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Arthur Hugh Clough - Atlantic

To win such love as Arthur Hugh Clough won in life, to leave so dear a memory as he has left, is a happiness that falls to few men. In America, as in England, his death is mourned by friends whose affection is better than fame, and who in losing him have met with an irreparable loss. Outside the circle of his friends his reputation had no large extent; but though his writings are but little known by the great public of readers, they are prized by all those of thoughtful and poetic temper to whose hands they have come, as among the most precious and original productions of the time. To those who knew him personally his poems had a special worth and charm, as the sincere expression of a character of the purest stamp, of rare truthfulness and simplicity, not less tender than strong, and of a genius thoroughly individual in its form, and full of the promise of a large career. He was by Nature endowed with subtile and profound powers of thought, with feeling at once delicate and intense, with lively and generous sympathies, and with conscientiousness so acute as to pervade and control his whole intellectual disposition. Loving, seeking, and holding fast to the truth, he despised all falseness and affectation. With his serious and earnest thinking was joined the play of a genial humor and the brightness of poetic fancy. Liberal in sentiment, absolutely free from dogmatism and pride of intellect, of a questioning temper, but of reverent spirit, faithful in the performance not only of the larger duties, but also of the lesser charities and the familiar courtesies of life, he has left a memory of singular consistency, purity, and dignity. He lived to conscience, not for show, and few men carry through life so white a soul.

A notice of Mr. Clough understood to be written by one who knew him well gives the outline of his life.

"Arthur Hugh Clough was educated at Rugby, to which school he went very young, soon after Dr. Arnold had been elected head-master. He distinguished himself at once by gaining the only scholarship which existed at that time, and which was open to the whole school under the age of fourteen. Before he was sixteen he was at the head of the fifth form, and, as that was the earliest age at which boys were then admitted into the sixth, had to wait for a year before coming under the personal tuition of the headmaster. He came in the next (school) generation to Stanley and Vaughan, and gained a reputation, if possible, even greater than theirs. At the yearly speeches, in the last year of his residence, when the prizes are given away in the presence of the school and the friends who gather on such occasions, Arnold took the almost unexampled course of addressing him, (when he and two fags went up to carry off his load of splendidly bound books,) and congratulating him on having gained every honor which Rugby could bestow, and having also already distinguished himself and done the highest credit to his school at the University. He had just gained a scholarship at Balliol, then, as now, the blue ribbon of undergraduates.

"At school, although before all things a student, he had thoroughly entered into the life of the place, and before he left had gained supreme influence with the boys. He was the leading contributor to the 'Rugby Magazine'; and though a weakness in his ankles prevented him from taking a prominent part in the games of the place, was known as the best goal-keeper on record, a reputation which no boy could have gained without promptness and courage. He was also one of the best swimmers in the school, his weakness of ankle being no drawback here, and in his last half passed the crucial test of that day, by swimming from Swift's (the bathing-place of the sixth) to the mill on the Leicester road, and back again, between callings over.

"He went to reside at Oxford when the whole University was in a ferment. The struggle of Alma Mater to humble or cast out the most remarkable of her sons was at its height. Ward had not yet been arraigned for his opinions, and was a fellow and tutor of Balliol, and Newman was in residence at Oriel, and incumbent of St. Mary's.

"Clough's was a mind which, under any circumstances, would have thrown itself into the deepest speculative thought of its time. He seems soon to have passed through the mere ecclesiastical debatings to the deep questions which lay below them. There was one lesson—probably one only—which he had never been able to learn from his great master, namely, to acknowledge that there are problems which intellectually are not to be solved by man, and before these to sit down quietly. Whether it were from the harass of thought on such matters which interfered with his regular work, or from one of those strange miscarriages in the most perfect of examining machines, which every now and then deprive the best men of the highest honors, to the surprise of every one Clough missed his first class. But he completely retrieved this academical mishap shortly afterwards by gaining an Oriel fellowship. In his new college, the college of Pusey, Newman, Keble, Marriott, Wilberforce, presided over by Dr. Hawkins, and in which the influence of Whately, Davidson, and Arnold had scarcely yet died out, he found himself in the very centre and eye of the battle. His own convictions were by this time leading him far away from both sides in the Oxford contest; he, however, accepted a tutorship at the college, and all who had the privilege of attending them will long remember his lectures on logic and ethics. His fault (besides a shy and reserved manner) was that he was much too long-suffering to youthful philosophic coxcombry, and would rather encourage it by his gentle 'Ah! you think so?' or, 'Yes, but might not such and such be the case?'"

