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John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden 
The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwiin, 1903).
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Table of Contents
Owing to various circumstances, with which I have no right to trouble the reader, the publication of these volumes has been delayed considerably beyond the date at which I hoped to bring them to an end. As things have turned out, the delay has done no harm. My memoir of Mr. Cobden appears at a moment when there is a certain disposition in men's minds to subject his work and his principles to a more hostile criticism than they have hitherto encountered. So far perhaps it is permitted to me to hope that the book will prove opportune. It is possible, however, that it may disappoint those who expect to find in it a completely furnished armoury for the champions of Free Trade. I did not conceive it to be my task to compile a polemical handbook for that controversy. For this the reader must always go to the parliamentary debates between 1840 and 1846, and to the manuals of Political Economy.
It will perhaps be thought that I should have done better to say nothing of Mr. Cobden's private affairs. In the ordinary case of a public man, reserve on these matters is possibly a good rule. In the present instance, so much publicity was given to Mr. Cobden's affairs—some of it of a very malicious kind—that it seemed best, not only to the writer, but to those whose feelings he was bound first and exclusively to consider, to let these take their place along with the other facts of his life.
The material for the biography has been supplied in great abundance by Mr. Cobden's many friends and correspondents. His family with generous confidence entrusted it to my uncontrolled discretion, and for any lack of skill or judgment that may appear in the way in which the materials have been handled, the responsibility is not theirs but mine. Much of the correspondence had been already sifted and arranged by Mr. Henry Richard, the respected Member for Merthyr, who handed over to me the result of his labour with a courtesy and good-will for which I am particularly indebted to him. Lord Cardwell was obliging enough to procure for me Mr. Cobden's letter to Sir Robert Peel (vol. i. ch. 17), and, along with Lord Hardinge, to give me permission to print Sir Robert Peel's reply. Mr. Bright, with an unwearied kindness for which I can never be too grateful, has allowed me to consult him constantly, and has abounded in helpful corrections and suggestions while the sheets were passing through the press. Nor can I forget to express the many obligations that I owe to my friend, Sir Louis Mallet. It was he who first induced me to undertake a piece of work which he had much at heart, and he has followed it with an attention, an interest, and a readiness in counsel and information, of which I cannot but fear that the final product gives a very inadequate idea.
September 29th, 1881.[Back to Table of Contents]
the LIFE OF RICHARD COBDEN[Back to Table of Contents]
Heyshott is a hamlet in a sequestered corner of West Sussex, not many miles from the Hampshire border. It is one of the crests that, like wooded islands, dot the great Valley of the Weald. Near at hand the red housetops of Midhurst sleep among the trees, while Chichester lies in the flats a dozen miles away, beyond the steep escarpments of the South Downs, that here are nearing their western edge. Heyshott has a high rolling upland of its own, part of the majestic wall that runs from Beachy Head almost to Portsmouth. As the traveller ascends the little neighbouring height of West Lavington, he discerns far off to the left, at the end of a dim line, the dark clump of sentinel trees at Chanctonbury, whence one may look forth over the glistening flood of the Channel, or hear the waters beat upon the shore. The country around Midhurst is sprinkled thinly with farms and modest homesteads. Patches of dark forest mingle with green spaces of common, with wide reaches of heath, with ponds flashing in the sunlight, and with the white or yellow clearing of the fallows. The swelling turf of the headland, looking northward across the Weald to the loved companion downs of Surrey, is broken by soft wooded 1804.hollows, where the shepherd finds a shelter from the noontide sun, or from the showers that are borne along in the driving flight of the south-west wind.
Here, in an old farmhouse, known as Dunford, Richard Cobden was born on June 3, 1804. He was the fourth of a family of eleven children. His ancestors were yeomen of the soil, and it is said, with every appearance of truth, that the name can be traced in the annals of the district as far back as the fourteenth century. The antiquarians of the county have found out that one Adam de Coppdene was sent to parliament by the borough of Chichester in 1314. There is talk of a manor of Cobden in the ninth of Edward IV. (1470). In 1562 there is a record of William Cobden devising lands on the downs in Westdean. Thomas Cobden of Midhurst was a contributor of twenty-five pounds to the fund raised for resisting the Spanish Armada. When hearth-money was levied in 1670, Richard Cobden, junior, is entered as paying for seven out of the seventy-six hearths of the district. In the Sussex election poll-book for 1734 a later Richard Cobden is put down as a voter for the parish of Midhurst, and four or five others are entered as freeholders in other parts of West Sussex. The best opinion seems to be that the settlement of the Cobdens at Midhurst took place sometime in the seventeenth century, and that they were lineal descendants of Sir Adam and Sir Ralph of former ages.
However all this may be, the five hundred years that intervened had nursed no great prosperity. Cobden’s grandfather and namesake was a maltster and farmer, and filled for several years the principal office of bailiff for the borough of Midhurst. When he died in 1809, he left a very modest property behind him. Dunford was sold, and William Cobden, the only son of Richard the elder, and the father of the Richard Cobden with whom we are concerned, removed to a small farm on the outskirts of1809–13 Midhurst. He was a man of soft and affectionate disposition, but wholly without the energy of affairs. He was the gentlest and kindest of men. Honest and upright himself, he was incapable of doubting the honesty and uprightness of others. He was cheated without suspecting it, and he had not force of character enough to redeem a fortune which gradually slipped away from him. Poverty oozed in with gentle swiftness, and lay about him like a dull cloak for the rest of his life. His wife, the mother of Richard Cobden, had borne the gracious maiden-name of Millicent Amber. Unlike her kindly helpless husband, she was endowed with native sense, shrewdness, and force of mind, but the bravery of women in such cases can seldom avail against the shiftlessness of men. The economic currents of the time might seem to have been all in their favour. The war and the scarcity which filled all the rest of the country with distress, rained gold upon farmers and landlords. In the five years during which William Cobden was at Guillard’s Oak, (1809–13), the average price of wheat was just short of five pounds a quarter. In spite of tithes, of war-taxes, and of tremendous poor-rates, the landowners extracted royal rents, and the farmers drove a roaring trade. To what use William Cobden put these good times, we do not know. After the harvest of 1813, the prospect of peace came, and with it a collapse of the artificial inflation of the grain markets. Insolvency and distraint became familiar words in the farm-houses that a few months before had been revelling in plenty.
William Cobden was not the man to contrive an escape from financial disaster. In 1814 the farm was sold, and they moved from home to home until at length they made a settlement at Westmeon, near Alton in Hampshire. His neighbours were as unfortunate as himself, for Cobden was able to say in later years that when he returned to his native 1814–19.
It is one of the privileges of strength to add to its own the burdens of the weak, and helpful kinsfolk are constantly found for those whom character or outer circumstance has submerged. Relatives of his own, or his wife’s, charged themselves with the maintenance of William Cobden’s dozen children. Richard, less happy than the others, was taken away from a dame’s school at Midhurst, and cheerful tending of the sheep on his father’s farm, and was sent by his mother’s brother-in-law, a merchant in London, to a school in Yorkshire. Here he remained for five years, a grim and desolate time, of which he could never afterwards endure to speak. This was twenty years before the vivid genius and racy style of Dickens had made the ferocious brutalities of Squeers and the horrors of Dotheboys Hall as universally familiar as the best-known scenes of Shakespeare. The unfortunate boy from his tenth to his fifteenth year was ill fed, ill taught, ill used; he never saw parent or friend; and once in each quarter he was allowed such singular relief to his feelings as finds official expression in the following letter (March 25, 1817):—
“You cannot tell what rapture I feel at my once more having the pleasure of addressing my Parents, and though the distance is so great, yet I have an opportunity of conveying it to you free of expense. It is now turned three years since our separation took place, and I assure you I look back with more pleasure to that period than to any other part of my life which was spent to no effectual purpose, and I beg to return you my most sincere thanks as being the means of my gaining such a sense of learning as will enable me to gain a genteel livelihood whenever I am called into the1819–25.
It was not until 1819 that this cruel and disgusting mockery of an education came to an end. Cobden was received as a clerk in his uncle’s warehouse in Old Change. It was some time before things here ran easily. Nothing is harder to manage, on either side, than the sense of an obligation conferred or received. Cobden’s uncle and aunt expected servility in the place of gratitude, and in his own phrase, “inflicted rather than bestowed their bounties.” They especially disapproved of his learning French lessons in the early hours of the morning in his bedroom, and his fondness for book-knowledge was thought of evil omen for his future as a man of business. The position became so unpleasant, that in 1822 Cobden accepted the offer of a situation in a house of business at Ghent. It promised considerable advantages, but his father would not give his approval, and Cobden after some demur fell in with his father’s wish. He remained where he was, and did not quarrel with such opportunity as he had, simply because he had missed a better, It is one of the familiar puzzles of life, that those whose want of energy has sunk their lives in failure, are often so eager to check and disparage the energy of stronger natures than their own.
William Cobden’s letters all breathe a soft domesticity which is more French than English, and the only real discomfort of his poverty to him seems to have been a weak regret that he could not have his family constantly around his hearth. Frederick, his eldest son, was in the United States for several years; his father was always gently importunate for his return. In 1824 he came home, having done nothing by his travels towards bettering fortunes that remained stubbornly unprosperous to the end 1824.
The same year which struck Cobden this distressing blow,1825.
The information to be gathered in coaches and in the commercial rooms of provincial hotels was narrow enough in some senses, but it was varied, fresh, and in real matter. To a man of Cobden’s active and independent intelligence this contact with such a diversity of interest and character was a congenial process of education. Harsh circumstance had left no other education open to him. There is something pathetic in an exclamation of one of his letters of this period, not merely because it concerns a man of Cobden’s eminence and public service, but because it is the case of thousands of less conspicuous figures. In his first journey (August—October, 1825) he was compelled to wait for half a day at Shrewsbury, for a coach to Manchester. He went to the abbey, and was greatly impressed by its venerable walls and painted glass. “Oh that I had money,” he says to his brother, in plain uncultured speech, “to be deep skilled in the mysteries of mullions and architraves, in lieu of black and purple and pin grounds! How happy I should be.” He felt as keenly as Byron himself how
1826.In his second journey he visited the birthplace of Robert Burns, and he wrote to his brother from Aberdeen (Feb. 5, 1826):—“It is a sort of gratification that I am sure you can imagine, but which I cannot describe, to feel conscious of treading upon the same spot of earth, of viewing the same surrounding objects, and of being sheltered by the same roof, as one who equally astonished and delighted the world.” He describes himself as boiling over with enthusiasm upon approaching “Alloway’s auld haunted kirk,” the bring o’ Doon, and the scene of Tan o’ Shanter’s headlong ride.1826.
The genial eye for character and the good-humoured tolerance of foibles, which so singularly distinguished Cobden in the days when he came to act with men for public objects, are conspicuous in these early letters. His hospi table observation, even in this rudimentary stage, seemed1825.
Even in Dublin itself he saw what made an impression upon him, which ten years later he tried to convey to the readers of his first pamphlet. “The river Liffey intersects the city, and ships of 200 tons may anchor nearly in the heart of Dublin; but it is here the stranger is alone disappointed; the small number of shipping betrays their limited commerce. It is melancholy to see their spacious streets (into some of which the whole tide of Cheapside might with ease move to and fro), with scarcely a vehicle through their whole extent. Whilst there is so little circulation in 1826.
If one side of Cobden’s active and flexible mind was interested by these miserable scenes, another side, as we have said, was touched by the strange whimsicalities of man. In February, 1826, he crossed from Donaghadee, on the north-east coast of Ireland, to Portpatrick.
“Our captain was named Paschal—he was a short figure, but made the most of a little matter by strutting as upright as a dart, and throwing back his head, and putting forward his little chest in an attitude of defiance. It appeared to be the ambition of our little commander to make matters on board his little dirty steam-boat wear the same air of magnitude as on board a seventy-four. I afterwards learned he had once been captain on board of a king’s ship. His orders were all given through a ponderous trumpet, although his three men could not be more than ten yards distant from him. Still he bore the air of a gentleman, and was accustomed to have the fullest deference paid him by his three seamen. On approaching near the Harbour of Port-patrick, our captain put his huge trumpet down the hole that led below, and roared out, at the risk of stunning us all, ’steward-boy, bring up a gun cartridge, and have a care you don’t take a candle into the Magazine!’ The order was obeyed, the powder was carried up, and after a huge deal of preparation and bustling to and fro on the deck, the trumpet was again poked down to a level with our ears, and the steward was again summoned to bring up a match. Soon after which we heard the report of something upon deck like the sound of a duck-gun. After that, the order was given, ‘All hands to the larboard—clear the gangway and lower the larboard steps,’ or in other words, ‘Help the passengers to step on to the pier.’”3
In the same letter he congratulates himself on having1826.
This, in fact, was the hour of one of the most widely disastrous of those financial crashes which sweep over the country from time to time like great periodic storms. The ruin of 1825 and 1826 was never forgotten by those who had intelligence enough to be alive to what was going on before their eyes. The whirlwind that shook the fabric of Scott’s prosperity to the ground, involved Cobden’s humbler fortunes in a less imposing catastrophe. His employers failed (February, 1826), as did so many thousands of others, and he was obliged to spend some time in unwelcome holiday at Westmeon.
Affairs were as straitened under his father’s roof as they had always been. The sun was not likely to be shining in that little particular spot, if the general sky were dull. The perturbations of the great ocean were felt even in that small circle, and while retail customers at their modest shop were reluctant to buy or unable to pay, the wholesale provider in London was forced to narrow his credit and call in his debts. The family stood closely to one another in the midst of a swarm of shabby embarrassments, and their neighbours looked on in friendly sympathy, impotent to help. Strangely enough, as some may think, they do not seem to 1826.
Richard Cobden, meanwhile, had found a situation in1826.
Two years afterwards, in 1828, Cobden took an important1828 step. He and two friends who were in the same trade determined to begin business on their own account. The scheme of the three friends was to go to Manchester, and there to make an arrangement with some large firm of calico-printers for selling goods on commission. More than half of the little capital was borrowed. When the scheme first occurred to Cobden, he is said to have gone to Mr. Lewis of the well-known firm in Regent Street, to have laid the plan before him, and asked for a loan. The borrower’s sanguine eloquence, advising a project that in itself was not irrational, proved successful, and Mr. Lewis’s advance was supplemented by a further sum from a private friend.
Cobden wrote many years afterwards: “I began business in partnership with two other young men, and we only mustered a thousand pounds amongst us, and more than half of it was borrowed. We all got on the Peveril of the Peak coach, and went from London to Manchester in the, at that day [September, 1828], marvellously short space of twenty hours. We were literally so ignorant of Manchester houses 1828.
This is from a letter written to express Cobden’s firm belief in the general circumstance, “that it is the character, experience, and connexions of the man wanting credit, his knowledge of his business, and opportunities of making it available in the struggle of life, that weigh with the shrewd capitalist far more than the actual command of a few thousands more or less of money in hand.” We may find reason to think that Cobden’s temperament perhaps inclined him to push this excellent truth somewhat too far. Meanwhile, the sun of kindly hope shone. The situation is familiar to all who have had their own way to make from obscurity to success, whether waiting for good fortune in1828.
Intense anxiety for the success of the undertaking was brightened by modest hopes of profits, of which a share of one third should amount to eight hundred pounds a year. And in Cobden’s case these hopes received a suffusion of generous colour from the prospect which they opened to his affectionate solicitude for his family. “I knew your heart well enough,” he wrote to his brother Frederick, “to feel that there is a large portion of it ever warmly devoted to my interests, and I should be doing injustice to mine if I did not tell you that I have not one ambitious view or hope from which you stand separated. I feel that Fortune, with her usual caprice, has in dealing with us turned her face to the least deserving, but we will correct her mistake for once, and I must insist that you from henceforth consider yourself as by right my associate in all her favours.”—(Sept. 21, 1828.)
The important thing is that all this is no mere coinage of fair words, but the expression of a deep and genuine intention which was amply and most diligently fulfilled to the very last hour of Cobden’s life.[Back to Table of Contents]
commercial and mental progress.
This great change fully warranted the new enterprise of Cobden and his partners. They took over from the Forts an old calico-printing factory at Sabden,—a remote village on the banks of a tributary of the Calder, near the ruined gateways and chapel of the Cistercian abbey at Whalley in Lancashire, and a few miles from where are now the fine mills and flourishing streets of Blackburn. The higher part of the Sabden valley runs up into the famous haunted Forest of Pendle; and notwithstanding the tall chimneys that may be seen dimly in the distance of the plain, the visitor to this sequestered spot may well feel as if the old world of white monks and forest witches still lingered on the bleak hillsides. Cobden was all with the new world. His imagination had evidently been struck by the busy life of the county with which his name was destined to be so closely bound up. Manchester, he writes with enthusiasm, is the place for all men of bargain and business. His pen acquires a curiously exulting animation, as he describes the bustle of its streets, the quaintness of its dialect, the abundance of its capital, and the sturdy veterans with a hundred thousand pounds in each pocket, who might be seen in the evening smoking clay pipes and calling for brandy and-water in the bar-parlous of homely taverns. He declared his conviction, from what he had seen, that if he were stripped naked and turned into Lancashire with only his experience for a capital, he would still make a large fortune. He would not give anybody sixpence to guarantee him wealth, if he only lived.1 And so forth, in a vein of self-confidence which he himself well described as Napoleonic. “I am ever solicitous,” he wrote to his brother (Jan. 30, 1832.
A more curious picture still is to be found in another letter, also to his brother, written a few months later (April 12, 1832). He describes his commercial plans as full of solidity, “sure for the present, and what is still better, opening a vista to my view of ambitious hopes and schemes almost boundless. Sometimes I confess I allow this sort of feeling to gain a painful and harassing ascendancy over me. It disquiets me in the night as well as day. It gnaws my very entrails (a positive truth), and yet if I ask, What is all this yearning after? I can scarcely give myself a satisfying answer. Surely not for money; I feel a disregard for it, and even a slovenly inattention to its possession, that is quite dangerous. I have scarcely ever, as usual, a sovereign in my pocket, and have been twice a Whalley, to find myself without the means of paying my expenses. I do not think that the possession of millions would greatly alter my habits of1832.
As we might have expected in so buoyant and overflowing a temperament, moments of reaction were not absent, though the shadow was probably as swiftly transient with him as with any man that ever lived. In one of the letters of this period he writes to his brother:—“I know I must rise rapidly if not too heavily weighted. Another doleful letter from poor M. [one of his sisters] came yesterday. Oh, this is the only portion of the trials of my life that I could not go through again—the ordeal would send me to Bedlam! Well, I drown the past in still hoping for the future, but God knows whether futurity will be as great a cheat as ever. I sometimes think it will. I tell you candidly, I am sometimes out of spirits, and have need of co-operation, or Heaven knows yet what will become of my fine castles in the air. So you must bring spirits—spirits—spirits.“
Few men indeed have been more heavily weighted at the start than Cobden was. His family were still dogged and tracked from place to place by the evil genius of slipshod fortune. In 1829 Frederick Cobden began the business of a timber merchant at Barnet, but unhappily the undertaking was as little successful as other things to which he ever put his hand. The little business at Farnham had failed, and had been abandoned. William Cobden went to live with his son at Barnet, and amused a favourite passion by watching the hundred and twenty coaches which each day whirled up and down the great north road. Nothing prospered. Death carried off a son and a daughter in the same year (1830). Frederick lost health, and he lost his brother’s money, and spirits followed. He and his father make a strong instance of the deep saying of Shakespeare’s Enobarbus, how men’s judgments are a parcel of their fortunes, and things outward draw the inward quality after them to suffer all alike. 1832.
Richard Cobden, however had energy enough and to spare for the rest of his family. He pressed his brother to join him at Manchester where he had bought a house in what was then the genteel private quarter of Mosley Street.2 Gillett and Sheriff carried on the business at the London warehouse, and Mr. George Foster who had been manager under the Forts, was now in charge as a partner at the works at Sabden.
It is at Sabden that we first hear of Cobden’s interest in the affairs of others than himself and his kinsfolk. There, in a little stone school-house, we see the earliest monument of his eager and beneficent public spirit, which was destined to shed such prosperity over his country, and to contribute so helpfully to the civilization of the globe. In no part of England have the last forty years wrought so astonishing a change as among the once lonely valleys and wild moors of east Lancashire. At Sabden, in 1832, though the print-works alone maintained some six hundred wage-receivers, there was no school, and there was no church. A diminutive Baptist chapel, irregularly served, was the only agency for bringing, so far as it did bring, the great religious tradition1832.
It was in this far-off corner of the world that Cobden began his career as an agitator, and for a cause in which all England has long since come round to his mind. His earliest speeches were made at Clitheroe on behalf of the education of the young, and one of his earliest letters on what may fairly be called a public question is a note making arrangements for the exhibition at Sabden of twenty children from an infant school at Manchester, by way of an example and incentive to more backward regions. It was characteristic of him, that he threw as much eager enthusiasm into the direction of this exhibition of school-children, 1832.
“You have ground,” Cobden wrote to him, “for very great and just self-gratulation in the movement which you announce to have begun in behalf of infant schools at Sabden. There is never the possibility of knowing the extent to which a philanthropic action may operate usefully—because the good works again multiply in like manner, and may continue thus to produce valuable fruits long after you cease to tend the growth of them. I have always been of opinion that good examples are more influential than bad ones, and I like to take this view of the case, because it strengthens my good hopes for general and permanent ameliorations. Look how perishable is the practice, and therefore how little is to be dreaded the eternity of evil; whilst goodness or virtue by the very force of example, and by its own indestructible nature, must go on increasing and multiplying for ever! I really think you may achieve the vast honour of making Sabden a light to lighten the surrounding country, and carrying civilization into towns that ought to have shed rays of knowledge upon your village; when you have furnished a volunteer corps of your infant troops to teach the tactics of the system to the people of Clitheroe, you should make an offer of a similar service gratis to the good people of Padiham. Let it be done in a formal and open manner to the leading people of the place and neighbourhood, who will thus be openly called upon to exert themselves, and be at the same time instructed how to go about the business. There are many well meaning people in the world who are not so useful as they might be, from not knowing hot to go to work.“3
His perception of the truth of the last sentence, coupled as it was with untiring energy in copying with it, and showing people how they could go to work best, was the secret of1832.
Quiet to quick bosoms is a hell,
and I am afraid he is nearly right in my case.”4 Yet this disquiet never in him degenerated into the sterile bustle which so many restless spirits have mistaken for practical energy. Behind all this sanguine enthusiasm as to public ends, lay the wisest patience as to means.
What surprises one in reading the letters which Cobden1833–6. wrote between 1833 and 1836, is the quickness with which his character widened and ripened. We pass at a single step from the natural and wholesome egotism of the young man who has his bread to win, to the wide interests and generous public spirit of the good citizen. His first motion was towards his own intellectual improvement. Even at a moment when he might readily have been excused for thinking only of money and muslins, he felt and obeyed the necessity for knowledge: but of knowledge as an instrument, not as a luxury. When he was immersed in the first pressing anxieties of his new business at Manchester, he wrote to his brother in London (September, 1832):—
“Might we not in the winter instruct ourselves a little in Mathematics? If you will call at Longmans and look over their catalogue, I daresay you might find some popular elementary publication that would assist us. I have a great disposition, too, to know a little Latin, and six months would suffice if I had a few books. Can you trust your 1833–6.
He had early in life felt the impulse of composition. His first writing was a play, entitled The Phrenologist, and Cobden offered it to the manager of Covent Garden Theatre. He rejected it—“luckily for me,” Cobden added, “for if he had accepted it, I should probably have been a vagabond all the rest of my life.” Another comedy still survives in manuscript; it is entirely without quality, and if the writer ever looked at it in riper years, he probably had no difficulty in understanding why the manager would have nothing to do with it. His earliest political work consisted of letters addressed anonymously to one of the Manchester newspapers (1835) on the subject of the incorporation of the borough. But it was the pamphlet of 1835, England, Ireland, and America, which first showed the writer’s power. Of the political teaching of this performance we shall say something in another chapter. Here we mention it as illustrating the direction in which Cobden’s thoughts were busy, and the kind of nourishment with which he was strengthening his understanding during the years previous to his final launch forth upon the sea of great affairs.
This pamphlet and that which followed it in the next year, show by their references and illustrations that the writer, after his settlement in Manchester in the autumn of 1832, had made himself acquainted with the greatness of Cervantes, the geniality of Le Sage, the sweetness of Spenser, the splendid majesty of Burke, no less than with the general course of European history in the past, and the wide forces that were then actually at work in the present. One who had intimate relations with Cobden in these earlier years of his career, described him to me as always writing1833–6.
Very early in life Cobden perceived, and he never ceased to perceive, that for his purposes no preparation could be so effective as that of travel. He first went abroad in the summer of 1833 (July), when he visited Paris in search of designs for his business. He did not on this occasion stay long enough to derive any ideas about France that are worth recording now. He hardly got beyond the common English impression that the French are a nation of grown-up children, though he described the habit of Parisian life in a happy phrase, as “pleasure without pomp.“5
In the following year he again went to France, and continued1834 his journey to Switzerland. The forests and mountains inspired him with the admiration and awe that no modern can avoid. Once in after-years, a friend who was about to visit the United States, asked him whether it would be worth while to go far out of his way for the sake of seeing the Falls of Niagara. “Yes, most assuredly,” was 1834.
Although he had to its fullest extent this sentiment for the imposing glories of the inanimate universe, yet it is characteristic of his right sense of the true measure of things, that after speaking of Swiss scenery, he marks to his brother, as “better still,” that he has made acquaintance with people who could tell him about the life and institutions of the land. “The people of this country are I believe the best governed and therefore the most prosperous and happy in the world. It is the only Government which has not one douanier in its pay, and yet, thanks to free trade, there is scarcely any branch of manufacturing industry which does not in one part or other of the country find a healthy occupation. The farmers are substantial. Here is a far more elevated character of husbandry life than I expected to see. Enormous farm-houses and barns; plenty of out-houses of every kind; and the horses and cows are superior to those of the English farmers. The sheep and pigs are very, very bad. They have not adopted the Chinese breed of the latter, and the former they do not pay much attention to. I did not see a field of turnips in all the country. Cows are the staple of the farming trade.”6
It was to the United States, rather even than to Switzerland, that Cobden’s social faith and enthusiasm turned; and after his pamphlet was published in the spring of 1835, he resolved to see with his own eyes the great land of uncounted promise. Business was prosperous, and though his partners thought in their hearts that he might do better by attending to affairs at home, they allowed some freedom to the enterprising genius of their ally, and made no objection to his absence.
Meanwhile his father had died (June 15, 1833). When1833.
It is the bitterest element in the vast irony of human life that the time-worn eyes to which a son’s success would have brought the purest gladness, are so often closed for ever before success has come.[Back to Table of Contents]
travels in west and east.
It is not necessary to follow the itinerary of the thirty-seven days which Cobden now passed in the United States. He visited the chief cities of the Eastern shore, but found his way no farther west than Buffalo and Pittsburg. Cobden was all his life long remarkable for possessing the traveller’s most priceless resource, patience and good-humour under discomfort. He was a match for the Americans themselves, whose powers of endurance under the small tribulations of railways and hotels excite the envy of Europeans. “Poland [in Ohio],” Cobden notes in his journal, “where we changed coaches, is a pretty thriving little town, chiefly of wood, with1835.
He remarked that politics were rarely discussed in public conveyances. “Here [in Ohio] I found, as in every other company, the slavery blot viewed as an indelible stain upon, and a curse to, the country. An intelligent old gentleman said he would prefer the debt of Great Britain to the coloured population of the United States. All agreed in the hopelessness of any remedy that had been proposed.”
Cobden’s curiosity and observation were as alert and as varied as usual, from wages, hours of labour, quality of land, down to swift trotters, and a fellow-traveller “who wore gold spectacles, talked of ‘taste,’ and questioned me about Bulwer, Lady Blessington, and the Duke of Devonshire, but chewed tobacco and spat incessantly, clearing the lady, out of the window.” He felt the emotions of Moses on Pisgah, as he looked down from one of the northern spurs of the Alleghanies:—
“Passing over the last summit of the Alleghanies, called Laurel Hill, we looked down upon a plain country, the beginning of that vast extent of territory known as the Great Mississipi Valley, which extends almost without variation of surface to the base of the Rocky Mountains, and increases in fertility and beauty the further it extends westward. Here will one day be the head-quarters of agricultural and manufacturing industry; here will one day centre the civilization, the wealth, the power of the entire world. The country is well cleared, it has been occupied by Europeans only eighty years, and it is the best soil I have seen on this side of the Atlantic. Any number of able-bodied 1835.
On coaches and steamboats he was constantly struck, as all travellers in America have been, by the vehement and sometimes unreasonable national self-esteem of the people. At the theatre at Pittsburg he remarked the enthusiasm with which any republican sentiment was caught up, and he records the rapturous cheers that greeted the magniloquent speech of one of the characters,—“No crowned head in Christendom can boast that he ever commanded for one hour the services of this right arm.” The Americans were at that time suffering one of their too common fits of smart and irritation under English criticism. They never saw an Englishman without breaking out against Mrs. Trollope, Captain Basil Hall, and, above all, Fanny Kemble. “Nothing but praise unqualified and unadulterated will satisfy people of such a disposition. We passed by the scene of Bradock’s defeat by the French and Indians on Turtle Creek. Our American friends talked of New Orleans.”3 Their self-glorification sometimes roused Cobden to protest, though he thought he saw signs that it was likely to diminish, as has indeed been the case:—
“It strikes me that the organ of self-esteem is destined to be the national feature in the craniums of this people. They are the most insatiable gourmands of flattery and praise that ever existed. I mean praise of their country, its institutions, great men, etcetera. I was, for instance, riding out with a Judge Boardman and a lady, when the Judge, speaking of Daniel Webster, said, quite coolly, and without a smile, for I1835.
Of the great glory of the American continent, Cobden1835.
“In the morning I went in a coach with Messrs. Cunningham and Church, and Henry, to see the whirlpool three miles down the stream. I was disappointed; I don’t know if it. 1835.
From Table Rock we saw a rainbow which formed nearly a complete circle. We crossed again to the American side with Mr. Cunningham, and took a bath, for there is not one on the Canada side. The ferryman told us of a gentleman who swam over three times. I felt less disposed than ever to quit this spot, so full of ever-increasing attraction. Were I an American, I would here strive to build me a summer residence. In the evening there were drunken people about. I have seen more intoxicated persons at this first Canada town, than in any place in the States. The view from Table Rock was rather obscured by the mist. At dinner a crowded table was wholly vacated in twenty minutes! Think of sixty persons at an English watering-place dining and leaving the table in twenty minutes! I took a last and reluctant leave of this greatest of all nature’s works.”7
“I am thus far on my way back again to New York, which city I expect to reach on the 8th inst., after completing a tour through Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburg, Lake Erie to Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Albany (viâ Auburn, Utica, Schenectady) and the Connecticut valley to Boston, and Lowell, etc., to-morrow. On my return to New York, I purpose giving two days to the Hudson river, going up to Albany one day, and returning the next; after which I shall have two or three days for the purpose of taking leave of my good friends in New York, previously to going on board the Britannia on the 16th. My journey may be called a real pleasure trip, for without an exception or interruption of any kind, I have enjoyed every minute of the too, too short time allowed me for seeing this truly magnificent country. No one has yet done justice to the splendid scenery of America. Her lakes, rivers, forests, and above all her cataracts are peculiarly her own, and when I think of their superiority to all that we own in the Old World, and, still more, when I recollect that by a mysterious ordinance of their Creator, these were hid from ‘learned ken’ till modern times, I fell into the fanciful belief that the Western continent was brought forth at a second birth, and intended by nature as a more perfect specimen of her handiwork. But now in the name of breeding must we account for the degeneracy of the human form in this otherwise mammoth-producing soil? The men are but sorry descendants from the noble race that begot their ancestors; and as for the women! My eyes have not found one resting-place that deserves to be called a wholesome, blooming, pretty woman since I have been here. One fourth part of the women look as if they had just recovered from a fit of the jaundice, another quarter would in England be termed in a state of decided consumption, and the remainder are1835.
But leaving the physique for the morale. My estimate of American character has improved, contrary to my expectations, by this visit. Great as was my previous esteem for the qualities of this people, I find myself in love with their intelligence, their sincerity, and the decorous self-respect that actuates all classes. The very genius of activity seems to have found its fit abode in the souls of this restless and energetic race. They have not, ‘tis true, the force of Englishmen in personal weight or strength, but they have compensated for this deficiency by quickening the momentum of their enterprises. All is in favour of celerity of action and the saving of time. Speed, speed, speed, is the motto that is stamped in the form of their ships and steamboats, in the breed of their horses, and the light construction of their wagons and carts: and in the ten thousand contrivances that are met with here, whether for the abridging of the labour of months or minutes, whether a high-pressure engine or a patent boot-jack. All is done in pursuit of one common object, the economy of time. We like to speculate upon the future, and I have sometimes tried to conjecture what the industry and ingenuity and activity of that future people of New Holland, or of some other at present unknown continent, will amount to, which shall surpass and supersede the Yankees in the career of improvements, as effectually as these have done the natives of the Old World. They must be a race that will be able to dispense with food and sleep altogether, for the Americans have certainly discovered the minimum of time that is required for the services of their beds and boards. Their mechanical engines must work 1835.
Cobden arrived in England in the middle of August, after an uneventful voyage, in which he found no better way of amusing himself than by analyzing the character of his fellow-passengers, and reducing them to types. Early in life his eager curiosity had been attracted by the doctrines of phrenology, and however crude the pretensions of phrenology may now appear, it will always deserve a certain measure of historic respect as being the first attempt to popularize the study of character by system, and the arrangement of men’s faculty and disposition in classes. To accept phrenology to-day would stamp a man as un scientific, but to accept it in 1835 was a good sign of1835.
After his return from America, Cobden remained at home for fifteen months, from the summer of 1835 to the autumn of 1836. He began by making up all arrears of business, and discussing new projects with his partners. But public affairs drew him with irresistible attraction. It was probably in this interval that he made his first public speech. The object of the meeting, which was small and unimportant, was to further the demand of a corporation for Manchester. Cobden was diffident, and unwilling to speak. He was at length induced to rise, but his speech is described as a signal failure. “He was nervous,” says the chronicler, “confused, and in fact practically broke down, and the chairman had to apologize for him.” The first occasion on which his name appears in the newspapers is the announcement that he was chosen to be on the committee of the newly established Athenæum at Manchester, and he modestly seconded a resolution at the meeting.9 The important piece of work of this date was the pamphlet on Russia, which was published in the summer of 1836.10 The earlier pamphlet, 1835.
The ship touched at Lisbon and Cadiz, and Cobden wrote lively accounts to his friends at home of all that he saw. His description of Cadiz was stopped short by recollecting Byron’s famous account, and the only subject on which he permitted himself to expatiate repeatedly and at length was the beauty of the ladies and their dress. “At Cadiz too,” he writes to his partner at Sabden, “you may see the loveliest female costume in the world—the Spanish mantilla! All the head-dresses in Christendom must yield the palm to this. It is, as you may see in the little clay figures of Spanish ladies which are sold in England, a veil and mantle combined, which falls from a high comb at the back of the top of the head, down to the elbow in front, and just below the shoulders behind. A fan, which is universally carried, is twirled and brandished about, with an air quite murderous to the hearts of sensitive bachelors. Black silk is the national costume, and thus these sable beauties are always seen in the streets or at the promenade. Judge of the climate, judge of the streets, and of the atmosphere of their cities, where all the ladies appear in public in full dress! Sorry, however, am I to tell you that the demon innovation is making war upon the mantilla, in the shape of foreign fashions—French bonnets are beginning to usurp the throne of the black mantilla. Reformer as I am, I would fain be a conservative of that ancient and venerable institution, the mantilla. The French will have much to answer for, if they supersede with their frippery and finery this beautiful mode.”3
Now, as in the busiest days of his life, Cobden was a 1836.
The following extracts from his letters to his sisters will serve to show his route:—
Gibraltar, 11 Nov., 1836.—“Before us arose the towering and impregnable fortress; on every side land was distinctly visible; my first inquiry was, Where is the coast of Africa? It was a natural curiosity. A quarter of the globe where white men’s feet have but partially trod, whose sandy plains and mountains are unknown, and where imagination may revel in unreal creations of the terrible, was for the first time presented to my view. Can you doubt that the thought which arose in my mind for a time absorbed all other reflections? Yet all I could see was the dark sable outline of the coast of Barbary, a congenial shroud for the gloomy scene of pagan woes and Christian crimes that have been enacted in the regions beyond!
“The two particulars,” he continued, “which strike most strongly the eye of the visitor who has passed from Spain and Portugal to this place, are the bustling activity of Gibraltar, as contrasted with the deserted condition of Lisbon and Cadiz, and the variety of the costumes and characters which suddenly offer themselves to his notice. To see both to advantage, it is necessary to visit the open square opposite to the Exchange, where the auctions and other business draw a concourse of all the inhabitants and sojourners in this rocky Babel.
“Fortunately our hotel opens immediately upon this lively scene, and I have spent hours in surveying from above the 1836.
Gibraltar, 11 Nov., 1836.—“A trip was made by a party1836.
Alexandria, 30 Nov., 1836.—“In consequence of the arrival of the governor, we were greeted with much noise and rejoicing by the good folks of Malta. The town was illuminated, bands of singers paraded the streets, the opera was thrown open, and all was given up to fun and revelry. We saw all that we could of the proceedings, and heard during the night more than we could have wished, considering that we wanted a quiet sleep. However, it was necessary for us to be up betimes in the morning, to make some preparations for our journey in Egypt. The good doctor was in a great bustle, purchasing the biscuits, brandy, and other little commodities; it was necessary also that we should engage a trusty servant at Malta, to accompany us through the voyage. Our friends recommended a man named Rosario Villa, who had made the excursion up the Nile several times with English tourists—spoke Arabic, English, and Italian, and knew the whole of Egypt and Syria thoroughly. Rosario was introduced to us. Now, I ask you, does not the name at once tell you that he was a smart elegant young fellow, with a handsome face, good figure, and an insinuating address? Such is the idea which you will naturally have formed of a Maltese named Rosario Villa. Stop a moment till I have described him. He is a little elderly man with a body as dried and shrivelled as a reindeer’s tongue, only not so fresh-coloured—for his face is of the hue of the inside of tanned shoe-leather, but wrinkled over like a New Zealand mummy; a low forehead, a mouth made of two narrow strips of skin drawn back nearly to the ear over white teeth, and with his hair cut close, but leaving a little fringe of stragglers round the front—such is the picture of Rosario! We had no time to be fastidious, and his character being unquestionable, we engaged him at once, and in two hours he had made all his1836.
“It was five o’clock in the evening and the sun was beginning to prepare to leave this latitude for your western lands, when we slipped out of the boat upon the quay of Alexandria. A scene followed which I must endeavour to describe. Our luggage and that of an Irish friend was brought from the boat and deposited on a kind of platform immediately in front of a shed, which is ennobled by the name of Custom-House. Upon a bench, a little raised, sat a fat little Turk with a broad square face, whose fat cheeks hung down in pendulous masses on each side of his mouth, after the fashion of the English mastiff dog shown as a specimen in the Zoological Gardens. Our servant Rosario has endeavoured to hire a camel to put our luggage upon, but there is none at hand. A crowd of Arab porters has gathered about, offering their services, and each is talking at the top of his voice; after due bargaining, or rather jostling, haggling, and gesticulating, the agreement is concluded, and a dozen of the shortest of the hammals or porters have proceeded to adjust their several portions of the luggage, when whack, crack, thwack, a terrible rout is here!
“The little fat Turk whom I verily believe to have been dreaming as he sat so tranquilly smoking his long pipe, whose glowing ashes had the moment before attracted my eye by its glare in the advancing twilight, has caused this panic. Throwing aside his chibouque, and grasping a short cane, without troubling himself to speak a word, he has rushed with the suddenness of inspiration into the midst of 1836.
“This little difficulty being got over, our luggage and ourselves are under weigh through the dark streets of Alexandria, whose houses appear to have rudely turned their back premises to the front, for you can see nothing but blank walls without windows or doors. The English hotel lay at some distance, and we had occasion to pass through one of the gates of the town, where we were met by a guard, a fellow in a white turban, who laid violent hands upon the leader of our party, who happened to be the good doctor himself, and arrested our further progress under some pretence which I could not comprehend, but I distinctly again caught the sound of the word backshish. We hesitated whether we should give the rascal a shilling or a good beating;—the doctor had raised his heavy umbrella in favour of the latter alternative, when my vote, which you know is always in favour of peace, decided it in behalf of a fee, to the extent of five piastres, and with this subsidy to1836.
“Mrs Hume’s hotel is a large detached building situated a long distance from the Turkish quarter, and surrounded by date-trees of luxuriant growth. I ran out and wandered here by moonlight the very night of my arrival. The scene was indeed delicious after a tedious and unpleasant voyage. I thought of you all, and only wished for one of you at least to share my exciting enjoyment. Well has it been said that ‘happiness was born a twin,’ and you, my dear M., somehow or other seem naturally associated with me in my ideal pleasures. I fancied that you were with me, and that we were equally happy.
“When I arose in the morning, I found that it was the season for gathering the dates. The Arabs were swinging about in the branches of this elegant tree by means of ropes, and gathering in large baskets the ripe fruit, which hung in luxuriant bunches. I am an admirer of the useful, you know, but how much more do I love the combination of utility and elegance! On the date-tree you find both in perfection. There is the handsomest tree in the world, bearing the sole fruit which afforded nourishment to the wandering children of the desert, and a charming fruit is the date. I have subscribed a trifle to the Turk who rents this plantation, for the privilege of walking through it, whenever I please, and helping myself freely to its produce. There are very few curiosities to detain the traveller in Alexandria. Pompey’s Pillar, and Cleopatra’s Needle, and the catacombs, and a few other half-buried ruins 1836.
“The monuments called Cleopatra’s Needles are enormous masses of granite. One only stands, the other was thrown down and half buried in the sand in an attempt to remove it to England. Mark the folly and injustice of carrying these remains from the site where they were originally placed, and from amidst the associations which gave them all their interest, to London or Paris, where they become merely objects of vulgar wonderment, and besides are subjected to the destroying effects of our humid climate. It is to be hoped that good taste, or at least the feelings of economy which now pervade our rulers’ minds, will prevent this vestige of the days of the Pharaohs from being removed.6
“I dined with Mr. Muir at twelve o’clock. His Greek servant, a man of remarkable elegance and gracefulness, quiet, grave, and full of dignity at every gesture. What a power such grace has over my mind!”7
Cairo, Dec. 20, 1836.—“I slept tolerably well after having1836.
“Scarcely had we reached the shore, when we were followed by the reis, bringing three bad pieces of money which he accused the good doctor, the cashier, of having paid him. It was clearly an imposition, and Rosario told us we should encounter similar conduct at every stage. We changed the money, resolving to be on our guard in future. My ideas of human nature were less exalted for a minute and a half than usual.
