Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XII.: renewed activity of the league—cobden and sir robert peel—rural campaign. - The Life of Richard Cobden
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CHAPTER XII.: renewed activity of the league—cobden and sir robert peel—rural campaign. - John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden 
The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwiin, 1903).
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renewed activity of the league—cobden and sir robert peel—rural campaign.
In September he made an important speech to the Council of the League, at Manchester. It explains their relations to political parties, and to social classes. They had been lately charged, he said, with having been in collision with the Chartist party. But those who made this charge had themselves been working for the last three years to excite the Chartist party against the League, and that, too, by means that were not over-creditable. These intriguers had succeeded in deluding a considerable portion of the working classes upon the subject of the Corn Laws. “And I have no objection in admitting here,” Cobden went1842.
In another speech, he said the great mass of the people stuck to the bread-tax because it was the law. “He did not charge the great body of the working classes with taking part against the repeal of the Corn Laws, but he charged the great body of the intelligent mechanics with standing aloof, and allowing a parcel of lads, with hired knaves for leaders, to interrupt their meetings.” As time went on, the share of the working class in the movement became more satisfactory. Meanwhile, it is important to notice that they held aloof, or else opposed it as interfering with those claims of their own to political power, which the Reform Act had so unexpectedly baulked.
Recovering themselves from the disappointment and con 1842.
They had been spending a hundred pounds a week. They ought now, said Cobden, to spend a thousand. Up to this time the Council of the League had had twenty-five thousand pounds through their hands, of which by far the larger portion had been raised in Manchester and the neighbouring district. About three times that sum had been raised and expended by local associations elsewhere. In all, therefore, a hundred thousand pounds had gone, and the Corn Laws seemed more immovable than ever. With admirable energy, the Council now made up their minds at once to raise a new fund of fifty thousand pounds, and, notwithstanding the terrible condition of the cotton trade, the amount was collected in a very short time. Men contributed freely because they knew that the rescue of their capital depended on the opening of markets from which the protection on corn excluded them.
“You will have observed,” Cobden wrote to Mr. Edward Baines, “that the Council of the League are determined upon a renewed agitation upon a great scale, provided they can get a commensurate pecuniary help from the country, and my object in troubling you is to beg that you will endeavour to rouse the men of the West Riding to another effort.
“Then scheme which we especially aim at carrying out is this:—To make an attack upon every registered elector of the kingdom, county and borough, by sending to each a packet of publications embracing the whole argument as it affects both the agricultural and trading view of the question. We are procuring the copies of the registers for the purpose. But the plan involves an expense of 20,000l. Add to this our increased expenditure in lectures, etc., and the contemplated cost of the spring deputations in London, and we shall require 50,000l. to do justice to1842.
“A vast proportion of our expenditure has been of a kind to bring no éclat, such as the wide distribution of tracts in the purely agricultural districts, and the subsidizing of literary talent which does not appear in connexion with the League. If I had the opportunity of a little gossip with you, I could give you proof of much efficient agitation for which the League does not get credit publicly. There is danger, however, in the growing adversity of this district, that we may pump our springs dry, and it is more and more necessary to widen the circle of our contributors. We confidently rely on your influential co-operation.
“Recollect that our primary object is to work the printing press, not upon productions of our own, but producing the essence of authoritative writers, such as Deacon Hume, Lord Fitzwilliam, etc., and scattering them broadcast over the land. Towards such an object no Free-trader can scruple to commit himself. And in no other human war that I am acquainted with, can we accomplish our end by moral and peaceable means. There is no use in blinking the real difficulties of our task, which is the education of twenty-seven millions of people, an object not to be accomplished except by the cordial assist 1842.
The staff of lecturers was again despatched on its missionary errand. To each elector in the kingdom was sent a little library of tracts. Tea parties followed by meetings were found to be more attractive in the northern towns than meetings without tea parties. Places where meetings had been thinly attended, now produced crowds. Cobden, Mr. Bright. Mr. Ashworth, and the other chief speakers, again scoured the country north of the Trent; and at the end of the year, the first two of these, along with Colonel Perronet Thompson—the author of the famous Catechism of the Corn Laws, and styled by Cobden, the father of them all—proceeded on a pilgrimage to Scotland.
“Our progress ever since we crossed the border,” Cobden writes, “has been gratifying in the extreme. Had we been disposed to encourage a display of enthusiasm, we might have frightened the more nervous of the monopolists with our demonstrations. As it is, we have been content to allow honours to be thrust upon us in our own persons, or rather mine, by the representatives of the people. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Kirkcaldy, Dundee, Perth, and Stirling, have all presented me with the freedom of their burghs, and I have no doubt I could have become a free citizen of every corporate town in Scotland by paying them a visit.2 All this is due to the principles we advocate, for I have done all I could to discourage any personal compliments to myself. Scotland is fairly up now, and we shall have more in future from this side of the Tweed upon the Corn Law. We go to-day to Glasgow to attend another Free-trade banquet.1843.
