The Spare Chancellor: The Life of Walter Bagehot

The Spare Chancellor: The Life of Walter Bagehot

The Spare Chancellor: The Life of Walter Bagehot

The Spare Chancellor: The Life of Walter Bagehot

Excerpt

No one scholar, student or common reader--can travel very far into the history of the last hundred years without meeting the name of Walter Bagehot. The encounter may not be face to face, in his books or in his essays, for his aphorisms and ideas traverse and illuminate the works of more famous men. Yet, because what he said has been so widely quoted, misquoted or unconsciously accepted, the man has tended to recede into a myth, behind the eyeglass and the bushy beard. Posterity likes to place its forbears in categories, but Bagehot refuses to play this innocent game. He was a literary critic who was also a master of hounds, a banker and a social psychologist, an economist, a great editor, a political analyst and a biographer.

Though he never entered public life, he was for many years regarded in Whitehall as a spare Chancellor of the Exchequer. Whatever niche the historian attempts to assign him to, he instantly eludes. He died at the age of fifty-one and the fact that his life formed so brief an interlude in an era of continuous change--his uncle was William Pitt's secretary, one of his friends took part in an international negotiation with John Foster Dulles--makes it even harder to set him in his true dimension.

He was childless in more senses than the obvious, and founded no school of thought associated with his name, no great intellectual dynasty like the Stephens, the Huxleys, the Darwins, the Arnolds or the Forsters. He had little concern with posthumous fame which he compared to "a moth going into Chancery", and he made gentle fun of Macaulay for regarding "living men as the necessary prerequisites of great grand children". His principal memorial is an attitude and a style which by slow pervasion have influenced letters and journalism throughout the English . . .

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