“To proceed from Atfeh to Cairo, a distance of 150 miles by the Nile, it was necessary to embark on board a larger boat, but here we found that the ladies, who had just preceded us, had taken all the good boats. We learnt, however, that a new and commodious boat was lying at the town of Fooah on the opposite side of the river, rather higher up the stream, and we took a ferry, and carried our luggage over, accompanied by the Vice-Consul, a little Italian, who, politely as we thought, agreed to bargain for us. The boat with twelve men was hired for 500 piastres, 1836.
“In the morning (Sunday, December 4th,) we started with a favourable wind up the Nile. On looking round, however, we found that we had only six sailors instead of twelve, and we now learnt that this was the reason why the boat could not venture out at night. We found also from our man Hussein, that the Vice-Consul had received a handsome backshish out of the 5l. we were to pay for the boat. Altogether my opinion of the Egyptians received a smart shock—they were for an hour or so down at zero. The aspect of the scenery of the Nile at and above Fooah, though flat, was very interesting to us at first. The minarets in the distance, the palms on the banks, the brilliant foliage, all gave it a pleasant effect to a stranger to such scenes. The river, which is of a yellow-red complexion, is here of the width of the Thames at London.
“This day (December 16th,) is an era in my travels. I went with Captain E. and Mr. Hill to see the Pyramids. They disappoint the visitor until he gets close to them. My first feelings, along with a due sense of astonishment, were those of vexation at the enormous sum of ingenious labour which here was wasted. Six millions of tons of stone, all shaped and fitted with skill, are here piled in a useless form. The third of this weight of material and less than a tenth 1836.
Cairo, December 20th, 1836.— “Last evening was the interesting time appointed for an interview with no less a personage than Mehemet Ali, the Pacha of Egypt. Our Consul, Colonel C.,9 had the day before waited upon this celebrated person, to say that he wished to present some British travellers to his Highness, and he appointed the following evening at six o’clock, which is his usual hour of receiving visitors during the fast of Ramadan. At the appointed hour we assembled, to the number of six individuals, at the house of Colonel C., and from thence we immediately proceeded to the palace, which is in the citadel, and about half an hour’s ride from the Consul’s.
“Our way lay through the most crowded part of the town. It was quite dark, but being at the season of the Ramadan (the Mahommedan Lent) when Turks fast and abstain from business during the day, but feast and illuminate their bazaars and public buildings during the night, we found the streets lighted up, and all the population apparently just beginning the day’s occupations.... Away we went through streets and bazaars, some of which were less than eight feet wide, and all of them being crowded with Turks, Arabs, camels, horses, and donkeys. All, however, made way at the approach of the janissary and the uplifted grate of fire, both of which are signs of the rank of the persons who followed. Besides, to do justice even to Turks, I must add that I never saw a people less disposed to quarrel with you about trifles than the population of Cairo. You may run over them, or pummel them with your feet, as you squeeze them almost to death against the wall, and they only seem astonished that you give yourself any concern1836.
“As we proceeded along the streets, or rather alleys, of this singular city, it was curious to observe the doings of the good Mussulmans, who had just an hour before been released from the observance of the severe ordinance of the prophet. Some were busy cooking their savoury stews over little charcoal fires; here you might see a party seated round a dish, into which every individual was actively thrusting his fist; and occasionally we passed a public fountain, around the doors and windows of which crowds of half-famished true believers were pressing, eager to quench their thirst, probably for the first time since sunrise. Some, who no doubt had already satisfied the more pressing calls of nature, were seated round a company of musicians, and listening with becoming gravity to strains of barbarous music, whilst in another place a crowd of turbans had gathered about a juggler, who was exercising the credulity of the faithful by his magical deceptions. By far the greater portion, however, of those we passed were sitting cross-legged, enjoying the everlasting pipe, and so intent were they upon the occupation that they scarcely deigned to cast a glance at us as we passed.
“As we approached nearer to the citadel, the scene changed. We now met numbers of military of all ranks who were issuing from the head-quarters, some accoutred for the night watch, others dressed in splendid suits and mounted upon spirited horses. I saw some officers in the Mameluke costume, which you may see pictured in old books of travel in this country. Contrasted with these was the dress of the 1836.
“The circumstances of the massacre are briefly these. Mehemet Ali having by a series of daring attacks, and aided by much cunning artifice, deposed the Mameluke rulers who had governed Egypt for more than seven centuries, and placed himself upon the throne of the country, made a kind of capitulation with the fallen chiefs, by which he agreed to give them support and protection. In consequence they came to reside in great numbers in Cairo, where they conducted themselves peaceably. On the occasion of a fête in honour of his son, the Pacha invited the Mamelukes to attend and assist at the festivities.1 They entered the palace of the citadel, to the number of 470, dressed in their gorgeous and picturesque costume, but without arms. Mehemet Ali received them with smiles, and it was remarked that he was more than usually courteous. They departed, their hearts lighted up with a glow by his affability, and proceeded in a gay procession down to the gate which we had just passed; it was closed; as1836.
“The citadel is in extent and appearance something like a considerable town. As we proceeded through the steep and winding avenue, we came upon a thoroughfare lighted up like a bazaar with shops or stalls on each side, before which the soldiers were loitering and buying fruit or other articles from the lazy dealers, who sat cross-legged upon their mats, enveloped in tobacco smoke. Having passed under another gateway, and along a winding arched passage of massive masonry, an abrupt turning or two brought us to a large open square, the opposite sides of which were lighted up. Here as we approached the centre of power from whence all rank, wealth, and authority are derived in this region of despotism, the throng of military of all ranks became more dense, just as the rays of light or the circles of water are closest where the heat or motion which gives them existence has its origin. We dismounted at the principal entrance and found ourselves in a hall, which, with the stairs that we immediately ascended, was almost impassable for the crowds of military who lounged and loitered in no very orderly 1836.
“Colonel C., who preceded our party a few steps, now bowed towards the farthest corner of the room—a movement which we all imitated as we followed. A dozen steps brought my feet close to the bowl of a long, superbly enriched pipe which rested in a little pan on the floor, the other extremity of which was held by a short and rather fat personage, who was seated along just to the right of the corner of the room upon a broad and soft divan, which ran round the apartment like a continual sofa. He laid aside his pipe, uttered several times a sentence, which we guessed was an expression of welcome, from its being delivered in a good-natured and affable tone, and accompanied at each repetition by the motion of his hands, as he pointed with more of hurry than dignity to the divan on each side of him, as signs for us1836.
“Mehemet Ali is, I am told, about five feet six or seven 1836.
“Altogether there was as little dignity as possibly can be conceived in the personal appearance of Mehemet. Were I to confess what were the feelings which predominated in my mind as I regarded him whilst he sat, or rather perched, upright on the middle of the divan, without resting or reclining upon its pillows, and with his legs tucked beneath him, so as to leave only his slippers peeping out from each side of his copious nether garments, they certainly partook largely of the ridiculous.
“Coffee was brought to us in little cups enclosed in covers of filagree-work made of silver, and which I was afterwards told by one of the party (I did not myself notice them) was richly set with diamonds.
“When the first civilities had passed, the Pacha, as if impatient of unmeaning puerilities, took up the conversation with an harangue of considerable length, which he delivered with great animation. I felt curious to know what was the 1836.
“The Pacha now proceeded to maintain stoutly that the quality of his Syrian pines was equal to that of British oak for the purposes of ship-building. There was nothing remarkable in the conversation that followed, excepting the practical shrewdness which characterized the choice and handling of his subjects on the part of Mehemet Ali. After an interview of about half an hour, in which, from the defective tact and address of Colonel C., no person of the party but himself took any share, we made our parting salutations, and retired from the audience-chamber, which, as I again traversed it, I thought was on a par with a ball-room in a second-rate English country town. On proceeding through the large anteroom, we found the company listening to the address of their spiritual guide. On our way down the declivity from the citadel we passed the menagerie, and I heard the lion growling in his den. I thought of Mehemet Ali.”
Cobden had another interview with Mehemet Ali on December 26, in which they had an hour’s conversation on the Pacha’s way of managing his cotton factories. He confesses himself to have been particularly struck with the Pacha’s readiness in replying and reasoning, with his easy handling of his 2½ per cents. and 20 per cents., and with his 1836.
Cairo, Dec. 22nd, 1836.— “Mehemet Ali is pursuing a course of avaricious misrule, which would have torn the vitals from a country less prolific than this, long since. As it is, everything is decaying beneath his system of monopolies. It is difficult to understand the condition of things in Egypt without visiting it. The Pacha has, by dint of force and fraud, possessed himself of the whole of the property of the country. I do not mean that he has obtained merely the rule or government, but he owns the whole of the soil, the houses, the boats, the camels, etc. There is something quite unique in finding only one landowner and one merchant in a country, in the person of its pacha! He has been puffed by his creatures in Europe as a regenerator and a reformer—I can trace in him only a rapacious tyrant. It is true he has, to gratify an insatiate ambition, attempted to give himself a European fame, by importing some of the arts of civilized countries into Egypt; but this has been done, not to benefit his people, but to exalt himself. His cotton factories are a striking instance of this. I have devoted some time to the inspection of these places, of which I am surprised to find there are twenty-eight in the country, altogether presenting a waste of capital and industry unparalleled in any other part of the world. Magnificent buildings have been erected, costly machinery brought from England and France, and the whole after a few years presents such an appearance of dilapidation and mismanagement that to persevere in carrying them forwards must be to incur fresh ruin every year. At first, steam-engines were1836.
On board the Sardinian Brig, La Virtu, in the Sea of Marmora, Jan. 29th, 1837.—“On the 24th we found ourselves becalmed under the island of Scio, the most fertile and the largest of the Archipelago. In the evening the moon rose, and diffused over the atmosphere, not merely a light, but a blaze, which illuminated the hills and vales of Scio, and shed a rosy tint over every object in the island. The sea was as tranquil as the land, and everything seemed to whisper security and repose. How different was the scene on this very island twelve years ago, when the Turks burst in upon a cultivated, wealthy, and contented population, and spread death and destruction through the land, changing in one short day this paradise of domestic happiness into a theatre of the most appalling crimes. I must recall to your minds the particulars of this dreadful tragedy. Scio had taken no part in the revolution of the Greeks, and its inhabitants, who were industrious and rich, voluntarily placed hostages of their chief men in the hands of the Turkish Government, as a proof that they were not disposed to rebel against their rulers. It happened, however, that some young men of the neighbouring islands of Samos and Ipsara landed at one extremity of the island, and there planted the standard of revolt, which, however, was not followed by the Sciotes. On the contrary, they protested against it; and, as they had delivered up their arms as a proof of their peaceful inten tions, they could do no more. The pretence, however, was1837.
“The riches of the island, the beauty and accomplishments of the females, were held out as inducements to draw all the ruffians of the capital to join in the expedition of rapine and murder. The situation of the island, too, afforded the opportunity of passing from the mainland across a narrow strait of about seven miles, and thousands of the miscreants from all the towns of the coast of Asia Minor, including Smyrna, flocked to the scene of woe. Now only picture to yourselves such a scene as the Isle of Wight, supposing it to be one third more populous and larger in circumference, and then imagine that its inhabitants in the midst of unsuspecting security were suddenly burst upon by 20,000 of the butchers, porters, thieves, and desperadoes of London, Portsmouth, etcetera. Imagine these for three days in unbridled possession of the persons and property of every soul in that happy island; conceive all the churches filled with mangled corpses, the rich proprietors hanging dead at their own house doors, the ministers of religion cruelly tortured—imagine all that could happen from the knives, swords, and pistols of men who were inured to blood, and suppose the captivity and sufferings of every young female or male, who were without exception torn away and sold into captivity;—and you will not then picture a quarter part of the horrors which happened at the massacre of Scio. Of nearly 100,000 persons on the island in the month of May, not more than 700 were left alive there at the end of two months after. Upwards of 40,000 young persons of both sexes were sold into infamous slavery throughout all the Mahometan cities of Europe and Asia, and not one 1837.
Constantinople, February 14th, 1837.—“Do not expect a long or rhapsodical letter from me, for I am at the moment of writing both cold and cross. A copper pan of charcoal is beside me, to which I cannot apply for warmth, because it gives me the headache. There is a hole in the roof, which lets down a current of melted snow, which trickles over my bed and spatters one corner of the table on which I am writing. To complete the agreeable position of the writer, he is lodging in a house where the good man (albeit a tailor!) has a child of every age, from the most disagreeable and annoying of all ages—eighteen months—upwards to ten. My landlady is a bustling little Greek, with a shrill voice which is never tired; but I seldom hear it, because, as her children are generally in full chorus during the whole day, it is only when they are in bed and she takes advantage of the calm to scold her husband, that her solo notes are distinguishable. But you will say that I have very little occasion to spend my time indoors, surrounded as I am by the beauties of Constantinople. Alas! if I sally out, the streets are choked with snow and water; the thoroughfares, which are never clean, are now a thousand times worse than Hanging Ditch or Deansgate in the middle of December. If one walks close to the houses, then there are projecting windows from the fronts which just serve to pour an incessant stream of water down on your head and neck; if, to escape drowning, he goes into the middle of the street, then the passenger is up to his knees every step, and sometimes by chance he plunges into a hole of mud and water from which he must emerge by the charity of some good Turk or Christian. Then, to complete the picture of misery, every man or woman you meet dodges you in order to escape contagion, and it would be as difficult almost in Pera, the Frank quarter, to touch a person, as if1837.
Smyrna, Feb. 24th, 1837.—“After I wrote to you from Constantinople, I made an excursion up the Bosphorus to see the scenery which all concur in praising as the most beautiful in Europe. I wish I had seen it before I landed in Turkey;—the misery, the dirt, the plague, and all the other disagreeables of Constantinople, haunted me even in the quiet and solitude of natural beauties which, apart from such associations, are certainly enough to excite the romantic fervour 1837.
Smyrna, Feb. 24th, 1837.—“In the steamer which brought me from Constantinople to this place, we had a great number of passengers, chiefly Turks: there were a few Persians. They all rested on deck during the whole time. For their convenience little raised platforms were placed along each side of the steamer, to prevent the wet, if any rain fell, reaching their beds. Hereon they spread their mats and1837.
“I found great amusement in walking up and down the deck between these rows of quiet, grave Mussulmans, whose picturesque dresses and arms of various kinds afforded me constant interest; whilst the honest Turks felt equal amusement in ruminating over their pipes upon the motives which could cause a Giaour like me to set myself the task of walking to and fro on the deck for nothing that they could understand, unless for some religious penance. There were two old men with green turbans, who five times during the day put aside their pipes, turning to the east, and, bowing their foreheads to their feet, uttered with great fervour their prayers. All this passed unnoticed by their very next neighbours—for the Turks are not (what nurses say of children) arrived at the age of taking notice. I have seen all sorts of strange scenes happen without disturbing the dreaming attention of the Turk. Once in Cairo I was looking out of a window, beneath which three smokers were sitting upon their mats: a boy was driving an ass loaded with gravel and sand, which tripped just as it was passing full trot by the 1837.
Smyrna, Feb. 24th, 1837.—“The house in which I am staying is a large, elegantly-furnished one, and the management is of the solid kind which Mr. Rhoades’ establishment used to be characterized by.5 Old, queer-looking servants trot about large corridors; there are rooms for Monsieur, snuggeries for Madame, little retreats for visitors, in one of which I am sitting, writing; and all have good, substantial fires. In the evening after a six o’clock dinner, parties of ladies walk in without ceremony; they and the young gentlemen of the house, with Madame W— (who does not speak English), sit down to the faro-table, around which you soon hear a babel of tongues, English, French, Greek, and Italian, whilst Mr. W— and I cause over Russian politics or political economy. One by one the company disappears, after taking a cup of coffee the size of a pigeon’s egg; and so noiseless and little ceremonious are their appearances and disappearances, that a spectator would imagine the visitors to be members of the family, who joined each other from different parts of this great house to an evening’s amusement, and then retired again for the night to their several apartments. This is visiting as it should be done.”
The following extracts from his journal may serve to show the chief topics of conversation in these very useful visits:—
Smyrna, Feb. 3rd.—“At Mr. Crespin’s, in a conversation upon the trade of Turkey, I heard that 350,000l. of British1837.
Feb. 4th.—“Again heavy snows; confined to the house during the day. In the evening I accompanied Mr. Longworth to visit Mr. Simmonds, a fine old gentleman who has spent thirty-five years in Turkey. Like almost all the residents, he is favourable to the Turks, and anxious to support them against the Russians; his experiments in farming the high lands for the first time, tolerably successful. In the course of conversation he said that last year the government sent a firman to Salonica, and intercepted the grain crops which were ready for exportation, ordering them to be delivered to its stores at ten piastres and thirty paras the kilo (about a bushel); he went to the Seraskier and complained, and advised him of the impolicy of such a step, upon which he promised to inquire into it. The government then sent its agents to purchase the grain at eleven or twelve piastres from the farmers, who, as the firman had not been withdrawn, sold it eagerly. A remonstrance, however, had been sent to the government by the farmers of the vicinity of the capital, declaring that they could not produce their grain at less than fifteen piastres the kilo.... It snowed all 1837.
Feb. 5th.—“In the morning received a call from Mr. Perkins. He spoke of the steamer which goes in about three days to Trebizond. She sails every fifteen days, and is usually full of freight and passengers; the deck passengers pay 200 piastres, or about two pounds, cabin passengers ten pounds. She carries a great number of porters, who come to Constantinople for work, remain perhaps for six months, and then return. The goods sent to Trebizond are forwarded chiefly to Erzeroum, from whence they are distributed throughout Persia and the surrounding countries. Long-cloths and prints are the principal articles. I received a visit from Dr. Millingen.6 Says Mr. Urquhart is Scotch, was educated at college, went out to the aid of the Greeks at their revolution, was severely wounded on two occasions, afterwards travelled for some years in Turkey, discovered ‘the municipalities, direct taxation, and freedom of trade,’ which were the secret preservers of Turkey. Afterwards he went to England, agitated the press, the ministers, and the king in favour of Turkey. He succeeded in making every newspaper editor and reviewer adopt his views, excepting Tait. He afterwards wrote his Resources of Turkey, and then his pamphlet. He was patronized by Lord Ponsonby, until he received his appointment of Secretary of Legation, when his active and personal exertions in promoting his own peculiar policy produced a coolness between them. He was sent out by the English Government to arrange the commercial treaty. He, the ambassador, and the consul are all at daggers drawn.
“There are no associations at all amongst the Turks, such as are alluded to by Urquhart, under the name of Munici palities. Those amongst the rayahs have reference to the1837.
Feb. 7th.—“In the morning I called on Mr. Perkins, who is opposed to the belief in the regeneration of the Turks. The municipalities are aptly ridiculed in the novel of Anastasius (by Hope), where the Turk sits upon the ground smoking under a tree, and leaves the people of the village, where he had been sent to levy contributions, to raise the money in the best way they can. Mr. Ralli attributes the evils of Turkey to the radical vices of the institutions, to the monopolies, and above all to the depreciation of the standard of value in the money. The trade to Persia through Constantinople has increased very much, but fluctuates greatly. One year it has been probably 7 to 800,000l.; at another, owing to a glut, not half of that amount. But he is certain that the trade to Persia, etc., is double that of Constantinople for Turkey. In the evening I dined with Mr. Thomasset, and met Mr. Boudrey, a French gentleman of intelligence. He says the trade direct with France has nearly fallen away entirely with Turkey. Belgian, Swiss, and German fabrics have superseded those from France. No regular impost is levied by government 1837.
Feb. 8th.—“In the evening I dined with Mr. Perkins and met Mr. Webster, &c. I was told that no fortunes have been made by British merchants at Constantinople; that the business is so insecure, and that they are beginning to wish for the Russians, more money being made by the residents at Odessa.”
Feb. 9th.—“Mr. Cartwright, the consul, called. In speaking of trade to Persia, he said that, previous to 1790, the commerce went by way of Aleppo, where there were twenty-eight English houses. The shipments were made at two seasons of the year, in six large vessels to Scanderoon, or Ladikiyeh, where there were large warehouses for depôts. After that epoch the stream of commerce went in the direction of Bombay for the lower division of Persia, and by way of Russia for the other quarters of it. The modern route by Constantinople is not more than fifteen years old. After our treaty of 1820, Turkey began its system of imposts upon internal commerce. He thinks that Mehemet Ali gave the impulse to Mahmoud in many of his reforms. The change is only in the dress and whitewashing of the houses, nothing fundamental being altered. After the destruction of the Janissaries, it seems that he has been quite at sea. Ruined, worn-out country.”
Feb. 11th.—“Mr. Hanson thinks that matters are worse since the time of the Janissaries, who were the opposition and check of the government. Then the people were only plundered and oppressed by the Sultan and his Grand Vizier, but now every one of the pachas about the person of1837.
From Smyrna, after a fortnight’s cruise among the islands, Cobden arrived at Athens, March 19th, where the political and economic circumstances of the new Hellenic kingdom interested him more keenly than the renowned monuments, though he did not fail in attention to them also. His inquiries filled him, as is usually the case with travellers, with admiration for the gifts of the Greek people, and confidence in their future. The perverse diplomacy which settled the limits and constitution of the kingdom, he viewed with a contempt which the course of Eastern events in the forty years since his visit has fully justified. His hopes for the future of the Greeks were not coloured by the conventional acceptance of the glories of their past. He was amazed to find the mighty states of Attica and Sparta within an area something smaller than the two counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire. “What famous puffers those old Greeks were! Half the educated world in Europe is now devoting more thought to the ancient affairs of these Lilliputian states, the squabbles of their tribes, the wars of their villages, the geography of their rivulets and hillocks, than they bestow upon the modern history of the South and North Americas, the politics of the United States, and the charts of the mighty rivers and mountains of the new world.”7
“The antiquities of Athens may be cursorily viewed in half a day. I was not so highly impressed with the merits of these masterpieces from reading and plates, as I found myself to be on looking at the actual remains of those monuments1837.
“Do not, however, fancy that I am predicting the revival of Greek greatness, through the means of the present little trumpery monarchy of that name, which will pass away like other bubbles blown by our shallow statesmen. All the East will be Greek, and Constantinople, no matter under what nominal sovereignty it may fall, will by the force of the indomitable genius of the Greeks become in fact the capital of that people.”8
Athens, March 22.—“In the evening at Sir E. Lyons’ I met Captain Fisher, who spoke of the haste with which he was ordered to sea for the Levant. He left his own son behind him, whom I met in Egypt, going to India, and for whom he had not dared to wait twenty-four hours. He also left behind two guns. He remarked that if the lives and fortunes of a nation were at stake, he could not have used more pressing expedition—yet all for no purpose that can be 1837.
March 24.—“At twelve o’clock at night [in the Piræus harbour] I went on board a little boat, which set sail immediately for Kalamaki [in the Isthmus of Corinth]. It was a clear, fresh, moonlight night, and a favourable breeze soon carried us from among the ships in the harbour.”
March 25.—“In the morning we were halfway across the gulf [the Saronic Gulf] by nine o’clock.... At eight1837.
“We found a proprietor of a boat from the other side of the isthmus, and engaged with him to take us to Patras for twelve dollars. We hired horses and set off across the isthmus, a distance of about six miles to Loutraki. The night was clear and cool, and the moon at nearly its full; the scenery of the mountainous and rugged neck of land which we traversed, and of the gulfs on each side, was romantic. At Loutraki we saw the caves and hollows in the sides of the mountains, into which the women and children were thrust for concealment during the war.
“We got on board at midnight, and set sail down the gulf of Corinth or Lepanto for Patras. Parnassus on our right, covered with snow—a cold bed for the muses! On each side the hills are crowned with snow. At night the 1837.
“In the khan or lodgings where I put up, there was nothing to be had to eat but eggs and caviare. I went to bed early, intending to be called at three o’clock, but could not sleep from the noise of Greeks, who were laughing and dancing in the next room. When I had by dint of threats and vociferations quieted these fellows, I was beset by such multitudes of fleas that I could not obtain a moment’s repose. I therefore arose at two o’clock, and, as the horses1837.
“We stopped at a hut at nine o’clock to breakfast, where we found a poor mud cottage, containing a few coarse articles of use for sale, as well as some bread and cheese of a very uninviting quality. I saw Lepanto on the opposite side of the gulf, and soon afterwards the Castles of Patras and Roumelia, which guard the entrance of the Gulf of Lepanto. At half-past twelve o’clock we entered Patras and went straightway to the Consul’s house, to learn the time when the steamer would sail. I washed, dressed, and dined, and immediately afterwards went on board the Hermes steamer, Captain Blount, which arrived from Corfu. We set sail at four o’clock. In the evening, at ten, we called off Zante for letters, and then proceeded with favourable breezes for Malta.”
“The Malta station is the hot-bed for naval patronage, and the increase of our ships of war. They are sent to the Mediterranean for five years, the large ships are for six or eight months of each year anchored in Malta harbour, or else in Vourla or Tenedos. In the summer, for the space of four or five months, they make excursions round Sicily, or in the Archipelago as far as Smyrna or Athens, and then they return again to their anchorage to spend the winter in inactivity; the officers visiting in the city, or perhaps enjoying a long leave of absence, whilst the men, to the number of six, seven, or eight hundred, are put to such exercise or employment as the ingenuity of the first lieutenant can devise on board ship, or else are suffered to wander on shore upon occasional leaves of absence. This is not the way either to make good sailors, or to add to the power of the British empire. The expenses are borne by the industry of the productive classes at home. The wages of these idlers are paid out of the taxes levied upon the soap, beer, tobacco, &c., consumed by the people of England. But what a prospect of future expense does this state of things hold out to the nation. Every large ship contains at least forty or fifty quarter-deck officers, each one of whom, from the junior supernumerary midshipman up to the first lieutenant, has entered the service, hoping and relying that he will in due course of time, either by means of personal merit or aided by the influence of powerful friends, attain to the command of a ship of war, and all these will press their claims upon the Admiralty for future employment, and will be entitled to hope as they grow older, that their emoluments, rank, and prospects will improve every year with their increased necessities. What then is the prospect which such a state of things holds out to the two parties concerned, the nation on the one hand,1837.
Leaving Malta on April 4, and touching at Gibraltar, he there in the course of his indefatigable questioning found new confirmation of his opinions from competent and disinterested informants.
April 15, 1837.—“In conversation Waghorn said that the admirals are all too old, and that this accounts for the service being less efficient now than heretofore; that the ships are put up for six months in the winter months at Malta, during which there is of course no exercise in seamanship for the men. Mr. Andrews told me that there are sometimes twenty ships of war lying at one time in Malta. The mode of promotion is as bad or worse now than under the Tories; there are captains now in the command of ships who five years ago had not passed as midshipmen, and there are hundreds of mates pining for lieutenancies, who have passed ten years. The Treasury presses upon the Admiralty for the promotion of friends and dependants of the ministers of the day, and thus leaves no room for the exercise of justice towards the old and deserving officers. This was more excusable at the time of the rotten boroughs than now, when no such interest can be necessary. There are thirty or forty midshipmen in one of the first-raters; how much incipient disappointment, poverty, and neglect! The Admiral states that it is enough to depress his spirits to see so many young men, some of them twenty-five, and capable of commanding the best ships, filling the situation of boys only. Young Baily in conversation spoke of the way in which the Portland was fitted up for the Queen of Greece and her maids of honour, twenty guns removed and the space converted into 1837.
On the 21st of April Cobden arrived at Falmouth, after an absence of six months. I must repeat here what I said at the beginning of these extracts, that the portions of his letters and journals which record the most energetic of his interests and his inquiries, are precisely those which are no longer worth reproducing, because the facts of commerce and of politics, which formed the most serious object of his investigation, have undergone such a change as to be hardly more to our purpose than the year’s almanack. When we come to the journals of ten years later, the reader will be able to judge the spirit and method with which Cobden travelled, and perhaps to learn a lesson from him in the objects of travel. Meanwhile, Cobden could hardly have spent a more profitable holiday, for he had laid up a great stock of political information, and acquired a certain living familiarity with the circumstances of the eastern basin of the Mediterranean and the Turkish Government—then as now the center of our active diplomacy—and with the real working of those principles of national policy which he had already condemned by the light of native common sense and reflection.[Back to Table of Contents]
the two pamphlets.
It is not at the first glance very easy to associate a large1835–6.
The agitations of the great Reform Act of 1832 had stirred up social aspirations, which the Liberal Government of the next ten years after the passing of the Act were utterly unable to satisfy. This inability arose partly from their own political ineptitude and want alike of conviction and courage; and partly from the fact that many of these aspirations lay wholly outside of the sphere of any government. To give a vote to all ten-pound householders, and to abolish a few rotten boroughs, was seen to carry the nation 1835–6.
If the change in institutions which had taken place in 1832 had brought forth hardly any of the fruit, either bitter or sweet, which friends had hoped and enemies had threatened, it was no wonder that those who were capable of a large earnestness about public things, whether civil or ecclesiastical, turned henceforth from the letter of institutions to their spirit; from their form and outer framework to the operative force within; and from stereotyped catchwords about the social union to its real destination. It was now the day of ideals in every camp. The general restlessness was as intense among reflecting Conservatives as among reflecting Liberals; and those who looked to the past agreed with those who looked to the future, in energetic dissatisfaction with a sterile present. We need only look around to recognize the unity of the original impulse which animated men who dreaded or hated one another; and inspired books that were as far apart as a humoristic novel1835–6.
Notwithstanding their wide diversity of language and of method, still to all of these rival schools and men of genius the ultimate problem was the same. With all of them the aim to be attained was social renovation. Even the mystics of Anglo-Catholicism, as I have said, had in the inmost recesses of their minds a clear belief that the revival of sacramental doctrine and the assertion of apostolic succession would quicken the moral life of the nation, and meet social needs no less than it would meet spiritual needs. Far apart as Cobden stood from these and all the other sections of opinion that I have named, yet his early pamphlets show that he discerned as keenly as any of them that the hour had come for developing new elements in public life, and setting up a new standard of public action. To Cobden, as to Arnold or to Mill, the real meaning of his activity was, in a more or less formal and conscious way, the hope of supplying a systematic foundation for higher social order, and the wider diffusion of a better kind of well-being.
He had none of the pedantry of the doctrinaire, but he was full of the intellectual spirit. Though he was shortly to1835–6.
Some readers will smile when I say that no teacher of that day was found so acceptable or so inspiring by Cobden as George Combe. He had read Combe’s volume before he wrote his pamphlets, and he said that “it seemed like a transcript of his own familiar thoughts.”1 Few emphatically second-rate men have done better work than the author of the Constitution of Man. That memorable book, whose principles have now in some shape or other become the accepted commonplaces of all rational persons, was a startling revelation when it was first published (1828), showing men that their bodily systems are related to the rest of the universe, and are subject to general and inexorable conditions; that health of mind and character are connected with states of body; that the old ignorant or ascetical disregard of the body is hostile both to happiness and mental power; and that health is a true department of morality. We cannot wonder that zealous men were found to bequeath fortunes for the dissemination of that wholesome gospel, that it was circulated by scores of thousands of copies, and that it was seen on shelves where there was nothing else save the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress.
It is easy to discern the attraction which teaching so fresh and inspiriting as this, would have for a mind like Cobden’s, constitutionally eager to break from the old grooves of things, alert for every sign of new light and hope in the sombre sky of prejudice, and confident in the large possibility of human destiny. To show, as Combe 1835–6.
The doctrine of the pamphlets has its avowed source in the very same spirit which has gradually banished violence, harshness, and the darker shapes of repression from the education of the young, from the treatment of the insane, from the punishment of criminals, and has substituted for those time-honoured but most ineffective processes, a rational moderation and enlightened humanity, the force of lenient and considerate example and calm self-possession. Non-intervention was an extension of the principle which, renouncing appeals through brute violence, rests on the nobler and more powerful qualities of the understanding and the moral nature. Cobden’s distinction as statesman was not that he accepted and applied this principle in a general way. Charlatans and marauders accept such principles in that way. His merit is that he discerned that England, at any rate, whatever might be true of Germany, France, or Russia, was in the position where the present adoption of this new spirit of policy would exactly coincide with all her best and largest interests. Now and at all times Cobden was far too shrewd1835–6.
The pamphlets do not deal with the universe, but with this country. Their writer has been labelled a cosmopolitian,—usually by those who in the same breath, by a violent contradiction, reproached him for preaching a gospel of national selfishness and isolation. In truth Cobden was only cosmopolitan in the sense in which no other statesman would choose to deny himself to be cosmopolitan also; namely, in the sense of aiming at a policy which, in benefiting his own country, should benefit all the rest of the world at the same time “I am an English citizen,” he would have said, “and what I am contending for is that England is to-day so situated in every particular of her domestic and foreign circumstances, that by leaving other governments to settle their own business and fight out their own quarrels, and by attending to the vast and difficult affairs of her own enormous realm and the condition of her people, she will not only be setting the world an example of noble morality which no other nation is so happily free to set, but she will be following the very course which the maintenance 1835–6.
Cobden’s political genius perceived this great mark of the time, that, in his own words, “at certain periods in the history of a nation, it becomes necessary to review its principles of domestic policy, for the purpose of adapting the government to the changing and improving condition of its people.” Next, “it must be equally the part of a wise community to alter the maxims by which its foreign relations have in times past been regulated, in conformity with the changes that have taken place over the entire globe.”2 Such a period he conceived to have come for England in that generation, and it had come to her both from her internal conditions, and from the nature of her connexions with the other nations of the globe. The thought was brought to him not by deliberate philosophizing, but by observation and the process of native good sense, offering a fresh and open access to things. The cardinal fact that struck his eye was the great population that was gathering in the new centres of industry in the north of England, in the factories, and mines, and furnaces, and cyclopean foundries, which the magic of steam had called into such sudden and marvellous being.
It was with no enthusiasm that he reflected on this transformation that had overtaken the western world, and in his first pamphlet he anticipated the cry, of which he heard more than enough all through his life, that his dream was to convert England into a vast manufactory, and that his political vision was directed by the interests of his order. “Far from nourishing any such esprit-de-corps,” he says in1835–6.
To this conception of the new problem Cobden always kept very close. This was always to him the foundation of the new order of things, which demanded a new kind of statesmanship and new ideas upon national policy. It is true that Cobden sometimes slips into the phrases of an older school, about the rights of man and natural law, but such lapses into the dialect of a revolutionary philosophy were very rare, and they were accidents. His whole scheme rested, if ever any scheme did so rest, upon the wide positive base of a great social expediency. To political exclusion, to commercial monopoly and restriction, to the preponderance of a territorial aristocracy in the legislature, he steadfastly opposed the contention that they were all fatally incompatible with an industrial system, which it was beyond the power of any statesman or any order in the country to choose between accepting and casting out.
Fifty years before this, the younger Pitt, when he said that any man with twenty thousand pounds a year ought to be made a peer if he wished, had recognized the neces sity1835–6.
Cobden was naturally led to begin his survey of society, as such a survey is always begun by the only kind of historian that is worth reading. He looked to wealth and its distribution, to material well-being, to economic resources, to their administration, to the varying direction and relative force of their currents. It was here that he found the key to the stability and happiness of a nation, in the sense in which stability and happiness are the objects of its statesmen. He declined to make any excuse for so frequently resolving questions of state policy into matters of pecuniary calculation, and he delighted in such business-like statements as that the cost of the Mediterranean squadron in proportion to the amount of the trade which it was professedly employed to protect, was as though a merchant should find that his traveller’s expenses for escort alone were to amount to 6s. 8d. in the pound on his sales. He pointed to the examples in history, where some of the greatest and most revolutionary changes in the modern world had a fiscal or economic origin. And if Cobden had on his visit to Athens seen Finlay, he might have learnt1835–6.
In material well-being he maintained, and rightly maintained, that you not only have the surest foundation for a solid fabric of morality and enlightenment among your people, but in the case of one of our vast and populous modern societies of free men, the only sure bulwark against ceaseless disorder and violent convulsion. It was not, therefore, from the side of emotional sympathy that Cobden started, but from that positive and scientific feeling for good order and right government which is the statesman’s true motive and deepest passion. The sentimental benevolence to which Victor Hugo and Dickens have appealed with such power, could give little help in dealing with the surging uncontrollable tides of industrial and economic forces. Charity, it is true, had been an accepted auxiliary in the thinly peopled societies of the middle ages; but for the great populations and complex interests of the western world in modern times, it is seen that prosperity must depend on policy and institutions, and not on the compassion of individuals.
It is not necessary that we should analyse the contents 1835–6.
In the second pamphlet the same principles are applied1835–6.
Disclaiming a spirit of partiality for any principle of the foreign or the domestic policy of the Government of St. Petersburg, Cobden proceeded to examine each of the arguments by which it was then, as now, the fashion to defend an armed interference by England between Russia and Turkey. A free and pointed description, first of Turkey, and next of Russia, and a contrast between the creation of St. Petersburg and the decline of Constantinople, lead up to the propositions:—first, that the advance of Russia to the countries which the Turk once wasted by fire and sword, and still wastes by the more deadly processes of misgovernment, would be a great step in the progress of improvement; second, that no step in the progress of improvement and the advance of civilization can be inimical to the interests or the welfare of Great Britain. What advantage can it be to us, a commercial and manufacturing people, that 1835–6.
The keen and vigorous arguments by which Cobden attacked the figment of the balance of power are now tacitly accepted by politicians of all schools. Even the most eager partisans of English intervention in the affairs of other nations now feel themselves bound to show as plausibly as they can, that intervention is demanded by some peril to the interests of our own country. It is in vain that authors of another school struggle against Cobden’s position, that the balance of power is not a fallacy nor an imposture, but a chimera, a something incomprehensible, undescribed, and indescribable. The attempted definitions of it fall to pieces at the touch of historic analysis. If we find the smaller states still preserving an independent existence, it is owing, Cobden said, not to the watchful guardianship of the balancing system, but to limits set by the nature of things to unduly extended dominion; not only to physical boundaries, but to the more formidable moral impediments to the invader,—“unity of language, law, custom and traditions; the instinct of patriotism and freedom; the hereditary rights of rulers; and though last, not least, that homage to the restraints of justice, which nations and public bodies have in all ages avowed, however they may have found excuses for evading it.”
That brilliant writer, the historian of the Crimean War, has described in a well-known passage what he calls the great Usage which forms the safeguard of Europe. This great Usage is the accepted obligation of each of the six Powers to protect the weak against the strong. But in the same page a limitation is added, which takes the very pith and marrow out of this moral and chivalrous Usage, and reduces it to the very commonplace principle that nations are bound 1835–6.
If the two theories of the duty of a nation in regard to war are examined in this way, we see how unreasonable it is that Cobden’s theory of non-intervention should be called selfish by those who would be ashamed to base an opposite policy on anything else than selfishness. “Our desire,”1835–6.
The source of these arguments lay in three convictions. First, the government of England must always have its hands full, in attending to its domestic business. Second, it can seldom be sure which party is in the right in a foreign quarrel, and very seldom indeed be sure that the constituencies, ignorant and excitable as they are, will discern the true answer to that perplexing question. Finally, the government which keeps most close to morality in its political dealings, will find itself in the long-run to have kept most close to the nature of things, and to that success which rewards conformity to the 1835–6.
Again, the immoral method has failed. Why not try now whether commerce will not succeed better than war, in regenerating and uniting the nations whom you would fain improve? Let governments have as little to do with one another as possible, and let people begin to have as much to do with one another as possible. Of how many cases of intervention by England does every1835–6.
These most admirable pages were no mere rhetoric. They represented no abstract preference, but a concrete necessity. The writer was able to point to a nation whose example of pacific industry, wise care of the education of her young, and abstinence from such infatuated intervention as ours in the affairs of others, would, as he warned us, one day turn us into moralists in self-defence, as one day it assuredly will. It is from the peaceful nation in the west, and not from the military nations of the east, that danger to our strength will come. “In that portentous truth, The Americas are free, teeming as it does with future change, there is nothing that more nearly affects our destiny than the total revolution which it dictates to the statesmen of Great Britain in the commercial, colonial, and foreign policy of our Government. America is once more the theatre upon which nations are contending for mastery; it is not, however, a struggle for conquest, in which the victor will 1835–6.
No one claims for Cobden that he was the first statesman who had dreamed the dream and seen the vision of great pacification. Everybody has heard of the Grand Design of Henry the Fourth of France, with its final adjustment of European alliances, and its august Senate of the Christian Republic. In the eighteenth century, so rich as it was in great humane ideas, we are not surprised to find more than one thinker and more than one statesman enamoured of the policy of peaceful industry, from the Abbé de Saint Pierre, who denounced Lewis XIV. for seeking aggrandize ment1835–6.
The reason why Shelburne’s words were no more than a passing and an unheeded voice, while the teaching of Cobden’s pamphlets stamped a deep impression on men’s1835–6.
As we shall see when we come to the Crimean War, the new principles did not at once crush out the old; it was not to be expected by any one who reflects on the strength of prejudice, especially prejudice supported by the consciousness of an honourable motive, that so sudden a change should take place. But the pamphlets are a great landmark in the history of politics in England, and they are still as well worth reading as they ever were. Some of the statements are antiquated; the historical criticism is sometimes open to doubt; there are one or two mistakes. But they are mostly like he poet’s, who spoke of “i miei non falsi errori.” If time has weakened their literal force, it has confirmed their real significance.
In a personal biography, it is perhaps not out of place to dwell in conclusion on a point in the two pamphlets, which is of very secondary importance compared with their political teaching, and yet which has an interest of its own; I mean the literary excellence of these performances. They have a ringing clearness, a genial vivacity, a free and confident mastery of expression, which can hardly be surpassed. Cobden is a striking instance against a favourite plea of the fanatics of Latin and Greek. They love to insist that a collegian’s scholarship is the great source and fountain 1835–6.
It was fortunate for him that, instead of blunting the spontaneous faculty of expression by minute study of the verbal peculiarities of a Lysias or an Isocrates, he should have gone to the same school of active public interests and real things in which those fine orators had in their different degrees acquired so happy a union of homeliness with purity, and of amplitude with measure. These are the very qualities that we notice in Cobden’s earliest pages; they evidently sprang from the writer’s singular directness of eye, and eager and disinterested sincerity of social feeling, undisturbed as both these gifts fortunately were by the vices of literary self-consciousness.[Back to Table of Contents]
life in manchester, 1837–9.
A few weeks after Cobden’s return home from the East,1837.
