction and opinion. It seems very clear then that over belief in Government as Government is utterly powerless. And if this be granted, the room for dispute is very much narrowed. For it can be the duty of no one, be he ruler or subject, to influence profession without influencing conviction. I need not, I suppose, go through the forms of a proof for so fundamental a theorem in morality. No one will deny that it is every man’s duty to say what he believes to be true. Can it then be the duty of any other to make him swerve from so clear a duty? Are rulers ex officio to be tempters? This argument is somewhat abstract, but if it be sound, and I believe that it contains no flaw, it justifies the conclusion, that Government being unable to guide the minds of its subjects to what opinions it deems true, must not presume to meddle with their professions. But, say the advocates of restriction, are not men’s moral feelings to be protected? Is blasphemy to be publicly allowed? Is a practice so shocking to go unpunished? I answer that it is already punished. If the moral feelings of mankind are, as the objection implies, insulted, most assuredly there will be moral indignation against the offender. If any persons wish this increased, let them employ with all their vigour, the resources of Christianity and natural religion, moral science and any other co-operating forces which they can discover, to develop the natural indignation of the human heart against the degradation of what is noble and the profanation of what is sacred. Let them not with such weapons at their command, think to add anything worth placing in comparison with them by the legal infliction of physical suffering. Beside this, I cannot help pointing out a notable inconsistency in those who advocate the laws of this country in relation to blasphemy. Written blasphemy is punished, spoken blasphemy is allowed to go untouched. Where is the use of a complicated machinery to protect the eyes, when the ears are offended in every street at every hour? It was also well observed by the replier that no one knows what blasphemy is. That no exact definition can be given of it adapted for legal scrutiny. Is it wholly absurd when invincible obstacles are found in applying a principle to practice, to suspect that there is a lurking unsoundness in the principle itself?
“I come now to the case of seditious publications. The opener made many observations as to the excellence of the general principle of the freedom of the press. In fact, his whole speech was only an able development of the triplet which T. Moore in the Fudge Family puts into the mouth of a court lawyer,
“It appears to me that there is a very simple dilemma to which those who maintain the expediency of curbing the license of the press may be easily reduced. If the existing Government is the best for the people, all assaults on it by means of paper exhortations to rebellion will assuredly be easily encountered. If there be one fact about man’s nature proved by an extensive induction it is this: that nations are much more likely to suffer too long the tyranny of a bad Government, than be unwilling to acquiesce in the rule of a good one. But if on the other hand the existing social organisation be injurious to the nation, seditious publications are doing good service in inciting the nation to reform it or change it. In fact, to a wise Government seditious publications afford an important assistance by showing what grievances are really weighing heavy on the community. The value of such involuntary aid and the impolicy of renouncing it, have been eloquently expressed by Mr. Macaulay, who cannot see that the danger is to be measured not by discontent which comes out of the public mind but by that which stays in; is there anything more terrible than the situation of a Government which rules without apprehension over a people of hypocrites—which is flattered by the press and cursed in the inner chambers;—which prides itself on the affection and attachment of its subjects and knows not that those subjects are leagued together against it by a freemasonry of hatred, the sign of which is every day conveyed, in the glance of 10,000 eyes and the pressure of 10,000 hands. Profound and ingenious policy, not to cure the disease but to remove the only symptoms by which it can be certainly known; to leave the serpent his sting and take from him his warning rattle.
“If the rules of debate permitted it, I should have liked to put a question to the opener. There exist in this country a sect of persons who deny that the use of physical force in cases of resistance is at all justifiable, who are logically consistent enough to deny the lawfulness of all Government as it now exists. What would the opener do with these persons? On his principles they ought to be severely punished. Nothing can be more seditious, for they distinctly avow that all laws ought in their judgments to be abolished, and further that they pay the state taxes only as they would give their money to a highwayman. Yet I think the moral feelings of all would revolt at inflicting suffering on peaceable persons, all of whom are perfectly unoffending, and one of whom at least has a mind of no common order. Yet surely if those are not to be punished who would abolish all Government, with what consistency are those to suffer who only desire the abolition of some particular constitution?
“Again, is a writer on Government in theory to leave a blank filled with asterisks for the constitution of his own country? or are we to adopt the test proposed many years ago for Mr. Windham, ‘That what was not treason in quarto and folio was treason in duo decimo?’ and as to irreligious books, are we to say with a counsel on a recent trial, ‘That dear blasphemy was to be exempted, but that cheap blasphemy was to be rigidly punished’! All such opinions carry to my mind their own falsehood written in very legible characters. Nor shall I weary you with discussing them at length.
“If it were said, as it might be, that the interference of the state was not to restrict the dissemination of any opinion as such, but only the improper method of propagating opinions, my answer is, that if this were so, Government ought to interfere with the improper ways of maintaining all opinions. At least, nothing can be more one-sided than that Government should interfere with one side of a controversy to preserve proper decorum, and let the other be as abusive and slanderous as it pleases. This is no imaginary state of things. Even Christianity itself has often been defended in a manner for which all true Christians must deeply grieve. If the state were to interfere at all, it ought, I think, to be to make the advocates of what is holy confine themselves to weapons that are pure. There are few, I suppose, who would not rather see calumny and fraud used against the truth than for the truth. But it is always thus. The law steps in only to assure to the advocates of received opinions a monopoly of slander, and to put a differential duty on truth that comes from obnoxious quarters. Far different was the spirit of Milton. Two hundred years ago he said in arguing this very subject: ‘Seeing no man who hath tasted learning, but will confess the many ways of profiting by those who, not contented with state recipes, are able to manage and set forth new positions to the world, and if they were but as dust and ashes under our feet, so long as in that notion they may yet serve to polish and brighten the armory of truth, even for that respect they were not utterly to be cast away’. The advocates of suppression would do well to consider the fact that the works of Shelley (the poet of all others upon whom the mantle of Milton appears in the last generation to have descended) cannot be legally published in this country. We are not yet entitled to despise the licensers who wished to mutilate Paradise Lost.
“This subject is almost endless. Because I clearly see, that it is impossible that Government should ever interfere with the indecorous expression of all opinions; because I see that the effect of all legislative interference in controversies has ever been to make an approximation to candour compulsory on one side but to encourage on the other side violence, calumny, and bigotry; because the instances are unnumbered in which this power has been abused and that there is every probability that so long as the power exists it will continue to be unemployed; because many of the writings that would be suppressed by legal penalties have an important part to play in the removal of social encumbrances; because no one knows what blasphemy is nor what sedition is, but all know that they are vague words which can be fitted to any meaning that shall please the ruling powers; I should deem it demonstrated from these considerations of expediency that all restriction is unwise, and all suppression impolitic. But still more, because I cannot avoid perceiving that Acts of Parliament neither by penalties nor rewards can influence a conviction that is regulated by arguments and arguments alone; and that all attempts to guide the expression of opinions, without first directing the belief, are so many incitements to insincerity and hypocrisy, I consider myself justified in asserting that these laws are not only inexpedient but unjust, and above all especially inconsistent with a religion whose glorious office it is to reduce to their minimum the coarse influences of force and fear, and to raise to their maximum the nobler powers of truth and virtue.”
“39 Camden Street,
“My dearest Father,
“I shall begin with observing that the literary taste of the family is, I fear, at a low ebb. I yesterday received a note from my mother (I have received none from anyone today) in which she enjoined on me not to say anything about the meeting at Covent Garden the other evening on the insulting ground of you being able to see it in the papers. Now it is too bad to have one’s powers of description put on a level with a newspaper reporter’s! It is degrading to have it thought that one has no better eyes and ears for whatever passes than a man who is the whole time scribbling shorthand!!!! In spite of all injunctions the meeting was so curious, that I shall expend a word or two on it. The ‘Friends of Ireland,’ as the advertisement set forth, would appear to be Irish, or at least Celtic for Repealers, of whom the meeting was for by far the most part composed, and of which the speakers all expressed themselves advocates. Certainly if good coats and clean linen were taken as the best tokens of the strength or weakness of a political party, the Repealers would be weak indeed, for as Dickens somewhere says, the greater part of them seemed to have quarrelled with their washerwomen in earlier youth and to have taken a fixed resolution never to make it up. Two striking peculiarities in the assembly were the unaccountable disposition of the people in the dress circle to go down into the pit, and their striking familiarity with the Irish accent and the Irish howl. Nevertheless the chairman, a heavy man in a white waistcoat, called the meeting ‘most respectable’. O’Connell’s speech will be in the papers for certain, so that I must not lay hands on it, and indeed, excepting its strong Repeal character, there was very little about it remarkable. He spoke with his hat on, and seemed quite at home, though he was looking, I thought, wan and haggard.”
