Clutton-Brock, Arthur 1868-1924, essayist, critic, and journalist, was born at Weybridge 23 March 1868, the third son of John Alan Clutton-Brock, a well-known banker, by his wife, Mary Alice, daughter of the Rev. H. J. Hill. He was sent to school at Summerfields, Oxford, and in 1882 gained a scholarship at Eton. From Eton he proceeded to New College, Oxford. At Eton, where he won an English verse prize with an ode in the manner of Shelley, and still more at Oxford, Clutton-Brock developed his love of literature and art, and the wit of his conversation and the brilliance of his circle at the university are attested by all who knew him. He obtained third classes in classical honour moderations and in literae humaniores. On leaving Oxford he was apprenticed for a short time in a stockbroker's office, but was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1895, and practised for some years. Meanwhile his natural bent for writing revealed itself in a number of early essays and poems. Some of the poems are printed in a posthumous collection, The Miracle of Love and Other Poems (1926).
Clutton-Brock married in 1903 Evelyn, daughter of Leveson Francis Vernon-Harcourt [qv.], civil engineer, and settled down to a life of regular literary and critical work. From 1904 to 1906 he was literary editor of the Speaker and a frequent contributor to the Times Literary Supplement. To him this latter paper, which came into existence at the beginning of the twentieth century, owed much of its steady success and wide reputation: indeed, its editor went so far as to say that Clutton-Brock made it. After being for a short time art critic on the Tribune and the Morning Post, in 1908 Clutton-Brock joined, as art critic, the staff of The Times, for which he worked as a writer on many subjects, ranging from gardening to religion, for the rest of his life. In 1909, at the age of forty-one, he wrote his first important book, which was also his best, Shelley, the Man and the Poet (materially revised in 1923; see also the introduction to his edition of Shelley's Poems, 1911). In this book Clutton-Brock combined a serious appreciation of Shelley's poetry with a sober survey of Shelley's life in a way which antagonized the whole-hearted worshippers of that poet.
The profound joy which Clutton-Brock took in his own daily work had led him to accept William Morris's aesthetic approach to socialism, and in 1909 he joined the Fabian Society. When the European War broke out in 1914 he had just completed an appreciation of Morris (Home University Library, 1914). Morris, Shelley, and Swinburne were the favourite authors of his early literary years. The War wrought a considerable, if not a radical, change in his outlook. He may be said to have become less of an aesthete and more of a moralist. In a series of articles in The Times Literary Supplement (republished as Thoughts on the War, 2 vols., 1914-1915; see also The Ultimate Belief, 1916) he preached against turning patriotism into a religion, as he alleged the Germans had done. His outlook became more definitely Christian, and in articles and books from 1917 onwards he taught a religion of love, laughter, and beauty which, had he lived longer, might have won him fame as a religious philosopher. At the same time he continued to produce a series of essays on art, literature, and life, written more for pleasure than for profit, which represent his mature thought and culture. After three years of intermittent illness he died at Godalming 8 January 1924, leaving three sons.
The change from a broadly romantic to a more philosophic interest in the world in Clutton-Brock's later years may be gauged from the fact that whereas in his earlier writings the names of Shelley and Morris most frequently appear, in his later work the name of Christ, and those of Shakespeare and Mozart predominate. While, on the one hand, he repudiated the criticism of art in terms of morals which he found in men like Ruskin and Tolstoy, yet art, literature, religion, and politics were indissolubly linked in his philosophy of life. His opinions, always balanced, were far from rigid. In his Studies in Christianity (1918) religion had given him a buoyantly happy mood, but in 1919 he told his wife that he felt he had attained his religious optimism too easily, and at the time of his death he was still seeking a constructive philosophy of life. Hence his Essays on Religion, posthumously published in 1926, have been described as an unfinished torso [B. H. Streeter, introduction]. But although his work in this field thus remained imperfect, and although we may suspect that the full flavour of his conversation never quite found its way into his books, Clutton-Brock must take a high place among that group of first-rate essayists which England produced in the first quarter of the twentieth century.
The Times, 9 January 1924
Observer, 13 January 1924
J. L. Hammond, introduction to Essays on Life, 1925
(Mrs.) E. A. Clutton-Brock, introduction to The Miracle of Love, 1926
B. H. Streeter, ut supra
Contributor: M. P. Ashley.