Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XX.: miscellaneous correspondence on social and political movements. - The Life of Richard Cobden
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CHAPTER XX.: miscellaneous correspondence on social and political movements. - John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden 
The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwiin, 1903).
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miscellaneous correspondence on social and political movements.
The following letter written to Mr. Bright at the close of 1848, two or three weeks before the meeting at Manchester, shows the point of view to which Cobden inclined, and to what extent,—and it was not great,—he differed from Mr. Bright:—
“Dec. 23, 1848.—Since writing to you, I have again read and reflected upon your letter. You say that the object of our meeting must be specific and general; that I must speak upon Finance, and you follow upon Parliamentary Reform; and that then a society must be organized for a general registration to carry out, I presume, both objects. I thought we had always agreed that to carry the public along with us, we should have a single and well-defined object. It is decidedly my opinion. If Parliamentary Reform were the sole object, we might after a long time probably succeed; but the two things together would be a false start, and it must end in our taking to one or the other exclusively. It is true that we joined them together in our meeting of Members of Parliament at the Free Trade Club, and that was because we did not feel ourselves on the strongest ground with the middle class even then, without the Expenditure question, and it is vastly more so now. Besides, you will admit that we could not ignore the existence of the Liverpool movement. However defective in men and money at present, they are in as good a position as we were a year after the League was formed; and they have far more hold upon the public mind than we had even after three years’ agitation. I rather think that you do not fully appreciate the extent to which the country is sympathizing with the Liverpool movement. But taking the fact to be as I have stated it, that the movement is for Financial Reform, and nobody can deny it, I am half disposed to think that it is the most useful agitation we could enter upon. The1849.
“I believe there is as much clinging to colonies at the present moment amongst the middle class as among the aristocracy; and the working people are not wiser than the rest. And as respects armaments, I do not forget that last December  hardly a Liberal paper in the kingdom supported me in resisting the attempt to add to our forces. Such papers as the Sun, Weekly Despatch, Sunday Times, and Liverpool Mercury, went dead against me; and all that I could say for the rest is that they were silent. Now all these questions can be discussed most favourably in reference to the expenditure. You may reason ever so logically, but never so convincingly as through the pocket. But it will take time even to play off John Bull’s acquisitiveness against his combativeness. He will not be easily persuaded that all his reliance upon brute force and courage has been a losing speculation. Already I have heard from good Liberals an expression of fear that, in my Budget, I have ‘gone too far.’ But I have said enough.
“And now, having stated my view of what the object must be, a word or two as to the modus operandi. And here we do not differ. I am for going at once to the registers and the forty shilling qualifications. Begin where the League left off, and avow it boldly. Nay, make it a condition, if you like, of your alliance with Liverpool that such shall be the plan. And I put it to you and Wilson, whether you think that the men who go with us for the Budget and direct taxation, will not be likely to use their votes for a reform of Parliament. I should feel very little doubt about getting nearly as much 1849.
“And now I think I know the feeling of the majority of the influential money-givers in Manchester, and I feel convinced that they would all give their 10l. more heartily for my plan than any other. It would at once put Wilson, you, and me in a pure and disinterested light before their eyes. We should not be open to even the shade of a suspicion of wishing to arrogate to ourselves any separate line, or to us them as our party or to make Manchester needlessly the focus of a central agitation. You would have far more strength upon the platform for my object than any other. I have only room to add—advertise a meeting to co-operate with Liverpool in Financial Reform, and make any use you like of my name..... I have a good opinion of Paulton’s judgment. Not a word has passed between us on this subject; but I wish you would let him read my letters, and ask him to give a candid opinion on the matter in discussion.”
Before the session began, he took part along with Mr. Bright in a ceremony of joyful commemoration. Peel’s measure of 1846 provided that the duty on corn should expire at the end of three years (see vol. i. p. 355). The day arrived on the first of February, 1849. On the evening of the thirty-first of January a gathering was held in the great hall at Manchester. Speeches were made and choruses were sung until midnight. When twelve o’clock sounded, the assembly broke out in loud and long-sustained1849.