“I shall be with you at the end of the week. The work has been too heavy for me, and I have been obliged to throw an extra share upon Bright and the old veteran Colonel. I caught cold in coming from Carlisle to Glasgow by night, and have not got rid of it. To-day has, however, been very fine, and I have enjoyed a long walk with George Combe into the country, looking at the farm-houses, each of which has a tall chimney attached belonging to the engine house. I am obliged to come from Glasgow here on Thursday to go through the ceremony of receiving the freedom of this city. Upon the whole, I am satisfied with the aspect of things in Scotland. I am not afraid of their going back from their convictions, and there is scarcely a man who is not against the present law, and nearly all are going on to total repeal. For Maule’s conversion is important . He is heir to 80,000l. a year in land, 40,000 acres under the plough.”4
From Dundee, through Hawick, the deputation crossed the border to Newcastle, Sunderland, Darlington, and other towns of that region. On their return to head-quarters, Mr. Bright recounted to a crowded meeting at Manchester what they had done, and he summed up their impressions of Scotland in words that deserve to be put on record. There were some general features, Mr. Bright said, which struck him very strongly in their tour through Scotland.
“Scotland, in former ages, was the cradle of liberty, civil and religious. Scotland, now, is the home of liberty; and there are more men in Scotland, in proportion to its population, who are in favour of the rights of man than there are in any other equal proportion of the population of this country.... I told them that they were the people who should have repeal of the Union; for that, if they were separate from England, they might have a government wholly popular and intelligent, to a degree which I believe does not exist in any other country on the face of the earth. However, I believe they will be disposed to press us on, and make us become more and more intelligent; and we may receive benefit from our contact with them, even though, for some ages to come, our connexion with them may be productive of evil to themselves.”
In England, at least, it is certain that the amazing vigour and resolution of the League were regarded with intense disfavour by great and important classes. The League was thoroughly out of fashion. It was regarded as violent, extreme, and not respectable. A year before, it had usually been described as a selfish and contemptible faction. By the end of 1842 things had become more serious. The notorious pamphleteer of the Quarterly Review now denounced the League as the foulest and most dangerous combination of recent times. The Times spoke of Cobden, Bright, and their allies as “capering mercenaries who go frisking about the country;” as authors of incendiary clap-trap; as peripatetic orators puffing themselves into 1843.
The session of 1843 opened with the most painful incident in Cobden’s parliamentary life. It is well to preface an account of it, by mentioning an even that happened on the eve of the session. Mr. Drummond, the private secretary of the Prime Minister, was shot in Parliament Street, and in a few days died from the wound. The assassin was Daniel M’Naghten, a mechanic from Glasgow, who at the trial was acquitted on the ground of insanity. From Something that he said to a police inspector in his cell, the belief got abroad that in firing at Mr. Drummond he supposed that he was dealing with Sir Robert Peel. The evidence at the trial showed even this to be very doubtful, and in any case the act was simply that of a lunatic. But it shook Sir1843.
Lord Howick on an early night in the session moved that the House should resolve itself into a committee to consider a passage in the Queen’s speech, in which reference had been made to the prevailing distress. The debate on the motion was a great affair, and extended over five nights. It was a discussion worthy of the fame of the House of Commons—a serious effort on the part of most of those who contributed to it, to shed some light on the difficulties in which the country was involved. Cobden spoke on the last night of the debate (Feb. 17). He answered in his usual dexterious and argumentative way the statements of Lord Stanley, Mr. Gladstone, and other opponents of a repeal of the Corn Law, and then he proceeded to a fervent remonstrance with the Prime Minister. I quote some of the sentences which led to what followed: “If you (Sir Robert Peel) try any other remedy than ours, what chance have you for mitigating the condition of the country? You took the Corn Laws into your own hands after a fashion of your own, and amended them according to your own views. You said that you were uninfluenced in what you did by any pressure from without on your judgment. You acted on your own judgment, and would follow no other, and you are responsible for the consequences of your act. You said that your object was to find more employment for the increasing population. Who so likely, however, to tell you what markets could be extended, as those who are engaged in carrying on the trade and manufactures of the country?... You passed the law, 1843.
When Cobden sat down, the Prime Minister rose to his feet, with signs of strong agitation in his usually impassive bearing. “Sir,” he said, “the honourable gentleman has stated here very emphatically, what he has more than once stated at the conferences of the Anti-Corn-Law League, that he holds me individually—” Here the speaker was inter1843.
