Walter Bagehot

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For the asteroid named after Walter Bagehot, see 2901 Bagehot.
Walter Bagehot
Walter Bagehot NPG cropped.jpg
Portrait of Walter Bagehot
Born (1826-02-03)3 February 1826
Langport, Somerset, England
Died 24 March 1877(1877-03-24) (aged 51)
Langport, Somerset, England
Nationality British
Occupation Businessman, essayist, journalist
Walter Bagehot signature.png

Walter Bagehot (/ˈbæət/ BA-jət; 3 February 1826 – 24 March 1877) was a British journalist, businessman, and essayist, who wrote extensively about government, economics, and literature.


Bagehot was born in Langport, Somerset, England, on 3 February 1826. His father, Thomas Watson Bagehot, was managing director and vice-chairman of Stuckey's Banking Company. He attended University College London (UCL), where he studied mathematics, and in 1848 earned a master's degree in moral philosophy.[1] Bagehot was called to the bar by Lincoln's Inn, but preferred to join his father in 1852 in his family's shipping and banking business.

In 1858, Bagehot married Elizabeth (Eliza) Wilson (1832–1921), whose father, James Wilson, was the founder and owner of The Economist; the couple were happily married until Bagehot's untimely death at age 51, but had no children.[2] A collection of their love-letters was published in 1933.[3]


In 1855, Bagehot founded the National Review with his friend Richard Holt Hutton.[4][5] In 1860, he became editor-in-chief of The Economist. In the seventeen years he served as its editor, Bagehot expanded The Economist's reporting on politics and increased its influence among policymakers.


Title page of the first edition of Bagehot's The English Constitution, 1867.[6]

In 1867, Bagehot wrote The English Constitution,[6] a book that explores the nature of the constitution of the United Kingdom, specifically its Parliament and monarchy. It appeared at the same time that Parliament enacted the Reform Act of 1867, requiring Bagehot to write an extended introduction to the second edition which appeared in 1872.

Bagehot also wrote Physics and Politics (1872), in which he examines how civilisations sustain themselves, arguing that in their earliest phase civilisations are very much in opposition to the values of modern liberalism, insofar as they are sustained by conformism and military success, but once they are secured it is possible for them to mature into systems which allow for greater diversity and freedom.

In Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market (1873) Bagehot seeks to explain the world of finance and banking.[7] His observations on finance are often cited by central bankers, most recently in the wake of the global financial crisis which began in 2007. Of particular importance is "Bagehot's Dictum" that in times of financial crisis central banks should lend freely to solvent depository institutions, yet only against sound collateral and at interest rates high enough to dissuade those borrowers that are not genuinely in need.[8]


Lombard Street, 1873.

Bagehot never fully recovered from a bout of pneumonia he suffered in 1867, and he died in 1877 from complications of what was said to be a cold.[9] Collections of Bagehot's literary, political, and economic essays were published after his death. Their subjects ranged from Shakespeare and Disraeli to the price of silver. In honour of his contributions, The Economist's weekly commentary on current affairs in the UK is entitled "Bagehot". Every year, the British Political Studies Association awards the Walter Bagehot Prize for the best dissertation in the field of government and public administration.

Major publications[edit]

  • Bagehot, Walter (1848). "Principles of Political Economy," The Prospective Review, Vol. 4, No. 16, pp. 460–502.
  • Bagehot, Walter (1858). Estimates of Some Englishmen and Scotchmen.
  • Bagehot, Walter (1867). The English Constitution.
  • Bagehot, Walter (1872). Physics and Politics.
  • Bagehot, Walter (1873). Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market.
  • Bagehot, Walter (1875). "A New Standard of Value," The Economist, Vol. 33, No. 1682, pp. 1361–63.
  • Bagehot, Walter (1877). Some Articles on the Depreciation of Silver and on Topics Connected with It.
  • Bagehot, Walter (1879). Literary Studies.
  • Bagehot, Walter (1880). Economic Studies.
  • Bagehot, Walter (1881). Biographical Studies.
  • Bagehot, Walter (1885). The Postulates of English Political Economy.
  • Bagehot, Walter (1889). The Works of Walter Bagehot.