Clough was at Oxford in 1847,—the year of the terrible Irish famine, and with others of the most earnest men at the University he took part in an association which had for its object "Retrenchment for the sake of the Irish." Such a society was little likely to be popular with the comfortable dignitaries or the luxurious youth of the University. Many objections, frivolous or serious as the case might be, were raised against so subversive a notion as that of the self-sacrifice of the rich for the sake of the poor. Disregarding all personal considerations, Clough printed a pamphlet entitled, "A Consideration of Objections against the Retrenchment Association," in which he met the careless or selfish arguments of those who set themselves against the efforts of the society. It was a characteristic performance. His heart was deeply stirred by the harsh contrast between the miseries of the Irish poor and the wasteful extravagance of living prevalent at Oxford. He wrote with vehement indignation against the selfish pleas of the indifferent and the thoughtless possessors of wealth, wasters of the goods given them as a trust for others. His words were chiefly addressed to the young men at the University,—and they were not without effect. Such views of the rights and duties of property as he put forward, of the claims of labor, and of the responsibilities of the aristocracy, had not been often heard at Oxford. He was called a Socialist and a Radical, but it mattered little to him by what name he was known to those whose consciences were not touched by his appeal. "Will you say," he writes toward the end of this pamphlet, "this is all rhetoric and declamation? There is, I dare say, something too much in that kind. What with criticizing style and correcting exercises, we college tutors perhaps may be likely, in the heat of composition, to lose sight of realities, and pass into the limbo of the factitious,—especially when the thing must be done at odd times, in any case, and, if at all, quickly. But if I have been obliged to write hurriedly, believe me, I have obliged myself to think not hastily. And believe me, too, though I have desired to succeed in putting vividly and forcibly that which vividly and forcibly I felt and saw, still the graces and splendors of composition were thoughts far less present to my mind than Irish poor men's miseries, English poor men's hardships, and your unthinking indifference. Shocking enough the first and the second, almost more shocking the third."

It was about this time that the most widely known of his works, "The Bothie of Toper-na-Fuosich, a Long-Vacation Pastoral," was written. It was published in 1848, and though it at once secured a circle of warm admirers, and the edition was very soon exhausted, it "is assuredly deserving of a far higher popularity than it has ever attained." The poem was reprinted in America, at Cambridge, in 1849, and it may be safely asserted that its merit was more deeply felt and more generously acknowledged by American than by English readers. The fact that its essential form and local coloring were purely and genuinely English, and thus gratified the curiosity felt in this country concerning the social habits and ways of life in the mother-land, while on the other hand its spirit was in sympathy with the most liberal and progressive thought of the age, may sufficiently account for its popularity here. But the lovers of poetry found delight in it, apart from these characteristics,—in its fresh descriptions of Nature, its healthy manliness of tone, its scholarly construction, its lively humor, its large thought quickened and deepened by the penetrating imagination of the poet.

"Any one who has read it will acknowledge that a tutorship at Oriel was not the place for the author. The intense love of freedom, the deep and hearty sympathy with the foremost thought of the time, the humorous dealing with old formulas and conventionalisms grown meaningless, which breathe in every line of the 'Bothie,' show this clearly enough. He would tell in after-life, with much enjoyment, how the dons of the University, who, hearing that he had something in the press, and knowing that his theological views were not wholly sound, were looking for a publication on the Articles, were astounded by the appearance of that fresh and frolicsome poem. Oxford (at least the Oriel common room) and he were becoming more estranged daily. How keenly he felt the estrangement, not from Oxford, but from old friends, about this time, can be read only in his own words." It is in such poems as the "Qua Cursum Ventus," or the sonnet beginning, "Well, well,—Heaven bless you all from day to day!" that it is to be read. These, with a few other fugitive pieces, were printed, in company with verses by a friend, as one part of a small volume entitled, "Ambarvalia," which never attained any general circulation, although containing some poems which will take their place among the best of English poetry of this generation.