The enraged denials and the confusion with which the Ministerial benches broke into his explanation, showed Cobden that it was hopeless for the moment to attempt to clear himself. Sir Robert Peel resumed by reiterating the charge that Cobden had twice declared that he would hold the Minister individually responsible. This inauspicious beginning was the prelude of a strong and careful speech; as strong a speech as could be made by a minister who was not prepared to launch into the full tide of Cobden’s own policy,5 and had only doubtful arguments about practical 1843.
Lord John Russell, who spoke after the Minister, had no particular reason to be anxious to defend so dubious a follower as Cobden, but his honourable spirit revolted against the unjust and insulting demeanour of the House. “I am sure,” he said, “that for my own part, and I believe I can answer for most of those who sit round me, that the same sense was not attached to the honourable member for Stockport’s words, as has been attached by the right honourable Baronet and honourable members opposite.” When Lord John Russell had finished a speech that practically wound up the debate, Cobden returned to his explanation, and amid some interruptions from the opposite benches, as well as from the Speaker on a point of order, again insisted that he had intended to throw the responsibility of the Minister’s measures upon him as the head of the Govern ment In using the word “individually,” he used it as the1843.
Very stiffly Peel accepted the explanation. “I am bound to accept the construction which the honourable member puts upon the language he employed. He used the word ‘individually’ in so marked a way, that I and others put upon it a different explanation. He supposes the word ‘individually’ to mean public responsibility in the situation I hold, and I admit it at once. I thought the words he employed, ‘I hold you individually responsible,’ might have an effect, which I think many other gentlemen who heard them might anticipate.”
The sitting was not to end without an assault on Cobden from a different quarter. Sir Robert Peel had no sooner accepted one explanation, than Mr. Roebuck made a statement that demanded another. He taxed Cobden with having spoken of Lord Brougham as a maniac; with having threatened his own seat at Bath; and with having tolerated the use of such reprehensible and dangerous language by members of the League, as justified Lord Brougham’s exhortation to all friends of Corn Law Reform to separate themselves from such evil advisers. This incident sprang from some words which Brougham had used in the House of Lords a week before. They are a fine example of parliamentary mouthing, and of that cheap courage which consists in thundering against the indiscretions of an unpopular friend. If anything could retard the progress of the doctrines of the League, he had said, “it would be the exaggerated statements and violence of some of those connected with their body—the means adopted by them at some of their meetings to excite—happily they have not much suc 1843.
Cobden, as we might expect, had spoken freely of this rebuke as the result of a reckless intellect and a malignant spirit, or words to that effect.6 Nobody can think that Mr. Roebuck had chosen his moment very chivalrously. Even now, when time and death are throwing the veil of kindly oblivion over the struggle, we read with some satisfaction the denunciation by Mr. Bright, of the “Brummagem Brougham, who, when the whole Ministerial side of the House was yelling at the man who stood there, the very impersonation of justice to the people, stood forward and dared to throw his puny dart at Richard Cobden.” There is hardly an instance which illustrates more painfully the ungenerous, the unsparing, the fierce treatment for which a man must be prepared who enters public life in the House of Commons. The sentiment of the House itself was against Cobden. It always is more or less secretly against anyone of its members who is known to have a serious influence outside, and to be raising the public opinion of constituencies1843.
Cobden’s own remarks on this unhappy evening are better than any that an outsider can offer. To his brother Frederick he wrote as follows:—
“The affair of last Friday seems to be working more and more to our advantage. It has been the talk of everybody here, from the young lady on the throne, down to the back-parlour visitors of every pot-house in the metropolis. And the result seems to be a pretty general notion that Peel has made a great fool of himself, if not something worse. He is obliged now to assume that he was in earnest, for no man likes to confess himself a hypocrite, and to put up with the ridicule of his own party in private as a coward. Lord—was joking with Ricardo in the House the other night about him; pointing towards Peel as he was leaning forward, he whispered, ‘There, the fellow is afraid somebody is taking aim at him from the gallery.’ Then the pack at his back are not very well satisfied with themselves at having been so palpably dragged through the mud by him, for they had evidently not considered that I was threatening him. Indeed the fact of their having called for Bankes to speak after I sat down, and whilst Peel was 1843.
“The thing is on its last legs. The wholesale admissions of our principles by the Government must prove destructive to the system in no very long time. The whole matter turns upon the possibility of their finding a man to fill the office of executioner for them, and when Peel bolts or betrays them, the game is up. It is this conviction in my mind which induced me after some deliberation to throw the responsibility upon Peel, and he is not only alarmed at it, but indiscreet enough to let everybody know that he is so.... Our meeting last night was a wonderful exhibition. In the course of a couple of months we will have entire possession of the metropolis. Nothing will alarm Peel so much as exhibitions of strength and feeling at his own door. I am overdone from all parts with letters and congratulations,1843.
