Arthur Hugh Clough: The Critical Heritage

By Michael Thorpe | Go to book overview

33.

Walter Bagehot, ‘Mr. Clough’s Poems’ in National Review

October 1862, xiii, 310-26

Bagehot (1826-77) was a barrister, an economist and a copious writer on literary and social questions. From 1860 till his death he was editor of the Economist; his book, The English Constitution is a standard work.

No one can be more rigid than we are in our rules as to the publication of remains and memoirs. It is very natural that the friends of a cultivated man who seemed about to do something, but who died before he did it, should desire to publish to the world the grounds of their faith, and the little symptoms of his immature excellence. But though they act very naturally, they act very unwisely. In the present state of the world there are too many half-excellent people: there is a superfluity of persons who have all the knowledge, all the culture, all the requisite taste, —all the tools, in short, of achievement, but who are deficient in the latent impulse and secret vigour which alone can turn such instruments to account. They have all the outward and visible signs of future success; they want the invisible spirit, which can only be demonstrated by trial and victory. Nothing, therefore, is more tedious or more worthless than the posthumous delineation of the possible successes of one who did not succeed. The dreadful remains of nice young persons which abound among us prove almost nothing as to the future fate of those persons if they had survived. We can only tell that any one is a man of genius by his having produced some work of genius. Young men must practise themselves in youthful essays; and to some of their friends these may seem works not only of fair promise, but of achieved excellence. The cold world of critics and readers will not, however, think so; that world well understands the distinction between promise and performance, and sees that these laudable juvenilia differ from good books as much as legitimate bills of exchange differ from actual cash.

-161-

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