Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXV.: death of his son. - The Life of Richard Cobden
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CHAPTER XXV.: death of his son. - John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden 
The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwiin, 1903).
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death of his son.
“I had invited Colonel Fitzmayer from the Crimea to breakfast at nine on the Thursday. When I came down from my sleeping-room in Grosvenor Street, I found him and the breakfast waiting. My letters were lying on the table, and I apologized for opening them before beginning our meal, and the third letter I opened informed me that my dear boy,1856.
I have been told how he entered his house at nightfall, and met his wife unexpectedly on the threshold; she uttered an exclamation as she caught his haggard and stricken face. His little children were making merry in the drawing-room. He could only creep to his room, where he sat with bent head and prostrate, unstrung limbs. When the first hours were over, and the unhappy mother realized the miserable thing that had befallen her, she sat for many days like a statue of marble, neither speaking nor seeming to hear; her eyes not even turning to notice her little girl whom they placed upon her knee, her hair blanching with the hours.
It would be a violation of sacred things to dwell upon the months that followed. Cobden felt as men of his open and simple nature are wont to feel, when one of the great cruelties of life comes home to their bosoms. He was bewildered 1856.
“My poor wife,” he writes to a friend,1 makes but slow progress in the recovery of her health. She is on the lawn or in the field all day with a little spade in hand, digging up the weeds; it is the only muscular effort she can make, and it unfortunately leaves her mind free to brood over the one absorbing subject. The open air must in time give her strength, but as yet she had not been able to pass a night without the aid of opiates. Her friends must have pity and forget her for a time. She is not a heroine; but hers is a terrible case, and might have taxed the energies of the1856.
“To the same friend, a fortnight later, he says:2 —“I cannot prove as good as my word by coming to town this week, but my poor wife will accompany me on Monday. She is as helpless as one of her young children, and requires as much forbearance and kindness. God knows how much the comfort and regularity of her domestic life have always been made subservient, willingly and meekly so, to my political engagements, without one atom of ambition to profit by the privileges which to some natures offer a king of compensation for family discomfort. And, bearing this in view, I have from the moment that this terrible blow fell on us, determined to make every other claim on my time and attention subordinate (even to the giving up of my seat) to the task of mitigating her sufferings. No other human being but myself can afford her the slightest relief. I sometimes doubt whether for the next six months I shall be able to leave her for twenty-four hours together.”
He repeats with the helpless iteration of an incurable grief, how hard is the case of a mother, who had not seen her son waster gradually away as she tended his death-bed, but who suddenly and in a moment stumbled over his corpse as she passed cheerfully from room to room. She never to the last submitted to the blow with the graces of resignation, and hence she never had the comparative solace that might have come either from religion or from reason. To the end she 1856.
The external trifles of life were in sombre accord with the tragedy that overshadowed their hearts. All things, small as well as great, in which cobden was concerned, seemed to go wrong. His best cows lost their calves. The fruit in the orchard was all blighted. A fine crop of hay lay spoiling in the rain. Deeper than these vexations was his anxious concern for Mr. Bright. For eighteen years almost without an interval Mr. Bright had been at work in public causes. The labour of prepartion and advocacy would in itself have been enormous, but the strain was peculiarly intensified by the fact that the labour was pursued in face of misrepresentation and obloquy such as few English statesmen have ever had to endure. At a time when repose would under any circumstances have become necessary, instead of repose came the violent excitement of the Russian War. Mr. Bright’s health gave way, and many of his friends began to fear that he was permanently disabled. “I think of him,” Cobden wrote, “with more serious apprehension than he is aware of.” And his correspondence with their common friends shows the reality of his solicitude. This is an extract from one of his letters of that time—“I have always had a sort of selfish share in Bright’s career, for I have felt as though, when passing the zenith of life, I was handing over every principle and cause I had most at heart to the advocacy of one, not only younger and more energetic, but with gifts of natural eloquence to which I never pretended..... Perhaps there never were two men who lived in such transparent intimacy of mind as Bright and myself. Next to the loss of my boy, I have had no sorrow so constant and great as from his illness. The two together make me feel quite unnerved, and I seem to1856.
Mr. Bright and his family were staying in the autumn of this year at Llandudno. It happened that a friend, about the same time, offered the use of her house in the neighbourhood of Bangor to Cobden. Mrs. Cobden seemed to be falling into a settled torpor, which alarmed her husband. Dreading the winter gloom and the association of home, he resolved to try a great change, and accepting his friend’s offer, he went with his family to Wales. Here the clouds slowly began to show a rift. Mr. Bright and he paid one another visits, with the bargain exacted by Cobden that not a word should be exchanged about politics. He was slightly reassured as to his friend’s condition. At home there were signs of better things. Everybody about them was kind and neighbourly. Friendly offices were pressed on the suffering mother by good women, “such indeed,” says Cobden, “as are found in the middle and upper ranks in every corner of Britain.” Mrs. Cobden roused herself to talk her own Welsh among the poor people who knew no other language, and who brightened up and became confidential the moment that they were addressed in their own tongue. Her little children gradually became a diversion and resource. But her husband could not permit himself to do more than hope that she was perhaps recovering. His own mind began to recover its tone, and his interest in public affairs to revive. Lord Brougham among others was very anxious to impress 1856.
Of the prospects of domestic legislation, he writes—“I suppose the work to be attempted next session is law reform; and nothing is more pressing. Thorough measures, such as simplifying the sale of land up to something like the Irish Encumbered Estates standard, shall have my hearty support as industriously in the way of votes as if I were in the government. But I tell you candidly, I think this work would be better done if the Tories were in. The Lords rule this land in ordinary times supremely. It is only once in ten or twenty years that with a great effort the country thrusts them off from some bone of contention, but merely to leave them in possession of the rest of the carcase as securely as ever. Now the Lords look on the Tories as their party. They know that to enable them to keep office something must be done, and as they cannot satisfy the Radicals in organic questions, they strain a point to let their men have the credit of some thorough practical reforms of the law and administration. Hence the good round measure of Chancery Reform which the Peers passed for the Derby-Disraeli government. And depend on it, if we were now on the left-hand side of the Speaker’s chair again, there would be a better measure of law reform passed than we are likely to see next session.”4
Nowhere can prospects be calculated with so little certainty as in parliamentary politics. The session for which Cobden thus anticipated such tranquil occupation, proved to be one of the most striking landmarks in his history.
To Joseph Parkes, May 23, 1856.
To Joseph Parkes, June 4, 1856.
To Joseph Parkes, Nov. 11, 1856.
To J. Parkes, Dec. 11, 1856.