Yet even in this free mood, Cobden knew his own mind, as he never failed to do, and he intended to be elected if possible. He belonged to the practical type, with whom to have once decided upon a course becomes in itself a strong independent reason for continuing in it. “One word as to your own private feelings,” he writes to his brother, “which may from many causes be rather inclined to lead you to wish that my entrance into public life were delayed a little. I shall only say that on this head it is now too late to parley; it is now useless to waver, or to shrink from the realization of that which we had resolved upon and entered upon, not as children, but as men knowing that action must follow such resolves. Your temperament and mine are unequal, but in this matter I shall only remind you that my feelings are more deeply implicated than your own, and that whilst I can meet with an adequate share of fortitude any failure which comes from insuperable causes, whatever may be the object I have in view, yet if in this case my defeat should spring from your timidity or sensitiveness (shall I say disinclination?), it would afflict me severely, and I fear lastingly.”3
As the election drew nearer, Cobden was overtaken by that eager desire to succeed, which gradually seizes even the most philosophical candidate as the passion of battle waxes hotter around him. He threw himself into the struggle with all his energy. It is historically interesting to know1837.
What he said comes to this, that for plain physical reasons no child ought to be put to work in a cotton mill so early as the age of thirteen, but whatever restrictions on the hours of labour might be desirable, it was not for the legislature to impose them: it was for the workmen to insist upon them, relying not on Parliament, but on their own action. A workman by saving the twenty pounds that would carry him across the Atlantic, could make himself as independent of his employer, as the employer is independent of him; and in this independence he would be free, without the emasculating interference of Parliament, to drive his own bargain as to how many hours he would work. In meeting his committee at Stockport, Cobden repeated his conviction that the factory operatives had it in their power 1837.
Whether these views alienated any of those who would otherwise have supported him, we do not know. Probably the most effective argument against Cobden’s candidature was the fact that he was a stranger to the borough. On the day of election he was found to be at the bottom of the poll.5 He wrote to his uncle, Mr. Cole, explaining his defeat:—
“The cause of failure was that there was too much confidence on the part of the reformers. We were too satisfied, and neglected those means of insuring the election which the Tories used, and by their activity at Stockport as elsewhere they gained the victory. If the battle had to be fought again to-morrow, I could win. To revenge themselves for the loss of their man, the Radicals have since the election adopted a system of exclusive dealing (not countenanced by me), and those publicans and shopkeepers who voted for the Major now find their counters deserted. The consequence is that the Reformers place printed placards over their shops, Voted for Cobden, inscribed in large characters, and the butchers and greengrocers in the market-place cry out from their stalls, Cobden beef, Cobden potatoes, etc. So you see I have not lost ground, by my failure at the poll, with the unwashed. But the truth is I1837.
His friends made arrangements for presenting him with a piece of plate, and seventeen thousand subscribers of one penny each raised the necessary fund. For some reason, Daniel O’Connell was invited to be present. He and Cobden drove together in an open carriage to Stockport (November 13, 1837), where they addressed an immense meeting in the open air, and afterwards spoke at a public dinner. To the great Liberator the reporter of the day generously accords three columns, while Cobden’s words were condensed into that scanty space which is the common lot of orators who have won no spurs. His chief topic seems to have been the ballot; he declared that without that protection, household suffrage, the repeal of the corn laws, the shortening of parliaments, would all be insecure benefits. There is in this a certain inversion of his usual order of thinking about the proper objects of political solicitude, for he commonly paid much less heed to the machinery, than to the material objects of government.
It was quite as well for Cobden’s personal interests that he was left free for a little time longer to attend to his business. The rather apprehensive character of his brother made him little able to carry on the trade in an intrepid and enterprising spirit, and at every step the judgment, skill, and energy of a stronger head were wanted. At this time the scale of the business which had started from such small beginnings, had become so extensive that Cobden estimated the capital in it as no less than 80,000l., with a credit in acceptances of at least 25,000l.: he represented the turn-over as 150,000l.7 In 1836 the books 1838.
Cobden, however, had made up his mind after the Stockport election that to push his material fortunes was not to be the great aim of his life. “I am willing to give a few years of entire exertion,” he wrote in 1838, “towards making the separation successful to ourselves. But at the same time all my exertions will be with an eye to make myself independent of all business claims on my time and anxieties. Towards this, Henry and Charles [their two younger brothers] will for their own sakes, I expect, contribute. And I hope and expect in five years they will be in a situation to force me out of the concern, a willing exile. At all events I am sure there will not want talent of some kind about us, to take advantage of my determination to be at ease, and have some time for leisure to take care of my health, and indulge tastes which are in some degree essential to my happiness. With reference to health, both you and I must not omit reasonable precautions; we are not made for rivalling Methusaleh, and if we can by care stave off the grim enemy for twenty years longer, we shall do more than nature intended for us. At all events let us remember that to live usefully is far better than living1838.
Even now, when the indispensable work of laying a base of material prosperity was still incomplete, and when his own business might well have occupied his whole attention, he was always thinking much more earnestly about the interests of others than his own. The world of contemporaries and neighbours seldom values or loves this generous and unfamiliar spirit, and the tone of Manchester was in this respect not much higher than that of the rest of the world. It cannot surprise us to learn that for some time Cobden made no great progress in Manchester society. He was extremely self-possessed and self-confident, and as a consequence he was often thought to be wanting in the respect that is due from a young man to his elders, and from a man who has a fortune to make, towards those who have made it. His dash, his freedom of speech, his ardour for new ideas, were taken for signs of levity; and a certain airy carelessness about dress marked a rebel against the minor conventions of the world. The patient endurance of mere ceremonial was at this time impossible to him. He could not be brought to attend the official dinners given by the Lord of the Manor. When he was selected to serve as assessor at the Court-leet for manorial purposes, though the occasion brought him into contact with men who might have been useful to him in his business, he treated the honour very easily. He sat restlessly on his bench, and then strolled away after an hour or two had shown him that the proceedings were without real 1838.
I have already described the relation of some of Cobden’s ideas to those of George Combe. It was, above all other things, for the sake of the prospect which it held out of supplying a sure basis and a trustworthy guide in the intricate and encumbered path of national education, that he was drawn for a time to Combe’s system of phrenology. His letters during the years of which we are now speaking abound pretty freely in the terms of that crude catalogue, but with him they are less like the jargon of the phrenological fanatic of those days, than the good-humoured language of a man who believes in a general way that there is something in it. In 1835 he had been instrumental in forming a phrenological society in Manchester, and the first of a series of letters to Combe is one in 1836, pressing him to deliver a course of lectures in that town. It is interesting as an illustration of the amazing growth both in rational tolerance and scientific opinion, when we compare the very moderate heterodoxy of phrenology with the doctrines that in our own day are publicly discussed without alarm. “The Society which we profess to have here,” Cobden writes, “is not well supported, and for nearly a twelvemonth it can hardly be said to have manifested many1836.
“The causes are various why phrenology languishes, but probably the primary one may be sought in that feeling of fashionable timidity among the leading medical men and others who, although professing to support it privately, have not yet openly avowed themselves disciples of the science of Spurzheim and Gall. But phrenology is rapidly disenthralling itself from that ‘cold obstruction’ of ridicule and obloquy, which it has, in common with every other reform and improvement, had to contend against, and probably the mind of the community of Manchester presents at this moment as fine a field, in which to sow the seeds of instruction by means of a course of lectures by the author of The Constitution of Man, as could be found anywhere in the world..... The difficulty of religious prejudice exists here, and it requires delicate handling. Thanks, however, to the pursuits of the neighbourhood, to the enlightening chemical and mechanical studies with which our industry is allied, and to the mind-invigorating effect of an energetic devotion to commerce, we are not, as at Liverpool, in a condition to tolerate rampant exhibitions of intolerance here..... The High Church party stands sullenly aloof from all useful projects, and the severer sectarians restrict themselves here, as elsewhere, to their own narrow sphere of exertion, but the tone of public opinion in Manchester is superior to the influence of either of these extremes. How I pity you in Scotland, the only country in the world in which a wealthy and intelligent middling class submits to the domination of a spiritual tyranny.”9
Though he was intolerant of the small politics of the Borough-reeve and the Constables, Cobden did not count it as small politics to agitate with might and main on behalf 1838.
The Municipal Reform Act had been passed by Lord Melbourne’s Government in 1835, on the return of the Whigs to power after the short ministry of Sir Robert Peel. It was the proper complement to the greater Reform of 1832. By extending the principle of self-government from national to local affairs, it purified and enlarged the organs of administrative power, and furnished new fields of discipline in the habits of the good citizen. In 1833 Brougham had introduced a measure for immediately incorporating such towns as Manchester and Birmingham, and directly conferring local representative government upon them by Act of Parliament. But between 1833 and 1835 things had happened which quenched these spirited methods. A process which had been imperative in 1833, had by 1835 dwindled down to the permissive. Places were allowed to have charters, on condition that a majority of the ratepayers, being inhabitant householders, expressed their desire for incorporation by petition to the Crown in Council. A muddy sea of corruption and chicane was stirred up. All the vested interests of obstruction were on the alert. The close and self-chosen members of the Court Leet, and the Streets Commission, and the Town Hall Commission, could not endure the prospect of a system in which the public business would no longer be done in the dark, and the public money no longer expended without responsibility1838.
“When your former kind and friendly letter reached me,” Cobden writes to Tait, the Edinburgh publisher, “I was engaged before the Commissioners, employed in exposing the trickery of the Tories in getting up their petition against the incorporation of our borough. For three weeks I was incessantly occupied at the Town Hall. By dint of hard work and some expense, we got at the filth in their Augean stable, and laid their dirty doings before the public eye. I believe now there is little doubt of our being chartered before the next November election, and it will be a new era for Manchester when it shakes off the feudal livery of Sir Oswald Mosley, to put on the democratic garb of the Municipal Reform Act.
“So important do I consider the step for incorporating the borough, that I have been incessantly engaged at the task for the last six months. I began by writing a letter of which I circulated five thousand copies, with a view of 1838.
“I mention all this as my best excuse for not having written to you, or for you, for so many months. What with going twice to London on deputations, and fighting the battle with two extreme political parties in Manchester, I have been so constantly engaged in action, that I have not had time for theorizing upon any topic. Still I have not abandoned the design of using my pen for your magazine. I have half collected materials for an article on convulsions in trade and banking, which when published will probably attract some notice from people engaged in such pursuits.”1
“Not having received a word of news, good or bad, from you since I came here,” he wrote to his brother,” I conclude that nothing particularly important can have occurred. You will have heard, I dare say, the result of our interview with the Lords of the Council. There is, I think, not a shadow of doubt of the ultimate result of the application, but I am not pleased with the Whig Ministry’s mode of proceeding in these Corporation affairs. It is quite certain1838.
“That truckling subserviency,” he writes later in this year, “of the Ministry to the menaces of the Tories, is just in character with the conduct of the Whigs, on all questions great or little. Without principle or political honesty, they are likewise destitute of any atom of the courage or independence which honesty can inspire, and the party which bullies them most will be sure to command their obedience. In the matter of municipal institutions their hearts are against us. C. P. Thomson3 told us plainly that he did not like local self-government, and are his Whig colleagues more liberal than he? I am sorry I am not at home to give a helping hand to my old colleagues. I will never desert, and if the matter be still in abeyance when I get back, I shall be ready and willing to give my assistance.”
“As respects general politics, I see nothing in the present radical outbreak to cause alarm, or make one dread the fate of liberalism. On the contrary, it is preferable to the apathy of the three years when prosperity (or seemingly so) made Tories of all. Nor do I feel at all inclined to give up politics in disgust, as you seem to do, because of the blunders of the Radicals. They are rash and presumptuous, or ignorant if you will, but are not the governing factions something worse? Is not selfishness, or systematic plunder, or political knavery as odious as the blunders of democracy? We must choose between the party which governs upon an exclusive or monopoly principle, and the people who seek, though blindly perhaps, the good of the vast majority. If they be in error we must try to put them right, if rash to moderate; but never, never talk of giving up the ship..... I think the scattered elements may yet be rallied round the question of the corn laws. It appears to me that a moral and even a religious spirit may be infused into that topic, and if agitated in the same manner that the question of slavery has been, it will be irresistible. I can give this question a great lift when I return, by publishing the result of my inquiries into the state of things on the Continent, and particularly with reference to the Prussian Union.”4
Yet Cobden had in his heart on illusions on the subject of his countrymen, or their special susceptibility to either light or enthusiasm. He was well aware of the strong vault1838.
“Do not let your zeal for the cause of democracy,” Cobden wrote to Tait, the Edinburgh bookseller, “deceive you as to the fact of the opaque ignorance in which the great bulk of the people of England are wrapt. If you write for the masses politically, and write soundly and honestly, they will not be able at present to appreciate you, and consequently will not support you. You cannot pander to the new Poor-law delusion, or mix up the Corn laws with the Currency quackeries of Attwood. Nothing but these cries will go down with the herd at present. There is an obvious motive about certain agitators’ movements. They hold up impracticabilities; their stock in trade will not fall short. Secondly, these prevent intelligent people from joining said agitators, who would be likely to supersede them in the eyes of their followers. There is no remedy for all this but improved education. Such as the tail and the body are, such will be the character of the head. Nature does not produce such monsters as an ignorant or vicious community, and virtuous and wise leaders. In Scotland you are better off because you are better educated. The great body of the English peasants are not a jot advanced in intellect since the days of their Saxon ancestors.
“I hope you will join us in a cry for schoolmasters as a first step to Radicalism.... Whilst I would caution you against too much political stuff in your magazine, let me pray you to strike a blow for us for education. I have unbounded faith in the people, and would risk universal suffrage to-morrow in preference to the present franchise. 1838.
In August, 1838, Cobden again started for a month’s tour in Germany, partly perhaps to appease that spirit of restlessness which made monotony the worst kind of fatigue, and partly to increase his knowledge of the economic condition of other countries. “What nonsense,” he once exclaimed, “is uttered even by the cleverest men when they get upon that least of all understood, and yet most important of all topics, the Trade of this country! And yet every dunce or aristocratic blockhead fancies himself qualified by nature to preach upon this complicated and difficult question.”6 He was careful not to lay himself open to the same reproach of trusting to the light of nature for wide and accurate knowledge, and he turned his holiday in the countries of the Elbe and the Rhine to good account by getting together, as he said, some ammunition about the corn laws. This subject was now beginning definitely to take the chief place in his interests.
There remains among his correspondence with his brother during this trip, one rather remarkable letter, the doctrine of which many of my readers will certainly resent, and it is indeed open to serious criticism. The doctrine, however, is too characteristic of a peculiarity in Cobden’s social theory, for me to omit this strong illustration of it; characteristic, I mean, of his ruling willingness, shown particularly in his dealings with the Emperor of the French in 1860, and on some other occasions, to treat political con siderations as secondary to those of social and economic1838.
“Although,” he says, “a very rapid one, my journey has given me a better insight into German character and the prospects of central Europe than I could have ever gained from the eyes of others. Prussia must be looked upon as a rising state, whose greatness will be based upon the Commercial League [the Zollverein].7 .... The effect of the League must inevitably be to throw the preponderating influence over thirty millions of people into the hands of the Cabinet of Berlin. By the terms of the Union, the money is to be collected and paid by Prussia; a very little financial skill will thus very easily make the smaller states the pensioners of the paymaster. Already, I am told, Prussia has been playing this game; she is said to be two millions of dollars a year out of pocket by her office, owing to her having guaranteed the smaller partners certain amounts of revenue. Besides the power that such a post of treasurer will confer upon Prussia, other causes must tend to weaken the influence of the lesser states’ governments. A common standard of weights and measures, as well as of money, is preparing, and these being assimilated, and the revenue received from Prussia, whose literature and modes will become the standard for the other portions of Germany, what shall prevent this entire family of one common language, and possessing perfect freedom of intercourse, from merging into one nation? I fact they are substantially one nation now, and their remaining subdivisions will 1838.
“I very much suspect that at present, for the great mass of the people, Prussia possesses the best government in Europe. I would gladly give up my taste for talking politics to secure such a state of things in England. Had our people such a simple and economical government, so deeply imbued with justice to all, and aiming so constantly to elevate mentally and morally its population, how much better would it be for the twelve or fifteen millions in the British Empire, who, while they possess no electoral rights, are yet persuaded they are freemen, and who are mystified into the notion that they are not political bondmen, by that great juggle of the ‘English Constitution’—a thing of monopolies, and Church-craft, and sinecures, armorial hocus-pocus, primogeniture, and pageantry! The Government of Prussia is the mildest phase in which absolutism ever presented itself. The king, a good and just man, has, by pursuing a systematic course of popular education, shattered the sceptre of despotism even in his own hand, and has for ever prevented his successors from gathering up the fragments.... You have sometimes wondered what becomes of the thousands of learned men who continually pass from the German universities, whilst so few enter upon mercantile pursuits. Such men hold all the official and Government appointments; and they do not require 1000l. a year to be respectable or respected in Prussia. Habits of ostentatious expenditure are not respectable there. The king dines at two, rides in a plain carriage, without soldiers or attendants, and dresses in a kind of soldier’s relief cap. The plays1838.
It is to be remembered in reading this, that it was written forty years ago. Not a few considerate observers even now hold that the prospect of German progress which Cobden sketches, would have been happily realized, if Prussian statesmen of a bad school had not interrupted the working of orderly forces by a policy of military violence which precipitated unity, it is true, but at a cost to the best causes in Germany and Europe, for which unity, artificial and unstable as it now is, can be no worthy recompense. As for the contempt which the passage breathes for the English constitution, it is easy to understand the disgust which a statesman with the fervour of his prime upon him, and with an understanding at once too sincere and too strong to be satisfied with conventional shibboleths, might well feel alike for the hypocrisy and the shiftlessness of a system, that behind the artfully painted mask of popular representation concealed the clumsy machinery of a rather dull plutocracy. It is not right to press the phrases of the hasty letter of a traveller too closely. If, as it is reasonable to think, Cobden only meant that the energetic initiative of central authorities in promoting the moralization of a country is indispensable in the thick populations and divided interests of modern times, and that the great want of England is not a political equality which she has got, nor a natural equality, which neither England nor any other country is ever likely to get, but a real equality in access to justice and in chances of mental and moral elevation—then he was feeling his way to the very truths which, of all others, it is most wholesome for us to understand and to accept. Whatever we may think of the good word which 1838.
In a letter to his sister, he shows that his journey has supplied him with material for an instructive contrast—
“Let me give you an idea of society here by telling you how I spent yesterday, being Sunday. In the first place I went to the cathedral church at nine o’clock in the morning, a very large building, pretty well filled (the ladies were as five to one in the congregation, against the number of male attendants).
“The singing would have been a treat; but unhappily I was placed beside a little old man whose devotion was so great, that he sang louder than all the congregation, in a screaming tone that pierced my tympanum. I heard nothing but the deep notes of the organ, and the little man’s notes still ring in my ears, and his ugly little persevering face will haunt me till I reach the Rhine. The sermon lasted forty minutes; the service was all over in one hour and a half, and at eleven o’clock I went in a coach to the country palace of the king at Charlottenburg, where is a splendid mausoleum and a statue of his late wife to be seen. The statue is a masterpiece of the first Prussian sculptor, and as I always criticise masterpieces, I thought it stiff. Passing through a wood laid out in pleasant walks, interspersed with sheets of water and provided with seats, I saw numbers of the cockneys strolling about, and again I might have fancied myself in Kensington Gardens. But the variety of head-dress, the frequent absence of the odious bonnet which seems a part of the Englishwoman’s nature, and the substitution of the lace or gauze covering, which aids rather than hides the prettiest accessory of a woman’s face, her well-managed hair, reminded me that I was from home. It was a quarter to two as I returned, and I met the king’s1838.
With one other and final contrast, we may leave the memorials of the foreign tour of 1838:—
“I do hope the leather-headed bipeds who soak themselves upon prosperous market-days in brandy and water at the White Bear, will be brought to the temperature of rational beings by the last twelve months’ regimen of low prices. And then let us hope that we may see them trying at least to bestow a little thought upon their own interests, in matters beyond the range of their factory walls. It humiliates me to think of the class of people at home, who belong to the order of intelligent and educated men that I see on the Continent, following the business of manufacturing, spinning, etc. Our countrymen, if they were possessed of a little of the mind of the merchants and manufacturers of Frankfort, Chemnitz, Elbertfeld, etc., would become the De Medicis, and Fuggers, and De Witts of England, instead of glorying in being the toadies of a clod-pole aristocracy, only less enlightened than themselves!”1
In other words they would become the powerful and independent statesmen of the country, the creators and champions of a new policy adapted to the ends of a great trading community. Thrusting aside the nobles by force of vigorous intellectual and moral ascendency, the wealthy1837.
In the summer of the previous year he had, in one of his visits to London, sought the acquaintance of some of the prominent journalists and politicians, and he wrote down his impressions of them.
“Yesterday,”—this was in June, 1837—“we went along with Cole to see the print-works of Surrey, and dined with Makepeace. The day before, being Sunday, I went in the morning to hear Benson (in the Temple Church) abuse the Dissenters and the Catholics, and compare the persecuted Church of England to the ark of the Israelites, when encompassed by the Amalekites.... Then I went to the Zoological Gardens, and after staying there till the last minute, I accompanied Cole home to his house, and dined and slept..... On Saturday in the morning I was at the Clubs; was introduced to Fonbanque (Examiner), Rintoul (Spectator), Bowring, Howard Elphinstone, etc. In the evening of the same day I dined with Hindley, and met —, —, —, 1837.
“I hear queer accounts of our Right Hon. Member; they tell me he is not the man of business we take him for. We shall see. The more I see of our representatives from Lancashire, the more ashamed I feel at being so served, and like Falstaff I begin to dread the idea of going through Coventry (for at Coventry they are generally to be found) with such a crew. I suppose you will have more failures by-and-by amongst the people at Manchester and Liverpool. I begin now to fear that our distress will be greater and more permanent than I had expected at first. It will be felt here, too, for some time, in failures amongst those old merchant princes who are princes only at spending, but whose gettings have been and will be small enough. The result of all will be that Liverpool and Manchester will more and more assume their proper rank as commercial capitals. London must content itself with a gambling trade in the bills drawn by those places.
“I have had invitations without end, and shall if I stay a year still be in request; but too much talking and running about will not suit me, and I am resolved to turn churlish and morose. I have seen, through S—’s friend T—, some of the Urquhart party: they are as mad as ever. I have called upon Roebuck, but have not been able to see him.”2
“I was yesterday introduced to Mrs. and Mr. Grote at their house. I use the words Mrs. and Mr. because she is the greater politician of the two. He is a mild and philosophical1837.
“I met at their house (which by the way is the great resort of all that is clever in the opposition ranks) Sir W. Molesworth, a youthful, florid-looking man of foppish and conceited air, with a pile of head at the back (firmness) like a sugar-loaf. I should say that a cast of his head would furnish one of the most singular illustrations of phrenology. For the rest he is not a man of superior talents, and let him say what he pleases, there is nothing about him that is democratic in principle.....
“I have been visiting, and visited by, all sorts of people, the Greek Ambassador, Wm. Allen, of Plough Court, the chemist and Quaker philanthropist, Roebuck, and Joseph Parkes, of Birmingham, amongst the number. I spent a couple of hours with Roebuck at his house. He is a clever fellow, but I find that his mind is more active than powerful. He is apt to take lawyer-like views of questions, and, as you may see by his speeches, is given to cavilling and special pleading.....
“Easthope of the ‘Chronicle,’ is very anxious that I should see Lord Palmerston, but I told him I had made up my mind that his Lordship is incurable. He says that he is open to conviction, and a cleverer man than most of his colleagues. What a beautiful ensemble they must be! I have seen nothing of C. P. Thomson; I would have called again, but I think it better to reserve myself till he calls on me. I hear from all sides that he is not the man 1837.
“One of the very cleverest men I have ever met with is Joseph Parkes, late of Birmingham, the eminent constitutional lawyer and writer. He was employed to prepare the Municipal Bill and other measures. He is not only profound in his profession, but skilled in political economy, and quite up to the spirit of the age in practical and popular acquirements. He has been very civil to me. He received a letter from his friend Lord Durham requesting him to find out who the author of Russia, etc., was, as those pamphlets contained more statesmanlike views than all the heads of the whole British cabinet. His lordship goes thoroughly and entirely with me in my principles upon Turkey. Perhaps the truth is he went to St. Petersburg with opposite views, but having been wheedled by the Czar and his wife, he is glad to find in my arguments some useful pleas for justifying his change.”4
One general impression of great significance Cobden acquired from this and some later visits to London. Combe had in one of his letters been complaining of the bigotry with which he had to contend in Scotland. “What you say of the intolerance of Scotland,” said Cobden to him in reply, “applies a good deal to Manchester also. There is but one place in the kingdom in which a man can live with perfect freedom of thought and action, and that is London.”5 However, he acted on the old and worthy principle, Spartamnactus es,hanc exorna, and did not quarrel with the society1838.
Manchester did not receive its charter of incorporation until the autumn of 1838. Cobden’s share in promoting this important reform was recognized by the inhabitants of the new borough, and he was chosen for alderman at the first election. The commercial capital of Lancashire was now to show its fitness to be the source and centre of a great national cause.[Back to Table of Contents]
the foundation of the league.
It was not of himself assuredly that Cobden was speaking, when at the moment of the agitation reaching its height, he confessed that when it first began they had not all possessed the same comprehensive view of the interests and objects involved, that came to them later. “I am afraid,” he said, “that most of us entered upon this struggle with the belief1838.
The backbone of the discussion in its strictly local aspect was in the question which Cobden and his friends at this time kept incessantly asking. With a population increasing at the rate of a thousand souls a day, how can wages be kept up, unless there be constantly increasing markets found for the employment of labour; and how can foreign countries buy our manufactures, unless we take in return their corn, timber, or whatever else they are able to produce? Apart, moreover, from increase of population, is it not clear that if capitalists were free to exchange their productions for the corn of other countries, the workmen would have abundant employment at enhanced wages? A still more formidable argument even than these lay in the mouths of the petitioners. 1838.
But this strictly commercial aspect could not suffice. Moral ideas of the relations of class to class in this country, and of the relations of country to country in the civilized world, lay behind the contention of the hour, and in the course of that contention came into new light. The promptings of a commercial shrewdness were gradually enlarged into enthusiasm for a far-reaching principle, and the hard-headed man of business gradually felt himself touched with the generous glow of the patriot and the deliverer.
Cobden’s speculative mind had speedily placed the conflict in its true relation to other causes. We have already seen how ample a conception he possessed of the transformation for which English society was ripe, and how thoroughly he had accustomed himself to think of the corn laws as merely part of a great whole of abuse and obstruction. But he was now, as at all times, far too wise a man to fall into the characteristic weakness of the system-monger, by passing over the work that lay to his hand, and insisting that people should swallow his system whole. Nobody knew better how great a part of wisdom it is for a man who seeks to improve society, to be right in discerning at a given moment what is the next thing to be done, or whether there is anything to be done at all. His interest in remoter issues did not prevent him from throwing himself with all the energy of apostolic spirit upon the par ticular point at which the campaign of a century first opened.1838.
Cobden was in no sense the original projector of an organized body for throwing off the burden of the corn duties. In 1836 an Anti-Corn-Law Association had been formed in London; its principal members were the parliamentary radicals, Grote, Molesworth, Joseph Hume, and Mr. Roebuck. But this group, notwithstanding their acuteness, their logical, penetration, and the soundness of their ideas, were in that, as in so many other matters, stricken with impotence. Their gifts of reasoning were admirable, but they had no gifts for popular organization, and neither their personality nor their logic offered anything to excite the imagination or interest the sentiment of the public. “The free-traders,” Lord Sydenham said, with a pang, in 1841, “have never been orators since Mr. Pitt’s early days. We hammered away with facts and figures and some arguments; but we could not elevate the subject and excite the feelings of the people.” An economic demonstration went for nothing, until it was made alive by the passion of suffering interests and the reverberations of the popular voice. Lord Melbourne, in 1838, sharply informed all petitioners for the repeal of the corn-laws, that they must look for no decided action on the part of the government, until they had made it quite clear that the majority of the nation were strongly in favour of a new policy. London, from causes that have often been explained and are well understood, is no centre for the kind of agitation which the Prime Minister, not without some secret mockery, invited 1838.
The price of wheat had risen to seventy-seven shillings in the August of 1838; there was every prospect of a wet harvesting; the revenue was declining; deficit was becoming a familiar word; pauperism was increasing; and the manufacturing population of Lancashire were finding it impossible to support themselves, because the landlords, and the legislation of a generation of landlords before them, insisted on keeping the first necessity of life at an artificially high rate. Yet easy as it is now to write the explanation contained in the last few words, comparatively few men had at that time seized the truth of it. That explanation was in the stage of a vague general suspicion, rather than the definite perception of a precise cause. Men are so engaged by the homely pressure of each day as it comes, and the natural solicitudes of common life are so instant, that a bad institution or a monstrous piece of misgovernment is always endured in patience for many years after the remedy has been urged on public attention. No cure is considered with an accurate mind, until the evil has become too sharp to be borne, or its whole force and weight brought irresistibly before the world by its more ardent, penetrative, and indomitable spirits.
In October, 1838, a band of seven men met at a hotel in Manchester, and formed a new Anti-Corn-Law Association. They were speedily joined by others, including Cobden, who from this moment began to take a prominent part in all counsel and action.
That critical moment had arrived, which comes in the1838.
The meeting was adjourned, to the great chagrin of the President, and when the members assembled a week later, Cobden drew from his pocket a draft petition which he and his allies had prepared in the interval, and which after a discussion of many hours was adopted by an almost unanimous vote. The preamble laid all the stress on the alleged facts of foreign competition, in words which never fail to be heard in times of bad trade. It recited how the existing laws prevented the British manufacturer from exchanging the produce of his labour for the corn of other countries, and so enabled his foreign rivals to purchase 1839.
In the following month, January, 1839, the Anti-Corn-Law Association showed that it was in earnest in the intention to agitate, by proceeding to raise a subscription of an effective sum of money. Cobden threw out one of those expressions which catch men’s minds in moments when they are already ripe for action. “Let us,” he said, “invest part of our property, in order to save the rest from confiscation.” Within a month six thousand pounds had been raised, the first instalment of many scores of thousands still to come. A great banquet was given to some of the parliamentary supporters of Free Trade; more money was subscribed, convictions became clearer, and purpose waxed more resolute. On the day after the banquet, at a meeting of delegates from other towns, Cobden brought forward a scheme for united action among the various associations throughout the country. This was the germ of what ultimately became the League. It is worth noticing that more than four years before this, he had in his first pamphlet sketched in a general form the outlines of the course eventually followed by the League,—so fertile was his mind in practical methods of enlightening opinion, even without the stimulation of a company of sympathetic agitators. There he had asked how it was that so little progress had been made in the study of which Adam Smith was the great luminary, and why, while there were Banksian, Linnæan, Hunterian societies, there was no Smithian society, for the purpose of disseminating a more just knowledge of the principles of trade. Such a society might enter into1839.
In the February of 1839, as Cobden gaily reminded a great audience on the eve of victory six years later, three of them in a small room at Brown’s hotel in Palace Yard were visited by a nobleman who had taken an active part in advocating a modification of the corn laws, but who could not bring himself to the point of total repeal. He asked what had brought them to town, and what it was that they wanted. They had come, they said, to seek the total and immediate repeal of the corn laws. With an emphatic shake of the head, he answered, “You will overturn the monarchy as soon as you will accomplish that.”4 For the moment it appeared as if this were really true. Mr. Villiers moved in the House of Commons (Feb. 18), that a 1839.
We cease to be amazed at this deliberate rejection of information from some of the weightiest men in the kingdom, at one of the most critical moments in the history of the kingdom, when we recall the fact that notwithstanding the pretended reform of parliament in 1832, four-fifths of the members of the House of Commons belonged to the old landed interests. The bewilderment of the government was shown by the fact that Lord John Russell and Lord Palmerston went into the lobby with the Protectionists, while the President of the Board of Trade followed Mr. Villiers. Yet Lord John had declared a short time before, that he admitted the duties on corn as then levied to be untenable. The whole incident is one of the most striking illustrations on record of one of the worst characteristics of parliamentary government, its sluggishness in facing questions on their merits. In this instance, the majority found before long that behind the industrial facts which they were too selfish and indolent to desire to hear, were political forces which they and their leader together were powerless to resist.
A few days later (March 12) Mr. Villiers brought forward his annual motion, that the house should resolve itself into committee to take into consideration the act regulating the importation of foreign corn. Across Palace Yard were assembled delegates from the thirty-six principal towns in the kingdom, to enforce a prayer that had been urged by1839.
The impatience of the free-traders had been irritated, 1839.
Although such a position was rational and political, as compared with the talk of those who could not get beyond the argument that the proprietors of the soil had a right to do as they pleased with their own, still there remained a long road to travel before Peel could be regarded as a probable auxiliary. The repealers felt that they must depend upon their own efforts, without reference either to Sir Robert or Lord John. They had started a little organ of their own in the press in April; and the Anti-Corn-Law Circular used language which was not at all too strong for the taste of most of them, when it cried out that all political1839.
In less violent tones, Cobden kept insisting on the same point, after the rebuffs of the year had shown them that the battle would be long, and that its issues went too deep into the social system to suit the aims of traditional parties, for the traditional parties in England were of their very essence superficial and personal. Towards the end of 1839, Dr. Bowring came to Manchester to report on what he had found on the subject of trade with England during a recent official visit to the countries of the German Customs Union. His points were that in consequence of the English obstruction to the import of grain and timber, capital in Germany was being diverted to manufacturers; that the German agriculturists were naturally eager for the removal of the protective duties on manufactures, which they could purchase more cheaply from England; but that they were met by the argument that England would never reciprocate by opening a free market for return purchases of grain, as her landlords and agriculturists were far too mighty to be overthrown or even shaken. Cobden, with his usual high 1839.
We have to remember that at this date the admission of Catholics to Parliament was not so remote, that men had forgotten the means by which that triumph of justice and tolerance had been achieved. Catholic emancipation was only ten years old, and it was present to the mind of every politician who wanted to have anything done, that this great measure had been carried by the incessant activity of O’Connell and the Catholic Association. That was a memorable example that the prejudice of the governing classes was to be most effectually overcome by the agitation of a powerful outside confederacy. No two men were ever much more unlike than Cobden and O’Connell, but Cobden had been a subscriber to the great agitator’s Rent, and we may be sure that the Irish example was not lost on the leaders of the association against the corn laws. In truth here was the vital change that had been finally effected in our system by the Reform Act. Schemes of political improvement were henceforth to spring up outside of Parliament, instead of in the creative mind of the parliamentary leader; and official statesmanship has ever since consisted less in working out principles, than in measuring the force and direction of the popular gale. It is thus the non-official1839.
The first year’s campaign convinced the repealers that agitation is not always such smooth work as it had been in Ireland. They learnt how hardly an old class interest dies. They had begun the work of propagandism by sending out a small band, which afterwards became a large one, of economic missionaries. In Scotland the new gospel found a temperate hearing and much acceptance, but in England the lecturers were not many days in discovering at what peril they had undertaken to assault the prejudice and selfishness of a territorial aristocracy, and the brutality or cowardice of their hangers-on. Though there were many districts where nobody interfered with them, there were many others where neither law nor equity gave them protection. At Arundel the mayor refused the use of the town hall, on the ground that the lecture would make the labourers discontented; and the landlord refused the use of his large room, on the ground that if he granted it, he should lose his customers. A landowning farmer went further, and offered a bushel of wheat to anybody who would throw the lecturer into the river. At Petersfield, a paltry little borough in Hampshire, almost in sight of Cobden’s birthplace, either spite or the timidity of political bondage went so far, that when the lecturer returned, after his harangue in the market-place, to the Dolphin, Boar, or Lion, where he had taken his tea and ordered his bed, the landlord and landlady peremptorily desired him to leave their house. In the eastern counties, again, they were usually well received by the common people, but vexed and harassed by the authorities. At Louth they were allowed to deliver their address in the town hall one night, but as the lecturer had the fortune 1839.
It is only when people want to get something done that all the odd perversities of the human mind spread themselves1839.
Meanwhile the information which their lecturers brought back to head-quarters at Manchester, as to the state of some of the rural districts, inspired the leaders of the agitation with new zeal, and a stronger conviction of the importance of their cause. In Devonshire they found that the wages of the labourers were from seven to nine shillings a week; that they seldom saw meat or tasted milk; and that their chief food was a compost of ground barley and potatoes. It was little wonder that in a county where such was the condition of labour, the lecturer was privately asked by poor men at the roadside if he could tell them where the fighting was to be. Nor need we doubt that he was speaking the simple truth when he reported that, though ignorant of Chartism as a political question, the great mass of the population of Devon were just as ready for pikes and pistols, as the most excitable people of the factory towns. In Somersetshire the budget of a labourer, his wife, and five children under ten years of age, was as follows. Half a bushel of wheat cost four shillings; for grinding, banking, and barm, sixpence; firing, sixpence; rent, eighteen pence; leaving, out of the total1839.
With facts like these before them, the leaguers read with mockery the idyllic fustian in which even the ablest men of the landlord party complacently indulged their feeling for the picturesque. Sir James Graham, in resisting Mr. Villiers’s motion this year, spoke of the breezy call of incense-breathing morn, the neat thatched cottage, the blooming garden, the cheerful village green. The repeal of the corn laws would lead to a great migration from all this loveliness to the noisy alley, and the “sad sound of the factory bell.” “Tell not to me any more,” the orator called out in a foolish ecstasy, “of the cruelties of the conveyance of the Poles to the wintry wastes of Siberia; talk not to me of the transportation of the Hill Coolies from Coromandel to the Mauritius; a change is contemplating by some members of this House, far more cruel, far more heart-rending in the bosom of our native land.”9 If this nonsense was the vein of so able a man as Graham, we may infer the depths of prejudice and fallacy down into which Cobden and his allies had to follow less sensible people. And the struggle had hardly begun. The landlords were not yet awakened into consciousness that this time the Manchester men were in earnest, and resolutely intended to raise the country upon them. They still believed that the corn laws were as safe as the monarchy; and many months passed before they realized that the little group who now met several times in each week in a dingy room on an upper floor at Newall’s Buildings in Market Street in Manchester, were not to be daunted either by bad divisions in Parliament, 1839.
Cobden lived at this time, along with his brothers and sisters, in a large house in Quay Street, which he had bought very shortly after settling in Manchester, and which was known to the next generation as Owens College. His business was in a flourishing condition, and it would have saved him from many a day of misery if he could have been content to leave it as it was. It was from no selfish or personal motive that he now proceeded to make a change in the arrangements. The reader has already seen how at the beginning of his career Cobden affectionately insisted with his brother, “that you will henceforth consider yourself as by right my associate in all the favours of fortune.” And it was in the interest of Frederick Cobden and his two younger brothers that he now broke up the existing partnership. The firm had previously consisted of five members, carrying on business under three titles, one at the warehouse in Watling Street in London; the second at the print works at Sabden; the third, specifically known as Richard Cobden and Company, at Manchester and Crosse Hall, near Chorley in Lancashire. Frederick Cobden was not a member of any of these allied firms, and there seems to have been no willingness to make room for him. At the end of July, 1839, Cobden withdrew from his old partners. He left them to carry on the London warehouse and the Sabden print works on their own account. He then proceeded himself to form a new partnership with Frederick Cobden, to carry on the Manchester warehouse and the print works at Crosse Hall. This was the arrangement of Cobden’s business during the six years of agitation against the Corn Laws.
Though his motive in making the change was the desire1839.
He had, moreover, so early as 1835 made speculative purchases of land in various quarters of Manchester, where his too cheerful vision discovered a measureless demand for houses, shops, and factories, as soon as ever the corn duty should be repealed, and the springs of industrial enterprise set free. For five and twenty years waste spaces between Victoria Park and Rusholme, in Quay Street, and Oxford Street, bore melancholy testimony to a miscalculation; and for five and twenty years Cobden paid a thousand pounds a year, in the shape of chief rent, for a property which thus brought him not a shilling of return. In spite of the grave drawbacks which I have named, it is not doubted by those who have the best means of knowing, that the new 1840.
Meanwhile within a few months of the re-settlement of his business, he took another momentous step in marrying (may, 1840). His wife was Miss Catherine Anne Williams, a young Welsh lady, whose acquaintance he had made as a school-friend of one of his sisters. She is said by all who knew her to have been endowed with singular personal beauty, and with manners of perfect dignity and charm Whether in Cobden’s case this union was preceded by much deliberation, we do not know; perhaps experience shows that the profoundest deliberation in choosing a wife is little better than the cleverness of people who boast of a scientific secret of winning in a lottery. Although marriage is usually so much the most important element in deciding whether a life shall be heaven or hell, it is that on which in any given instance it is least proper for a stranger to speak.
It would seem that to be the wife of a prominent public man is not always an easy lot. As Goethe’s Leonora says of men and women:—
If the champion of great causes has to endure the loss of domestic companionship, he is at least compensated by patriotic satisfaction in the result; but unless the woman be1840.
the corn laws.
It will perhaps not be inconvenient if I here pause in my narrative, to introduce a short parenthesis setting forth what actually were the nature and working of the Corn Laws at this time. Their destruction was the one finished triumph with which Cobden’s name is associated. The wider doctrines which he tried to impress upon men still await the seal of general acceptance; but it is a tolerably safe prophecy that no English statesman will ever revive a tax upon bread.
Cobden was much too careful a student of the facts of his question to fall into the error of the declaimers on his own side, who assumed that none but the owners of the soil had ever claimed protection by law for their industry. In the first number of the little organ which was issued by the Association,1 he wrote a paper on the modern history of the Corn Laws, which began by plainly admitting, what it would have been childish to deny, that down to 1820 manufacturers probably enjoyed as ample a share of legislative protection as the growers of corn. Huskisson’s legislation from 1823 to 1825 reduced the tariff of duties upon almost every article of foreign manufacture. This stamped that date, in Cobden’s words, as the era of a commercial revolution, more important in its effects upon society, and pregnant with weightier consequences in the future, than many of those1825.
These enlightened opinions, and the measures which followed from them, were the first rays of dawn after the long night of confusion and mediocrity in which the Castle-reaghs, Sidmouths, Bathursts, Vansittarts, had governed their unfortunate country. Even now political power was so distributed that, though the new school thus saw the better course, they dared not to venture too rapidly upon it. There was one mighty and imperious interest which, as the parliamentary system was then disposed, even Canning’s courage shrank from offending. The Cabinet, which had radically modified a host of restrictive laws, was logically and politically bound to deal with the most important of them all—that which restrained the importation of food. 1825.
Two years elapsed before the Ministry ventured to touch the burning subject. The new measure was not brought forward by Huskisson. It was officially given out as the reason for this that he was ill, but this was only one of the peculiar blinds that serve to open people’s eyes. Everybody suspected that Huskisson’s illness was in reality the chagrin of the good economist at a bad measure. It was Canning who, in the spring of 1827, introduced the new Corn Bill.3 It proceeded on the plan of making the duty vary inversely with the price of the grain in the home market. When the price of wheat in the home market reached sixty shillings a quarter, foreign wheat was to pay on importation a duty of one pound. For every rise of a shilling in the home price the duty was to go down two shillings; for every fall of a shilling in the home price the duty was to go up two shillings1827.
