Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII.: AUTHOR AND BANKER. - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 10 (The Life)
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CHAPTER VIII.: AUTHOR AND BANKER. - 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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AUTHOR AND BANKER.
Bagehot ate his dinners, was called to the Bar, promptly abandoned law as a profession, and settled at Herd’s Hill to learn business with his father. As he writes to his father, his mother had “long been inclining to my giving up the law”. When writing to him, she had urged health as a reason; but, reading between the lines, he knew that she longed for his presence at home. Also he was becoming more and more conscious of the fertile crop of ideas germinating in his brain, and of the impulse he felt, ever growing stronger, to express them in writing. He had acquired a footing on the ladder of authorship with the articles on Currency and on John Stuart Mill, published in the Prospective Review; he had sprung boldly ahead in the letters on the Coup d’État, escaping once and for all from what was expected of him in Unitarian circles, and he was more than ever aware on returning to London from Paris, that the practice of law was incompatible with literature, though he never for a moment thought of making literature his avowed profession.
He was still much interested in University College and the University Hall, and the influence of college life on the future career of students. This inspired him to write an article on Oxford which was published in 1852 in the August number of the Prospective Review.1 He had great doubts as to the merit of this article.
After the article appeared he wrote:—
“I think that my article on Oxford has got off extremely well. I should very much like to write for you an article on Hartley Coleridge, a review of the edition of his Biographia Borealis recently brought out. I am rather strong on him myself, as I was an admirer before his death and renovation. I am rather afraid his ‘poems’ were reviewed in the Prospective not very long ago, and I don’t know whether you would think it desirable to have any second article on him or them so soon, but if you could strain a point for us, I should like to write it very much indeed. It would not be a long article—about thirty pages. I should make it an estimate of him as a whole—though including of course a criticism on his poetry—and elucidating him by his father.”
Though doubt might exist in Bagehot’s own mind and in Mr. Hutton’s as to the merit of the essay on Oxford, there could be none as to that on Hartley Coleridge. If a selection were made to prove the truth of Mr. Augustine Birrell’s assertion that Bagehot was a writer who could be known by his writings, this estimate of Hartley Coleridge would surely take a foremost place. Mr. Hutton writes in the memoir: “In the essay on ‘Hartley Coleridge’—perhaps the most perfect in style of any of his writings—he describes most powerfully, and evidently in great measure from his own experience, the mysterious confusion between appearances and realities which so bewildered little Hartley”. He wrote this essay quickly while engrossed in the charm of his subject and insisted on it being published at once. It appeared in the October number of the Prospective Review. It proves that the space of life which Keats believes to exist between the healthy imagination of the boy and the mature and healthy imagination of the man had now been traversed, and that Bagehot’s matured individuality as an author had asserted itself. He had not only found himself but knew that he had found himself. In describing the kind of poetry which he names as the self-delineative, he writes: “The first requisite of this poetry is truth. It is, in Plato’s phrase, the soul ‘itself by itself’ aspiring to view and take account of the particular notes and marks that distinguish it from all other souls. The sense of reality is necessary to excellence; the poet being himself, speaks like one who has authority; he knows and must not deceive.” Walter Bagehot in those lines has stated his creed—a creed which dominated all his beliefs, guided his perception, and controlled his action. The soul “itself by itself” must allow of no delusions, no prejudices, no fond fancies which thwart the true direct line of sight. He saw the necessity of this all the more distinctly in his own case, because he perceived the force of his imagination. Walter Bagehot is not only great as an essayist—he may truly be said to stand alone. Though he deals with grave problems and high conceptions, yet the way these are treated by him is so natural and easy, that, however wise, his writing is never ponderous. We are stimulated rather than overweighted by their serious worth. Moreover, he plays with his acquired and wide knowledge with the same vitality with which he plays with his own original ideas—with the same humour, the same buoyancy of spirit.
“Hartley Coleridge,” he writes, “was not like the Duke of Wellington. Children are urged by the example of the great statesman and warrior just departed—not indeed to neglect ‘their book’ as he did—but to be industrious and thrifty; ‘always to perform business,’ to ‘beware of procrastination,’ ‘never to fail to do their best’: good ideas, as may be ascertained by referring to the masterly despatches on the Mahratta transactions. ‘Great events,’ as the preacher continues, ‘which exemplify the efficacy of diligence even in regions where the very advent of our religion is as yet but partially made known.’ But
And it were almost a worse wilderness if there were not some to relieve the dull monotony of activity, who are children through life, who act on wayward impulse, and whose will has never come, who toil not and who spin not, who always have ‘fair Eden’s simpleness’: and of such was Hartley Coleridge. ‘Don’t you remember,’ writes Gray to Horace Walpole, ‘when Lord B. and Sir H. C. and Viscount D., who are now great statesmen, were little dirty boys playing at cricket? For my part I do not feel one bit older or wiser now than I did then.’ For as some apply their minds to what is next them, and labour ever and attain to governing the Tower, and entering the Trinity House,—to commanding armies, and applauding pilots,—so there are also some who are ever anxious to-day about what ought only to be considered to-morrow; who never get on; whom the earth neglects, and whom tradesmen little esteem; who are where they were; who cause grief and are loved; that are at once a by-word and a blessing; who do not live in life, and it seems will not die in death: and of such was Hartley Coleridge.”
