Reception and Criticism


Letter: J.C. Shairp to Clough (November 1849)

Letter: Emerson to Clough (May 1858)

Unsigned Review: "Clough's Poems," In the Saturday Review (26 July 1862)

W.Y. Sellar, from a review in North British Review (November 1862)

A 20th-Century Reassessment: Michael Timko, from Innocent Victorian: The Satiric Poetry of Arthur Hugh Clough (Ohio UP, 1966)

List of Works Cited

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Letter: J.C. Shairp to Clough (November 1849)

Making reserve of some passages which I should willingly preserve, I do not like the conception. There is nothing hearty and heart-whole in it--no strength except in its raillery at all men and things and in its keen, ceaseless self-introspection. I do not like the point of view nor atmosphere from which it looks out on the world. It does not seem true or at least very partially so: and certainly is not refreshing. Every feeling of love for M. Trevellyn as it rises is cut to shreds by this; if carried out it would cut the whole world up into shreds and oneself to the bargain. I can like other things besides a Ballad and a Sermonette but one has supped one's fill of negations and now would prefer a draught of soemthing stronger.

As to the execution I am not a good judge because the Hexameter does not take me, but has always a feeling of parody. But even for Hexameters many of them are slovenly. Not that I dislike your roughness, but then it shold be more rock-like ruggedness not so slip-slop--not so many Well's and other monosyllables, and not so many oaths above all.


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Letter: Emerson to Clough (May 1858)

I cannot forgive you for the baulking end or no end of the Amours de Voyage. . . . I read the first livraison of your poem with joy, and said, Behold that is what cannot be written here. Tis the sincerity of British culture. Here is a man tremulous all over with sensibility, and he holds a fine pen that delicately finds the right word, --gift that brings with it all other gifts. . . . And when we began to build securely on the triumph of our poet over all gainsayers, suddenly his wing flags, or his whim appears, and he plunges to a conclusion, like the ending of the Chancery suit in Bleak House, or like the denouement of Tennyson's Princess. How can you wste such power on a broken dream? Why lead us up to the tower to tumble us down? There is a statute of Parnassus, that the author shall keep faith with the reader; but you choose to trifle with him. It is true a few persons compassionately tell me, tha the piece is all right, and that they like this veracity of much preparation to no result. But I hold tis bad enough in life, and inadmissible in poetry. And I thinkyou owe us a retribution of music,and to a musical argument. As I wish now to give due emphasis to my objection, I shall say nothing of all the merits that shine in the poem.


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Unsigned Review: "Clough's Poems," In the Saturday Review (26 July 1862)

Of course, the interst of such a story cannot be in the story itself. It lies int he humorous sketches of English society abroad, in the playfulness of the young lady in her unbosomings, and in the description of the people, the city, and neighbourhood of Rome. It is not nearly equal to the Bothie, but it has many sublte trains of thought, and some spirited satirical sketches. . . . The doubts of the lover are, however, a little wearisome. He is always in a state of flux and reflux of thought. He cannot make up his mind whether he likes the girl, or whether he would take the trouble to save her life if she was in danger, or whether he ought to save her if he did not wish; or whether he might lawfully fight for the Roman Republic, or whether he hwould wish to fight if he might. It is, perhaps, not unnatural that a man substanitally good, affectionate, and grave, should have all these thoughts pass through his mind, if he accustomed himself to the intricacies of casuistical self-inspection. But there is no very good reason why he should put his feelings and opinions into English hexameters.


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W.Y. Sellar, from a review in North British Review (November 1862)

Our admiration of the Amours de Voyage must be expressed in much more qualified terms. It is written in a spirit the very reverse of the healthy tone and sunny cheerfulness of The Bothie. Into the one poem the author seems to have thrown all the sanguine buoyancy; into the other, all the weary, hopeless feeling of his life. Each poem produces the impression of absolute sincerity, and is marked by its own peculiar power. But the sincerity of the Amours de Voyage is the painful sincerity of a man scrupulously anxious not to think too well of himself or too hopefully of life. The power displayed is often the power of insight into the under-side of human nature--into the doubts, weakness, and self-deception which underlie that aspect of things on which it is most pleasant, and perhaps most profitable, to dwell. There is often a jar produced on the feeling of the reader by some bitter or weary expression of despondency or self-distrust, after some transient outburst of the old enthusiasm. The prevailing feeling of the poem is too real for satire. . . . We do not for one moment suppose that Mr. Clough has represented himself in this poem, . . . but he has expressed, in the person of Claude, much of the unsettlement and despondency which are uttered more directly in other poems of the same date. He has expressed, especially in that character, the sense of the vanity of thinking and of knowledge apt to come over a mind which has passed from youth into manhood in a kind of hot-house air of contemplative studies, without having been braced by the free air and natural life of the outer world.


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A 20th-Century Reassessement: Michael Timko, from Innocent Victorian: The Satiric Poetry of Arthur Hugh Clough (1966)

The main purpose of Clough in this tragi-comedy is the expose of a self-centered prig unable to realize, . . . the necessity of striking a balance between theory and practice, between independence of and unity with his fellow men. The protagonist's insistence on trying to base his life on completely unattainable, unrealistic ideals results in his inability to find any happiness and peace in life. Those critics who have tried to equate Claude, the protagonist, with Clough himself have revealed their lack of familiarity with Clough's character; they have become so involved with the current and inaccurate traditional view that lables Clough a failure that they have failed to see that Clough himself was able to do the very thing Claude was not. If one sees the Amours as the incoherent and ineffectual wailings of a young Werther or Childe Harold, then the poem is a failure; if one sees it as Clough meant it to be seen, a serio-comic analysis of a Victorian dilettante, then the poem is a triumphant success. . . . . . . . . . . . .
But to label the ending as inconclusive and anti-climactic is to miss the entire point. Surely to have any other kind of ending, particularly a happy one, would be to destroy the artistic integrity of the poem; for Clough's purpose has been to show the basic inability of a person like Claude, aspiring somehow to live above the realities of life, to make any kind of compromise with the "vulgar" world. Claude has been called by somea Victorian Hamlet, but the comparison is unfortunate. Hamlet hesitated, it is true, but he was able to come to a decision when the time was propitious; Claude is unable to come to a decision at any time. He is much closer to a more modern figure; Claude is the nineteenth-century counterpart of Eliot's Prufrock; . . . An early inhabitant of the Wasteland, Claude's world must end with a whimper.


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Works Cited

Thorpe, Michael, ed. Clough: The Critical Heritage. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1972.

Timko, Michael. Innocent Victorian: The Satiric Poetry of Arthur Hugh Clough. 1963; N.P.: Ohio University Press, 1966.


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