In this session Bagehot began studying etymology with Mr. Key. “My head,” he writes, “is now full enough of queer etymologies, and examples of all manner or changes of all manner of letters. It is not easy to recollect at a moment’s notice a number of words in many languages, yet it is necessary to compare the different forms, and thence to rise to more general laws. The subject is yet in its infancy, for the science is not thirty years old, and this adds much to its difficulty. There is no connected system as yet to help the memory. I will write more fully on Monday which I believe is a holiday.”
On 26th May Bagehot writes to his mother:—
“I had no doubt of your liking Dr. Arnold. I never knew or heard of anyone who did not like him very much, except the editor of the Record. A writer in that paper in a Review of Dr. Arnold’s life said it was a book to do more harm than good!!! If your pleasure in the book makes you sceptical as to this intelligence, I am sorry, and I should hardly have believed it of a ‘religious’ periodical, if I had not seen the words myself in its columns. They were so angry as to what he said as to the narrow-mindedness of the Evangelicals, and their neglect of the cultivation of the intellect, that they were utterly unable to separate what they thought unjust in his censure from their general impression of his character. There are contemporaries of Arnold superior to him, I think, in quickness of imagination, and subtlety of discrimination and vigour in the reasoning power, but there would be few claimants to a superiority over him in moral energy and unfanatic zeal. My father seems in doubt if he would have approved of the Dis-establishment Bill. I have no doubt that he would have done so. He says in his life, that the Irish Church ought to be a Catholic Church in three-fifths of Ireland at least. His system would have come to the French plan of paying the preachers of every scheme of Christian doctrine. He would also have compelled those who are not Christians to support some form of Christianity. I do not apprehend that he saw any particular advantage, moreover, in the contributions of individuals passing through the hands of the tax gatherer, and would therefore have been satisfied with making each man pay not less than a given sum to the support of some form of Christian worship. But this is too moderate a theory of Church establishments to be much in favour with their usual supporters. Bigots for the voluntary principle (among whom I fancy that I ought to include myself) may doubt whether coercion by legislative enactment is even to this extent a fit way of spreading the influence of religion. I am not, however, going to write an appendix to this letter on Church establishments.”
In his Essay, “The Ignorance of Man,” Walter Bagehot writes: “The higher part of human belief is based upon certain developable instincts, not the most important but the most obvious of these, is the instinct of beauty”. This instinct is “an obvious unmistakable instinct which does produce effectual belief though sceptics explain to us that it should not”. This instinct of beauty Walter Bagehot possessed in an uncommon degree. Beauty in Nature, beauty in Art aroused in him fervid feeling. From childhood the beauty of his own county and of Devonshire inspired in him a sort of enchantment. In the Bristol College days he describes his delight in the scenery about Clifton and Clevedon, and when at the age of eighteen he reaches the Rhine, Switzerland, and the Alps, a passionate rapture seizes him. Works of art he saw in Belgium arouse in him likewise profound enthusiasm. Walter Bagehot’s rapture may be taken as an expression of very genuine enthusiasm. He would have found little fun in echoing orthodox admiration. Objects themselves had to arouse it, unaided by any second-hand authority however notable.
During his travels he kept a copious journal for the benefit of his parents from which the following are fragments. It begins 24th July, 1844:—
“26th July.— A day of sightseeing which begins at six in the morning and ends at nine at night, gives one much to set down, but leaves little time or inclination for doing so. . . . We went to the hospital of the Sisters of Charity, whom we saw in full costume, and it was considered pleasing to see them go round to the sick people in the wards, and give them gebackte meat. I have no notion of that kind of pleasure. It is pleasing no doubt to know that from a sentiment of piety towards Him who is higher than the highest, these women go through a laborious course of trial to be allowed to wait on the meanest of His creatures, but watching them in the lowest part of their functions is not the way to have the most favourable ideas of them. Cutting roast beef, and putting it into plates with the fingers is no doubt a very useful operation, but I should prefer the general notion that a person went about doing good, to knowing that they did this, and seeing them about it. . . . I have left myself little room to speak of what I consider much the most beautiful object I have seen on the continent. I mean, a statue supposed to be by Michael Angelo in the Cathedral of Notre Dame of the Virgin and Jesus. The delicacy of the figures, the infantine simplicity of Jesus, and the motherly anxiety of Mary who is looking down at him as he sits on her lap give a grace to the whole group too impressive to be forgotten, but which I can’t put into words. . . .”
From Bruges the party went to Antwerp. “The Cathedral at Antwerp is the most delicate Gothic building in the world according to the guide-book, which also states that Napoleon compared it to Mechlin lace, and Charles 5th said it ought to be kept in a case. At Ghent we saw a beautiful likeness in wood of Charles 5th of the most spirited kind on a celebrated chimney piece in the Palais de Justice. Whoever wants to get an admiration of Rubens let him come to Antwerp. It has thoroughly converted my Aunt Reynolds who is not in most cases, as the family know, a convertible person. The descent from the cross, of which you have the print in the drawing room, is beautiful as far as colouring is concerned. The body stands out from the canvas which is the more remarkable as being on a white ground. The raising the cross is also fine. None of the paintings by Rubens in the National Gallery, and none that I have ever before seen, give any idea of his full strength. A minute examination will often discover defects in the details of his pictures, and one or two of his faces want expression when one would have imagined he would have put forth all his powers, but for striking and instantaneous effect, I have never seen his equal, and I cannot imagine anything that in this respect would be an improvement on him.”
After describing five great pictures in the Antwerp Museum Bagehot says: “The last painting which I should wish particularly to recall is a painting of Jesus dead and on the knees of Mary with the Magdalene and the other Mary standing beside her. Mary Magdalene has in a paroxysm of sorrow lifted the hand of Jesus, and is weeping over it. To contrast this with the deep and settled grief of Mary without tears or passion was a noble conception. The tears of the Magdalene and the other Mary are flowing over their countenances, and in the latter it is only a single tear which is beautifully executed. To convey in language a good idea of this picture, and that of the crucifixion by Rubens would require no small share of those powers required for the effort of producing them. The imagination ought to have recourse to every source for the most expressive images of sorrow and suffering, and a yet higher flight in search of illustrations for the suffering and despair of the impenitent thief. The best tribute I can give to them is a statement of the fact that after the rest of the party were gone to look at some Antwerp silk—which, by the way, they lost their way and didn’t see—and after throwing all attempts at criticism aside I tried to enter into the conception of the painter, the tears came too fast to my eyes to let me look any longer. I didn’t state this publicly for it might look like affectation, yet why it should, I can’t see. They are few who would be ashamed of weeping over Lear or Othello, and to come more exactly to the point I am convinced that fewer still would read the narratives in the Gospels, especially St. Luke’s, if they were not so familiar, without much emotion. In spite of the number of times we have all read them, those who read them in private with attention will find it hard not to pay the same tribute to their deep knowledge of the human heart.”
“. . . When at Mechlin we afterwards saw another church whose name I have forgotten, in which we saw the picture by Rubens of the Scourging of Jesus, of which we have the print at home. We saw here a priest preaching in Dutch. The meaning was lost on us, though the sound at a distance had an effect remarkably like English. I believe it is less guttural than German to which it is nearly allied, which would make the elementary sounds very much the same as in English, and account for the resemblance I have mentioned, which was felt by all our party. The audience were mostly of the lower class, and the manner of the preacher seemed calculated to attract their attention and did so. All who can read the sermons of Bossuet will not have to learn that eloquence of the highest order is at the command of the Roman hierarchy. Yet it is singular that the art which has for its object the setting forth in attractive and enduring colours and labours of the human mind should be at the service of a system, which sets out with denying the right of private judgment in matters of religion—that is the right of exercising the highest of its powers on the noblest of subjects.”
From Brussels Bagehot writes to his father: “An English gentleman who had resided some months at Mechlin and whom we met in the railroad described the authority of the Roman Catholic priests in that city as so great that a shopkeeper who should offend them would within a week find his shop deserted. If this be not literally true, the clergy must have great power, if a person who had good opportunities of information, and appeared to be an intelligent man, could entertain such an opinion of them.
