Front Page Titles (by Subject) 41.: COMPENSATION TO THE SHOPKEEPERS ON THE APPROACHES TO LONDON BRIDGE BRITISH TRAVELLER, 29 SEPT., 1828, P. 3 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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41.: COMPENSATION TO THE SHOPKEEPERS ON THE APPROACHES TO LONDON BRIDGE BRITISH TRAVELLER, 29 SEPT., 1828, P. 3 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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COMPENSATION TO THE SHOPKEEPERS ON THE APPROACHES TO LONDON BRIDGE
This article is Mill’s contribution to the public controversy (see, e.g., The Times, 10 Sept., p. 3, 11 Sept., p. 3, 17 Sept., pp. 3-4, 23 Sept., p. 3, 2 Oct., p. 3) over a proposal that was enacted as 10 George IV, Private Acts, c. 136 (1829). The expensive and potentially litigious proposal was opposed by the small tradesmen of the area, which included Fish Street Hill; Mill contrasts their position with that of the wealthy of Grosvenor Square in the West End, remote from this governmental interference with the rights of property. The unsigned, unheaded leading article is Mill’s only contribution to the British Traveller. It is described in his bibliography as “A leading article in the British Traveller of 27th September [sic] 1828 on the question of compensation to the shopkeepers on the approaches to London Bridge”
(MacMinn, p. 10).
the approaches to the new london bridge are every day becoming the subject of increased discussion. Perhaps if in deciding upon this point, nothing were requisite to be taken into the account except public convenience, it would have been disposed of in a more summary manner. But it seems that in this, as in so many other projects of improvement, a consideration has intruded itself, which, under our national institutions, and with our national modes of thinking, is apt to be esteemed far more important than public convenience, and this is, the convenience of particular individuals.
Nobody, in this or in any other country, is so impudent as to say, that his individual interest ought to be attended to first, and the public interest afterwards. But instead of one man, put the case that there are two or three score, much more if there be two or three hundred, and what no one of them would have the face to claim for himself, every man among them will boldly demand for himself and company.
If nobody felt and acted in this manner, except the grocers and cheesemongers of Fish street hill, no doubt it would be very justly considered a flagrant enormity. If, however, these shopkeepers are only following the admired and applauded example of their betters, it might be expected that what is thought very proper and patriotic in those betters, would hardly be stigmatized as unjust and selfish in them. We were therefore surprised to find an attempt made, in a recent number of a Tory paper, to hold up these respectable persons to public disapprobation, because they, too, thought it proper to stand up for the interests of their “order.”1
But there is a distinction running through the whole frame of English society, which, when it is fully seized, explains no small quantity of what would otherwise appear altogether enigmatical in the workings of that society. Fielding describes Bridewell as “that house where the inferior sort of people may learn one good lesson, viz.—respect and deference to their superiors, since it must show them the wide distinction fortune intends between those persons who are to be corrected for their faults, and those who are not.”2 The New Times, in its animadversions upon the Fish street hill shopkeepers, intends, no doubt, to read them a similar lesson; to put them in mind of the wide distinction which our institutions intend between those who are to have their interest preferred to the general interest, and those who are not.
There is no other country in the world, says the New Times, in which the best avenues to such a structure as London Bridge would be rejected, for fear of affecting the paltry interests of a few shopkeepers. We hope not; and we hope, likewise, that there is no other country in the world in which the public would be taxed ten or twelve millions in the price of their bread, and exposed to incessant vicissitudes of glut and famine, for fear of affecting the paltry interests of a few landlords.3 We are sure that there is no other country in which a bill, such as the County Courts’ Bill, for extending the benefits of an administration of justice to the largest portion of the people, to whom at present it may be said, with scarcely any exaggeration, to be altogether inaccessible, would be rejected year after year by the legislature on the avowed ground, that it would affect the paltry interests of Lord Ellenborough, and two or three other holders of law sinecures.4
It was doubtless a great piece of presumption in the persons whom the New Times reprehends, to imagine that what might be proper and commendable in so exalted a personage as Lord Ellenborough, was allowable in persons who were no better than shopkeepers, and who lived in no other street than Fish street hill. If the proposed approaches had encroached upon a Nobleman’s park, or had passed so much as within a quarter of a mile of his game preserves, it is probable that we should have heard another story about paltry interests. But it is a mistake, to suppose that cheesemongers can have vested rights. Cheesemongers are only virtually represented. Lords and Landlords not only are actually represented, but virtually represent the Cheesemongers themselves. They may, therefore, possess vested rights: if they possess any thing which they do not like to give up, it is a vested right: and having received this name, however little they may be entitled to it, or however imperatively the public interest may require the sacrifice of it, to demand it would be to infringe upon the sacred rights of property. All this, to the New Times, is gospel: but that journal is far too acute not to seize the distinction between Fish street hill, and Grosvenor square, and to perceive, that with lawgivers as well as other men, there is all the difference in the world between doing a dishonest thing for their own interest, and doing exactly the same thing for the interest of other people.
[1 ]See the leading article on the New London Bridge, New Times, 24 Sept., 1828, p. 2.
[2 ]Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones a Foundling (1749), Bk. IV, Chap. xi, in Works, Vol. VI, p. 191.
[3 ]The reference is to the Corn Laws, which included 55 George III, c. 26 (1815), 3 George IV, c. 60 (1822), and 7 & 8 George IV, c. 57 (1827). The most recent, 9 George IV, c. 60 (1828), established a sliding scale starting from a nominal duty of 1s. on imported grain when the price at home reached 73s.
[4 ]Between 1823 and 1828 five bills pertaining to County Courts were introduced, but none passed. The most recent was “A Bill for the More Easy Recovery of Small Debts in the County Courts of England and Wales, and for Extending the Jurisdiction Thereof,” 9 George IV (13 June, 1828), PP, 1828, II, 445-58. While the issue of sinecures was clearly central in these bills’ failure, the topic was treated gingerly in the debates; perhaps the most forthcoming admission is subsequent to Mill’s comment, in Peel’s Speech on Small Debts (8 May, 1829), PD, n.s., Vol. 21, cols. 1165-6. Edward Law, Lord Ellenborough (1790-1871), son of the former Lord Chief Justice, was Lord Privy Seal in Wellington’s administration; at this time, as Chairman of The Approaches to London Bridge Committee, he opposed the suggested improvements.