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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/505

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SKETCH OF WALTER BAGEHOT.

SKETCH OF WALTER BAGEHOT.

WALTER BAGEHOT was born February, 1826, in the west of England, where his father, who survives him, was a leading partner in an old-established bank. A student in the University of London, he took the mathematical scholarship with his Bachelor's degree in 1846, and the gold medal in intellectual and moral philosophy with his Master's degree in 1848. He then studied law at Lincoln's Inn, and was called to the bar; he thoroughly liked but never practised this profession, being induced to abandon it by considerations of his health. Always delicate, the excessive work by which alone the position of a successful barrister can be won and maintained would doubtless have shortened the already too-brief life.

He early developed remarkable talent, but in his youth philosophy, poetry, and theology, had a larger share of his attention than the narrower and more prosaic studies which occupied him later, and upon which his fame will rest. In deciding, as he wisely did, to join his father in business, he was conscious of defects which might hinder his career as a banker and merchant. He was absent-minded about minutiæ, inattentive to trifles—he used to declare that he could never "add up," and habitual inaccuracies marked his mathematical exercises in college. He proved, however, to be very successful in business, and was gratified with this success won in practical pursuits, in spite of the metaphysical and poetic tendency which at one time earned for him the reputation of a dreamer. He somewhere says: "The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you can't do. Why did Mr. Disraeli take the duties of Chancellor of the Exchequer with so much relish? Because people said he was a novelist—an ad captandum man who could not add up. No doubt it pleased his inmost soul to do the work of red-tape people better than those who could do nothing else."

He was always busy with his pen. During the early part of his life he wrote for the National Review, the Inquirer, and other periodicals, and proved himself to be a brilliant and able critic in various departments—finance, politics, and literature. His first book, called "Estimates of Some Englishmen and Scotchmen," published twenty years ago, and now long out of print, was a very remarkable volume of essays, that for some reason, perhaps the unfortunate title, failed to receive the attention it deserved.

In 1858 Bagehot married the eldest daughter of James Wilson, proprietor of the Economist. The marriage was a happy one, and led to the production of his most popular and original books; it brought him into connection with the higher world of politics; and eventually, on the death of his father-in-law, to the ownership and editorial control of the Economist, which paper he carried to the position of great ower which it now has.