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COVENTRY PATMORE on Clough, St. James's Gazette 1888

COVENTRY PATMORE on Clough, St. James's Gazette 1888

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CLOUGH



and his writings are, M for the most part, the tragic records of a

life-long devotion to a mistress who steadily refused his embraces;

but as it is greatly better to have loved without attaining than to

have attained without loving, so Clough’s ardent and unrewarded

stumblings in the dark towards his adored though unseen divinity

are greatly more attractive and edifying to those who have shared,

successfully or not, the same passion, than is that complacent

fruition of her smiles which she often accords to those who are

contented to be no more than her speaking acquaintances. Regarded

from a purely intellectual point of view, Clough’s utterances on

religion, duty, etc., are little better than the commonplaces which

in these days pass through the mind and more or less affect the

feelings of almost every intelligent and educated youth before he is

twenty years of age; but there are commonplaces which cease to be

such, and become indefinitely interesting, in proportion as they are

animated by moral ardour and passion. Speech may work good by

warming as well as by enlightening; and if Clough’s writings teach

no new truth, they may inflame the love of truth, which is perhaps

as great a service. Though he professes that he can nowhere see

light where light is most necessary and longed for, his mind is utterly

opposed to the negative type; and he exactly exemplifies the class

of believer whom Richard Hooker endeavours to comfort, in his

great sermon on ‘the perpetuity of faith in the elect,’1 by the reminder

that a longing to believe is implicit faith, and that we cannot sorrow

for the lack of that which we interiorly hold to be non-existent. A

question that must suggest itself to most readers of the two volumes

before us is, What is the use and justification of these endless and

tautological lamentations over the fact—as Clough conceived it to

be—that, for such as him at least, ‘Christ is not risen’? The reply is,

that the responsibility of the publication of so much that is

profoundly passionate but far from profoundly intellectual

scepticism was not his. With the exception of some not very

significant critical essays, the volume of prose consists of letters,

which were of course not meant for the public; and the greater part

of the poetry remained to the day of Clough’s death in his desk,

and would probably never have left it, with his consent, unless to

be put in the fire.

1

‘A learned and comfortable Sermon of the Certainty and Perpetuity of Faith in

the Elect; especially of the Prophet Habbakuk’s Faith’ (Oxford, 1612), by Richard

Hooker (1554?–1600).



336



THE CRITICAL HERITAGE



Those who recognize in the Bothie Clough’s almost solitary claim

to literary eminence must somewhat wonder at the considerable figure

he stands for in the estimation of the present generation. The fact is

that Clough, like James Spedding, was personally far more impressive

than his works; and the singularly strong effect produced among his

friends by the extreme simplicity and shy kindliness of his life and

manners, and the at once repellent and alluring severity of his

truthfulness, gave his character a consequence beyond that of his

writings with all who knew him though ever so slightly; and the halo

of this sanctity hangs, through the report of his friends, about all that

he has done and renders cold criticism of it almost impossible. The

absurdly bad portrait which stands at the beginning of the volume of

verse does not give the slightest suggestion of the manly force, feminine

shyness and sweetness, and boyish candour which made the

countenance of Clough the true mirror of his soul, and a never-to-beforgotten impression in the minds of all who had once seen it. No one

who knew Clough can so separate his personality from his writings as

to be able to criticize them fairly as literature; no one who has not

known him can understand their value as the outcome of character.

The impressionable and feminine element, which is manifest in all

genius, but which in truly effective genius is always subordinate to power

of intellect, had in Clough’s mind the preponderance. The masculine

power of intellect consists scarcely so much in the ability to see truth, as

in the tenacity of spirit which cleaves to and assimilates the truth when

it is found and which steadfastly refuses to be blown about by every

wind of doctrine and feeling. The reiterated theme of Clough’s poetry is

that the only way of forgetting certain problems now, and of securing

their solution hereafter, is to do faithfully our nearest duty. This is no

new teaching: it is that of every religion and all philosophy. But Clough

had no power of trusting patiently to the promise, ‘Do my

commandments and you shall know of the doctrine.’ This was the ruin

of what might otherwise have been a fine poetic faculty. A ‘Problem’

will not sing even in the process of solution, much less while it is only a

hopeless and irritating ‘Pons.’ Clough was curiously attracted by

Emerson, of whom he spoke as the only great contemporary American.