After the bill had passed the Commons, the Liverpool Ministry fell to pieces, and a season of odious intrigue was followed by the accession of Canning. The Corn Bill went up to the Lords in due course. The Duke of Wellington, though he had been a member of the Liverpool cabinet by which the bill had been sanctioned, now moved an amendment on it, and the new Ministry was defeated. Canning and Huskisson let the bill drop. The event which so speedily followed is one of the tragic pages in the history of English statesmen. Canning died a few weeks after the close of the session; Lord Goderich’s abortive Ministry flickered into existence for four or five months, when it flickered out again; and before the end of the year the Duke of Wellington was prime minister. The great soldier was a narrow and sightless statesman, and with his accession to power all the worse impulses of the privileged classes acquired new confidence and intensity. In every sphere the men of exclusion and restriction breathed more freely.
The Duke introduced a new Corn Bill. This bad measure accepted Canning’s principle, if we may give the name of principle to an empirical device; but it carried the principle further in the wrong direction. In the bill of 1827, the starting-point had been the exaction of a twenty shilling duty, when the home price was sixty shillings the quarter. According to the bill of 1828, when the price in the home market was sixty-four shillings, the duty was twenty three shillings and eightpence. The variations in the amount of 1828.
So far back as 1815, when that important measure had been passed restraining the introduction of wheat for home consumption unless the average price had reached eighty shillings for the quarter, the mischief of such legislation had been understood and described in Parliament. In the House of Lords the dissentients from the measure, only ten in number, had signed a protest, drawn up, as it has always been believed, by that independent and hard-headed statesman, Lord Grenville. The grounds of dissent were these: That all new restraints on commerce are bad in principle; that such restraints are especially bad when they affect the food of the people; that the results would not conduce to plenty, cheapness, or steadiness of price; that such a measure levied a tax on the consumer, in order to give a bounty to the grower of corn. This was a just and unanswerable series of objections. Within six years (1821) a parliamentary committee was appointed to inquire into agricultural depression.
If we turn to the effect of our regulations upon foreign countries, there too they brought nothing but calamity. When grain rose to a starvation price in England, we entered the foreign markets; the influx of our gold disturbed their exchanges, embarrassed their merchants, and engendered all the mischief of speculation and gambling. As it was put by some speaker of the day, the question was—“Are you to receive food from a foreign country quietly, reasonably, in payment for the manufactures which1828.
There was no essential bond between the maintenance of agricultural protection and Conservative policy. Burke, the most magnificent genius that the Conservative spirit has ever attracted, was one of the earliest assailants of legislative interference in the corn trade, and the important Corn Act of 1773 was inspired by his maxims.5 There is no such thing, Burke said, as the landed interest separate from the trading interest; and he who separates the interest of the consumer from the interest of the grower, starves the country.6 Five and twenty years after this, in a luminous tract often praised by Cobden, he again attacked a new form of the futile and mischievous system of dealing with agriculture as if it were different from any other branch of commerce, and denounced tampering with the trade in provisions as of all things the most dangerous.7 Although however, Conservative policy was not necessarily bound up with protection, the Tory party were committed to it by all the ties of personal interest.
The Whigs ruled the country, save for a few months, for eleven years from 1830 to 1841. In Lord Melbourne’s Cabinet, in 1839, the Corn Laws were, as we have already 1841.
Besides such considerations as these, there were the considerations of party strength. Macaulay’s biographer quotes a significant passage from his diary. “The cry for free trade in corn,” he wrote in 1839, and Macaulay was in the Cabinet, “seems to be very formidable. If the Ministers play their game well, they may now either triumph completely, or retire with honour. They have excellent cards, if they know how to use them.9 Unluckily for themselves, they did not know how to use them; and everybody was quite aware that their conversion towards Free Trade was not the result of conviction, but was only the last device of a foundering party.
In 1840 a committee on import duties had sat, and produced a striking and remarkable report, recommending an abandonment of the illiberal and exclusive policy of the past, and a radical simplification of the tariff by substituting for a multitude of duties, imposts on a small number of the most productive articles, the amount of the impost being1841.
The proposals which the government had hit upon were these. They returned to the general principle of the budget which Lord Althorp had brought forward at the beginning of the Whig reign (1831)—the boldest budget, as it has justly been called, since the days of Pitt.1 The main object of the commutation of duties, Lord Althorp had said, is the relief of the lower classes. “The best way of relieving them is by giving them employment; and this can only be secured by reducing the taxes which most interfere with manufacturing industry.” Among other devices for carrying this principle into practice, Lord Althorp had proposed to regulate the timber duties.2 He had failed to carry that measure against Peel’s opposition, which was aided by a general opinion that the budget was unsound—an opinion mainly due to the starting proposal to levy a tax of a half per cent. on transfers of funded property. Lord Althorp’s successor now came back to some of his ideas. The ques tion1841.
In a debate on a vote a confidence in 1840, Peel seemed to have advanced a step from the position which had irritated the Leaguers in 1839. He still considered a liberal protection to domestic agriculture indispensable, both in the special interests of agriculture, and the general interests of the community. He did not tie himself to the details of the existing law; but he maintained that a graduated duty, varying inversely with the price of corn, was far preferable to a fixed duty. He objected to a fixed duty on two grounds: first, on account of the great difficulty of determining the proper amount of it on any satisfactory data; secondly, and chiefly, because he foresaw that it would be impossible to maintain that fixed duty under a very high price of corn, and that if it were once withdrawn, there would1841.
He now, in 1841, repeated what he had said the previous year. “Notwithstanding the formidable combination which has been formed against the Corn Laws,” he said, “notwithstanding the declarations that either the total repeal or the substitution of a fixed duty for the present scale, is the inevitable result of the agitation now going forward, I do not hesitate to avow my adherence to the opinion which I expressed last year, and now again declare, that my preference is decidedly in favour of a graduated scale rather than any fixed duty.”
Lord Melbourne had foreseen the fate of his Chancellor’s budget. He was shrewd enough to be sure that a half-measure could never raise up so many friends among the manufacturers as to outweigh the united force of the agricultural and colonial interests.4 In fact, no friends were raised up. No great body was conciliated, nor attracted, nor even touched with friendly interest; and the chief reason for this stubborn apathy was, as Sir Robert Peel said, that nobody believed that the proposals of Ministers sprang from their spontaneous will, or that they had been adopted in consequence of the deliberate convictions of those who brought them forward. The conversion was too rapid. Only two years had gone since the Prime Minister had declared in his place that the repeal of the Corn Laws would be the most insane proposition that ever entered a human head. Lord Palmerston made a fine speech against the system of protective duties; but men remembered that, two years before, he had voted against Mr. Villiers’s motion to hear the members of the Manchester Association at the bar of the House. And the motives of so speedy a change were too plain.
The Ministers could not believe that the House of Commons represented the wishes of the country, and to the country they now appealed.[Back to Table of Contents]
cobden enters parliament—first session.
The dissolution of Parliament took place at Midsummer.1841.
Some of the more dogged, however, among members of the League were hurt by what they took for a Laodicean halting between two opinions, and talked of withdrawing or lessening their subscriptions. Subscriptions are always a very sensitive point in agitations; and Cobden found it worth while, after the elections were over, to write a letter to one of the more important of the protesters, explaining the principle on which the League had acted. “With reference to your complaint,” he says, “that the League did not oppose the measure of the Government, I must remind you that the real governing power, the landed and other monopolists, held fast by the old law; they never attempted to force the fixed duty upon us. We regarded the Government proposal, not as an offer from a party strong enough to concede anything, but merely as a step in advance taken by a portion of the aristocracy. It was not our business to attack them, whilst another party, more powerful than the Government and the people, were resolutely opposed to any concession. To my humble apprehension, it is as unwise as unjust in any kind of political warfare to assail those who are disposed to co-operate, however slightly, in the attempt to overthrow a formidable and uncompromising enemy.”
In the elections in the north of England the repealers were successful against both Whigs and Tories, and among those who succeeded was Cobden himself. “I am afraid,” he wrote to his brother, “you will be vexed1841.
“I have a right to expect other men of business,” he wrote to a manufacturer at Warrington, urging a contest in that borough, “for I am doing it myself much against my wish. I offered to give a hundred pounds towards the expenses of another candidate in my stead for Stockport, and to canvass for him for a week; and it was only when the electors declared that they could not agree to another, and would not be able to oust the bread-taxers without me, that I consented to stand.”
The League, in fact, put a strong pressure upon him, and we may perhaps believe that Cobden’s resistance to the urgency of his political friends was not very stubborn. He must have felt by invincible instinct that only through a seat in Parliament could he secure an effective hearing for his arguments. It is uncertain whether the opinion of the constituency which had rejected him in 1837, had really 1841.
It proved that Sir Robert Peel had a majority, not of thirty or forty, but of more than ninety. Lord Melbourne, however, did not anticipate the practice of our own day by resigning before the meeting of the hostile Parliament. The Ministers put into the Queen’s speech as good an account as they could of their policy, and awaited their fate. Cobden took his seat on the first day of the session. “Yesterday,” he says, “I went down to the House to be sworn to renounce the Pope and the Pretender. Then I went into the Treasury, and heard Lord John deliver his last dying speech and confession to his parliamentary minority. He gave us the substance of the Queen’s speech, which is in the Chronicle to-day. I cannot learn what the Tories intend to do to-night, but I suppose they will try to avoid committing themselves against the Free Trade measures. It is allowed on all sides that they fear discussion as they do death. It is reported that the old Duke advises his party not to force themselves on the Queen, but to let the Whigs go on till the reins fairly drop out of their hands. The Queen seems to1841.
The Queen had no choice. An amendment was moved upon the address in both Houses, and carried in the Commons by the irresistible majority of ninety-one. The vote was taken at five in the morning (August 28), and in the afternoon of the same day, Lord Melbourne went down to Windsor to resign his post. Within a few days that great administration was formed which contained not only able Tories like Lord Lyndhurst, but able seceders from the Whigs like Lord Stanley and Sir James Graham; which commanded an immense majority in both Houses; which was led by a chief of consummate sagacity; and which was at last, five years afterwards, slowly broken to pieces by the work of Cobden and the League.
Cobden made his maiden speech in the debate which preceded this great official revolution. “I was induced,” he writes to his brother, “to speak last night at about nine o’clock. We thought the debate would have been brought to a close. The Tories were doggedly resolved from the first not to enter upon any discussion of the main question, and the discussion, if it could be called one, went on as flat as possible. My speech had one good effect. I called up a booby who let fly at the manufacturers, very much to the chagrin, I suspect, of the leader of his party. It is now thought that the Tories must come out and discuss in self-defence the Free Trade question, and if not, they will be damaged by the arguments on the other side. All my friends say I did well. But I feel it very necessary to be cautions in speaking too much. I shall be an observer for some time.”4
We now see that Cobden’s maiden speech was much more than a success in the ordinary sense of attracting the atten tion1841.
“At that meeting,” he said, “most important statements of facts were made relating to the condition of the labouring-classes. He would not trouble the House by reading those statements; but they showed that in every district of the country....the condition of the great body of her1841.
One or two simpletons laughed at an appeal to evidence from such a source; but it was felt that, though they might jeer at the speaker as a Methodist parson, and look down upon him as a manufacturer, yet he represented a new force with which the old parties would one day have to deal. In the country his speech excited the deep interest of that great class, who are habitually repelled by the narrow passions and seeming insincerity of ordinary politics.
His friends in the north were delighted by the vigour and alacrity of their champion. With the sanguine assurance of all people who have convinced themselves of the goodness of their cause, and are very earnest in wishing to carry it, they were certain that Cobden’s arguments must speedily convert Parliament and the Ministry. “It is pleasant,” Cobden wrote to his brother, “to learn that my maiden effort has pleased our good friends. I have some letters from Manchester with congratulations. It is very pleasant, but I must be careful not to be carried off my legs. Stanley scowls and Peel smiles at me, both meaning mischief. There is no other man on the other side that I have heard, who is at all for midable. I observe there are a great many busy men of1841.
“From what I can hear,” he wrote a month later, “it appears that Peel has no plan in view of any kind, with respect to the corn question. The aristocracy and people are gaping at him, wondering what he is going to do, and his head will be at work with no higher ambition than to gull both parties. I am of opinion that there never was a better moment than at present for carrying the question out of doors. If there be determination enough in the minds of the people to make a vigorous demonstration 1841.
Now, as throughout the whole of the struggle, Cobden kept up the closest relations with the local leaders of the movement in the north. One of the most baneful effects of the concentration and intensity of parliamentary life is that members cease to inspire themselves with the more wholesome air of the nation outside. From the beginning to the end of his career, Cobden cared very little about the opinion of the House, and hoped very little from its disinterestedness. He never greatly valued the judgment of parliamentary coteries. It was the mind of the country that he always sought to know and to influence. And though he had proper confidence in the soundness of his own judgment, he was wholly free from the weakness of thinking that his judgment could stand alone. He was invariably eager to collect the opinions of his fellow-workers at Manchester, and not only to collect them, but to be guided by them.
“It is quite evident,” he wrote to Mr. George Wilson, towards the end of September, “that Peel has made up his mind to prorogue without entering upon the consideration of the Corn Law. The business of the session will now be hurried on and brought to a close probably by the end of the week. Under these circumstances I wish to know the opinion of our friends in Manchester as to the course which it would be advisable for the few Anti-Corn Law members now in London to pursue. Will you be good enough at once to call together the whole of the Council, and consult with as many judicious people as you can, and determine whether you think anything, and what, can be done to promote the cause? The main question for you to decide is whether it be advisable for Mr. Villiers to give notice of a1841.
Cobden made two other speeches in the course of the autumn session, after the re-election of the Ministers (Sept. 16—Oct. 7). Lord John Russell reproached the new Premier for asking for time to prepare his schemes for repairing the national finances. Peel justly asked him why, 1841.
“.... I sat through the voting of money, vastly edified and scandalized at the way in which the poor devils of tax-payers are robbed. The sum of 100,000l. for arming and clothing militia in Canada, light-houses in Jamaica, negro education, bishops all over the world, &c., &c., in goodly proportions.... The people are, I am afraid, fit for nothing better. I did not offer an objection, for it would have been ridiculous to do so. It did, however, cost me some efforts to hold my tongue. I am glad that you did not think my second speech too strong. I was not quite satisfied with it myself. It was, however, badly reported. I was rather better pleased with my third on Friday, when I found there was an effort made at first to annoy me, on the part of some young obscures, one of whom followed me with an evidently ‘conned reply,’ in which he had quotations from my speech at Manchester, about the Oxford education, the Ilissus, Scamander, &c. His speech was not reported. It was a mere prize essay oration, which, thanks to the practical turn that has been given to subjects of debate, finds no relish in the House now-a-days. It is quite clear that I am looked upon as a Gothic invader, and the classicals will criticize me unmercifully. But I have vitality enough to1841.
When Cobden rose on this last occasion there were cries of impatience from the ministerial side of the House, but this did not prevent him from persevering with an argumentative remonstrance against the incredulity or apathy with which the Government treated the distress of the manufacturing towns. The point which he pressed most keenly was the interchange of food and manufactures between England and the United States that would instantly follow repeal. He quoted from a petition to the Congress 1841.
“Suppose now,” Cobden went on, “that it were but the Thames instead of the Atlantic which separated the two countries—suppose that the people on one side were mechanics and artisans, capable by their industry of producing a vast supply of manufactures; and that the people on the other side were agriculturists, producing infinitely more than they could themselves consume of corn, pork, and beef—fancy these two separate peoples anxious and willing to exchange with each other the produce of their common industries, and fancy a demon rising from the middle of the river—for I cannot imagine anything human in such a position and performing such an office—fancy a demon rising from the river, and holding in his hand an Act of Parliament, and saying, ‘You shall not supply each other’s wants;’ and then in addition to that, let it be supposed that this demon said to his victim with an affected smile, ‘This is for your benefit; I do it entirely for your protection!’ Where was the difference between the Thames and the Atlantic?”
It was after a vigorous and persistent description of the privations of the people in the North, that he turned sharply round upon the men whom he denounced for drawing the attention of Parliament away from the real issues to vague questions of philanthropy. “When I go down to the manufacturing districts,” he said, “I know that I shall be returning to a gloomy scene. I know that starvation is stalking through the land, and that men are perishing for1841.
Cobden’s intervention in debate was more than a parliamentary incident. It was the symbol of a new spirit of self-assertion in a great social order. The Reform Bill had admitted manufacturing towns to a share of representation Cobden lost no time in vindicating the reality of this representation. The conflict of the next five years was not merely a battle about a customs duty; it was a struggle for political influence and social equality between the landed aristocracy and the great industrialists. Of this, an incident in the debates of the following session will furnish us with a sufficiently graphic illustration. It is only by reading the correspondence of that time, and listening to the men who still survive, without having left its passions behind them, that we realize the angry astonishment with which the old society 1841.
cobden as an agitator.
In the autumn of 1841 there happened what proved to be a1841.
Mr. Bright, who was seven years younger than Cobden, had made his acquaintance some time before the question of the Corn Laws had come up. He had gone over in the year 1836 or 1837 to Manchester, to call upon Cobden, “to ask him if he would be kind enough to come to Rochdale, and to speak at an education meeting which was about to be held in the schoolroom of the Baptist chapel in West Street of that town. I found him in his office in Mosley Street. I introduced myself to him. I told him what I wanted. His countenance lit up with pleasure to find that there were others that were working in this question, and he without hesitation agreed to come. He came, and he spoke; and though he was then so young as a speaker, yet the qualities of his speech were such as remained with him so long as he was able to speak at all—clearness, logic, a conversational eloquence, a persuasiveness which, when conjoined with the 1841.
Then came the gradual formation of the League, Cobden’s election to Parliament, and the close of his first session. “It was in September, in the year 1841,” said Mr. Bright. “The sufferings throughout the country were fearful; and you who live now, but were not of age to observe what was passing in the country then, can have no idea of the state of your country in that year..... At that time I was at Leamington, and I was, on the day when Mr. Cobden called upon me—for he happened to be there at the time on a visit to some relatives—I was in the depths of grief, I might almost say of despair; for the light and sunshine of my house had been extinguished. All that was left on earth of my young wife, except the memory of a sainted life and of a too brief happiness, was lying still and cold in the chamber above us. Mr. Cobden called upon me as his friend, and addressed me, as you might suppose, with words of condolence.1 After a time he looked up and said, ‘There are thousands of houses in England at this moment where wives, mothers, and children are dying of hunger. Now,’ he said, ‘when the first paroxysm of your grief is past, I would advise you to come with me, and we will never rest till the Corn Law is repealed.’ I accepted his invitation. I knew that the description he had given of the homes of thousands was not an exaggerated description. I felt in my conscience that there was a work which somebody must do, and therefore I accepted his invitation, and from that time we never ceased to labour hard on behalf of the resolution which we had made.”
“For seven years,” Mr. Bright says, “the discussion on that one question—whether it was good for a man to1841.
This is an appropriate place for considering some of the qualifications that Cobden brought to the mission which he and his ally thus imposed upon themselves. In speaking of him I may seem to ignore fellow-workers whose share in the agitation was hardly less important than his own; without whose zeal, disinterestedness, and intelligence, the work of himself and Mr. Bright would have been of little effect, and could never have been undertaken. No history of the League could be perfect which did not commemorate the names and labours of many other able men, who devoted themselves with hardly inferior energy to the exhausting work of organization and propagandism. But these pages have no pretensions to tell the whole story; they only are concerned with so much of it as relates to one of its heroes. “We were not even the first,” said Mr. Bright, “though afterwards, perhaps, we became the foremost before the public. But there were others before us.” The public imagination was struck by the figures of the pair who had given themselves up to a great public cause. The alliance between them far more than doubled the power that either could have exerted without the other. The picture of two plain men leaving their homes and their business, and going 1841.
The agitator has not been a very common personage in English history. The greatest that has ever been seen was O’Connell, and I do not know of any other, until the time of the League, who may be placed even as second to him. In the previous century Wilkes had made a great figure, and Wilkes was a man of real power and energy. But he was rather the symbol of a strong popular sentiment, than its inspirer; and he may be more truly said to have been borne on the crest of the movement, than to have given to it force or volume.
Cobden seemed to have few of the endowments of an agitator, as that character is ordinarily thought of. He had no striking physical gifts of the histrionic kind. He had one physical quality which must be ranked first among the secondary endowments of great workers. Later in life he said, “If I had not had the faculty of sleeping like a dead fish, in five minutes after the most exciting mental effort, and with certainty of having oblivion for six consecutive hours, I should not have been alive now.” In his early days, he was slight in frame and build. He afterwards grew nearer to portliness. He had a large and powerful head, and the indescribable charm of a candid eye. His features were not of a commanding type; but they were illuminated and made attractive by the brightness of intelligence, of sympathy, and of earnestness. About the mouth there was a curiously winning mobility and play. His voice was clear,1841.
It has often been pointed out how the two great spokesmen of the League were the complements of one another; how their gifts differed, so that one exactly covered the ground which the other was predisposed to leave comparatively untouched. The differences between them, it is true, were not so many as the points of resemblance. If in Mr. Bright there was a deeper austerity, in both there was the same homeliness of allusion, and the same graphic plainness. Both avoided the stilted abstractions of rhetoric, and neither was ever afraid of the vulgarity of details. In Cobden as in Bright, we feel that there was nothing personal or small, and that what they cared for so vehemently were great causes. There was a resolute standing aloof from the small things of party, which would be almost arrogant, if the whole texture of what they had to say were less 1841.
If in one sense the Corn Laws did not seem a promising theme for a popular agitation, they were excellently fitted to bring out Cobden’s peculiar strength, for they dealt with firm matter and demonstrable inferences, and this was the region where Cobden’s powers naturally exercised themselves. In such an appeal to sentiment and popular passion as the contemporary agitation of O’Connell for Repeal, he could have played no leading part.3 Where knowledge and logic were the proper instruments, Cobden was a master.
Enormous masses of material for the case poured every week into the offices of the League. All the day long Cobden was talking with men who had something to tell him. Correspondents from every quarter of the land plied him with information. Yet he was never overwhelmed by the volume of the stream. He was incessantly on the alert for a useful fact, a telling illustration, a new fallacy to expose. So dexterously did he move through the ever-growing piles 1841.
A political or religious agitator must not be afraid of incessant repetition. Repetition in his most effective instrument. The fastidiousness which is proper to literature, and which makes a man dread to say the same thing twice, is in the field of propagandism were impotency. This is one reason why even the greatest agitators in causes which have shaken the world, are often among the least interesting men in history. Cobden had moral and social gifts which invest him with a peculiar attraction, and will long make his memory interesting as that of a versatile nature; but he was never afraid of the agitator’s art of repeating his formula, his principles, his illustrations, his phrases, with untiring reiteration.
Though he abounded in matter, Cobden can hardly be described as copious. He is neat and pointed, nor is his argument ever left unclenched; but he permits himself no large excursions. What he was thinking of was the matter immediately in hand, the audience before his eyes, the point that would tell best then and there, and would be most likely to remain in men’s recollections. For such purposes copiousness is ill-fitted; that is for the stately leisure of the pulpit. Cobden’s task was to leave in his hearer’s mind a compact answer to each current fallacy, and to scotch or kill as many protectionist sophisms as possible within the given time. What is remarkable, is that while he kept close to the matter and substance of his case, and resorted comparatively little to sarcasm, humour, invective, pathos, or the other elements that are catalogued in manuals of rhetoric, yet no speaker was ever further removed from prosiness, or came into more real and sympathetic contact with his audience. His speaking was thoroughly businesslike, and yet it was never dull. It was not, according to the old definition of oratory, reason fused1841.
After all, it is not tropes and perorations that make the popular speaker; it is the whole impression of his personality. We who only read them, can discern certain admirable qualities in Cobden’s speeches; aptness in choosing topics, lucidity in presenting them, buoyant confidence in pressing them home. But those who listened to them felt much more than all this. They were delighted by mingled vivacity and ease, by directness, by spontaneousness and reality, by the charm, so effective and so uncommon between a speaker and his audience, of personal friendliness and undisguised cordiality. Let me give an illustration of this. Cobden once had an interview with Rowland Hill, some time in 1838, and gave evidence in favour of the proposed reform in the postage. Rowland Hill, in writing to him afterwards, excuses himself for troubling Cobden with his private affairs:“Your conversation, evidence, and letters, have created a feeling in my mind so like that which one entertains towards an old friend, that I am apt to forget that I have met you but once.” It was just the same with bodies of men as it was with individuals. No public speaker was ever so rapid and so successful in establishing genial relations of respect without formality, and intimacy without familiarity. One great source of this, in Mr. Bright’s words, was “the absolute truth that shone in his eye and in his countenance.”
I have spoken of Cobden’s patience in acquiring and shaping matter. This was surpassed by his inexhaustible patience in dealing with the mental infirmities of those 1841.
It has often been said that Cobden was a good Englishman, and he was so, in spite of finer qualities which our neighbours are not willing to allow to us. London society, and smart journalists who mistook a little book-knowledge for culture, were in the habit of disparaging Cobden as a common manufacturer, without an idea in his head beyond buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest. This was not the way in which he struck the most fastidious, critical, and refined man of letters in Europe, accustomed to mix with the most important personages of literature and affairs then alive. Prosper Mérimée saw a great deal of Cobden in 1860, when they both spent part of the winter at Cannes. “Cobden,” he wrote to his intimate correspondent, “is a man of an extremely interesting mind; quite the opposite of an Englishman in this respect, that you never hear him talk commonplaces, and that he has few prejudices.” It was just because he was not a man of prejudice, that he had none against his own countrymen. We saw how when he was travelling in America, he found his British blood up, as he said, and be dealt faithfully with the disparagers of the mother country.41841.
This conviction inspired him with a peculiar respect for his great popular audiences, and they instinctively felt the presence of it, making a claim to their good-will and their attention. Cobden differed from his countrymen, as to what it is that will make England great, but he was as anxious that England should be great, and as proud of English virtues and energies, as the noisiest patriot in a London music hall.
Cobden always said that it was an advantage to him as an agitator that he was a member of the Church of England. He used to tell of men who came up to him and declared that their confidence in him dated from the moment when they learnt that he was a churchman. It was, perhaps, a greater advantage to him than he knew. However little we may admire a State establishment of religion, it is certain that where such an establishment happens to exist, those who have been brought up in it, and have tranquilly conformed to its usages, escape one source of a certain mental asperity and the spirit of division. This is no credit to them or to the institution; any more than the asperity is a discredit to those who do not conform to the institution. Nay, one 1841.
Temperament, however, had a larger share than institutions in Cobden’s faculty of moral sympathy. There is scanty evidence of anything like an intense spirituality in his nature; he was neither oppressed nor elevated by the mysteries, the aspirations, the remorse, the hope, that constitute religion. So far as we can have means of knowing, he was not of those who live much in the Unseen. But for moral goodness, in whatever association he came upon it, he had a reverence that came from his heart of hearts. While leaning strongly towards those scientific theories of motive and conduct, of which, as has been already said, George Combe was in those days the most active propagandist, he felt no contempt, provided only their practical endeavour was towards good, for those who clung narrowly to older explanations of the heart of man. In a letter written to Combe himself, when the struggle against the Corn Laws was over, Cobden allows himself to talk freely on his own attitude in these high matters:—
...“With reference,” he says, “to your remarks as to the evangelical dissenters and religionists generally, and their views of your philosophy of morals—I will confess to you that I am not inclined to quarrel with that class of my countrymen. I see the full force of what you urge, but am inclined to hope more from them in time than any other party in the State. Gradually and imperceptibly to themselves they are catching the spirit of the age, so far as to recognize the moral laws as a part of our natural organization. They do not accept your views to the superseding of their own, but, like geology, your science is forcing its way alongside1841.
“I do not quarrel with the religionists, for I find them generally enforcing or at all events recognizing and professing to act upon (they do not, I admit, sufficiently preach it) the morality of the New Testament, and you can do no more. The only difference is that John Calvin and George Combe act upon different theories, and rely upon different motives, and start from very different premises, but they recognize the self-same ends secularly speaking, and I cannot quarrel with either...I am by nature a religionist. I was much struck with your remark when you mapped my head eleven years ago,—‘Why, if you had been born in the middle ages, you would have made a good monk, you have so much veneration!’ That was a triumph for phrenology, for you could have formed no such notion from anything you had seen or heard of me. I have a strong religious feeling,—a sympathy for men who act under that impulse; I reverence it as the great leverage which has moved mankind to powerful action. I acknowledge that it has been perverted to infinite mischief. I confess it has been the means of degrading men to brutish purposes...but it has also done glorious deeds for liberty and human exaltation, and it is destined to do still better things. It is fortunate for me that whilst possessing a strong logical faculty, which keeps me in the path of rationalism, I have the religious sympathy which enables me to co-operate with men of exclusively religious sentiment. I mean it is fortunate for my powers of usefulness in this my day and generation. To this circumstance I am greatly indebted for the success of the great Free-Trade struggle, which has been more indebted to the organ of veneration for its success, than is generally known.
“I am not without hopes that the same fortunate circum stance1841.
“I have said that I have a strong feeling of sympathy for the religious sentiment. But I sympathize with all moral men who are not passive moralists: with them it is difficult to sympathize, but I venerate and trust them. Especially do I sympathize with those who labour and make sacrifices for the diffusion of sound moral principles. I will own, however, that it is unpleasant to my feelings to associate with those who, whilst they indulge in coarse sceptical allusions to our faith, do not in their private life manifest that they impose a better restraint upon themselves than is to be found in the New Testament. My active public life has sometimes thrown me into such company, and with these esprits forts, as the French call them, I have no sympathy. My maxim is in such predicaments to avoid theological discussions (here again is my veneration over-riding causality), and to avow that I am resolved to follow Bonaparte’s advice—to adhere to the religion of my mother, who was an energetically pious women.”5
No whisper was ever seriously raised against Cobden’s transparent honesty. What is worth remarking is that his sincerity was not of that cheap and reckless kind, by virtue of which men sometimes in one wild outburst of plain speech cut themselves off from chances of public usefulness for the remainder of their lives. He laid down certain1841.
This was only another way of saying that strong enthusiasm in him was no hindrance to strong sense. Instead of increasing the elements of friction—the besetting weakness of reformers and dissidents of all kinds—he took infinite trouble to reduce these elements to the lowest possible point. Hence he was careful not to take up too many subjects at once, because the antagonism generated by each would have been made worse by the antagonism belonging to every other, and he would have called up a whole host of enemies together, instead of leaving himself free to deal with one at a time. A correspondent once wrote to him on this point.
“You have opened a very important question,” Cobden replied, “in respect to the duty of a public man to advocate all the changes to which he may be favourable. I have often reflected upon this. Bacon says, if you have a handful of truths, open but one finger at a time. He is not the safest moral guide, I admit, but I am not sure that he is not to some extent right in this view. If we are to declare our convictions upon all subjects, and if abstract reason is to be our guide, without reference to time and circumstance, why should not I, for instance, avow myself a republican? A 1841.
This wise economy brought its reward. Cobden did not carry the world with him in his own lifetime, but what he did by his method was to bring certain principles of human progress into line with the actual politics of the day. He did not create a majority, but he achieved the first difficult step of creating a strong minority, and this not merely of sympathizers in the closet, but of active followers in the nation.
It was what he called his wisdom of the serpent that gave Cobden his power in the other arts of a successful agitator, which are less conspicuous but hardly less indispensable, than commanding or persuasive oratory. He applied the same qualities in the actual business of the League which he brought to bear in his speeches. He was indefatigable in his industry, fertile in ingenious devices for bringing the objects of the League before the country, constantly on the alert for surprising a hostile post, never losing a chance of turning a foe or a neutral into a friend, and never allowing his interest about the end for which he was working, to confuse his vigilant concentration upon the means. The danger of great confederacies like the League is that they become mechanical. Machinery must of necessity play a1841.
Critics usually singled out Cobden’s logical faculty as his strongest trait, and it was so; but he was naturally inclined to think of the conclusions of his logic in poetized forms. He always delighted, in spite of the wretched simile with 1841.
From Cowper, too, he was never weary of quoting the lines about liberty:—
It was this association of solid doctrine with genial enthusiasm and high ideals, that distinguished Cobden from too many preachers of what our humourist has called the gospel according to McCrowdy. It was this kindly imaginativeness in him which caught men’s hearts. His ideals were constantly sneered at as low, material, common, unworthy, especially by the class whose lives are one long course of indolence, dilettanteism, and sensuality. George Combe tells how one evening in 1852 he was in the drawing-room of some great lady, who, amid the applause of her friends, denounced Cobden’s policy as never rising beyond a mere “bagman’s millennium.”8 This was the clever way, among the selfish and insolent, of saying that the ideal which Cobden cherished was comfort for the mass, not1841.
There is one more point on which it is worth while to say a word in connexion with Cobden’s character as an agitator. The great danger of the career is that it may in time lessen a man’s moral self-possession. Effect becomes the decisive consideration instead of truth; a good meeting grows into a final object in life; the end of existence is a paradise of loud and prolonged cheering; and character is gradually destroyed by the parasites of self-consciousness and vanity. On one occasion, in 1845, as we shall see, Cobden was betrayed, excusably enough, into some strong language about Sir Robert Peel. Miss Martineau, George Combe, and others, rebuked him rather sharply. He took the rebuke with perfect temper and humility, and in seeking to excuse himself, he described his feelings about public life in words of which it is impossible to doubt the exact truth. “You must not judge me,” he said, “by what I say at these tumultuous public meetings. I constantly regret the necessity of violating good taste and kind feeling in my public harangues. I say advisedly necessity, for I defy anybody to keep the ear of the public for seven years upon one question, without studying to amuse as well as instruct. People do not attend public meetings to be taught, but to be excited, flattered, and pleased. If they are simply lectured, they may sit out the lesson for once, but they will not come again; and as I have required them again and again, I have been obliged to amuse them, not by standing on my head or eating fire, but by kindred feats of jugglery, 1841.
the new corn law.
In the interval between the prorogation and the great1842.
“I do not like your idea,” he said, “of getting the deputies to pass a vote for dismissing the Ministry. That would be taken as a partisan movement—which it really would be—and we should lose moral influence by it. Let us not forget that we were very tolerant of the Whig Ministers, even after Melbourne had laughed in our faces and called us madmen. The present Government will do something. It is the House of Commons, and not the Ministers, that we ought to attack. I do not see how with decency we can worry the Queen to change her Ministers, whilst the people’s representatives have made her take to Peel against her consent. And amongst the representatives who have done this are those from Liverpool, Warrington, Wigan, Leeds, Blackburn, 1842.
“I have been thinking a good deal of the plan of district meetings alluded to in a former letter to Mr. Rawson, and am more and more favourable to it. I am convinced that spontaneous efforts through the country would tell more powerfully upon the aristocracy, than another great meeting in Manchester. The question has been too much confined to Manchester. The cotton lords are not more popular than the landlords.”1
Although he deprecated the agitation of impatience, Cobden was as eager and as active as anybody else in the agitation of persuasion. He spoke at a great conference, held at Derby, of the merchants of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and Leicestershire, where he made a vigorous onslaught upon what he called the Land-tax fraud. Form the Trent he found his way to the Clyde, while Mr. Bright went to Dublin, as well as to every place nearer home where he could get men to listen to him. In all the centres of industry people were urged to form associations, to get up petitions, and to hold district meetings of deputies. They were to collect information as to the state of trade, the rate of wages, the extent of pauperism, and other facts bearing upon the food monopoly, as all these things affected their local industry; the woollen trade at Leeds, the iron trade at Wolverhampton, the earthenware trade in the Potteries, the flax trade at Dundee, the cotton trade at Manchester and Glasgow.
The lecturers continued their work. One of them went among the farmers and labourers on Sir James Graham’s estate, where he did not forget the landlord’s idyllic catalogue of the blessings of the rural poor. “What!” cried the lecturer, “six shillings a week for wages, and the morning’s sun, and the singing of birds, and sportive lambs, and winding streams, and the mountain breeze, and a little1842.
Among other devices this autumn was that of a great bazaar, which should both add to the funds of the League, and bring the friends of its objects into closer personal contact. The bazaar was held in the beginning of the following February, in the Royal Theatre at Manchester. It was a great success, and produced nearly ten thousand pounds. The following may serve to show Cobden’s eye for the small things of agitation, and the unconsidered trifles that affect public opinion:—
“I have just got your letter, and am delighted that you are satisfied with the bazaar prospects. Really I wonder how you and your four coadjutors endure the immense exertions called for in this undertaking. You must not look upon the mere money return as the sole test of success. It will give us a position in the public eye worth all the outlay. I remember twelve months ago feeling apprehensive that the monopolist papers would have deterred the ladies from appearing as sellers at the stalls by their blackguardism. Certainly three years ago that would have been the tone of the Herald, Post, and Bull. Now what a marked change is seen in those papers; not a joke or attempt at ribald wit. All is fair and even laudatory. In this fact alone I see the evidence of a great moral triumph of the league. Could 1842.
Their newspaper deserves a word. Its energy was as striking as the energy of their speakers. Its leading articles, many of them written by Cobden and Bright themselves, were broad and weighty statements of the newest aspect of their case. Any unlucky phrase that fell from a monopolist was pounced upon and made the text of a vivacious paragraph. No incautious admission from the other side was ever allowed to escape, until all the most damaging conclusions that could be drawn from it had been worked out to the very uttermost. All the news of the day was scanned with a vigilant eye, and no item that could be turned into an argument or an illustration was left unimproved. This ingenuity and verve saved the paper from the monotony of most journals of a single purpose. Its pages were lighted up by reports of the speeches of Cobden, Bright, and Fox. The pictures with which it abounds of the condition of the common people, are more graphic than the most brilliant compositions of mere literary history. It does not affect us as the organ of a sect; though it preaches from one text, it is always human and social. There were Poor Men’s Songs, Anti-Corn-Law Hymns, and Anti-Bread-Tax Collects. Nor did the editor forget Byron’s famous lines from the Age of Bronze, a thousand times declaimed in this long war:—
A volunteer in Preston this winter began to issue on his own account a quaint little sheet of four quarto pages, called The Struggle, and sold for a halfpenny. It had no connexion with any association, and nobody was responsible for its contents but the man who wrote, printed, and sold it. In two years eleven hundred thousand copies had been circulated. The Struggle is the very model for a plain man who wishes to affect the opinion of the humbler class, without the wasteful and, for the most part, ineffectual machinery of a great society. It contains in number after number the whole arguments of the matter in the pithiest form, and in language as direct if not as pure as Cobbett’s. Sometimes the number consists simply of some more than usually graphic speech by Cobden or by Fox. There are racy dialogues, in which the landlord always gets the worst of it; and terse allegories in which the Duke of Buckingham or the Duke of Richmond figures as inauspiciously as Bunyan’s Mr. Badman. The Bible is ransacked for appropriate texts, from the simple clause in the Lord’s Prayer about our daily bread, down to Solomon’s saying: “He that withholdeth the corn, the people shall curse him; but blessings shall be 1842.
Cobden had, at the beginning of the movement, been very near to securing the services, in the way of pictorial illustration, of a man who afterwards became very famous. This was Thackeray, than only known to a small public as the author of the Hoggarty Diamond. “Some inventor of a new mode of engraving,” Mr. Henry Cole wrote to Cobden, “told Mr. Thackeray that it was applicable to the designs for the Corn Laws. Three drawings of your Anglo-Polish Allegory have been made and have failed. So Thackeray has given up the invention, and wood engraving must be used. This will materially alter the expense..... I hope you will think as well of the accompanying sketch—very rough, of course—as all I have shown it to, do. It was the work of only a few minutes, and I think, with its corpses, gibbet, and flying carrion crow, is as suggestive as you can wish. We both thought that a common soldier would be better understood than any more allegorical figure. It is only in part an adaptation of your idea, but I think a successful one. Figures representing eagerness of exchange, a half-clothed Pole offering bread, and a weaver manufactures, would be idea enough for a design alone. Of course, there may be any changes you please in this present design. I think for the multitude it would be well to have the ideas very simple and intelligible to all. The artist is a genius, both with his pencil and his pen. His vocation is literary. He is full of humour and feeling. Hitherto he has not had occasion to think much on the subject of Corn Laws, and therefore wants the stuff to work upon. He would like to combine1842.
“He will set about Lord Ashley when we have heard your opinion of the present sketch. Thackeray is the writer of an article in the last number of the Westminster Review, on French caricatures, and many other things. For some time he managed the constitutional newspaper. He is a college friend of Charles Buller. We think the idea of an ornamental emblematical heading of the Circular good. The lower class of readers do not like to have to cut the leaves of a paper. Another, but a smaller class, like a small-sized page, because it is more convenient for binding. Corn Law readers lie, I suppose, chiefly among the former. Will you send your circular to Thomas Carlyle, Cheyne Street, Chelsea? He was quoted in last week’s Circular, and is making studies into the condition of the working class.”3
The approach of the time for the assembling of Parliament drew men’s minds away from everything else, and expectation became centred with new intensity on the scheme which the Minister would devise for the restoration of national prosperity. The retirement of an important member of the Cabinet during the recess had greatly quickened public excitement among both Protectionists and Free Traders. Both felt that their question was at stake, and that the Prime Minister would not allow the duty on corn to stand as it was. Peel has told us, in the Memoirs published after 1842.
The Duke of Buckingham, whose name figures so often in the sarcasms and invectives of the League, at once resigned his seat in the Cabinet rather than be a party to any meddling with the Corn Law of 1828. Even those who remained, seem to have pressed for an understanding, as was afterwards openly done in Parliament, that whatever amount of protection was set up by the new law should be permanently adhered to. This guarantee, Peel was far too conscientious to consent in any form to give. The Cabinet at length, with many misgivings, assented to their chief’s arguments, and for the time the party was saved.
I may as well quote here a passage from one of Cobden’s1842.
“Whilst I was with McGregor, he showed me a copy of the scale of duties which he had prepared under Peel’s directions, and which he proposed to the Cabinet, causing Buckingham’s retirement, and nearly leading to a break-up altogether. The scale was purposely devised to be as nearly as possible equal to an 8s. fixed duty. It was 8s. at 56s., rising a shilling of duty with a shilling fall of prices till it reached 16s., which was the maximum duty, and falling a shilling in duty with the rise of a shilling in price. With the exception of Ripon, he could get no support in the Cabinet. Lyndhurst, like an old fox, refused to vote (as I am told), not knowing whether Peel or the monopolists might be conqueror, and being himself equally happy to serve God or Mammon. The Duke of Bucks got hold of Richmond, who secured Wellington, who by the aid of Stanley and Graham frustrated Peel’s intentions. The later told them that no other prime minister after him would ever take office to give the landlords even an 8s. maximum duty. I learn from several quarters that Stanley is one of Peel’s stoutest opponents against any alterations of a beneficial character in the monopolies. Last autumn I remember writing to Langton (at Heywood’s) a letter for Birley’s eye, in which I told him that if Peel’s Cabinet were pressed for a liberal corn law by the Lancashire Conservatives, it would aid Peel in forcing his colleagues to go along with him, and be the very thing he would like. McGregor now confirms my view.”5
The League resolved that they at any rate would leave 1842.