“London, Jan. 1849. (To G. Combe.)—I hope you will not think there is any inconsistency in the strong declaration I made at the meeting, of the paramount importance of the question of Education, and my apparent present inactivity in the matter. Owing to the split in the Liberal party, caused by Baines, it would be impossible for me to make it the leading political subject at this moment. Time is absolutely necessary to ripen it, but in the interim there are other topics which will take the lead in spite of any efforts to prevent it, reduction of expenditure being the foremost; and all I can promise myself is that any influence I may derive now from my connexion with the latter or any other movement, shall at the fitting opportunity be all brought to bear in favour of National Education. To confess the truth, I can only do one thing at a time. Here am I now put in a prominent position upon the most complex of all public questions, the national finances, and next session I shall be perhaps more the object of attack, and my budget more the subject of criticism, than the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his financial measures. For all this I am obliged to prepare myself by studying the dry details of official papers, and reading Hansard from 1815 to the present day, whilst at the same time I am in a daily treadmill of letter-writing, for every man having a crotchet upon finance, or a grievance however, trifling, is inundating me with his correspondence. I can’t help it, though I believe I am shortening my days by following 1849.
“Feb. 8. (To G. Combe.)—I hasten to reply to your kind inquiries about my budget. In a day or two I intend to give notice of a motion declaratory of the expediency of reducing the expenditure to the amount of 1835. The terms of my resolution will be to reduce the expenditure ‘with all practicable speed.’3 I am too practical a man of business to think that it can be done in one session. But I will raise the question of our financial system with a view to save ten millions, and that will arrest public interest in a way which no nibbling at details would do. In less than five years all that I propose, and a great deal more, will be accomplished.
“I say I am too practical to think that the reduction of ten millions can be made in a session, because the changes in our distant colonies will take time. But these changes ought to be set about at once. For instance, we have an army as large in Canada and the other North-American Colonies as that of the United States. Yet under the régime of Free Trade, Canada is not a whit more ours than is the great Republic. To keep that force in the North-American1849.
“April9. (To G. Combe.)—Did this subject ever come under your notice? I have lying before me a return of all the barracks in the United Kingdom, the date of their erection, their size, etc. It is to me one of the most discouraging and humiliating documents I am acquainted with. Almost every considerable town has it barracks. They have nearly all been erected since 1790, before which date they were hardly known, and were denounced with horror by such men as Chatham, Fox, etc. By far the most extensive establishments have been erected during the last twenty-five years. I speak of Great Britain. As for Ireland, it is studded over with barracks like a permanent encampment. I need not enlarge upon the direct moral evils of such places. One fact is enough: real property always falls in value in the vicinity of barracks. A prison or a cemetery is a preferable neighbour. But you will also see at a glance that this increase of barracks is the outward and visible sign of the increased discontent of the mass of the people, and the growing alarm of the governing classes. It argues great injustice on one side or ignorance on the other, perhaps both. The expense is too obvious to require comment. And where is this to end? Either we must change our system—give the people a voice in the government, and qualify the rising generation to exercise the rights of freemen,—or we shall follow the fate of the Continent, and end in a convulsion.
“I will support the Oath Abolition motion.4 There ought to be no swearing in courts at all. But instead of oaths, the clerk at the table ought to read to every witness, before he gives his evidence, the clause of the Act of Parliament which imposes a penalty for false testimony.”
“London, June 19. (To G. Combe.)—I am glad you are satisfied with the debate on my arbitration motion.5 I might have taken higher ground in my argument with more justice to the subject, and with more effect upon the minds of my1849.
“I agree with you in thinking that the French have displayed a want of conscientiousness and an excess of self-esteem in their treatment of the Roman people. I do not remember in all history a more flagitious violation of justice than the French expedition and attack on Rome. The Republic of France within a year of its own existence 1849.
When the session was over, Cobden with indefatigable zeal pushed his propagandism in new fields. Thought not a member, he accompanied his friends of the Peace Society to the Peace Congress, which was this year held in Paris.
“Paris, Aug. 19. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—I have had my usual fate in passing the channel. Scarcely were we clear of the harbour at Newhaven, when I was laid on my beam-ends, and for six hours I never moved hand or foot. It was rather cold, and rained a little, so that I was obliged to be covered over with a couple of counterpanes, and there I lay like a mummy till unrolled in the harbour of Dieppe, at about half-past six o’clock. It makes my flesh creep to think of it. I tried to get a bed at the hotel where we stopped, but it was full, and I was therefore obliged to put up with the discomfort and bad odours of a second-rate place. The following morning at half-past eleven I started for Paris by railroad, which goes through Rouen and along the valley of the Seine, and is decidedly the most picturesque scene of all the railroads I have traversed. We reached Paris at half-past four, and I am very comfortably installed at this hotel along with the Peace Committee. There is every prospect of a large attendance at the Congress, but we shall not shine so brightly as I could wish in French names. Our friends had calculated upon the attraction of Lamartine’s name, but they are disappointed. From all accounts he appears to be prostrated in mind, body, and estate. We have chosen Victor Hugo for chairman. He stands well socially, and his name is known, and he is one of the few first-rate1849.