Now Emerson, at his very best, never approached greatness. He was at

highest only a brilliant metaphysical epigrammatist. But a religion

without a dogma, and with only one commandment, ‘Thou shalt neither

think nor do anything that is customary,’ had great attractions for Clough;

to whom it never seems to have occurred that the vast mass of mankind,

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CLOUGH



for whose moral and religious welfare he felt so keenly, has not and

never can have a religion of speechless aspirations and incommunicable

feelings, and that to teach men to despise custom is to cut the immense

majority of them adrift from all moral restraint. The promise that we

shall all be priests and kings seems scarcely to be for this world. At all

events we are as far from its fulfilment now as we were two thousand

years ago; and we shall not be brought nearer to it by any such

outpourings of sarcastic discontent as go to the making of such poems

as the tedious Mephistophelian drama called Dipsychus, which Clough

had the good sense not to publish, though it is included with many

others of equally doubtful value in posthumous editions of his works.

This class of his poems possesses, indeed, a lively interest for a great

many people of our own time, who are in the painful state of moral and

religious ferment which these verses represent; but it is a mere accident

of the time that there is any considerable audience for such utterances,

and in a generation or two it is probable that most men will feel surprise

that there could ever have been a public who found poetry in this sort of

matter.

The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich is the only considerable poem of

Clough’s in which he seems, for a time, to have got out of his slough

of introspection and doubt and to have breathed the healthy air of

nature and common humanity. In spite of many artistic short-comings,

this poem is so healthy, human, and original, that it can scarcely fail

to survive when a good deal of far more fashionable verse shall have

disappeared from men’s memories. The one infallible note of a true

poet—the power of expressing himself in rhythmical movements of

subtilty and sweetness which baffle analysis—is also distinctly

manifest in passages of the Bothie, passages the music of which was,

we fancy, lingering in the ear of Tennyson when he wrote certain

parts of Maud. The originality of this idyl is beyond question. It is

not in the least like any other poem, and an occasionally ostentatious

touch of the manner of Herman and Dorothea seems to render this

originality all the more conspicuous in the main. Another note of

poetical power, scarcely less questionable than is that of sweetness

and subtilty of rhythm, is the warm and pure breath of womanhood

which is exhaled from the love-passages of this poem. Clough seems

to have felt, in the presence of a simple and amiable woman, a mystery

of life which acted for a time as the rebuke and speechless solution of

all doubts and intellectual distresses. These passages in the Bothie,

and, in a less degree, some others in the Amours de Voyage, stand, in

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THE CRITICAL HERITAGE



the disturbed course of Clough’s ordinary verse, like the deep, pure,

and sky-reflecting pools which occasionally appear in the course of a

restless mountain river.



51. Lionel Johnson, from an unsigned

review of Matthew Arnold’s Poetical

Works in the Academy

10 January 1891, xxxix, 31–2



This review was reprinted in Johnson’s Post Liminium (ed.

Thomas Whittemore), 1911, 296.

Lionel Johnson (1867–1902), minor poet and critic, was one

of Yeats’s ‘Tragic Generation’, a member, with Yeats himself,

Dowson and others of the Rhymers’ Club of the ’nineties. Like

all of his fellow Rhymers, Johnson was strongly in reaction

against most of the great Victorians, blaming them for importing

into poetry ‘impurities’ such as politics, religion, philosophy

etc.



Johnson praises the lofty humanism and universal appeal of Arnold’s

meditative poems which, he goes on, ‘are more than records of a

transitory emotion, the phase and habit of an age. Such a description

would apply to Clough: his mournful, homesick, desultory poems

are indeed touched with decay, because they are composed without

care, in no wide spirit of contemplation; reading them we do not

think of ‘Sophocles by the Aegean,’1 nor of the laminae rerum….2

1



From Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’.

Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt: ‘There are tears for all things

and human sufferings touch the heart’ (Virgil, Aeneid I, 462).