Once expressed, such ideas as these are obvious, yet how out of the way! What mind disciplined in the creed of getting on in life would say that there was ever dull monotony in activity, and yet how obvious it is that nearly every active business entails dull monotony. Walter Bagehot’s energies were never entirely engrossed by the stream of active currents. Some, and those among the choicest, were kept for retiring into the calm, back water in which the finer spirit could bathe itself, where life was reflected half as a dream—only. Here, however, he could not abide for long. The home tragedy was ever there to thrust him out into practical activity, the “dull drudgery” that, once chosen as his work in life, meant duty and filled the hours with something to be done. At the Bank or at The Bridge no speculations on the mysteries and puzzles of life could invade and take possession, no leaps or flights of imagination could interfere with business. But in his study at Herd’s Hill, overlooking green lawns and widespread vaporous moorlands, away to distant blue ranges of hills, very different conditions of being were created. The bigger meaning of things would then creep out sideways from the main theme of his articles, and he felt inspired to play with his subject,—play various tunes of his very own.
There is a distinct characteristic in Walter Bagehot’s writings which is very obvious in the “Hartley Coleridge”. To those who knew him intimately his writing is what he has called certain kinds of poetry, self-delineative. No writing could be less self-conscious, none more self-delineative. With intuitive spring of mind and imagination he was seized by ideas inspired by incidents in his own life and in the lives of those about them, and these ideas and imaginings found words in his writings. In this way it is a part of himself he was depicting, for it was on his individual temperament that the ideas had been reflected,—ideas which arose from his own circumstances, his own character, feelings, and imagination, and it is his own genius which develops them in the form they take in literature. Those circumstances which surrounded Walter Bagehot all his life were such as to give him exceptional experiences, but experiences which could not be obviously described or ostensibly dwelt on. But they coloured the spirit of his thoughts and feelings. He proudly resented the tyranny of those who blame or scorn their fellows because they suffer from the effects of God-given calamities. He had the strongest sympathy for those who were overweighted by their destiny. The weaknesses and temptations of such an one as Hartley Coleridge appealed to his sympathies as far more pathetic than contemptible. He was ever conscious that God ordained the conditions of those who must fail according to man’s standard, no less than the conditions of those who are bound to triumph in the world’s fight. He himself possessed the moral and mental strength to triumph, but that made him all the more tender towards those who had it not. The apparent cynicism noticeable in some of his writings is, I think, when traced to ground, but the offshoot of a scorn which he felt for the brutal bluntness such as the prosperous often show towards the failures in life. The pomposities of the Modern Pharisee he derided, though always with that genial kind of humour which never could create “bad blood”. Lenient and kind by nature he resented the idea that any liability to temptation and failure put a man or woman out of court altogether. His sense of fairness went down deeply into the core of a question, and he weighed what could and could not be helped with a fine perspicuity.
Such was the spirit in which Walter Bagehot went through life, bearing not only his own troubles but those of others.
A curious contrast suggests itself when we think of Walter Bagehot writing the “Hartley Coleridge” in his study at Herd’s Hill, and the same Walter Bagehot on the same days learning business from his father in the counting-houses of Stuckey’s Bank and of The Bridge.
“We all, whether we write or speak, must somewhat drape ourselves when we address our fellows,” writes R. L. Stevenson. Walter Bagehot was no exception to the rule. His parents read his writings, but the life that he and his father led together while he was being initiated into business gave little scope for real intimacy in the things which exercised Walter’s vivid, speculative imagination. By Mr. Bagehot business had ever been treated as a solemn duty, a duty that had become almost an idol to him, so constantly did he follow the dictates of his conscience, a conscience illuminated by vivid spiritual fervour. But he felt no pleasurable excitement in making money, no relish given to life through achieving successful business transactions: only the calm satisfaction of having secured to his family a sufficient income wherewith to enjoy the best things in life. Viewing business as a stern duty he endeavoured to train Walter to look at the transacting of it with a certain amount of solemnity. But this Walter could not do. The processes arranged to suit the majority of business minds bored him. He arrived at conclusions through his direct independent judgment, and resented unnecessary trammels with which custom is wont to encircle the modes of transacting business. Punctilious formalities which were considered essential seemed a waste of time, and teased him. With Mr. Bagehot punctuality was a law of the Medes and Persians. The Langport people set their watches when Mr. Bagehot walked every morning through the town to the Bank. Walter let out his want of faith in such solemnities with much humour and geniality, so that, though his father was somewhat alarmed by the short cuts he wanted to take in acquiring the rudiments of business, and the light and airy manner in which he treated the formalities of the counting-house, there was no unpleasant jarring or want of confidence between them. Once having learnt the preliminaries, Walter’s quick insight and perceptions mastered all that was really essential, and his father recognised that he could treat important matters as wisely, as the most rigid doctrinaire, and as confidently and easily as he could take a fence out hunting. He perceived further that the self-confidence with which Walter attacked the serious problems of banking did not arise from vanity, but from an intuitive power of seizing the main issues of a question. Consequently Mr. Bagehot gradually learnt to lean on his judgment and opinions, though never, perhaps, fully recognising the wide range of interests over which Walter’s genius travelled. The fact was certainly puzzling to such a mind as Mr. Bagehot’s that while Walter could cope successfully with real and important difficulties, he never could add up figures with immaculate correctness.
