Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXXV.: correspondence with mr. delane. - The Life of Richard Cobden
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CHAPTER XXXV.: correspondence with mr. delane. - John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden 
The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwiin, 1903).
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correspondence with mr. delane.
“I remember,” said Cobden, in his speech on behalf of Mr. Bright at Manchester in 1857, “the first time I spoke in public after returning home from the Continent in 1847. It was at a dinner-party in Manchester at which I took the chair; and I took the opportunity of launching this question of the press, and saying that the newspaper press of England was not free, and that this was a thing which the reformers of the country ought to set about—to emancipate it. Well, I got a most vicious article next day from the Times newspaper for that, and the Times has followed us both with a very ample store of venom ever since.”1 “Any man,” he said on the same occasion, “who has lived in public life, as I have, must know that it is quite useless to1863.
It as very easy to see the reason why all this should be as it was. In 1850 Cobden told Mr. John Cassell that he believed the newspaper stamp to be the greatest grievance that the democracy had in the whole list of fiscal exactions. “So long as the penny lasts, there can be no daily press for the middle or working class. Who below the rank of a merchant or wholesale dealer can afford to take in a daily paper at fivepence? Clearly it is beyond the reach of the mechanic and the shopkeeper. The result is that the daily press is written for its customers—the aristocracy, the millionaires, and the clubs and news rooms. The great public cannot have its organs of the daily press, because it cannot afford to pay for them. The dissenters have no daily organ for the same reason. The governing class in this country will resist the removal of the penny stamp, not on account of the loss of revenue (that is no obstacle with a surplus of two or three millions), but because they know that the stamp makes the daily press the instrument and servant of the oligarchy.”
In November, 1863, it happened that in his annual address1863.
By accident Cobden saw the misrepresentation of which his enemy had been guilty, and he at once wrote the following letter to the editor of the Times:—
Sir,—The following is extracted from your yesterday’s leading article:—
“Then, though a small state may have something to lose by change, it has usually more to gain; and so it comes to pass that it looks upon any attempt to reconstruct the map, or reform the institutions of Europe, with something of that satisfaction with which the poor might regard Mr. Bright’s proposition for a division among them of the lands of the rich, or the Roman plebeians might hang on the lips of Gracchus when he rose to expound to them his last plan for a new colony, with large grants of land to every citizen who should join it.”
Without communicating with Mr. Bright, I trouble you with a few words on this gross literary outrage, which concerns not him alone, but every public man. To utter a syllable to prove that the above assertion, that Mr. Bright advocated a division of the lands of the rich among the poor, is a groundless and gratuitous falsehood, would be to offer an insult to one who has done more than probably any other public man, to popularize those economical truths on which the rights of property are based. To say that it is a foul libel for which the publisher is amenable to law were beside the question, because the object of the calumny would scorn any other court of appeal than that of public opinion. But a wider question is forced on our attention by this specimen of your too habitual mode of dealing, not merely with individuals, but with the interests of society. A tone of pre-eminent unscrupulousness in the discussion of political questions, a contempt for the rights and feelings of others, and a shameless disregard of the claims of consistency and sincerity on the part of its writers, have long been recognized as the distinguishing characteristics of the Times, and placed it in marked contrast with the rest of the periodical press, including the penny journals of the metropolis 1863.
In the present management of the Times thee is an essential departure from the plan on which it was conducted twenty or thirty years ago, which distinguishes it from all other journals. They who associate in the higher political circles of the metropolis know that the chief editor and the manager of the Times, while still maintaining a strict incognito towards the public, drops the mask with very sufficient reasons in the presence of those powerful classes who are at once the dispensers of social distinction, and (on which I might have something to say) of the patronage of the Government. We all know the man whose fortune is derived from the Times; we know its manager; its only avowed and responsible editor—he of the semi-official correspondence with Sir Charles Napier in the Baltic—through whose hands, though he never pen a line himself, every slander in its leaders must pass—is as well known to us as the chief official at the Home Office. Now the question is forced on us, whether we who are behind the scenes are not bound, in the interests of the uninitiated public, and as the only certain mode of abating such outrages as this, to lift the veil and dispel the illusion by which the Times is enabled to pursue this game of secrecy to the public, and servility to the Government—a game (I purposely use the word) which secures for its connexions the corrupt advantages, while denying to the public its own boasted benefits of the anonymous system.
