The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot

Ferdinand Mount writes:

There used to be a room in the National Portrait Gallery devoted to portraits of late Victorian sages by G.F. Watts. Inspissated in that painter’s incurably muddy tones, they peered out from behind straggly beards and whiskers with sad, rheumy eyes – Matthew Arnold, Carlyle, Swinburne, William Morris, Leslie Stephen, Tennyson – giving off a steamy despair. They had heard the melancholy long withdrawing roar of faith, and they did not like the sound of it. Today relegated to a wall in a side room, these literary men seem to take second billing to the wall where the giants of Victorian science are gathered – Darwin, Huxley and Lyall, each whiskered too but each with an unmistakable half-smile playing about his lips. There’s not much doubt which is the winning side.

(LRB 6 February 2014)

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