The ministerial plan was soon known, and brought scanty comfort to the men of the north, as their friends rushed down the corridors to tell them what it was to be. Sir Robert Peel could not accept their explanation of the prevailing depression and distress. That was due, he contended, to over-investment of borrowed capital in manufactures; to the displacement of hand-loom weaving by steam power; to1842.
When the Minister sat down, Lord John Russell said a few formal words, and Peel added some explanation which took a moment or two. Cobden, according to a hostile reporter, had been “looking very lachrymose all the evening,” and he now rose—it is interesting to notice contemporary estimates of important men whose importance has not yet been stamped—“for the purpose of inflicting one of his stereotyped harangues on the House.” He did not do this, but he wound up the proceedings by a short and1842.
Cobden’s reception of the Ministerial plan was loudly re-echoed in the north of England. The news of the retention of the sliding scale was received with angry disgust throughout the manufacturing districts. Thousands of petitions, with hundreds of thousands of signatures, were sent up to Cobden and other members to lay before Parliament. The ordinary places of public meeting were not large enough to hold the thousands of exasperated men, who had just found from the newspapers that the Government would not give way. In cold and rain they assembled in the open spaces of their towns to listen to speeches, and to pass resolutions, denouncing Sir Robert Peel’s measure as an insult and a mockery to a distressed population. The Prime Minister was formally accused of offering indignity and contempt to the working classes; of sacrificing the rights of the poor to the selfish interests of an unfeeling and avaricious aristocracy; of creating wealth, luxury, and splendour for a class, out of the abject misery of the millions. His effigy was carried on gibbets in contumely through the streets of towns like Stockport and Rochdale, to the sound of drums and fifes, and then, amid the execration of multitudes, hurled into the flames. In some places the fierce ceremony was preceded by a mock trial, in which the criminal was swiftly condemned, sentenced, and thrown into the bonfire as a traitor to his country, while the crowd shouted their prayer that so might all oppressors of the people perish.
Considering Cobden’s untiring promptitude in seizing every occasion of enforcing his cause upon the House, it is odd that he should not have spoken in the debate in which 1842.
An excellent point was made by the exposure of the fallacy, that low wages are the same thing as cheap labour. And this proved to be of the highest importance, as an element in Sir Robert Peel’s conversion. He admitted afterwards that he had accepted this fallacy without proper examination, and that its overthrow was one of the things which most powerfully affected his opinions on a protective system. Apart from his general demonstration of the truth in this respect, Cobden now showed that the highly paid labour of England was proved to be the cheapest labour in the world. The manufacturers might have credit for taking a more enlightened view of their own interest than to suppose that the impoverishment of the multitude—the great consumers of all that they produce—could ever tend to promote the prosperity of the manufacturers. “I will tell the House, that by deteriorating the population, of which they ought to be so proud, they will run the risk of spoiling, not merely the animal, but the intellectual creature. It is not a potato-fed race that will ever lead the way in arts, arms, or commerce.”
In the course of his speech, which was not in the strong vein that greater experience soon made easy to him, Cobden had talked of the ignorance on the question which prevailed among the Tory members. “Yes,” he exclaimed, when his adversaries cried out against this vigorous thrust, “I have never seen their ignorance equalled among any equal number of working men in the north of England.” And he reminded them that when the Corn Law of 1815 was passed, and when eminent men of both parties honestly thought that wages followed the price of corn, the great multitude of the nation, without the aid of learning, “with that intuitive saga 1842.
For these taunts, the House took a speedy revenge. When Cobden sat down, the benches were crowded, and the member for Knaresborough got up. In a speech ten days before Mr. Ferrand had said that the member for Stockport had during the last twelve years accumulated half a million of money; and that when night after night, during the last session, he was asserting that the Corn Laws had ruined the trade in Lancashire, he was actually at that very time running his works both night and day. This was only one item in a gross and violent attack on the whole class of northern manufacturers. He now returned to the charge with greater excitement than before. He quoted a great number of instances, where the system of truck was forced upon the helpless workmen. The artisans, he said, were compelled to live in cottages belonging to the employer, and to pay rent higher by one-tenth than their proper value. They were poisoned by the vile rags and devil’s dust with which they had to work, and which the masters used for the fraudulent adulteration of their cloths. As for scarcity of flour, it arose from the consumption of that article by the manufacturers, in a paste with which they dishonestly daubed the face of their calicoes.
The country gentlemen shouted with exultation. They were ill qualified to judge the worth of these extravagant denunciations. The towns of Lancashire were more unfamiliar to them in those days than Denver or Omaha are in our own, and any atrocity was credible of those who lived and worked within them. The whole conception of modern manufacturing industry was as horrible as it was strange in1842.
Cobden was not cowed by the furious scene. Amid cries of “explain,” he rose to tell the House very quietly, that it was not his mission to indulge in gross personalities. He assured the members who desired a partisan warfare of this kind, that nothing should drive him into a personal altercation; and he considered the dignity of the House in some danger when he found language such as they had been listening to for the last half-hour, received with so much complacency by the Ministers, and with such cheers by the party at their back.
There was violent irritation among his friends at the attack on him and their class, caused less by the exaggeration of the attack itself, than by the exultant spirit in which it was received by the House. Neighbours in Lancashire 1842.
“You never witnessed such a scene as that in the House of Commons when Ferrand was speaking the other night. The Tories were literally frantic with delight. Every sentence he uttered was caught up and cheered by a large majority, far more vehemently than anything that ever fell from Peel or Macaulay. It was not ironical cheering, but downright hearty approbation. I have not the least doubt that the M.P. for Knaresborough spoke the honest convictions of a majority of the members present. The exhibition was premeditated and got up for the occasion. I was told several days before at the club that Ferrand was to follow me in the debate. He was planted (to use a vulgar phrase) upon me by his party. I finished speaking at about a quarter-past eleven, and it was remarked by two or three on our side that just before I sat down, Sir George Clerk of the Treasury went and whispered to Green, the chairman of committee, and directed his eye towards Ferrand, so that notwithstanding that others tried to follow me, he called straight for the Knaresborough hero. Away he went with the attitudes of a prize-fighter, and the voice of a bull..... Just at the time when I was speaking the members swarmed into the House from the dinner-tables, and they were in a right state for supporting Master Ferrand. Colonel S——plied the fellow with oranges to suck, in an affectionate way that resembled a monkey fondling a bear. What do your Tories1842.
“From all that I hear, your people in Lancashire seem to be swayed to and fro like the grass by a summer’s wind, without any particular progress. I suppose it will settle down into more quiet work in the way of tracts and lectures. I should like to have carried it by a coup, but that is not possible. It seems generally admitted up here by all parties that it is now only a question of time. Lord Lowther said to a friend of Villiers the other day, after the division of ninety, that he did not think it would take more than three years to abolish the Corn Laws; and Rawson and I were taking tea at Bellamy’s, when a party of Tory members at another table agreed that it would come to a 5s. fixed duty in about three years. The Tories have not liked the debate. Peel feels that he has not come out of it well. He looks dissatisfied with himself, and I am told he is not in good health. What will he be by the end of the session?” 2
The truth seems to be that the Leaguers, in spite of their moderate expectations, were taken aback by the heavy blow which the Minister had just dealt them. They had hoped against hope, and had been too full of faith in their own arguments to doubt their effect upon others. The ways of parliaments were as strange to them, as the ways of mill-owners were to the House of Commons. For a single moment they were staggered; Cobden was for an instant or two fired by a violent impulse, which soon, however, yielded 1842.
“Now as respects any great demonstration of numbers against the passing of the present law. It has been suggested that we ought to hold a meeting on Kersall Moor. But I presume that would be a joint Suffrage and Corn Law meeting, which would not aid our cause at present. The middle class must be still further pinched and disappointed before they will go to that. I quite agree with you that we must keep the League as a body wholly distinct from the1842.
“After all, I hardly entertain a hope that we shall effect our object by old and regular methods; accidents may aid us, but I do not see my way in the ordinary course of things to beating down the power of aristocracy.”3
Mr. Bright made various suggestions, and Cobden replied to them with provisional assent:—
“I am afraid you must not calculate on my attending at your tea-party. During the recess I shall have some private matters to attend to, and I shall endeavour to avoid public meetings as far as possible. I have been thinking of our future plans, and am more and more convinced of the necessity of keeping ourselves free from all other questions. I am much more of opinion upon reflection, of the necessity of some such bold demonstration in the way of organization and the securing a large fund, as you were alluding to. Something must be done to secure the ground, and thus prevent its being occupied by any other party. Nothing would so much attain that object as to get a large fund secured. I like the idea of an anti-Corn-Law rent. Unless some such demonstration of renewed life and resolution be made immediately after the passing of the Corn Law, it will be suspected that we are giving up the cause.”4
Cobden seems to have cooled down to a sober view of the situation when he wrote to his brother, a fortnight after the affair of Mr. Ferrand:—
“There is a curious symptom breaking out in the Tory 1842.
No new line of action was hit upon until the end of the session. In the meantime, so far as the agitation out of doors went, Cobden’s mind was incessantly turning over plans for strengthening the connexions of the League. To Mr. Ashworth he wrote:—
“It has struck me that it would be well to try to engraft our Free Trade agitation upon the Peace movement. They are one and the same cause. It has often been to me a matter of the greatest surprise, that the Friends have not taken up the question of Free Trade as the means—and I believe the only human means—of effecting universal and permanent peace. The efforts of the Peace Societies, however laudable, can never be successful so long as the nations maintain their present system of isolation. The colonial system, with all its dazzling appeals to the passions of the people, can never be got rid of except by the indirect process of Free Trade, which will gradually and imperceptibly loose the bands which unite our Colonies to us by a mistaken notion of self-interest. Yet the Colonial policy of Europe has been the chief source of wars for the last hundred and fifty years. Again, Free Trade, by perfecting the intercourse, and securing the dependence of countries one upon another,1842.
Besides these tentative projects of new alliances, he watched vigilantly every chance of suggesting a point to his allies outside. To Mr. Bright he wrote:—
“If you have a leisure hour, I wish you would write an article upon the subject of the Queen’s Letter to the parsons, ordering collections in the churches for the distressed. Here is a good opportunity for doing justice to the Dissenting ministers, who met last year to proclaim the miseries of the people, and to propose a better remedy than almsgiving. The Church clergy are almost to a man guilty of causing the present distress by upholding the Corn Law, they having themselves an interest in the high price of bread, and their present efforts must be viewed as tardy and inefficient, if not hypocritical.
“Again, show how futile it must be to try to subsist the manufacturing population upon charitable donations. The wages paid in the cotton trade alone amount to twenty millions a year. Reduce that amount even ten per cent., and how could it be made up by charity? If you have also leisure for another article, make a swingeing assault upon the last general election, and argue from the disclosures 1842.
With reference to the first of the two themes which is here suggested, Cobden always felt keenly the wrong part taken throughout the struggle by the clergy of the Establishment. The rector of the church which he was in the habit of attending, Saint John’s, in Deansgate, appealed to him for help towards an Association for providing ten new churches in Manchester. Cobden in reply expressed his opinion of the project with wholesome frankness:—
“It will be always very gratifying to me to second your charitable efforts to relieve the distresses of our poor neighbours; and if I do not co-operate in the plan for benefitting the destitute population on a large scale by erecting ten new churches, it is only because, in the words of the appeal, I ‘differ about the means to be adopted.’ You, who visit the abodes of poverty, are aware that a great portion of the working population of Manchester are suffering from an insufficiency of wholesome nourishment. The first and most pressing claim of the poor is for food: all other wants are1842.
sir robert peel’s new policy.
The Report of the Committee of 1840 on Import Duties was, as I have already mentioned, the starting-point of the revolution to which Peel now proceeded. It passed a strong condemnation on the existing tariff, as presenting neither congruity nor unity of purpose, and conforming to no general principles. Eleven hundred and fifty rates of duty were enumerated as chargeable on imported articles, and all other articles paid duty as unenumerated. In some cases1842.
It was pointed out that the effect of prohibitory duties was to impose on the consumer an indirect tax often equal to the whole difference of price between the British article and the foreign article which the duty kept out. On articles of food alone the amount taken in this way from the consumer exceeded the amount of all the other taxes levied by the Government. The sacrifices of the community did not end here, but were accompanied by injurious effects upon wages and capital. The duties diminished greatly the productive powers of the country; and they limited our trade. The action of duties which were not prohibitory, but only protective, was of a similar kind. They imposed upon the consumer a tax equal to the amount of the duty levied on the foreign article; but it was a tax which went not to the public treasury, but to the protected manufacturer.
Evidence was taken to show that the protective system was not on the whole beneficial to the protected manufactures themselves. The amount of duties levied on the plea of protection to British manufactures did not exceed half a million sterling. Some even of the manufacturers supposed 1842.
With reference to the influence of the protective system on wages, and on the condition of the labourer, the Report was equally decided. As the pressure of foreign competition was heaviest on those articles in the production of which the rate of wages was lowest, so it was obvious in a country exporting so largely as England, that other advantages might more than compensate for an apparent advantage in the money price of labour. The countries in which the rate of wages is lowest, are not always those which manufacture most successfully. The Committee was persuaded that the best service that could be rendered to the industrious classes of the community, would be to extend the field of labour by an extension of our commerce.
The conclusion was a strong conviction in the minds of the Committee, of the necessity of an immediate change in the import duties of the kingdom. By imposts on a small number of those articles which were then most productive1 —the amount of each impost being carefully considered with a view to the greatest consumption of the article, and therefore the highest receipts at the customs—the revenue would not only suffer no loss, but would be considerably augmented.2
This Report was the charter of Free Trade. The Whig Government, as we have seen, had taken from it in a timid and1842.
This is true of Sir Robert Peel’s mind throughout from 1843 to 1846. But it seems only to be partially true of the moment when he brought in the great budget of 1842. Notwithstanding its fatal omission of the duties on corn, it was a Free Trade budget. Corn was excluded partly from the leader’s fear of the “inferior animals” whom it was his honourable but unhappy mission to drive, but partly also by an honest doubt in Peel’s own mind, whether it was safe to depend on foreign countries for our supplies. The doubt was strong enough to warrant him, from his own point of view, in trying an experiment before meddling with corn; and a magnificent experiment it was. The financial plan of 1842 was the beginning of all the great things that have been done since. Its cardinal point was the imposition of a direct tax, in order to relax the commercial tariff. Ultimately the effect of diminishing duties was to increase revenue, but the first effect was a fall in revenue. It was expedient or indispensable for the revival of trade to lower or remit duties, and to purge the tariff. To bridge over the interval before 1842.
The new tariff was not laid before Parliament for some weeks.4 The labour of preparation was enormous. Mr. Gladstone, who was then at the Board of Trade, and on whom much of the labour fell, said many years afterwards that he had been concerned in four revisions of the Tariff, namely in 1842, in 1845, in 1854, and in 1860; and he told Cobden that the first cost six times as much trouble as all the others put together. There was an abatement of duty on seven hundred and fifty articles. The object, as set forth by the Minister himself, speaking generally, was to reduce the duties on raw materials, which constituted the elements of manufactures, to an almost nominal amount; to reduce the duties on half-manufactured articles, which entered almost as much as raw material into domestic manufactures, to a nominal amount. In articles completely manufactured, their object had been to remove prohibitions and reduce prohibitory duties, so as to enable the foreign producer to compete fairly with the domestic manufacturer. The general principle Sir Robert Peel went upon, was to make a considerable reduction in the cost of living. It is true that the duty on the importation of fresh and salted meat was lowered. It is true, too, that he could point to the new Corn Bill as having reduced the duty on wheat by more than a half. While he spoke, it was nine shillings under the new law, and twenty-three under the old one. But the sugar duties were untouched. It seemed a fatal, absurd, miserable flaw in the new scheme to talk of the main object1842.
The Tories followed reluctantly. The more acute among the Protectionists felt that the colonial interest would speedily be forced to surrender its advantage over the sugar of Cuba and Brazil; and one member warned sympathetic hearers that, when the Tariff was passed, the next step to be expected was the repeal of the Corn Laws. The Minister found one remarkable champion on his own side, whose genius he failed to recognize. Mr. Disraeli laughed at the Whigs for pretending to be the originators of Free Trade. It was Mr. Pitt, he said, who first promulgated its doctrines; and it was Fox, Burke, and Sheridan who then denounced the new commercial principles. The principles of Free Trade were developed, and not by Whigs, fifty years before; and the conduct now pursued by Sir Robert Peel was in exact accordance and consistency with the principles for the first time promulgated by Mr. Pitt. So far as it went, Mr. Disraeli’s contention was perfectly correct.
If the Protectionists were puzzled as well as annoyed by the new policy, so were the Free Traders. The following extracts from letters to his brother convey one or two of Cobden’s earlier impressions about Peel. Of the measure he always thought the same, and the worst. By the end of the session Cobden had clearly discerned whither Peel’s mind was turning. We who live a generation after the battle was won, may feel for a moment disappointed that Cobden did not at once 1842.
“What say the wise men to Sir Robert’s income tax? In other words, how do our mill-owners and shopkeepers like to be made to pay 1,200,000l. a year out of their profits, to insure the continuance of the corn and sugar monopolies? I should think that the proposal to place profits upon a par with rent before the tax collector will not be vastly popular, unless the law can contrive to keep up the former as it does the latter. The only important change after all, announced last night, was timber.... Peel delivered his statement in a clear and clever way, never faltering nor missing a word in nearly a four hours’ speech. This has gone far to convince our noodles on the Whig side that there is a great deal of good in his budget; and I find even our friend J——is inclined to praise the budget. But I fully expect that it will do much to render Peel vastly unpopular with the upper portion of the middle class, who will see no compensation in the tariff for a tax upon their incomes and profits. If this be the result of the measure, it will do good to the Corn Law cause, by bringing the discontented to our ranks. Let me know what your wiseacres say about it.”5
“Both the corn and income tax will be thrown over Easter I expect. Peel is very anxious to force on both measures,1842.
“The truth is, your accounts make me feel very uneasy at my position. No earthly good can I do here. The thing must be allowed to work itself into some new shape—time only can tell what. We are nowhere on the opposition side at present. Peel must head a milieu party soon. If the old Duke were dead, he would quarrel with the ultra-Tories in a month. He is no more with them in heart than you or 1842.
“Peel is a Free-trader, and so are Ripon and Gladstone. The last was put in by the Puseyites, who thought they had insinuated the wedge, but they now complain that he has been quite absorbed by Peel, which is the fact. Gladstone makes a very clever aide-de-camp to Peel, but is nothing without him. The Government are at their wits’ end about the state of the country. The Devonshire House Whigs are beginning to talk of the necessity of supporting the Government in case of any serious troubles, which means a virtual coalition; a point they are evidently being driven to by the force of events. Peel will throw overboard the bigots of his party, if he have the chance. But the real difficulty is the present state of the country. The accounts from every part are equally bad, and Chadwick says the poor-rates in the agricultural districts are rising rapidly. A great deal of land has been offered for sale during the last three months, and everything seems working beautifully for a cure in the only possible way, viz., distress, suffering, and want of money. I am most anxious to get away and come to Manchester; I know the necessity of my presence, and shall let nothing but the corn question keep me.”8
“The last fortnight has done more to advance our cause than the last six or twelve months. The Peel party are fairly beaten in argument, and for the first time they are willing to listen to us as if they were anxious to learn excuses for their inevitable conversion. If I were disposed to be vain of my talk, I have had good reason, for both sides speak in praise of my two last efforts. The Reform and1842.
“Peel and his squad will be right glad to get rid of the House, and I suspect it will not be his fault if he does not get a measure of Corn Law repeal ready before next session, to stop the mouths of the League men. He has been excessively worried by our clique in the House, and I have reason to flatter myself with the notion that I have been a frequent thorn in his side. If distress should continue to favour us, we shall get something substantial in another twelve months, and I suspect we may bargain for the continuance of bad trade for that length of time at least.”10
Something must be said of the two speeches of which Cobden speaks so lightly in one of these extracts. It was July before he made any prominent attack on the financial scheme. In March, when Peel had wished to press the Income Tax Bill forwards, Cobden had been one of a small group who persisted in obstructive motions for adjournment, until Peel was at length forced to give way. He had also made remarks from time to time in Committee. But the session was far advanced before he found a proper occasion for putting forward all the strength of his case.
On July 1 a great debate was opened by Mr. Wallace of Greenock, upon the distress of the country. Mr. Disraeli pointed out, with much force and ingenuity, that the languid 1842.
This provoked Cobden to make his first great speech in the House (July 8). Mr. Roebuck, who spoke the same evening, described it as “a speech fraught with more melancholy instruction than it had ever been his lot to hear. A speech, in the incidents which it unfolded, more deeply interesting to the people of this country, he had never heard in his life; and these incidents were set forth with great ability and great simplicity.” As a debating reply to the Prime Minister, it was of consummate force and vivacity. The facts which Cobden adduced supported his vigorous charge that Peel viewed the matter too narrowly, and that circumstances were more urgent than he had chosen to admit. It was exactly one of those speeches which the House of Commons naturally delights in. It contained not a single waste sentence. Every one of Peel’s arguments was met by detail and circumstance, and yet detail and circumstance the most minute were kept alive by a stream of eager and on-pressing conviction. Peel had compared the consumption of cotton in two half-years; Cobden showed that for purposes of comparison they were the wrong half-years. Peel had talked of improved machinery for a time turning people out1842.
Cobden gave additional strength to his appeal by showing that its eagerness was not due to a merely official partisanship. He saw no reason, he declared, why they should not take good measures from Sir Robert Peel, or why they should prefer those of Lord John Russell. “The noble Lord is called the leader on this side of the House, and I confess that when I first came into the House I was inclined to look upon him as a leader; but from what I have seen, I believe the right hon. Baronet to be as liberal as the noble Lord. If the noble lord is my leader, I can only say that I believe that in four out of five divisions I have voted against him. He must be an odd kind of leader who thus votes against those he leads. I will take measures of relief from the right hon. Baronet as well as from the noble Lord, but upon some measure of relief I will insist..... I give the Prime Minister credit for the difficulties of his situation; but this question must be met, and met fully; it must not be quibbled away; it must not be looked upon as a Manchester question; the whole condition of the country must be looked at and faced, and it must be done before we separate this session.”
Three nights later (July 11), Sir Robert Peel took occasion to deal with some of Cobden’s economic propositions, especially an assertion that in prosperous times improvements in machinery do not tend to throw labourers out of employ ment. At the close of his speech the Minister revealed the1842.
Cobden, in the course of a vigorous reply, pointed to a historic parallel which truly described the political situation. He warned the aristocracy and the landowners never to expect to find another Prime Minister who would take office to uphold their monopoly. “They had killed Canning by thwarting him, and they would visit the same fate on their present leader, if he persevered in the same attempt to govern for the aristocracy, while professing to govern for the people.” At this there were loud groans from some parts of the House. “Yes,” repeated Cobden, undaunted, “they had killed Canning by forcing him to try and reconcile their interests with those of the people, and no human power could enable the right hon. Baronet to survive the same ordeal.”[Back to Table of Contents]
renewed activity of the league—cobden and sir robert peel—rural campaign.
In September he made an important speech to the Council of the League, at Manchester. It explains their relations to political parties, and to social classes. They had been lately charged, he said, with having been in collision with the Chartist party. But those who made this charge had themselves been working for the last three years to excite the Chartist party against the League, and that, too, by means that were not over-creditable. These intriguers had succeeded in deluding a considerable portion of the working classes upon the subject of the Corn Laws. “And I have no objection in admitting here,” Cobden went1842.
In another speech, he said the great mass of the people stuck to the bread-tax because it was the law. “He did not charge the great body of the working classes with taking part against the repeal of the Corn Laws, but he charged the great body of the intelligent mechanics with standing aloof, and allowing a parcel of lads, with hired knaves for leaders, to interrupt their meetings.” As time went on, the share of the working class in the movement became more satisfactory. Meanwhile, it is important to notice that they held aloof, or else opposed it as interfering with those claims of their own to political power, which the Reform Act had so unexpectedly baulked.
Recovering themselves from the disappointment and con 1842.
They had been spending a hundred pounds a week. They ought now, said Cobden, to spend a thousand. Up to this time the Council of the League had had twenty-five thousand pounds through their hands, of which by far the larger portion had been raised in Manchester and the neighbouring district. About three times that sum had been raised and expended by local associations elsewhere. In all, therefore, a hundred thousand pounds had gone, and the Corn Laws seemed more immovable than ever. With admirable energy, the Council now made up their minds at once to raise a new fund of fifty thousand pounds, and, notwithstanding the terrible condition of the cotton trade, the amount was collected in a very short time. Men contributed freely because they knew that the rescue of their capital depended on the opening of markets from which the protection on corn excluded them.
“You will have observed,” Cobden wrote to Mr. Edward Baines, “that the Council of the League are determined upon a renewed agitation upon a great scale, provided they can get a commensurate pecuniary help from the country, and my object in troubling you is to beg that you will endeavour to rouse the men of the West Riding to another effort.
“Then scheme which we especially aim at carrying out is this:—To make an attack upon every registered elector of the kingdom, county and borough, by sending to each a packet of publications embracing the whole argument as it affects both the agricultural and trading view of the question. We are procuring the copies of the registers for the purpose. But the plan involves an expense of 20,000l. Add to this our increased expenditure in lectures, etc., and the contemplated cost of the spring deputations in London, and we shall require 50,000l. to do justice to1842.
“A vast proportion of our expenditure has been of a kind to bring no éclat, such as the wide distribution of tracts in the purely agricultural districts, and the subsidizing of literary talent which does not appear in connexion with the League. If I had the opportunity of a little gossip with you, I could give you proof of much efficient agitation for which the League does not get credit publicly. There is danger, however, in the growing adversity of this district, that we may pump our springs dry, and it is more and more necessary to widen the circle of our contributors. We confidently rely on your influential co-operation.
“Recollect that our primary object is to work the printing press, not upon productions of our own, but producing the essence of authoritative writers, such as Deacon Hume, Lord Fitzwilliam, etc., and scattering them broadcast over the land. Towards such an object no Free-trader can scruple to commit himself. And in no other human war that I am acquainted with, can we accomplish our end by moral and peaceable means. There is no use in blinking the real difficulties of our task, which is the education of twenty-seven millions of people, an object not to be accomplished except by the cordial assist 1842.
The staff of lecturers was again despatched on its missionary errand. To each elector in the kingdom was sent a little library of tracts. Tea parties followed by meetings were found to be more attractive in the northern towns than meetings without tea parties. Places where meetings had been thinly attended, now produced crowds. Cobden, Mr. Bright. Mr. Ashworth, and the other chief speakers, again scoured the country north of the Trent; and at the end of the year, the first two of these, along with Colonel Perronet Thompson—the author of the famous Catechism of the Corn Laws, and styled by Cobden, the father of them all—proceeded on a pilgrimage to Scotland.
“Our progress ever since we crossed the border,” Cobden writes, “has been gratifying in the extreme. Had we been disposed to encourage a display of enthusiasm, we might have frightened the more nervous of the monopolists with our demonstrations. As it is, we have been content to allow honours to be thrust upon us in our own persons, or rather mine, by the representatives of the people. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Kirkcaldy, Dundee, Perth, and Stirling, have all presented me with the freedom of their burghs, and I have no doubt I could have become a free citizen of every corporate town in Scotland by paying them a visit.2 All this is due to the principles we advocate, for I have done all I could to discourage any personal compliments to myself. Scotland is fairly up now, and we shall have more in future from this side of the Tweed upon the Corn Law. We go to-day to Glasgow to attend another Free-trade banquet.1843.
“I shall be with you at the end of the week. The work has been too heavy for me, and I have been obliged to throw an extra share upon Bright and the old veteran Colonel. I caught cold in coming from Carlisle to Glasgow by night, and have not got rid of it. To-day has, however, been very fine, and I have enjoyed a long walk with George Combe into the country, looking at the farm-houses, each of which has a tall chimney attached belonging to the engine house. I am obliged to come from Glasgow here on Thursday to go through the ceremony of receiving the freedom of this city. Upon the whole, I am satisfied with the aspect of things in Scotland. I am not afraid of their going back from their convictions, and there is scarcely a man who is not against the present law, and nearly all are going on to total repeal. For Maule’s conversion is important . He is heir to 80,000l. a year in land, 40,000 acres under the plough.”4
From Dundee, through Hawick, the deputation crossed the border to Newcastle, Sunderland, Darlington, and other towns of that region. On their return to head-quarters, Mr. Bright recounted to a crowded meeting at Manchester what they had done, and he summed up their impressions of Scotland in words that deserve to be put on record. There were some general features, Mr. Bright said, which struck him very strongly in their tour through Scotland.
“Scotland, in former ages, was the cradle of liberty, civil and religious. Scotland, now, is the home of liberty; and there are more men in Scotland, in proportion to its population, who are in favour of the rights of man than there are in any other equal proportion of the population of this country.... I told them that they were the people who should have repeal of the Union; for that, if they were separate from England, they might have a government wholly popular and intelligent, to a degree which I believe does not exist in any other country on the face of the earth. However, I believe they will be disposed to press us on, and make us become more and more intelligent; and we may receive benefit from our contact with them, even though, for some ages to come, our connexion with them may be productive of evil to themselves.”
In England, at least, it is certain that the amazing vigour and resolution of the League were regarded with intense disfavour by great and important classes. The League was thoroughly out of fashion. It was regarded as violent, extreme, and not respectable. A year before, it had usually been described as a selfish and contemptible faction. By the end of 1842 things had become more serious. The notorious pamphleteer of the Quarterly Review now denounced the League as the foulest and most dangerous combination of recent times. The Times spoke of Cobden, Bright, and their allies as “capering mercenaries who go frisking about the country;” as authors of incendiary clap-trap; as peripatetic orators puffing themselves into 1843.
The session of 1843 opened with the most painful incident in Cobden’s parliamentary life. It is well to preface an account of it, by mentioning an even that happened on the eve of the session. Mr. Drummond, the private secretary of the Prime Minister, was shot in Parliament Street, and in a few days died from the wound. The assassin was Daniel M’Naghten, a mechanic from Glasgow, who at the trial was acquitted on the ground of insanity. From Something that he said to a police inspector in his cell, the belief got abroad that in firing at Mr. Drummond he supposed that he was dealing with Sir Robert Peel. The evidence at the trial showed even this to be very doubtful, and in any case the act was simply that of a lunatic. But it shook Sir1843.
Lord Howick on an early night in the session moved that the House should resolve itself into a committee to consider a passage in the Queen’s speech, in which reference had been made to the prevailing distress. The debate on the motion was a great affair, and extended over five nights. It was a discussion worthy of the fame of the House of Commons—a serious effort on the part of most of those who contributed to it, to shed some light on the difficulties in which the country was involved. Cobden spoke on the last night of the debate (Feb. 17). He answered in his usual dexterious and argumentative way the statements of Lord Stanley, Mr. Gladstone, and other opponents of a repeal of the Corn Law, and then he proceeded to a fervent remonstrance with the Prime Minister. I quote some of the sentences which led to what followed: “If you (Sir Robert Peel) try any other remedy than ours, what chance have you for mitigating the condition of the country? You took the Corn Laws into your own hands after a fashion of your own, and amended them according to your own views. You said that you were uninfluenced in what you did by any pressure from without on your judgment. You acted on your own judgment, and would follow no other, and you are responsible for the consequences of your act. You said that your object was to find more employment for the increasing population. Who so likely, however, to tell you what markets could be extended, as those who are engaged in carrying on the trade and manufactures of the country?... You passed the law, 1843.
When Cobden sat down, the Prime Minister rose to his feet, with signs of strong agitation in his usually impassive bearing. “Sir,” he said, “the honourable gentleman has stated here very emphatically, what he has more than once stated at the conferences of the Anti-Corn-Law League, that he holds me individually—” Here the speaker was inter1843.
The enraged denials and the confusion with which the Ministerial benches broke into his explanation, showed Cobden that it was hopeless for the moment to attempt to clear himself. Sir Robert Peel resumed by reiterating the charge that Cobden had twice declared that he would hold the Minister individually responsible. This inauspicious beginning was the prelude of a strong and careful speech; as strong a speech as could be made by a minister who was not prepared to launch into the full tide of Cobden’s own policy,5 and had only doubtful arguments about practical 1843.
Lord John Russell, who spoke after the Minister, had no particular reason to be anxious to defend so dubious a follower as Cobden, but his honourable spirit revolted against the unjust and insulting demeanour of the House. “I am sure,” he said, “that for my own part, and I believe I can answer for most of those who sit round me, that the same sense was not attached to the honourable member for Stockport’s words, as has been attached by the right honourable Baronet and honourable members opposite.” When Lord John Russell had finished a speech that practically wound up the debate, Cobden returned to his explanation, and amid some interruptions from the opposite benches, as well as from the Speaker on a point of order, again insisted that he had intended to throw the responsibility of the Minister’s measures upon him as the head of the Govern ment In using the word “individually,” he used it as the1843.
Very stiffly Peel accepted the explanation. “I am bound to accept the construction which the honourable member puts upon the language he employed. He used the word ‘individually’ in so marked a way, that I and others put upon it a different explanation. He supposes the word ‘individually’ to mean public responsibility in the situation I hold, and I admit it at once. I thought the words he employed, ‘I hold you individually responsible,’ might have an effect, which I think many other gentlemen who heard them might anticipate.”
The sitting was not to end without an assault on Cobden from a different quarter. Sir Robert Peel had no sooner accepted one explanation, than Mr. Roebuck made a statement that demanded another. He taxed Cobden with having spoken of Lord Brougham as a maniac; with having threatened his own seat at Bath; and with having tolerated the use of such reprehensible and dangerous language by members of the League, as justified Lord Brougham’s exhortation to all friends of Corn Law Reform to separate themselves from such evil advisers. This incident sprang from some words which Brougham had used in the House of Lords a week before. They are a fine example of parliamentary mouthing, and of that cheap courage which consists in thundering against the indiscretions of an unpopular friend. If anything could retard the progress of the doctrines of the League, he had said, “it would be the exaggerated statements and violence of some of those connected with their body—the means adopted by them at some of their meetings to excite—happily they have not much suc 1843.
Cobden, as we might expect, had spoken freely of this rebuke as the result of a reckless intellect and a malignant spirit, or words to that effect.6 Nobody can think that Mr. Roebuck had chosen his moment very chivalrously. Even now, when time and death are throwing the veil of kindly oblivion over the struggle, we read with some satisfaction the denunciation by Mr. Bright, of the “Brummagem Brougham, who, when the whole Ministerial side of the House was yelling at the man who stood there, the very impersonation of justice to the people, stood forward and dared to throw his puny dart at Richard Cobden.” There is hardly an instance which illustrates more painfully the ungenerous, the unsparing, the fierce treatment for which a man must be prepared who enters public life in the House of Commons. The sentiment of the House itself was against Cobden. It always is more or less secretly against anyone of its members who is known to have a serious influence outside, and to be raising the public opinion of constituencies1843.
Cobden’s own remarks on this unhappy evening are better than any that an outsider can offer. To his brother Frederick he wrote as follows:—
“The affair of last Friday seems to be working more and more to our advantage. It has been the talk of everybody here, from the young lady on the throne, down to the back-parlour visitors of every pot-house in the metropolis. And the result seems to be a pretty general notion that Peel has made a great fool of himself, if not something worse. He is obliged now to assume that he was in earnest, for no man likes to confess himself a hypocrite, and to put up with the ridicule of his own party in private as a coward. Lord—was joking with Ricardo in the House the other night about him; pointing towards Peel as he was leaning forward, he whispered, ‘There, the fellow is afraid somebody is taking aim at him from the gallery.’ Then the pack at his back are not very well satisfied with themselves at having been so palpably dragged through the mud by him, for they had evidently not considered that I was threatening him. Indeed the fact of their having called for Bankes to speak after I sat down, and whilst Peel was 1843.
“The thing is on its last legs. The wholesale admissions of our principles by the Government must prove destructive to the system in no very long time. The whole matter turns upon the possibility of their finding a man to fill the office of executioner for them, and when Peel bolts or betrays them, the game is up. It is this conviction in my mind which induced me after some deliberation to throw the responsibility upon Peel, and he is not only alarmed at it, but indiscreet enough to let everybody know that he is so.... Our meeting last night was a wonderful exhibition. In the course of a couple of months we will have entire possession of the metropolis. Nothing will alarm Peel so much as exhibitions of strength and feeling at his own door. I am overdone from all parts with letters and congratulations,1843.
The enemies of the League made the most of what had happened. They spoke of Cobden as politically ruined, and ruined beyond retrieval. Brougham, with hollow pity, wrote about the “downfall of poor Mr. Cobden.” It soon appeared that there was another side to the matter. Meetings were held to protest against the treatment which Cobden had received from the Minister and the House; sympathetic addresses were sent to him from half the towns in England, and all the towns in Scotland; and for many weeks afterwards, whenever he appeared in a public assembly, he was greeted with such acclamations as had seldom been heard in public assemblies before. We may believe that Cobden was perfectly sincere when he said to one of his friends:—“I dislike this personal matter for many good reasons, public and private. We must avoid any of this individual glorification in the future. My forte is simplicity of action, hard working behind the scenes, and common sense in council; but I have neither taste nor aptitude for these public displays.”9
At Manchester some eight thousand men and women met to hear stirring speeches on the recent affair. Mr. Bright moved a resolution, for an address to Cobden, in words that glow with noble and energetic passion, while they keep clear of hero-worship. “I do not stand up,” he said, “to flatter the member for Stockport. I believe him to be a very intelligent and very honest man; I believe that he will act with a single eye to the good of his country; I believe that he is firmly convinced of the truth of the great principles of which he is so distinguished an advocate.”
“I have just received an address signed by upwards of 31,000 inhabitants of Manchester, declaring their approval of my public conduct as an advocate of the principle of commercial freedom, and their indignation at a late attempt to give a perverted and hateful meaning to my language in Parliament. Allow me through you, who have done me the honour to place your name at the head of the list of signatures, to convey to your fellow-townsmen the expression of my heartfelt gratitude for this manifestation of their sympathy and confidence.
“Whilst I unfeignedly profess my unworthiness to receive such a flattering and unexpected testimonial in reward for my public services generally, I should feel degraded indeed if I could not conscientiously accept the prompt repudiation of the conduct imputed to me on a recent occasion. Nay, I should feel it to be derogatory from my character as a man and a Christian, that my countrymen should come forward to repel the misinterpretation which has been given to my words, were it not necessary on public grounds to prevent the First Minister of the Crown from evading, under any misconstruction of language, his responsibility for the alarming consequences of the measures of his Government—a responsibility not to the hand of the assassin, but a constitutional and moral responsibility which has been defined in the language of Edmund Burke: ‘Where I speak of responsibility, I do not mean to exclude that species of it which the legal powers of the country have a right finally to exact from those who abuse a public trust: but high as this is, there is a responsibility which attaches on them, from which the whole legitimate power of this kingdom cannot absolve them. There is a responsi bility to conscience and to glory, a responsibility to the1843.
“Never at any period of our history did this constitutional and moral responsibility attach more strongly to a minister than at the present moment, when the country is struggling, amidst distress and embarrassment the most alarming, against a system of monopoly which threatens the ruin of our manufactures and commerce. That this system, with its disastrous consequences of a declining trade, a sinking revenue, increasing pauperism, and a growing disaffection in the people, owes its continuance to the support of the present Prime Minister more than to that of his entire party, few persons who have had the opportunity of observing the manner in which he individualizes in his own person the powers of government, will deny.
“That the withdrawal of his support from this pernicious system would do more at the present moment than all the efforts of the friends of Free Trade to effect the downfall of monopoly has been proclaimed upon high authority from his own side of the House. ‘If the right hon. Baronet,’ said Mr. Liddell, member for North Durham, in the debate, Feb. 3, ‘had shown any symptoms of wavering in the support of the Corn Law, which he had himself put upon a sound footing last year, such conduct would have been productive of a hundred times more mischief than all the denunciations of the Anti-Corn-Law League.’ With such evidences of the power possessed by the First Minister of the Crown, I should have been an unworthy representative of the people, and a traitor to the suffering interests of my 1843.
“Sanctioned and sustained as I have been by the approving voice of the inhabitants of Manchester, and of my countrymen generally, I shall go forward undeterred by the arts or the violence of my opponents, in that course to which a conscientious sense of public duty impels me; and whilst studiously avoiding every ground of personal irritation—for our cause is too vast in its objects, and too good and too strong in its principles, to be made a mere topic of personal altercation—I shall never shrink from declaring in my place in Parliament the constitutional doctrine of the inalienable responsibility of the First Minister of the Crown for the measures of his Government.”2
A few days after the scene in the House of Commons, the first of those great meetings was held, which eventually turned opinion in London in good earnest to the views of the League. The Crown and Anchor and the Freemasons’ Tavern had become too small to hold the audiences. Drury Lane Theatre was hired, and here seven meetings were held between the beginning of March and the beginning of May. The crowds who thronged the theatre were not always the same in keenness and energy of perception, but their numbers never fell short, and their enthusiasm grew more intense as they gradually mastered the case, and became better acquainted with the persons and characters of the prominent speakers. In the following letter to his brother, Cobden hints at the special advantage which he expected from these gatherings:—
“There is but one of their lies,” he says, referring to the gossip of the Tories, “that I should care to make them prove; that is that our business is worth 10,000l. a year! By the way, it is a wholesome sign that my middle-class1843.
“The meeting at Taunton was a bonâ-fide farmers’ gathering from all parts of the division of Somerset, and there was but one opinion in the town amongst all parties who attended the market, that the game of the ‘political landlords’ is all up. I find our case upon agricultural grounds far stronger and easier than in relation to the trading interests. Now, depend upon it, it will be just as we have often predicted, the agricultural districts of the south will carry our question. They are as a community in every respect, whether as regards intelligence, morality, politics, or public spirit, superior to the folks that surround you in Lancashire. I intend to hold county meetings every Saturday after Easter.”4
The year 1843 was famous for a great agitation in each of the three kingdoms. O’Connell was rousing Ireland by the cry of Repeal. Scotland was kindled to one of its most passionate movements of enthusiasm by the outgoing of Chalmers and his brethren from the Establishment. In England the League against the Corn Law was rapidly growing in flood and volume. If ever the natural history of agitations is taken in hand, it will be instructive to compare the different methods of these three movements, two of which succeeded, while the third failed.