It will be well for public men to decide, each in his own case (for myself I have no doubt on the subject), whether, in response to such attacks as these, they will continue to treat the Times as an impersonal myth; or whether on the contrary, they will in future summon the responsible editor, manager, or proprietor to the bar of public opinion, and hold him up by name to the obloquy which awaits the traducer and the calumniator in every other walk of social and political life.
I am, &c.,
December 4, 1863.
This letter was not inserted in the Times, and the Editor1863.
Dec. 7, 1863.
The Editor of the Times presents his compliments to Mr. Cobden, and encloses a proof of his letter, which, though it arrived by Saturday’s post, only reached the Editor’s hands last evening. He could not then give it immediate consideration, but, in deference to Mr. Cobden’s name, he announced that it should be published to-morrow.
On reading it, however, this morning, he thinks—and he trusts Mr. Cobden will, on re-perusal, agree with him—that Mr. Cobden has no right to expect him, upon a pretext entirely irrelevant, to publish a series of most offensive and unfounded imputations upon himself and his friends.
.... The facts, however, are shortly these:—Messrs. Cobden and Bright make two speeches at Rochdale, which are reported in the Times at unusual length, and with extraordinary promptitude. These speeches are discussed elaborately in two leading articles on successive days, and in each of them certain passage are interpreted as recommending a repartition of the land among the poor. Messrs. Cobden and Bright are expressly challenged to disavow this interpretation if it misrepresents their meanings; but they make no reply, and apparently accept it as conveying their true intention.
The speeches, as reported, also remain before the public for upwards of a week, and the interpretation put upon them by the Times provokes no adverse remark. At last an article appears upon a totally different subject, in which an allusion is made in a single phrase to Mr. Bright’s supposed opinions, and Mr. Cobden pounces upon this phrase, not that he may discuss the true interpretation of Mr. Bright’s expressions, but that he may make a vague and most offensive attack upon the Times and its conductors.
The Editor declines to permit the Times to be made the means of disseminating imputations which he knows to be unfounded, and which are entirely irrelevant to the question at issue.
The sensation was tremendous in Fleet Street and Pall Mall, when Cobden published his rejoinder, not to the impersonal Editor, but to Mr. Delane in his own proper name.
To John T. Delane, Esq.
Sir—You and I have been long personally acquainted; your handwriting is known to me, and I know you to be the chief Editor of the 1863.
Your refusal to publish my former letter is a matter so entirely within your own province, that I have nothing to say upon it, except to congratulate myself on the recent revolution in the newspaper world, which renders your decision comparatively harmless. A few years ago the times possessed almost a monopoly of publicity. Four-fifths of the daily newspaper circulation issued from its press. Now it constitutes, probably, one-tenth of our diurnal journalism, and my letter will be only the more generally read from having been excluded from your columns.
But your letter proceeds of offer some most singular arguments in justification of your attack on Mr. Bright. You state that your journal had previously contained two leading articles, casting the same imputation both on him and myself, that you had challenged us to disavow your interpretation of our speeches, and as we had failed to do so, you accepted our silence as an acknowledgment of the truth of your interpretation,—in other words, as proof our guilt! Here we have, in a compendious form, an exhibition of those qualities which characterize the editorial management of the Times,—of that arrogant self-complacency, logical incoherence, and moral bewilderment, which a too long career of impunity and irresponsibility could alone engender.
Now that which lies at the basis of this reasoning, if such it may be termed, is an inordinate display of what I must call Times egotism. Notwithstanding that your journal has now but a fractional part of the daily newspaper circulation, you complacently assume that all the world are your constant readers. The Times never enters my house, except by rare accident. This I know to be also the case with Mr. Bright, who will, in all probability, never have seen your attack until he reads it in my letter. It is only during the Session, at the Club, that I am in the habit of seeing your paper. The chance visit of a friend last Friday placed in my hand the Times of the previous day, when that scandalous paragraph caught my eye which formed the text of my letter to you. I was entirely ignorant of the two former attacks, which, by a droll process of reasoning, you now invite me to accept as a justification of the third. Now, let me ask you to descend for a minute from your editorial chair, while I illustrate this logic by a hypothetical case put to Mr. Delane, the barrister. Suppose that the constituents of Mr. Bright were to indict your publisher for defaming their member, and that it was proposed in a consultation of lawyers, at which you were present, to set up as a plea of justification at the trial that the same libel had been twice previously published against both Mr. Bright and Mr. Cobden,—would it fail to1863.
