The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Bagehot, Walter (1826–1877)

  • Asa Briggs
Reference work entry


Editor and literary critic as well as banker and economist, Bagehot was described in retrospect by Lord Bryce as ‘the most original mind of his generation’ (Buchan 1959, p. 260). It is a difficult claim to sustain, certainly as far as his scattered economic writings are concerned. There was no doubt, however, about his intellectual versatility: there was an immediacy, a clarity and an irony – what he said of his friend Arthur Hugh Clough’s poems, ‘a sort of truthful scepticism’ – about Bagehot’s essays in different fields which make them still pre-eminently readable. Bagehot saw connections, too, between economics, politics, psychology, anthropology and the natural sciences – ‘mind and character’ – refusing to draw rigid boundaries between most of these subjects and ‘literary studies’, while recognizing in his later years that the frontiers of political economy needed to be more carefully marked. ‘Most original’ or not, he was, as the historian G.M. Young (1948) has observed, Victoranum maxime, if not Victoranum maximus: ‘he was in and of his age, and could have been of no other.’ He pre-dated academic specialization and professionalization, and he was never didactic in his approach.


Bagehot, W. Bank of England Bimetallism British classical economics Expectations Free trade Giffen, R. Jevons, W. S. Mathematics and economics Mill, J. S. Ricardo, D. Socialism Statistics and economics Trade unions Walras, L 

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  1. Buchan, A. 1959. The spare chancellor. The life of Walter Bagehot. London: Chatto & Windus.Google Scholar
  2. Giffen, R. 1880. Bagehot as an economist. The Fortnightly, April, 549–567.Google Scholar
  3. Young, G.M. 1948. The greatest Victorian. In Today and yesterday, ed. G.M. Young. London: Rupert Hart-Davis.Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Asa Briggs
    • 1
  1. 1.