"Qua Cursum Ventus.

  "As ships, becalmed at eve, that lay
     With canvas drooping, side by side,
  Two towers of sail at dawn of day,
     Are scarce long leagues apart descried:

  "When fell the night, upsprung the breeze,
     And all the darkling hours they plied,
  Nor dreamt but each the self-same seas
     By each was cleaving side by side:

  "E'en so——But why the tale reveal
     Of those whom, year by year unchanged,
  Brief absence joined anew to feel,
     Astounded, soul from soul estranged?

  "At dead of night their sails were filled,
     And onward each rejoicing steered:
  Ah, neither blame, for neither willed,
     Or wist, what first with dawn appeared!

  "To veer, how vain! On, onward strain,
     Brave barks! In light, in darkness too,
  Through winds and tides one compass guides:
     To that, and your own selves, be true!

  "But, O blithe breeze! and O great seas!
     Though ne'er, that earliest parting past,
  On your wide plain they join again,
     Together lead them home at last!

  "One port, methought, alike they sought,
     One purpose hold where'er they fare:
  O bounding breeze! O rushing seas!
     At last, at last, unite them there!"

"In 1848-49 the revolutionary crisis came on Europe, and Clough's sympathies drew him with great earnestness into the struggles which were going on. He was in Paris directly after the barricades, and in Rome during the siege, where he gained the friendship of Saffi and other leading Italian patriots." A part of his experiences and his thoughts while at Rome are interwoven with the story in his "Amours de Voyage," a poem which exhibits in extraordinary measure the subtilty and delicacy of his powers, and the fulness of his sympathy with the intellectual conditions of the time. It was first published in the "Atlantic Monthly" for 1858, and was at once established in the admiration of readers capable of appreciating its rare and refined excellence. The spirit of the poem is thoroughly characteristic of its author, and the speculative, analytic turn of his mind is represented in many passages of the letters of the imaginary hero. Had he been writing in his own name, he could not have uttered his inmost conviction more distinctly, or have given the clue to his intellectual life more openly than in the following verses:—

  "I will look straight out, see things, not try to
          evade them:
  Fact shall be Fact for me; and the Truth the
          Truth as ever,
  Flexible, changeable, vague, and multiform
          and doubtful."

Or, again,—

  "Ah, the key of our life, that passes all wards,
          opens all locks,
  Is not I will, but I must. I must,—I must,
         —and I do it."

And still again,—

  "But for the steady fore-sense of a freer and
          larger existence,
  Think you that man could consent to be
          circumscribed here into action?
  But for assurance within of a limitless ocean
          divine, o'er
  Whose great tranquil depths unconscious
          the wind-tost surface
  Breaks into ripples of trouble that come and
          change and endure not,—
  But that in this, of a truth, we have our
          being, and know it,
  Think you we men could submit to live and
          move as we do here?"

"To keep on doing right,—not to speculate only, but to act, not to think only, but to live,"—was, it has been said, characteristic of the leading men at Oxford during this period. "It was not so much a part of their teaching as a doctrine woven into their being." And while they thus exercised a moral not less than an intellectual influence over their contemporaries and their pupils, they themselves, according to their various tempers and circumstances, were led on into new paths of inquiry or of life. Some of them fell into the common temptations of an English University career, and lost the freshness of energy and the honesty of conviction which first inspired them; others, holding their places in the established order of things, were able by happy faculties of character to retain also the vigor and simplicity of their early purposes; while others again, among whom was Clough, finding the restraints of the University incompatible with independence, gave up their positions at Oxford to seek other places in which they could more freely search for the truth and express their own convictions.

