Why Clough? Why Now?
Ryan, Vanessa, Victorian Poetry
If you have been attending recent Victorianist conferences, you may be asking, "Why so much interest in Clough?" Almost every conference seems to have at least one paper on Arthur Hugh Clough. This is all the more striking since conference presentations on poetry are few and far between. Yet at one recent meeting, for example, the Victorian Interdisciplinary Studies Association of the Western United States conference on "The Victorian World" at UCLA (2001), there were a surprising four papers on Clough, enough to create an entire Clough panel. This was one of the younger panels at the conference: a number of the presenters were graduate students or recent Ph.Ds. On the face of it, this sudden interest in Clough is not easy to explain. Recent published work shows no sign of a larger Clough revival already underway: in the last few years it has been rare to find more than one or two articles published on Clough a year. In fact, the last full-length studies of Clough were in the 1960s and 1970s. This leaves me wondering, in what context are young scholars discovering Clough? And what are the scholarly interests that have been guiding their decision to work on his poetry?
One can imagine at least three different explanations for reexamining Clough: first, a revivalist impulse to restore to the canon a poet who has fallen out of interest; second, an interest in the formal aspects of Clough's poetry that may reflect renewed attention to literary form; and third, the prevalence of themes in Clough's poetry that are of central interest to cultural and new historicist criticism. These differing reasons are not necessarily easily reconciled. Part of what intrigues me about the recent work on Clough, however, is that it suggests that a reconciliation between cultural criticism and a renewed formalist approach is possible and is already taking place in Victorian poetry studies.
Scholars are studying Clough's experimentation with style, his attempt to adapt Greek and Latin forms to the English hexameter, and his innovative use of genre. The current work on Clough suggests that a reinvigorated formalist criticism is emerging within Victorian poetry studies: the return to Clough may essentially be a sign that scholars are returning to the text. Victorian poetry studies may be making (or has perhaps already made) a shift toward reincorporating formalism similar to the shift that has been taking place within recent years in Romanticism studies. The question of a "New Formalism" has gained wider currency in the debates initiated by Susan Wolfson in Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism (1997) and in a MLQ special issue (March 2000) on "Reading for Form," edited by Wolfson and Marshall Brown. If the new Clough scholars do indeed reflect a similar shift to formalism, what seems remarkable is that in Victorian poetry studies we have made this shift without the convulsive changes that have affected Romantic, especially Wordsworth, studies. Romanticism has been a methodological battleground: once at the center of New Criticism, it moved "beyond formalism" in the 1970s (as echoed in Geoffrey Hartman's book of that title), and it embraced New Historicism with critics such as Marjorie Levinson and Alan Liu in the late 1980s and 1990s. Victorian poetry studies have seen, alongside New Historicism, the rapid institutionalization of Cultural Materialism, moving beyond formalism into more capacious areas like history, culture, and politics; yet the field has done so largely without entering into the same sorts of methodological disputes. This has perhaps laid the foundation for a smoother reintegration of a new mode of formalist reading practice within the study of Victorian poetry.
To invoke the word "formalism" may, for Victorianists, call to mind Walter Pater, the father of formalist aesthetics. But it may also risk conjuring up New Criticism's sometimes too exclusive insistence on form and the anti-formalism of Paul de Man, who declared a "dead-end" to formalism. The Clough scholars, however, are demonstrating that the study of form is not antithetical to a host of values and practices currently being celebrated within the field. The Clough revival is not simply a throwback to an earlier time: a renewed attentiveness to form does not imply a backlash against theory, a retreat from politics, or the embrace of the political conservatism associated with New Criticism. That the poetry itself is in view is especially promising for the teaching of Victorian poetry: the present revival of interest in Clough certainly contradicts gloomy prognostications about the future of poetry studies, particularly about the ability to attract students to the study of "difficult" Victorian poetry. The current scholars are reconciling their attention to form--Clough's metrical, linguistic, and generic irregularities--with more contextualized modes of criticism, without abandoning other theoretical commitments or looking at the poems in isolation.