2



339



52. A.C.Swinburne, from ‘Social Verse’,

the Forum

October 1891, 169–85

Reprinted in Studies in Prose and Poetry (London, 1894), 84–

109, and in Complete Works, ed. Edmund Gosse and Thomas

J.Wise, London, 1926, XV, 264–88.

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909), who had in his early

years admired the great Victorians, Tennyson, Browning and

Arnold, later grew increasingly critical of them for their lack of

passion, of the pagan touch. It was inevitable that one who had

sung so feelingly of ‘the raptures and roses of vice’ should have

been severe upon Clough also. The effect of this brilliant and, no

doubt, very damaging fragment may be gauged by Saintsbury’s

implicit reference to it in his A History of Nineteenth Century

Literature (see No. 53). Swinburne was reviewing an anthology

of social and occasional verse edited by Locker-Lampson.

…Even more out of place [than C.S.Calverley] in such good company

[i.e. such as Peacock, Byron, Thackeray] is the weary and wearisome

laureate of Oxonicules and Bostonicules, Mr. Lowell’s realized ideal

and chosen representative of English poetry at its highest in the

generation of Tennyson and Browning; whose message to his

generation may be summed up as follows:

We’ve got no faith, and we don’t know what to do:

To think one can’t believe a creed because it isn’t true!



Literary history will hardly care to remember or to register the fact

that there was a bad poet named Clough, whom his friends found it

useless to puff: for the public, if dull, has not quite such a skull as

belongs to believers in Clough.

Et certamen erat, Corydon cum Thyrside, parvum.1

1



Cf. Virgil, Eclogues VII, 16: ‘et certamen erat, Corydon cum Thyrside, magnum’.

Arnold’s elegy upon Clough was entitled ‘Thyrsis’.

340



53. George Saintsbury, from A History

of Nineteenth Century Literature

1896, 316–17



George Saintsbury (1845–1933) was one of the trio of historical

critics, the others being Sir Edmund Gosse and Sir Arthur

QuillerCouch, who dominated the English literary world in

their casually critical way during the late Victorian and

Edwardian periods. Saintsbury’s numerous books included the

first short critical study of Matthew Arnold (1899).



Clough has been called by persons of distinction a ‘bad poet’; but

this was only a joke, and, with all respect to those who made it, a

rather bad joke. The author of ‘Qua Cursum Ventus,’ of the

marvellous picture of the advancing tide in ‘Say not the struggle,’

and of not a few other things, was certainly no bad poet, though it

would not be uncritical to call him a thin one….

It is not necessary to be biassed by Matthew Arnold’s musical epicede

of Thyrsis in order to admit, nor should any bias against his theological

views and his rather restless character be sufficient to induce anyone

to deny, a distinct vein of poetry in Clough. His earliest and most

popular considerable work, The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich… is

written in hexameters which do not, like Kingsley’s,1 escape the curse

of that ‘pestilent heresy’; and the later Amours de Voyage and

Dipsychus, though there are fine passages in both, bring him very

close to the Spasmodic school, of which in fact he was an unattached

and more cultivated member, with fancies directed rather to religiosity

than to strict literature. Ambarvalia had preceded the Bothie, and other

things followed. On the whole, Clough is one of the most unsatisfactory

products of that well-known form of nineteenth century scepticism

which has neither the strength to believe nor the courage to disbelieve

‘and have done with it.’ He hankers and looks back, his ‘two souls’ are

always warring with each other, and though the clash and conflict

1



Charles Kingsley, Andromeda (1858).

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CLOUGH



sometimes bring out fine things (as in the two pieces above cited and

the still finer poem at Naples with the refrain ‘Christ is not risen’),

though his ‘Latest Decalogue’ has satirical merit, and some of his

country poems, written without undercurrent of thought, are fresh

and genial, he is on the whole a failure. But he is a failure of a

considerable poet, and some fragments of success chequer him.



342



54. J.M.Robertson, ‘Clough’, New Essays

Towards a Critical Method

1897



In the essay with which he opens his book John Mackinnon

Robertson (1856–1933) declares his intention to make a

contribution to the systematizing or ‘scientizing’ of ‘The Theory

and Practice of Criticism’. He finds the influential criticism of

Taine and Ste Beuve unduly subjective: he praises instead, while

showing the bias of each, Hennequin’s La Critique Scientifique

(1888) and Renouvier’s La Critique Philosophique (1889).