The enemies of the League made the most of what had happened. They spoke of Cobden as politically ruined, and ruined beyond retrieval. Brougham, with hollow pity, wrote about the “downfall of poor Mr. Cobden.” It soon appeared that there was another side to the matter. Meetings were held to protest against the treatment which Cobden had received from the Minister and the House; sympathetic addresses were sent to him from half the towns in England, and all the towns in Scotland; and for many weeks afterwards, whenever he appeared in a public assembly, he was greeted with such acclamations as had seldom been heard in public assemblies before. We may believe that Cobden was perfectly sincere when he said to one of his friends:—“I dislike this personal matter for many good reasons, public and private. We must avoid any of this individual glorification in the future. My forte is simplicity of action, hard working behind the scenes, and common sense in council; but I have neither taste nor aptitude for these public displays.”9
At Manchester some eight thousand men and women met to hear stirring speeches on the recent affair. Mr. Bright moved a resolution, for an address to Cobden, in words that glow with noble and energetic passion, while they keep clear of hero-worship. “I do not stand up,” he said, “to flatter the member for Stockport. I believe him to be a very intelligent and very honest man; I believe that he will act with a single eye to the good of his country; I believe that he is firmly convinced of the truth of the great principles of which he is so distinguished an advocate.”
“I have just received an address signed by upwards of 31,000 inhabitants of Manchester, declaring their approval of my public conduct as an advocate of the principle of commercial freedom, and their indignation at a late attempt to give a perverted and hateful meaning to my language in Parliament. Allow me through you, who have done me the honour to place your name at the head of the list of signatures, to convey to your fellow-townsmen the expression of my heartfelt gratitude for this manifestation of their sympathy and confidence.
“Whilst I unfeignedly profess my unworthiness to receive such a flattering and unexpected testimonial in reward for my public services generally, I should feel degraded indeed if I could not conscientiously accept the prompt repudiation of the conduct imputed to me on a recent occasion. Nay, I should feel it to be derogatory from my character as a man and a Christian, that my countrymen should come forward to repel the misinterpretation which has been given to my words, were it not necessary on public grounds to prevent the First Minister of the Crown from evading, under any misconstruction of language, his responsibility for the alarming consequences of the measures of his Government—a responsibility not to the hand of the assassin, but a constitutional and moral responsibility which has been defined in the language of Edmund Burke: ‘Where I speak of responsibility, I do not mean to exclude that species of it which the legal powers of the country have a right finally to exact from those who abuse a public trust: but high as this is, there is a responsibility which attaches on them, from which the whole legitimate power of this kingdom cannot absolve them. There is a responsi bility to conscience and to glory, a responsibility to the1843.
“Never at any period of our history did this constitutional and moral responsibility attach more strongly to a minister than at the present moment, when the country is struggling, amidst distress and embarrassment the most alarming, against a system of monopoly which threatens the ruin of our manufactures and commerce. That this system, with its disastrous consequences of a declining trade, a sinking revenue, increasing pauperism, and a growing disaffection in the people, owes its continuance to the support of the present Prime Minister more than to that of his entire party, few persons who have had the opportunity of observing the manner in which he individualizes in his own person the powers of government, will deny.
“That the withdrawal of his support from this pernicious system would do more at the present moment than all the efforts of the friends of Free Trade to effect the downfall of monopoly has been proclaimed upon high authority from his own side of the House. ‘If the right hon. Baronet,’ said Mr. Liddell, member for North Durham, in the debate, Feb. 3, ‘had shown any symptoms of wavering in the support of the Corn Law, which he had himself put upon a sound footing last year, such conduct would have been productive of a hundred times more mischief than all the denunciations of the Anti-Corn-Law League.’ With such evidences of the power possessed by the First Minister of the Crown, I should have been an unworthy representative of the people, and a traitor to the suffering interests of my 1843.
“Sanctioned and sustained as I have been by the approving voice of the inhabitants of Manchester, and of my countrymen generally, I shall go forward undeterred by the arts or the violence of my opponents, in that course to which a conscientious sense of public duty impels me; and whilst studiously avoiding every ground of personal irritation—for our cause is too vast in its objects, and too good and too strong in its principles, to be made a mere topic of personal altercation—I shall never shrink from declaring in my place in Parliament the constitutional doctrine of the inalienable responsibility of the First Minister of the Crown for the measures of his Government.”2
A few days after the scene in the House of Commons, the first of those great meetings was held, which eventually turned opinion in London in good earnest to the views of the League. The Crown and Anchor and the Freemasons’ Tavern had become too small to hold the audiences. Drury Lane Theatre was hired, and here seven meetings were held between the beginning of March and the beginning of May. The crowds who thronged the theatre were not always the same in keenness and energy of perception, but their numbers never fell short, and their enthusiasm grew more intense as they gradually mastered the case, and became better acquainted with the persons and characters of the prominent speakers. In the following letter to his brother, Cobden hints at the special advantage which he expected from these gatherings:—
“There is but one of their lies,” he says, referring to the gossip of the Tories, “that I should care to make them prove; that is that our business is worth 10,000l. a year! By the way, it is a wholesome sign that my middle-class1843.
