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Essays: English and American. rn The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Walter Bagehot

Introductory Note

WALTER BAGEHOT, economist, journalist, and critic, was born at Langport, Somersetshire, February 3, 1826. He was the son of a banker, and after graduating at University College, London, and being called to the bar, he joined his father in business. In 1851 he went to Paris, and was there during the coup d’état of Louis Napoleon, of which he gave a vivacious account in letters to an English journal. Soon after his return he began to contribute his first series of biographical studies to the Prospective Review and the National Review, of which latter he was for some time joint-editor. From 1860 to 1877 he was editor of the Economist, and during this period he published his notable work on The English Constitution, his Physics and Politics, and his Lombard Street: a Description of the Money Market. He died March 24, 1877.

It is chiefly as one of the most brilliant and original of recent writers on political philosophy that Bagehot is known, but he holds also a distinct place as a critic of literature. He did not write criticism like a professional man of letters, and his production in this field is at times less fine in workmanship than that of some men of much less ability. But, in compensation, he was free from the tendency to the use of a technical literary dialect and to the excessive self-consciousness in style which mars so much modern work in this department. He wrote as a man of affairs with a vigorous mind and a gift of picturesque speech, a robust taste and a genuine love of letters. He always had something definite to say, and no one can read his discussion of such a man as Milton without feeling braced and stimulated by contact with an intellect of uncommon strength and incisiveness.