The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot

Yale, 2013, Buy on Amazon UK

Walter Bagehot (1826–1877) was a prominent English journalist, banker, and man of letters. For many years he was editor of The Economist, and to this day the magazine includes a weekly “Bagehot” column. His analyses of politics, economics, and public affairs were nothing short of brilliant. Sadly, he left no memoir. How, then, does this book bear the title, The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot? Frank Prochaska explains, “Given my longstanding interest in Bagehot’s life and times, I decided to compose a memoir on his behalf.” And so, in this imaginative reconstruction of the memoir Bagehot might have written, Prochaska assumes his subject’s voice, draws on his extensive writings (Bagehot’s Collected Works fill 15 volumes), and scrupulously avoids what Bagehot considered that most unpardonable of faults—dullness. A faux autobiography allows for considerable license, but Prochaska remains true to Bagehot’s character and is accurate in his depiction of the times. The memoir immerses us in the spirit of the Victorian era and makes us wish to have known Walter Bagehot. He is, Prochaska observes, the Victorian with whom we would most want to have dinner.

(Prochaska) ‘has done a remarkable job. . . . What he has accomplished is a quiet tour de force. . . .  Prochaska has shone an agreeable and revelatory light upon this great Victorian writer by an artful deployment of literary mirrors, not lanterns.  The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot is a testimony not only to his command of the Bagehot oeuvre but also to his deep understanding of Bagehot’s place in the pantheon of that endangered species, the man of letters.’  Roger Kimball, Literary Review, August 2013.

(The Memoirs) ‘can serve as a brief and eminently readable introduction to a stimulating writer and thinker, a man for whom the term “public intellectual” may have been coined.’ Gertrude Himmelfarb, Weekly Standard, September 9, 2013.

“An ambitious ‘reconstruction’ . . . Augustine Birrell, the English politician and belle-lettrist, put the matter as plainly as Bagehot himself might have: “To know Walter Bagehot through his books,” he said, “is one of the good things of life.” And so is knowing Bagehot through these ‘Memoirs.’”—George Selgin, The Wall Street Journal (George Selgin The Wall Street Journal)

‘Prochaska has delivered a work of extraordinary scholarship and profound human sympathy that is also a pleasure to read. . . .  Thanks to Prochaska’s delighful confection, we now have a seriously entertaining account of how Bagehot came to be the extraordinary figure he was.  The autobiographies of Mill and Gibbon will not be disgraced if this book is placed on the shelf alongside them.’   Martin Walker, Wilson Quarterly, September 2013.