When a discipline takes a new turning, we may, of course, be inclined to draw conclusions too rapidly. Clough himself puts this problem best:
To gather facts from far and near, Upon the mind to hold them clear, And, knowing more may yet appear, Unto one's latest breath to fear The premature result to draw--Is this the object, end and law, And purpose of our being here? (1)
Recognizing, as Clough did, that such questions may never receive a conclusive answer, we may nonetheless consider what the Clough revival tells us about the direction of current scholarship. If conferences are predictors of future developments in Victorian studies, we can expect to see more work on Clough in the next few years, much of it by new scholars in the field.
Clough is in many ways an ideal candidate for the revivalist impulse. While there have always been "Cloughomaniacs" (as one exasperated critic has called them), Clough has never truly gained a broad readership. His reputation, in fact, has suffered a bad reception from Matthew Arnold, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Lionel Trilling, and others. Swinburne, for example, joked that "there was a bad poet named Clough, whom his friends found it useless to puff." (2) Still, today's students of Clough are the beneficiaries of a previous revival: perhaps inspired by the publication of the first modern edition of Clough's poems in 1951 (edited by Frederick Mulhauser, revised 1974), there was a brief resurgence of interest in his work in the 1960s, with five full-length studies in as many years. Yet as things stand now, Clough has still not yet firmly entered the canon of Victorian poets: for many years Christopher Ricks' New Oxford Book of Victorian Verse (1987) was the only Victorian poetry collection to represent Clough with more than a few short poems; more recently Thomas Collins and Vivienne Rundle's Broadview Anthology of Victorian Poetry and Poetic Theory (1999) and Dorothy Mermin and Herbert Tucker's Victorian Literature 1830-1900 (2002) have included Amours de Voyage as well as some lyrics; yet a number of other anthologies, such as the Everyman, do not even include a single poem by Clough; and very little of Clough's major work is available in teaching collections, such as the Norton anthology, or Bloom and Trilling's Oxford Victorian.
Supported by current reconsiderations of canon formation, the present generation of Clough scholars is seeking to restore his position; yet they work by example rather than argument. They are, in fact, perhaps the first generation of Clough scholars to begin without a defense of their subject. No more asking whether Clough failed, or why he failed, or even how it is wrong to ask whether he failed. They dive into their material unapologetically, without the prefatory justification of his poetry, without invoking the myth of Clough's failure--once the "golden hope" of Rugby and Oxford--that has so marked Clough's previous reception, including Arnold's lament over the "too quick despairer" in "Thyrsis." The absence of polemics is perhaps explained by the fact that their defense of Clough garners the support of established Victorianists. The new interest in his work seems to be spearheaded by a small but persistent group of young scholars; but it is worth remembering that students tend to write for teachers. Those teachers, some of whom may have even received their degrees in the 1960s during the last Clough revival, are presumably the senior scholars who are now selecting papers for conferences, supporting dissertations on Clough, and even teaching Clough in their graduate courses. Clough has never entirely faded from view for established Victorianists. Isobel Armstrong, for example, who published a full-length study on Clough in the 1960s and includes essays by Barbara Hardy and John Goode on Clough in her collection The Major Victorian Poets: Reconsiderations (1969; the very title of which is gratifying for Clough devotees), has a full chapter on Clough's radical politics in Victorian Poetry (1993). More recently, Matthew Reynolds' The Realms of Verse 1830-1870: English Poetry in a Time of Nation Building devotes a chapter to the function of the public arena in Clough's long poems The Bothie of Toper-na-Fuosich (1848) and Amours de Voyage (1858).
Clough is an especially appealing figure because he is one of those poets, who, no matter when, are always claimed to be "modern" and "of our time." This is no less true today than it was in 1869, when Henry Sidgwick wrote, "His point of view and habit of mind are less singular in England in the year 1869 than they were in 1859, and much less than they were in 1849. We are growing year by year more introspective and self-conscious: the current philosophy leads us to a close, patient, and impartial observation and analysis of our mental processes." (3) A hundred years later Walter Houghton concluded his book The Poetry of Clough: An Essay in Revaluation (1963) by saying that "Clough is not only one of the best Victorian poets, he is also perhaps the most modern." (4) Each phase of the Clough reception emphasizes different aspects of his poetry (and sometimes his prose). He himself wrote in "Letters of Parapidemus I" published in Putnam's Magazine in 1853: "Each new age and each new year has its new direction; and we go to the well-informed of the season before ours, to be put by them in the direction which, because right for their time, is therefore not quite right for ours" (Poems, 1:389).