After having pursued his studies at the Bank for some months, Walter wrote the following to his old school-fellow, Killigrew Wait:—
“My dear Wait,
“Here am I in my father’s counting-house trying (and failing) to do sums, and being rowed ninety-nine times a day for some horrid sin against the conventions of mercantile existence. My family perhaps you know are merchants, shipowners, and bankers, etc. etc., here and elsewhere. Out of their multifarious occupations I hope to be able to find, though I cannot precisely say that I have yet found, some one to which I am not contemptibly unequal. As to your notion of doing anything well, it is so many years since I abandoned the idea, that I can’t now quite enter into the feeling. My difficulty is in doing anything at all. The only thing I ever really knew was Special Pleading, and the moment I had learned that, the law reformers botched and abolished it. It was a very pretty art, and the only trade in which the logical faculties appear to be of any particular service, and was therefore the champagne of life, but this people which knoweth not the law, went and abolished it. I suppose you like business by this time. I think I might if I knew anything about it, and if my relations would admit that sums are matters of opinion.
“I can’t claim to be very familiar with German matters. I like to read English books best, because I am partially acquainted with the language in which they are composed. Besides I fancy they are the truest books after all. The German ideas may be true hereafter, but in the existing world it seems to me that they are often a good deal misled. If a man knoweth not what he hath seen (and no German ever does), how shall he know that which he hath not seen? Besides they say there is no such thing as nonsense, in which I think them quite wrong. I do not know that I can tell you ‘what I am thinking about,’ for I am a good deal inclined to believe that I have ceased to think about anything.”
As an antidote to the grind of office work, Walter Bagehot, following the example of his uncle, Vincent Stuckey, started keeping a pack of harriers with his cousin, Vincent Wood.
Having no surviving son, Mrs. Vincent Stuckey adopted her eldest grandson as heir to her husband’s property and to his position in the Bank. On her death Mr. Vincent Wood changed his name to Stuckey, continuing to live at Hill House as he had done in his grandmother’s lifetime. He possessed much of his grandfather’s ability for business and genial sociability of disposition.1
Though a business life in its earliest days may have had its tiresome side, there was much that soon became congenial to Bagehot in his life in Somerset. In any case it was better than law and London. The beauty of the country inspired ideas, hunting was inspiriting, and the Bank and The Bridge gradually became interesting. The notable qualities in his Uncle had left their stamp on the Bank, which he had developed into an important West of England business. Stuckey’s Bank was assuredly no ordinary country bank.
About the time Walter Bagehot settled at Herd’s Hill, he was feeling anxious about Mr. Hutton’s health.
On being elected Principal of University Hall when Mr. Clough resigned the post, Mr. Hutton married Miss Mary Roscoe. Soon after, the lung trouble, from which he had suffered for several years, developed into a serious disease. Bagehot writes to Roscoe: “I saw him (Hutton) on Sunday and he was as well as one could hope, but I can’t but fear very much about him”. It was decided that he and his wife should go to the West Indies, a warm climate being recommended. So grave was his condition, that Walter Bagehot, in parting with him, expressed to others great doubts that he should ever see him again.