“This uniformity is what many persons in our country are sighing for, but the best description of it is Lord Bacon’s,—that all colours are alike in the dark. Ignorance is the surest means of attaining it. While walking amid the lofty arches of Antwerp Cathedral I could not be otherwise than astonished at the skill with which architecture, and all the fine arts are pressed into the service of Catholicism.”
From Aix-la-Chapelle Bagehot wrote: “Mr. Reynolds and myself in enquiring about the English service met with a queer character, who seems to act as leading churchwarden. He talked theology at a great pace, but professed never to have heard of the evangelical party, or anything at all contrary to the Church of England being one and indissoluble! He commenced a full detail of the churchwarden’s employments in the midst of which we came away. He proved satisfactorily that every subject of conversation could be brought round to a churchwarden’s business.”
Of Cologne he writes: “The streets are gloomy and dirty and narrow, but these are nothing here. Whoever would learn the full strength of the human imagination, the loftiness of human hopes, and the littleness of their fulfilment, let him look on the Cathedral of Cologne. When the original architect drew that plan of the original structure which still exists, and is deemed the finest conception of the Gothic school, he must have felt some swelling pride at leaving behind him a name connected with a structure so magnificent, and some nobler anticipations of the glory his labours would bring to Germany, and of their stimulating effect on the genius of future ages. His name has been lost, and grass has long grown on the unfinished towers that only show what the whole would have been. It is not commonplace declaration to dwell for a moment on so complete a wreck of such aspiring hopes. The Cathedral was begun in ad 1248 and received additions till 1509, when the work was stopped, till in 1824 the King of Prussia gave money for continuing the work on its original scale. The choir is now finished, and the rest of the work going on fast, though at the rate of 100,000 dollars a year, the work would last fifty years. The height of the work is well seen from the bridge of boats over the Rhine where the unfinished towers, and also the lower portions are seen far above every other building. The effect of the whole by moonlight, from time to time obscured by heavy masses of dark cloud, with a reflection of the lights on shore in the ‘wide and winding river’ might, I should think, bear no very distant approach to the celebrated sight of Venice by night from a gondola. I am too much aroused by the beauties of what I have just seen, to be a very fit former of comparisons between it and what I really know—much more than with what I have never seen. They show the skulls of the Magi (or five Kings of Cologne) in the Cathedral and some antiques, but they are too little to be seen or remembered as being there; anywhere else they might have a better chance, but,—I will not break forth again!”
“8th August.—Still at Nonnenwerth where we mean to linger another day. A place of pure enjoyment of natural scenery is not good for a journal though a happy one to live through. In the morning we ascended Rolandseck—the scene of Schiller’s ‘Knight of Toggenberg,’ and in the afternoon we scaled the Drachenfels. The beauty of catching the same landscape in different points of view is very striking at the time, but can only be very generally stated on paper. The obvious points of the scene are on the right bank of the Seven Mountains of which the Drachenfels is the most striking, especially when by twilight it is dimly seen lowering over the river. The hills have generally a peaked appearance which is said to mark their volcanic origin. On the left bank is the hill of Rolandseck with a broken arch of the ruin on the top, which is in exact keeping with the fragments of a tower and wall left standing on Drachenfels. These ruins of feudal strongholds bring to one’s imagination the times when these scenes were valued for other qualities than their beauty. Cultivation has covered all their country with green—except these relics. Barbarism has left these stranded wrecks to make us remember that there was a time when her dark waters covered the earth. The windings of the broad river, with island and the old nunnery upon it, complete the meagre outline of the picture.”
“Nonnenwerth, 7th July, 1844.
“My dearest Mother,
“I am on an island in the midst of the Rhine, my window opens on it, and the sound of its rushing volume of water is in my ears, and I have been for the last three hours watching the sunset first, and then the shadows deepening over the castle and rock of Drachenfels. If under these circumstances you expect a letter of anything but rapturous enthusiasm you will be disappointed. The very room where I write is strange for it was once a nun’s cell. I got so far and only so far last night when I was in a very excited state, and as I am now sitting in the garden beside the Rhine with Rolandseck on my right, and Drachenfels before me I am not now much more endowed with common sense. Rolandseck is famed as the seat of a hermitage built by a lover named Roland, within sight of the nunnery, now turned into a hotel at which I am writing, where his lady love had taken the veil. Schiller has made a very beautiful ballad out of this story, which I have just been reading, and which adds not a little to the interest of the scene. After I wrote to you from Brussels we went to the field of Waterloo, and returned to Brussels in time to go to Namur by the railroad. The field of Waterloo is not particularly striking as a scene now, though every year of peace adds to the interest of all that is associated with the price the world paid for it. We had a short abstract of the battle by a sergeant engaged in it, found a bullet, examined the holes in the wall at Huguemont, and achieved all the other orthodox and difficult things that have been done by all English tourists since the time of the battle. Mr. Reynolds had so thoroughly forgotten the scene that he could not tell whether any alterations had taken place since you were there. A comparison of dates proved that a large mound of earth with a lion on the top 200 feet high, and very nearly on the spot where the Duke ejaculated, ‘Up guards and at em’ has been erected since that time. It will be a very enduring memorial and I like it, though my aunt was angry at things not being let stay as they were on the day of the battle. We went from Namur to Liege by the Meuse, which we had heard was beautiful, but which we should not have found out for ourselves. One gentleman said he thought it prettier than the Rhine, but rather neutralised the effect of this, by observing, ‘it will be better presently, there won’t be so many rocks’. I never understood what the real enjoyment of scenery meant before, and I never expect to experience more of it. Byron has shown most exquisite taste in his selection of Drachenfels as the point of view for his bold description of the Rhine in ‘Childe Harold’—the scene is a noble one in itself, the lines in the poem are nervous and impressive when read in England, but it would require a power of illustration as copious and exact as the poet’s, to describe the pleasure the poem gives when you can turn from it to the scene it paints. No higher praise can be given to descriptive poetry than that it pleases most when thus read. It is a likeness which looks best side by side with the original. The Rhine does not foam, however, as he says it does, at least not at this spot. It is the calm swift rush of a large body of water, which though not perhaps so imposing in reality when spoken of, because not so easily described, harmonises better with the characteristic attributes of the scene which are repose and grandeur.”
“By staying at Nonnenwerth we have, we think, got a pretty good notion of what Rhine scenery really is, and a much higher opinion of it than do most racing tourists. We mean to go over the rest of the Rhine considerably faster, and get, we believe, to Schaffhausen, and there to enter the north-east of Switzerland, which, always subject to Murray’s direction when we have him, we intend to make our object. Seeing Switzerland is not to be done in a fortnight. If I were left to myself I am by no means sure I should leave the Rhine. The beauties of nature are not written so that those who run may read them, and I would not run the risk of losing the full advantage to be derived from a few weeks on the continent by dissipating my attention over a great number of dissimilar objects. More grandeur I shall, I believe, assuredly see there, but I can hardly expect more pleasure than I have already had.”
“10th August.—We this day left Nonnenwerth with great regret. The lonely stillness of the island in its most sequestered retreats, the ‘frowning’ grandeur of the Drachenfels and the greener and softer beauty of Rolandseck with the single arch on its summit, took a speedy hold on my admiration, which, in spite of the usual transient nature of such feelings, I hope they will long retain in my memory. We proceeded to Coblenz by the steamer—incomparably the worst way of seeing scenery that could be devised. The river is quite lost. One is hurried from one point to another so fast that one cannot gain an adequate idea of the height of rocks, which everybody that knows scenery at all very well knows to require time, and what is hastily seen leaves few lasting traces on the mind. I must delay till I have Murray at hand to secure accuracy as to names, the account of the places which most struck me in descending the Rhine to this place. I mean to set down the places that have most struck me in the ascent of the Rhine. Briefly, both because I could not adequately describe them if I would, and I am too tired to do if I could. Nonnenwerth needs no mention in this list; that and the whole scenery of the Seven Mountains are so associated themselves in my mind with the ideas of pleasure and peace, that before I forget them my mind must undergo many organic changes for the worse. Except my home, and some other scenes that I have visited with those I love best, there is no scene that I have ever regarded with so much affection. Stillness and retirement have always a strong hold on me. The flourishing towns now covering the banks of the Rhine, compared with the huts of the serfs which in the middle ages occupied their sites, show the futility of praising more barbarous times at the expense of our own, because their remains with the marks of age on them have the grandeur of antiquity. A scoffer might sum up the remark, that the pleasure these ruins give us, as it arises from its reminding us of other times and modes of living with their pleasing contrast to our own, by saying that we admire them because we haven’t to live in them, or to be near their founders. My tendency to prose, or as I call it speculate to-night is so great that I shall adjourn, especially as it waxes late.
