Arthur Hugh Clough

Victorian poet Arthur Hugh Clough ( trod that ever- so-delicate path between faith and doubt that 20th century philosopher Anthony Kenny came to do himself. Both also had a connection with Liverpool and Balliol College. Kenny has immersed himself in the mind of Clough in order to deliver this ‘life’. He regards Clough’s religious verse as the finest expression of what is often called nowadays ‘devout scepticism’. (A series of conversations on Radio 4 in 2003 chaired by Bel Mooney ( covered this territory. Guests included Ben Okri, Paul Davies, Joanna Trollope, Dr Jonathan Miller, John Cleese, Clare Short, Philip Pullman and Susie Orbach).

What Kenny brings across is that Clough (1819-1861) is one of the great undiscovered geniuses of Victorian literature. His poetry expresses the religious doubt of the age as well as exposing its sexual hypocrisy. His short life was packed full of relationships and encounters with some of the great names of the 19th century; Florence Nightingale, Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Cardinal Newman, Tennyson, the Arnolds and so on. The early death by malaria in Italy at the age of 42, worn down, it is said, by working as a factotum for Nightingale, was widely seen as a personal tragedy of unfulfilled promise.


Here is one of his poems, ‘Through a glass darkly’, to stir you into a lifelong interest in Clough.


What we, when face to face we see
The Father of our souls, shall be,
John tells us, doth not yet appear;
Ah! did he tell what we are here!


A mind for thoughts to pass into,
A heart for loves to travel through,
Five senses to detect things near,
Is this the whole that we are here?


Rules baffle instincts–instinct rules,
Wise men are bad–and good are fools,
Facts evil–wishes vain appear,
We cannot go, why are we here?


O may we for assurance’s sake,
Some arbitrary judgement take,
And wilfully pronounce it clear,
For this or that ’tis we are here?


Or is it right, and will it do,
To pace the sad confusion through,
And say:–It doth not yet appear,
What we shall be, what we are here?


Ah yet, when all is thought and said,
The heart still overrules the head;
Still what we hope we must believe,
And what is given us receive;


Must still believe, for still we hope
That in a world of larger scope,
What here is faithfully begun
Will be completed, not undone.


My child, we still must think, when we
That ampler life together see,
Some true result will yet appear
Of what we are, together, here.


Kenny’s biography first published 2005.

288 pages in Continuum International Press paperback edition

ISBN 978-0826482693


Arthur Hugh Clough 1860.jpg

Arthur Hugh Clough              Anthony Kenny

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