“Paris, Aug. 25. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—You will think me negligent, but if you saw how I have been placed here for the last three days you would excuse me. I am at the headquarters of the Committee of Congress, and my bedroom (foolishly enough, on my part) is off the common sitting-room, and morning, noon, and night I have been in the mêlée. Besides, the French public persists in regarding me as a very important personage, and I have been more and more beset every day with visitors. But now the sittings of the Con 1849.
“Paris, Aug. 28. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—After writing to you on Sunday I found that the post did not leave that evening, and that therefore my letter to you would not probably reach1849.
While Cobden was busied in this way, Mr. Bright had gone to study the Irish Question on the spot. He was a month in the country, and was accompanied for part of the time by one of the Commissioners of the Board of Works. His inquiries were extensive and incessant, and what he had said about Irish affairs in some of his speeches secured for him particular attention on every side. Mr. Bright speedily put his finger upon the root of the mischief. What was universally demanded, he said, was security for improvements. Want of this was the cause of perpetual war between landlord and tenant. In order to remove the evil, he agreed 1849.
“London, Oct. 1. (To Mr. Bright.)—I was glad to receive your letter, and much interested in the details of your visit to Ireland. Be assured you have done the right thing in going there. It is a duty that ought to be similarly fulfilled by all of us.
“I was staying for a day or two after the receipt of your letter, with a friend in Sussex (Mr. Sharpe), whose son is the nominal proprietor through his mother of the late Sir Wm. Brabazon’s estate in Mayo. Both father and son were strong in praise of the Encumbered Estates Act, under which the Brabazon property, hopelessly encumbered and in Chancery, is to be disposed of.
“The father, who is a Sussex proprietor, a liberal man and a somewhat enragé political economist, hopes this Irish measure will be a stepping-stone for setting real estate at greater liberty in England. For myself I can’t help thinking that everything has got to be done for Ireland. Hitherto the sole reliance has been on bayonets and patching. The feudal system presses upon that country in a way which, as a rule, only foreigners can understand, for we have an ingrained feudal spirit in our English characters. I never spoke to a French or Italian economist who did not at once put his finger on the fact, that great masses of landed property were held by the descendants of a conquering race who were living abroad, and thus in a double manner perpetuating the remembrance of conquest and oppression, whilst the natives were at the same time precluded from possessing themselves of landed property and thus becoming interested in the peace of the country. This was always pointed out to me as the prime obstacle to improvement. How we are to get out of this dilemma with the present1849.
“It was only at the price of ten millions of money, and hundreds of thousands of famished victims, that we succeeded in passing our Encumbered Estates Bill. Our only consolation is that as we descend in the ranks of the middle class, and approach the more intelligent of the working people, the feudal prejudice diminishes; and this brings us to our only hope for progress, whether in this question or the others on which we feel interested, namely, an increase in the popular element in the House of Commons. I have no fear that we can effect this change gradually, and certainly if we can effect this change gradually, and certainly if we can induce our friends to work with perseverance. I do not object to Walmsley’s proceedings—in fact I am grateful to anybody that does anything but stagnate. I subscribed my mite to his association and have cheered him on. He has rendered this good service, at least, that he has brought middle-class people and Chartists together without setting them by the ears, and although he has rather shocked some moderate Liberals by his broad doctrines, he has carried others unconsciously with him. But his good being done, I have not disguised from him that mere public demonstrations without an organized system of working will do nothing towards effecting a change in the representation. That can only be done by local exertions in the registration courts, and above all by the forty shilling votes in the counties.
“I wrote to Taylor asking him some questions: first, whether he thought a delegate meeting of all those already engaged or willing to embark in the forty shilling movement ought to be called. Second, whether he was receiving many letters upon the subject indicating a growing interest in the subject; whether he was invited to go to meetings, and whether he could give me any statistics of the existing number of members, etc. Third, whether he thought a periodical to be called ‘The Freeholder,’ giving a condensed report of all proceedings and directions about registration, etc., should be published by a Union of the Societies. Here is his answer. Making all deductions for his enthusiasm, it is clear there is life in his movement. If taken up zealously by all of us, I do believe that the present number of electors could be doubled in less than seven years, and, between ourselves, such a constituency would give you at the present moment a more reliable support for thorough practical reforms than universal suffrage. May I predict that if we should succeed to the extent above named, there would not be wanting shrewd members of the Tory aristocracy who would be found advocating universal suffrage, to take their chance in an appeal to the ignorance1849.