Nevertheless, recognizing that subjectivity is inevitable and

valuable, in critics as in writers, he exhorts the critic above all

to know himself and to aim, as objectively as he can, to ‘confess’

openly to the reader his own temperamental characteristics and

bias in thought and feeling. The critic, as Arnold and Lowell

had done, can best approach just estimates by applying

comparative standards and widening his outlook into as many

fields as he can. The allround criticism may then comprise an

‘Aesthetic Analysis’, a ‘Psychologic Analysis’, and a ‘Sociological

Analysis’.

Robertson notes in his Preface that in his study of Clough,

‘which claims for him a status and a kind of recognition that

have not latterly been given him, I have attempted to relate the

criticism of the writing, as is fitting, to a view of the organism

and surroundings of the writer.’ He also notes that his essay

was actually written in 1887.

The essay has been printed entire here, with its lengthy survey

of English novelists, because the whole is relevant to the

particular comments on Clough and is also an unusual attempt

in Victorian criticism at comparative judgment.



To some readers of the various appreciative criticisms which have been

passed upon Arthur Hugh Clough, it must have seemed odd that the

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CLOUGH



friendly writers should have so little to say of the poet’s measure of

success in a pursuit which bulked largely in his artistic work—the writing,

in the verse form, of what is none the less analytic fiction. Setting aside

the Mari Magno: or, Tales on Board, which are also character studies,

about half his verse is made up simply of The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich

and Amours de Voyage; and to the critic of fiction the latter production

cannot well fail to be at least interesting, while the former is known to

have interested a good many readers who would not profess to be

specially critical. So silent, however, has criticism been on the subject,

that there is probably an air of extravagance about an attempt to show

that Clough was a great and original artist in fiction.

When, in 1848–9, Clough wrote his Bothie and Amours,1 the leading

English novelists were Lytton, Thackeray, and Dickens; and of these

the last, being at work on David Copperfield (1849), had yet to write

Little Dorrit, Great Expectations, the Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House,

and Our Mutual Friend; while Thackeray was but beginning to produce

his masterpieces, Vanity Fair dating from 1846–8, and Pendennis from

1849–50.2 Charlotte Brontë had conquered fame by Jane Eyre; but

Shirley only appeared in 1849, and Villette was not to come till 1853.

George Eliot, again, had not yet dreamt of fiction; and across the

Atlantic Hawthorne had thus far produced only his short tales; so that

English fiction, on the whole, might be said to have reached only the

beginnings of its greatest development. Such a division is, of course,

arbitrary, just as, though in a much greater degree, it is arbitrary to

make divisions between Dark Ages, Middle Ages, and Modern Times;

but when simply put forward for what it is worth, it may serve usefully

to emphasise the fact that before the time in question English novelists

had done very little in the direction of what is coming to be recognised

as the main work of the modern novel, the serious, analytical

presentment of normal types of character. The terms here used must

be taken as strictly definitive; or, rather, they had better be themselves

defined to prevent misconception; and this can best be done by first

noting the limitations of the art of the earlier novelists. It will probably

not now be generally disputed that, while Defoe once for all gave

1

The latter seems to have been completed in 1849, though not published till

1857–8. It was then a pecuniary success, which the Bothie had not been. ‘In a

commercial point of view, the publications of the Amours has been a great event to

me. This is the first money I ever received for verse-making, and it is really a very

handsome sum.’ Letter in Prose Remains, ed. 1888, p. 245. (Robertson’s note.)

2

Vanity Fair was published serially from January 1847 to July 1848, and Pendennis

from November 1848 to December 1850.