“The only day lost since I came out, by a blunder (not of our own, but of the constituted authorities) we lost the steamer from Mayence to Mannheim in the morning. The dullness of the passage in the afternoon with a drizzle, and an ugly country is no pleasing subject of recollection. We stayed at Mannheim instead of Heidelberg, our appointed stage.
“To-day we richly effaced yesterday’s disappointment. We came out to Heidelberg, and saw the castle, a magnificent architecture built at different times, on different plans. Architectural critics lay down their rules against all mixtures of styles, but are hardly sanctioned by the taste of mankind. Those who are fond of seeing how rich in resources the human race have now become, will look with pleasure on a building where many ages have sent their representative: those who are more habituated to look on works of art, as produced from the imagination of a single mind, and those who like to figure to themselves their builders as a single generation, into whose feelings they are to enter, and whose habits they are to realise will not be gratified by finding their usual tastes, illusions, and criticisms wholly disturbed. There is a portion in the rich Italian style, and some parts are very old and rude Gothic. In 1764 it was struck by lightning, and some part was blown up by the French. The large masses of ruin in which the latter lie, especially where shaded with underwood, have a noble effect. I bought a print of the ruin in the state it was in, about 1764, at the period of its most perfect completion.
“On Wednesday morning we proceeded to Thun. It was our plan to get on to Lauterbrunnen or Interlacken at the least. But we were so taken with the sight of the lake of Thun, and the Muen, a bold and lofty promontory jutting out into the middle of it, with the glaciers behind it and setting off its sombre colour, that we stayed there, and strolled up to the summer house to see the sunset. I have seen many finer as far as clouds are concerned, but I never before watched the pink tint gradually fading from the ‘Alpine snow’. It by degrees crept up the mountains as the sun descended till just before it descended the summits only partook of it. According to an old national custom in Switzerland still, I believe, preserved in retired valleys, this moment was seized to blow the Alpine horn which was re-echoed from hill to hill, and whenever the sound was heard, the shepherds fell on their knees to render thanks to God for the day’s light, and their preservation. A similar custom of choosing sunset for a public act of adoration is very prevalent in the East. The fire-worshippers are now well known to every reader of poetry, and Mahomet, whose followers were the exterminators of the fire-worshippers, enjoined on them this same usage.
“At Lucerne is to be seen the famous statue by Thorwaldsen erected to the memory of the Swiss guards, who defended the Tuilleries on the day of the tenth of August against the populace of Paris. The Swiss lion in the agonies of death has his paw on a shield that bears the ‘French fleur de lys’. It is hewn out of the solid rock, and reflected in a pond artificially made in front of it. The dimensions are colossal, but it is only on approaching it very nearly that this is seen. The illusion is so perfect that the most natural feeling is wonder that the lion in the death grapple should be so perfectly still. Over the monument is written
Underneath are the names of those who in the words of the inscription did not shrink from their military oath. Seven hundred and fifty-six were killed and 301 saved—of these last one is now alive, and shows the monument. In such a scene the works of art are put to the hard trial as having to be seen immediately after gazing on the most magnificent of the labours of nature. But I felt here nothing like inferiority, the monument is every way worthy to be placed beside the Alps. Of the deed to which it is erected there can be only one opinion—it produced not one single result. The king had taken refuge with the National Assembly, and it was to his weakness that the bloodshed was owing. Yet every one feels a sentiment of admiration for these men, ‘for their faith and valour,’ and the moral feelings of mankind are as usual in the right, and as usual paying homage to what is in the highest degree beneficial. The habit of mind that leads to the courageous execution of what is required by fidelity to engagements, will always be most useful to mankind. I say this to obviate what an objector might induce against the justice of my admiration from my admitting the inutility of the act. He might say how much better for the world and themselves if their lives had been spared by flight. The feelings of mankind are shocked by such reasoning. The intellectual answer is that they themselves had been in the course of their good lives much more benefited by the habits of mind that led to the self-sacrifice, than they suffered by their painful death, and that the world is incalculably more benefited by these habits than by any others.”
After returning to University College, Walter writes to his mother, 25th October, 1844:—
“Have you seen the article in the last Edinburgh Review on Lord Chatham? It is a splendid article, and any person who has read the pages of Macaulay’s former essays can be at no loss to discover the author. There is some curious matter about Burton and Sir William Pynsent—of which it is a wonder that there is no tradition in our neighbourhood.1 There may be to be sure, though I have never heard of it. Pitt’s purity and incorruptibility seem to have made a great impression on the English nation, although he certainly connived at many practices which would now be thought, as Lord Ashburton says, ‘not over scrupulous’. There are some noble passages in the article, to which I have alluded, especially the concluding page; and this remark of the singular fact, that the last debate in which Chatham spoke was the first in which Burke spoke. ‘It was indeed a splendid sunset and a splendid dawn.’2 The Reviewer would have contributed to the ornamental effect, and the instructive tendency of this article if he had quoted some of the many bursts which tradition ascribes to Lord Chatham, and in which his great strength lay. If I remember right he does not even quote Chatham’s celebrated declaration, ‘that it mattered not to him on which bank of the Tweed a man’s cradle had been rocked’. We find some difficulty now in seeing the real grandeur of this saying. It should be remembered, that this was the same year with the publication of the No. 45 of the North Briton, and that Chatham was struggling to overthrow Lord Bute’s ministry, whose unpopularity in the country was principally grounded on his Scottish origin, and then we can see whether it did not require much nobleness of character to reject the support of this illiberal prejudice. Of the authenticity of this saying there is no doubt, for it occurs in a public letter of Lord Chatham’s written at the time. The explanation of Lord Chatham’s views on the question of the right of the House of Commons to tax America (which he altogether denied) throws light on the well-known peroration of his great speech in the House of Lords: ‘My Lords, if America falls she will fall like the strong man, she will lay hold on the pillars of the constitution and pull down the whole fabric along with her’. It is always a pleasing task to quote such sayings of high-minded and highly gifted men.”
Having returned home for the Christmas vacation, Walter writes to his friend Edward Fry:—
“My dear Fry,
“. . . My health is much mended. My Mother’s family has suffered from hereditary consumption, and as my chest was delicate, my friends were alarmed perhaps needlessly. I have never read any of Lord Bacon’s Latin works, but his essays (‘Advancement of Learning’ and the ‘New Atlantis’) are old favourites of mine. To ask in his day, ‘is truth ever barren?’ required a nobleness of soul, which I know not how to characterise. His trust in the progress that would be made by unshackled human reason is not to be measured by ours. He may be thought to have lived in the primary formation of civilisation, to have taken his stand on the barren granite, and predicted the rise of luxuriant vegetation and exalted intelligence. I am getting very metaphorical this morning. The breaking up of the frost has set me think (sic) again. Macintosh says that diffused knowledge immortalises itself, and I believe he says so truly—are you acquainted with Macaulay’s essays? They are very noble works, very eloquent, and I think for the most part wise. His views of English history are very good, and though perhaps a little borrowed from Hallam, are more original than so hackneyed a theme would have seemed to have promised. Perhaps, however, history ought to be continually re-written as each age gets larger views of truth, and more discriminating accuracy in the allotment of praise and blame. No age ought to be content with the views taken by its predecessor of past times, though it ought to be acquainted with them just as much as the boundaries of science are extended by those only who have surveyed the cultivated interior. Write to me as often as you can. I will not insult you by more promises, but I will do my best in future to make my promises more worthy of confidence.”
In the spring of 1845, Walter’s health had again caused great anxiety to his parents. In the following letter from his mother the first indication is given in the family correspondence of what eventually led Walter to leave London and join his father in the Bank and in the “Bridge” business, namely, the strong wish of his mother that he should make their home his home, their interests his.
