"[E]conomist, political analyst... editor ...[and] one of the most influential journalists of the mid-Victorian period.
His father’s family had been general merchants for several generations, while his maternal uncle Vincent Stuckey was the head of the largest bank in the west of England. ....
Bagehot had the severe schooling of an early Victorian.....
Because his father was a Unitarian, the obvious choice for Bagehot’s higher education was University College, London (at that time Oxford and Cambridge were decidedly Anglican). ... Bagehot’s somewhat sardonic manner did not endear him to all of his contemporaries, but he did make a number of lasting friends at University College, notably Richard Holt Hutton, who was for the latter part of the century the distinguished editor of The Spectator; Arthur Hugh Clough, the poet; and, of an older generation, Henry Crabb Robinson, who had been the friend of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich von Schiller, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge and who had served as a correspondent for The Times during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1846 Bagehot took his bachelor’s degree with first-class honours at University College, despite bad health, and in 1848 he earned his master’s degree with the university’s gold medal in moral and intellectual philosophy.
He studied law for three years after his graduation but never liked it, and it was chance that took him into literature. Bagehot happened to be in Paris at the end of 1851 when Louis Napoleon’s coup d’etat took place. He wrote a series of articles in the leading Unitarian journal describing the coup and defending Napoleon and thereby stirred controversy among readers because the coup was widely condemned in England. This, however, convinced Bagehot that he could write, which he began to do while settling down to work in Stuckey’s bank. ...
As a banker, Bagehot had written various economic articles that had attracted the attention of James Wilson, financial secretary to the treasury in Lord Palmerston’s government and an influential member of Parliament. Wilson had founded The Economist in 1843. Through this acquaintance, Bagehot met Wilson’s eldest daughter, Eliza. The two were married in April 1858.
The following year Wilson was asked to go to India to reorganize the finances of the Indian government, and he died in Calcutta in 1860, leaving Bagehot, then the manager of the Bristol branch of Stuckey’s bank, in charge of The Economist. For 17 years Bagehot wrote the main article, improved and expanded the statistical and financial sections, and transformed the journal into one of the world’s foremost business and political publications. More than that, he humanized its political approach by emphasising social problems.
Bagehot described himself as a conservative Liberal ....Unlike many Liberals, he had grown up in the deep countryside and believed strongly that rapid industrialization and urbanization were creating social problems in Britain. He was also an acute observer of international affairs, with an instinctive affection for France and an equal distrust of Otto von Bismarck’s Germany. ...
[His] The English Constitution, [(1867) was] an attempt to look behind the facade of the British system of government crown, Lords, and Commons—to see how it really operated and where true power lay. He was one of the first to observe the overriding power of the Cabinet in the party that commanded an effective majority in the House of Commons. He cultivated many close political friendships, notably with William Ewart Gladstone, who became the first Liberal prime minister in 1868; with Lord Carnarvon among the Conservatives (the author of the British North America Act, the constitution of Canada); and with William Edward Forster (the author of the first public education act in Britain).
Bagehot never succeeded, however, in entering politics himself. ... [H]e was a poor speaker and failed each time....
The greatest tribute to Bagehot’s lively style, humanity, and insight is that his books have been read, republished, and subjected to a continuous stream of critical essays ever since his death.
One essay Bagehot wrote was titled : "Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning; or, Pure, Ornate, and Grotesque Art in English Poetry" (1864). Wordsworth's writing is an example of Pure Art, and Browning, the Grotesque.
The poetry of Robert Browning, is represented by his long poem "The Pied Piper of Hamelin." This excerpt will suffice:
To see the townsfolk suffer so
From vermin was a pity.
They fought the dogs, and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cook's own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men's Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women's chats,
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats
Walter Bagehot uses his analysis of Browning to characterize his own mid Victorian times:
It is singularly characteristic of this age that the poems which rise to the surface should be examples of ornate art and grotesque art, not of pure art. We live in the realm of the half educated. The number of readers grows daily, but the quality of readers does not improve rapidly. The middle class is scattered, headless; it is well-meaning, but aimless : wishing to be wise, but ignorant how to be wise. The aristocracy of England never was a literary aristocracy; never even in the days of its full power, of its unquestioned predominance, did it guide — did it even seriously try to guide— the taste of England. Without guidance, young men and tired men are thrown amongst a mass of books; they have to choose which they like. Many of them would much like to improve their culture, to chasten their taste, if they knew how : but left to themselves, they take not pure art, but showy art; not that which permanently relieves the eye, and makes it happy whenever it looks and as long as it looks, but glaring art, which catches and arrests the eye for a moment, but which in the end fatigues it. But before the wholesome remedy of nature — the fatigue–arrives, the hasty reader has passed on to some new excitement, which in its turn stimulates for an instant and then is passed by for ever. These conditions are not favorable to the due appreciation of pure art, of that art which must be known before it is admired, which must have fastened irrevocably on the brain before you appreciate it, which you must love ere it will seem worthy of your love....
Every time you read this, it makes more sense.