344



THE CRITICAL HERITAGE



English prose fiction a bias to circumstantial verisimilitude; and while

Richardson, with all his limitations, gave the lead in the direction of a

true analysis of character; Jane Austen was practically the first English

novelist to attain real success in the rendering of normal life—that is

to say, the first who gives us no impression of inadequacy within the

limits of her undertaking. Richardson is far too much occupied with

his thin-spun psychologising to hit off with any vividness the objective

totality of his personages as it might conceivably appear to a keen

onlooker; for ever pulling the strings, he never seems to get a view of

his own drama; and thus the very freshness of method which gave his

letter-writing characters, with their serious conformity to the literary

conventions of the time, such a hold on the interest of his

contemporaries, is for us to-day the great bar to the assimilation of his

work. Fielding, again, is unquestionably at his best where his types are

neither serious nor normal—that is, where he is giving us genre studies,

an Adams, a Squire Western, a woman of the people, a sketch in satire,

or an effect in comedy. Tom Jones is only inferentially real, and Sophia

never becomes more than a suggestion, like Amelia, of a type of young

lady which Fielding adored. As for Goldsmith, the general truth of

suggestion, the value of the lighter detail, in The Vicar of Wakefield is

not more obvious than the conventionality of much of the framework

and much of the posing; while Scott, finally, hardly once contrives to

give true vitality to a character which does not depend for its effect on

novelty. There is none the less genius in his projection of the fresh

types, as Davie Deans, Cuddie Headrigg, Monkbarns, the Bailie, Dandie

Dinmont, and the rest; or in the skill with which the action of Jeanie

Deans is made to enshrine her in our memory; but the fact remains

that his normal personages, those hypothetically interesting figures

round whom his really observed characters are grouped, are the merest

‘walking gentlemen’ and gentlewomen. As to this there was no real

doubt among competent readers in his own time; his fame, in so far as

it did not depend on the gratitude of ordinary novel-readers for a fresh

kind of excitement, being based on the general sense of the felicity

with which he drew what were nominally his minor personages. No

reader could, in the nature of things, imagine Captain Brown, or

Waverley, or Mr. Francis Osbaldistone, anything like as vividly as he

did even Counsellor Pleydell or Saunders Mucklebackit; and while the

wizard’s young ladies are a little more thinkable than his heroes, Diana

being admittedly a substantial success, their society is far indeed from

having any such fascination for the reader of to-day as it had for the

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CLOUGH



‘male of their species’ with whom their chivalrous creator provided

them. But Jane Austen, as no one saw better than Scott, achieved just

such a success in drawing the people of the English upper-middle and

middle-upper classes as he had done with the types he had observed in

the Scotch peasantry. Here, in a young woman’s novels, were people

such as every reader met every day, somehow made as real as Borderers

and Highlanders; more persistently real, as it happened, by virtue of

the writer’s general method; and somewhat inexplicably entertaining

by virtue of one’s very perception that there was nothing irresistibly

entertaining in these same people in actual life. It was the triumph of

pure art: the commonplace had been made immortal by sheer felicity

of reproduction. Not that the new comer at once attained her due

classic authority. While the few good readers—who included, let us

remember, not only Scott, but, in the next generation, the muchmaligned Macaulay —felt that there was here something quite new in

fiction, something not attained to by Miss Burney any more than by

Richardson, yet the habit of finding the truer touches of novelists mainly

in their grotesques, or ostensible comedy-types, was of such long

standing that readers still had a tendency to esteem Jane Austen, even

as they did Fielding and Smollett, for her more emphasised studies,

which were, by the conditions of her art-world, her fools; and the very

perfection of her fools tended somewhat to strengthen the bias. Hence,

when George Eliot much later sought to present people of all grades

of mind, she could still be met by a criticism which found her Mrs.

Poysers and Aunt Gleggs admirable but thought her less piquant studies

little worth having in comparison.

In Jane Austen, then, we might almost say, we have the first of the

moderns in fiction. He, or she, who does not delight in her cannot be

credited with a true taste; or, let us say (remembering Charlotte Brontë’s

inappreciation), is one-sidedly developed. This being duly premised, a

devout admirer may with a clear conscience go on to say that Jane

Austen left unattempted the application of the naturalist method to

normal character in its relation to the deeper issues of life. Her art

played on the normal in individual experience as well as on the normal

in individuality: she drew not only the people who belong to the

ordinary drawing-room, but the drawing-room section of their inner

life, so to say; and some will probably have it, with Mr. Harrison, that

these were her fixed limits. As I must not overload a note on Clough

with a study of Jane Austen, I will not here discuss the matter, but

simply posit the fact that her performance was defined as has been

346



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