Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XVII.: TRIBUTES FROM CONTEMPORARIES. - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 10 (The Life)
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CHAPTER XVII.: TRIBUTES FROM CONTEMPORARIES. - 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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TRIBUTES FROM CONTEMPORARIES.
It was on reading letters of sympathy and articles in the newspapers at the time of Walter’s death, that Mr. Bagehot first awoke to the knowledge of the high estimation in which his “greatest treasure” was held by his contemporaries. “I should never have known,” he said, “how great a man Walter was, had I not survived him.”
Mr. Bagehot had become deaf, and had for some years led somewhat the life of a recluse. Walter had entered into the intimacy of that life without allowing his father to draw any contrast between its limitations and his own more extended field of thought and action. Never in intercourse with any one did Walter assume superiority. No one ever left off talking with him feeling “how clever he is, how stupid I am”. His discernment of character was as if inspired. He measured the nature and capacities of his companion to a nicety, and poised the quality of his intercourse accordingly. He left many with the idea that he was a good fellow, yet with no idea that he was a great man. So it is that the amplest appreciation bestowed on Walter Bagehot during his life and on the occasion of his death was expressed by those of distinguished attainments, and such tributes came somewhat as a surprise to his father.
Mr. Gladstone wrote to my sister: “Permit me also to take this opportunity of recording my admiration of his [Walter Bagehot’s] great powers and unvaried industry, and my respect and high regard for his character.
“During the time when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer I had the advantage of frequent and free communication with him on all matters of finance and currency. Nor have I in all my experience known any one from whom in this important province more was to be desired, or who was more free and genial in the communication of his large knowledge and matured reflection.
“But he seemed to be not less at home in deeper questions of political philosophy, and of human character, and in respect to these also we have sustained a loss not easily to be repaired.
“I do not presume to enter upon the more inward aspects of your great bereavement; and I beg you on no account to take the trouble of acknowledging a letter, in writing which I pay a tribute of truth and give relief to feeling. . . .”
Later Mr. Gladstone wrote: “I have to thank you for kindly presenting me the Economic Studies of your distinguished husband. No one, I believe, more highly appreciated than myself the satisfaction and profit which were to be derived, during his lifetime, alike from his conversation and his writings; and every posthumous memorial of him, and new proof of his extraordinary gifts, is to me, as to many more, a matter of cordial interest.
“I am grateful to you for thinking me worthy to receive such a memorial from yourself. . . .”
After reading Mr. Hutton’s Memoir of Walter Bagehot, Lord Bryce wrote:—
“My dear Hutton,
“Let me, as a friend and a warm admirer of Walter Bagehot, thank you for your most interesting memorials of him in this month’s Fortnightly. It was with no small surprise that those who knew him perceived how little the world seemed to know the loss it sustained, when his keen, bright, fertile intellect left us; and I was looking month after month for some such worthy tribute to his greatness. Is it going too far to say that he was the most interesting man in London to talk to? The man who was most ingenious in suggestion, most penetrating in complexities, most sure to give a novel form to commonplace questions, and, in a certain sense, in spite of the occasional love of paradox, most fair in judgment?”
After re-reading a volume of these Biographical Studies, Lord Bryce again writes:—
“This I have done with an ever-increasing admiration for the wonderful acuteness, ingenuity and fertility of mind which appears in all the essays. There seems to me to be nothing at all comparable to them in the literature of this generation; and the acuteness is so entirely without bitterness, the tone throughout is so elevated, that one feels better as well as wiser every time one peruses them again. I do trust you will continue to publish what still remains, believing that everything he wrote on topics not purely temporary, is of permanent value to the world.”
Lord Thring wrote to my sister:—
“I know no man whose loss will be more keenly felt not only by his friends, but by the business world in general. He had the rare faculty, to my mind the best test of ability—of making abstruse subjects clear to ordinary understandings. I always think that a man is a master of his art in proportion as he can dispense with its jargon, and no writer with whom I am acquainted has dealt so much as your husband with technical details with so little technical phraseology.”
Mr. Bonamy Price, Professor of Political Economy, Oxford, writes:—
“The public loss is heavy indeed, for writers of his power and the acquaintance with the realities of human life are most rare. You have the consolation of knowing that many grieve along with you.”