It was not long after his return from Italy that he became Professor of English Language and Literature at University College, London. He filled this place, which was not in all respects suited to him, until 1852. After resigning it, he took various projects into consideration, and at length determined to come to America with the intention of settling here, if circumstances should prove favorable. In November, 1852, he arrived in Boston. He at once established himself at Cambridge, proposing to give instruction to young men preparing for college, or to take on in more advanced studies those who had completed the collegiate course. He speedily won the friendship of those whose friendship was best worth having in Boston and its neighborhood. His thorough scholarship, the result of the best English training, and his intrinsic qualities caused his society to be sought and prized by the most cultivated and thoughtful men. He had nothing of insular narrowness, and none of the hereditary prejudices which too often interfere with the capacity of English travellers or residents among us to sympathize with and justly understand habits of life and of thought so different from those to which they have been accustomed. His liberal sentiments and his independence of thought harmonized with the new social conditions in which he found himself, and with the essential spirit of American life. The intellectual freedom and animation of this country were congenial to his disposition. From the beginning he took a large share in the interests of his new friends. He contributed several remarkable articles to the pages of the "North American Review" and of "Putnam's Magazine," and he undertook a work which was to occupy his scanty leisure for several years, the revision of the so-called Dryden's Translation of Plutarch's Lives. Although the work was undertaken simply as a revision, it turned out to involve little less labor than a complete new translation, and it was so accomplished that henceforth it must remain the standard version of this most popular of the ancient authors.

But all that made the presence of such a man a great gain to his new friends made his absence felt by his old ones as a great loss. In July, 1853, he received the announcement that a place had been obtained for him by their efforts in the Education Department of the Privy Council, and he was so strenuously urged to return to England, that, although unwilling to give up the prospect of a final settlement in America, he felt that it was best to go home for a time. Some months after his return he was married to the granddaughter of the late Mr. William Smith, M.P. for Norwich. He established himself in a house in London, and settled down to the hard routine-work of his office. In a private letter written not long after his return, he said,—"As for myself, whom you ask about, there is nothing to tell about me. I live on contentedly enough, but feel rather unwilling to be re-Englished, after once attaining that higher transatlantic development. However, il faut s'y soumettre, I presume,—though I fear I am embarked in the foundering ship. I hope to Heaven you'll get rid of slavery, and then I shouldn't fear but you would really 'go ahead' in the long run. As for us and our inveterate feudalism, it is not hopeful."

In another letter about this time, he wrote,—"I like America all the better for the comparison with England on my return. Certainly I think you are more right than I was willing to admit, about the position of the poorer classes here. Such is my first reimpression. However, it will wear off soon enough, I dare say; so you must make the most of my admissions."

Again, a little later, he wrote,—"I do truly hope that you will get the North erelong thoroughly united against any further encroachments. I don't by any means feel that the slave-system is an intolerable crime, nor do I think that our system here is so much better; but it is clear to me that the only safe ground to go upon is that of your Northern States. I suppose the rich-and-poor difficulties must be creeping in at New York, but one would fain hope that European analogies will not be quite accepted even there."

His letters were reflections of himself,—full of thought, fancy, and pleasant humor, as well as of affectionateness and true feeling. Their character is hardly to be given in extracts, but a few passages may serve to illustrate some of these qualities.

"Ambrose Philips, the Roman Catholic, who set up the new St. Bernard Monastery at Charnwood Forest, has taken to spirit-rappings. He avers, inter alia, that a Buddhist spirit in misery held communication with him through the table, and entreated his confessor, Father Lorraine, to say three masses for him. Pray, convey this to T—— for his warning. For, moreover, it remains uncertain whether Father Lorraine did say the masses; so that perhaps T——'s deceased co-religionist is still in the wrong place."

Some time after his return, he wrote,—"Really, I may say I am only just beginning to recover my spirits after returning from the young and hopeful and humane republic, to this cruel, unbelieving, inveterate old monarchy. There are deeper waters of ancient knowledge and experience about one here, and one is saved from the temptation of flying off into space; but I think you have, beyond all question, the happiest country going. Still, the political talk of America, as one hears it here, is not always true to the best intentions of the country, is it?"

