Arthur Hugh Clough

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Arthur Hugh Clough

The English poet Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861) epitomized in his life and poetry the religious crisis experienced by many Englishmen of the mid-Victorian period.

Arthur Hugh Clough was born in Liverpool in Jan. 1, 1819. In 1829 he entered Rugby, where he quickly distinguished himself as a scholar and an athlete and became a favorite of Rugby's famous headmaster, Thomas Arnold. In 1837 he entered Balliol College, Oxford, and became friends with Benjamin Jowett and Matthew Arnold, the son of Thomas.

The controversy between members of the conservative Oxford movement and more liberal theologians undermined Clough's faith in orthodox Christianity. He maintained his general belief in God; but he became deeply disturbed, and his attempt to keep an open mind on all points of view tended to paralyze his will to act. Thus Clough came to typify his whole generation, which seemed, as Matthew Arnold noted in "Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse," to be "wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born." Clough himself made this indecision the subject of many poems, such as "Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth," "Thesis and Antithesis," "Qua Cursum Ventus," and "Easter Day."

In 1842 Clough was granted a fellowship at Oriel College and became a tutor in 1843, but in 1848 he resigned both positions. He then entered into an "after-boyhood" which enabled him to write and publish The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich, a Long Vacation Pastoral. This long narrative poem reveals the lighter, charming side of his personality.

In 1848, turning his attention from religious to political crises, Clough journeyed to Paris to observe the revolution and was in Rome in June 1849, when the French attacked the city. While in Rome, he wrote Amours de Voyage, his second long poem and perhaps his best. This poem explores the indecisive personality of the central character, whose inability to act destroys his love affair. Also in 1849, Clough and Thomas Burbidge published a volume of their shorter poems, entitled Ambarvalia. In 1850 Clough began but never finished Dipsychus, a long poem modeled after Goethe's Faust.

In October 1852 Clough sailed for Boston, where he was befriended by Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Russell Lowell, and Charles Eliot Norton. He returned to England in 1853 and in 1854 married Blanche Smith. Giving up his poetry, he turned to the philanthropic work being done by his wife's cousin Florence Nightingale. But his health began to fail, and in 1861 he left England to tour the Mediterranean. He began another long poem, Mari Magno, but never finished it, for he died in Florence on Nov. 13, 1861.

Clough's fame grew after his death. Many of his verses first appeared in a posthumous edition of Poems (1862), and a two-volume edition of Poems and Prose Remains (1869) was reprinted 14 times before 1900.

Further Reading

The best biography of Clough is Katherine Chorley, Arthur Hugh Clough: The Uncommitted Mind (1962). Additional insight into Clough's personality can be gained from Frederick L. Mulhauser's edition of Clough's Correspondence (2 vols., 1957). An excellent modern critical study is Walter E. Houghton, The Poetry of Clough (1963).

Additional Sources

Osborne, James Insley, Arthur Hugh Clough, Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1976; Philadelphia: R. West, 1978.

Waddington, Samuel, Arthur Hugh Clough: a monograph, New York: AMS Press, 1975. □