rthur Hugh Clough (pronounced "cluff"), a fine poet whose experiments in extending the range of literary language and subject were ahead of his time, was born the first day of 1819 to James and Ann (Perfect) Clough in Liverpool. One biographer describes his father as an "intermittently unsuccessful cotton merchant from the North Wales landed gentry" and notes that his mother was more solidly middle-class. The family moved to Charleston, S. C., in 1822, returning briefly in 1828 to enroll Arthur in an English school, and in 1829 he entered Rugby, perhaps the most important independent school in nineteenth-century England.
The next few years are among the most important both in Clough's life and in the history of English so-called public schools. Thomas Arnold, who had just taken over as Headmaster of Rugby the year before, had begun to institute his reforms, but the precise changes he made to the curriculum are far less important than the moral earnestness with which he imbued the school. Clough rapidly became a favorite of Dr. Arnold, who in turn became a surrogate father, since Clough's parents were still in America. His intellect made him a model student (at 15 he was reading Niebuhr and Schleiermacher in German), and his awareness of his role as a model for his fellows (he eventually became Head of the School, an honorary position Arnold created for the boy whom he wanted to set the school's standard) made him a brilliant example of the success of Arnold's methods.
He and the people around him came to expect too much of him. After his Rugby career, mere success was not enough: everyone thought him destined to distinguish himself in any career he chose. His years at Oxford's best college, Balliol, were troubled. He put off his honors exams several times because he he felt himself unprepared, and before he took them in 1841, his father went bankrupt for the second time. That meant that Arthur could expect no help from his father and that his career now depended upon his score on the exam. When he received only merely respectable second-class honors, he walked the fifty miles to Rugby to tell Dr. Arnold, "I have failed." He lost a competition for a Balliol Fellowship but won another the following year at Oriel, a less prestigious college.
Like so many other Victorian writers who began as Evangelicals, Clough, an epitome of the sincere Victorian who abandoned orthodox religion, renounced his childhood beliefs. As an Oxford undergraduate between 1837 and 1841, he experienced the very height of the Tractarian controversy at first hand. John Henry Newman's insistence on dogma and the authority of the Church diametrically opposed Dr. Arnold's Broad Christianity, and Clough was pulled both ways. The insistent seriousness he had learned under Arnold left him no room for intellectual evasion, or even for the vaguely Christian stoicism which his good friend Matthew Arnold eventually achieved. In 1848 he realized that to continue his Oriel Fellowship beyond the next year he would have to be ordained in the Church of England and would have to sign the Thirty-Nine Articles. Since he could not do so in good conscience, he resigned his Fellowship.
Radical in his politics as well as religion, he went to France in support of the revolution of 1848 and then to Italy the following year to participate in Mazzini's republic, getting trapped in Rome when it fell to the French, an experience celebrated in Amours de Voyage. He returned to London to become principal of the (Unitarian) University Hall and Professor of English at University College. He soon found the Unitarians as rigid in their way as the Anglicans were, and he resigned in 1852. Hoping to obtain a position at Harvard, he traveled to Boston and looked up Emerson (whom he had met on Emerson's European tour), but nothing came of it, and he returned home to take a job in the Education Office (1853). He was now able to marry Blanche Smith, and shortly thereafter he spent much time helping his wife's cousin, Florence Nightingale, lobby for reform in hospitals and in the nursing profession. Throughout the '50s he was at work on a translation of Plutarch's Lives (1859) and a large poem, Mari Magno, with a structure like the Canterbury Tales. He died in Florence, November 13, 1861, at the age of only 42.
Last modified 1 February 2011