Writing on a July day from his office in Whitehall, he says, after speaking of the heat of the weather,—"Time has often been compared to a river: if the Thames at London represent the stream of traditional wisdom, the comparison will indeed be of an ill odor; the accumulated wisdom of the past will be proved upon analogy to be as it were the collected sewage of the centuries; and the great problem, how to get rid of it."

In March, 1854, he wrote,—"People talk a good deal about that book of Whewell's on the Plurality of Worlds. I recommend Fields to pirate it. Have you seen it? It is to show that Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, etc., are all pretty certainly uninhabitable,—being (Jupiter, Saturn, etc., to wit) strange washy limbos of places, where at the best only mollusks (or, in the case of Venus, salamanders) could exist. Hence we conclude we are the only rational creatures, which is highly satisfactory, and, what is more, quite Scriptural. Owen, on the other hand, I believe, and other scientific people, declare it a most presumptuous essay,— conclusions audacious, and reasoning fallacious, though the facts are allowed; and in that opinion I, on the ground that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the inductive philosophy, incline to concur."

Of his work he wrote,—"Well, I go on in the office, operose nihil agenda, very operose, and very nihil too. For lack of news, I send you a specimen of my labors."—"We are here going on much as usual, —occupied with nothing else but commerce and the money-market. I do not think any one is thinking audibly of anything else."—"I have read with more pleasure than anything else that I have read lately Kane's Arctic Explorations, i.e., his second voyage, which is certainly a wonderful story. The whole narrative is, I think, very characteristic of the differences between the English and the American-English habits of command and obedience."

In the autumn of 1857, after speaking of some of the features of the Sepoy revolt, he said,—"I don't believe Christianity can spread far in Asia, unless it will allow men more than one wife,—which isn't likely yet out of Utah. But I believe the old Brahmin 'Touch not and taste not, and I am holier than thou, because I don't touch and taste,' may be got rid of. As for Mahometanism, it is a crystallized monotheism, out of which no vegetation can come. I doubt its being good even for the Central negro."

March, 1859. "Excuse this letter all about my own concerns. I am pretty busy, and have time for little else: such is our fate after forty. My figure 40 stands nearly three months behind me on the roadway, unwept, unhonored, and unsung, an octavum lustrum bound up and laid on the shelf. 'So-and-so is dead,' said a friend to Lord Melbourne of some author. 'Dear me, how glad I am! Now I can bind him up.'"

It was not until 1859 that the translation of Plutarch, begun six years before, was completed and published. It had involved much wearisome study, and gave proof of patient, exact, and elegant scholarship. Clough's life in the Council-Office was exceedingly laborious, and for several years his work was increased by services rendered to Miss Nightingale, a near relative of his wife. He employed "many hours, both before and after his professional duties were over, to aid her in those reforms of the military administration to which she has devoted the remaining energies of her overtasked life." For this work he was the better fitted from having acted, during a period of relief from his regular employment, as Secretary to a Military Commission appointed by Government shortly after the Crimean War to examine and report upon the military systems of some of the chief Continental nations. But at length his health gave way under the strain of continuous overwork. He had for a long time been delicate, and early in 1861 he was obliged to give up work, and was ordered to travel abroad. He went to Greece and Constantinople, and enjoyed greatly the charms of scenery and of association which he was so well fitted to appreciate. But the release from work had come too late. He returned to England in July, his health but little improved. In a letter written at that time he spoke of Lord Campbell's death, which had just occurred. "Lord Campbell's death is rather the characteristic death of the English political man. In the Cabinet, on the Bench, and at a dinner-party, busy, animated, and full of effort to-day, and in the early morning a vessel has burst. It is a wonder they last so long." But of himself he says, in words of striking contrast,—"My nervous energy is pretty nearly spent for to-day, so I must come to a stop. I have leave till November, and by that time I hope I shall be strong again for another good spell of work." After a happy three weeks in England, he went abroad again, and spent some time with his friends the Tennysons in Auvergne and among the Pyrenees. In September he was joined by his wife in Paris, and thence went with her through Switzerland to Italy. He had scarcely reached Florence before he became alarmingly ill with symptoms of a low malaria fever. His exhausted constitution never rallied against its attack. He sank gradually away, and died on the 13th of November. "I have leave till November, and by that time I hope I shall be strong again for another good spell of work." That hope is accomplished;—

  "For sure in the wide heaven there is room
  For love, and pity, and for helpful deeds."

