Biography of Arthur Hugh Clough (1819 – 1861)
He came of a good Welsh stock by his father, James Butler Clough, and of a Yorkshire one by his mother, Anne Perfect. In 1822 his father, a cotton merchant, moved to the United States, and Clough’s childhood was spent mainly at Charleston, South Carolina, much under the influence of his mother, a cultivated woman, full of moral and imaginative enthusiasm. In 1828 the family paid a visit to England, and Clough was left at school at Chester, whence he passed in 1829 to Rugby, then under the sway of Thomas Arnold, whose strenuous views on life and education he accepted to the full. Cut off to a large degree from home relations, he passed a somewhat reserved and solitary boyhood, devoted to the well-being of the school and to early literary efforts in the Rugby Magazine. In 1836 his parents returned to Liverpool, and in 1837 he went with a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. Here his contemporaries included Benjamin Jowett, AP Stanley, JC Shairp, WG Ward, Frederick Temple and Matthew Arnold.
Oxford, in 1837, was in the full swirl of the High Church movement led by JH Newman. Clough was for a time carried away by the flood, and, although be recovered his equilibrium, it was not without an amount of mental disturbance and an expenditure of academic time, which perhaps accounted for his failure to obtain more than a second class in his final examination. He missed a Balliol fellowship, but obtained one at Oriel, with a tutorship, and lived the Oxford life of study, speculation, lectures and reading-parties for some years longer. Gradually, however, certain sceptical tendencies with regard to the current religious and social order grew upon him to such an extent as to render his position as an orthodox teacher of youth irksome, and in 1848 he resigned it. The immediate feeling of relief showed itself in buoyant, if thoughtful, literature, and he published poems both new and old. Then he travelled, seeing Paris in revolution and Rome in siege, and in the autumn of 1849 took up new duties as principal of University Hall, a hostel for students at University College, London.
He soon found that he disliked London, in spite of the friendship of the Carlyles, nor did the atmosphere of Unitarianism prove any more congenial than that of Anglicanism to his critical and at bottom conservative temper. A prospect of a post in Sydney led him to engage himself to Miss Blanche Mary Shore Smith, and when it disappeared he left England in 1852, and went, encouraged by Emerson, to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here he remained some months, lecturing and translating Plutarch for the booksellers, until in 1853 the offer of an examinership in the Education Office brought him to London once more, He married, and pursued a steady official career, diversified only by an appointment in 1856 as secretary to a commission sent to study certain aspects of foreign military education.
At this, as at every period of his life, he enjoyed the warm respect and admiration of a small circle of friends, who learnt to look to him alike for unselfish sympathy and for spiritual and practical wisdom. In 1860 his health began to fail. He visited first Malvern and Freshwater, and then the East, France and Switzerland, in search of recovery, and finally came to Florence, where he was struck down by malaria and paralysis. Matthew Arnold wrote upon him the exquisite lament of Thyrsis.
Shortly before he left Oxford, in the stress of the Irish potato-famine, Clough wrote an ethical pamphlet addressed to the undergraduates, with the title, A Consideration of Objections against the Retrenchment Association at Oxford (1847). His Homeric pastoral The Bothie of Toper-na-Fuosicli, afterwards rechristened Tober-na-Vuolich (1848), was inspired by a long vacation after he had given up his tutorship, and is full of socialism, reading-party humours and Scottish scenery. Ambarvalia (1849), published jointly with his friend Thomas Burbidge, contains shorter poems of various dates from 1840, or earlier, onwards. Amours de Voyage, a novel in verse, was written at Rome in 1849; Dipsychus, a rather amorphous satire, at Venice in 1850; and the idylls which make up Man Magno, or Tales on Board, in 1861. A few lyric and elegiac pieces, later in date than the Ambarvalia, complete the tale of Clough’s poetry. His only considerable enterprise in prose was a revision of the 17th century translation of Plutarch by Dryden and others, which occupied him from 1852, and was published as Plutarch’s Lives (1859).
No part of Clough’s life was wholly given up to poetry, and he probably had not the gift of detachment necessary to produce great literature in the intervals of other occupations. He wrote but little, and even of that little there is a good deal which does not aim at the highest seriousness. He never became a great craftsman. A few of his best lyrics have a strength of melody to match their depth of thought, but much of what he left consists of rich ore too imperfectly fused to make a splendid or permanent possession. Nevertheless, he is rightly regarded, like his friend Matthew Arnold, as one of the most typical English poets of the middle of the 19th century. His critical instincts and strong ethical temper brought him athwart the popular ideals of his day both in conduct and religion. His verse has upon it the melancholy and the perplexity of an age of transition. He is a sceptic who by nature should have been with the believers. He stands between two worlds, watching one crumble behind him, and only able to look forward by the sternest exercise of faith to the reconstruction that lies ahead in. the other. On the technical side, Clough’s work is interesting to students of metre, owing to the experiments which he made, in the Bothie and elsewhere, with English hexameters and other types of verse formed upon classical models.
Clough’s Poems were collected, with a short memoir by FT Palgrave, in 1862; and his Letters and Remains, with a longer memoir, were privately printed in 1865. Both volumes were published together in 1869 and have been more than once reprinted. Another memoir is Arthur Hugh Clough: A Monograph (1883), by S Waddington. Selections from the poems were made by Mrs Clough for the Golden Treasury series in 1894, and by E Rhys in 1896.
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