Cobden never disdained large popular meetings, to be counted by thousands. These gatherings of great multitudes were useful, not merely because they were likely to stir a certain interest more or less durable in those who attended them, but also because they impressed the Protectionist party with the force and numbers that were being arrayed against them. But he did not overrate either their signi1843.
The League had shown the evil effects of the Corn Law upon operatives, shopkeepers, manufacturers, and merchants. They now turned to another quarter, and set to work to prove that the same law inflicted still greater injuries upon the tenant farmers and the labourers. The towns were already convinced, and the time was a good one for an invasion of the agricultural districts. The farmers were getting low prices. They were disgusted at the concessions to Free Trade which had been made in the budget, especially in the article of meat. They suspected their parliamentary friends of trickery, and a selfish deference to a plausible Minister.
The meetings in the counties were highly successful for their immediate purpose, and they are full of interest to look back upon. They are, perhaps, the most striking and original feature in the whole agitation. There was true political courage and profound faith, in the idea of wakening the most torpid portion of the community, not by any appeal to passion, but by hard argumentative debate. It was generally accepted that the controversy was one to be settled by arguments and not by force. Sir George Lewis said that if the proposal had been to annihilate rents instead of reducing them, the Protectionists would as certainly have 1843.
Farmers who were afraid of attending meetings in their own immediate district, used to travel thirty or forty miles to places where they could listen to the speakers without being known. Enemies came to the meetings, and began to take notes in a very confident spirit, but as the arguments became too strong for them, the pencil was laid aside, and the paper was torn up. At Norwich, the leading yeoman1843.
At Hertford the Shire Hall was so crowded, that the meeting was held in the open air. The multitude was mainly composed of farmers, and on the skirts of the multitude some of the most important squires in the county sat on horseback to hear the discussion. Cobden spoke for two hours, and obtained a sympathetic hearing by his announcement that he was the son of a Sussex farmer, that he had kept his father’s sheep, and had seen the misery of a rent-day. It was at this meeting at Hertford that he first met Mr. Lattimore, the well-known farmer of Wheathampstead, to whom he was in the subsequent course of the movement greatly indebted for agricultural facts bearing on Free Trade.6
In Bedford Cobden had not a single friend or acquaintance. He had simply announced as extensively as he could by placards, that he meant to visit the town on a given day. The farmers had been canvassed far and wide to attend to put down the representatives from the Anti-Corn-Law League. The Assembly Rooms could not hold half the persons who had come together, and they adjourned to a large field outside the town. Three waggons were provided to serve as hustings, but the monopolist party rudely seized them, and Cobden had to wait while a fourth waggon was procured. Lord Charles Russell presided, and the discussion began. The proceedings went on from three o’clock in the afternoon until nine o’clock in the evening, in spite of heavy showers of rain. At first Cobden was listened to with some impatience, but as he warmed to his subject, and began to deliver telling strokes of illustration and argument, the impression gradually spread that he was right. The chairman was 1843.
“We fought a hard battle at Bedford,” Cobden writes to his brother, “against brutish squires and bull-frogs, but carried it two to one, contrary to the expectations of every man in the county. Lord Charles Russell is the man who opposed even his brother John’s fixed duty, declaring at the time that it was to throw two millions of acres out of cultivation. After Bedford, we can win anywhere; and it is giving great moral power to my movements in the rural districts to be always successful. The aristocracy are becoming savage and alarmed at the war going on in their own camp.”7
“On Saturday next,” he continues, “I shall be at Rye, where there will be a grand muster from all the eastern part of our county and from parts of Kent. These county meetings are becoming provokingly interesting and attractive, so far as the landlords are affected. They begin to feel the necessity of showing fight, and yet when they do come out to meet me, they are sure to be beaten on their own dunghill. The question of protection is now an open one at all the market tables in the counties where I have been, and the discussion of the question cannot fail to have the right issue.”8
This discussion sometimes broke down for lack of representatives of the opposite cause:—
“Our meeting at Rye was a very tame affair for want of any open spirit of opposition. The audience was almost as quiet as a flock of their own Southdowns. I fear the squires and parsons will give up the old game of opposition, and try to keep the farmers away. However, we have sown the seeds in the South of England which nothing will eradicate. Wherever I go, I make the Corn question an open question1843.
At Penenden Heath (June 29), three thousand of the men of Kent assembled to hear a close argumentative debate between Cobden and a local landowner. Two days later there was an open-air meeting at Guildford, where Cobden stated his case, tided over interruptions, and met objections from all comers for several hours. We need not further prolong the history of this summer’s campaign. Hereford, Lewes, Croydon, Bristol, Salisbury,1 Canterbury, and Reading, were all visited before the end of the session by Cobden and Mr. Bright, or some other coadjutor. In all of them, amid great variety of illustrations, and with a constantly increasing stock of facts, he pinned his opponents to the point, How, when, or where, have farmers and farm labourers benefited by the Corn Law? His greatest victory was at Colchester, the chief town of a county which kept its parliamentary representation unsullied by a single Liberal. The whole district had been 1843.
“Will these repeated discomfitures,” cried the Morning Post, “induce the landowners of England to open their eyes to the dangers that beset them? What may be the causes of Mr. Cobden’s success? The primary cause is assuredly that which conduces to the success of Sir Robert Peel. Why, indeed, if parliamentary landowners deem it honest and wise to support the author of the Tariff and the new Corn Law, should not the tenant farmers of England support Sir Robert Peel’s principles when enunciated by Mr. Cobden? With what pretensions to consistency could Sir John Tyrrell oppose Mr. Cobden on the hustings at Colchester, after having supported all the Free Trade measures that had made the session of 1842 infamous in the annals of1843.
Mr. Bright once said at a public meeting,2 that people had talked much more than was pleasant to him about his friend Cobden and himself, and he would tell them that in the Council were many whose names were never before the public, and yet who deserved the highest praise. He was sorry that it should for a moment be supposed, that they who were more prominently before the public, and who were but two or three, should be considered the most praiseworthy. Nor was he singular. Cobden took every opportunity quietly and modestly of saying the same thing. The applause of multitudes never inflated him into a demagogue, as it was truly observed, any more than the atmosphere of Parliament and of London society ever depressed him into conventionality.3 I cannot find a trace or a word in the most private correspondence, betraying on the part of any prominent actor in the League a symptom of petty or ignoble egotism. They were too much in earnest. Never on a scene where the temptations to vanity were so many, was vanity so entirely absent.
Cobden’s incessant activity, his dialectical skill, the 1843.
As he said afterwards, Cobden lived at this time in public meetings. Along with the county meetings, there was for some time a weekly gathering the Commercial Rooms in Threadneedle Street, where the League speakers reiterated their arguments to crowded audiences of merchants and bankers. There were the enthusiastic assemblies at Drury Lane and afterwards at Covent Garden, in which the in terest of the London public was so great that the report of1843.
The serious subjects of discussion in Parliament were all related to the social condition of the people, and men noticed how at one point or another they all touched the question of Free Trade. The Government brought in their famous measure of national education, as we shall afterwards see. The League, though not formally opposed to the measure, pointed out the folly of first by the Corn Law taxing the people into poverty, and then taxing the impoverished to pay for the instruction of the starving. Charles Buller pressed his scheme of state-aided emigration.4 The League retorted that if the Corn 1843.
Unhappily there was nobody in Manchester to whom this evil designation was less applicable. Only a week before the close of the session, Cobden wrote to his brother—
“Your account is surely enough a bad turn up. There must be something radically fallacious in our mode of calculating cost or fixing prices. Not that I expected very much this year, because our last autumn must have been a serious loss, and the spring business squeezed into too small a space of time to do great things in. We must have a rigid overhauling of expenses, and see if they can be reduced; and if not, we must at all events fix our prices to cover all charges. I rather suspect we made a blunder in fixing them too low last spring. But with our present reputation, we must not give our goods away. The truth is, a great portion of our Manchester trade has always been done at no profit or at a loss. Still I do not fall into your despair. We have the chance of righting ourselves yet. For after all, our great losses have always arisen from fluctuations in the value of the stock, and there is no risk in that way for some years to come. As to other matters hanging over us, they can only be righted by a general revival of the district, and we shall get Free Trade from the necessities of the Exchequer.”7
The session came to an end; it does not appear, how1843.
“I have been incessantly occupied travelling or talking since I saw you, having made the journey across Northumberland, Cumberland, and Haddingtonshire twice. We go to-morrow to Kendal to give Warburton a lift, and I shall be home on Tuesday. I have seen much to gratify and instruct me. We spent a couple of says with Hope, and his neighbours the East Lothian farmers. They are a century before our Hants and Sussex chawbacons. In fact, they are, by comparison, educated gentlemen and practical philosophers, and their workpeople are more like Sharp and Roberts’s skilled mechanics than our round-frocked peasantry. Our farmers cannot be brought to the Scotch standard by Lord Ducie or a hundred Lord Ducies. The men are wanting. We have better soil and climate, and the live and dead stock may be easily brought to match them, but the two-legged animals will not do in the present generation. We have seen much to encourage us. I have no doubt the Haddingtonshire farmers will commence an agitation against the Corn Laws, which will be a nucleus for independent action amongst their class elsewhere. The Northumberland farmers especially in the north are nearly upon a par with them, and 1844.
“Aberdeen, Jan. 14, 1844.—Here we are happily at the far end of our pilgrimage, and on Tuesday morning we hope to turn our faces homeward. It has been a hard week’s work. After finishing our labours at Perth, I expected to have had a quiet day yesterday. We started in the morning by the coach for this place, but in passing through Forfar we found all the inhabitants at their doors or in the streets. They had heard of our intended passage through their town, and a large crowd was assembled at the inn where the coach stopped, which gave us three cheers; and nothing would do but we must stop to give them an address. We consented, and immediately the temperance band struck up, and paraded through the town, and the parish church bells were set a ringing, in fact the whole town was set in a commotion. We spoke to about two thousand persons in the parish church, which, notwithstanding that it was Saturday evening, was granted to us. It was the first time we ever addressed an Anti-Corn-Law audience in a parish church. Forfar is a poor little borough with a great many weavers of coarse linens, and their enthusiasm is nearly all we can expect from them. A subscription of about a hundred and fifty pounds will, however, be raised. We expect better things in the way of money here. Aberdeen is a fine large town with several extensive manufactories, and a good shipping port. But strange to say it is almost the only place in Scotland where the capitalists seem to have taken no part in the Free-trade movement. But I hope we shall be able to stir them up to-morrow. We shall depart from1844.
“Dundee, Jan. 17, 1844.—I am nearly overdone with work, two meetings at Aberdeen on Monday, up at four on Tuesday, travelled thirty-five miles, held a meeting at Montrose, and then thirty-five miles more to Dundee, for a meeting the same evening. To-morrow we go to Cupar Fife, next day, Leith, the day following, Jedburgh.”
“Newcastle-on-Tyne, Jan. 22.—I got here last night from Jedburgh, where we had the most extraordinary meeting of all. The streets were blocked up with country people as we entered the place, some of whom had come over the hills for twenty miles. It is the Duke of Buccleuch’s country, but he would be puzzled to find followers on his own lands to fight his battles as of old. To-night we meet here, to-morrow at Sunderland, the day after at Sheffield, where you will please address me to-morrow, on Thursday we shall be at York, 1844.
“Hull, Jan. 26, 1844.—I shall leave this place to-morrow by the train at half-past ten, and expect to reach Manchester by about five o’clock. I am, I assure you, heartily glad of the prospect of only two days’ relaxation after the terrible fagging I have had for the last three weeks. To-day we have two meetings in Hull. I am in the Court House with a thousand people before me, and Bright is stirring up the lieges with famous effect. He is reminding the Hull people of the conduct of their ancient representative, Andrew Marvell, and talking of their being unworthy of the graves of their ancestors over which they walk. We shall have another meeting this evening.”
There was one drawback to the Scotch. Before they crossed the border, the Leaguers had held meetings in Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, where they got a couple of thousand pounds before they left the room. At a Scotch meeting, Cobden tells Mrs. Cobden, “we found that to name money was like reading the Riot Act, for dispersing them. They care too much for speeches by mere politicians and Whig aristocrats.” But the results of the campaign were in the highest degree valuable. The deputation strengthened the faith in all the places that they visited, revived interest and conviction, and brought back to Manchester a substantial addition to the funds of their association.
The following letter to Mr. George Wilson belongs to this date, and illustrates a point on which Cobden and his friends were always most solicitous. It is written from Durham, for which Mr. Bright had been returned as member in the previous July:—
“You will remember that when Bright won this place, the Whigs (that is, the Chronicle) tried to make it a Whig triumph, which Bright spoilt by his declaration at the1844.
the session of 1844—factory legislation—the constituencies.
“I wish I could have a little talk with you and Wilson about the removal of the Circular to London. James Wilson1 has a plan for starting a weekly Free-trader by himself and his friends, to be superintended by himself. But he does not intend this unless he can have the support of the League, or at least its acquiescence. He has a notion that a paper would do more good if it were not the organ of the League, but merely their independent supporter. But then what is the League to do for an organ? If we start another weekly paper, it would clash with his. Villiers seems to have been rather taken with James Wilson’s plan, and it would undoubtedly be desirable to have Wilson’s pen at work. It is quite clear that the League must have its organ. The question for us to decide is what kind of paper shall we have? Is it to be simply a removal of the Anti-Bread-Tax Circular to London with the change of the title to the League Circular and to be still confined exclusively to the one object and movement of the 1844.
In the long-run Mr. Wilson started his own newspaper, which he called the Economist. The Circular was suppressed, and the League was published in its stead, conveying, as Cobden said, every syllable of their speeches to twenty thousand people in all the parishes of the Kingdom. Before describing a more important move in the Manchester tactics, I have to say something of Cobden’s action in Parliament, where a very momentous subject presently engaged attention.
In the session of 1844 the Corn Laws fell into the background. Mr. Cardwell, in seconding the motion on the Address, made a marked impression by a collection of evidence that trade was reviving. The revival of trade weakened the strongest argument of the agitators, because it diminished the practical urgency of their question. Parliament is always glad of an excuse for leaving a question alone, and the slightest improvement in the markets was welcomed as a reason for allowing the Corn Law to slumber. The Prime Minister took advantage of such a state of things to quell the sullen suspicion of the agricultural party, by emphatic declarations that the Government had never contemplated, and did not then contemplate, any alteration in the existing law. Repeal he hardly deigned to notice; it would, he said, produce the greatest confusion and distress. There was, no doubt, the alternative of a fixed duty; but if it should happen that the agriculturists should come to prefer that to his sliding scale, then he was inclined to think that, not he, but Lord John Russell would be the proper person1844.
In consequence of this declaration of the Minister, and of the improvement in the condition of the population, comparatively slight attention was paid to the discussion on Mr. Villiers’s annual Motion (June 25). The League was violently abused by the Mileses, Bankeses, Ferrands, and Sir John Trollopes. It was again and again asserted that the rate of wages was regulated by the price of corn, and that the avowed object of the agitators was to lower wages by lowering corn. Cobden replied to such serious arguments as he could find in the course of the debate, but the front bench on the side of the Opposition was empty for most of the evening; Lord John Russell declined to vote; Mr. Bright was listened to with so much impatience that he was forced to sit down; and a very hollow performance ended with a majority of 204 against the Motion.3
In the earlier part of the session (March 12), Cobden had moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the effects of protective duties on agricultural tenants and labourers. This was a new approach. The main argument for repeal had hitherto been from the side of the manufacturing population. In what way, save by the admission of foreign corn in exchange for British manufactures, could we secure extended markets; or, in other words, extended demand for the industry of the people? Cobden now turned to the agricultural side of the question, and asked the House of Commons, as he had asked the farmers during the previous year, to examine what advantage the Corn Law had brought to the agriculturists themselves. He described the condition of the labourer, morally, socially, and economically; said that it was the fear of falling into this con 1844.
This bad division had perhaps less than the general feeling of the House, as gathered from talk in the lobbies, to do with the changed view which Cobden now took of the prospects of the cause. The ardour of his hopes was relaxed, though not the firmness of his resolution. He gave expression to this in writing to his brother:—
“It is now quite certain that our Free Trade labours must be spread over a larger space of time than we contemplated at one time. The agitation must be of a different kind to what we have hitherto pursued. In fact we must merely have just so many demonstrations as will be necessary to keep hold of public attention, and the work must go on in the way of registration labours in those large constituencies where we can hope to gain anything by a change of public opinion. The little pocket boroughs must be absolutely given over. They will not weigh as a feather in the settle ment of the question. Time can alone effect the business.1844.
The following passage relates to a subject which kindled more excitement in the country than any other question before Parliament. It was an episode in the endless battle between bigotry and the sense of justice. The judgment in the famous case of Lady Hewley’s bequest, finally delivered after fourteen years of litigation, exposed endowments which had been for several generations in the hands of Unitarians, to the risk of appropriation by Trinitarian Dissenters. The Ministry brought in a Bill to confirm religious bodies, whether Trinitarian or Unitarian, in the possession of property of which they had been in the enjoyment for twenty years. This measure was regarded by fanatics, alike of the Episcopalian and the independent churches, as favouring the deadly heresy of Unitarianism. The storm raged with furious violence; but the Ministry held firm, and the Bill, which was conservative of the rights of property in the right sense, happily became law. Sir W. Follett’s speech broke down the opposition. We may be sure on which side in the controversy Cobden was found.
“I never entertained an idea of voting for the monopolists in matters of faith. Nor have I had a line from anybody at Stockport to ask me to do so. As at present advised, I shall certainly vote for the Bill. What a spectacle we shall present, if the intolerance of the Commons should reject a measure which the Lords and the Bishops have passed! It 1844.
“Lord Duncan’s reply to a deputation was not amiss. He told them drily, ‘It may be a question whether the founders of the chapels in question intended them for the benefit of Unitarians or Trinitarians, but one thing is certain, they did not intend them for the lawyers, who will have every kick of them, unless the Bill is passed into a law? This young chip of the old block who stood such hard knocking at Camperdown, said an equally good thing to the short-time delegates who called on him to abuse the factory masters. He told them to go home and thank God they had not the landlords for masters, for if they had, their wages would be reduced one-half.”5
It is now time to turn briefly to a subject which sprang as directly as Free Trade itself from the great Condition of England Question. Throughout this memorable parliament, which sat from 1841 to 1847, we are conscious of a genuine effort, alike on the part of the Prime Minister and of independent reformers and philanthropists of all kinds, to grapple with a state of society which threatened to become unmanageable. We see the Parliament diligently feeling its way to one piece after another of wise and beneficent policy, winding up with the most beneficent of all. The development of manufactures, and the increase and redistribution of population which attended it, forced upon all the foremost minds of that time a group of difficulties with which most of them were very inadequately prepared to deal. One fact will be enough to illustrate the extent of the change. In 1818 it was computed that 57,000 persons were employed in cotton factories. Within twenty-one years their numbers had increased to 469,000. How was this vast and rapid influx of population into the cotton towns, with1844.
Cobden answered the question on the economic side. You must, he said, accept and establish the conditions of free exchange. Only on these terms can you make the best use of capital, and ensure the highest attainable prosperity to labour. But at this point—they were then close upon the ever-memorable date of ‘48—the gigantic question of that generation loomed on the horizon. How are you to settle the mutual relations of capital and labour to one another? Abolition of restriction may be excellent in the sphere of commodities. It is so clear that the same condition suffices for the commonwealth, when the commodity to be exchanged is a man’s labour? Or is it palpably false and irrational to talk of labour as a commodity? In other words, can the relations between labour and capital be 1844.
Cobden, as we have already seen (pp. 115–16), when he was first a candidate for Stockport, dissented from these theories. He could not adjust them to his general principle of the expediency of leaving every man free to carry his goods to whatever market he might choose, and to make the best bargain that he could. The man who saw such good reasons for distrusting the regulation of markets by Act of Parliament, was naturally inclined to distrust parliamentary regulation of labour. In the case of children, Cobden fully perceived that freedom of contract is only another name for freedom of coercion, and he admitted the necessity of legislative protection. He never denied that restrictions on the hours of labour were desirable, and he knew by observation, both at home and abroad, that the hours of labour are no measure of its relative productiveness. What he maintained was that all restrictions, however desirable, ought to be secured by the resolute demands and inde pendent action of the workmen themselves, and not by1844.
Singularly enough, while he thus trusted to the independence of the workmen, he objected to workmen’s combinations. “Depend upon it,” he said to his brother, “nothing can be got by fraternizing with trades unions. They are founded upon principles of brutal tyranny and monopoly. I would rather live under a Dey of a Algiers than a Trades Committee.”8 Yet without combination it is difficult to see how, on the great scale of modern industries, the workmen can exert any effective influence on the regulation of their labour. That in the first forms of combination there was both brutality and tyranny, is quite true. That these vices have almost disappeared is due in no small degree to an active fraternization, to use Cobden’s own word, with the leaders of the workmen by members of the middle class, who represented the best moral and social elements in the public opinion of their time.
The protection of the labouring population had in various forms engaged the serious attention of Parliament for several years. So far back as 1802 there was a Factory Act, which was sanitary in its main intention, but also contained clauses regulating hours. Others followed in 1819 and 1825, and a very important factory law, containing the earliest provisions for education, was passed in 1833, by which time the workmen were partially able to make themselves heard in Parliament. In 1842 Lord Ashley had procured the passing of the Mines and Collieries Act, a truly admirable and beneficent piece of legislation, excluding women from labour underground, and rescuing children from conditions hardly less horrible than those of negro slavery. In 1843, still under the impulse of Lord Ashley, Sir James Graham brought 1844.
In 1844 Sir James Graham reintroduced it, without the education clauses, simply as a Bill for regulating the labour of children and young persons. The definition of a child was extended to mean children between nine and thirteen; a child was only to be employed half time, that is to say, not more than six and a half hours each day. The definition of young persons remained as it was, covering persons from thirteen to eighteen; their hours in silk, cotton, wool, and flax manufactories were not to exceed thirteen and a half in each day; and of these one hour and a half were to be allowed for meals and rest, leaving twelve hours as the limit of actual labour. Lord Ashley moved that the hours should be not twelve but ten, and on this issue the battle was fought. The factory question from this time, down to the passing of1844.
Charles Buller defended Lord Ashley’s proposal in what 1844.
“I did not vote upon the Factory question,” Cobden wrote. “The fact is the Government are being whipped with a rod of their own pickling. They used the ten hours’ cry, and all other cries, to get into power, and now they find themselves unable to lay the devil they raised for the destruction of the Whigs. The trickery of the Government was kept up till the time of Ashley’s motion, in the confident expectation that he would be defeated by the Whigs and Free Traders. They (the Government) were calculating upon this support, and so they gave liberty to Wortley and others of their party to vote against the Cabinet in order to get favour at the hustings. The Whigs very basely turned round upon their former opinions to spite the Tories. The only good result is that no Government or party will in future like to use the factory question for a cry. The last year’s education question, and this year’s ten hours Bill, will sicken the factions of such a two-edged weapon. One other good effect may be that men like Graham and Peel will see the necessity of taking anchor upon some sound principles, as a refuge from the Socialist doctrines of the fools behind them. But at all events good must come out of such startling discussions.”3
It cannot be seriously denied that Cobden was fully justified in describing the tendencies of this legislation as socialistic. It was an exertion of the power of the State in its strongest form, definitely limiting in the interest of the labourer the administration of capital. The Act of 18441844.
The reader will observe that Cobden’s design was free from the sinister quality of manufactured voting. He supposed that men would acquire property in their own neighbourhood, the natural seat of their political interests and activity. What is politically mischievous in this franchise only happens when a number of strangers in possession of a factitious qualification invade a district and help to nullify the wishes 1844.
It was to be an immense enfranchisement, on old constitutional lines and secured by the spontaneous effort and civil spirit of the population itself. “Wherever there is a man above the rank of an unskilled labourer, whether a shopkeeper, a man of the middle class, or of the skilled working class that has not got a county vote, or is not striving to accumulate enough to get one, let us point the finger of scorn at him; he is not fit to be a freeman. It is an avenue by which we may reach the recesses of power, and possess ourselves of any constitutional rights which we are entitled to possess.” In one of his speeches of that date, Cobden allowed it to be perceived that this great process had come into his mind not simply as a means of quickening the triumph of Free Trade, but as an agency for effecting a deep and permanent political transformation.1844.
Cobden’s eloquent colleague, Fox, placed the movement deeper still, by dwelling on the moral elements that lay beneath it. If it was wise and good, he said, to endeavour to make all who could save their pittance become fund-holders, it must be at least as prudent and just to induce them according to their proportion to become landholders also—joint shareholders in this lovely and fruitful country, which is their country as much as it is that of the wealthiest nobleman whose lands cover half a county. It would give them a tangible bond of connexion with society; it would put them in a position which was deemed necessary to citizenship in the republics of ancient days; and it was better adapted than anything else to cherish in them those emotions which best accord with consistency and dignity of character.[Back to Table of Contents]
bastiat—new tactics—activity in parliament—maynooth grant—private affairs.
There had never been any anxiety among the men of the League to stir foreign opinion. “We came to the conclusion,” Cobden said, “that the less we attempted to 1845.
His book, Cobden et la Ligue, came gradually into greater vogue as the movement grew more important, and when the hour of triumph came in England, Bastiat shared its glory in France, as one who had foreseen its importance at a time when no French newspaper had been courageous or intelligent enough to give its readers any information on a subject which was necessarily so unwelcome in a country of monopolies. Bastiat felt that the title of his book had perhaps wounded some of Cobden’s fellow-workers, and among men less strenuous and single-minded he might have been right. He defended himself by the reflection that in France, and perhaps we are not very different in England, it is necessary that a doctrine should be personified in an individual. A great movement, he said, must be summed up in a proper name. Without the imposing figure of O’Connell the agitation in Ireland would have passed without notice in the French journals. “The human mind,” he wrote to Cobden, “has need of flags, banners, incarnations, proper names; and this is more true in France than anywhere else. Who knows that your career may not excite the emulation of1845.
Bastiat was always conscious of the difference between Cobden’s gifts and his own, and nobody knew better than himself how much more fit he was for a life of speculation than for the career of an agitator. But there was no one else in France to begin the work of propagandism and the organization of opinion. Cobden told him that the movement which had been made from those below to those above in England, ought in France to proceed in the opposite course. There they would do best to begin at the top. In France in 1846 they had scarcely any railways, and they had no penny postage. They were not accustomed to subscriptions, and still less were they accustomed to great public meetings. Worse than all this, the popular interest was at that epoch turned away from the received doctrines of political economy in the direction of Communism and Fourierism. These systems spoke a language infinitely more attractive to the imagination of the common people. Bastiat, fired by Cobden’s example, set bravely to work to make converts among men of mark. Besides being a serious thinker, he had the gifts, always so valuable in France, of irony, of apt and humorous illustration, of pungent dialectic. The style and finish of the Economic Sophisms, in which he refuted the fallacies of Monopoly, are even declared to be worthy of the author of the Provincial Letters. But the movement did not prosper. At Bordeaux, indeed, where the producers of wine were eager for fresh markets, a free trade association was formed, and it throve. Elsewhere the cause made little way. Political differences ran so high as to prevent hearty co-operation on a purely economical platform. The newspapers were written by lads of twenty, with the ignorance and the 1845.
The League was now in the seventh year of its labours. In 1839 their subscriptions had only reached what afterwards seemed the modest amount of 5000l. The following year they rose to nearly 8000l. In 1843 the Council asked for 50,000l. and got it. In 1844 they asked for twice as much, and by the end of the year between 80,000l. and 90,000l. had been paid in. They were now spending 1000l. a week. In spite of the activity which was involved in these profuse supplies, the outlook of the cause was, perhaps, never less hopeful or encouraging. The terrible depression1845.
The change did not escape the acute observation of the League. They at once altered their tactics. The previous year had been devoted to agitation in the country. They now came round to the opinion that Parliament, after all, was the best place in which to agitate. “You speak with a loud voice,” said Cobden, “when you are talking on the floor of the House; and if you have anything to say that hits hard, it is a very long whip and reaches all over the kingdom.” It was in Parliament that they were best able to conduct an assault on the Monopolist citadel from a new side. They had tried in their short campaign to show the farmers themselves that Protection was no better for them than for other people. They now made a vigorous effort to bring the same thing home to the farmers’ friends in Parliament. “It gives me increased hopes,” Cobden wrote to his friend, George Combe, “to hear that you, who are a calm observer, think that we are making such rapid progress in our agitation. We who are in the whirl of it, can hardly form an opinion whether we are advancing or only revolving. But I think there are symptoms that the enemy is preparing1845.
In the midst of the general prosperity, there was one great interest which did not thrive: this was the interest of the tenant-farmer. Deputations waited upon the Prime Minister to tell him that the farmers in Norfolk were paying rent out of capital; that half the small farmers in Devonshire were insolvent, and the others were rapidly sinking to the same condition; that the agriculturists of the whole of the south of England, from the Trent to the Land’s End, were in a state of embarrassment and distress6 There was scarcely a week in which these topics did not find their way into the Parliamentary debates. Cobden brought forward a motion for a Select Committee to inquire into the causes of the alleged agricultural distress. A few nights afterwards one of the country gentlemen in the House moved a resolution for affording relief to the landed interests in the application of surplus revenue. Then came a proposal from a 1845.
“Bright did his work admirably,” says Cobden, “and won golden opinions from all men. His speech took the squires quite aback. At the morning meeting of the country members at Peel’s, to decide upon the course to be taken, the Prime Minister advised his pack not to be drawn into any discussion by the violent speech of the member for Durham, but to allow the Committee to be granted sub silentio! This affair will do us good in a variety of ways. It has put Bright in a right position—shown that he has power, and it will draw the sympathy of the farmers to the League. The latter conviction seemed to weigh heavily upon the spirits of the squires. They seemed to feel that we had put them in a false position towards their tenants, and the blockheads could not conceal their spite towards the League. I pleaded guilty for the League to all they charged us with on this score.”7
The result of these incessant challenges to the landlords and to the Ministers was a thorough sifting of the arguments, and the establishment of a perfectly clear and intelligible position. No Committee was granted, except Mr. Bright’s but discussion brought out the main facts as clearly as any Committee could have done. It became stamped on men’s minds, that while abundant food stimulated manufactures and promoted the comfort of the whole body of workmen and labourers, legislative protection was not saving, and1845.
Cobden himself helped to the result by one of the most important speeches that he ever made. “We are certainly,” he wrote to his wife, “taking more prominent ground this session than ever, and the tone of the farmers’ friends is very subdued indeed. They never open their mouths if they can help it, and then they speak in a very humble strain. I am quite in a fidget about my speech on Thursday. You will think it very strange in an old hack demagogue like me, if I confess that I am as nervous as a maid the day before her wedding. The reason is I suppose that I know a good deal is expected from me, and I am afraid I shall disappoint others as well as myself. I have sent for Mr. Lattimore, who came up and spent an evening with me, on purpose to give me a lesson about the farmers’ view of the question.”9
“I was terribly out of sorts with the task,” he said, after it was all over, “and when I got up to speak, I was all in a maze.” In fact, an intimate friend who had stood on many a platform with him, found him in the lobby, pale, nervous, and confident that he should break down in the middle of his speech. “No, you will not,” said his friend; “your nervousness convinces me that you will make a better speech 1845.
This speech should be read in connextion with the companion speech made the year before, and already referred to (p. 293). Much of Cobden’s speaking, and especially at this time, though never deficient in point and matter, was loose in its form and slipshod in arrangement. That it should be so, was unavoidable under the circumstances in which his addresses were made. These two speeches, on the contrary, show him at his best. They are models of the way in which a great case should be presented to the House of Commons, as well as admirable examples of effective selec1845.
Why are the farmers distressed? Cobden asked. Why are English farmers less successful than English manufacturers? Because they are working their trade with insufficient capital. Throughout England, south of the Trent and including Wales, the farmers’ capital is not more than five pounds an acre, whereas for carrying on the business successfully it ought to be twice as much. How is it that in a country overflowing with capital, where every other pursuit is abounding with money, when money is going to France for railways and to Pennsylvania for bonds, when it is connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific by canals, and diving to the bottom of the Mexican mines for investments, it yet finds no employment in the most attractive of all spots, the soil of this country itself? The 1845.
To the farmers Cobden had never given a probable reduction of rents as one of the reasons for repealing the Corn Law. He told them something still more important. “Though I have not promised reduction of rent,” he said, “I have, however, always maintained that with Free Trade in corn, and with moderate prices, if the present rents are to be maintained, it must be by means of a different system of managing property from that which you now pursue. You must have men of capital on your land; you must let your land on mercantile principles; you must not be afraid of an independent and energetic man who will vote as he pleases; you must give up inordinate game-preserving.”4
This was the skeleton of Cobden’s argument, and each1845.
Mr. Disraeli once said that Free Trade was not a principle, it was an expedient. In Cobden’s hands just the reverse is true; Free Trade is not an expedient; it is a principle, a doctrine, and a system. He is often charged with arguing his case too exclusively on the immediate exigencies of the situation. It was hardly possible for him to do otherwise. Neither the House of Commons nor the multitude at Covent Garden would have listened with patience to a lecture on international exchanges. But whenever he had a chance, Cobden took care to rest his argument on the importance of a free circulation in the currents of exchange. In his speech of the previous year, he had blamed Sir Robert Peel for promising cheap prices as the result of his tariff. The price of commodities, said Cobden, may spring from two causes:—a temporary, fleeting, and retributive high price, produced by scarcity; or a permanent and natural high price, produced by prosperity. The price of wool, for example, had been highest when the importation was greatest; it sprang from the prosperity of the consumers. Peel, therefore, took the “least comprehensive and statesmanlike view of his measures when he proposed to lower prices, instead of aiming to maintain them by enlarging the circle of exchange.” Prices would take care of themselves without detriment to the consumer, provided only that the stream of commodities were allowed to flow freely and without artificial interruption. (See below, vol. ii. 344.)
This important idea was probably far beyond the reach of most of Cobden’s hearers. I know there are many heads, he once said, who cannot comprehend and master1845.
It was in this session that Mr. Disraeli first opened his raking fire upon the Prime Minister. In 1842, as has been already seen (p. 239), he declared that Peel’s policy was in exact, permanent, and perfect consistency with the principles of Free Trade laid down by Mr. Pitt. But clouds had risen on the horizon since then. Things had happened which made the rising gladiator change his mind, not as to the national expediency of Free Trade, but as to the personal expediency of carrying his sword to the opposite camp. Sir Robert, soon after coming into power, observed to a friend that he knew too little of the young men of the party, and expressed a wish to know more. The friend invited him to dinner, and among the men of promise who 1845.
Yet Mr. Disraeli, who sagacity was always of far too powerful a kind to allow him to blink facts, knew very well, as he afterwards said, that practically for the moment the Conservative Government was stronger at the end of the session of 1845 than even at the commencement of the session of 1842. “If they had forfeited the hearts of their adherents, they had not lost their votes; while both in Parliament and the country they had succeeded in appropriating a mass of loose, superficial opinion, not trammelled by party ties, and which complacently recognized in their1845.
Cobden himself, however, knew exactly how things stood, and foresaw with precision how they would move. In the summer of 1845, when Parliament had found his appeal a wearisome iteration, he had before him one of those immense multitudes, such as could only be assembled, he said, in ancient Rome to witness the brutal conflicts of men, or as can now be found in Spain to witness the brutal conflicts of animals. What, he asked, if you could get into the innermost minds of the Ministers, would you find them thinking as to the repeal of the Corn Laws? “I know it as well as though I were in their hearts. It is this: they are all afraid that this Corn Law cannot be maintained—no, not a rag of it, during a period of scarcity prices, of a famine season, such as we had in ‘39, ‘40, and ‘41. They know it. They are prepared when such a time comes, to abolish the Corn Laws, and they have made up their minds to it. There is no doubt in the world of it. They are going to repeal it,” he went on, “as I told you—mark my words—at a season of distress. That distress may come; aye, three weeks of showery weather when the wheat is in bloom or ripening, would repeal these Corn Laws.”9 You cannot call statesmanship, he scornfully argued, a policy which leaves the industrial scheme of such a country as ours to stand 1845.
The great popular agitation of the year, as it happened, was caused by a measure which touched a very different kind of sensibility. This session Peel introduced the memorable proposal for the augmentation of the grant to the Catholic College at Maynooth. That laudable measure was a small detail in the policy of breaking up the old system of Ascendancy—a policy made necessary by the revolution of Catholic Emancipation, in which Peel had assisted in so remarkable a way. Unfortunately, Peel never saw, what clear-sighted men like Lord Clare saw at the time of the Union, that the tenure of land was the only real object of interest to the people to whom he had given political emancipation. His attitude in reference to the Encumbered Estates Act showed that he did not possess the key to the Irish question. But his views on the solution of the religious difficulty were thoroughly statesmanlike, so far as that particular difficulty went. Nothing that he ever did showed greater courage than the Maynooth grant; for though he carried his second reading by the enormous majority of 147, Mr. Gladstone was undoubtedly right when he reluctantly affirmed that the minority represented the prevailing sense of a great majority of the people of England and Scotland.1 The principles on which Peel defended the increased grant to Maynooth, pointed very directly towards a scheme for the endowment of the Catholic clergy. It was for this reason, among others, that Lord John Russell supported the increased grant. “The arguments,” he said, “which are so sound, and as I think so incontrovertible, for an endowment1845.
The following extracts from letters to his wife will show how Cobden passed the time from day to day, during this anxious and wearisome session:—
“London, Feb. 11, 1845.—I met Lord Howick [the 1845.
“April 11.—We are all being plagued to death with the fanatics about the Maynooth grant. The dissenters and the church people have joined together to put the screw upon the members. However, I expect that Peel will carry his measure by a large majority.”
“April 14.—We are still being very much persecuted by the fanatics; all the bigots in the country seem to be using the privilege of writing their remonstrances to me.”
“April 28.—I can’t fix the day, I am sorry to say, when I shall positively see you. There is a notice of motion standing by Lord John Russell upon the state of the labouring population, which I am almost compelled to take a part in. If I were to be absent, it would be construed into a slight on the Whig party. It stands for Friday, but I am not without hope that he may put it off till after the Whitsun holidays. I will learn his views to-morrow if I can.”
“June 19.—On Wednesday I was to speak at Covent Garden, and being confined all the day in the Committee-room, and having to prepare my speech after four o’clock, I knew I should be excused writing. I find it very difficult to get up my spirits to appear before a large audience like that at Convent Garden. Indeed I feel myself to be only acting a part, in appearing to speak with energy, hope, and confidence. I can’t go through another period such as the present session, to be harassed and annoyed as I have been in every possible way; it would kill me. I have1845.
“June 20.—Now I will give you a specimen of my day’s work. Our Committee meets at twelve and sits till four. Then the House commences, and lasts on an average till twelve. Twice last week I sat till two o’clock in the House, having been under the roof for fourteen hours. Next morning I can’t be down till nine o’clock, and scarcely have I got breakfast, and glanced at the Votes and Proceedings for the day, when I must start again for the House. You will, I think, excuse me after this, if I am not a very good correspondent.”
“June24.—There never was such a case of petty persecution as I am enduring in this Railway Committee! We have been now nearly five weeks sitting, hearing witnesses, and listening to the tedious harangues of counsel about a lot of paltry lines among the little towns and villages in Norfolk and Suffolk. I thought we should have got to the end of our work in a fortnight or three weeks, but now we are threatened with another week or ten days. And the great misfortune is, that we have no power to put any restraint upon the tongues of the counsel, who are paid in proportion to the length of time they can waste. But I have made up my mind to go down to Manchester on Friday night at any rate, although I shall be obliged to come up again on Sunday night, to be here in the Committee at twelve o’clock.”
“June 26.—The meeting at Convent Garden was as usual a bumper, but I did not think the speaking was quite up to the mark. I have had a successful motion for a 1845.
Over all these busy interests hung a heavy cloud of the gloomiest thoughts. Throughout the session Cobden’s mind had been harassed almost beyond endurance by a host of dark cares; and it is only by knowing what these amounted to, that we can measure the intensity of a devotion to public concerns which could sustain itself unabated under this galling pressure. The following extracts from letters to his brother will suffice to show us what was going on. At the end of the session of 1844, he had allowed a groan to escape him, extorted by the reports which his brother had sent him of the state of their business:—“I shall have a month or two for private business, and, Heaven knows, it is not before it is required. It is a dog’s life I am leading, and I wish I could see my way out of the collar.”3 But in the recess of 1844, as in that of the previous year, he had been speedily dragged back from his own affairs to those of the League and the country. Throughout the spring of 1845, however, things were rapidly approaching a crisis from which there seemed to be no escape:—
“April 7.—I shall certainly be down a week before the Whitsuntide holidays, so as to have at least a fortnight. The fidgets have so got possession of me that I cannot master them. For the first time I feel fairly down and dead-beaten. It is of no use writing all one feels. Entreat J. S. to work down the stock of odds and ends of cloth, and keep down everything as low as possible. And remind Charles again of the critical importance of finding something for the machinery to do in the interval between the seasons. It is of no use your writing bad news to me. I can’t help it while1845.
“April 18.—I do not see any difficulty in giving adequate attention to the business, and still retaining, ostensibly at all events, the same public position as heretofore. But whether this can be done or not, I shall of course make everything else subservient to the one point in which honour is involved. There is no doubt that our pattern department, so far as the home trade is concerned, has been a failure this spring. This is now irremediable, and it is of no use dwelling on it. But it cannot be overlooked in any estimate of the management at the works and the warehouse, and of the cause of failure.”
“May 26.—I am fixed in the Norfolk Committee to-day, and do not feel the least chance of being released for a week, and it may be a month; and for this there is no help, for if I were to leave for twenty-four hours, the Sergeant-at-Arms would be after me.”
“June 6.—I am sorry to say it is impossible for me to come down even for a day. Our Committee have determined to sit on Saturdays, and the rule of the House precludes me from being absent even for an hour. God only knows when this odious Committee will come to a close. If you should wish to say anything about money-matters, write to me. If you want a little temporary assistance, pray see Mr. —, and give him a message from me to the effect that I shall feel obliged if he will try to get a few thousand pounds in a similar manner to the former transaction.
“But when I come down after the Session, we must put our business upon a different footing, so as to be able to avoid troubling anybody. I would have written to —, but really, in my prominent position, it is a very delicate matter to write about. You had better, therefore, take an opportunity of seeing him privately, and pray beg him to 1845.
“June 19.—Your letters keep me on the tender-hooks, for I know not in what extremity you may be placed. I am in the same predicament as ever. The committee will in all probability last a week more. To-day we have been treated to a three hours’ speech by a counsel upon a mere fraction of the group. What makes it more difficult to escape is that the committee does not give a decision on any part until we have heard the whole, and consequently nobody not acquainted with the evidence already taken could step in to fill my place. Sir Benjamin Hall, very luckily for him, was pitched from his horse on his head the second day of our meeting, and he was excused from further attendance, and as we have nobody else in his place and as four are the quorum, we can’t proceed to business in the absence of one.”