He was buried in the little Protestant cemetery at Florence, a fit resting-place for a poet, the Protestant Santa Croce, where the tall cypresses rise over the graves, and the beautiful hills keep guard around.

"Every one who knew Clough even slightly," says one of his oldest friends, "received the strongest impression of the unusual breadth and massiveness of his mind. Singularly simple and genial, he was unfortunately cast upon a self-questioning age, which led him to worry himself with constantly testing the veracity of his own emotions. He has delineated in four lines the impression which his habitual reluctance to converse on the deeper themes of life made upon those of his friends who were attracted by his frank simplicity. In one of his shorter poems he writes,—

  'I said, My heart is all too soft;
  He who would climb and soar aloft
  Must needs keep ever at his side
  The tonic of a wholesome pride.'

That expresses the man in a very remarkable manner. He had a kind of proud simplicity about him singularly attractive, and often singularly disappointing to those who longed to know him well. He had a fear, which many would think morbid, of leaning much on the approbation of the world. And there is one remarkable passage in his poems in which he intimates that men who live on the good opinion of others might even be benefited by a crime which would rob them of that evil stimulant:—

  'Why, so is good no longer good, but crime
  Our truest, best advantage, since it lifts us
  Out of the stifling gas of men's opinion
  Into the vital atmosphere of Truth,
  Where He again is visible, though in anger.'

"So eager was his craving for reality and perfect sincerity, so morbid his dislike even for the unreal conventional forms of life, that a mind quite unique in simplicity and truthfulness represents itself in his poems as

  'Seeking in vain, in all my store,
  One feeling based on truth.'

"Indeed, he wanted to reach some guaranty for simplicity deeper than simplicity itself. We remember his principal criticism on America, after returning from his residence in Massachusetts, was, that the New-Englanders were much simpler than the English, and that this was the great charm of New-England society. His own habits were of the same kind, sometimes almost austere in their simplicity. Luxury he disliked, and sometimes his friends thought him even ascetic.

"This almost morbid craving for a firm base on the absolute realities of life was very wearing in a mind so self-conscious as Clough's, and tended to paralyze the expression of a certainly great genius. He heads some of his poems with a line from Wordsworth's great ode, which depicts perfectly the expression often written in the deep furrows which sometimes crossed and crowded his massive forehead:—

'Blank misgivings of a creature moving about in worlds not realized.'

"Nor did Clough's great powers ever realize themselves to his contemporaries by any outward sign at all commensurate with the profound impression which they produced in actual life. But if his powers did not, there was much in his character that did produce its full effect upon all who knew him. He never looked, even in time of severe trial, to his own interest or advancement. He never flinched from the worldly loss which his deepest convictions brought on him. Even when clouds were thick over his own head, and the ground beneath his feet seemed crumbling away, he could still bear witness to an eternal light behind the cloud, and tell others that there is solid ground to be reached in the end by the weary feet of all who will wait to be strong. Let him speak his own farewell:—

  'Say not the struggle nought availeth,
     The labor and the wounds are vain,
  The enemy faints not nor faileth,
     And as things have been things remain.

  'Though hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
     It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
  Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
     And but for you possess the field.

  'For though the tired wave, idly breaking,
     Seems here no tedious inch to gain,
  Far back, through creek and inlet making,
     Came, silent flooding in, the main.

  'And not through eastern windows only,
     When daylight comes, comes in the light;
  In front the sun climbs slow,—how slowly!
     But westward—look! the land is bright.'"