But we will assume, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Bright and I are regular subscribers to, and diligent readers of, your newspaper. Is it seriously contended that as often as you choose to pervert the sense of our speeches, and charge us with schemes of public robbery, the onus lies with us to disprove the imputation, and that neglecting to do so, we have no right to complain if we are thenceforth treated as felons? Would it not occur to any one but an editor of the Times that, before we violate the ninth commandment, the obligation lies with us to know that we are not bringing a false accusation against our neighbour?
Now, a word upon the subject which has given rise to this correspondence. Nobody knows better than yourself, except the writer who actually penned the scandalous passage in question, that this charge of wishing to divide the land of the rich among the poor, when levelled at Mr. Bright, is nothing but the resort to a stale rhetorical trick (though the character of the libel is not on that account altered) to draw away public attention from the real issue, and thus escape from the discussion of a serious, but, for the moment, an inconvenient public topic. In order to trail a red herring across the true scent the cry of spoliation was raised. You and your writers cannot be ignorant that the laws and political institutions of this country tend to promote the agglomeration of agricultural land in a constantly lessening number of hands:—you and I know, by a joint experience, which neither of us is likely to have forgotten, how great are the obstacles which the law interposes to the free transfer of landed property in this country. Now, the policy which sustains this state of things is a public question, which is not only fairly open to discussion, but invites the earnest attention and study of public men. In this, as in every other human concern, we must bring the matter to the test of experience, and in no way can this be more effectually done than by a comparison between the condition of the great majority of the agricultural population in this and other countries. The subject of our land laws has engaged the attention of eminent statesmen, and of our highest legal authorities; but I will venture to add—and it is all I shall condescend to say in refutation of your aspersions—that if there are two persons, who beyond all others, have given pledges throughout an ardent discussion of kindred topics during a quarter of a century, that in debating the question of the tenure and transfer of land they would observe the restraints of law, justice, and political economy, they are the men whom your journal has dared to charge with the advocacy of a scheme for robbing the landowners of their property for the benefit of the poor.
I shall forward this correspondence for publication in the Rochdale Observer, that it may at least be perused by the community which has the greatest interest in a controversy which concerns the reputation of Mr. Bright and myself.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
Dec. 9, 1863.
To this Mr. Delane replied (Dec. 11) that it was quite true that they had long been personally acquainted; that there was no need to identify his handwriting; and that he had no desire to deny his personal responsibility for what Cobden was pleased to call his “scandalous aspersions.” Proceeding to vindicate himself, Mr. Delane asked whether it was egotistic or unreasonable to suppose that one who had pounced so promptly upon a single phrase in an article of much inferior interest to himself, should have read the articles which discussed his own speech? Could he be expected to know that a gentleman who once preferred a single copy of the Times “to all the books of Thucydides” did not admit the Times to his house?5 The pith of the vindication was in the following paragraph:—
You attribute to the Times a deliberate misrepresentation of your mean1863.
The possession, the transfer, and the tenure of land are, however, public questions, which are best discussed, not between Mr. Cobden and Mr. Delane, but as it has always been the practice of the English press to discuss them—anonymously. That practice was not invented by me; it will not be destroyed by yourself. It has approved itself to the judgment of all, whether statesmen or publicists, who have appreciated the freedom and independence of the press; and I believe it to be essential to the interests not only of the press, but of the public.
Cobden, however, insisted on carrying on the controversy with Mr. Delane:—
To John T. Delane, Esq
Sir,—I have received the letter dated from your private residence, and bearing your own signature, in which you take on yourself personally the responsibility of the interpretation put by the Times on the speeches of Mr. Bright and myself at Rochdale—namely, that we proposed “a division among the poor of the lands of the rich.” Your letter to me says:—
“You attribute to the Times a deliberate misrepresentation of your meaning, and that of Mr. Bright, as to the means of amending the unequal distribution of the land between the rich and the poor. I repeat that certain passages in your speeches will, in my opinion, bear no other interpretation than that ascribed to them.”
This is a grave accusation. I am told that, if proved, it would bring Mr. Bright and myself within the provisions of the Act 57th Geo. III. cap. 19, and render us liable to the penal consequences of transportation for seven years.
I will not believe that you can be so wanting in the respect due to others, as well as yourself, as to have addressed this accusation to me, unless with the belief that you have evidence to substantiate it.
I call on you to give me those “certain passages” to which you refer, and which are really now the only question at issue between you and me. That there may be no excuse or ground for delay, I accept the report which appeared in your paper as an accurate version of my speech; and to aid you in your task I have cut from the Times the entire passage which contains all that I said in reference to the condition of the people generally, or to the agricultural population, and the land question in particular. But let it be distinctly understood that I do not confine you to this extract, but that I give you the entire range of my speech.
