Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 133.djvu/251

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WALTER BAGEHOT.

of inspiration was said to be closed, of admitting into the creeds and catechisms of religion all those truths about God and man which a sacerdotal prejudice has hitherto pronounced "common and unclean," this work is not so difficult. It need not strain the formularies of any church. It might go forward without secession and without schism. And yet it is as much more important than the other work as it is less difficult. For the opposition of science is only formidable to a religion which lacks inherent vitality. When the prophetic power has gone out of a Church the boldness of the hopes and promises on which it is built ceases to appear sublime, and then the world gains courage to criticise and to sneer; but when she recovers her grasp of reality, and her prophets enrich their eloquence with fresh observation, and warm it with first-hand conviction, the peevish negations — not of science but of scientific people — die away again speedily into inaudible murmurs.




From Spectator.

WALTER BAGEHOT.

The sudden death of the editor of the Economist, in the fulness of his powers, has been thought of, and will continue to be thought of, in relation to the public life of Englishmen, chiefly as the sudden loss of a cool, sagacious, wise, and unusually independent element in the formation of the economical and financial opinion of the world to which he belonged. And that assuredly it is. If Mr. Bagehot's mind, as a factor in political opinion of any kind, had a defect, that defect was the very unusual one of its too complete independence of the influence of the thought around him. He had what Dr. Newman has called "intellectual detachment" in as high a degree probably as any man of his generation, - so high that he sometimes found it all but impossible to understand the force of the ordinary currents of feeling around him and consequently at times allowed too much and at times also too little for those external influences of which he rather guessed than gauged the strength. But those who knew Mr. Bagehot well will probably find it hard to remember in him the economist at all. Much of his time as he devoted to these subjects, and greatly as he influenced the opinion of his day upon them, it will remain very difficult for his personal friends to think chiefly of economical subjects when they remember him. And even those who have studied none of his writings except those devoted to these subjects, will in some degree be able to understand how this may be. For what he introduced into these as into all subjects on which he wrote at all, was life, animation, the real view of a man who had mastered the abstract theory indeed, and attached to it the first importance, but who cared chiefly to consider its bearing on the facts of the world of business, and the manner in which it blended with and modified the transactions of living men. No one can have read the financial and economical papers of Mr. Bagehot for many years without seeing that the various kinds of city men, the merchant, the stockbroker, the banker, were all living figures to him, and that he loved to dissect, with that realistic humor of which he was a master, the relative bearing of their disturbing passions and conventions on that instinct of gain which forms the sole basis of economical reasoning.

And it was the life, humor, and animation, looking out of the glance of those large and brilliant black eyes, and often presenting a curious contrast with the supposed dryness of the subjects with which Mr. Bagehot so frequently dealt, that made him what he was to his friends. In spite of his detached, cool, solitary intellect, he was the most buoyant of men, the loss of whom is like the loss of sunlight to his friends' dimmer lives. As a young man, his nonsense was the most enjoyable of all nonsense, for with all its extravagance, it had strong and piercing discrimination for its chief ground but while always following the lead of some true perception, he lashed out in all directions into caricature of his meaning with all the animation of high spirits and a bold imagination. He was a dashing rider, too, and a fresh wind was felt blowing through his earlier literary efforts, as though he had been thinking in the saddle, - an effect wanting in his later essays, where you see chiefly the calm analysis of a lucid observer. What animation there is, for example, in this description of Shakespeare - "The reverential nature of Englishmen has carefully preserved what they thought the great excellence of their poet, - that he made a fortune . . . It was a great thing that he, the son of the wool-comber, the poacher, the good-for-nothing, the vagabond (for so, we fear, the phrase went in Shakespeare's youth), should return upon the old scene a substantial man, a person