She writes: “I am glad to remember that I always thought and said, the classes you had chosen were the most difficult and also the most abstracted from these general subjects of capacious, just, good, common and elevated sense, which I could better understand and was the most anxious about, since many a mathematician is certainly a learned booby. I used to say too, dearest, that if you could not bear the necessary hard study now, you could not bear the hard study and work of the Bar hereafter, and I think Mr. Estlin seems to think the same, and gives a hint about business, whither, as you know, my wishes have always somewhat turned, though I would never for the world say so to slacken or contract what I do hope you will have, a thoroughly good education. But turn your attention a little to business when you are at home, try to understand Papa’s cleverness in it, and if very or totally inferior at first, do not be depressed. If he were to die now, which God forbid! I am sure I should at once wish you to understand what business is. I have often told dearest Papa, it was a fault more of his habits than his intentions, that he had not, as a matter of course, made you better acquainted with its practical details and mysteries; but all paths are open to good sense, good feelings, good intentions and industry, and, as deep and abstract study is now thought so bad for you, you must seek to apply the stores already acquired in lighter converse and associates, and in more of the practical details, friendships and usages of daily life, and not be so much the studious, mawkish scholar any longer.”
Again later Mrs. Bagehot writes: “Your health, my beloved, I trust is not worse. I often hope and pray that it will humble you where you ought to be humbled, namely, that as you must not strain your mind after very high and abstruse attainments you will ‘exercise yourself’ clearly to comprehend and express those which are obvious and easy. Your letter was spelt quite rightly. Mr. Reynolds says your faults at present remind him of his at your age, namely, that you are much fonder of finding out and attacking all authorities where they are wrong than you are of humbling yourself to obedience and deference, and learning of them where they are right. This is true, I think, at least I thought it becoming alarmingly true, but when you were at home last you were all sweetness to me, and I thought there was a manifest improvement (excepting in being so silent when the thoughts of your heart and mind should have expressed themselves), and in your letters of late, excepting this one, which does remind me of some of Mr. Reynolds about you. However, as you say, it is much better than none, and clever letters, like clever people, bear being pulled to pieces and found fault with.”
In October, 1845, Walter writes to her: “My Aunt Reynolds was looking very well, and very brisk. She said, however, that she had been ill, but I never saw her looking better. She believes that Newman is most likely bribed to become a Roman Catholic—at all events that he will be no loser in money matters by the change. As the Pope is a bankrupt it seems unlikely he should have much spare cash to send over to bribe English heretics. I never could understand what you told me in your letter about Mrs. J—— thinking it required great grace to be a nun or monk. If it means simply retiring from the world and living a life of contemplation in one place, I do not think there are many things easier and pleasanter. It is completely realising the laissez faire system of grappling with the evils of the world. Every one knows on a small scale how easy that is. That bodily penance is considered by most men easier than the everyday work of duty is quite evident from the history of all religions. Then Catholics would say that to live a life of prayer was difficult. But it is surely not so difficult as to live in the world a life of prayer and labour also. A monk’s life is very captivating to my imagination as you know, but I do not think I could persuade myself into its being right. I do not think Mr. Newman will fill England with monasteries. A monastery beside a railroad would be a curious mixture of the customs of different ages. The extreme of physical inaction and the extreme of bodily exertion would be side by side. Nothing passes here of much moment. I have a good deal to do of various kinds, and shall be obliged to take some work with me to Hampstead this evening.”
Bagehot, following his doctor’s advice, did not go in for his B.A. degree that year. For the first time since he entered the College he did not compete with Mr. Hutton, who was placed in the first class and obtained the scholarship. In a letter to Bagehot at that time he writes:—
“Read the Chimes. I think it the finest thing Dickens has ever written. There are one or two passages quite sublime. Public opinion has formed (I think) a judgment on it totally erroneous. I like it much better than the Carol; perhaps it may have appeared so beautiful by contrast to Phelps’ Optics, not improbable!”
In a letter Bagehot writes in May, 1845, he analyses what he feels to be natural defects in the constitution of his mind. Though nineteen years of age, in writing carelessly his spelling was often erratic, and for such lapses he was criticised by his mother, and even his father, probably incited to notice them by Mrs. Bagehot, mentioned the matter to him.
In May, 1845, Bagehot writes to his father: “I think I mentioned to you in answer to a letter in which some months ago you asked for an account of what I was doing, that in classical matters I had found it necessary to make some selection; and that I had determined to attend less to the niceties of grammatical constructions, which differ but very little from one another, to the different readings found in different manuscripts of the same classical author, and the researches of etymology, than to the historical instruction, literary beauty and speculative philosophy which after all are the real sources of the value of the records of antiquity. I do not in the least undervalue that precise acquaintance with every detail and every nicety in the classical writings which forms the pursuit of profound scholars. It is absolutely necessary that some persons should become well acquainted with them, and thoroughly investigate and discuss their difficulties. But my taste does not lead me in that direction, nor is my mind fitted especially well for such pursuits. Yesterday I took a holiday and went with the Prichards and Mary Estlin to Hampton Court. There are many excellent pictures at Hampton Court beside the cartoons. The great strength of the collection is in the portraits. The originals of Kneller’s portraits of Newton and Locke are there. I never saw any engraving that gave at all adequately the fixed, penetrating expression of Newton’s eye. I had not very long to look at it, but the eye seemed to me almost poetic and even a little wild. Newton was certainly under some sort of mental aberration for a short time in one part of his life, and all his great discoveries were made before that period.”
Some discussion about Disraeli took place in the letters between Mrs. Bagehot and Walter about this time. Mrs. Bagehot did not understand Walter’s arguments, and took the opportunity of sermonising him in her own characteristic manner:—
“My dear Blessing,
“Your letter of this morning so anxiously expected (on my part I confess fearfully, so I was a little prepared) failed to impart the sunshine some of them bestow, either with regard to your body or mind; but may God chasten and renovate us all through His spirit and send us a happy meeting on Thursday. I cannot argue further on the points as you are your own authority, and are in dear Eliza’s opinion and mine, one of the difficult writers whom we must first understand before we know whether we agree or not, and we quite fail to do this first in the letter of to-day. But, in the meanwhile, till Bagehot’s grammar and dictionary supersede the old ones, we must spell and divide not according to sound, but the common usage of the schools.
“I tremble now for the mathematics, since, as I told Babbage, trying the sense of the obscure and difficult which I did not know, by the sense and reasoning which I did, I was afraid. But this will not improve your headache, darling, for you are never well, nor I either, when you and I have had ‘any bit out break’. Let it not disturb the joy of our meeting for there is nothing like ‘speaking the truth from the heart’ even where people differ, and between parents and children these are the only discussions which really make correspondence interesting and valuable for time and eternity.
“Since I came from church I have been telling your dear Uncle that dear Papa, though he thinks you are wrong, scolds me for saying you are so, and said I abused everybody, and Uncle said ‘so you do, you are the “Senior Wrangler” of the family’. Well! I dare not say ‘peace, peace when there is no peace,’ but sincerely do I pray that all mankind should follow the example of the great humility of our Saviour.”
The most notable event which occurred in Walter Bagehot’s family in 1845 was the death of his “Uncle Stuckey”. Mr. Vincent Stuckey was not only the centre of the business and social life of Langport and its neighbourhood, he was also the lord bountiful to the poor and needy of the town and country round, and his generous hospitable instincts made him beloved by all, rich and poor alike. Moreover, he had been in touch all his life with that far-away big world in London. This cast a glamour over his existence in the eyes of those folk in little Langport who had never seen London and knew they never would. Mr. Vincent Stuckey was the link between them and this great distant metropolis, and, as Mr. Ross recounts, “women and children crowded expectant to their doors and the entrances of the courts to watch the banker Stuckey on his return from London drive in with his carriage and postillions. . . . Mr. Stuckey kept a pack of hounds in Whatley, and dwelt in patriarchal style among his people, hospitable, freehanded and popular. He might be seen at times seated under the great elm on the Hill fronting the west door of the church and chatting with his neighbours.” After passing the season in London he would bring down distinguished visitors to Hill House, well-known personages in the great London world. All these grand proceedings put no distance between him and his countrymen. He was none the less genial with his poorer neighbours, entering into their interests as keenly as if he had never himself known a wider sphere than that which he shared with them. His death therefore was the great event of the year to many people outside the circle of his relatives—and to many of his relatives it meant a momentous change in their lives. There appears to have been a competition among these as to who would write the epitaph for the tablet to be placed in Langport Church. A roll of attempts exist signed by various members of the family, in which are set forth his worldly distinctions no less than his virtues. As might be supposed, Mrs. Bagehot’s fluent pen supplied one of these. The actual epitaph chosen is not among them, and expresses admiration for his religious feelings, his character and virtues, rather than for his worldly successes. Though all mourned the loss of this notable person, his influence survived him. His cheery humour, his wholesome vigour, his encouraging sympathy produced a lastingly bracing effect on all who had known him. In some characteristics there was a striking resemblance between Walter Bagehot and his uncle. There was the same tendency in both to take a large wholesome view of every question, to dislike hair-splitting, and rather to prefer the broad aspect than the minutiæ of a subject.
