His admirers

last updated 22 Nov 2013


His father, who outlived him, said: “I should never have known how great a man Walter was, had I not survived him”


“A man of most remarkable gifts”.  WE Gladstone (1881)


Woodrow Wilson (1895):  “Occasionally a man is born in to the world whose mission it evidently is to clarify the thought of his generation and to vivify it; to give it speed where it is slow, vision where it is blind, balance where it is out of poise, saving humour where it is dry – and such a man was Walter Bagehot”.


“The greatest Victorian”.  Historian GM Young (1948)

"Bagehot wrote brilliantly about just about everything – literature and history and politics and social psychology as well as about economics and business (though he wasn’t that great on women). He was a banker before he got the call to journalism (from his father-in-law), so he had practical experience, which always helps.  But what made him probably the greatest business and financial journalist of all time was not just that he knew what he was talking about (though we could stand a little more of that these days); and not just that he had a rigorous and sceptical mind; but that he had a profound understanding of an appreciation for human nature, and that was his guiding light.  And because human nature does not change, Bagehot’s work will still be influential when most contemporary business gurus have been forgotten.  Walter Bagehot was Victorian England’s prime nonsense-detector. And detecting what is questionable or smells bad is what business journalism is all about.  Of course, simply noticing when nonsense is being purveyed isn’t enough. You have to be able to point it out effectively. Bagehot excelled at this. Among his virtues was not just what he said but the way he said it – with clarity, irreverence and wit." Marjorie Scardino, CEO, Pearson Group, 1998

“Victorian England’s most versatile genius”.  His biographer, Norman St John Stevas (1959)


Harold Wilson (1967): “Bagehot towered over the world of journalism and public affairs during his lifetime, and was the most acute observer of the political and economic society in which he lived.  His work could be summed up in the words ‘pleasure, penetration, perception and persuasion’, and his important ability was his willingness to interpret established doctrines in new ways”.


Jacques Barzun, historian (1968): Walter Bagehot is “‘well-known’ without being known well.”


“The Victorian man par excellence… The real test of Bagehot is whether he has something relevant to say to another generation.  And the answer is most definitely ‘yes’ ”.  Lord (Kenneth) Baker (1993)


Time .. has not eroded the sense and sensibility which he brought to his analysis of the underlying truths of the human condition.  Nor has it diminished the wit and humour and vigour and vitality with which he expressed himself.  His was not just a voice of moderation; it was a voice of sanity.  So, like Woodrow Wilson, we all perhaps need to pluck an ivy leaf from his grave at Langport not as a memento but as an inspiration”.  Gordon Lee, former Economist editor (1996)

"Walter Bagehot's Lombard Street, published in 1873, remains one of the classic treatments of the role of the central bank in the management of financial crises." Ben Bernanke, Chairman, US Federal Reserve, speech in Georgia USA, 13 May 2008


Tributes on his death


The Economist, March 1877: “England has lost a man of singular power as a political, economical and literary thinker…. He brought so graphic a knowledge of real life to illustrate his theories, that, in his writings, abstract theories lost their dullness and imaginative power lost its appearance of being unpractical and capricious.  He makes his abstractions vivid, and he makes his real life instructive.  Political and economical science both owe him quite incalculable obligations ….”


House of Commons Budget Statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Northcote, 12 April 1877: “While speaking on this subject [Treasury Bills], I cannot avoid making a passing allusion to the name of a gentleman who took a great interest in this as in many other economical measures, and who, by his able advice, contributed not a little to the successful adoption of the scheme in question; but who has very recently, to our regret, been removed from us, and by whose death I am sure England has sustained a great loss. I refer to the late Mr. Walter Bagehot, who was well known to Members of this House, and whose reputation extended over the country.”


Langport Corporation minutes, 26 May 1877, (Bagehot had been their Deputy Recorder): “Mr Walter Bagehot had left behind him a name and reputation as a financier and political economist  ... which reflected lustre on the borough as his birthplace; and the Corporation desire to record this expression of their regret that a career so distinguished and promising and from which the country had formed such high expectations should have terminated at so early a period of his life.”

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