Walter Bagehot

Walter Bagehot

Walter Bagehot

Walter Bagehot

Excerpt

WALTER BAGEHOT (1826-1877), banker, economist, political thinker and commentator, critic and man of letters, was Victorian England's most versatile genius. G. M. Young called him the 'greatest' in the sense of the 'truest' Victorian and Woodrow Wilson referred to him as his 'master'. 'Had I command of the culture of men', wrote President Wilson, 'I should wish to raise up for the instruction and stimulation of my nation more than one sane, sagacious, penetrative critic of men and affairs like Walter Bagehot.' In the same essay he added: 'It would be a most agreeable good fortune to introduce Bagehot to men who have not read him. To ask your friend to know Bagehot is like inviting him to seek pleasure.'

He was born at Langport, a small Somerset town, on 3 February, 1826. His father, Thomas Watson Bagehot, was a partner in Stuckey's bank, set up at Langport in 1772, which later became one of the country's first joint-stock banks. His mother, Edith Stuckey, was a niece of the Samuel Stuckey who originally founded the bank. Bagehot's relationship with his parents was extremely happy in childhood and remained so throughout his life. His happiness was marred only by the fits of insanity to which his mother was subject, 'the dark realities' to which he sometimes refers cryptically in his essays. It was a heavy burden and the cause much suffering. Both his parents were religious, but divided by a difference of creed. A Socinian streak had emerged in the Bagehot family during the eighteenth century and although it had been overlaid by subsequent orthodoxy, Thomas Bagehot had reverted to nonconformity became a Unitarian. His wife, on the other hand, had been brought up in the Church of England, and remained loyal to her childhood faith. Bagehot himself was . . .

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