Victorian readers, for example, knew him best for his earlier short poems, such as "Say not the Struggle Nought Availeth" or "Qua Cursum Ventus." Highly quotable poems, the first was read by Winston Churchill in a 1941 broadcast and the second is known best perhaps from its quotation in Tom Brown's School Days. By contrast, most twentieth-century critics have been more interested in his longer narrative poems The Bothie of Toper-na-Fuosich (later changed to The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich when the original turned out to be a Scottish obscenity), Amours de Voyage, and Dipsychus. The shift in interest has in part to do with the availability of texts. Mrs. Clough's fear that Dipsychus was "too unfinished," for example, led her to censor it severely in both the 1865 and 1869 editions. (5) Poems like "Natura Naturans," published in his first collection of poems Ambarvalia (a joint collection with Thomas Burbridge, 1849), were omitted in subsequent editions edited by Mrs. Clough. The highly sensual "Natura Naturans," which captures a sudden sexual awareness in a railway carriage and relates it--as the Spinozistic title implies--to man's role in nature, was presumably too explicit for Mrs. Clough's taste. modern readers have had more complete texts available to them and have a better sense of the corpus of his work. Whereas the short poems are most effective because of their lyric passion, Clough's long poems--which have drawn most recent attention--are marked by irony, ambiguity, and indirection. It is the heterodoxy of his narrative poems, with their generic instability and their prosodic innovation, that gives the poems their distinctness. To an extent rarely seen elsewhere, recent work pays attention to the complex and contradictory registers of the poems--it attends to the formal elements of the poems, starting from units as minimal as the phoneme. Today, Clough seems to be drawing attention for the richness and complexity of his poetic form: the most recent scholarship is not just reviving a poet, but also breathing new life into a mode of reading poetry.
Laying aside the Tennysonian musical regularity and poetic diction popular in his time, Clough developed the unusual meter of the accentual hexameter. Looking back to the meter of ancient Greece and Rome, and influenced by recent uses of the hexameter by Longfellow in Evangeline and of classical elegiacs by Goethe in Romische Eleven (1795), Clough uses the hexameter form in The Bothie and punctuates hexameters with elegiac couplets in Amours de Voyage. Yet he incorporates into English accentual verse the patterns of quantity that were fundamental to classical verse. Yopie Prins (who teaches a graduate course at the University of Michigan that focuses in part on nineteenth-century debates about meter) has recently shown that nineteenth-century prosody became increasingly more elaborate. Her essay on "Victorian meters," which discusses Clough in some detail, is itself an example and an argument in favor of the turning toward a greater awareness of form: as she indicates, she has "placed Victorian debates about meter within their own historical context in order to emphasize the cultural significance of formalist reading." (6) Prins shows that Victorian poets turned with new enthusiasm to the use of "quantity" in English verse. Tennyson, for example, claimed to know the quantity of every English word "except perhaps 'scissors.'" (7) Yet Clough's metrical experiments were nonetheless disparaged by his contemporaries: Elizabeth Barrett Browning said of The Bothie that it was "written in loose and more-than-need-be unmusical hexameters"; Tennyson, according to William Rossetti, found it "execrable English"; and Swinburne regarded Clough's English hexameters as "at best ... ugly bastards of verse." (8) Clough's hexameters were highly unusual and did not follow the classical model. As Charles Kingsley noted, "A large proportion of his hexameters are, to use the very mildest word, abnormal. The scandalized scansionist stumbles on occasional trochees in every foot in a verse, to stop at last, horror of horrors! at a line which will not scan at all--forward, backward, or sideways." (9)
Modern readers, however, show that Clough is far from the "rough versifier" that he was often taken for in his own time. Joseph Patrick Phelan argues that Clough is not simply presenting an inadequate imitation of classical meters, but that The Bothie "represents the enactment of a radical theory of 'musical prosody' which anticipates in many respects the metrical speculations of Coventry Patmore and Gerard Manley Hopkins later in the century." (10) As Phelan shows, Clough's metrical experiments were part of a scholarly debate about the right way of translating Greek and Latin poetry taking place in the short lived Classical Museum. "The bizarrerie of the subject," as Charles Kingsley said of The Bothie, is "charmingly expressed in the bizarrerie of the style" (Critical Heritage, p. 40). The learned mock-epic hexameter form also carries with it a sort of tongue-in-cheek humor, referring sportingly to the classical hexameter. Neither Clough nor the meter takes itself too seriously in the poem: it is filled with wit, burlesque, and gentle self-mockery. The mock-heroic mode also runs throughout Amours de Voyage, which captures--in hexameters--the refreshing colloquialisms and the cadences of speech rhythm of Claude's letters.