“June 24.—I will try to put off any meeting of the committee on Saturday, so as to be able to come down on Friday night, but I shall be obliged to be in town again on Monday morning by twelve. I see no end to this tedious affair. We have an appointment for another branch to begin on Monday. The truth is, the rival schemes fight for time, in order to delay the passing of the bills during the present session. But I will at all risks come down on Friday afternoon by the express train which will land me in Manchester at ten o’clock, and I should like to have a bed at your lodgings, and there I must see John Brooks privately on the Saturday morning. I have turned the subject over in every way, and I see no other solution of it than in absolutely withdrawing myself from public life, first having secured such a promise of support from some of my friends as shall secure me from the effects of the shock. I have made up my mind to this, and shall not have a moment’s peace of mind until I have1845.
A friend of Cobden’s, who was engaged in the same business, has told me how we how he received a message one afternoon in the winter before this, that Cobden wished to see him. He went over to the office in Mosley Street, and found him on the edge of dark sitting with his feet on the fender, looking gloomily into the languishing fire. He was evidently in great misery. Cobden had sent for him to seek his advice how to extricate himself from the difficulties in which his business had become involved. They summoned a second friend to their sombre councils. There was no doubt either of the seriousness of the position or of the causes to which it was due. His business, they told him, wanted a head. If he persisted in his present course, nothing on earth could keep him from ruin. He must retire from public life, and must retire from it without the loss of a day. Cobden struggled desperately against the sentence. The battle, he said, was so momentous, and perhaps so nearly won. One of his counsellors asked him how he could either work or rest with a black load like this upon his mind. “Oh,” said Cobden, “when I am about public affairs I never think of it; it does not touch me; I am asleep the moment my head is on the pillow.”
A few months later the difficulty could no longer be evaded. In September Cobden, at the cost of anguish which we may imagine, came to the terrible resolution to give up public affairs. He wrote a letter, describing his position and the resolve to which it had driven him, to the friend who had for four unresting years been his daily comrade and fellow-soldier, and whose mere presence at his side, he 1845.
September 20th, 1845.
“My dear Cobden,—I received your letter of the 15th yesterday evening, on my arrival here. Its contents have made me more sad than I can express; it seems as if this untoward event contained within it an affliction personal for myself, great public loss, a heavy blow to one for whom I feel a sincere friendship, and not a little of danger to the great cause in which we have been fellow-labourers.
“I would return home without a day’s delay, if I had a valid excuse for my sisters who are here with me. We have now been out nearly three weeks, and may possibly be as much longer before we reach home; our plan being pretty well chalked out beforehand, I don’t see how I can greatly change it without giving a sufficient reason. But it does not appear needful that you should take any hasty step in the matter. Too much is at stake, both for you and for the public, to make any sudden decision advisable. I may therefore be home in time for us to have some conversation before anything comes before the public. Nothing of it shall pass my lips, and I would urge nothing to be done till the latest moment, in the hope that some way of escape may yet be found. I am of opinion that your retirement would be tantamount to a dissolution of the League; its main spring would be gone. I can in no degree take your place.1845.
“Be assured that in all this disappointment you have my heartfelt sympathy. We have worked long and hard and cordially together; and I can say most truly that the more I have known of you, the more have I had reason to admire and esteem you, and now when a heavy cloud seems upon us, I must not wholly give up the hope that we may yet labour in the good cause until all is gained for which we have striven. You speak of the attempts which have been made to raise the passion which led to the death of Abel, and to weaken us by destroying the confidence which was needful to our successful co-operation. If such attempts have been made, they have wholly failed. To help on the cause, I am sure each of us would in any way have led or followed; we held our natural and just position, and hence our success. In myself I know nothing that at this moment would rejoice me more, except the absence of these difficulties, than that my retirement from the field could in any way maintain you in the front rank. The victory is now in reality gained, and our object will before very long be accomplished; but it is often as difficult to leave a victory as to gain it, and the sagacity of leaders cannot be dispensed with while anything remains to be done. Be assured I shall think of little else but this distressing turn 1845.
“I have written this letter under feelings to which I have not been able to give expression, but you will believe that
I am, with much sympathy and esteem,
Your sincere friend,
The writer, however, felt the bad tidings lying too heavily on him to be able to endure inaction. A day or two later Mr. Bright changed his plans and hastened southwards. Helpful projects revolved in his mind, as he watched the postboys before him pressing on through the steaming rain. When he reached Manchester, he and one or two friends procured the sum of money which sufficed to tide over the emergency. For the moment Cobden was free to return to the cause which was now on the eve of victory.[Back to Table of Contents]
the autumn of 1845.
The story of the autumn of 1845 has often been told,1845.
In his powerful speech in 1844 Cobden had reminded the House of Commons, for men were apt to forget it, he said, that in Ireland there was a duty at that day of eighteen shillings a quarter upon the import of foreign wheat. Will it be believed in future ages, he cried, that in a country periodically on the point of actual famine—at a time when its inhabitants subsisted on the lowest food, the very roots of the earth—there was a law in existence which virtually prohibited the importation of bread?1 The crisis had now arrived. The session was hardly at an end before disquieting rumours began to come over from Ireland. As the autumn advanced, it became certain that the potato crop was a disastrous failure. The Prime Minister had, in his own words, devoted almost every hour of his time, after 1845.
A skilful enemy was intently watching their proceedings from the northern metropolis. On the 22nd of November Lord John Russell launched from Edinburgh his famous letter to his constituents in the City of London. He had seen in the public prints that Ministers had met; that they had consulted together for many days; and that nothing had been done. Under these circumstances he thought that the Government were not performing their duty to their Sovereign and their country. The present state of the country could not be viewed without apprehension. Pro crastination might produce a state of suffering that was1845.
The Edinburgh Letter was the formal announcement that Lord John Russell had come round to Cobden’s programme, the winning of Free Trade by agitation. Sir Robert Peel’s conversion, as everybody knows, was very freely imputed both at the time and afterwards to interested and ambitious motives. It is hard to understand on what ground the same imputation might not have been sustained in the case of the corresponding conversion of Lord John. The obvious truth is that they were both of them too clear-sighted not to perceive that events had, at last, shown that Cobden and his friends were in the right, and that the time had come for admitting it. Lord John Russell’s adhesion made the victory of the League certain. Mr. Bright happened to be on the platform at a railway station in Yorkshire, as Lord John Russell passed through on his way from the north to Osborne. He stepped into the carriage for a few moments. “Your letter,” said Mr. Bright, “has now made the total and immediate repeal of the Corn Law inevitable; nothing can save it.” The letter had in fact done no less than this.
Immediately on its publication Sir Robert Peel summoned his Cabinet. His view had been that Parliament ought to be called together, on the assumption that the measure of relief which he was prepared to introduce would virtually 1845.
The share of the League in this startling catastrophe did not escape Cobden’s eye. The prospect of famine in Ireland had no sooner become definite, than the League at once prepared for action. Before the end of October, and before the first of the Cabinet Councils, they held a great meeting of many thousands of persons at Manchester, and announced a series of meetings in the other great towns of the kingdom. The Ministers were quite aware what this meant, and that they could not face it. Sir James Graham warned Peel that the Anti-Corn-Law ferment was about to commence. It would, he said, be the most formidable movement in modern times. There was a pause for a few days during the deliberations of the Government, because everybody expected that each successive mail would carry to him the welcome decision of the Cabinet that the ports had been already opened. And why were they not opened? asked Cobden. Because the League was known to be strong enough to prevent them from being shut again. If there had been no Anti-Corn-Law League in the middle of November, the ports would have been opened a month ago. It was because1845.
The activity of the League was incessant. Now that their question had become practically urgent, and an occasion for the fall of ministries and the strife of parties, 1845.
“Bristol, Dec. 5, 1845.—I slept last night at James Rhoades’s, and had many kind inquiries and invitations. We had a very delightful meeting at Bath in a splendid Town Hall, the Mayor in the chair. We are having meetings every night, and I see no other prospect now but to run the gauntlet every night till the meeting of Parliament. But I hope we are getting to the death-struggle. Have you seen1845.
“London, Dec. 15, 1845.—We have had a good meeting in the City to-day. The knowing people say that they have never seen so large and unanimous a gathering. There is no doubt that the City will return four Free-traders at the next election. By the way I don’t hear anything decided about the decision of the Government question. People begin to doubt whether Lord John will form an Administration after all. Some knowing folks say Peel will be sent for again.”
“London, Dec. 13. (To George Combe.)—Politics are like a magic-lantern just now, every day brings some new and unlooked-for change. What a righteous retribution has fallen upon the late Ministry! The men who passed the present Corn Law in the face of starving millions in the spring of 1842 have been driven from power and place by their own sliding scale! May their successors profit by the example! There is still a great struggle before us, but we will beat the unrighteous few who wish to profit by the sufferings of the many.”
Two days after Cobden had been talking to the people of Birmingham in a triumphant strain about the League standing erect amid the ruins of the factions, he had an opportunity of measuring the estimate in which he was held by one at least of the factions. Sir Robert Peel resigned on the 5th of December. The Queen sent for Lord John Russell, and commissioned him to form an Administration. Lord John wrote two letters to Cobden on the same day. In the first, he gave the leader of the body which had shaken down a great Ministry and compelled an important revolution in policy, a provisional 1845.
Dec. 19, 1845.
“Dear Sir,—I do not expect that I shall be able to form an Administration. If I should, however, on this occasion or a future one, I shall ask you to assist me by accepting the office of Vice-President of the Board of Trade, Lord Clarendon being the President, and the Vice-President having to represent the department in the House of Commons.
I remain, yours faithfully,
The reader will smile at this proposal, when he thinks of the composition of Liberal Governments since the death of Lord Palmerston. The difference between then and now marks the decay of Whig predominance within the five-and-thirty years that have intervened. Cobden’s reply to the unflattering offer might have been foreseen. There is little doubt that it would have been the same, even if the offer had been of a more serious kind.
Dec. 20, 1845.
“Dear Lord John,—I feel greatly honoured by the offer of the office of Vice-President of the Board of Trade, in the event of your being able to form an Administration. In preferring to remain at my post as the out-of-doors advocate of Free Trade, I am acting from the conviction that I can render you more efficient assistance in carrying out our principle by retaining my present position, than by entering your Government in an official capacity. Again assuring you how highly I esteem this expression of your confidence,
I remain, dear Lord John,
Most faithfully yours,
This reply crossed the second note which Lord John1845.
“Dec. 19, 1845.
“Dear Sir,—In consequence of what I wrote this morning, I now write to inform you that I have not been able to form a Ministry.
“All those who were to be my colleagues had agreed to the total repeal of the Corn Laws. Other differences on another subject have caused our failure.
I remain, yours faithfully,
The differences which were the cause of failure were with Lord Grey.5 He objected to Lord Palmerston as Foreign Secretary. The intrigue, says one who was very competent to judge such matters, was neither contrived with dexterity nor conducted with temper, but it extricated the Whig leader from an embarrassing position.6 Lord John Russell’s plea was not only that in face of the risks to be encountered unity was indispensable, but that as Lord Grey was among the first of his party who declared for complete Free Trade in corn, it would be unjustifiable to attempt to carry it without him. Viewed from this distance of time, and in the light of the present decline of the Whig caste, the plea, it must be confessed, is one of singular tenuity. No one doubts the sincerity either of Lord John’s attempt to form a government, or of his honest acquiescence in its failure. It was obviously much easier for Sir Robert Peel to settle the Corn question, because he would have the votes of the Whigs and 1845.
On the failure of his rival, Sir Robert Peel went to Windsor, withdrew his resignation, and returned to London, having already resumed the functions of the First Minister of the Crown. He hoped by speaking to his colleagues from the point of a definitely accepted position, to secure the support of those who had dissented from him at the beginning of the month. One at least of the survivors, who was in a position to know Peel’s mind at this moment, holds it for certain that the Minister returned to town in the afternoon of the 20th, in full confidence that he would carry his party with him in the tremendous step which he had resolved to take. Lord Stanley withdrew at once,7 but Peel persisted in thinking that the schism would end there. It was not many weeks before he found out his mistake. Thirty years after these events, when Peel’s bitterest assailant had by a singular destiny raised himself to the height of power from which Peel was now looking down upon him, he made an interesting remark on a criticism that had been published upon his career. “The writer,” said Lord Beaconsfield, “fails to do justice to a striking distinction in my political history. The Duke of Wellington in passing Catholic Eman cipation, and Sir Robert Peel in repealing the Corn Laws,1845.
“I have reason to believe,” said Cobden afterwards, “that some discussions which I raised in the House with a view to proving that the agriculturists themselves were, as a whole, injured by Protection, gave him some confidence in the practicability of a change of policy.” This may well have been so. The speech in which Peel announced and vindicated the new policy, is little more than an echo of Cobden’s Parliamentary speeches of 1844 and 1845, and this accounts for the extraordinary prominence which he afterwards gave in so remarkable a manner to Cobden’s share in what was done. Peel has explained the course along which his mind was travelling. His confidence in the necessity of Protection was lessened by the experiment of 1842. He felt from the first the increasing difficulty of applying to articles of food the principles which had been applied to so many other articles. Later experiments pointed in the same way. Certain important articles of agricultural produce were now admitted at low rates. Among these were oxen, sheep, cows, salted and fresh meat. A chorus of sinister prophecy rose from the injured interests. There was even a panic. Forced sales of stock took place. It would be impossible to compete with the foreign grazier. Meat 1845.
Then he perceived an increase of consumption of articles of first necessity, much more rapid than the increase in population, and this greatly augmented the responsibility of undertaking to regulate the supply of food by legislative restraints. It greatly aggravated, moreover, the peril of these restraints in the case of any sudden check to prosperity.4
Besides these considerations, Peel says that his faith in restrictions on the importation of corn had been weakened by general reasoning; by many concurring proofs that the wages of labour do not vary with the price of corn; by serious doubts whether, in the present condition of the country, the present plenty were not ensured for the future in a higher degree by free intercourse in corn, than by restrictions for the purpose of protecting domestic agriculture. Clear as all this is to a generation whose vision is not obscured by the passions of contemporaries, resentment and suspicion at the time were emotions that might have been expected. It speedily became certain that they were violent enough to endanger the new policy, to wreck the party, and to overthrow for ever the great Minister who had been its chief.
Meanwhile the League made ready to give him effective support. Whatever may have been the case with Sir Robert Peel himself, it is certain that other people were afraid of the operations of the League. It was this con federation which kept both the Whig advocates of a fixed1845.
At this time circumstances naturally began to work a complete change in Cobden’s attitude towards Sir Robert Peel. Three weeks before, when the Minister left office, Cobden had allowed the excitement of the hour to betray him into public expressions of exultation, which were almost ferocious in their severity. Miss Martineau has explained how this fierce outburst shocked some of his friends. They appear, as has already been mentioned in another connexion (p. 207), 1845.
“It was wrong to exult in Peel’s fall, and yet the scene of my indiscretion was calculated to throw me off my guard, and give my feelings for a moment the mastery of my judgment. I was speaking in the face of nearly the entire adult male population of Stockport, whose terrible sufferings in 1841, when Peel took the government from the Whigs to maintain the very system which was starving them, were fresh in my memory. The news of the retirement of the Peel Ministry reached Stockport a couple of hours before the meeting took place. When it was announced, the whole audience sprang up, and gave three times three cheers. I was quite taken aback, and out came that virulent attack upon Peel, for which I have been gently rapped on the knuckles by Miss Martineau, yourself, and many other esteemed correspondents. It was an unpremeditated ebullition. Tell your good brother I will keep a more watchful guard over the old serpent that is within me for the future. You must not judge me by what I say at these tumultuous public meetings.”6
The rest of this letter, describing his feelings about public life, has been given in a preceding chapter (pp. 207–8). In a second letter, replying we may suppose to a request of Combe’s that he might be allowed to show the first to some of their common friends, Cobden referred fiercely enough, as he had previously done in public, to the extremely painful incident of 1843: it has been already described in its place.7
“You are at liberty to make any use you please of that1846.
No nature was ever less disposed for the harbouring of long resentments, and it was not many weeks from this time before a curious incident had the effect of finally effacing the last trace of enmity between these two honoured men. A vulgar attack happened to be made in the course of debate on the Chairman of the League, which drew a rebuke 1846.
repeal of the corn laws and fall of the government.
The public excitement and private anxieties of the year1846.
A few days after the Session opened, the Prime Minister announced his proposals. The repeal of the Corn Laws was to be total. But it was not to be immediate. The ports were not to be entirely open for three years. During this interval there was to be a sliding scale, with a maximum duty of ten shillings when the price of wheat should be under forty-eight shillings, and a minimum duty of four shillings when the price reached fifty-four shillings a quarter. The views of the League therefore would not be fully realized until February, 1849.
The opponents of the Minister began to talk of an appeal to the country, and Cobden addressed himself to this critical point in the one speech of any importance which he felt called upon to make through the whole of these protracted debates. He plied the Protectionists with defiant tests of the 1846.
The characteristic of all Cobden’s best speeches was a1846.
The first reading was carried by a majority of 337 to 240. But an acute observer gave Cobden what was perhaps the superfluous warning, not to allow the victory to throw him off his guard. The difficulties were still to come, and they were very serious. In spite of the extraordinary position in which they had been left by the desertion of Peel and all the rest of their leaders in both Houses of Parliament, excepting only Lord Stanley, the Protectionists were undeniably strong. The bold and patient politician, of whom they then thought so lightly, but who was in fact the sustaining genius of their group, has described the steps by which they found new leaders and a coherent organization. Lord George Bentinck was not a great man, but then the most dexterous and far-seeing of parliamentary manœuvrers had his ear and was constantly by his side. Mr. Disraeli must be said to have sinned against light. His compliments to Peel and Free Trade in 1842 prove it. Lord George Bentinck formed some views on the merits of Protection by-and-by, but the first impulse which moved him was resentment at betrayal. It is easy to say that the key to his action was incensed party spleen, but the emotion was not wholly discreditable. One day he walked away from the House in 1846.
The majority on the first reading was a hollow and not an honest majority, and the Protectionists were quite aware of it. The remarkable peculiarity of the parliamentary contest was that not a hundred members of the House of Commons were in favour of total repeal, and fewer still were in favour of immediate repeal. Lord Palmerston, as Cobden wrote to a friend long after these events, showed unmistakable signs that he was not unwilling to head or join a party to keep a fixed duty, but he was too shrewd to make such1846.
The curious balance of factions filled the air with the spirit of intrigue, and until the very last there was good reason to apprehend that the Peers might force Peel to accept the compromise of a fixed duty, or else to extend the term for the expiration of the existing duty. No episode in our history shows in a more distressing light the trickery and chicane which some thinkers believe to be inseparable from parliamentary institutions. In this case, however, as in so many others, the mischief had its root not in parliamentary institutions, but in that constitutional paradox, as perplexing in theory as it is equivocal in practice, which gives a hereditary chamber the prerogative of revising and checking the work of the representative chamber.
The session had not advanced very far, before other dangers loomed on the horizon. The Ministry was doomed in any case. Whether Peel succeeded or failed with the Corn Bill, nobody at this time thought it possible that he could carry on a Conservative Government in a new Parliament, and he could hardly become the chief of a Liberal Government. The question was whether and how he should repeal the Corn Law. Difficulties arose from a quarter where they were not expected. The misery of the winter in Ireland had produced its natural fruits in disorder and 1846.
Thus by an extraordinary and unparalleled state of political1846.
We shall see presently what Peel himself had to say to this idea of a mixed progressive party. Meanwhile, Cobden’s dislike and distrust of the Whigs was as intense as ever, and 1846.
Before coming to that, it will be convenient to state very briefly the course of proceedings in Parliament. The motion was made to go into Committee on the Resolutions, on the 9th February. Eighteen days later, after twelve nights of debate, and after one hundred and three speeches had been delivered, the Government were successful by a majority of ninety-seven. On March 2, the House went into Committee on the Resolutions, and Mr. Villiers’s amendment that Repeal should be immediate as well as total, was lost by an immense majority, barely short of two hundred. The Corn Bill was then read a second time on March 27, by a majority of eighty-eight in a House of five hundred and sixteen; and it was finally carried in the House of Commons at four o’clock in the morning of May 16, by a majority of ninety-eight in a House of five hundred and fifty-six. The Lords made a much less effective opposition than, as is shown by Cobden’s letters, was commonly expected. The second reading was carried by two hundred and eleven against one hundred and sixty-four, or a majority of forty-seven. Amendments were 1846.
This is the proper place for Cobden’s own story of his interests and occupations during that agitated session. We must not forget that his private affairs had only been provisionally arranged in the previous autumn, and that they were as gloomy as his public position was triumphant. Before giving the shorter correspondence, written from day to day to his wife and his brother, it will be convenient to give three longer letters, affording a more general view of what at this time was engaging his thoughts.
March7, 1846. (To G. Combe.)—“I am pretty well recovered from my local attack; a little deafness is all that remains. But the way in which I was prostrated by an insignificant cold in my head has convinced me (even if my doctor had not told it) how much my constitution has been impaired by the excitement and wear and tear of the last few years. The mainspring has been over-weighted, and I must resolve upon some change to wind up the machinery, before I shall be able to enter upon any renewed labours. My medical friend boldly tells me that I ought to disappear from political life for a year or two, and seek a different kind of excitement in other scenes abroad. He talks to me of the hot baths of the Pyrenees as desirable1846.
“Besides, to confess the truth, I am less and less in love with what is generally called political life, and am not sure that I could play a successful part as a general politician. Party trammels, unless in favour of some well-defined and useful principle, would be irksome to me, and I should be restive and intractable to those who might expect me to run in their harness. However, all this may stand over till we have really accomplished the work which drew me into my present position. I am afraid our friends in the country are a little too confident. The Government measure is by no means safe with the Lords yet. They will mutilate or reject it if they think the country will suffer it. Bear in mind, if 1846.
London, March 12. (To Mr. T. Hunter.)—“Many thanks for your warm-hearted letter. I have often thought of you, and our good friends, Potter and Ashworth, and of the anomalous position in which I was left when1846.
“The truth is, that accident, quite as much as any merit on my own part, has forced me gradually into a notoriety for which I have not naturally much taste; but which, under all circumstances, is a source of continued mental embarrassment to me. How to escape from the dilemma has been for months the subject of cogitation with me. My own judgment leads irresistibly to one solution of the difficulty, by retiring from Parliament as soon as the corn question is safe. I observe your allusion to a public demonstration; and the idea of a testimonial has reached me through so many channels, that it would be affectation to conceal from myself that something of the kind is in contemplation. I am not, I confess, sanguine about the success of such an effort, pecuniarily speaking, on the part of my friends. Public 1846.
“But, besides, there are others who have as good claims as myself upon public consideration for the labours given to the good cause. I have been often pained to see that my fame, both in England and on the Continent, has eclipsed that of my worthy fellow-labourers. But it would be an in-justice which neither I nor the public voice would sanction, if I were to reap all the substantial fruits of our joint exertions, to the exclusion of others whose sacrifices and devotion have hardly been second to my own.
“As respects my own feelings on the subject of a testimonial, although I see it in a different light after the work is done to that in which I viewed it before, still, I must confess, that it is not otherwise than a distasteful theme. Were I a rich man, or even in independent circumstances, I could not endure the thoughts of it. But when I think of my age, and the wear and tear of my constitution, and reflect upon the welfare of those to whom Nature has given the first, and for them, the only claims upon my consideration, I do not feel in a position to give a chivalrous refusal to any voluntary public subsidy. Like the poor apothecary, my poverty and not my will consents. Still, consulting my own feelings, I should like to be out of Parliament before any demonstration were made. I could hardly explain why I should prefer this, it is so peculiarly a matter of feeling. It is not with a view to escape from public usefulness hereafter. I am aware that success in my Free Trade labours will invest me with some moral power, which, after my health was thoroughly wound up again for a renewed effort, I should feel anxious to bring to bear upon great questions for the benefit of society. But I have a strong and in1846.
“I might add as a motive for leaving Parliament, a growing dislike for House of Commons life, and a distaste for mere party political action. But this applies to my present views only in as far as it affects my health and temporary purposes. It is a repugnance which might and ought to be overcome for the sake of usefulness; and there are enough good men in Parliament who sacrifice private convenience for public good, to compensate for the society of the herd who are brought there for inferior objects.
“I have now poured out my inward thoughts to you in unreserved confidence—thoughts which have not been committed to paper before. And I do it with the fullest satisfaction, for I know that, whilst you sympathize with my feelings, you will bring a cool judgment to my assistance. 1846.
April 2. —“So far as I can control my future course of action, I am prepared to do so; and the first step which duty requires, is to place myself in a private position at the earliest moment when I can make the change, without sacrificing the public interest which is to some extent involved in my person. In fact I should have long ago retired into private life, but for this consideration. It is still a little uncertain when we shall escape from the tenter-hooks of delay. Even if the Lords pass the Government measure without attempts at mutilation, of which, by the way, I am still not so sanguine as many people, then it will be two months yet before the royal1846.
“Now, my dear sir, the rest must be left to the chapter of fate, and I shall be prepared to meet it, come what may. This decision is entirely the result of my own cogitations. I have consulted nobody. If the rumour got abroad amongst my friends, I should be persecuted with advice or remonstrance, to which I should be expected to give answers involving explanations painful to me. And it is quite marvellous how apt the newspapers are to get raw material enough for an on dit if a man suffers his plans to go beyond his own bosom. I could, of course, make my health honestly the plea for leaving Parliament, and can show, if need be, the advice of the first medical men in London and Edinburgh to justify me in seeking at least a twelvemonth’s relaxation from public life.
“I have thus given you an earnest of my determination to do all that I can to acquit myself of my private as well as public duties. It has always been to me a spectacle worthy of reproach to see a man sacrificing the welfare of his own domestic circle to the cravings of a morbid desire for public notoriety. And God, who knows our hearts, will free me from any such unworthy motives. I was driven along a groove by accident, too fast and too far to retreat with honour or without the risk of some loss to the country, 1846.
A few days later he wrote to Mr. Edmund Potter:—
“Many thanks for your friendly letter. Though I appreciate your kindness even where it restrains you from writing to me, let me assure you that your handwriting always gives me pleasure. You would not doubt it, if you could have a peep at the letters which pour in upon me. I have sometimes thought of giving William Chambers a hint for an amusing paper in his journal upon the miseries of a popular man. First, half the mad people in the country who are still at large, and they are legion, address their incoherent ravings to the most notorious man of the hour. Next, the kindred tribe who think themselves poets, who are more difficult than the mad people to deal with, send their doggerel and solicit subscriptions to their volumes, with occasional requests to be allowed to dedicate them. Then there are the Jeremy Diddlers who begin their epistles with high-flown compliments upon my services to the millions, and always wind up with a request that I will bestow a trifle upon the individual who ventures to lay his distressing case before me. To add to my miseries, people have now got an idea that I am influential with the Government, and the small place-hunters are at me. Yesterday a man wrote from Yorkshire, wanting the situation of a gauger, and to-day a person in Herts requests me to procure him a place in the post-office. Then there are all the benevolent enthusiasts who have their pet reforms, who think that because a man has sacrificed himself in mind, body, and estate in attempting to do one thing, he is the very person to do all the rest. These good people dog me with their projects. Nothing in their eyes is impossible in my hands. One worthy man calls to assure me that I can reform the Church, and unite the1846.
“That zealous and excellent educationalist, Stone, of Glasgow, seized upon me yesterday. ‘I have often thought,’ said he, ‘that Lord Ashley or Mr. Colquhoun was the man to carry a system of National Education through Parliament. But they have not moral courage; if you will take it in hand, in less than four years you will get a vote of twenty millions, and reconcile all the religious parties to one uniform system of religious education.’ I replied that I had tried my hand on a small scale in the attempt to unite the sects in Lancashire in 1836, but that I took to the repeal of the Corn Laws as light amusement compared with the difficult task of inducing the priests of all denominations to agree to suffer the people to be educated. The next time I meet Dickens or Jerrold, I shall assuredly give them a hint for a new hero of the stage or the novel, ‘The Popular Man.’
“In answer to your kind inquiries after my health, I am happy to say I am pretty free from any physical ailment. It is only in my nervous system that I am out of sorts. The last two or three months have kept me on the rack, and worried me more than the last seven years of agitation. But if I could get out of the treadmill, and with a mind at ease take a twelvemonth’s relaxation and total change of scene and climate as far off as Thebes or Persepolis, where there are no post-offices, newspapers, or politicians, I see no reason why I should not live to seventy; for I have faith in my tough and wiry body and a temperament naturally cool and controllable, excepting when my mind is harassed as it has been by circumstances connected with my private concerns, which I could not grapple with and master, solely because I was chained to another oar.”
“London, Jan. 23.—Peel’s speech last night1 would have done capitally for Covent Garden Theatre, and Lord Francis Egerton’s would have been a capital address from the chair if he had filled George Wilson’s place. The Tories are in a state of frantic excitement, and the Carlton club is all in confusion. Nobody knows his party. I have no doubt Peel will do our work thoroughly, or fall in the attempt. He will be able to carry his measure easily through the Commons, with the aid of the Opposition, but I have my suspicions that the Lords will throw it out and force a dissolution. Whatever happens, I can see a prospect of my emancipation at no distant date. I am going to-morrow to Windsor, to spend the Sunday with Mr. Grote.”
“Jan. 26.—I spent yesterday at Grote’s, about four miles from Slough, and met Senior the political economist, Parkes, and Lumley the lessee of the Italian Opera. We had a long walk of nearly twelve miles round the country, and for want of training I find myself like an old posting-horse to-day, stiff and footsore.... There are reports to-day of some resignations about the Court, but I don’t hear of anybody of consequence who is abandoning Peel. Still there is no knowing what to-morrow may bring forth. We hear nothing as to the details of Peel’s plan to-morrow, for which we are all looking with great anxiety. But the report is still that he intends to go the Whole hog. A very handsome gold snuff-box has just been presented to me by Mr. Collett, the member for Athlone.”
“Jan. 28.—Peel is at last delivered, but I hardly know whether to call it a boy or a girl. Something between the two, I believe. His corn measure makes an end of all corn laws in 1849, and in the meantime it is virtually a fixed1846.
“Jan. 29.2 —My own opinion is that we should not be justified in the eyes of the country if we did anything in the House to obstruct the measure, and I doubt whether any such step out of doors would be successful. In the House, Villiers will bring on his motion for total and immediate repeal, and I shall not be surprised if it were successful simply on agricultural grounds by our being able to demonstrate unanswerably that it is better for farmers and landowners to have the change at once rather than gradually. But we should have no chance on any other than agricultural grounds. To make 1846.
“Feb. 9.3 —The Queen’s doctor, Sir James Clark (a good Leaguer at heart), has written to offer to pay me a friendly visit, and talk over the state of my constitution, with a view to advise me how to unstring the bow. He wrote me a croaking warning letter more than a year ago. As it is possible there may be a paragraph in some newspaper alluding to my health, I thought it best to let you know in case of inquiry. But don’t write me a long dismal letter in return, for I can’t read them, and it does no good. If Charles could come up for a week with a determination to work and think, he might help me with my letters, but he will make my head worse if he requires me to look after him, and so1846.
“London, Feb. 19.4 —Your letter has followed me here. Peel’s declaration in the House that he will adopt immediate repeal if it is voted by the Commons, seems to me to remove all difficulty from Villier’s path; he can now propose his old motion without the risk of doing any harm even if he should not succeed. As respects the future course of the League, the less that is said now about it publicly the better. If Peel’s measure should become law, then the Council will be compelled to face the question, ‘What shall the League do during the three years?’ It has struck me that under such circumstances we might absolve the large subscribers from all further calls, put the staff of the League on a peace footing, and merely keep alive a nominal organization to prevent any attempt to undo the good work we have effected. Not that I fear any reaction. On the contrary, I believe the popularity of Free Trade principles in only in its infancy, and that it will every year take firmer hold of the head and heart of the community. But there is perhaps something due to our repeated pledges that we will not dissolve until the corn laws are entirely abolished. In any case the work will be effectually finished during this year, provided the League preserve its firm and united position; and it is to prevent the slightest appearance of disunion that I would avoid now talking in public about the future course of the League. It is the League, and it only, that frightens the peers. It is the League alone which enables Peel to repeal the law. But for the League the aristocracy would have hunted Peel to a premature grave, or consigned him like Lord Melbourne to a private station at the bare mention of total repeal. We must hold the same rod over the Lords until the measure is safe; after that I agree with 1846.
“March 6.5 —Nobody knows to this day what the Lords will do, and I believe all depends upon their fears of the country. If there was not something behind corn which they dread even still more, I doubt if they would ever give up the key of the bread basket. They would turn out Peel with as little ceremony as they would dismiss a groom or keeper, if he had not the League at his back. It is strange to see the obtuseness of such men as Hume, who voted against Villiers’s motion to help Peel. I have reason to know that the latter was well pleased at the motion, and would have been glad if we had had a larger division. It helps Peel to be able to point to something beyond, which he does not satisfy. I wish we were out of it.”
“March 25.6 —I have received the notes. Moffatt mentioned to me the report in the city to which you refer. There is no help for these things, and the only wonder is that we have escaped so well. If you can keep this affair in any way afloat till the present corn measure reaches the Queen’s hands, I will solve the difficulty, by cutting the Gordian knot, or rather the House; and the rest must take its chance. I don’t think I shall speak in this debate. It does no earthly good, and only wastes time. People are not likely to say I am silent because I can’t answer Bentinck and Co. The bill would be out of the Commons, according to appearances, before Easter.”
“March 30.—We are uncertain which course will be taken by the Government to-night, whether the Corn or Coercion Bill is to be proceeded with. If the latter, I fear we shall not make another step with the corn question1846.
“April 4.—It is my present intention to come home next Thursday unless there is anything special coming on that evening, which I don’t think very likely. It happens most unluckily that the Government has forced on the Coercion Bill to the exclusion of corn, for owing to the pertinacious delay thrown in the way of its passing by the Irish members, I don’t expect it will be read the first time before Easter, and as for corn there is no chance of hearing of it again till after the holidays. I wish to God we were out of the mess.”
“April 6.—We are still in the midst of our Irish squabble, and there is no chance of getting upon corn again before Easter. It is most mortifying this delay, for it gives the chance of the chapter of accidents to the enemy.”
“April 23.—We are still in as great suspense as ever about the next step in the Corn Bill. The Irishmen threaten to delay us till next Friday week at least. But I hear that the general opinion is that the postponement will be favourable to the success of the measure in the Lords.”
“April 25.—You will receive a Times by the post containing an amusing account of a flare-up in the House between Disraeli and Peel respecting some remarks of mine. You will also see that one of the Irish patriots has been trying to play us false about corn. But I don’t find that the bulk of the liberal Irish members are inclined to any overt act of treachery, although I fear that many are in their hearts averse to our repeal.”
“April 27.—Last Saturday I dined at Lord Mont-eagle’s, and took Lady——in to dinner, and really I must say I have not for five years met with a new acquaintance so much to my taste. I met there young Gough, son of Lord 1846.
“April 29.—I have three letters from you, but most not attempt now to give you a long reply. We are meeting this morning as usual on a Wednesday, at twelve o’clock till six in the House, and I have therefore little time for my correspondence. The Factory Bill is coming on which I wish to attend to..... You may tell our League friends that I begin to see daylight through the fog in which we have been so long enveloped. O’Connell tells me that we shall certainly divide upon the first reading of the Coercion Bill on Friday. That being out of the way, we shall go on to Corn on Monday, and next week will I trust see the Bill fairly out of the House. The general opinion is that the delay has been favourable to our prospects in the Lords.”
“May 2.—The Corn measure comes on next Monday, and will continue before the House till it passes. Some people seem to expect that it will get out of our hands on Friday next. I still hear more and more favourable reports of the probable doings in the Lords.”
“May 8.—The fact is we are here in a dead state of suspense, not quite certain what will be our fate in the Lords, and yet every day trying to learn something new, and still left in the same doubt. It is now said that we shall1846.
“May11.—I have been running about, sightseeing the last day or two. On Saturday I went to the Horticultural Society’s great flower-show at Chiswick. It was a glorious day, and a most charming scene. How different from the drenching weather you and I experienced there.”
“May 13.—I am sorry to say I see no chance of a division on the Corn Bill till Saturday morning at one or two o’clock, and that has quite thrown me out in my calculations about coming down. I fear I shall not be able to see you for a week or two later. The Factory Bill, upon which I must speak and vote, is before the House, and it is impossible to say when the division will take place. I have two invitations for dinner on Saturday, one to Lord Fitzwilliam’s, and the other to Lord and Lady John Russell, and if I remain over that day, I shall prefer the latter, as I have twice refused invitations from them. I assure you I would rather find myself taking tea with you, than dining with lords and ladies. Do not trouble yourself to write to me 1846.
“May 15.7 —There is at last a prospect of reading the Bill a third time to night. The Protectionists promise fairly enough, but I have seen too much of their tactics to feel certain that they will not have another adjournment. There is a revival of rumours again that the Lords will alter the Bill in committee, and attempt a fixed-duty compromise, or a perpetuation of the reduced scale. It is certain to pass the second reading by a majority of thirty or forty, but it is not safe in the committee, where proxies don’t count. I should not now be able to leave town till the end of the month, when I shall take a week or ten days for the Whitsuntide recess.”
“May 16.—I last night had the glorious privilege of giving a vote in the majority for the third reading of the bill for the total repeal of the Corn Law. The Bill is now out of the House, and will go up to the Lords on Monday. I trust we shall never hear the name of ‘Corn’ again in the Commons. There was a good deal of cheering and waving of hats when the Speaker had put the question, ‘that this Bill do now pass.’ Lord Morpeth, Macaulay, and others came and shook hands with me, and congratulated me on the triumph of our cause. I did not speak, simply for the reason that I was afraid that I should give more life to the debate, and afford an excuse for another adjournment; otherwise I could have made a telling and conciliatory appeal. Villiers tried to speak at three o’clock this morning, but I did not think he took the right tone. He was fierce against the protectionists, and only irritated them, and they wouldn’t hear him. The reports about the doings in the Lords are still not satisfactory or conclusive. Many people fear still that they will later the measure with a view to a1846.
“May 18.—We are so beset by contradictory rumours, that I know not what to say about our prospects in the Lords. Our good, conceited friend—told me on Wednesday that he knew the Peers would not pass the measure, and on Saturday he assured me that they would. And this is a fair specimen of the way in which rumours vary from day to day. This morning Lord Monteagle called on me, and was strongly of opinion that they would ‘move on, and not stand in people’s way.’ A few weeks will now decide the matter one way or another. I think I told you that I dined at Moffat’s last Wednesday. As usual he gave us a first-rate dinner. After leaving Moffat’s at eleven o’clock, I went to a squeeze at Mrs.——. It was as usual hardly possible to get inside the drawing-room doors. I only remained a quarter of an hour and then went home. On Saturday I dined at Lord and Lady John’s, and met a select party, whose names I see in to-day’s papers.... I am afraid if I associate much with the aristocracy, they will spoil me. I am already half seduced by the fascinating ease of their parties.”
“May 19.8 I received your letters with the enclosures. We are still on the tenter-hooks respecting the conduct of the Lords. There is, however, one cheering point: the majority on 1846.
“May 20.—We are still worried incessantly with rumours of intrigues at headquarters. Every day yields a fresh report. But I will write fuller to-morrow. Villiers is at my elbow with a new piece of gossip.”
“May 20.9 —I have looked through your letter to Lord Stanley, and will tell you frankly that I felt surprise that you should have wasted your time and thrown away your talents upon so very hopeless an object. He will neither read nor listen to facts or arguments, and after his double refusal to see a deputation, I really think it would be too great a condescension if you were to solicit his attention to the question at issue. This is my opinion, and Bright and Wilson, to whom I have spoken, appear to agree. But if you would like the letter to be handed to him, I will do it. Your evidence before the Lords’ Committee was again the topic of eulogy from Lord Monteagle yesterday, who called on me with a copy of his report. Everything is in uncertainty as to what the Lords will do in Committee. The Protectionists have had a great flare-up-to-day at Willis’s Rooms, and they appear to be in great spirits, I fear we shall yet be obliged to launch our bark again upon the troubled waters of agitation. But in the mean time the calm moderation of the League is our best title1846.
“May 22.—Yesterday I dined with Lord and Lady Fortescue, and met Lords Normanby, Campbell, and Morpeth. I sat at dinner beside the Duchess of Inverness, the widow of the Duke of Sussex, a plain little woman, but clever, and a very decided Free Trader.”
“May 23.—I have sent you a Chronicle containing a brief report of my few remarks in the House last night. Be good enough to cut it out, and send it to me that I may correct it for Hansard. It was two o’clock when I spoke, and it was impossible to do justice to the subject. Count on my being at home, saving accidents, on Thursday to tea.”
“May 23.—A meeting of the Whig Peers has to-day been held at Lord Lansdowne’s, and they have unanimously resolved to support the Government measure in all its details. There were several of these Whig Peers who up to yesterday were understood to be resolved to vote in Committee for a small fixed duty, and the danger was understood to be with them. They were beginning, however, to be afraid that Peel might dissolve, and thus annihilate the Whig party, and so they are as a party more inclined to let the measure pass now in order to get a chance of coming in after Peel’s retirement. I am assured by Edward Ellice, on e of the late Whig Cabinet, that the bill is now safe and that it will be law in three weeks. Heaven send us such good luck!”
“June 10.1 —There is another fit of apprehension about the Corn Bill owing to the uncertaiaty of Peel’s position. I can’t understand his motive for constantly poking his coercive bill in our faces at these critical moments. The Lords will take courage at anything that seems to weaken the Government 1846.
“June 13.—I have scarcely a doubt that in less than ten days the Corn Bill will be law. But we cannot say it is as safe as if carried.... I breakfasted yesterday morning with Monckton Milnes, and met Suleiman Pasha, Prince Louis Napoleon, Count D’Orsay, D’Israeli, and a queer party of odds and ends. The Pasha is a strong-built energetic-looking man of sixty. After breakfast he got upon the subject of military tactics, and fought the battle of Nezib over again with forks, spoons, and tumblers upon the table in a very animated way. The young Napoleon is evidently a weak fellow, but mild and amiable. I was disappointed in the physique of Count D’Orsay, who is a fleshy animal-looking creature, instead of the spirituel person I expected to see. He certainly dresses à merveille, and is besides a clever fellow.”