Mrs. Bagehot felt her brother’s loss greatly. Walter writes to her: “Please to remember me very kindly to all on the hill. I have no doubt that now you and my father are left alone, you will feel very much the real greatness of the loss you have sustained. But I think you will soon feel, as those to whom the hourly vacancy is less, already feel, that it is hardly possible long to think of my dear uncle with anything like gloom. All our associations with him were also associations with cheerfulness, happiness, and gratitude, and it is only the natural sadness of recent loss which can render such remembrances melancholy. Gloom cannot long linger round the memory of one whose presence always dispelled it.” Mr. Stuckey frequently helped Mr. Bagehot very effectually in his home trouble by taking his sister on travels with him and his family, and by inviting her to pay visits to them in London. These changes were invariably found to be beneficial.
At the age of twenty Bagehot was considered an authority in criticism by his friends. In the spring of 1846 Edward Fry sent him poetry written by his brother, asking Bagehot his opinion as to its merits. “Your brother’s poetry is very graceful and pleasing,” Bagehot writes, “and what is more uncommon quite genuine and unaffected. From my former knowledge of him I should have thought quiet, good-natured satire the species of composition for which nature had intended him. I do not know whether either he or you, however, think satire right. To me its best forms seem no unfitting expression of reverential thoughtfulness. I do not think your brother will take it amiss if I venture to recommend condensation to him in any thing which he may write hereafter. I do not mean that there is anything in this piece which I want shortened or omitted, but diffuseness seems to me to be the besetting sin of our recent literature. In poetry it is worse than in prose, for when the intellect is addressed, it is no harm to follow out principles and reasonings into their most minute applications. But in poetry, and indeed in eloquence where the feelings of the poet are expressed, and the feelings of the orator’s hearers are addressed, to give numerous details and to repeat the same details more than once seems like a botanist who, in delineating the beauty of flowers, should recount the number of stamens they possess. Some details are essential in poetry, because no affections cling to general ideas, and to pale unhealthy looking abstractions, but the poet’s genius and taste are shown in their combination and selection, not as some poets seem to imagine in their accumulation. I hardly know any recent poetry not chargeable with too great prolixity except perhaps the lyric parts of Campbell, and the very best parts of Shelley and Byron. The last (Don Juan excepted) is not very chargeable with this fault perhaps. What a command of language and illustration is shown in ‘Childe Harold’! What a pity that he had nothing better to say than what an uncomfortable place this world is! After all he might have written a great work if he had lived till now. He was just setting himself to work, and the true cure of despondency and moral scepticism is action—that is right action. Do you know Hood’s poems? Of very recent poetry I think they are perhaps the best. They show quickness and delicacy of feeling, and a very happy fancy capable of very good ornamental work. The great depths of the human heart are only for those of a great creative imagination, and where among living poets shall we find that greatest of God’s gifts. However, Hood was a man who took his knowledge of mankind not from tradition but from his eyes.
“I shall have to read some physiology for my degree, but I am as ignorant of natural history as I used to be. If I have any leisure time after taking my degree, I hope to remedy this gross defect in some measure at least. I have been most occupied for the last year in ‘science’ and metaphysics. I do not know whether the latter science has engaged your attention much. In these days of universal controversy we are constantly required to know the ultimate principles of belief on which the whole superstructure of knowledge rests, and also to be able to detect any false claimants to the title of self-evident truths which cannot be proved from others and carry their own certainty with them. These truths having their root in the structure of the mind itself can only be known by a metaphysical enquiry. I have been reading some of Kant, the founder of the modern school of metaphysics in Germany and France. He appears to me to have been a man of preter-natural acuteness, no little confidence in himself, to have been very fond of the complexities of an artificial system, and to have been defective in the power of diffusing simplicity over a subject by the constant application of master truths. However he has greatly advanced the study of mental philosophy and to anyone who wishes to cultivate the power to acute discrimination his works may be recommended as constantly requiring the exercise of that faculty. It is a great pity that he had so little power of explaining his meaning. His vast and barbarous terminology is enough to terrify any Englishman, but one who like myself is a fanatical devotee in the service of metaphysics.”
In the same month Bagehot wrote a letter on certain points of political economy to his father.
“I have just caught sight of a passage in Mr. Disraeli’s speech in the House of Commons last night where he seemed to be referring to John Mill’s Essay on the laws that regulate interchange between nations in favour of reciprocity, meaning to apply that principle to all duties whatever. I cannot believe however that even Mr. Disraeli would make such a flagrant misquotation. The fact is that John Mill very carefully draws the distinction between duties for revenue and duties for protection, and only applies the principle of reciprocity to the former. But Mr. Disraeli seemed to be arguing from the authority of John Mill that Lord G. Bentinck and himself should not be treated with such contempt. The essay begins with an allusion in the highest terms of eulogy to Mr. Ricardo’s chapter on foreign trade, of the principles of which the essay by John Mill only professes to be a development. Ricardo’s chapter John Mill thinks, is the foundation of everything which is known with scientific accuracy on the subject. Of John Mill’s opinions there can be no doubt as he has been writing articles against the Corn Laws for many years in the Westminster Review. I yesterday accidentally met with an article by him written at the time of the passing of the Tithe Commutation Act, which he says ‘takes the tithe off the consumer and lays it on the landlord. Tithe will no longer operate as any discouragement to cultivation. It will no longer be one of the expenses of production which the price must be sufficient to repay; but a fixed proportion of the rent, that is of the surplus after the expenses are paid. It will be liable indeed to increase, but only as the rent increases, and can never under any circumstances be anything but a deduction from the rent.’ As this opinion so exactly coincides with that to which you came when you were considering the subject when the Corn Law Bill was first introduced, I thought you would be interested in seeing it. Mr. John Mill thinks that the reason of so ‘unlandlordlike a proceeding was a wish to keep up the Corn Laws’; and if I understand him rightly maintains that the increased advantage, which the removal of the Tithe unaccompanied by an alteration of the Corn Law, would give to the home producer over the foreigner, would cause an increased cultivation of poorer soils, and therefore a rise of rent. So that the landlord would be indirectly counterbalanced for the burden of the tithe which he was taking upon him so long as the Corn Laws were maintained. Mr. Mill therefore though approving of the provisions of Tithe Commutation regretted that from not being accompanied with a corresponding reduction of the duties on foreign corn, it operated as an increase of ‘protection to domestic industry’ and therefore to a comparatively unprofitable employment of English capital. Apropos of all this political Economy would you be so kind as to send me the reference to Mr. McCullock’s article or articles in the Edinburgh Review on ‘Absenteeism’. I have engaged to make a speech to prove that the expenditure of the income of absentees in a foreign country does not diminish the wealth of the country from which they emigrate. Brady who is an Irishman is to take the opposite side. From Ricardo’s chapter on Foreign Trade, and an essay by John Mill on the ‘Influence of Consumption on Production,’ I have a clear notion of the general argument, or I should not have undertaken to bring forward the subject. But there are some parts of the questions that seem intricate, and that will require some thought to be able to put clearly in a speech. It will be very good practice, however, and I mean to take pains about it.”
Substance of a Speech on the question, “Does the Expenditure of the Income of Absentees in a Foreign Country diminish the Wealth of the Country from which they emigrate?”