Before giving the passage I will say a few words, which, although I do not in the slightest degree claim for them the character of evidence, may have interest in some quarters.
It is known that I am not in the habit of writing a word beforehand of what I speak in public. Like other speakers, practice has given me as perfect self-possession in the presence of an audience as if I were writing in my closet. Now, my ever-constant and overruling thought while addressing a public meeting, the one necessity which long experience of the arts of controversialists has impressed on my mind, is to avoid the possibility of being misrepresented, and prevent my opponents from raising a false issue—a trick of logic as old as the time of Aristotle. If I have, as some favourable critics are pleased to think, sometimes spoken with clearness, it is more owing to this ever-present fear of misrepresentation than any other cause:—it is thus that the most noxious things in life may have their uses. When in my speech at Rochdale I came to touch upon the1863.
The following is the passage referred to:—
“It has been a fashion of late to talk of an extension of the franchise as something not to be tolerated, because it is assumed that the mass of the community are not fitted to take a part in government, and people point to America and France, and other countries, and draw comparisons between this country and other countries. Now, I hope I shall not be considered revolutionary, because at my age I don’t want any revolutions They won’t serve me, I am sure, or anybody that belongs to me. England may compare very favourably with most other countries if you draw the line in society tolerably high; and if you compare the condition of the rich and the upper classes of England, or a considerable portion of the middle classes, with the same classes abroad. I don’t think a rich man, barring the climate, which is not very good, could be very much happier anywhere else than in England; but when my opponents treat this question of the franchise as one that threatens to bring the masses of the people down from their present state to the level of other nations, I say that I have travelled in most civilized countries, and that the masses of my fellow-countrymen do not compare so favourably with the masses of other countries as I could wish. I find in other countries a greater proportion of people owing property than there are in England. I don’t know a protestant community in the world where the masses of the people are so illiterate as in England. These are not bad tests of the condition of a people. It is no use your talking of your army and navy, your exports and your imports—it is no use telling me you have a small potion of your people exceedingly well off. I want to bring the test to a comparison of the majority of the people with the majority of the people in other countries. Now, I say with regard to some things in foreign countries we don’t compare favourably. The condition of the English peasantry has no parallel on the face of the earth. (Hear.) You have no other peasantry but that of England which is entirely divorced from the land. There is no other country in the world where you will not find men holding the plough and turning up the furrow upon their own freehold. I don’t want any agrarian outrages by which we should change all this, but this I find, and it is quite consistent with human nature, that wherever I go the condition of the people is generally pretty good, in comparison with the power they have to take care of themselves; and if you have a class entirely destitute of 1863.
You will observe in the above passage from my speech, taken from your own report, that I use the words, “I don’t want any agrarian outrages by which we should change all this;” and now we must appeal to the authority of the lexicographer. If you turn to Webster’s (quarto) Dictionary you will find the word “agrarian” interpreted, on the authority of Burke, as follows:—
“Relating to lands. Denoting or pertaining to an equal division of lands; as, the agrarian laws of Rome, which distributed the conquered and other public lands equally among all the citizens, limiting the quantity which each might enjoy.” Again, in the same dictionary the word “agrarianism” is given as an equal division of lands or property, or the principles of those who favour such a division.”
Thus, in repudiating the agrarian system, I repudiated, in pure and unquestionable English, according to Burke, the principles of those who favour an equal division of land; I repudiated the agrarian laws of Rome; and yet, in spite of this, you charge me and Mr. Bright with “proposing a division among the poor of the lands of the rich,” and you associate us with Gracchus in schemes of socialistic spoliation.
Mr. Delane in reply (Dec. 16) insisted that the passage to which Cobden had referred him, did in his opinion convey a proposition for the division among the poor of the lands of the rich. “You seem to assume,” he said, “that I charged you with proposing that this division should be accomplished by violence. But your own words were there to prove to me that such was not your meaning, and to confute me instantly if I had attempted to attach that meaning to it.” This, as we shall see in a moment, ruined Mr. Delane’s case, for the Times had distinctly and in terms described the proposed change as the work of violence. Meanwhile, he went on to say that it could be effected by compulsory partition after death as in France:—
A similar measure proposed by yourself, or by Mr. Bright, and carried in a parliament elected principally by the peasantry whom you desire to enfranchise, because they would then “have a better chance of1863.
You suggest so obviously that it is by legislative measures—rendered possible by giving political power to the peasantry—you propose to “amend the unequal distribution of the land between the “rich and the poor,” that no one would think of charging you with endeavouring to effect this great change by violence.