“The meeting at Taunton was a bonâ-fide farmers’ gathering from all parts of the division of Somerset, and there was but one opinion in the town amongst all parties who attended the market, that the game of the ‘political landlords’ is all up. I find our case upon agricultural grounds far stronger and easier than in relation to the trading interests. Now, depend upon it, it will be just as we have often predicted, the agricultural districts of the south will carry our question. They are as a community in every respect, whether as regards intelligence, morality, politics, or public spirit, superior to the folks that surround you in Lancashire. I intend to hold county meetings every Saturday after Easter.”4
The year 1843 was famous for a great agitation in each of the three kingdoms. O’Connell was rousing Ireland by the cry of Repeal. Scotland was kindled to one of its most passionate movements of enthusiasm by the outgoing of Chalmers and his brethren from the Establishment. In England the League against the Corn Law was rapidly growing in flood and volume. If ever the natural history of agitations is taken in hand, it will be instructive to compare the different methods of these three movements, two of which succeeded, while the third failed.
Cobden never disdained large popular meetings, to be counted by thousands. These gatherings of great multitudes were useful, not merely because they were likely to stir a certain interest more or less durable in those who attended them, but also because they impressed the Protectionist party with the force and numbers that were being arrayed against them. But he did not overrate either their signi1843.
The League had shown the evil effects of the Corn Law upon operatives, shopkeepers, manufacturers, and merchants. They now turned to another quarter, and set to work to prove that the same law inflicted still greater injuries upon the tenant farmers and the labourers. The towns were already convinced, and the time was a good one for an invasion of the agricultural districts. The farmers were getting low prices. They were disgusted at the concessions to Free Trade which had been made in the budget, especially in the article of meat. They suspected their parliamentary friends of trickery, and a selfish deference to a plausible Minister.
The meetings in the counties were highly successful for their immediate purpose, and they are full of interest to look back upon. They are, perhaps, the most striking and original feature in the whole agitation. There was true political courage and profound faith, in the idea of wakening the most torpid portion of the community, not by any appeal to passion, but by hard argumentative debate. It was generally accepted that the controversy was one to be settled by arguments and not by force. Sir George Lewis said that if the proposal had been to annihilate rents instead of reducing them, the Protectionists would as certainly have 1843.
Farmers who were afraid of attending meetings in their own immediate district, used to travel thirty or forty miles to places where they could listen to the speakers without being known. Enemies came to the meetings, and began to take notes in a very confident spirit, but as the arguments became too strong for them, the pencil was laid aside, and the paper was torn up. At Norwich, the leading yeoman1843.
At Hertford the Shire Hall was so crowded, that the meeting was held in the open air. The multitude was mainly composed of farmers, and on the skirts of the multitude some of the most important squires in the county sat on horseback to hear the discussion. Cobden spoke for two hours, and obtained a sympathetic hearing by his announcement that he was the son of a Sussex farmer, that he had kept his father’s sheep, and had seen the misery of a rent-day. It was at this meeting at Hertford that he first met Mr. Lattimore, the well-known farmer of Wheathampstead, to whom he was in the subsequent course of the movement greatly indebted for agricultural facts bearing on Free Trade.6
In Bedford Cobden had not a single friend or acquaintance. He had simply announced as extensively as he could by placards, that he meant to visit the town on a given day. The farmers had been canvassed far and wide to attend to put down the representatives from the Anti-Corn-Law League. The Assembly Rooms could not hold half the persons who had come together, and they adjourned to a large field outside the town. Three waggons were provided to serve as hustings, but the monopolist party rudely seized them, and Cobden had to wait while a fourth waggon was procured. Lord Charles Russell presided, and the discussion began. The proceedings went on from three o’clock in the afternoon until nine o’clock in the evening, in spite of heavy showers of rain. At first Cobden was listened to with some impatience, but as he warmed to his subject, and began to deliver telling strokes of illustration and argument, the impression gradually spread that he was right. The chairman was 1843.
