Victorian Literature Arthur Hugh Clough
Samantha Matthews
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0016


The English poet Arthur Hugh Clough (b. 1819–d. 1861) is a representative figure of the mid-Victorian religious crisis and an innovative Victorian poet. He was a talented protégé of Rugby school’s charismatic headmaster Thomas Arnold. At Balliol College, Oxford, Clough witnessed the period’s religious controversies, defined by the theological establishment’s contests with Tractarianism (John Henry Newman’s High Church “Oxford movement”) and with the influence of the “Higher Criticism” of the Bible led by German textual scholars. Unable to subscribe to the Church of England’s Thirty-nine Articles, in 1848 Clough resigned as a tutor and fellow of Oriel College. In 1851 he resigned from a brief tenure as professor of English at University College, London, and made unsuccessful attempts to find academic employment in Australia and America. In 1854 his appointment as an examiner in the Education Office enabled him to marry. Clough turned from poetry to a life of service, working for his wife’s cousin Florence Nightingale, but failing health led to his early death at age 42, in Florence. He is the subject of his friend Matthew Arnold’s elegy, “Thyrsis.” Leaving Oxford gave Clough the freedom to experiment with less orthodox poetic subjects and forms, and with radical political and moral ideas. In an extraordinary burst of productivity from 1848 to 1852, he wrote the three long works on which his poetic reputation now largely rests. The Bothie of Toper-na-Fuosich (1848) is a witty and reflexive modern pastoral set in the Scottish Highlands. He wrote his masterpiece, the epistolary verse-novel Amours de Voyage (1858), after witnessing the fall of Mazzini’s short-lived Roman republic in 1849. In 1850 he began Dipsychus, a Faustian dramatic dialogue that he never completed. Notable shorter poems include “Natura Naturans,” a meditation on erotic affinity that begins with an exchange of glances in a railway carriage; “The Latest Decalogue,” a satirical summary of modern unbelief; and “The Struggle,” one of the most celebrated instances of the Victorian fascination with the battle as a metaphor for life. Besides Matthew Arnold, Clough’s influential friendships included Thomas Carlyle, R. W. Emerson, and Charles Eliot Norton. His literary reputation, secured by the Bothie and consolidated by the posthumous publication of his literary remains, declined sharply in the early 20th century, and he was left in Arnold’s shadow. New editions and critical studies have complicated and enriched our picture of him, and confirm his distinctive presence in the poetic and intellectual culture of his time.

General Overviews

Fully integrated studies of Clough (giving equal weight to biography, intellectual development, and poetry) are rare, and the most substantial (Veyriras 1964) remains untranslated. Armstrong 1982 and Harris 1970 are shorter surveys aimed at a mainly academic readership, with Armstrong stronger on Clough’s significance in literary history; Schad 2006 is a theoretically minded view of Clough as an intellectual. Houghton 1963 is still essential as a general account of Clough’s achievement as a poet, supplemented by Timko 1966 and Turner 1990. Scott 1978 helpfully summarizes trends in critical reappraisal.

  • Armstrong, Isobel. “Arthur Hugh Clough.” In British Writers. Vol. 5. Edited by Ian Scott Kilvert, 155–171. London and New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982.

    Short, pithy, and critically astute introduction in the Writers and Their Work series. Sees Clough as a “Janus-poet,” both affiliated with 18th-century poetic tradition and anticipating the modern. Includes a brief selective bibliography. Originally published in 1962 (London: Longmans, Green).

  • Harris, Wendell V. Arthur Hugh Clough. New York: Twayne, 1970.

    Follows Twayne’s English Authors series format in giving broad survey of life and work; distinctive focus on Clough’s spiritual biography; less interested in poetic complexity.

  • Houghton, Walter E. The Poetry of Clough: An Essay in Revaluation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1963.

    Groundbreaking critical reappraisal that takes issue with Clough’s reputation as a Victorian doubter and failed poet by eschewing biographical interpretation. Important in recuperating the three long narrative poems as Clough’s major work, and with useful chapters on the critical tradition and shorter poems.

  • Schad, John. Arthur Hugh Clough. Tavistock, UK: Northcote, 2006.

    New introduction to Clough in the Writers and Their Work series, replacing Armstrong 1982. Views Clough as the “anti-poet,” using poetry to mirror the troubled contemporary world. Useful as a rare theoretically minded reading of Clough, particularly strong on his intellectualism and relations to Continental thought.

  • Scott, Patrick G. “The Victorianism of Clough.” Victorian Poetry 16 (1978): 32–42.

    Vigorous polemical attack on readings of Clough as proto-modernist, emphasizing the “Victorian” centrality and solidity of his opinions on sex, religion, and social morality. Somewhat partial in its own readings but stimulating and well documented.

  • Timko, Michael. Innocent Victorian: The Satiric Poetry of Arthur Hugh Clough. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1966.

    Argues for the constructive nature of satirical poetry. Emphasizes the “positive naturalism” or “moral realism” that Clough asserts through his satire, as part of the 1960s project to counter the myth of Clough’s failure.

  • Turner, Paul. “Clough.” In Victorian Poetry, Drama, and Miscellaneous Prose, 1832–1890. By Paul Turner, 59–74. Oxford History of English Literature 14. Oxford: Clarendon, 1990.

    Short, sharp, and insightful survey, with good sense of literary context and Clough’s ironies. One of the first major Victorian reference works to treat Clough seriously as a major poet, rather than as an adjunct to Arnold.

  • Veyriras, Paul. Arthur Hugh Clough. Paris: Didier, 1964.

    Substantial and detailed survey effectively combining critical commentary and biographical interpretation, and particularly good on the intellectual background. However, in French, with no English translation.

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