Arthur Hugh Clough: The Critical Heritage

By Michael Thorpe | Go to book overview

53.

George Saintsbury, from A History of Nineteenth Century Literature

1896, 316-17

George Saintsbury (1845-1933) was one of the trio of historical critics, the others being Sir Edmund Gosse and Sir Arthur QuillerCouch, who dominated the English literary world in their casually critical way during the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. Saintsbury’s numerous books included the first short critical study of Matthew Arnold (1899).

Clough has been called by persons of distinction a ‘bad poet’; but this was only a joke, and, with all respect to those who made it, a rather bad joke. The author of ‘Qua Cursum Ventus, of the marvellous picture of the advancing tide in ‘Say not the struggle, and of not a few other things, was certainly no bad poet, though it would not be uncritical to call him a thin one….

It is not necessary to be biassed by Matthew Arnold’s musical epicede of Thyrsis in order to admit, nor should any bias against his theological views and his rather restless character be sufficient to induce anyone to deny, a distinct vein of poetry in Clough. His earliest and most popular considerable work, The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolichis written in hexameters which do not, like Kingsley’s,1 escape the curse of that ‘pestilent heresy’; and the later Amours de Voyage and Dipsychus, though there are fine passages in both, bring him very close to the Spasmodic school, of which in fact he was an unattached and more cultivated member, with fancies directed rather to religiosity than to strict literature. Ambarvalia had preceded the Bothie, and other things followed. On the whole, Clough is one of the most unsatisfactory products of that well-known form of nineteenth century scepticism which has neither the strength to believe nor the courage to disbelieve ‘and have done with it. He hankers and looks back, his ‘two souls’ are always warring with each other, and though the clash

1 Charles Kingsley, Andromeda (1858).

-341-

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