John Campbell Shairp (1819-85) was a fellow student of Clough’s at Balliol. Clough’s Philip in The Bothie may be modelled upon him to some extent. He was a critic and minor poet, his only remembered poem now, perhaps, being ‘Balliol Scholars’, in which he celebrates his friends and contemporaries Clough, Arnold and John Duke Coleridge. He became Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1877. This exchange of letters arose, nine years before the poem’s publication, because Shairp was one of the friends amongst whom Clough passed round the poem in MS. soon after its completion.
(i) From Shairp’s letter to Clough [5?12? November 1849]
The latter half as being more downright pleases me more than the former. But taken as a whole—bating some few pages—it does not give me much pleasure. The state of the soul of which it is a projection I do not like. It strikes me as the most Werterish (not that I ever read Werter) of all you have yet done. There is no hope, nor strength, nor belief in these; —everything crumbles to dust beneath a ceaseless self-introspection and criticism which is throughout the one only inspiration. The gaiety of manner where no gaiety is, becomes flippancy. In the Bothie, though I was not its warmest admirer, there was strength and something positive in the men’s characters and the Highland Hills—but here this fresh element is wanting and blasé disgust at men and things rampant. The Ambarvalia, if Werterish, was honest serious Werterism—but this is Beppoish or Don Juanish (if I remember them right). The Hexameters still do not go down with me. They give me a sense of Travestie—which is their place I think. The snatches of longs and shorts are very nice, but they would not do to be more than snatches. One page or two of the Hexameters rise into music— that ‘Falling Falling still to the ancient Lyrical cadence’ and that about