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The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot

The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot
    Book Description:

    Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) was a prominent English journalist, banker, and man of letters. For many years he was editor ofThe Economist, and to this day the magazine includes a weekly "Bagehot" column. His analyses of politics, economics, and public affairs were nothing short of brilliant. Sadly, he left no memoir.

    How, then, does this book bear the title,The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot? Frank Prochaska explains, "Given my longstanding interest in Bagehot's life and times, I decided to compose a memoir on his behalf." And so, in this imaginative reconstruction of the memoir Bagehot might have written, Prochaska assumes his subject's voice, draws on his extensive writings (Bagehot'sCollected Worksfill 15 volumes), and scrupulously avoids what Bagehot considered that most unpardonable of faults-dullness.

    A faux autobiography allows for considerable license, but Prochaska remains true to Bagehot's character and is accurate in his depiction of the times. The memoir immerses us in the spirit of the Victorian era and makes us wish to have known Walter Bagehot. He is, Prochaska observes, the Victorian with whom we would most want to have dinner.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19861-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Frank Prochaska

    G. M. Young, the great historian of Victorian England, once turned over in his mind candidates for the title of the ‘Greatest Victorian’. He was not looking for the supreme genius working in Britain between 1837 and 1901; if so, Darwin and George Eliot would have been among those with strong claims to the distinction. Instead, Young was looking for someone with a roomy and energetic mind, who could have been of no other time: ‘a man with sympathy to share, and genius to judge, its sentiments and movements: a man not too illustrious or too consummate to be companionable,...

  4. 8 Queen’s Gate Place
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. CHAPTER I A Somerset Childhood
    (pp. 1-22)

    Few things are more likely than that a man of promise will fail to live up to it, and few things more saddening than reading the memoirs of a failure. The world is full of people who have a superfluity of knowledge, culture and taste—in short all the tools of achievement—but are deficient in the latent impulse and energy which alone can turn such instruments to account. The touching remains of the young in our graveyards gives us no clue to the future fate of those persons had they survived. We can only tell a man of genius...

  6. CHAPTER II A London Education
    (pp. 23-39)

    On leaving Bristol College, I had quiet thoughts of attending Oxford, which would have pleased my mother; but my father disliked the aristocratic leanings of the University and objected to the doctrinal tests which were then required. Notwithstanding that Oxford exacted assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles, few Oxford-bred men could give any rational account of them, or the weary controversies out of which their nomenclature arose. The English nation has no opinion of them at all; since our fathers fell asleep there has been no bona fide discussion of them. My own faith was more in keeping with my mother’s...

  7. CHAPTER III A French Experience
    (pp. 40-52)

    I had become rather gloom-ridden in London. Like many a man in his twenties who thinks he knows the world, I was too proud in my eager and shifting thoughts to follow Pascal’s counsel to sit still in my room. The commonplaceness of life goaded me; placid society irritated me. Like Shelley, hurrying to and fro in a world of sorrow, I was self-absorbed, in search of fresh experience. Myriad thoughts rattled around my addled brain when I visited Paris in the summer of 1851. It was my first trip to the Continent since the summer of 1844, when my...

  8. CHAPTER IV Banking and Letters
    (pp. 53-69)

    By the summer of 1852, I was content to return to Somerset and the beauties of Herd’s Hill and its lovely garden, which my father had laid out with the eye of an artist. A principal cause of my homecoming was a sense of filial duty, to relieve my father of some of the burden of caring for my mother, who had come to depend on me for support. Contact with insanity had a depressing effect on my nervous system, and my mother’s illness had caused me to lead something of a secretive life in London. I had got into...

  9. CHAPTER V History
    (pp. 70-83)

    I had settled back into a familiar pattern of life at Herd’s Hill, which I was content to see continue until something more enticing turned up. My mother desired a daughter-in-law to turn up, but Langport was not richly endowed with young ladies worthy of her expectations. Nor, it might be said, was a lettered banker of whimsical temper considered a great catch by other expectant mothers and their little blue and pink daughters, so like each other. As Hutton said drily, I would have found them more attractive had I not been so short-sighted! With few distractions, I took...