The new Clough enthusiasts are remarkable for the confidence, ease, and apparent unselfconsciousness with which they are integrating their formalist readings with wider cultural or literary-historical issues. For example, Amours de Voyage and The Bothie are increasingly receiving attention as travel literature. V. S. Pritchett long ago called Clough the "poet of tourism," but it is only recently with the heightened general interest in travel literature that this aspect of Clough is being developed. (11) The papers presented at the VISAWUS conference on the "Victorian World," for example, each discussed Amours de Voyage and its relation to the Grand Tour. (12) Donald Ulin's recent article "Tourism and the Contest for Cultural Authority in Clough's Bothie of Toper-na-Fuosich" in Victorian Poetry considers The Bothie as one of the earliest examinations of middle-class leisure. Ulin shows how The Bothie foregrounds the politics of language in such a way that "the poem brings into focus the problems as well as the possibilities of language in the production of both modern poetry and a modern countryside." (13) As Christopher M. Kierstead shows, even Dipsychus, set in Venice, can be read in the context of travel poems. (14)
The interest in the novelistic aspect of Clough's narrative poems is bringing Clough studies in line with current novel studies. Today, readers trained in the novel are possibly more adept at reading Clough's "novel-poems" (Elizabeth Barrett Browning's term for her Aurora Leigh), which have the breadth and variety of the novel as well as the concentration of poetry: the characters of The Bothie and of Amours are, claimed Henry Sidgwick, "as thoroughly impressed upon us as if they had been delineated in a three-volume novel by Mr. Trollope." Stefanie Markovits, for example, reads Clough's Amours in the context of a problem of action that she also finds in the Victorian novel. (15) Meg Tasker considers The Bothie as a "prime example of the novelization of English poetry in the nineteenth century" and demonstrates the parallels between Clough's poetics and the dialogic structure of the novel. (16) Suzanne Bailey considers Amours de Voyage through the lens of Bakhtin's theory of novelization. (17)
There are certainly more aspects of Clough's poetry that have yet to benefit from reexamination: one might have expected Clough to resurface, for example, in the recent study, Muscular Christianity, ed. Donald Hall (1994). (18) Clough does get a chapter by Howard J. Booth on "Male Sexuality, Religion and the Problem of Action: John Addington Symonds on Arthur Hugh Clough" in Masculinity and Spirituality in Victorian Culture (2000). (19) Similarly, other possible topics that seem in keeping with today's interests--such as the role of the working woman in The Bothie, or questions of gender in Clough's sexually allusive poems--have yet to be explored in depth.
The recent work on Clough is just one of the many signs that Victorian studies is moving toward a new formalism that is incorporating the interests of historicism and cultural studies. Herbert Tucker, for example, has advocated a kind of "cultural neoformalism" that might well describe the current Clough scholarship. (20) In "The Fix of Form: An Open Letter," he demonstrates with a stanza of Tennyson's In Memoriam that by attending to form we end up doing cultural studies. (21) What Tucker does for In Memoriam, Clough scholars are starting to do with Amours. Clough has suffered longer than many other poets of his age under the burden of Victorian evaluative standards, yet today's scholarship shows how we can recuperate Clough by looking more closely at his poems. Recent Clough scholarship reflects a new and promising direction in the study of Victorian poetry, one that can combine a newly energized formal analysis with larger historical concerns.
(1) Arthur Hugh Clough, "To spend uncounted years of pain," The Poems of Arthur Hugh Clough (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), p. 313.