In January, 1853, Bagehot writes from Herd’s Hill:—
“My dear Hutton,
“I have devoted my time for the last four months nearly exclusively to the art of book-keeping by double entry, the theory of which is agreeable and pretty but the practice perhaps as horrible as anything ever was. I maintain too in vain that sums are matters of opinion, but the people in command here do not comprehend the nature of contingent matter and try to prove that figures tend to one result more than another, which I find myself to be false as they always come different. But there is no influencing the instinctive dogmatism of the uneducated mind. In other respects I approve of mercantile life. There is some excitement in it, if this does not wear off; always a little to do and no wearing labour, which is something towards perfection. Chevalier Bunsen has published a huge book on ‘Hippolytus,’ but what other people say is Origen’s. Bunsen’s book is four volumes and contains a mass of learning shovelled together as ill as possible and not working out anything clearly or well. But there is a German earnestness and solidity about the book which make it agreeable to read, and the facts are very good. He proves in a beautifully Germanic manner that this book was written by Hippolytus because it is a collection of heresies, and Photrus mentions a book by Hippolytus on heresies, thirty-three in number, beginning with A and ending with B. Now the book in question does not end with B or begin A or contain thirty-three heresies, but Bunsen says it is all quite consistent and has a special subsidiary hypothesis for each inconsistency which is very amusing. I believe he is right about the book though on the whole, and that it was certainly not written by Origen, and perhaps by Hippolytus, but you would be delighted with the manner in which he goes round and round the subject, and the unspeakable importance which he attaches to it. His own existence would not require a keener argument, or obtain it. It is splendid to see such a bookish turn; as if it mattered who wrote such a book, for it is certainly stupid, that is agreed. Have you seen anything of the blacks? It can’t be a pretty study, but it may be an instructive one. People are quite wild here again about Slavery, as strong as they ever were when there was a bonâ fide agitation in this country on the point. I should like to know accurately what comes from emancipation, taking it as a question of sacrifices. I can imagine many cases in which Slavery is good, for a population, but none or not many in which traders can be trusted to be slaveowners. It may answer in rural villages, where they only supply their own demand and where the notion of the slaves being capital is extremely secondary, but never in a mercantile community where that notion is the main one and the notion of moral and personal dependence extremely faint. You will know that we have a change of ministry in England. Lord Derby is gone out and Lord Aberdeen with everybody else is come in. I think it is an excellent ministry though Sir James Graham is in it, whom I detest. They are the best men we’ve got, though they are frightfully old, and have many of the notions of very old people. I am afraid what they will do about the franchise. I doubt if they have really studied the subject. They are the old Reform Bill people and have not any new ideas since that time, otherwise I think they’ll do. You see my friend Louis Napoleon is Emperor. I think there is no doubt his foreign policy will be mainly aggressive and this country must look sharp or he’ll be upon us. I don’t mean now or to-morrow but soon.”
On the Huttons arriving in Barbadoes they found yellow fever raging and both at once caught the epidemic. When Mr. Hutton recovered consciousness, after passing days in a state of delirium, he found that his wife had succumbed to it. On receiving the news of his sister’s death, Mr. Roscoe at once started for Barbadoes “without regard,” Mr. Hutton writes in his memoir of William Roscoe, “either to the personal risk which he incurred, or to the melancholy task which he undertook”.
From Taunton on 16th March, 1853, Walter Bagehot wrote his farewell to him:—
“My dear Roscoe,
“Good-bye. Give my kindest and best remembrances to Hutton. I hope indeed you will be of service to him and I hope you may bring him home to us better than I can now get myself to expect. I will arrange about the Prospective though what to write about I know no more than the people in the street. I write with ever so many people talking figures about me and I hardly know what I write, but good-bye and God speed you.”
The brothers-in-law returned together to England, Mr. Hutton heartbroken, and with shattered health. Bagehot went to London to meet him, and at once concerned himself with finding some congenial occupation wherewith to distract his mind.
“Langport, 15th August, 1853.
“My dear Hutton,
“By way of the next step I strongly advise you to write the article on Atheism which you mentioned and to get the review made over to you as soon as may be. I should like to write for you a short article on the new Series of M. Arnold’s poems. They are not very much in themselves, but they show character and afford, I think, matter for a short paper and no reading up of any subject will be necessary, which is a great blessing and consideration. Or I will write on the ‘Principles of Taxation,’ a dreary article if you like it better, on the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s speech and the Report of the Income Tax Committee. Only make your selection in due time, so that I may have a long time to waste and then do it in a very great hurry exactly at the last. You can hardly imagine the relief it has been to me to have seen you and to have a new and not unmixedly painful picture of you in my imagination and to see your mind so clear and healthy and firm. I did not fancy for a moment that the suffering which you feel and have felt would weaken your intellect or obscure your judgment. But I was not sure that it would not increase the tendency to mere melancholy, which I (characteristically enough) used to hold to be morbid. I think it has diminished it. The real and daily pain which you do not express but cannot conceal, and the constant habit of putting down serious and solemn thoughts, give a distinctness and coolness to your views which I think they sometimes used to want. There is more of the pure steel in them, as if they came from a solider and clearer state of mind.”
In the July number of the Prospective Review, 1853, appeared “Shakespeare—the Man,” very self-delineative, but differing from the “Hartley Coleridge” because it was a different side of the self delineated. It flavours more of the Cavalier side of Bagehot’s nature, and treats politics from somewhat the country gentleman point of view. The mere fact that he took up this subject proves that living in the country had cleared away the scares. The essay seems to have been written to prove that that great Author’s writings are, whatever else they may be besides, self-delineating. “Some extreme sceptics we know,” Bagehot writes in the second paragraph of “Shakespeare—the Man,” “doubt whether it is possible to deduce anything as to an author’s character from his works. Yet surely people do not keep a tame steam-engine to write their books; and if those books were really written by a man, he must have been a man to write them; he must have had the thoughts which they express, have acquired the knowledge they contain, have possessed the style in which we read them. The difficulty is a defect of the critics. A person who knows nothing of an author he has read, will not know much of an author whom he has seen. . . . Shakespeare’s works,” he writes, “could only be produced by a first-rate imagination working on a first-rate experience. . . . To a great experience one thing is essential, an experiencing nature. . . . The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people that can write know anything. After all, the original way of writing books may turn out to be the best. The first author, it is plain, could not have taken anything from books, since there were no books for him to copy from; he looked at things for himself.”