“We fought a hard battle at Bedford,” Cobden writes to his brother, “against brutish squires and bull-frogs, but carried it two to one, contrary to the expectations of every man in the county. Lord Charles Russell is the man who opposed even his brother John’s fixed duty, declaring at the time that it was to throw two millions of acres out of cultivation. After Bedford, we can win anywhere; and it is giving great moral power to my movements in the rural districts to be always successful. The aristocracy are becoming savage and alarmed at the war going on in their own camp.”7
“On Saturday next,” he continues, “I shall be at Rye, where there will be a grand muster from all the eastern part of our county and from parts of Kent. These county meetings are becoming provokingly interesting and attractive, so far as the landlords are affected. They begin to feel the necessity of showing fight, and yet when they do come out to meet me, they are sure to be beaten on their own dunghill. The question of protection is now an open one at all the market tables in the counties where I have been, and the discussion of the question cannot fail to have the right issue.”8
This discussion sometimes broke down for lack of representatives of the opposite cause:—
“Our meeting at Rye was a very tame affair for want of any open spirit of opposition. The audience was almost as quiet as a flock of their own Southdowns. I fear the squires and parsons will give up the old game of opposition, and try to keep the farmers away. However, we have sown the seeds in the South of England which nothing will eradicate. Wherever I go, I make the Corn question an open question1843.
At Penenden Heath (June 29), three thousand of the men of Kent assembled to hear a close argumentative debate between Cobden and a local landowner. Two days later there was an open-air meeting at Guildford, where Cobden stated his case, tided over interruptions, and met objections from all comers for several hours. We need not further prolong the history of this summer’s campaign. Hereford, Lewes, Croydon, Bristol, Salisbury,1 Canterbury, and Reading, were all visited before the end of the session by Cobden and Mr. Bright, or some other coadjutor. In all of them, amid great variety of illustrations, and with a constantly increasing stock of facts, he pinned his opponents to the point, How, when, or where, have farmers and farm labourers benefited by the Corn Law? His greatest victory was at Colchester, the chief town of a county which kept its parliamentary representation unsullied by a single Liberal. The whole district had been 1843.
“Will these repeated discomfitures,” cried the Morning Post, “induce the landowners of England to open their eyes to the dangers that beset them? What may be the causes of Mr. Cobden’s success? The primary cause is assuredly that which conduces to the success of Sir Robert Peel. Why, indeed, if parliamentary landowners deem it honest and wise to support the author of the Tariff and the new Corn Law, should not the tenant farmers of England support Sir Robert Peel’s principles when enunciated by Mr. Cobden? With what pretensions to consistency could Sir John Tyrrell oppose Mr. Cobden on the hustings at Colchester, after having supported all the Free Trade measures that had made the session of 1842 infamous in the annals of1843.
Mr. Bright once said at a public meeting,2 that people had talked much more than was pleasant to him about his friend Cobden and himself, and he would tell them that in the Council were many whose names were never before the public, and yet who deserved the highest praise. He was sorry that it should for a moment be supposed, that they who were more prominently before the public, and who were but two or three, should be considered the most praiseworthy. Nor was he singular. Cobden took every opportunity quietly and modestly of saying the same thing. The applause of multitudes never inflated him into a demagogue, as it was truly observed, any more than the atmosphere of Parliament and of London society ever depressed him into conventionality.3 I cannot find a trace or a word in the most private correspondence, betraying on the part of any prominent actor in the League a symptom of petty or ignoble egotism. They were too much in earnest. Never on a scene where the temptations to vanity were so many, was vanity so entirely absent.
Cobden’s incessant activity, his dialectical skill, the 1843.
As he said afterwards, Cobden lived at this time in public meetings. Along with the county meetings, there was for some time a weekly gathering the Commercial Rooms in Threadneedle Street, where the League speakers reiterated their arguments to crowded audiences of merchants and bankers. There were the enthusiastic assemblies at Drury Lane and afterwards at Covent Garden, in which the in terest of the London public was so great that the report of1843.
The serious subjects of discussion in Parliament were all related to the social condition of the people, and men noticed how at one point or another they all touched the question of Free Trade. The Government brought in their famous measure of national education, as we shall afterwards see. The League, though not formally opposed to the measure, pointed out the folly of first by the Corn Law taxing the people into poverty, and then taxing the impoverished to pay for the instruction of the starving. Charles Buller pressed his scheme of state-aided emigration.4 The League retorted that if the Corn 1843.
Unhappily there was nobody in Manchester to whom this evil designation was less applicable. Only a week before the close of the session, Cobden wrote to his brother—
“Your account is surely enough a bad turn up. There must be something radically fallacious in our mode of calculating cost or fixing prices. Not that I expected very much this year, because our last autumn must have been a serious loss, and the spring business squeezed into too small a space of time to do great things in. We must have a rigid overhauling of expenses, and see if they can be reduced; and if not, we must at all events fix our prices to cover all charges. I rather suspect we made a blunder in fixing them too low last spring. But with our present reputation, we must not give our goods away. The truth is, a great portion of our Manchester trade has always been done at no profit or at a loss. Still I do not fall into your despair. We have the chance of righting ourselves yet. For after all, our great losses have always arisen from fluctuations in the value of the stock, and there is no risk in that way for some years to come. As to other matters hanging over us, they can only be righted by a general revival of the district, and we shall get Free Trade from the necessities of the Exchequer.”7
The session came to an end; it does not appear, how1843.