“I have troubled you, sir, to read the question a second time in order that it may be well understood by all present, that the question under discussion is a purely economical question. We have nothing to do with the moral effects of the emigration of absentees which indeed we could hardly discuss without knowing something definite of their moral character. We are only concerned with the effect of their expenditure on the National Wealth. I certainly admit that the assertion ‘that the removal of absentees from one country to another does not by withdrawing the expenditure of their income, cause a loss to the country from which they emigrate,’ is generally considered to be a paradox. Indeed I unconditionally concede that if as is the common case the absentee be a rich proprietor in the country, it will generally be found that the neighbouring village or town at which he has been used to purchase articles, will in general suffer and dwindle away in his absence. Yet if this opinion were admitted to be a paradox, the opposite opinion lies under a similar reproach. For that opinion derives a clear increase of national wealth from ‘the expenditure of income’. Political Economists and people of common sense have been accustomed to look to labour and saving as the sources of accumulation. To the sentimental idolence that loves to bewail the perpetual hardships of human toil it will be consolatory to find that they have been mistaken. It is delightful to learn that consumption and expenditure are sources of wealth not perhaps of equal but certainly of rival importance, assuredly in spite of the popular opinion it would seem, that the true paradox, if paradox there be, is in the opinions of those who expect an augmentation of wealth, not from production but from expenditure, not from labour but from consumption. In the outset of the discussion I call attention to the fact that we are only concerned with that portion of the income of absentees which is expended, and that we have no concern with the portion of it which may be saved. I beg gentlemen to keep close to the real subject as defined by the terms of the question. If the savings of an absentee are added to the capital of a foreign country they increase its wealth, and then the native country of the absentee suffers by not having these savings added to her wealth. But this is quite distinct from any assertion as to the expenditure of the income of absentees.
“For some purposes it will be convenient to speak of the country to which absentees emigrate, and I apprehend it will be conceded that if they do no good to the country to which they emigrate, they will do no harm to the country from which they emigrate. Suppose then a certain number of absentees emigrate from Ireland to France, would the expenditure of their income be advantageous to France? or would it be injurious to Ireland that it should no longer be the seat of their expenditure? If the absentee had all the articles which he required exported from Ireland, would his consuming them in France and not in Ireland be any way injurious to Ireland? Is Ireland injured by an Irishman’s eating Irish beef and Irish potatoes on board a Cork steamer? Surely if she is not, no one will maintain that there is any harm done to Ireland, if the absentee take those same articles on shore in France and eat them there. I go on to prove that what really happens is scarcely more than this; with only the additional complexity necessarily arising when a great number of commodities cease to be distributed in one way by being distributed in another, and when this change makes a corresponding change in the departments of industry necessary to produce them. There are some people, I believe, who think that the fact of the absentee’s not using the Irish commodities, but French commodities which he had received in exchange for his own Irish commodities, gives an advantage to France. But let the French commodities and the Irish be laid in two parcels. We know them to be of equal value for they were received one in exchange for the other. It is admitted that the absentee’s using the Irish commodities is no injury to Ireland, and no advantage to France. If then he consumes instead an equivalent amount of French commodities, is there not the same amount of wealth in France and the same in Ireland? Those then who concede that an Irish absentee’s eating and consuming in France the goods he had been used to consume in Ireland would not be hurtful, cannot without obvious absurdity maintain that his exchange, those Irish goods for French goods, and consuming the last is hurtful to Ireland, or advantageous to France. The fact of the Irish goods being given in exchange for French goods makes then no difference and we can conclude that in a state of barter there would be injury done to Ireland.
“I do not know to what extent my honourable friend intends to complicate this subject by introducing into the discussion disquisition on money and bills of exchange. I believe that here as elsewhere bills of exchange are mere means of facilitating interchange, that they are mere inventions for the convenience of traders and travellers, and introduce no new elements into this question. As to money, it is obvious that the incomes of any numerous body of absentees could not either safely or conveniently be transmitted in the precious metals. But as there must be something exported from Ireland, or Irish absentees could not derive the means of subsistence from their Irish estates, it is clear that what they require will be exported from Ireland in those commodities which it is at the particular time most advantageous to export. There is indeed another process differing in its details, but coincident with this that I have been describing in its effects. The French exports, to come back to our former instance, may be diminished, and the amount of Irish exports being undiminished, we shall have as before an increase of commodities in France, and diminution of commodities in Ireland exactly corresponding to the amount of articles which the absentees require for the purpose of consumption. This remains exactly as it was, before the consideration of money was introduced into the subject. In case my honourable friend should throw dust in your eyes with bills of exchange I will read a clear statement taken from a writer on the subject of what I believe to be the real facts of the transaction between absentees and the persons with whom their emigration brings them into contact. The writer is supposing that an English landowner emigrates to the Netherlands, and observes: ‘The operation of a bill of exchange in connection with the absentee landlord would be this; he probably requires many articles of English produce from habit, but whether or no, there must be an export of English goods to the amount of foreign goods he consumes, otherwise his remittances could not be made to him. This bill represents his share of the corn and cattle upon his farm, but the merchant at Antwerp who does not want corn and cattle transmits it to London in payment for the cotton and hardware which he does want, or there may be another process. The agent in England of the absentee landlord may procure a bill on the merchant at Antwerp recognising in that bill the representation of a debt he has incurred in England, and hands over the proceeds to the bearer of the bill. In either case the bill represents the value of English commodities exported to foreigners.’ I beg that it may be distinctly understood that these complex matters are not introduced into the debate as essential to my argument. I should like nothing better than that there should be an agreement entered into by all speakers not to name money or bills of exchange in this connection. I want nothing more than the conclusion that money and bills of exchange only shorten and facilitate transactions which would go on without them in a state of barter. I merely want you to keep the fact before your eyes that (in our former instance) an amount of Irish commodities is exported to France exactly equivalent to the French commodities which the absentees consume; and that as what is consumed by the absentees is exactly equivalent in consequence of their emigration, no advantage accrues to France; and that as what is exported from Ireland is exactly equivalent to what they would have consumed if they had remained in Ireland, their emigration causes no diminution in Irish wealth.”
After returning to London from Herd’s Hill in August, Bagehot began working for his degree and describes to his father the course of his studies.
“I am principally engaged on Pure Mathematics at present, and am going over carefully all the necessary ground—I am going rather slowly perhaps, but I do not wish to leave any enemies in my rear. It is best, of course, to take the Pure Mathematics before the applied, since unless you know a science well applications will certainly be obscure. After I have finished the Pure Mathematics, I shall read the classical books thoroughly, and then go to the Natural Philosophy, that is to say to the applied Mathematics. Of course I shall also read the Physiology, Logic, etc., but the main contention and difficulty is in the other, and therefore I thought you would like to know the order in which I had taken the subjects. I took the classics in the middle for the sake of the variety which will be refreshing. I have been reading some of the Theory of Numbers, which De Morgan says is the best exercise for the head possible, and certainly is a hard stretch for my reading powers and memory.”
On 15th August, 1846, Bagehot writes to his father:—
“. . . Yesterday I went out to wish Hutton good-bye, and he asked me to walk with him into the city, and as I shall not see him for a year at least, I thought you would not object to his infringing on your time. I shall miss him a great deal. Apropos of the law, I have just been reading in Foster’s life two letters very strongly disapproving of the profession. He seems to have had a dislike of ‘lawyers’ generally, and to have thought their standard of morality and their practice decidedly inferior to those of the rest of the community. He does not allege any proof of this however, nor does he say what branch of the profession he means by ‘lawyers,’ which may mean attorneys or barristers or both. I believe there is an impression of the sort among many well-intentioned persons, and from conversations which I have had with Dr. Hoppus at various times, I should think that a dislike of law and lawyers was rather general among the independent dissenters. This seems too to be an old notion, as Cromwell, who in general spoke the opinions of religious and scrupulous dissenters in his day, used to say that English Law was ‘an ungodly jungle full of snares for the feet’. Do you think there is any ground for saying that the average morality of barristers is lower than that of the rest of the community? If it were so there would arise a presumption that there was something not right in their occupations and perhaps in the practice of advocacy which (though Foster does not mention it) is certainly the most disputable part of their calling. But surely public men who come from all ranks and all occupations are a fair test of the morality and honour of the different classes to which they belong, and it would be very difficult to prove that during the last fifty years distinguished lawyers had been found more wanting in probity and public spirit than other eminent public men. Indeed until very recent times Sir S. Romilly and Francis Horner, who were both lawyers, are the very strongest instances of a reputation depending very much on moral worth. Nor do Lord Eldon and Lord Stowell, to take men very inferior morally to Romilly and Horner, at all, I imagine, fall short of the average probity of the statesmen of their time. If Brougham’s youth be allowed to compensate for the aberrations of his old age, Lord Lyndhurst is the only instance that occurs to me of a lawyer in recent times gaining very high eminence, and being notoriously destitute of character. It is probable that lawyers are opposed to alterations in law which unprofessional philanthropists think so obviously advisable, that they impute unfairly moral obtuseness to all their opponents. But this seems like the mercantile men who came to Mr. Huskisson and asked for free trade in every part of commerce but that in which they were concerned. No one who has fitted his mind to one system likes to take it out again, and shape it to a new one; nor can a disinclination to see the possibility of this change being for the better, be justly imputable to any one as a moral fault. The more I think of it, the more I incline to think the principle of advocacy quite defensible, though of the details I can of course know nothing. Indeed I am staggered more by the difficulties seen in it by Arnold and persons partaking of his deeply conscientious character, than by anything which I can see myself in the practice.