As before noted, Bagehot proves that Shakespeare’s political views can be clearly made out through his writings, and no less his wholesome religious instincts. “There is a religion,” Bagehot writes, “of weekdays as well as Sundays, of ‘cakes and ale,’ as well as of pews and altar cloth. This England lay before Shakespeare as it lies before us all, with its green fields, and its long hedgerows, and its many trees, and its great towns, and its endless hamlets, and its motley society, and its long history, and its bold exploits, and its gathering power, and he saw that they were good. To him, perhaps, more than to anyone else, has it been given to see that they were a great unity, a great religious object; that if you could only descend to the inner life, to the deep things, to the secret principles of its noble vigour, to the essence of character, to what we know of Hamlet and seem to fancy of Ophelia, we might, so far as we are capable of so doing, understand the nature which God has made. Let us, then, think of him not as a teacher of dry dogmas, or a sayer of hard sayings, but as
A teacher of the hearts of men and women; one from whom may be learned something of that inmost principle that ever modulates
“We must pause, lest our readers reject us, as the Bishop of Durham the poor curate, because he was mystical and confused.”
In the October number of the Prospective Review, 1854, appeared the last essay Bagehot wrote for it, as about that time the Review ceased to exist. The subject was Bishop Butler. The character of Bishop Butler attracted Bagehot, and gave him opportunities to explain his ideas on two kinds of religion, the natural and the supernatural, the one arising “from mere contemplation of external beauty,” the other “the source of which is within the mine, the religion of superstition”. Needless to say, Bishop Butler’s religion was that within the mine. “No one could tell from his writings that the world was beautiful. If the world were a Durham mine or an exact square, if no part of it were more expressive than a gravel pit, or a chalk quarry, the teaching of Butler would be as true as it is now.”
In a newspaper cutting of 1858, we read the following paragraph: “Several years ago, ‘Advanced Socinians,’ the Rev. Messrs. Taylor and Martineau, founded the Prospective Review with the conspicuous motto from St. Bernard, Respice, Aspice, Prospice. From something narrow and sectarian in its tone, the Prospective did not prosper, and in the hope of a better future, its conductors re-baptised it the National Review. During the last twelve months, a series of papers, critical and characteristic, evidently from the same pen, have attracted considerable attention to the quiet pages of the National Review.”
These papers were by Bagehot. Mr. Hutton and he had undertaken to edit this new Review together; Martineau and Taylor were to find most of the money, and to write frequently for it. A Mr. Darbishire was the proprietor, and a certain Theobold, the printer. Bagehot seems to have taken the most active part in starting the Review and in inspiring the tone of the Prospectus, even if he did not actually pen it himself.
The first essay, that on “William Cowper,” Bagehot wrote for the National Review in the July number, 1855, the last on “Wordsworth, Tennyson and Browning, or Pure, Ornate and Grotesque Art in English Poetry,” in the November number, 1864. For those nine years directing, managing, and writing for the National Review were among his chief occupations. It was a source to him of worry and of expense, but also of great interest and pleasure, partly because the work for it kept him in constant touch with Mr. Hutton. The National Review never had a very large circulation. Perhaps its tone was not sufficiently committed to any one line of thought for it to secure a fervent adherence from any one section of the public. This was to be accounted for, perhaps, by the fact that the opinions of the promoters were never sufficiently harmonious. Martineau and Tayler were distinct Unitarians, Mr. Hutton was gradually veering towards the Church of England, and Bagehot had never held Unitarian doctrines. They had never appealed to his sympathies, nor did he hold them to be logical, and it was Bagehot who more than others gave most of himself to the intellectual side of the management. The National Review was fully appreciated by those who read it, but these were a refined and cultured minority.
In March, 1855, Bagehot writes to Mr. Hutton:—
“I am much obliged to you for engaging to take the Editorship of the National at my request, though I own I think you will like it better than you think you shall. Of course you may count on my doing anything for you in the way of co-operation—literary or practical locomotion which is not in my own absolute power, always excepted. Even if it were offered me I could not have the responsibility of the Review absolutely on me. It would be sure to come at a time when there was a press of work in banking or shipping, and either the number would not appear—if it did appear it would be certainly misprinted—or I must neglect what I have undertaken here, which I should of course not choose to do. The only part I think I could be of any use would be perhaps in planning the secular articles for each number at first and I shall be most willing to do all I can in this, as much as if it were my own work.
“It is clear we shall be able to start. I will send my money to Darbishire directly. How about Lady Byron? H. C. Robinson should be let alone, I think. He will give in in the end—I should like to see the list of contributors. Ask Martineau to choose his subject and to write to Froude. I will write to Greg, as soon as Martineau’s has been decided.
“What a splendid phrase ‘The equilibrium of universal justice’! quite a ‘fresh hare’; I never heard of it before. The chief is right about Lord Palmerston. Lord Aberdeen was the man. A truly considerate mind.
