Arthur Hugh Clough

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Arthur Hugh Clough (1819 – 1861) was an English poet whose work reflects the religious doubt of mid-19th century England. He was a friend of Matthew Arnold and the subject of Arnold’s commemorative elegy “Thyrsis.” .

Arthur Hugh Clough, the son of James Clough, a cotton merchant, and Anne Perfect, was born in Rodney Street, Liverpool on January 1, 1819. Three years later the family moved to Charleston, South Carolina.

In 1828, Arthur returned to England and was sent to study at Rugby School. Inspired by the teaching of the headmaster, Thomas Arnold, he won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, and when he graduated was elected a fellow of Oriel College. In 1850 he became professor of English Literature at University College. A close friend of John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle, he shared many of their political beliefs; he called himself a republican, disliked class distinctions, and was critical of capitalism.

The Poems

Perhaps his most famous poem is:

SAY not the struggle naught availeth,

The labour and the wounds are vain,

The enemy faints not, nor faileth,

And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;

It may be, in yon smoke conceal'd,

Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,

And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,

Seem here no painful inch to gain,

Far back, through creeks and inlets making,

Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,

When daylight comes, comes in the light;

In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!

But westward, look, the land is bright!

His most famous lines, however, are probably "Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive / Officiously to keep alive". These are often quoted as a recommendation, though the whole poem, "The latest decalogue", is obviously ironic.

Clough wrote a great deal of poetry but only two volumes appeared in his lifetime: The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich (1848) and Ambarvalia (1849). He died in Florence in 1861.