NINETEENTH CENTURY LITERARY MANUSCRIPTS
Part 3: The Correspondence and Literary Manuscripts of Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861)
from the Bodleian Library, Oxford
Rupert Christiansen, writing in The Voice of Victorian Sex (2001)
The correspondence and papers of Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861) are the focus for part 3 of Nineteenth Century Literary Manuscripts. Clough was born in Liverpool on 1 January 1819 to parents James Butler Clough, a Liverpool cotton merchant, and Anne Perfect, daughter of a Yorkshire banker. In 1822 the family with their four young children sailed to Charleston, South Carolina, a centre of the cotton industry. Here Arthur grew into ‘a somewhat grave and studious little boy, not without tastes for walking, shooting and sight-seeing, but with little capacity for play and mixing with others’. He was a constant companion to his mother, a woman of Evangelical persuasion and ‘stern integrity’, and at age seven he was described by other family members as the genius of the family. They also noted that he had an obstinate streak, preferring to act from his own will, not that of others. The years spent in Charleston provided Arthur with a relatively happy and secure childhood. Then in 1828 Clough’s life took a dramatic turn, and while his parents continued to live in Charleston, Clough was taken back to England to attend school in Chester, and in 1829 with his elder brother he entered Rugby School. Here, under the headmastership of Thomas Arnold, the school’s aim was to produce English gentlemen combining the classical ideals of manliness with a sense of righteousness gained from the Bible. Clough was taken into the Arnold household and became good friends with the two eldest boys, Matthew and Thomas; he worked hard becoming a star pupil and looking forward to a brilliant career.
In 1836 Clough won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford where he enjoyed a lively social life, taking active part in student societies such as the Union and Decade. He was also attracted to the Oxford Movement by his tutor and friend, W G Ward, and Clough for a while fell under the influence of John Henry Newman: Newman argued that historical Catholicism embodied the only true Church. Brought up by his mother in the evangelical tradition, and later with the liberal Christianity of Rugby, Clough suffered great moral and spiritual strain by these conflicting theological traditions. His academic work suffered and it was not until 1842 that he achieved the great prize of an Oriel fellowship. However, his religious doubts persisted and in 1848, influenced by Carlyle and Thomas Waldo Emerson, he resigned his tutorship, feeling that he could no longer adhere to the Thirty-Nine Articles. Clough spent the spring of that year in Paris where he and Emerson witnessed the Revolution in France. Later in the year when Emerson left Liverpool for America Clough began to write his finest poetry.
Clough spent the summer of 1848 working on the narrative poem The Bothie of Tober-na Vuolich. Written in an accessible, conversational tone the poem describes a love affair between an intellectual student on a walking holiday and Elspie, the daughter of a crofter. Elspie is self-assured and the love is neither idealistic nor unrequited. It is a search for new values, recognised by the fact that that the lovers resolve their situation by eloping to New Zealand. The poem was no pastoral idyll, containing critical comment about relationships between the sexes and the classes of Victorian Britain. The work sold well and Clough’s reputation as a poet was swiftly acknowledged.
Ambarvalia, a collection of verse by Clough and his Cambridge friend Thomas Burbidge followed early in 1849, and contains Clough’s poems written while at Balliol and Oriel. Included is Natura Naturans a surprisingly open celebration of fleeting sexual impulse, as well as poems of love and friendship in various moods. From April to August Clough was in Rome and his letters vividly describe Garibaldi’s defence of the city against the besieging French army commanded by General Oudinot. Out of these experiences Clough created the most enduringly popular of his works, Amours de voyage, which tells the story of Claude, a young man who is contemptuous of Rome, and of a young Englishwoman, Mary Trevellyn, who is on the grand tour with her family. Claude falls in love with Mary and Rome but loses both as the Trevellyn’s continue their tour, and the French restore the rule of the pope. The poem ends in disappointment as Claude’s life unravels. Clough completed the first draft shortly after his return to England, and over the next few years worked on further drafts until the poem eventually appeared in the American journal, Atlantic Monthly in 1858.
Italian influences continued to inspire Clough and during the summer of 1848 during a visit to Naples he wrote his most successful poem on religious topics, Easter Day. The work contains a denial of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and is admired by critics for its intellectual and emotional power. Another visit to Italy, this time to Venice in 1850 inspired the dramatic poem, Dipsychus, featuring a Faust-like dialogue between a tormented youth in two minds: Dipsychus about his future career and Mephistopheles, a spirit who represents worldly temptations, the flesh and the devil. Clough’s papers contain rough notes and three revisions of this poem which remained unpublished until after his death. Even in its unfinished state it is judged to contain his most mature thought on religious topics.
In 1851 Clough met and fell in love with Blanche Mary Shore Smith (a cousin of Florence Nightingale) and they became engaged in 1852. In search of work Clough sailed to America with W M Thackeray where he spent nine months, and his letters home to Blanche recount his warm associations with Emerson, Longfellow, Charles Eliot Norton, as well as other members of the Boston literary society. In England Clough’s friends found him a post as examiner in the education office enabling him to marry Blanche in June 1854. Blanche was a devoted wife and bore him four children. In his spare time Clough assisted Florence Nightingale in her campaign to reform military hospitals, and escorted her to Calais on the her first voyage to the Crimea in 1854.
By 1861 Clough’s health had broken down and he was allowed unpaid leave to regain his strength. He spent six happy weeks with his family at Freshwater in the Isle of Wight, and later, with Blanche then pregnant, he travelled alone to Greece and Constantinople where he began his last long poetical work, Mari magno. Further travels took him to the Pyrenees where the Tennysons were based for the summer, but he did not recover his health and died on 13 November in Florence, where he is buried in a protestant cemetery. His death was mourned by his friend, Matthew Arnold, in his elegy Thyrsis which recreates the Oxford companionship of the two poets.
Clough’s poems range from the inspirational Say not the struggle nought availeth, to the satirical The Last Decalogue. While both The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich and Amours de Voyage mirror his own tortured uncertainty, when his orthodox faith was challenged by the religious ferment of 1840s Oxford. Over the years changing fashions have led to a comparative neglect of Clough’s poetry though popular editions of his most important works have continued to appear regularly. Today, there is a revival of interest in his life and poetry and Arthur Hugh Clough is admired as the ‘most interesting and most modern of Victorian poets’. (Francis Wheen)
The project brings together 18 volumes of his letters, 33 volumes of poetical notebooks and 7 volumes of formerly loose manuscripts. These include exchanges with Matthew Arnold and Ralph Waldo Emerson, a cluster of material relating to Florence Nightingale, a list of Clough’s books, material regarding Rugby School and extensive literary manuscripts including drafts of Dipsychus, Songs in Absence, Adam & Eve and Amours de Voyage. Most of his poetic output is covered as these were the manuscripts that were used by Blanche Clough to prepare his posthumous Poems (1862) and Letters and Remains (1865).
I have found Anthony Kenny’s biography of Clough in the Oxford DNB (website) particularly helpful in preparing this publisher’s note.
Jane Sheppard, 2005