“You theologians are too intolerant of one another’s crotchets. I think Martineau will do it very well. Jowett’s book is a very able and good one on the whole. I did not describe it justly when I wrote to you. I hope M. won’t abuse him too much for staying in the church, though I own I think his views about as consistent with the worship of the Grand Llama, but he will be abused enough by his brother clergy, and there is no use our clamouring too. However, M. must do what he likes. He will do what he likes: I shall preserve my tranquillity. You would like Jowett on the whole. I do not see why Stanley should not stay in the church. He is not a great logician. J. is morbidly sensitive to illogicality. I believe the result of J.’s book is that St. Paul had no precise notions of anything, and in this I agree. I am afraid M. will rather wish to impute to him definite error.
“Roscoe’s article on the ‘Humorous’ I should like to have very much. You won’t think it orthodox enough probably. A man said to me quite bitterly, that the writer of your article (Protestantism) had no business in the Church of England. You had left on him the impression of a moderate Maurician, not going so far quite as that, but I should like Roscoe’s article extremely. The Bible must be treated in a human manner. It is a terrible superstition.”
In January, 1856, Bagehot writes to Mr. Hutton:—
“There is a man FitzJames Stephen who writes in the ‘Cambridge Essays’ very well indeed, whom we should try to get hold of. We might offer him George Sand. His essay is the relation of novels to life, and is very acute and clever. You might look at it.
. . . “Martineau’s still strikes me as an awful production. It appears to mean that you are to go into Poland and raise a standard of revolt, without in the least knowing whether the Poles have any capacity or desire for freedom, about which he admits there are no data, but on the chance of their having some, which either means that you are to desert them, if you do not find them up to the mark, or that you are to maintain them or attempt by endless war to maintain them, although they are unfit—both which are absurd. Besides you would have the active opposition of Austria and Prussia, the active sympathy of the rouge party abroad, which last would mean the horror and alarm of all conservatives here at home.
“I think you made a great hit about Stephen—you manage these sort of people very well, you extract so much out of them. I think certainly I should not reject an article for assuming the Deity of Christ, but I could not allow an article to go in assuming or defending the textual authority of Scripture. Coleridge’s a priori proof of the Trinity (which he never wrote down) would suit us very well. Practically this divides from the Trinitarians, because in some sense or other they must hold the authority of Scripture. It is their postulate. Neither Jowett nor Maurice seem to hold it; but if asked Jowett would say it was an ‘antinomy’ and Maurice would become inarticulate.
“When we fail, the cry against us will be that we have gone off too much into general literature and neglected the objects the money was subscribed for. I am most anxious to guard against this by making the last number in every line special and distinctive. On this account I much wish you would write something with a semi-theological bearing. There is the revision of the translation of the Bible. It would be a good opportunity for praising our translation as a work of art, and quizzing Sir G. Grey who won’t alter the commas for fear ‘of shaking the faith of multitudes’—the grossest Protestant superstition—but I do not care about the particular subject, only that you should write on a half-religious subject. Remember we are not to have the sacred Taylor.”
In the autumn of 1856 Bagehot visited his friend Roscoe in Wales, who had settled there after his marriage with Miss Emily Malin. There for the rest of his life William Roscoe enjoyed gardening, writing essays and poetry, studying Elizabethan poetry, and occasionally acting as Marshall with Mr. Justice Compton when on circuit.
Bagehot’s first article in the National Review, “William Cowper,” reflected distinctly the influence of his home trouble. This trouble probably suggested the subject; in any case it is written with the subtle insight into the subject of insanity which only personal experience can give. In the next two numbers, October, 1855, and January, 1856, appeared “The First Edinburgh Reviewers” and “Thomas Babington Macaulay”. He had now fully entered into his life of action no less than his matured life of thought. After quoting Macaulay’s eulogy on the greater fascination dead authors have than living, Bagehot writes: “Only a mind impassive to our daily life, un-alive to bores and evils, to joys and sorrows, incapable of the deepest sympathies, a prey to print could imagine it. The mass of men have stronger ties and warmer hopes. The exclusive devotion to books tires. We require to love and hate, to act and live.” In “The First Edinburgh Reviewers” we have an insight into the working of that lonely speculative imagination which took refuge from the stirring life of business in the study overlooking the lawns and wide-stretching moorlands. There are lines in this essay which perhaps have touched more readers than any others he has written, and which have served as a text for preachers in pulpits. They contrast the vocation of a Lord Jeffrey and that of a Wordsworth, a contrast depicted with Bagehot’s own singular whimsical humour on the one hand, and by his deep poetic and high penetrating acumen on the other.
