In This Review

The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot
The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot
By Frank Prochaska
Yale University Press, 2013, 224 pp

Walter Bagehot (1826–77) is best known among economists for his oft-quoted views on how central banks should behave, in particular as lenders of last resort. He wrote prolifically -- a few books, but mainly articles for quarterly magazines and for The Economist, of which he became editor in 1861. But he wrote no memoirs. This unusual book is what Prochaska imagines Bagehot, once dubbed “the greatest Victorian,” might have produced. It provides a fascinating glimpse of British intellectual and practical life in the mid-nineteenth century, drawing extensively on Bagehot’s writings (in which he often mused on an enormous range of subjects), his letters, and the diaries of his wife. Bagehot was a banker who loved literature and poetry and who was blessed with an active, inquiring mind, stimulated by what he observed around him. He believed that economic principles yielded powerful insights but that the dullness of economic writing obscured those insights and made them difficult to apply, a state of affairs he tried to correct as an editor and writer for The Economist -- a tradition the magazine continues today.