Henry Fawcett wrote:—
“There was scarcely any one whose friendship I more valued, and I am sure there is hardly any one who could be so ill spared. I shall always look back to the hours I spent with him when we were examiners together at the London University as one of the most pleasing remembrances of my life.”
Sir Robert Giffen writes:—
“It is a great shock to me after all the debt I owe to him both for instruction and for taking me up, and I am quite sure I can never have such another friend. I am most sorry for you indeed, although it must be a consolation to think that few men’s lives have been so full of noble labour, and in all respects so worthily filled up. It seems so poor a thing in such a calamity to write expressions of condolence, but as I perhaps knew more of Mr. Bagehot’s work than any one outside his own family, I feel as if I ought to convey to you a sense of the great impression he made on all in contact with him in his work.
“I have had intimate relations since 1877 with not a few of our prominent public men but never one with quite the gifts and brightness of your husband or so likeable in every way. The pleasantest time of my own life was the period of my association with him, and there has really been nothing else to compare with it.”
Lord Avebury wrote:—
“I have long admired and respected him, but I had not realised how much affection I had for him”.
Lord Carnarvon writes of the Economic Studies as the last work and the latest instruction of one whose loss both from a public and private point of view he will not cease to deplore.
Bernard Cracroft wrote to my sister, Mrs. Greg:—
“I had such a genuine and unfeigned admiration for his genius and talent, it is quite a painful blank to me to think I shall never again hear his peculiar humour and his subtle disquisition. I was—unlike as we were—quite fond of him—and would have gone a great distance out of my way for the mere pleasure of being ‘quizzed’ by him—which he always did with a singular absence of all that could give the least pain, and yet it was always, however trifling, worth attending to. Poor Janie Senior in the morning—and Bagehot the same evening, two of the most marked individualities in the country—both in the prime of life—both as sterling as fine gold—it is very saddening for those around them.”
Mr. Kelligrew Wait wrote:—
“For myself I can truly say I have felt my friend’s loss very acutely. His was the only real schoolboy friendship that ever endured, and I believe his feeling towards me—as mine to him—was very warm and sincere.
“Besides the tie of friendship, which neither time, distance, nor difference of life or occupation affected, I somehow felt a strong personal pride in the distinguished position he had obtained, and I was ever looking forward to what the future might have in store for him. I have constantly felt humiliated that I, content to live a life of mediocrity, was able to step into Parliament without difficulty, while he, by a strange perversity, could not obtain a position for which he was so remarkably adapted, but also where his talents would have been so eminently useful to his country.”
Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff wrote:—
“It is a great public as well as a private calamity. I do not remember any moment on record in English history when we could so ill spare a man of such high and exceptional ability.” After referring to “the production of his mature and exquisite genius” Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff adds: “He has his niche in the Temple of Fame amidst the best and wisest of his age and country”.
These are but a few of the tributes tendered by Walter Bagehot’s appreciators at the time and after his death.
In worthy fame, there is assuredly a lustrous, abiding glory. A monument it is that earns praise for those who raise it no less than for those to whom it is raised. Though thirty-seven years have passed since that March, 1877, there is still no lack of living witnesses—witnesses who count—to testify to Walter Bagehot’s genius. To his work and to his wisdom is accorded its reward. The world has pronounced.
Some there are, however, to whom this fame which the world can accord, seems but a cold, inanimate memorial when compared to the warmth of feeling treasured by those who loved him as a friend. The exact nature of the talisman which inspired so rare an affection, it is scarcely possible to put into words. Cite all the virtues in the world, you could not carry home to those who did not know him the choice quality of Walter Bagehot’s influence over those closest to him. The grace of that day which is gone cannot be passed on. There always must remain, say what we may,
Letters from two life-long friends written at the time of his death may reflect somewhat of the depth of feeling which Walter Bagehot could inspire.