(2) Algernon Charles Swinburne, "Social Verse," Forum (October 1891): 169-185; repr. in Arthur Hugh Clough: The Critical Heritage, ed. Michael Thorpe (New York: Routledge, 1972), p. 340.
(3) Henry Sidgwick, "The Poems and Prose Remains of Arthur Hugh Clough," Westminster Review 42 (October 1869): 363-387; repr. in Arthur Hugh Clough: The Critical Heritage, p. 269.
(4) Walter Houghton, The Poetry of Clough: An Essay in Revaluation (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1963), p. 228.
(5) Dipsychus was published in censored form in Letters and Remains of Arthur Hugh Clough (1865) and The Poems and Prose Remains of Arthur Hugh Clough (1869), ed. Mrs. Blanche Smith Clough (London, 1869).
(6) Yopie Prins, "Victorian Meters," The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Poetry, ed. Joseph Bristow (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000), pp. 110-111.
(7) Hallam Tennyson, Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir by His Son, 2 vols. (London, 1897), 2:231; quoted in Yopie Prins, "Victorian Meters," The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Poetry, p. 98.
(8) Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ed. Frederic G. Kenyon, 2 vols. (London, 1897), 1:429, quoted in Matthew Reynolds, The Realms of Verse 1830-1870: English Poetry in a Time of Nation Building (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2001), p. 133; William Michael Rossetti, Prearaphaelite Letters and Diaries (London, 1900), p. 239, quoted in Arthur Hugh Clough: The Critical Heritage, p. 5; Algernon Charles Swinburne, Essays and Studies (London, 1895), p. 163.
(9) Charles Kingsley, "The Bothie of Toper-na-Fuosich," Fraser's Magazine 39 (1849): 103-110; repr. in Arthur Hugh Clough: The Critical Heritage, pp. 41-42.
(10) Joseph Patrick Phelan, "Radical Metre: The English Hexameter in Clough's Bothie Toper-na-Fuosich," RES 50 (1999): 166-187.
(11) V.S. Pritchett, Books in General (London: Chatto and Windus, 1953), p. 1.
(12) Isobel Hurst, "Amour de Voyage: The Epic of the Victorian Grand Tour?"; Dan Kline, "'Rome is better than London, because it is other than London': Arthur Hugh Clough's Victorian Revisions to the Grand Tour"; Stefanie Markovits, "Arthur Hugh Clough's Amours de Voyage and the Poetry of Cultural Tourism"; Arnold Schmidt, "Clough and Garibaldi: Italian Nationalism and Amours de Voyage."
(13) Donald Ulin, "Tourism and the Contest for Cultural Authority in Clough's Bothie of Toper-na-Fuosich," VP 37(1999): 71-97.
(14) Christopher M. Kierstead, "Where 'Byron Used to Ride': Locating the Victorian Travel Poet in Clough's Amours de Voyage and Dipsychus," PQ 77 (1998): 377-395.
(15) Stefanie Markovits, "Arthur Hugh Clough, Amours de Voyage, and the Victorian Crisis of Action," NCL 55 (2001): 445-478.
(16) Meg Tasker, "Time, Tense, and Genre: A Bakhtinian Analysis of Clough's Bothie," VP 34 (1996): 193-211, 206.
(17) Suzanne Bailey, '"A Garland of Fragments': Modes of Reflexivity in Clough's Amours de Voyage," VP 31 (1993): 157-170.
(18) Donald E. Hall, Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian Age (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994).
(19) Masculinity and Spirituality in Victorian Culture, ed. Andrew Bradstock, Sean Gill, Sue Morgan, and Anne Hogan (Houndmills, England: Macmillan-St. Martin's, 2000).
(20) Herbert Tucker, "Introduction," Critical Essays on Alfred Lord Tennyson, ed. Tucker (New York: G. K. Hall, 1993), p. 8.
(21) Herbert Tucker, "The Fix of Form: An Open Letter," VLC 27 (1999): 532-533. Compare Jonathan Loesberg's article in the same issue, "Cultural Studies, Victorian Studies, Formalism," VLC 27 (1999): 537-544.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Why Clough? Why Now?. Contributors: Ryan, Vanessa - Author. Journal title: Victorian Poetry. Volume: 41. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2003. Page number: 504+. © 2008 West Virginia University Press, University of West Virginia. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.