  10. CHAPTER VI Marriage and Ambition
    (pp. 84-97)

    No one rises so high as he who knows not whither he is going,’ observed Oliver Cromwell. Since leaving London I had contented myself with the rustic pleasures of Somerset and the less than onerous duties of the Bank. The year 1856 was pleasing in its fashion, as I worked by day at the bank and wrote at night in my study.

    Musings have soothed at evening hour,

    As woman’s words man’s world-worn power.

    The year ended with an unexpected invitation. In December, the writer and mill owner W. R. Greg asked Richard Hutton if he was interested in editing...

  11. CHAPTER VII London and The Economist
    (pp. 98-112)

    My pamphlet on reform thrust me into the inner circle of political life in the capital. My father-in-law wrote to me saying how everyone spoke of it in glowing terms. Thackeray asked the publisher to supply him with this ‘wonderfully clever pamphlet’. Robert Lowe, then Vice-President of the Committee of the Council on Education, said it was the best thing he had read on the subject, though its practical recommendations on the franchise were too refined for popular consumption and impossible to implement. As it happened, the House of Commons remained in a state of confusion about the franchise. Whilst...

  12. CHAPTER VIII Spare Mind
    (pp. 113-131)

    EditingThe Economistturned my attention increasingly to commercial issues, but my spare mind always looks to intellectual pursuits for relief. The same suspicion of abstract speculations in commerce has made me suspicious of philosophical speculations, which bear the same traces of excessive impulse. Ideologies can be dangerous things. Great and terrible systems of divinity and philosophy lie round about us, which, if true, might drive a wise man mad. Every sort of philosophy has been systematized, and yet as these philosophies utterly contradict one another, most of them cannot be true. Unproved abstract principles without number have been eagerly...

  13. CHAPTER IX The American Crisis and the English Constitution
    (pp. 132-150)

    The crisis of American democracy was the world’s leading drama when I became editor ofThe Economist. A host of issues—political and constitutional, social and commercial—were of interest to readers of the paper and to the wider public. Ever since the American Revolution, the English have had divided views on their transatlantic cousins, watching and waiting to see the results of the republican experiment. A steady stream of writers invoked the United States as either a model or a warning; radicals praised America in their campaign for reform; conservatives, fearful of the effects of propaganda from across the...

  14. CHAPTER X Politics
    (pp. 151-167)

    At the time of writingThe English Constitution, I stood for Parliament. My father did not attach great significance to political ambition; my mother was more sanguine, for she wanted me to enjoy a wider prominence than I had achieved through journalism. For some years, I had an irrational conviction that I should be Member of Parliament for Bridgwater, which diminished my interest in other constituencies, and no amount of reasoning would get it out of my head. When several leading politicians, who thought I might advance the Liberal cause, encouraged me to contest Dudley in May 1865, I declined....

  15. CHAPTER XI Physics and Politics
    (pp. 168-181)

    My friend Sir George Cornewall Lewis, who was an odd mixture of amusing anomalies, used to say, ‘the world would not be a bad place if it were not for its pleasures’. I have never been one to enjoy invented delights, but prefer the causeless happiness that comes from the intuitive impulses of a feverish brain. Still, even a playful mind has its cares and stresses. My life has not been quiet, rushing among the details of our time. Thus holidays have been an escape, though my forbearing wife, who has a taste for travel, has had to put up...

  16. CHAPTER XII Political Economy
    (pp. 182-200)

    The changes in the nation’s business and political life corresponded to changes in my own. I have lived through several financial crises and have found myself drawn increasingly into commercial discussions. Since the banking crisis of 1857, when Mr Wilson first approached me to write forThe Economist, I have been sought out for my observations on the behaviour of the money market and the trade cycle. Gladstone placed me in his confidence on the management of economic policy, and since the Conservatives returned to power I have advised the Chancellor of the Exchequer on financing the government’s debt. Such...

  17. CHAPTER XIII Valediction
    (pp. 201-203)

    My last review, on Lord Althorp, appeared in theFortnightlyin November 1876. I was drawn to him because he recalled my childhood memories of the 1832 Reform Act; a man picturesquely out of place; wise with the solid wisdom of rural England; popular and useful; content to end his days in the country away from the maelstrom of politics. I have since continued to write forThe Economistbut am now facing my final deadline, for which I am ill prepared but seeking to be stoical. My recent cold has brought on a severe attack of the lungs and...

  18. Index
    (pp. 204-208)