Walter Bagehot

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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 1855, Bagehot founded the National Review with his friend Richard Holt Hutton.[2][3] In 1860, he became editor-in-chief of The Economist, which had been founded by his father-in-law, James Wilson. In the seventeen years he served as its editor, Bagehot expanded The Economist's reporting on politics and increased its influence among policymakers.


The title page of Bagehot's The English Constitution (1st ed., 1867)[4]

In 1867, Bagehot wrote The English Constitution,[4] 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.[5] 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, only against good collateral and at interest rates that are high enough to dissuade those borrowers that are not genuinely in need.[6]


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.[7] 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.

Selected works[edit]

  • 1867 The English Constitution, Chapman and Hall, reprinted by Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-283975-6 (online; online; online).
  • 1869 Universal Money (A Practical Plan for assimilating the English and America Money, as a step towards a Universal Money), London: Longmans.[8]
  • 1872 Physics and politics or thoughts on the application of the principles of „natural selection“ and „inheritance“ to political society. King, London
  • 1873 Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market. King, London; reprinted Wiley, New York 1999, ISBN 0-471-34499-0 (online).


  1. ^ Richard Holt Hutton, "Memoir" and "Second Memoir" (from Dictionary of National Biography), in Mrs Russell Barrington, ed., The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, London, Longman, Green (1915)
  2. ^ Walter Bagehot by St. Norman John-Stevas The British Council/National Book League/Longmans, Greene & Co. London. (1963)
  3. ^ 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 
  4. ^ a b Walter Bagehot (1867), The English Constitution (1st ed.), London: Chapman & Hall, OCLC 60724184 .
  5. ^ Bagehot and International Lending. by Professor M. Lipton. The Financial Times (London, England),Tuesday, June 12, 1984; pg. 17; Edition 29,344.
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Roger Kimball, "The Greatest Victorian", The New Criterion October 1998.
  8. ^ 'The Penguin Dictionary of Economics' George Bannock, R. E. Baxter and Evan Davis. 5th Edition. Penguin Books 1992.


Further reading[edit]

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