Front Page Titles (by Subject) Appendix E: DEATH OF FRANCIS PLACE SPECTATOR, 7 JAN., 1854, P. 13 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV
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Appendix E: DEATH OF FRANCIS PLACE SPECTATOR, 7 JAN., 1854, P. 13 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV, 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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DEATH OF FRANCIS PLACE
This obituary, headed “Francis Place” and subheaded “[From a Correspondent],” appears in the “Topics of the Day” section. Though not listed in Mill’s bibliography, it is assigned to him by G.J. Holyoake in his John Stuart Mill as Some of the Working Classes Knew Him (London: Trübner, 1873), p. 6, and also in his Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life, 2 vols. (London: Unwin, 1909), Vol. I, p. 216. Holyoake cites no evidence; there is no corroboration elsewhere, and the piece is not characteristic of Mill’s usual style.
another man of mark has passed from amongst us. Francis Place has departed from the world in which he was so long a stirring mover. Few men have done more of the world’s work with so little external sign. He was ever ready with pen and person to aid the uplifting of humanity, ever ready to fill full of his own knowledge any other men willing to work and to get the credit of it. He was essentially a public man, but his work usually lay behind the curtain as a prompter. He was no orator, but much oratory was of his prompting. He was a man of the last age and of the present, before the French Revolution and since. Born to no inheritance but a clear brain, an iron will, and an indomitable love of freedom, he was one of the few London tradesmen who achieved an ample competence, not merely without truckling, but in spite of the odium and discouragement cast on all Reformers under the old oppressive Tory rule. But more remarkable than all this was the fact, that in the days when “books, plate, and pictures,” were important items in all rich men’s wills, he was the almost solitary tradesman who possessed a library, earned, collected, and paid for by himself, which many public men envied him the possession of, and to which many public men of less energy and purpose were glad to have recourse. The room which held that library was for many years a well-known meeting-place for Members of Parliament to discuss popular questions.
An early member of the London Corresponding Society—an intimate acquaintance of Hardy, Tooke, Richter, and others,1 in the days when opinion was crime,—never losing any opportunity of promoting freedom—he one day stood in Covent Garden with a friend watching a Westminster Election contested between Whigs and Tories. The brewer candidate brought a dray to the front of the hustings to propitiate “sweet voices.”2 The beer was staved and ran into the kennels, and the miserable mob threw themselves on their faces and wallowed like swine. Francis Place and his friend left the spot, vowing never to cease their labours till the elections of Westminster were reformed. Just as Cobden and Bright3 with their friends brought about Corn-law abolition, so did Francis Place and his friend gather round them a nucleus with the motto “Purity of Election.” About that time, Sir Francis Burdett made a speech in public such as a young Greek might have made in Athens.4 “The man for the People!” said Francis Place; and Burdett was applied to. He returned for answer, that he had spent twenty thousand pounds in contested elections, and would spend no more. This was precisely what the Westminster electors meant. He was elected triumphantly, and the very shilling was found for him on taking the oath at the bar of the House—so runs the tradition; and from that election dates Reform in Parliament.