“There certainly are kinds of truths, borne in as it were instinctively on the human intellect, most influential on the character and the heart, yet hardly capable of stringent statement, difficult to limit by an elaborate definition. Their course is shadowy; the mind seems rather to have seen than to see them, more to feel after than definitely apprehend them. They commonly involve an infinite element which, of course, cannot be stated precisely, or else a first principle—an original tendency of our intellectual constitution, which it is impossible not to feel, and yet which it is hard to extricate in terms and words. Of this latter kind is what has been called the religion of Nature, or more exactly perhaps, the religion of the imagination. This is an interpretation of the world. Accordingly, to it the beauty of the universe has a meaning, its grandeur a soul, its sublimity an expression. As we gaze on the faces of those who we love; as we watch the light of life in the dawning of their eyes, and the play of their features, and the wildness of their animation; as we trace in changing lineaments a varying sign; as a charm and a thrill seem to run along the tone of a voice, to haunt the mind with a mere word; as a tone seems to roam in the ear; as a trembling fancy hears words that are unspoken; so in Nature the mystical sense finds a motion in the mountain, and a power in the waves, and a meaning in the long white line of the shore, and a thought in the blue of heaven, and a gushing soul in the buoyant light, an unbounded being in the vast void of air, and
“There is a philosophy in this which might be explained, if explaining were to our purpose. It might be advanced that there are original sources of expression in the essential grandeur and sublimity of Nature, of an analogous though fainter kind to those familiar, inexplicable signs by which we trace in the very face and outward lineaments of man, the existence and working of the mind within. But be this as it may, it is certain that Mr. Wordsworth preached this kind of religion, and that Lord Jeffrey did not believe a word of it. His cool, sharp, collected mind revolted from its mysticism; his detective intelligence was absorbed in its apparent fallaciousness; his light humour made sport with the sublimities of the preacher. His love of perspicuity was vexed by its indefiniteness; the precise philosopher was amazed at its mystic unintelligibility. Finding a little fault was doubtless not unpleasant to him. The reviewer’s pen—ϕ#x03cc;νος #x1f21;ρ#x03ce;εσσιν—has seldom been more poignantly wielded. ‘If,’ he was told, ‘you would be alarmed into the semblance of modesty, you would charm everybody; but remember my joke against you’ (Sydney Smith loquitur) ‘about the moon. D—n the solar system—bad light—planets too distant—pestered with comets: feeble contrivance; could make a better with great ease.’
“Yet we do not mean that in this great literary feud, either of the combatants had all the right, or gained all the victory. The world has given judgment. Both Mr. Wordsworth and Lord Jeffrey have received their reward. The one had his own generation: the laughter of men, the applause of drawing-rooms, the concurrence of the crowd; the other a succeeding age, the fond enthusiasm of secret students, the lonely rapture of lonely minds. And each has received according to his kind. If all cultivated men speak differently because of the existence of Wordsworth and Coleridge; if not a thoughtful English book has appeared for forty years, without some trace for good or evil of their influence; if sermon-writers subsist upon their thoughts; if ‘sacred poets’ thrive by translating their weaker portion into the speech of women; if, when all this is over, some sufficient part of their writings will ever be fitting food for wild musing and solitary meditation, surely this is because they possessed the inner nature, ‘an intense and glowing mind,’ ‘the vision and the faculty divine’. But if, perchance, in their weaker moments, the great authors of the Lyrical Ballads did ever imagine that the world was to pause because of their verses; that ‘Peter Bell’ would be popular in the drawing-rooms; that ‘Christabel’ would be perused in the City; that people of fashion would make a handbook of the ‘Excursion’—it was well for them to be told at once that this was not so. Nature ingeniously prepared a shrill artificial voice, which spoke in season and out of season, enough and more than enough, what will ever be the idea of the cities of the plain concerning those who live alone among the mountains; of the frivolous concerning the grave; of the gregarious concerning the recluse; of those who laugh concerning those who laugh not; of the common concerning the uncommon; of those who lend on usury concerning those who lend not; the notion of the world of those whom it will not reckon among the righteous—it said, ‘This will never do!’ ”
In the same number of the National Review as the Macaulay appeared the essay on Edward Gibbon, in the July number, “The Character of Sir Robert Peel,” in October, “Percy Bysshe Shelley,” and in this same year, 1856, thirteen articles in the Saturday Review.
In the December of that year, an event occurred which led to momentous changes in Bagehot’s life. Mr. W. R. Greg, who was an intimate friend of my father’s and a constant inmate of our home, asked Mr. Hutton if he would like to edit the Economist. If he desired to do so, Mr. Greg was willing to suggest the idea to my father, the proprietor. Mr. Hutton hesitated. He had reasons for wishing, before taking another step affecting his private life, to visit the tomb of his wife in the West Indies. He was entertaining the idea of marrying again. He wrote to Bagehot, but making mention only of Mr. Greg’s offer and the desire he had to go abroad before accepting it. Bagehot writes in answer:—
“My dear Hutton,
“I have thought over very carefully what you tell me of Greg’s offer, but I cannot think you are acting rightly. You have now an opportunity which may not occur again of fixing yourself in an established post, likely to be useful and permanent, and give you a fulcrum and position in the world which is what you have always wanted and is quite necessary to comfort in England. I do not think you ought to risk it for the sake of holiday. You may have been right to ask it as a beginning of the negotiation for it may be a gain to you to get it, but it seems to me quite out of the question to make it a sine qua non. Offers of this kind are not to be picked up in the street every day. As to holidays, it is one of the lessons of life to learn to be independent of them. They are scarcely to be obtained by people in regular employment except in very fortunate circumstances. I have some right to say this myself for except when I was at Roscoe’s last autumn, I have not been a week without doing some business. I do not say very much, but still some—enough to deaden the mind for more than four years. I assure you, if you seriously mean to work hard in England, and you require a good deal of work to keep your mind healthy, you must not hope for any such long gaps. At any rate, I feel very strongly that you ought not to make the having one an essential condition of obtaining so good a position.”