“I have bored you all so much about this forty shilling freehold scheme, that you seem to have fallen naturally into the idea that I cherish it to the exclusion of a broad and specific plan of reform. It is not so. I want it as a means to all that we require, and upon my conscience it is, I believe, the only stepping-stone to any material change. The citadel of privilege in this country is so terribly strong, owing to the concentrated masses of property in the hands of the comparatively few, that we cannot hope to assail it with success unless with the help of the propertied classes in the middle ranks of society, and by raising up a portion of the working-class to become members of a propertied order; and I know no other mode of enlisting such cooperation but that which I have suggested.....”
“Nov. 4. (To Mr. Bright.)—If you know Mr. Kay’s address, don’t forget to impress upon him the importance of separating the question of land tenure from that of education in his forthcoming book. Nothing is more 1849.
“The only way of approaching this question with advantage at the present moment is through an economical argument. And Mr. Kay may do himself credit by his treatment of the subject, provided he gives us plenty of well-considered facts throwing light upon the comparative condition of the people in countries where land is subdivided, and where it is held in great masses. In my opinion the high moral and social condition of the inhabitants of mountainous countries such as the Swiss, the Biscayans, etc., etc., is to be greatly attributed to the fact that as a rule the land in hilly countries is always more subdivided; in fact, that the face of nature is almost an insuperable bar to the acquisition of large continuous sweeps of landed property.
“P.S.—Don’t you think that ‘A History of Chartism,’ from the framing of the Charter down to the present time, with a temperate but truthful narrative of the doings of the leaders, would be an interesting and useful work? Somerville is the man to do it if he had access to a complete file of the Northern Star. The working-class are just now in the mood for reviewing with advantage the bombastic sayings and abortive doings of Feargus and his lieutenants. The1849.
“The difficulty with Somerville would be to condense sufficiently his narrative—this would not be easy even with one who had a style less flowing and less imagination than he—for the temptation to quote largely from the speeches and letters of the big Chartist Bobadil would be almost irresistible. Would not such a work be interesting in a series of letters or articles in the Examiner, to be afterwards printed in a volume? It would be certain to elicit a howl from the knaves who were subjected to the ordeal of the pillory, and this would be useful in attracting attention to the book.”
“December 6. (To Mr. Bright.)—You must get Captain Mundy’s edition of ‘Brooke’s Diary.’ It was published originally by Captain Keppell, and some horrid passages were omitted by the discretion of his friends; but a new edition by Captain Mundy was published while Brooke was afterwards at home, and those parts were restored. See the first vol., p. 311, &c., and p. 325. There are details of bloodshed and executions which, if they had appeared in the first volume, would have checked the sentimental mania which gave Brooke all his powers of evil.
“The above is information which I have from a friend who knows all about the affair from the beginning, and it may be relied on. I have not the book. I fear Gurney will be an obstacle to anything being done. I sometimes doubt whether his obstructiveness at every step does not more than counteract any advantage derived by the Society from the influence of his name. I don’t understand men of the world when they tell us we must rely upon the influence of Christian principles, and boggle at every proposal 1849.
“Dec. 8. (To Mr.Bright.)—You seem to have fallen into the idea that I am looking to the freehold plan as a substitute for a thorough reform. I look to it as a means to do something, and not an end. I wish to abate the power of the aristocracy in their strongholds. Our enemy is as subtle as powerful, and I fear some of us have not duly weighed the difficulties of our task. The aristocracy are afraid of nothing but systematic1849.
“With this impression, I have urged upon Walmsley an organization for bringing the registers of the Boroughs under the control of men of his way of thinking, men favourable to the four points. This, coupled with the County qualification movement, which is urged on by men of the same party, would in two or three years if resolutely worked place us in a respectable position in the House.
“You seem to speak as if I were the obstacle to the movement being carried out in Manchester last year. My own fear was lest the public elsewhere should be deceived as to what we should do for them in Manchester, for I felt that we had not the materials there to renew such an agitation as was proposed. It is not in human nature that, after the exhaustion of one great effort, the same men should begin another of an equally arduous character. I am also of opinion that we have not the same elements in Lancashire for a Democratic Reform movement, as we had for Free Trade. To me the most discouraging fact in our political state is the condition of the Lancashire Boroughs, where, with the exception of Manchester, nearly all the municipalities are in the hands of the stupidest Tories in England; and where we can hardly see our way for an equal half-share of Liberal representation in Parliament. We have the labour 1849.
