Qua Cursum Ventus1

Brave New World of British Poetry


Perhaps Arthur Hugh Clough's childhood spent as a three year old child in Charleston, SC, though born in Liverpool, England on the very first day of the year 1819, helped make this son of Ann, bourgeois wife of struggling Welshman cotton merchant, James Clough, become more ahead of his nineteenth century time. His sister Anne would later become an education reformer.


After a brother died in the sometimes harsh southern clime, the nine year old lad was sent back to Britain to live and be schooled. James enrolled the young lad a year later in 1829 at the unique institution, Rugby, where he made friends with Matthew Arnold, the son of his teacher, and headmaster, Thomas Arnold. This latter gentleman was an innovative and upstanding renovator of his new school, but also played a role of a kind of step-father, influencing him with his honesty. This opportune relation flourished while James Clough was continuing to attend to business in the States. Thomas Arnold was promoting a Broad Christianity -- a less dogmatic, but still truth-loving following of the Nazarene.

Head of the Class School

Arthur was so intellectually precocious, perusing German editions of Niebuhr with ease at the ripe old age of fifteen that Arnold established a position of honor, Head of the School, to award and lift the youngster further as a peer example for the school (and the new policies instituted by him). Of course he was lauded to Olympian heights, and his next stop would naturally be greater, and he did enroll at Oxford University's best college, Baillol in 1837. The Oxford Movement, or Tractarian Movement started by John Henry Newman was already firmly entrenched at that time -- trumpeting a more than nostalgic return to the Middle Ages type strict adherence to Church Government. This philosophy was on an opposite pole from his earlier Christian discipline from Rugby. Confusion and doubts began to nag, helped by the writings of authors like Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, and Thomas Huxley -- where philosophy and science challenged theology -- eventually paved the way for a forerunner to a more modernist thought line.

At School of Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Life is Struggle2

After everyone thought the prodigy's horizons were unlimited, Arthur struggled at Baillol. He procrastinated taking the honors exams that were increasingly becoming necessary for his survival after his father's fortunes were on downward spiral with a second bankruptcy.

Say Not, the Struggle Nought Availeth3

1841 was a multiple testing time for the young man, and the necessary first class scores to stay with a Fellowship at Baillol only came up second best, and he hiked two and a half score miles from Oxford to Rugby to give the "I have failed" message to his mentor, Dr. Arnold. He had to wait for another year to take the tests again, and wound up scoring only scores enough to obtain a Fellowship at Oriel College, Oxford, and he obtained his B.A in 1843. Matthew Arnold, though he was his friend, he was more interested in reconciling science with Christianity, and looked through the years somewhat askance at Clough's work.

Say You Want a Revolution

By 1848, the year his first publications appeared, he became liberated theologically, and his integrity learned from Arnold, as a role model, caused him to resign the continued Fellowship at Oriel rather than sign the now required Thirty-Nine Articles for the ordination anticipated.

His internal revolution now found sympathy with an external one, namely the fledgling Mazzini Republic in Italy, where he went to lend support. This was when he wrote "The Bothie of Toper-na-Vu olich, A Long-Vacation Pastoral"; a collection of short poems. During this time and later he was frustrated from completing more epic endeavors, for example, "Mari Magno", a Chaucer-like epic poem.

When Liberals Are Conservative

1849 saw Arthur Clough's return to London to accept principal-ship of University Hall, a Unitarian stronghold, and to become English Professor at University College. By 1852, a year he became engaged to future wife, Florence Nightingale's cousin, Blanche Smith, he finds stubborn clinging to rules and regulations and dogma by the Unitarians to be as bad as the Anglican, who might be expected to be that way. Perhaps a return to the United States, as suggested by his new friend he met in London, "...where was Ralph Emerson's number?...in Boston..."

Hope Evermore and Believe4

Clough was ready to take up permanent residence in Cambridge, Boston at Emerson's request, Harvard University sustaining him by paying for lectures. Failing to heed Emerson's plea to stay, in 1853 Clough accepted Thomas Carlyle's arranged employment as examiner at the Education Office, and also giving him the wherewithal in London to marry Blanche.

The Latest Decalogue5

The next decade was a relatively happy and productive one for Arthur, he wrote not only many poems, but was working on a Five volume rendition of Plutarch's Lives originally by Dryden and was helping his sister in law, Florence Nightingale in her hospital reform work. Ironically, his trip to the Continent for his health ended with his death in Florence, Italy on the 13th of November, 1861. His wife put together collections of his poems and other works, and much was published soon after, and his challenge to the status quo and its upbeat character are enjoyed still today.

Partial List of Other Works

1 (tr.)"The course is where the wind blows". A poem with this title written by Clough (pronounced 'cluff'):

Qua Cursum Ventus

As ships, becalmed at eve, that lay
   With canvas drooping, side by side,
Two towers of sail at dawn of day
   Are scarce long leagues apart descried;

When fell the night, upsprung the breeze,
   And all the darling hours they plied,
Nor dreamt but each the self-same seas
   By each was cleaving side by side:

E'en so --but why the tale reveal
   Of those, whom year by year unchanged,
Brief absence joined anew to feel,
   Astounded, soul from soul estranged?

At dead of night their sails were filled,
   And onward each rejoicing steered --
Ah, neither blame, for neither willed,
   Or wist, what first with dawn appeared!

To veer, how vain! Onc onward strain,
  Brave barks! In light, in darkness, too,
Through winds and tides one compass
    guides ---
   To that, and your own selves, be true.

   But O blithe breeze; and O great seas,
   Though ne'er, that earliest parting past,
On your wide plain they join again,
   Together lead them home at last.

One port, methought, alike they sought,
   One purpose hold where'er they fare, ---
O bounding breeze, O rushing seas!
   At last, at last, unite them there!


2 Title of one of his posthumously published poems (1869)-- not a sermon by Yoda.


3 This was the title, (though, appropriate here, for Clough's most Victorian era popular lyrical ditty about Mazzini's Italian freedom fighters. He wrote "Amours de Voyage" when the French took Rome in 1848.>


4 A poem published by ALC a year after his death; with a fitting line in this context:

"Go from the east to the west, as the sun and
the stars direct thee,..."


5 Another posthumous poem, with sarcasm exuding:

"No graven images may be
Worshiped, except the currency..."

Columbia Encyclopedia, Columbia University Press: NY, 2001.
Bartleby.com, 2002
"Arthur Hugh Clough -- An Appreciation", "Arthur Hugh Clough -- Biography"; "Arthur Hugh Clough: A Chronology", Glenn Everett, Assoc. Prof English, Univ. of Tenn., Martin on the VictorianWeb.
British Poetry and Prose, ed. Linder, Lovett, Root: NY, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1938.

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