Mr. Greg agreed to leave his offer open till Mr. Hutton returned from his voyage to the West Indies. On hearing this Bagehot writes:—
“What is to be your post at first, are you a contributor or assistant editor or what?
“As to the question of Christ’s nature, I think it turns entirely on the critical question as to the nature of the Gospel histories. I am more and more disposed to believe that these are not the narratives of eye-witnesses at all, but embodiments of traditions dating from the second generation. I believe the case is one of internal evidence merely. The external being enough to justify our believing them to be narratives of eye-witnesses if they read like it, but not in any way such as to compel us to accept them as such without internal evidence or in the face of internal difficulties. The internal evidence is of course to a great extent one of impression, but I should dwell a great deal on their fragmentary, impersonal character, going here and there just as traditions do with no reason, but not adhering the person of the eye-witness, or of specific informants as careful contemporary narratives do. Again the confusion of the chronology is very great; tradition always produces this, but four writers, all with the means of knowing, and none of them adhering exclusively to mere episodes as eye-witnesses might, are very unlikely to give four totally inharmonious narratives of the whole. Details might be wrong, but the main times and seasons would be clear. Little undesigned coincidences too might be looked for. We have as much right to a Horae Christianae as to a Horae Paulinae. The extreme oppositions too of the Gospel of John is very remarkable. That there should be differences of kinds in traditions is intelligible; they are the traditions of different communities, one say in Asia Minor among the Hellenists, the other of Temple-going Jews at Jerusalem, but it is difficult to imagine three first-hand narratives, each meaning apparently to give a sufficient view of an entire career, omitting a whole system of conception and doctrines recorded by a fourth. Again the character of Christ is given I think in the way traditions represent character, and not as contemporary narratives give it. Tradition chooses its points. It gives the characteristic features of a character only and omits all others. Somehow it won’t believe any others. Defoe’s is the style of the contemporary narrator. He is puzzled with detail and can hardly lift his facts. Are you not conscious yourself that you do not know so much of a man just after reading his biography. It requires time to let the encumbrance of circumstances pass off. Just in the same way there is no singleness, no unbroken, defined, unified delineation of character in contemporary narratives. It is difficult no doubt in an age when the habit of writing has made us unfamiliar with the power of tradition to fancy it could ever have given such delineations as those in the Gospels. Yet if we look at the Old Testament we see instances that help to make it possible. The delineation of Elijah for example is as evidently traditional as anything can be, but how marked, how consistent his character is, how different from Elisha’s or from Samuel’s. In the New Testament too the first chapters of Luke and Matthew, the former especially, are as remarkable as most parts of those Gospels, yet these are doubtless traditional. There is an intense, anxious storytelling impulse in some states of society which produces of itself wonderful narratives. The authors are as unknown as the authors of old ballads. Such traditions though inaccurate in facts are most sensitive to truth of effect, the latter is their canon of truth in fact. You are to remember that the theory of the historical origin of the Gospels is very recent. The old theory was that they were written by the ‘Spirit of God’. I think, or incline to think, they were composed by intense, half-inspired, most affectionate story-telling impulse. Of course with this sort of view the question of Christ’s nature is simple. Any sort of incarnation requires to be proved by the most close positive historical testimony. Of course you won’t think of this subject on your voyage. Whatever subject a man starts intending to think of, on that he is quite sure not to think at all.
“I hope wherever you go you will feel sure of my affection. Cold I may be, but inconstant I certainly am not.
“Yours most affly.,
This connection of Mr. Hutton with the Economist suggested to Bagehot the idea of himself writing for the Economist. Mr. Hutton had started on his voyage to the West Indies, and Bagehot did not personally know Mr. Greg; but Dr. Martineau knew both Mr. Greg and Bagehot, so through this channel an introduction to my father was obtained, the result of which was that Bagehot was asked to Claverton Manor to talk about banking with the idea of his writing letters on it in the Economist.
[Page 218, lines 20 and 31,]for Taylor read Tayler.
[Page 222, line 5,]for Compton read Crompton.
[Page 226, line 26,]for adhering read adducing.
[1 ] When editing the republished essays by Bagehot, Mr. Hutton omitted a considerable portion of the “Oxford”; but in the forthcoming complete edition of Bagehot’s works, the whole of the essay will be found as originally printed.
[1 ] He and another of Walter Bagehot’s cousins, Mr. Vincent Reynolds, nephew of the “Uncle Reynolds” at Hampstead, married two sisters, nieces of Sir John Lethbridge, whose family was renowned for its distinguished beauty.