“I have been incessantly occupied travelling or talking since I saw you, having made the journey across Northumberland, Cumberland, and Haddingtonshire twice. We go to-morrow to Kendal to give Warburton a lift, and I shall be home on Tuesday. I have seen much to gratify and instruct me. We spent a couple of says with Hope, and his neighbours the East Lothian farmers. They are a century before our Hants and Sussex chawbacons. In fact, they are, by comparison, educated gentlemen and practical philosophers, and their workpeople are more like Sharp and Roberts’s skilled mechanics than our round-frocked peasantry. Our farmers cannot be brought to the Scotch standard by Lord Ducie or a hundred Lord Ducies. The men are wanting. We have better soil and climate, and the live and dead stock may be easily brought to match them, but the two-legged animals will not do in the present generation. We have seen much to encourage us. I have no doubt the Haddingtonshire farmers will commence an agitation against the Corn Laws, which will be a nucleus for independent action amongst their class elsewhere. The Northumberland farmers especially in the north are nearly upon a par with them, and 1844.
“Aberdeen, Jan. 14, 1844.—Here we are happily at the far end of our pilgrimage, and on Tuesday morning we hope to turn our faces homeward. It has been a hard week’s work. After finishing our labours at Perth, I expected to have had a quiet day yesterday. We started in the morning by the coach for this place, but in passing through Forfar we found all the inhabitants at their doors or in the streets. They had heard of our intended passage through their town, and a large crowd was assembled at the inn where the coach stopped, which gave us three cheers; and nothing would do but we must stop to give them an address. We consented, and immediately the temperance band struck up, and paraded through the town, and the parish church bells were set a ringing, in fact the whole town was set in a commotion. We spoke to about two thousand persons in the parish church, which, notwithstanding that it was Saturday evening, was granted to us. It was the first time we ever addressed an Anti-Corn-Law audience in a parish church. Forfar is a poor little borough with a great many weavers of coarse linens, and their enthusiasm is nearly all we can expect from them. A subscription of about a hundred and fifty pounds will, however, be raised. We expect better things in the way of money here. Aberdeen is a fine large town with several extensive manufactories, and a good shipping port. But strange to say it is almost the only place in Scotland where the capitalists seem to have taken no part in the Free-trade movement. But I hope we shall be able to stir them up to-morrow. We shall depart from1844.
“Dundee, Jan. 17, 1844.—I am nearly overdone with work, two meetings at Aberdeen on Monday, up at four on Tuesday, travelled thirty-five miles, held a meeting at Montrose, and then thirty-five miles more to Dundee, for a meeting the same evening. To-morrow we go to Cupar Fife, next day, Leith, the day following, Jedburgh.”
“Newcastle-on-Tyne, Jan. 22.—I got here last night from Jedburgh, where we had the most extraordinary meeting of all. The streets were blocked up with country people as we entered the place, some of whom had come over the hills for twenty miles. It is the Duke of Buccleuch’s country, but he would be puzzled to find followers on his own lands to fight his battles as of old. To-night we meet here, to-morrow at Sunderland, the day after at Sheffield, where you will please address me to-morrow, on Thursday we shall be at York, 1844.
“Hull, Jan. 26, 1844.—I shall leave this place to-morrow by the train at half-past ten, and expect to reach Manchester by about five o’clock. I am, I assure you, heartily glad of the prospect of only two days’ relaxation after the terrible fagging I have had for the last three weeks. To-day we have two meetings in Hull. I am in the Court House with a thousand people before me, and Bright is stirring up the lieges with famous effect. He is reminding the Hull people of the conduct of their ancient representative, Andrew Marvell, and talking of their being unworthy of the graves of their ancestors over which they walk. We shall have another meeting this evening.”
There was one drawback to the Scotch. Before they crossed the border, the Leaguers had held meetings in Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, where they got a couple of thousand pounds before they left the room. At a Scotch meeting, Cobden tells Mrs. Cobden, “we found that to name money was like reading the Riot Act, for dispersing them. They care too much for speeches by mere politicians and Whig aristocrats.” But the results of the campaign were in the highest degree valuable. The deputation strengthened the faith in all the places that they visited, revived interest and conviction, and brought back to Manchester a substantial addition to the funds of their association.
The following letter to Mr. George Wilson belongs to this date, and illustrates a point on which Cobden and his friends were always most solicitous. It is written from Durham, for which Mr. Bright had been returned as member in the previous July:—
“You will remember that when Bright won this place, the Whigs (that is, the Chronicle) tried to make it a Whig triumph, which Bright spoilt by his declaration at the1844.
To Edward Baines, Oct. 25, 1842.