There was scarcely any public man on the Liberal or professed Liberal side that was not acquainted with Francis Place. He was the intimate friend of James Mill the historian of India, and of Jeremy Bentham. He was one of the original promoters of and contributors to the Westminster Review. Godwin often came to him. Sir Samuel Romilly and Henry Brougham held him in respect. Campbell the poet would talk to him by the hour of “what was to be done for the Poles.”5 John Cam Hobhouse was there indoctrinated in popular lore, and Edward Lytton Bulwer matriculated for his first election. Neither Burdett nor Hobhouse nor Bulwer were more than imaginations to Francis Place,—they said they were Reformers, and he took them at their word, and they travelled by his side. When they left the path, he went onwards just the same. People of all classes and conditions who had purposes to serve sought him out. The engineers—the elder Maudslay, the elder Brunel, Galloway, John Hague,6 and others—would all come to tell him of their new plans, and ask for his council and influence. Mulready the artist used to visit him.7 Joseph Hume was a constant conferrer; and people from the new Republics ever found him out. He was an authority of much weight amongst working people, whose condition he ever strove to raise; and the unions always sought his help; but he was too sound a political economist ever to give them hopes of success by strikes. He was one of the few men whom Cobbett held in respect when he quarrelled with the Westminster Committees. He was essentially a man of business, the very opposite of Cobbett; and therefore it was not possible for them to agree. If perchance a journal of his life has been preserved and it falls into fitting hands, it will be a remarkable book—a record of the old changing into the new.8 His industry was extraordinary; his perceptive faculties in the direction of his sympathies, acute; and his reasoning powers strong. In the poetical faculty, which was so strong in Cobbett, he was entirely lacking: he was for the utter exclusion of poetry from the pages of the Westminster Review! This will account for much that appeared hard in his character; though there never existed a man more ready to assist others to rise. Many now holding prominent positions can trace their first move to the help of Francis Place. Great faculties and abilities were ever warmly greeted by him, and he was wholly devoid of either envy or jealousy. He had considerable mechanical aptitude, and would have been a skilful engineer if educated to it. His spirit was ever fresh and buoyant, and at all that spoke of the new or the progressive he seemed to leap alive. Like most self-educated framers of their own fortunes, he had a dislike of hereditary aristocracy, but withal no want of “handsome acknowledgment for merit in a lord.” But he had on the other hand not the slightest taint of the servility not uncommon in the newly-risen. As in similarly-educated men, the spirit of self-assertion was strong in him; a quality traceable chiefly to the ungenerous class spirit which refuses to acknowledge rising merit till the acknowledgment is superfluous—an ordeal that most authors have to undergo to the great risk of their philosophy and manysidedness. He held the manly conviction that he had earned his fellowship in the republic of letters, and thereby was every man’s equal in the nobility of nature. Such men are more common now, and the world thinks less of them. He had the higher merit of working his own way out of the slough, of achieving property hardly, and education still more hardly, at the time when books were a costly luxury, not to be borrowed, but bought at high prices. He was generous with his money, and generous with his books; letting all who would drink of his fountain of knowledge, thinking it ample payment that he was thus contributing to build up the world’s progress. The faculties that he possessed, had they been worked in a worldly fashion, would have lifted him into what is called a higher position—a greater “success”: but he did not covet it. He loved quiet power for the purpose of promoting good ends, but never sought to attain it by rubbing shoulders with the influential. It is true that he would at times seek out and besiege the influential; but ever for a public purpose. It is to be doubted if he ever asked or received a personal favour in his life. He was the kind of man who in the United States would have become a member of the Legislature; but being in England, he acted only as consulting politician and economist to others.
Francis Place has died, at the ripe age of eighty-two, as he lived, in the full possession of his faculties to the last. Statues have been erected to and honours conferred on many less deserving. His honours will be in the respectful memories of the worthy of all ranks, amidst the large crowd of those who knew him.
[1 ]A society founded in 1792 by, inter alia, Thomas Hardy (1752-1832), a radical tradesman, to correspond with French Revolutionary leaders, and to urge reform of the British Parliament. It also corresponded with other British reform societies, and organized a convention in Edinburgh in 1793. Hardy was arrested in 1794 for high treason, but acquitted. John Horne Tooke and John Richter (d. 1830), another Westminster Radical activist, both committed to the Tower in 1794, were prominent members.
[2 ]Shakespeare, Coriolanus, II, iii, 112; in The Riverside Shakespeare, p. 1412.
[3 ]John Bright (1811-88), close ally of Richard Cobden in promoting free trade.
[4 ]Speech to the Middlesex Freeholders’ Club, reported in The Times, 6 Feb., 1807, p. 3.
[5 ]Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), author of The Pleasures of Hope (1799), collaborator with Bentham and James Mill in the founding of the University of London, had founded in 1832 the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland to keep the Polish question before the British public. For the quotation, see William Beattie, Life and Letters of Thomas Campbell, 3 vols. (London: Moxon, 1849), Vol. III, p. 110.
[6 ]Henry Maudslay (1771-1831), inventor, constructed block-making machinery for Marc Isambard Brunel (1769-1849), F.R.S., also an inventor, who constructed a tunnel under the Thames; Alexander Galloway (fl. 1798-1835), machine maker and member of the London Corresponding Society, who became one of the leading engineering employers in London. John Hague has not been further identified.
[7 ]William Mulready (1786-1863), Irish genre painter and book illustrator.
[8 ]As the author probably knew, there was such a journal, though it remained unpublished until edited by Mary Thale as The Autobiography of Francis Place (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972).