  1. ^ Hutton, Richard Holt (1915). "Memoirs." In: The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, Vol. 1. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., pp. 1–54.
  2. ^ Roberts, David H. "Walter Bagehot: A Brief Biography". The Victorian Web. Retrieved 10 April 2016. 
  3. ^ "Women's Studies Subject Guide: Eliza Wilson". University Archives. The University of Hull. Retrieved 10 April 2016. 
  4. ^ Walter Bagehot by St. Norman John-Stevas The British Council/National Book League/Longmans, Greene & Co. London. (1963)
  5. ^ Andrew King, John Plunkett (2005). Victorian Print Media: A Reader. Oxford University Press. p. 50. ISBN 0-19-927037-6. National Review (1855–64) one of the most prestigious quarterlies of mid-century 
  6. ^ a b Walter Bagehot (1867), The English Constitution (1st ed.), London: Chapman & Hall, OCLC 60724184 .
  7. ^ "Bagehot and International Lending". by Professor M. Lipton. The Financial Times (London, England),Tuesday, June 12, 1984; p. 17; edition 29,344.
  8. ^ Paul Tucker, Deputy Governor, Financial Stability, Bank of England, "The Repertoire of Official Sector Interventions in the Financial System: Last Resort Lending, Market-Making, and Capital", Bank of Japan 2009 International Conference, 27–28 May 2009, p. 5
  9. ^ Roger Kimball, "The Greatest Victorian", The New Criterion October 1998.


Further reading[edit]

  • Barrington, Emilie Isabel Wilson (1933). The Love-letters of Walter Bagehot and Eliza Wilson. London: Faber & Faber
  • Baumann, Arthur Anthony (1916). "Walter Bagehot." In: Persons & Politics of the Transition. London: Macmillan & Co., pp. 121–50
  • Birrell, Augustine (1922). "Walter Bagehot." In: The Collected Essays and Addresses of the Rt. Hon. Augustine Birrell, Vol. 2. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, pp. 213–35
  • Brogan, Hugh (1977). "America and Walter Bagehot," Journal of American Studies, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp. 335–56
  • Brinton, Crane (1962). "Walter Bagehot." In: English Plolitical Thought in the 19th Century. New York: Harper Torchbooks
  • Clinton, David (2003). "'Dash and Doubt': Walter Bagehot and International Restraint," The Review of Politics, Vol. 65, No. 1, pp. 89–109
  • Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, p. 20
  • Easton, David (1949). "Walter Bagehot and Liberal Realism," The American Political Science Review, Vol. 43, No. 1, pp. 17–37
  • Edwards, Ruth Dudley (1993). The Pursuit of Reason: The Economist 1843–1993. London: Hamish Hamilton
  • Grant Duff, M.E. (1903). "Walter Bagehot: His Life and Works, 1826–1877." In: Out of the Past. London: John Murray, pp. 1–34
  • Halsted, John B. (1958). "Walter Bagehot on Toleration," Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 119–28
  • Hanley, Brian (2004). "'The Greatest Victorian' in the New Century: The Enduring Relevance of Walter Bagehot's Commentary on Literature, Scholarship, and Public Life", Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 40, No. 2, pp. 167–98
  • Irvine, William (1939). Walter Bagehot. London: Longmans, Green and Co.
  • Kolbe, F.C. (1908). "Walter Bagehot: An Appreciation," The Irish Monthly, Vol. 36, No. 419, pp. 282–87
  • Morgan, Forrest (1995). Collected Works of Walter Bagehot. Routledge
  • Ostlund, Leonard A. (1956). "Walter Bagehot—Pioneer Social Psychology Theorist," Social Science, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 107–11
  • Spring, David (1976). "Walter Bagehot and Deference," The American Historical Review, Vol. 81, No. 3, pp. 524–31
  • Stephen, Leslie (1907). "Walter Bagehot." In: Studies of a Biographer, Vol. 3. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, pp. 144–74
  • Stevas, Norman, ed. (1986). The Collected Works of Walter Bagehot: Volumes 1–15. New York: Oxford University Press
  • Westwater, S.A.M. (1977). "Walter Bagehot: A Reassessment," The Antioch Review, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 39–49
  • Wilson, Woodrow (1895). "A Literary Politician," The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 76, No. 457, pp. 668–80
  • Wilson, Woodrow (1898). "A Wit and a Seer," The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 82, No. 492, pp. 527–40

External links[edit]