It is worth noticing that in Glasgow this honour was conferred upon him, not merely on the ground of his public action, but because, in the words of his proposer, by his ingenuity as a calico printer, he had brought that manufacture to such a state of perfection that we were now able to compete with the printers of France and Switzerland.
To George Wilson, Stirling, Jan. 18, 1843.
To F. Cobden, Jan. 15, 1843.
The peroration of this speech is an admirably eloquent comparison between the pacific views of Wellington and Soult—“men who have seen the morning sun rise upon living masses of fiery warriors, so many of whom were to be laid in the grave before that sun should set”—and “anonymous and irresponsible writers in the public journals, who are doing all they can to exasperate the differences that have prevailed; and whose efforts were not directed by zeal for the national honour, but employed for the base purposes of encouraging national animosity, or promoting personal or party interest.”
Mr. Bright also took the matter up in correspondence with Lord Brougham, and the language on both sides is as pithy as might be expected. (Feb. 15–24.)
Mr. Bright, as it happened, was returned to Parliament before the end of the session. He contested Durham in April, 1843, and was beaten by Lord Dungannon. The new member was unseated on petition, on the ground of bribery. Mr. Bright again offered himself, and was elected (July, 1843).
To F. Cobden, Feb. 23, 1843.
To E. Baines, March 8, 1843.
These are the closing words of the Third Letter on a Regicide Peace.
To Sir Thomas Potter, March 1, 1843.
To F. Cobden, March 11, 1843.
To F. Cobden, April 10, 1843.
When a visit from Mr. Bright was announced at Alnwick, the Newcastle Journal had a most brutal paragraph to the effect that some stalwart yeoman should take the matter into his hands.
“I have not forgotten the trouble you took to instruct me in the agricultural view of the question; how you visited me in London for that purpose. I recollect after making my speech in the House on the agricultural view of the Free Trade question—the most successful speech I ever made—that several county members asked me where my land lay, thinking I must be an experienced proprietor and farmer. I told them I did not own an acre, but that I owed my knowledge to the best farmer of my acquaintance, which I have always considered you to be.”—Cobden to R. Lattimore, April 20, 1864. The speech referred to as the most successful he ever made, I presume to be that of March 13, 1845, No. xv. in the collected speeches.
To F. W. Cobden, London, June 5, 1843.
Tunbridge Wells, June 7, 1843.
To F. W. Cobden, London, July 20, 1843.
It was at Salisbury, on a second visit later in the year, that Cobden was reported to have pointed to the cathedral and said: “He thought the best thing that could happen would be to see that huge monster turned into a good factory.” Even his foes admitted that this story was a gross fabrication, but it was often revived against him in the days of the Crimean War. Probably some one said that this was what he was capable of saying, and then by well-known mythopœic processes, it was believed that he actually had said it.
“Members were subject to great temptations in London, and those who had not been behind the scenes little knew the perils and dangers they had to go through. It was very difficult for a man, however clothed in the panoply of principle, to go through the ordeal of a London season, without finding his coat of mail perforated from one quarter or another”—Cobden, at Ashton-under-Lyne, January, 1843.
In his speech, Buller reproached Cobden with condescending to practise on the ignorance of his audience by resort to stale theatrical clap-trap, which must have been suggested to him by the genius of Drury Lane—where he was speaking. As this particular passage has been much applauded by Cobden’s admirers, both abroad and at home, I venture to reproduce it; “Did the men who signed that memorial ever go down to St. Catherine’s Dock, and see an emigration ship about to start on its voyage? Had they seen these poor emigrants sitting till the moment of departure on the stones of the quay, as if they would cling to the last to the land of their birth? They need not inquire what were their feelings; they would read their hearts in their faces. Had they ever seen them taking leave of their friends? He had watched such scenes over and over again. He had seen a venerable woman taking leave of her grandchildren, and he had seen a struggle between the mother and the grandmother to retain possession of a child. As these emigrant-vessels departed from the Mersey to the United States, the eyes of all on deck were directed back to the port whence they had started, and the last objects which met their gaze, as their native land receded from their view, were the tall bonding-houses of Liverpool, where under the lock—he was going to say the Queen’s lock, but under the look of the aristocracy—were shut up some hundreds of thousands of barrels of the finest flour of America—the only object that these unhappy wanderers were going in quest of.” His friends, he was told, did not know he had so much sentiment and eloquence in him.
No. IV. in the collected speeches.
The following extract from one of Cobden’s speeches at Covent Garden states his argument, and is a characteristic illustration of his style:—
To F. W Cobden, London, Aug. 17, 1843.
“To F. W. Cobden, Carlisle, Oct. 27, 1843.
To F. W. Cobden, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Jan. 22, 1844.
To George Wilson, Durham, October 24, 1843.