Arthur Hugh Clough was born in Liverpool in 1819, the son of a cotton merchant, who moved with his family to Charleston, South Carolina in 1822. Arthur and his elder brother were sent back to England for schooling in Chester. Arthur then attended Rugby School where Thomas Arnold was the headmaster, becoming head boy and contributing to the Rugby Magazine. He won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was disappointed to only achieve a second class honours degree.
After graduating he was offered a Fellowship at Oriel College, but after several years he became increasingly unwilling to teach the strict doctrines of the Church of England and resigned. Following his resignation he wrote the long romantic poem The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich, a farewell to the academic life, followed by his Ambarvalia, his poems from his time as a student and teacher. His poem Easter Day was a passionate denial of the resurrection.
Radical in his politics as well as in his religious beliefs, he travelled to Paris, where he witnessed the revolution of 1848. It was here that he met and befriended the American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. The following year he travelled to Italy to participate in Mazzini’s revolution, witnessing the siege of the Roman republic, which inspired his narrative poem Amours de Voyage.
In 1849 he became a professor of English at University College, London, and head of its student hostel, but once again he found it difficult to reconcile his beliefs with their Unitarian doctrines and resigned in 1852. He then spent a few months lecturing in Massachusetts at the invitation of Emerson and on his return to England in 1853 took up a job in the Education Office. He got married in that year to Blanche Mary Shore Smith and then worked as an unpaid secretarial assistant to his wife’s cousin, Florence Nightingale. Throughout the 1850s he worked on the translation of Plutarch’s Lives and a long poem, Mari Magno. In 1860 he travelled to Greece to meet up with the Tennyson family. The following year he contracted malaria on a journey from Switzerland to Italy and died in Florence in 1861. Tennyson wrote the elegy Thyrsis to his memory.
Clough is best known for his short poems Say not the Struggle naught Availeth, Through a Glass, Darkly, and The Latest Decalogue, a satirical take on the Ten Commandments and a criticism of Victorian moral complacency. His work reflects the religious doubt of mid-19th Century England.