It was Clear that Mr. Delane had now surrendered himself into the hands of his adversary. Cobden did not allow him to escape. “For the first time,” he replied (Dec. 18), “you now disavow having imputed to Mr. Bright and myself the design of promoting by violent, illegal, or immoral means a redistribution of the land of this country.” Grammar, logic, and common sense, he said, all revolted against the Editor’s attempt to show the connexion between his former language and his new accusation.
You now profess only to impute to us the design of favouring the equal division of landed property among all the children at the death of a proprietor. But this will not correspond with your reiterated charge that we contemplated a division “among the poor of the land of the rich.” What you now affect to consider to be our object is the division of the land of the rich equally among the children of the rich. I must bring the question to the test of your own language.
In your leading article of December 3, you alleged that the small states of the continent regarded a congress with the “satisfaction with which the poor might regard Mr. Bright’s proposition for dividing among them the lands of the rich.” I now infer, from your new interpretation, that I am asked to construe this a meaning only the satisfaction with which the children of rich landowners would regard a proposition for dividing among them the lands of their fathers.
Again, in your letter to me of December 7 you stated “These speeches are discussed elaborately in two leading articles on successive days, and in each of them certain passages are interpreted as recommending a repartition of the land among the poor.” Now, the word partition 1863.
Then, I suppose, we are expected to forget that you coupled us with Gracchus, and the agrarian system of Rome.
No; in the teeth of all these proofs in plain, unmistakable English to the contrary, I should be sacrificing truth to courtesy were I to affect to concur in this new version of your language, which does not admit of two meanings.
This was Sufficiently pungent; but it was not the most decisive blow. On the evening of the day on which he wrote the above letter, Cobden found in the Daily News what it is odd that he should not have sought earlier, namely, a passage from one of the previous articles in the Times to which Mr. Delane had referred. “This language,” the Times had said (Nov. 26), “so often repeated, and so calculated to excite discontent among the poor and half-informed, has really only one intelligible meaning. ‘Reduce the electoral franchise; for when you have done so you will obtain an assembly which will seize on the estates of the proprietors of land, and divide them gratuitously among the poor.’... It may be right to reduce the franchise, but certainly not as a step to spoliation.”
Now, said Cobden, “you will at once perceive that unless this language be unreservedly recalled, it makes the statement in your last letter simply a mockery and an untruth.” Mr. Delane, declaring that the passage taken without its context does not convey the same meaning as when taken with it, and enclosing a copy of the article in full, then begged to retire from the personal part of the contro1863.
There can now be very little difference of opinion among candid men as to the merits of the controversy. It is hardly possible to deny two propositions; first, that the interpretation by the Times of what had been said at Rochdale was plainly unjust, heedless, and calumnious; second, that Mr. Delane’s attempt to explain away the imputation of violence and spoliation was wholly unsuccessful. No editor ever stumbled into a more palpable scrape, nor chose a less fortunate way out of it. The simple and manly course which the Editor of the Times ought to have taken was to say something of this kind:—“My article was written in good faith. It is possible, however, that the writer may have been led by certain conscious or unconscious prepossessions against the speakers to read something in Mr. Bright’s speech and in yours which was not literally there. I now see, looking at the speeches more carefully, that your words could not bear the construction that was put upon them, and that your complaint is justified. I will, as Editor, publicly retract an imputation which I now perceive to have been erroneous.”
As this apology was not forthcoming, Cobden was entirely justified in publicly seizing Mr. Delane by name, and fixing upon him personally the misdemeanour for which he contumaciously made himself answerable. Anonymous journalism may be tolerated and defended on account of certain incidental conveniences—Cobden himself wrote plenty of anonymous articles—but the system cannot be invoked to protect the writer or the conductor of a public print form liability to be called publicly to account in case of persistent and proved misrepresentation. On the other hand, it can hardly be denied that Cobden put himself in the wrong by accusing the conductors of the Times of cor 1863.
That the Times was wrong upon some of the greatest questions of Cobden’s time is quite clear. How wrong it was upon the Russian War, the China War, the American Civil War, everybody knows. But let us be just. If the Times was wrong, so was the country. The newspaper only said what the directing classes of the country said. Cobden’s own letters to his friends show as much as this. The Times was, in fact, the natural exponent of all those old ideas of national policy which Cobden was bent on overthrowing. Just like the Athenian Sophist, the newspaper taught the conventional prejudices of those who paid for it. It is as if, says Socrates of the Sophist and his public, a man had observed1863.