“I cannot close this without telling you that my letters from my mother have been very comfortable ones, although I see the want in them which you point out. One cannot wonder that her mind should be jaded by what she has gone through. It brings before one very strongly the loss of my Uncle Stuckey who would so easily have given her mind some of the freshness and elasticity which it wants now. Yet how much better is it than we expected six weeks ago.”
He writes to his mother: “I have got a long essay to write about ‘Causation,’ and the metaphysical theories about it, of which there are not a few. The subject is very mysterious, though most writers say their view of it is complete and exceedingly simple. I am reading a long discussion of the subject by Dr. Brown who thought that he had explained the whole subject, but I am afraid he left the matter exactly where he found it, in the most material points. The main difficulty is in analysing the ideas of cause, power, agency, efficiency and efficacy, etc., and in applying them correctly after the analysis to the external world, and to the mind. There is no reason, however, for turning this letter into a metaphysical essay.
“. . . It will be a great thing for good thorough Whigs if we get rid of the Irish Church, and if, as you say, Lord Ashley says Sir R. Peel is prepared to destroy it. I wish I could believe that Lord John Russell was ready to pull it down, but he did not used to be; and I think he would prefer endowing the Catholics as well as the Protestants. Lord Grey would go to work in a more complete manner perhaps, and perhaps the cabinet would find it pretty nearly as hard to agree about the matter, as you do at Herd’s Hill. Nevertheless as Arnold used to say energetically something must be done. What the dominance of Protestantism has brought Ireland to, we see; and one sees small wisdom in keeping the spiritual instruction of the Irish people in the hands of those under whom the lower classes have grown up to their present frightful condition. When things are at the worst, some change seems likely to be for the better.”
Later he writes:—
“My dearest Mother,
“You would do the state a great service if you could point any way in which the state could teach religion to all its subjects, when those subjects held different creeds, and believed many of them that the creeds of others would doom them to misery for ever. The religion taught in a national system of education ought in my view to be a national religion. But in England we have no national religion. One part of the nation believes one thing, and another believes that the creed of the first is fatal to their salvation. Why the very rulers who are to select the religion have every sort of diversity of opinion, and are we to postpone all education till they agree? What you say about religion being ‘the one thing needful’ is true in one very important sense; but religion is not the only thing needful to make people intelligent and instructed. That reading and writing are quite necessary to give any degree of intellectual activity in this age, I cannot suppose that you doubt, though your expressions about religion being the only thing required would certainly seem to imply it. Really one does hope with Carlyle that after ‘a thousand years of ineffectual consideration, England really will find courage and capacity to teach all Englishmen the alphabet. It is (he continues, I quote from memory) the belief of the present writer that such a task does not require superhuman powers.’ It may be very true that in planning a Utopian community, one would give to the Government supposed to be religious and agreed in opinion the task of providing a religious education; but here in England what are we to do? One thing at least experience and fact seem to show that unless the people are instructed, they will not be religious. Are they religious now? Can teaching the alphabet make them worse?”
As the examinations for his degree drew near the usual despondency is expressed. “I have never been without fears and I am now entirely without hopes,” Bagehot writes to his father, “though as the time draws near my fears increase faster than my hopes.”
Mr. Hutton writes: “Do get the scholarship. I know you can if you try.”
The day before the examinations Bagehot suffered so much from giddiness, headache, and pain in his side that Dr. Hoppus advised his not going to Somerset House. However he did.
“The examiners,” he writes to his father, “have been very kind, and seemed very sorry for my illness yesterday. Mr. Jerrard said that in my papers on Tuesday I showed myself very well prepared, and as this is all the good I am likely to get from this examination, I had better make the most of the compliment. I am convinced that the papers I sent up yesterday were so bad, that no honours can be awarded to me.”
“. . . There is no use in writing my own opinions and conjectures on the matter however, as the event will soon show us certainly how the matter really lies. I never met with anyone who was a good judge of how he had done at an examination, and of course no one can know how those who are competing with him have done. Mr. Grote is going to preside at the distribution this year in compliment, I suppose, to the history of Greece which he has recently published. Is it not singular that a Benthamite politician should publish two bulky volumes on the poetical legends of ancient Greece? I have heard that it is rather imaginative in some parts which no one would have guessed from the author’s speeches on the ‘Ballot’. I hope to be able to get out of town either to-morrow or Saturday week. I have some work to finish for Mr. De Morgan which will detain me till that time. It is no compliment to say that I want to come home exceedingly; for I am so tired of London that I should be glad to be out of it on any terms. My dislike of London came on quite suddenly, as it always does, two or three days ago. I know from experience that it will not go off till I have had a run in the country for a short time. I shall, as you know, soon have to come back to bricks and smoke, but this must be endured. I think the people who come up to London ‘for the season’ must be insane; or they must have different tastes from mine. I will now collect all the necessary information about the Inns of Court. I suppose you are watching the slow, but sure progress of the Corn Bill through the House of Lords with considerable interest. I have not read any of Ld. Ashburton’s speeches in favour of his ‘amendments’. Does he still adhere to the doctrine that wages rise and fall with the price of corn? In 1815 it is remarkable that this was the universal opinion. One man did say something that indicated a doubt about it. But Horner put him down by saying he hoped the house ‘would hear no more of such heresies’. Ld. Ashburton, who does not seem to get wiser as he gets older, may have in this instance kept to the creed of his youth; though he is now doing all in his power to destroy the credit he gained by opposing the passing of the Corn Law thirty years ago.”
Notwithstanding his confidence in having failed Bagehot passed in the first class and obtained the scholarship.
[Page 101, line 9,]for Unitarian read Dissenter.
[Page 128, line 7,]for for read by.
[Page 144, date of letter,]for 1884 read 1844.
[1 ] See Chapter “Tributes from Contemporaries”.
[1 ] Mr. Roscoe was also a first cousin to the Right Hon. Sir Henry E. Roscoe whose eightieth birthday was notably commemorated on 7th January, 1913.
[1 ] Mr. Osler married a Miss Roscoe, a sister of Mr. Hutton’s second wife and a cousin of his first wife.
[1 ] See chapter 16.
[1 ] About this time took place one of the most singular events in Pitt’s life. There was a certain Sir William Pynsent, a Somersetshire baronet, of Whig politics, who had been a member of the House of Commons in the days of Queen Anne, and had retired to rural privacy when the Tory party, towards the end of her reign, obtained the ascendency in her councils. His manners were eccentric. His morals lay under odious imputations, but his fidelity to his political opinions was unalterable. During fifty years of seclusion he continued to brood over the circumstances which had driven him from public life, the dismissal of the Whigs, the peace of Utrecht, the desertion of our allies. He now thought that he perceived a close analogy between the well-remembered events of his youth and the events which he had witnessed in extreme old age; between the disgrace of Marlborough and the disgrace of Pitt; between the elevation of Harley and the elevation of Bute; between the treaty negotiated by St. John and the treaty negotiated by Bedford; between the wrongs of the House of Austria in 1712 and the wrongs of the House of Brandenburg in 1762. This fancy took such possession of the old man’s mind that he determined to leave his whole property to Pitt. In this way Pitt unexpectedly came into possession of near three thousand pounds a year. Nor could all the malice of his enemies find any ground for reproach in the transaction. Nobody could call him a legacy hunter. Nobody could accuse him of seizing that to which others had a better claim. For he had never in his life seen Sir William; and Sir William had left no relation so near as to be entitled to form any expectations respecting the estate.”—Macaulay, “The Earl of Chatham”.
[2 ] “The House of Commons heard Pitt for the last time, and Burke for the first time, and was in doubt to which of them the palm of eloquence should be assigned. It was indeed a splendid sunset and a splendid dawn.”—Macaulay, “The Earl of Chatham”.