Cobden was never so immersed in political projects as to forget how much of the vital work of social improvement lies entirely away from the field of politics. While he was corresponding with Mr. Bright about economic and parliamentary reform, and with George Combe about education, he did not lose sight of a third cause which seemed to him, as it has always done to Mr. Bright also, not any less important to the national welfare than either of the other two. The letter which follows was written to Mr. Livesey, a zealous advocate for the promotion of Temperance:—
“London, Oct. 10.—Your letter has given me very great pleasure. It has often been a matter of sincere regret to me that I have not had the pleasure since my return to England of shaking hands with you. I have taken up my abode permanently here, for being obliged to be six months in London, and finding it intolerable to be so long separated from my family, I had no alternative but to make choice of one abode, or to have two removals of my household every year, which is both unpleasant and expensive. As I had no business ties in Manchester, I was tempted by the climate to leave my esteemed friends and neighbours to settle here, where I shall never form the sterling friendships that I possessed in Lancashire. The damp and rigorous climate of South Lancashire with its clay soil, never agreed with my constitution, which requires a more genial temperature and a sandy dry soil, such as I was used to in my early days in Sussex. My abode is near the Great Western Station, Paddington, the highest part, as well as the driest, of the metropolis.
“You are right in the path of usefulness you have chalked1849.
In connexion with the same subject, he wrote to Mr. Ashworth, mildly protesting against a political banquet, and pointing out the superior courage of the Americans in their way of making war on this particular temptation to excessive self-indulgence:—
“Dec. 13.—I am not quite sure that dinner-parties are the best tactics for our party to fall into in Manchester. Our strength lies with the shopocracy, and I think the members for Manchester are turning their backs upon the main army of reformers when they leave the Free Trade Hall for a meeting of any kind in a smaller room. Public dinners are good for our opponents, but I have more faith in teetotalism than bumper glasses, so far as the interests of the democracy are concerned. The moral force of the masses lies in the temperance movement, and I confess I have no faith in anything apart from that movement for the elevation of the working class. We do not sufficiently estimate the amount of crime, vice, poverty, ignorance, and destitution, which springs from the drinking habits of the people. The Americans have a clearer perception of the evils of drunkenness upon the political and material prospects of the people, and their leading men set an example of temperance on all public occasions. I lately read an account of a great political meeting in New Hampshire, at which Daniel Webster presided, when fifteen hundred persons sat down to dinner, at which not a drop of wine, spirits, or beer was drunk. Depend on it, they were more than a match for four times their number of wine-bibbers. You will wonder why I preach this homily to you. But it is apropos of the 1849.
“I remember that one year (1843),” Cobden once wrote to Combe, by way of illustrating this matter, “Bright, Colonel Thompson, and I, invaded Scotland and made a tour of the kingdom, separating as we entered and reuniting at Stirling on the completion of our work. There, after a large public meeting, we adjourned to our hotel, where we were joined by a number of baillies and other leading men, who sat with us, to our great discomfort (for we needed our beds), till one o’clock in the morning, drinking whisky-today out of glasses which they filled from tumblers with little ladles, and I remember that a certain sleight of hand in this operation, acquired, I suppose, by long practice, amused us Southrons a good deal. As we three Englishmen took nothing but tea, it drew attention to our total abstinence principles, which were then more rare than at present. We compared notes with one another in the hearing of the baillies, and found that in our tour in Scotland not a shilling had been paid by us for spirits, beer, or wine.” Their companions were at first disposed to eye them rather contemptuously, but after hearing them recount the work they had gone through, the number of meetings they had attended, very often two in one day, the baillies were constrained to admit, as they placed their ladles finally in the emptied tumblers, that water-drinking was not incompatible with indomitable energy and long perseverance in exhausting labour.
Letter to Mrs. Cobden, Jan. 10, 1849.
To Mr. Sturge, July 16, 1846.
The motion was brought forward on February 26, and was to the effect that the net expenditure had risen by ten millions between 1835 and 1848; that the increase had been caused principally by defensive armaments; that it was not warranted, while the taxes required to meet it lessened the funds applicable to productive industry; and that therefore it was expedient to reduce the annual expenditure with all practicable speed to the amount of 1835. The division went against Cobden’s motion by a majority of 197 only 78 going into the lobby with the mover.
Lord John Russell’s resolution, on which a Bill was afterwards founded, for the removal of Jewish disabilities. The Bill passed the Commons, but was rejected by the Lords.
On June 12 Cobden moved an Address to Her Majesty, praying that foreign powers might be invited to conour in treaties, binding the parties to refer matters in dispute to Arbitration Lord Palmerston moved the previous question. There was a rather languid debate, and the previous questions was carried by 176 to 79.
The famous scene of one of the most memorable incidents of the first stage in the French Revolution. Strange contrast between the mad agitation and furious resolve of the Oath of the Tennis Court, and this pacific presentation of New Testaments to the American Quakers!
Borneo affairs were not fully discussed in Parliament until 1851, when Cobden supported Hume’s motion for inquiry.