As it happened, a great organ in the penny press treated Cobden, as he thought, even worse than if its price had been threepence. The Daily Telegraph declined to print Cobden’s letter to Mr. Delane, from a rather unctuously expressed tenderness for Cobden’s reputation; but though it suppressed his letter, it published some very unfriendly comments on it. Cobden protested against this with much vivacity. The merciful haze of time has effaced the interest of much of his letter, but some portion of it is relevant to still unsettled questions in the constitution of the literary priesthood.
The question concerns the Government on one side, and the leading London journal on the other. Does not that affect the public? Is the disposal of Government patronage—the appointment to posts which the public pay—a private or personal question? Recollect, I repeat, that the entire controversy between us is—whether or not the subject should be shrouded in secrecy. It is not the question of anonymous writing that is in debate. That is only the red herring drawn across the true scent. We all write anonymously, more or less. The only objection is to the masked literary assassin. Nor is it a question whether writers for the press have a right to their share of public appointments; nobody denies it. I do not even say that the stream of patronage ought not to flow to the Times office; I only content that it should not run underground.
Far from thinking that the class of whom we are speaking should be excluded from the public service, I form a very high estimate of the fitness for legislative and administrative function, of those who write for the political instruction of the people. And it is on this account that, while I deny to no one the right of an honest incognito, I regret that the prevalent, and perhaps unavoidable habit of anonymous writing in the metropolis, should entomb, for all practical political purposes, so much of our best intellect, and rob society of the full development of 1863.
I have said enough to show that I take a more exalted view than most men, of the mission of those who instruct the public through the newspaper press, and that, while asserting their title to the most honourable posts, I am assailing only a system by which they are huddled clandestinely into inferior employments, as the result of a secret and illicit intercourse with the Government of the day. And I revert to the question—has not the country a right to be informed, on my responsibility, that this illicit intercourse has been carried on between the Times and the Government; and is the Daily Telegraph Justified in intercepting from the public, so far as lies in its power, all knowledge of the fact, on1863.
Here we may leave the subject, merely remarking that to the present writer it seems that the word “illicit” in the letter is entirely misplaced and unintelligible. There was only one way of effectually checking the excessive authority of a journal which had abused it; this was to encourage the establishment of competitors. Cobden did as much towards this desirable end as any one, by his share in the reduction of the paper duty, which was what made the cheap press possible. The multiplication of newspapers and periodicals has had the further effect of clearing away the old charlatanry and the mystery of authorship and editorship. The names of all important journalists are now coming to be practically as well known as the names of important members of Parliament, and this change has naturally been followed by that more careful sense of responsibility which Cobden was quite right in insisting upon.
Speeches, ii. 77.
To Mr. W. S. Lindsay. Feb. 25, 1861.
It is worth remembering, however, that in the famous Slough speech of 1858, Mr. Disraeli accused his whig adversaries of “corrupting the once pure and independent press of England.” “Innocent people in the country,” he said, “who look to the leading articles in the newspapers for advice and direction—who look to what are called leading organs to be the guardians of their privileges and the directors of their political consciences—are not the least aware, because this sort of knowledge travels slowly, that leading organs now are placehunters of the court, and that the once stern guardians of popular rights simper in the enervating atmosphere of gilded saloons.”
To W. Hargreaves. Feb. 16, 1861.
This refers to an expression of Cobden’s which was a standing joke against him in those days. At a meeting of the Manchester Athenæum (Dec. 27, 1850), Cobden used the following language:—“I take it that, as a rule, grown-up men, in these busy times, read very little else but newspapers. I think the reading of volumes is almost the exception; and the man who habitually has between his fingers 400 or 500 newspapers in the course of the year—that is, daily and weekly newspapers—and is engaged pretty actively in business, or in political or public life—depend upon it, whatever he may say, or like to have it thought to the contrary, he reads very little else, as a rule, but the current periodical literature; and I doubt if a man with limited time could read anything else that would be much more useful to him. I believe it has been said that one copy of the Times contains more useful information than the whole of the historical books of Thucydides—(laughter);—and I am very much inclined to think that to an Englishman or an American of the present day that is strictly true.” The opinion may be sound or not, but the expression was a slip, because it showed that the speaker knew little about the author on whose comparative value he was hinting a judgment. Too much was made of the slip by journalists and collegians who knew little more about Thucydides than did Cobden himself, but who now wrote as if that rather troublesome author were the favourite companion of their leisure hours.