A Victorian for Grownups

Arthur Hugh Clough

A Poet’s Life

Anthony Kenny

Continuum, $60, 288 pp.

An adult poet in the nineteenth century. There weren’t so many of them.” Graham Greene’s jaded protagonist in The Quiet American, Thomas Fowler, offered this praise for the little-known Victorian poet Arthur Hugh Clough. Greene himself counted Clough as a favorite poet, and, in fact, it was the novelist who brought him to the attention of philosopher Anthony Kenny, the master of Balliol College. During Oxford high-table conversation one day in the 1980s, Greene quoted “Easter Sunday,” a poem on the pain of religious doubt, and sparked the interest that took Kenny to a book-length comparison of Clough and Hopkins (God and Two Poets), the editing of the poet’s diaries, and now this biography.

An Oxford don, Anthony Kenny was a Catholic priest who, like Clough, experienced a crisis of faith precipitated by philosophic doubt. Clough had resigned his Oriel College fellowship in 1848 because of his increasing skepticism; over a hundred years later, Kenny left the priesthood, convinced that faith and dogma could not withstand rigorous philosophic analysis. But his biography of Clough does not belabor these parallels. On the contrary, the study is chastened and scholarly, simply mentioning in the introduction the author’s similar course in life. Kenny propels his account swiftly, following the very young Clough and his family from Liverpool to Charleston, South Carolina, where Clough’s father ventured as a cotton...

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About the Author

Edward T. Wheeler, a frequent contributor, is the former dean of the faculty at the Williams School in New London, Connecticut.