T. Smith Osler wrote:—
“One man does not often say he loves another, I can say it of very few, but I can of Walter Bagehot. And besides that, of all the men I have known with anything like intimacy he was the single one of whom I could say with certainty that his individual mark was left upon the thought of his time. His talk—when one had him alone—was the purest intellectual pleasure I ever had. He went so straight to the heart of the question—you were so sure of fresh light—and he was so matchless in discussion as contrasted with dispute. The mere love of truth was always sufficient to sustain his animation without any thought of display or victory. The last long tête-à-tête I remember was some six years ago in a walk over Wimbledon Common. But the sense of such talks is a hundred times fresher in my mind than the talk of the scores of ordinary men of whom the world is so full. And I know too his sound, warm heart and sterling integrity from his youth up, and am proud to think that I too may claim in a humble fashion to have been his friend. It is true that I did love Walter besides admiring his genius and holding his character in the highest esteem. I daresay there may not be very many who knew how much warmth there was with all that clear light—how much of the truest tenderness with all that unerring perspicuity of glance and brilliancy of expression. But those who have felt its charm can never forget the impression he made. I have known the touch of his affectionateness more than once in my life—both in joy and in sorrow, and on the intellectual side, I repeat deliberately, that converse with him in the days when we were thrown together and when talk was preceding life, was the highest intellectual pleasure I ever reached. Every remark of his was so clear and pertinent and yet came from such a depth below the surface—the whole bearing and relation of every thought was so completely and rapidly seized, that you advanced miles with him where another man would only have taken you yards. Nor was that all. The first thing I knew about him when he was not long emerged from boyhood was an act of great moral courage—and he carried his integrity with him to the quiet end. What a comfort it must be to look back upon a peaceful falling asleep without a struggle or a pang—only it came too soon, and when we might have looked for many years of ripened wisdom and beneficent life.”
Richard Hutton, who of all his men friends loved him the best, wrote:—
“This blow seems almost more than one can bear, my dear Mrs. Bagehot. I don’t know why I was so stupidly confident he was getting better. . . . I can hardly see for the heaviness of my head and heart at this crushing blow, though I know I ought to be thinking chiefly of you, and indeed am thinking of you very much, and very, very painfully. It is the snapping of a hundred threads all together—I hardly know where I am or what it all means. The world changes so, I don’t feel equal to life in it. . . . I must try and write something about him in my own paper,1 which will be a very painful effort. God help me! Did Bagehot tell you that this day week I told him he was looking so young and well, I could hardly believe he was my contemporary at all. I was feeling old and haggard, and I was wonderfully struck by his bright, fresh look. Tell his father from me, how very much he was to me. The dreariness of this day is terrible to me—I am afraid I am hardly myself. Yours was a much closer tie, but mine was an older one.—Well, he is in better keeping than ours.—God bless you, and help us to bear all we may have to bear.”
The next day Mr. Hutton wrote:—
“I was sure his death must have been due to a failure of the heart. But it is very little use our trying to find these artificial consolations. The pain is all the same. I shall never see him again here, and I hardly know how to bear it, I am still quite stunned.”
Very few of us are now left who picture him thus, more as the intimate friend than as the wise author of books. Happily for some of these few, albeit their sun is nearing the horizon, his home is still their home, the Herd’s Hill, so beloved by his parents and by him from his childhood. There it is, ever recalling to memory that vivid life associated with them. There are the walks, the lawns from which his father opened vistas through the branches of the elm trees to “further beauties beyond”; to a sight of that little river Parret—a blue ribbon winding amidst the damp of green moorland meadows;—to the view of the church towers, aged, noble sentinels, rising steadfast amidst a vaporous landscape. There still is the steep pathway, the short cut that Walter would shoot down in all haste to catch his train, a lovely pathway branched over by the big arbutus tree, brilliant in winter with crimson strawberries and white bell-flowers, and by the wide spreading lime-tree, bright yellow-green, and the copper beech, cornelian scarlet in the spring, purple crimson in the summer, their trunks buttressed against a steep bank of primroses and moss; the views over the moors to the Quantock and Mendip Hills; to the mound in the moors marking the place where Alfred the Great burnt the famous cakes. All these things still are there as we wander on those lawns; and round us still hover living associations with those three to whom they were so dear.
Places themselves become monuments through the force of the memories attached to them.
[Page 459, line 25,]for and the read and his.
[1 ] The Spectator.