“June 16.—The Corn Bill is now safe beyond all risk, and we may act as if it had passed.... I met Sir James Clark and Doctor Combe at Kingston on Sunday, and we took tea together. Sir James was strong in his advice to me to go abroad, and the doctor was half disposed with his niece to go with us to Egypt. Combe and I went to Hampton Court Gardens in a carriage, and had a walk there. I am afraid Peel is going out immediately after the Corn Bill passes, which will be a very great damper to the country; and the excitement in the country consequent on a change of Government, will, I fear, interfere with a public project in which you and I are interested.”
“June 18.—The lords will not read the Corn Bill the third time before Tuesday next, and I shall be detained in town to vote on the Coercion Bill on Thursday, after which I shall leave for Manchester. I send you a Spectator paper, by which you will see that I am a ‘likeable’ person. I hope1846.
“June 23.—I have been plagued for several days with sitting to Herbert for the picture of the Council of the League, and it completely upsets my afternoons. Besides my mind has been more than ever upon the worry about that affair which is to come off after the Corn Bill is settled, and about which I hear all sorts of reports. You must therefore excuse me if I could not sit down to write a letter of news.... I thought the Corn Bill would, certainly be read the third time on Tuesday (to-morrow), but I now begin to think it will be put off till Thursday. There is literally no end to this suspense. But there are reports of Peel being out of office on Friday next, and the Peers may yet ride restive.”
“June 26.—My dearest Kate,—Hurrah! Hurrah! the Corn Bill is law, and now my work is done. I shall come down to-morrow morning by the six o’clock train in order to be present at a Council meeting at three, and shall hope to be home in time for a late tea.”
By what has always been noticed as a striking coincidence, and has even been heroically described as Nemesis, the Corn Bill passed the House of Lords on the same night on which the Coercion Bill was rejected in the House of Commons. On this memorable night the last speech before the division was made by Cobden. He could not, he said, regard the vote which he was about to give against the Irish Bill as one of no confidence, for it was evident that the Prime Minister could not be maintained in power by a single vote. If he had a majority that night, Lord George Bentinck would soon put him to the test again on some other subject. In any case, Cobden refused to stultify himself as Lord George and his friends were doing, by voting black to be 1846.
This closed the debate. The Government were beaten by the heavy majority of seventy-three. The fallen Minister announced his resignation of office to the House three days later (June 29) in a remarkable speech. As Mr. Disraeli thinks, it was considered one of glorification and of pique. But the candour of posterity will insist on recognizing in every period of it the exaltation of a patriotic and justifiable pride. In this speech Sir Robert Peel pronounced that eulogium which is well worn, it is true, but which cannot be omitted here. “In reference to our proposing these measures,” he said, “I have no wish to rob any person of the credit which is justly due to him for them. But I may say that neither the gentlemen sitting on the benches opposite, nor myself nor the gentlemen sitting round me—I say that neither of us are the parties who are strictly entitled to the merit. There has been a combination of parties, and that combination of parties together with the influence of the Government, has led to the ultimate success of the measures. But, Sir, there is a name which ought to be associated with the success of these measures: it is not the name of the noble Lord, the member for London, neither is it my name. Sir, the name which ought to be, and which will be associated with the success of these measures is the name of a man who, acting, I believe, from pure and disinterested motives, has advocated their cause with untiring energy, and by appeals to reason, expressed by an eloquence, the more to be admired because it was unaffected and unadorned—the name which ought to be and will be associated with the success of these measures is the name of Richard Cobden. Without scruple,1846.
Cumbrous as they are in expression, the words were received with loud approbation in the House and with fervent sympathy in the country, and they made a deep mark on men’s minds, because they were felt to be not less truly than magnanimously spoken.[Back to Table of Contents]
correspondence with sir robert peel—cessation of the work of the league.
“23 June, 1846.
“Sir,—I have tried to think of a plan by which I could have half an hour’s conversation with you upon public matters, but I do not think it would be possible for us to have an interview with the guarantee of privacy. I therefore take a course which will be startling to you, by committing the thoughts which are passing in my mind freely to paper. Let me premise that no human being has or ever will have the slightest knowledge or suspicion that I am writing this letter. I keep no copy, and ask for no reply. I only stipulate that you will put it in the fire when you have perused it, without in any way alluding to its contents or permitting it to meet the eye of any other person what ever.1 I shall not waste a word in apologising for the1846.
“It is said you are about to resign. I assume that it is so. On public grounds this will be a national misfortune. The trade of the country, which has languished through six months during the time that the Corn Bill has been in suspense, and which would now assume a more confident tone, will be again plunged into renewed unsettlement by your resignation. Again, the great principle of commercial freedom with which your name is associated abroad, will be to some extent jeopardized by your retirement. It will fill the whole civilized world with doubt and perplexity to see a minister, whom they believed all-powerful, because he was able to carry the most difficult measure of our time, fall at the very moment of his triumph. Foreigners, who do not comprehend the machinery of our government, or the springs of party movements, will doubt if the people of England are really favourable to Free Trade. They will have misgivings of the permanence of our new policy, and this doubt will retard their movements in the same direction. You have probably thought of all this.
“My object, however, in writing is more particularly to draw your attention from the state of parties in the House, as towards your government, to the position you hold as Prime Minister in the opinion of the country. Are you aware of the strength of your position with the country? If so, why bow to a chance medley of factions in the Legislature, 1846.
“You will perceive that I point to a dissolution as the solution of your difficulties in Parliament. I anticipate your objections. You will say,—‘If I had had the grounds for a dissolution whilst the Corn Bill was pending, I should have secured a majority for that measure; but now I have no such exclusive call upon the country, by which to set aside old party distinctions.’ There are no substantial lines of demarcation now in the country betwixt the Peelites and the so-called Whig or Liberal party. The Chiefs are still keeping up a show of hostility in the House; but their troops out of doors have piled their arms, and are mingling and fraternising together. This fusion must sooner or later take place in the House. The independent men, nearly all who do not look for office, are ready for the amalgamation. They are1846.
“I have said that a dissolution should be judiciously brought about. I assume, of course, that you would not deem it necessary to stand or fall by the present Coercion Bill. I assume, moreover, that you are alive to the all-pervading force of the arguments you have used in favour of Free Trade principles, that they are eternal truths, applicable to all articles of exchange, as well as corn; and that they must be carried out in every item of our tariff. I assume that you foresaw, when you propounded the Corn Bill, that it involved the necessity of applying the same principle to sugar, coffee, etc. This assumption is the basis of all I have said, or have to say. Any other hypothesis would imply that you had not grasped in its full comprehensiveness the greatness of your position, or the means by which you could alone achieve the greatest triumph of a century. For I need not tell you that the only way in which the soul of a great nation can be stirred, is by appealing to its sympathies with a true principle in its unalloyed simplicity. Nay, further, it is necessary for the concentration of a people’s mind that an individual should become the incarnation of a principle. It is from this necessity that I have been identified, out of doors, beyond my poor deserts, as the exponent of Free Trade. You, and no other, are its embodiment amongst statesmen;—and it is for this reason alone that I venture to talk to you in a strain that would otherwise be grossly impertinent.
“To return to the practical question of a dissolution. Assuming that your Cabinet will concur, or that you will place yourself in a position independently of other of appeal to the 1846.
“This tone is essential, because it will release the members of a new Parliament from their old party ties. The hustings cry will be, ‘Peel and Free Trade,’ and every important constituency will send its members up to support you. I would dissolve within the next two months. Some people might urge that the counties would be in a less excited state, if it were deferred; but any disadvantage in that respect would be more than compensated by the gain in the town constituencies. I would go the country with my Free Trade laurels fresh upon my brow, and whilst the grievance under which I was suffering from the outrages of Protectionist speakers and writers was still rankling in the1846.
“Again, to anticipate what is passing in your thoughts. Do you apprehend a difficulty in effacing the line which separates you from the men on the opposite side of the House? I answer that the leaders of the Opposition personate no idea. You embody in your own person the idea of the age. Do you fear that other questions, which are latent on the ‘Liberal’ side of the House, would embarrass you if you were at the head of a considerable section of its members? What are they? Questions of organic reform have no vitality in the country, nor are they likely to have any force in the Hous until your work is done. Are the 1846.
“As respects Ireland. That has become essentially a practical question too. If you are prepared to deal with Irish landlords as you have done with English, there will be the means of satisfying the people. You are not personally unpopular, but the reverse, with Irish members.
“Lastly, as respects your health. God only knows how you have endured, without sinking, the weight of public duties and the harassings of private remonstrances and importunities during the last six months. But I am of opinion that a dissolution, judiciously brought on, would place you comparatively on velvet for five years. It would lay in the dust your tormentors. It would explode the phantom of a Whig Opposition, and render impossible such a combination as is now, I fear, covertly harassing you. But it is on the subject of your health alone that I feel I may be altogether at fault, and urging you to what may be impossible. In my public views of your position and power, I am not mistaken. Whatever may be the difficulties in your Cabinet, whether one or half-a-score of your colleagues may secede, you have in your own individual will the power, backed by the country, to accomplish all that the loftiest ambition or the truest patriotism ever aspired to identify with the name and fame of one individual.
“I hardly know how to conclude without apologising for this most extraordinary liberty. If you credit me, as I believe you will, when I say that I have no object on earth but a desire to advance the interests of the nation and of humanity in writing to you, any apology will be unnecessary. If past experience do not indicate my motives, time, I hope, will.
“It is my intention, on the passing of the Corn Bill, to1846.
I have the honour to be, Sir, respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
“Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Peel, Bart. M.P.”
“P.S. I am of opinion that a dissolution, in the way I suggested, with yourself still in power, would very much facilitate the easy return of those on your side who voted with you. And any members of your government who had a difficulty with their present seats would, if they adhered to you, be at a premium with any free constituency. Were I in your position, although as a principle I do not think Cabinet ministers ought to encumber themselves with large constituencies, I would accept an invitation to stand for London, Middlesex, South Lancashire, or West Yorkshire, expressly to show to the world the estimation in which my principles were held, and declaring at the same time that that was my sole motive for one Parliament only.”
To this the Prime Minister replied on the following day, writing at the green table, and listening to the course of the debate as he wrote:—
“Wednesday, June 24th, 1846.
“Sir,—I should not write from this place if I intended to weigh expressions, or to write to you in any other spirit than 1846.
“I need not give you the assurance that I shall regard your letter as a communication more purely confidential than if it had been written to me by some person united to me by the closest bonds of private friendship.
“I do not think I mistake my position.
“I would have given, as I said I would give, every proof of fidelity to the measures which I introduced at the beginning of his Session. I would have instantly advised dissolution if dissolution had been necessary to ensure their passing. I should have thought such an exercise of the Prerogative justifiable—if it had given me a majority on no other question. If my retention of office, under any circumstances however adverse, had been necessary or would have been probably conducive to the success of those measures, I would have retained it. They will, however, I confidently trust, be the law of the land on Friday next.
“I do not agree with you as to the effect of my retirement from office as a justifiable ground, after the passing of those measures.
“You probably know or will readily believe that which is the truth—that such a position as mine entails the severest sacrifices. The strain on the mental power is far too severe;1846.
“You will believe, I say, if you reflect on these things, that office and power may be anything but an object of ambition, and that I must be insane if I could have been induced by anything but a sense of public duty to undertake what I have undertaken in this Session.
“But the world, the great and small vulgar, is not of this opinion. I am sorry to say they do not and cannot comprehend the motives which influence the best actions of public men. They think that public men change their course from corrupt motives, and their feeling is so predominant, that the character of public men is injured, and their practical authority and influence impaired, if in such a position as mine at the present moment any defeat be submitted to, which ought under ordinary circumstances to determine the fate of a government, or there be any clinging to office.
“I think I should do more homage to the principles on which the Corn and Customs Bills are founded, by retirement on a perfectly justifiable ground, than either by retaining office without its proper authority, without the ability to carry through that which I undertake, or by encountering the serious risk of defeat after dissolution.
“I should not think myself entitled to exercise this great prerogative, for the sole or the main purpose of deciding a personal question between myself and inflamed Protectionists—namely, whether I had recently given good advice and honest advice to the Crown. The verdict of the country might be in my favour on that issue; but I might fail in obtaining a majority which should enable me after the first excitement had passed away, to carry on the government, that is to do what I think conducive to the public welfare. I do not consider the evasion of difficulties, and the postponement of troublesome questions, the carrying on of a government.
“I could perhaps have parried even your power, and carried on the government in one sense for three or four years longer, if I could have consented to halloo an a majority in both houses to defend the (not yet defunct) Corn Law of 1842, ‘in all its integrity.’
“If you say that I individually at this moment embody or personify an idea, be it so. Then I must be very careful that, being the organ and representative of a prevailing and magnificent conception of the public mind, I do not sully that which I represent by warranting the suspicion even, that I am using the power it confers for any personal object.
“You have said little, and I have said nothing, about Ireland. But if I am defeated on the Irish Bill, will it be possible to divest dissolution (following soon after that defeat) of the character of an appeal to Great Britain against Ireland on a question of Irish Coercion? I should deeply1846.
“I will ask you also to consider this. After the passing of the Corn and Customs Bill, considering how much trade has suffered of late from delays, debates, and uncertainty as to the final result, does not this country stand in need of respose? Would not a desperate political conflict throughout the length and breadth of the land impair or defer the beneficial effect of the passing of those measures? If it would, we are just in that degree abating satisfaction with the past, and reconcilement to the continued application of the principles of Free Trade.
“Consider also the effect of dissolution in Ireland; the rejection of the Irish Bill immediately preceding it.
“I have written this during the progress of the debates, to which I have been obliged to give some degree of attention. I may, therefore, have very imperfectly explained my views and feelings, but imperfect as that explanation may be, it will I hope suffice to convince you that I receive your communication in the spirit in which it was conceived, and that I set a just value on your good opinion and esteem.
“I have the honour to be, Sir,
With equal respect for your character and abilities,
Your faithful Servant,
It is easy to understand the attractiveness of the idea with which Cobden was now possessed. It was thoroughly worked out in his own mind. By means of the forty-shilling freehold, the middle and industrious classes were to acquire a preponderance of political power. It was not the workmen as such, in whom Cobden had confidence. “You never heard me,” he said to the Protectionists in the House 1846.
Such a scheme was admirable in itself. In substance it was destined to be partially realized one day, not by Peel, but by the most powerful and brilliant of his lieutenants. The singular fate which had marked the Minister’s past career was an invincible obstacle to Cobden’s project. It was too late. All the accepted decencies of party would have been outraged if the statesman who had led an army of Tory country gentlemen in one Parliament, should have hurried to lead on army of liberal manufacturers in the next. The transition was too violent, the prospect of success too much of an accident. Nobody, again, could expect with Lord John Russell’s view, and it was a just view, of Peel’s long and1846.
Happily for the peace of the moment, these mortifications of the future were unknown and unsuspected. Ten days after his letter to the fallen Minister, Cobden received a communication from his successor.
July 2, 1846.
“My dear Sir,—The Queen having been pleased to entrust me with the task of forming an Administration, I have been anxious to place in office those who have maintained in our recent struggle the principles of Free Trade against Monopoly.
“The letter I received from you in November last, declining office, and the assurances I have received that you are going abroad for your health, have in combination with other circumstances prevented my asking your aid, nor, 1846.
“I care little whether the present arrangement remains for any long period in the direction of affairs. But I am anxious to see a large Liberal majority in the House of Commons devoted to improvement, both in this country and in Ireland. Mr. Charles Villiers has declined to take any office. I am about to propose to Mr. Milner Gibson to become Vice-President of the Board of Trade.
“I remain, with sentiments of regard and respect,
Yours very faithfully,
What were the “other circumstances” which prevented Lord John Russell from inviting Cobden to join his Government, we can only guess. It is pretty certain that they related to a project of which a good deal had been heard during the last four or five months. There would undeniably have been some difficulty in giving high office in the state to a politician whose friends were at the time publicly collecting funds for a national testimonial of a pecuniary kind. Whether the Whig chief was glad or not to have this excuse for leaving Cobden out of his Cabinet, the ground of the omission was not unreasonable.
The final meeting of the League took place on the same day on which Lord John Russell wrote to explain that he intended to show his appreciation of what was due to those “who had maintained in our recent struggle the principles of Free Trade against Monopoly,” by offering Mr. Gibson a post without either dignity or influence. The Leaguers were too honestly satisfied with the triumph of the cause1846.
The share which the League had in procuring the consummation of the commercial policy that Huskisson had first opened four-and-twenty years before, is not always rightly understood. One practical effect of a mischievous kind has followed from this misunderstanding. It has led people into the delusion that organization, if it be only on a sufficiently gigantic scale and sufficiently unrelenting in its importunity, is capable of winning any virtuous cause. The agitation against the Corn Laws had several pretty obvious peculiarities, which ought not to be overlooked. A large and wealthy class had the strongest material interest in repeal. What was important was that this class now happened to represent the great army of consumers. 1846.
There is another important circumstance which ought not to be left out of sight. One secret of the power of the League both over the mind of Sir Robert Peel, and over parliament, arose from the narrow character of the representation at that time. The House of Commons to-day is a sufficiently imperfect and distorting mirror of public judgment and feeling. But things were far worse then. The total number of voters in the country was not much more than three quarters of a million; six sevenths of the male population of the country was excluded from any direct share of popular power; and property itself was so unfairly represented that Manchester, with double the value of the property of Buckinghamshire, returned only two members, while Bucks returned eleven. It was on this account, as Cobden said, it was because Manchester could1846.
The same thought was present to the reflective mind of Peel. Cobden tells a story in one of his speeches which illustrates this. One evening in 1848 they were sitting in the House of Commons, when the news came that the government of Louis Philippe had been overthrown and a republic proclaimed. When the buzz of conversation ran round the House, as the startling intelligence was passed from member to member, Cobden said to Joseph Hume, who sat beside him, “Go across and tell Sir Robert Peel.” Hume went to the front bench opposite, where Sir Robert was sitting in his usual isolation. “This comes,” said Peel, when Hume had whispered the catastrophe, “this comes of trying to govern the country through a narrow representation in Parliament, without regarding the wishes of those outside. It is what this party behind me wanted me to do in the matter of the Corn Laws, and I would not do it.”8
Now that the work was finally done, Cobden was free to set out on that journey over Europe, which the doctors had urged upon him as the best means of repose, and which he promised himself should be made an opportunity of diligently preaching the new gospel among the economic Gentiles. Before starting on this long pilgrimage, he went to stay for a month with his family in Wales. Two days after the final meeting of the League, he thus describes to 1846.
“I am going into the wilderness to pray for a return of the taste I once possessed for nature and simple quiet life. Here I am, in one day from Manchester, to the loveliest valley out of paradise. Ten yeas ago, before I was an agitator, I spent a day or two in this house. Comparing my sensations now with those I then experienced, I feel how much I have lost in winning public fame. The rough tempest has spoilt me for the quiet haven. I fear I shall never be able to cast anchor again. It seems as if some mesmeric hand were on my brain, or I was possessed by an unquiet fiend urging me forward in spite of myself. On Thursday I thought as I went to the meeting, that I should next day be a quiet and happy man. Next day brings me a suggestion from a private friend of the Emperor of Russia, assuring me that if instead of going to Italy and Egypt, I would take a trip to St. Petersburg, I could exercise an important influence upon the mind of Nicholas. Here am I at Llangollen, blind to the loveliness of nature, and only eager to be on the road to Russia, taking Madrid, Vienna Berlin, and Paris by the way! Let me see my boy to-morrow, who waits my coming at Machynlleth, and if he do not wean me, I am quite gone past recovery.”9
His mind did not rest long. To Mr. Ashworth he wrote at the same date:—
“Now I am going to tell you of fresh projects that have been brewing in my brain. I have given up all idea of burying myself in Egypt or Italy. I am going on a private agitating tour through the Continent of Europe. The other day I got an intimation from Sir Roderick Murchison, the geologist—a friend and confidant of the Emperor of Russia—that I should have great influence with him if I went to St. Petersburg. To-day I get a letter1846.
“I have had similar hints respecting Madrid, Vienna, and Berlin. Well, I will, with God’s assistance, during the next twelvemonth visit all the large states of Europe, see their potentates or statesmen, and endeavour to enforce those truths which have been irresistible at home. Why should I rust in inactivity? If the public spirit of my countrymen affords me the means of travelling as their missionary, I will be the first ambassador from the People of this country to the nations of the continent. I am impelled to his step by an instinctive emotion such as never deceived me. I feel that I could succeed in making out a stronger case for the prohibitive nations of Europe to compel them to adopt a freer system, than I had here to overturn our protective policy. But it is necessary that my design should not be made public, for that would create suspicion aboard. With the exception of a friend or two, under confidence, I shall not mention my intentions to anybody.”
A few days later he wrote to George Combe, in a mood of more even balance:—
“Your affectionate letter of the 28th of June, has never been absent from my mind, although so long unacknowledged. I came here last week, with my wife and children, on a visit to her father’s, and for a quiet ramble amongst the Welsh mountains. I thought I should be allowed to be forgotten after my address to my constituents. But every post brings me twenty or thirty letters, and such letters! I am teased 1846.
“The settlement of the Free Trade controversy leaves the path free for other reforms, and Education must came next, and when I say that Education has yet to come, I need not add that I do not look for very great advances in our social state during our generation. You ask me whether the public mind is prepared for acting upon the moral law in our national affairs. I am afraid the animal is yet too predominant in the nature of Englishmen, and of men generally, to allow us to hope that the higher sentiments will gain their desired ascendency in your life-time or mine. I have always had one test of the tendency of the world: what is its estimate of war and warriors, and on what do nations rely for their mutual security? Brute force is, I fear, as much worshipped now, in the statues to Wellington and the peerage to Gough, as1846.
“Perhaps you will remember that in my little pamphlets, I dwelt a good deal, ten years ago, upon the influence of our foreign policy upon our home affairs. I am as strongly as ever impressed with this view. I don’t think the nations of the earth will have a chance of advancing morally in their domestic concerns to the degree of excellence which we sigh for, until the international relations of the world are put upon a different footing. The present system corrupts society, exhausts its wealth, raises up false gods for hero-worship, and fixes before the eyes of the rising generation a spurious if glittering standard of glory. It is because I do believe that the principle of Free Trade is calculated to alter the relations of the world for the better, in a moral point of view, that I bless God I have been allowed to take a prominent part in its advocacy. Still, do not let us be too gloomy. If we can keep the world from actual war, and I trust railroads, steamboats, cheap postage and our own example in Free Trade will do that, a great impulse will from this time be given to social reforms. The public mind is in a practical mood, and it will now precipitate itself upon Education, Temperance, reform of Criminals, care of Physical Health, etcetera, with greater zeal than ever....
“Now, my dear friend, for a word or two upon a very delicate personal matter. You have seen the account of an ebullition of a pecuniary kind which is taking place in the country, a demonstration in favour of me exclusively to the 1846.
It is not necessary to enter into a discussion of the propriety of Cobden’s acceptance of the large sum of money, between seventy-five and eighty thousand pounds, which were collected in commemoration of his services to what the subscribers counted a great public cause. The chief Leaguers anxiously discussed the project of a joint testimonial to Cobden, Mr. Bright, and Mr. Villiers, all three to be included in a common subscription.3 But nobody could say how the fund was to be divided. It was then discussed whether as much money could be collected for the three as for Cobden individually, and it was agreed that it could not, for it was Cobden who united the sections of the Free Trade party. He had undoubtedly sacrificed good chances of private prosperity for the interest of the community, and it would have been a painful and discreditable satire on human nature if he had been left in ruin, while everybody around him was thriving on the results of his unselfish devotion. It is true that many others had made sacrifices both of time and money, but they had not sacrificed 1846.
tour over europe.
Accompanied by his wife, Cobden landed at Dieppe on the1846–7.
The travellers passed rather more than eleven weeks in Spain, and at the beginning of the new year found themselves 1846.
When he returned to England he had such a conspectus and cosmorama of Europe in his mind as was possessed by no statesman in the country; of the great economic currents, of the special commercial interests, of the conflicting political issues, of the leading personages. Unless knowledge of such things is a superfluity for statesmen whose strong point is asserted to be foreign policy, Cobden was more fit to discuss the foreign policy of this country than any man in it. In less than a year after his return, Europe was shaken by a tremendous convulsion. The kings whom he had seen were forced from their thrones, and the greatest of the statesmen of the old world fled out in haste from Vienna. Neither they nor Cobden foresaw the storm that was so close upon them; but Cobden at least was aware of those movements in Paris which were silently unchaining the revolutionary forces. The following passage is from a letter written ten years later, but this is a proper place for it:—
“When I was in Paris in 1846, I saw Guizot, and though I had weighed him accurately as a politician, I pronounced him an intellectual pedant and a moral prude, with no more knowledge of men and things than is possessed by professors who live among their pupils, and he seemed to me to have become completely absorbed in the hard and unscrupulous will of Louis Philippe. At that time I was the hero of a successful agitation, and was taken into the confidence of all the leaders of the opposition who were getting up the movement which led first to the banquets, and next to the revolution. I was at Odillon Barrot’s, and at Girardin’s,1846.
As it happened, Cobden arrived in Spain at the moment of the once famous marriages of the young Queen and her sister, the one to her cousin, Don Francisco, the other to the Duke of Montpensier. The Minister sent Cobden and his party tickets for the ceremony, and they found themselves placed close to the great personages of the day. They went to a bull-fight, with the emotions that the scene usually stirs in all save Spanish breasts, and Cobden’s disgust was particularly aroused by the presence of the Spanish Primate at the brutal festival.2 Alexander Dumas who had come to Madrid to write an account of the Duke of Montpensier’s marriage, went with Cobden over the Museum and the Escurial. At Seville Cobden had such a reception that the newspapers assured their readers that Christopher Columbus himself could hardly have been more enthusiastically applauded, or more highly honoured for the new world which he had presented to Castille.
Everywhere men were delighted by his tact and address. He made as captivating points in a speech to the traders of Cadiz, the farmers of Perugia, or the great nobles in Rome,1846.
Mrs. Cobden said that it was fortunate that her husband had not too high an opinion of himself, or else the Italians would have turned his head, so many attentions, both public and private, were showered upon him. Even at a tranquil little town like Perugia a troop of musicians sallied out to serenade him at his hotel, the Agricultural Society sent a silver medal and a diploma, and in the evening at the Casino 1846.
On their arrival at Genoa, on their return from all these honours (May 20), they found that O’Connell had died there the previous day. They at once proceeded to pay a visit to his son, and from O’Connell’s servant, who had been with him for thirteen years, they heard the circumstances of the great patriot’s end.3
Cobden’s diaries of this long and instructive tour are so copious that they would more than fill one of these volumes. They afford a complete economic panorama of the countries which he visited, and abound in acute observations, and judicious hints of all kinds from the Free Trader’s point of view. Their facts, however, are now out of date, and their interest is mostly historic. The reader will probably be satisfied with a moderate number of extracts, recording Cobden’s interviews with important people, and his impressions of historic scenes.
Dieppe, Aug. 6th, 1846.—“Called and left my card with the King’s aide-de-camp, at the chateau. The King was out in the forest for a drive; on his return received an invitation to call at the chateau at eight o’clock. We found thirty or forty persons in the saloon, the King, Queen, and Madame Adelaide, the King’s sister, in the middle of the room. Louis Philippe was very civil and very communicative, talked much against war, and ridiculed the idea of an acquisition of more territory, saying, ‘What would be the use of our taking Charleville, or Philippeville? Why, it would give us a dozen more bad deputies, that’s all!’ Said the people would not now tolerate war, and much in that strain. He alluded to the League and my labours, but I could not1846.
“He was not very complimentary to Lord Palmerston, applying to him a French maxim, which may be turned into the English version, ‘If you bray a fool in a mortar, he will remain a fool still.’ He repeated two or three times that he wished there were no custom-houses, but ‘how is revenue to be raised?’ He quoted a conversation with Washington, in which the latter had deplored the necessity of raising the whole of the American revenue from customs’ duties. I had heard in England, before starting, that Louis Philippe was himself deeply interested in the preservation of monopoly; and that his large property in forests would be diminished in value by the free importation of coals and iron. But I will not hastily prejudge his Majesty so far as to believe, without better proofs, that he is actuated by a personal interest in secretly opposing the progress of Free Trade principles. It is difficult, however, to conceive that a man of his sagacity and knowledge can be blind to the importance of these principles in consolidating the peace of empires.”
“Paris, August 10th.—Early in the morning a call from Domville, my old French master; engaged him to give me an hour’s instruction every morning during my stay in 1846.
“August 15th, Saturday.—French lesson. Went with Léon Faucher to call upon M. Thiers; walked and gossiped in his garden, and talked without reserve upon Free Trade. I warned him not to pronounce an opinion against us, thus to fall into the same predicament as Peel did. He seems never to have thought upon the subject, but promises fairly. A lively little man without dignity, and with nothing to impress you with a sense of power.”
“Barcelona, December 8th.—Reached Barcelona at half-past five o’clock; as it was half-an-hour after sunset, the health officers did not visit us, and we were shut up in our floating prison till the following morning. This system of requiring pratique at every port for vessels in the coasting-trade is most useless and vexations, and would be submitted to by none but Spaniards. They shrug their shoulders like Turks, and say, ‘It was always so.’ The waiter on the steamer told us that the best part of the profits of his situation came from smuggling, and that the smuggling was all done through the connivance of the government employés; he stated that the contraband goods conveyed by him were generally carried on shore by the custom-house officers themselves. This agrees with all that I heard from the consuls and merchants on the Mediterranean coast. The French consul at Carthagena remarked whilst speaking of the universal corruption of the custom-house officers, ‘With money you might pass the tower of Notre Dame through the custom-house without observation, but without money you could not pass this,’ holding up his pocket handkerchief.”
“Perpignan, December 14th and 15th.—Luxuriated in the1846.
“Narbonne, December 16th.—Left Perpignan this morning at eleven o’clock. The road to Narbonne passed along the marshy shores of the Mediterranean; very uninteresting scenery. But the sensation of passing along a French road in an English carriage was quite delightful after the Spanish travelling. The men wearing the blue blouse. What a contrast in the appearance of the two peoples! On one side the mountain, the grave, sombre, dignified, dark Spaniard; here the lively, supple, facetious, amiable Frenchman, who seems ready to adapt himself to any mood to please you.”
“Montpellier, December 17th.—Separated from our traveling companions 5 this morning at Narbonne; they started at eight o’clock for Toulouse, and we at the same hour for Montpellier. Our road lay along a rich and populous but uninteresting country, through Beziers, and for some distance close to the Mediterranean. The people were busy in the fields, cutting off the long dry shoots of the vines with a pair of pruning shears, and leaving nothing but the stumps. When within ten miles of Montpellier, snow began to fall, and it continued during the rest of the journey.”
“Nice, Jan. 3rd, 1847.—Sir George Napier called; lost his left arm at Ciudad Rodrigo; is younger brother of the 1847.
“Nice, Jan. 4th.—Saw a large number of men assembled in the open place; peasants chiefly, conscripts for the army; went amongst them, a sturdy-looking set, and apparently not dissatisfied with their fate; am told they are generally only liable to serve for fourteen months. Called on M. Lacroix, the Consul, who said the government of Sardinia has a monopoly of salt, gunpowder, and tobacco; that the province or county of Nice is not included in the general customs-law of the kingdom, but has its own privileges; that corn from foreign countries pays a duty, but that all other articles, excepting those monopolized by government, are imported free. Called upon an old Frenchman, named Sergent, in his ninety-seventh year, who acted a prominent part in the scenes of the first revolution, and is one of the few men living who signed or voted for the execution of the king; was originally an engraver, and there were several of his productions on the walls of his room, but nothing commemorative of Napoleon’s exploits.6
“Nice, Jan. 5th.—Dined with Mr. Davenport, and met M. Sergent. Took tea with Sir George Napier and Lady N.; met M. Gastand, a merchant of the town, who told me that1847.
“Genoa, Jan. 13th.—This morning the Marquis d’Azeglio called, with Mr. William Gibbs—the former a Piedmontese who has written poetry, romances, and political works, and is also an artist. He told me he had been expelled from Rome by the late Pope, and from Lombardy and Florence, in consequence of his writings. An amiable and intelligent man, evincing rational views upon the moral progress of his country, and deprecating revolutionary violence as inimical to the advance of liberal principles.
“Genoa, Jan. 16th.—Called on Dr.——and Mr. Brown (Consul); the latter showed me a copy of Junius, with numerous notes in pencil by Horne Tooke on the margin; described the demagogue, whom he knew personally, as a finished scoundrel. In the evening dined with a party of about fifty persons, Marquis d’Azeglio president. The consuls of France, Spain, Belgium, and Tuscany present, as well as several of the Genoese nobles, and merchants of different countries. French was universally spoken. My speech was intended for the ministers at Turin rather than my hearers. In this country, where there is no representative system, public opinion has no direct mode of influencing the policy of the state, and therefore I used such arguments as were calculated to have weight with the government, and induce them to favour Free Trade as a means of increasing the national revenue.”
“Genoa, Jan. 17th.—In the evening M. Papa called and 1847.
“Genoa, Jan. 18th.—In the evening I visited the governor (Marchese Paulucci) at his reception. A large party filled his rooms, some dancing; a large majority of the men, officers in the army. The governor thanked me for the tone in which I had spoken at the public dinner given to me on Saturday; said that he had naturally felt a little anxious to know how the proceedings had been conducted, and complemented me upon my tact, etc.7 In speaking about the power of Russia to make an irruption into Europe, I expressed an opinion that she had not the money to march 40,000 soldiers out of her territory; he agreed with me, and mentioned an anecdote in confirmation. He said that when he was military governor of a district in the Caucasus, he was applied to for a plan of operations for the invasion of Persia; that, when he handed in to the Minister his estimate of the number of troops to be set in motion, the latter was so surprised at the smallness of the1847.
“Rome, Jan. 22nd.—In Tuscany no corn law of any kind has been allowed to exist by the present dynasty for many generations. Mr. Lloyd told me an anecdote of one of the leaders of the revolutionary party of 1831, who, when asked by him, what practical reforms he wished to carry by a change in the government, remarked that one of the grievances he wished to remedy was the want of adequate protection for the land. So that had this patriot been able to induce the people to upset the Grand Duke’s authority, he would have rewarded them with a Corn Law! Was told that the grass of which the far-famed Leghorn bonnets are made, can only be grown in perfection in Tuscany, that it has been sown elsewhere, but without success, and that the seed from which it is grown is the produce of a few fields only; inquire further on my return about this. Left Leghorn at six o’clock for Civita Vecchia, and arrived there at eight the following morning.... Left at half-past twelve for Rome, the road lying along the beach for several miles. Almost immediately on quitting the town the country assumed the character of a wild common, covered with shrubs and tufts of long grass, and this neglected appearance of the soil continued with slight interruptions of cultivated patches as long as daylight lasted. Noticed the fine bullocks of a light grey colour, with dark shoulders, and having very long branching horns, noble-looking 1847.
“Rome, Jan. 23rd.—The effect of the colonnade is much impaired by the high square buildings of the Vatican, which rise high above on the right, and detract even from the appearance of the great façade. On the first sight of the interior, I was not struck so much with its grandeur or sublimity, as with the beauty and richness of its details. I felt impressed with more solemnity in entering York Minster for the first time than in St. Peter’s. The glare and glitter of so much gold and such varieties of marble distract the eye, and prevent it taking in the whole form of the building in one coup-d’œil, as we do in the simple stone of our unadorned Gothic Cathedrals. I was disappointed too in the statues, many of which are poor things.”
“Rome, Jan. 25th.—.... Then to the Vatican, and passed a couple of hours in walking leisurely through the numerous galleries of sculpture where the enthusiastic admirer of the art may revel to intoxication amidst the most perfect forms; here I was more than satisfied. I had not pictured to myself anything so extensive or varied. Not only is the human figure of both sexes and all ages in every possible graceful attitude transferred to marble, which all but breathes and moves, but there are perfect models of animals too, and all arranged with consummate taste and skill in rooms that are worthy of enshrining such treasures. The Laocoon to my eye is the masterpiece. The Apollo Belvidere is perfect in anatomy, but the features express no feeling. Saw Raphael’s masterpiece; the drawing faultless, but the subjects were unhappily dictated by monkish patrons, and they confined the artist too much to the expression of a very limited range of sentiments, as veneration, etc.”
“Feb. 8th.—In the evening to a ball at the French1847.
“Feb. 10th.—I was entertained at a public dinner in the hall of the Chamber of Commerce; about thirty-five persons present, Marquis Potenziani in the chair; Prince Corsini, very aged, Prince Canino (Bonaparte), Duke of Bracciano (Torlonia), Marquis Dragonetti, etc., amongst the guests. The healths of the Pope and the Queen of England drank together as one toast! I spoke in English, about a dozen of the company appearing to understand me. Doctor Pantaleone then read an Italian translation of my speech, which was well received and elicited cheers for the translator from those who had understood the English. A Doctor Masi, a celebrated improvisatore, delivered an improvisation in the course of the evening upon myself; his look and gestures were strikingly eloquent, even to one who could not understand his language. There was a wild expression of inspiration in his countenance which realized the idea of a poet’s fine frenzy, and the effect was heightened by his long black hair, which streamed from a high pale brow down upon his shoulders. His emotions imparted to the audience an electrical effect, which now roused them to immoderate excitement and next melted them to tears. One of his verses produced an unanimous call for an encore; he paused 1847.
“February 11th.—Called on Prince Corsini, colonel Caldwell, Lord Ossulston, then to the Corso again, to join in the fun of the Carnival, streets more crowded than ever with carriages and masquers, the English everywhere and always the most uproarious. If there be any excess of boisterousness visible, it is ten to one that it proceeds from the English or other foreigners. The Italians do little more than exchange bouquets or little bonbons in a very quiet, graceful way, throwing them to each other from their carriages or balconies, but the English shovel upon each other the chalk confettis, with all the zeal and energy of navigators. It is quite certain that a carnival in England would not pass over so peaceably as here; people would begin with sugar-plums, and go on to apples and oranges, then proceed to potatoes, and end probably with stones.”
“Rome, February 12th.—Called on Mr. Hemans, son of the poetess, who is editing the Roman Advertiser, an English weekly paper, and gave him a copy of my speech. Then accompanied Prince Canino in an open carriage to see the foxhounds throw off in the Campagna, beyond the tomb of Cæcilia Metella; the hounds drew the ruins of aqueducts and tombs, under the direction of ‘Dick’ and ‘George,’ the whippers-in, in regular Melton style, but not finding, they proceeded across the Campagna to a wood at a distance.1847.
“In the evening to the American Consul’s, and found a number of his countrymen and women in masquerade dresses, everything about them lively excepting the spirits of the actors. Introduced to several of ‘our most distinguished citizens,’—a title for a bore.”
“February 13th.—Dined with Mr. and Mrs. S. Gurney, met young Bunsens, and some other Germans, the Prussian Minister, etc. Speaking to the latter about his being almost the only Protestant representative at the court of the Pope, he said that Peel had applied to the Prussian Government to know whether it found it advantageous or otherwise to have a diplomatic connexion with the Holy See, and that the answer given was, that the disadvantages rather predominated, and that if that Government stood in the position of England, it would prefer to remain without diplomatic relations with Rome. Next to Prince Canino’s soirée, very mixed, but very agreeable, and many intelligent men there. Was introduced to the Count of Syracuse, brother of the King of Naples, with whom I had a long talk about Ireland, France, and other matters. Found him, for a king’s brother, a very clear-headed, well-informed man. Talked with the Sardinian 1847.
“February 14th.—They who argue that the working people are elevated in intellect and prompted to habits of cleanliness and self-respect by having free access to public buildings devoted to the arts, must not quote the ragged, dirty crowds who frequent St. Peter’s to kiss the toe of the statue of the saint!”
“Feb. 16th.—The statue of Moses by Michael Angelo in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, did not impress me on looking at it as I expected. The execution may be all that the sculptor desires, but to my eye the face wants both dignity and honesty of expression, and the head fails to impress me with the idea of wisdom or capacity in the great law-giver.”
“Feb. 19th.—To the Barberini Palace to see a very small collection of paintings, one of them the far-famed Beatrice Cenci by Guido. The touching pensiveness of the face produces such an impression that it will be present in one’s recollection when perhaps every other picture in Rome is forgotten.
“In the evening took tea with Mrs. Jameson, authoress of works on early painters, an agreeable woman, whose good-nature and sense prevent her from displaying the unpleasant qualities of too many literary ladies. Met Mr. Gibson the sculptor, who talked about robbers and assassins, with a graphic description of them and their victims, which was quite professional.”
“Feb. 22nd.—Went with Mrs. Jameson to the Vatican, walked through the sculpture galleries. The Braccio Nuovo contains a statue of Demosthenes in an attitude most earnest; there is no appearance of effort or art in the figure, and yet it is endowed with the earnest and sincere expression which an actor would seek to imitate. The coun1847.
“Walked with Mrs. Jameson into the Sistine chapel, to see Michael Angelo’s frescoes; the Last Judgment at one end, and the whole of the ceiling from his pencil. It is a deplorable misapplication of the time and talent of a man of genius to devote years to the painting of the ceiling of a chapel, at which one can only look by an effort that costs too much inconvenience to the neck to leave the mind at ease to enjoy the pleasure of the painting.... With all the enthusiasm of my fair companion, I could not feel much gratification at this celebrated work of art.
“At seven o’clock was presented to the Pope in his private cabinet, where I found him in a white flannel friar’s dress, sitting at a small writing-desk surrounded with papers. The approach to this little room was through several lofty and spacious apartments. The curtained doors and the long flowing robes of the attendants reminded me, oddly enough, of my interview with Mehemet Ali at Cairo. Pius IX. received me with a hearty and unaffected expression of pleasure at meeting one who had been concerned in a great and good work in England; commended my perseverance and the means by which the principle of Free Trade had been made to triumph; and he remarked that England was the only country where such triumphs were achieved by 1847.
“Feb. 23rd.—Dined with Count Rossi, the French Ambassador. A splendid banquet, at which the foreign ambassadors in Rome, including the Turkish envoy going to Vienna, were present. Looking round the table I saw represented, Italy, France, Germany, Russia, England, Turkey, and Syria, the latter by a bishop of the Maronites.”
“Feb. 24th.—We have been in Rome a month, have seen some of the wonders of the ancients, and have been overwhelmed with the kindness of friends, but I long for a quiet day or two in travelling over the Campagna, where the1847.
“Naples, Feb. 27th.—Left Rome Thursday morning, 25th February, at half-past eight, for Naples, by the new Appian Way, which leaves the old road of that name a little to the right on quitting the city, but falls into a few miles off. The course of this celebrated old road may be distinctly traced at a distance by the mounds and ruins of tombs and temples with which its sides are fringed. Snow fell as we passed out of Rome. The view of the Campagna, with the ruined aqueducts stretching across its desolate surface, presented a striking contrast to the luxurious and busy scene which we had but a few minutes before taken leave of within the city walls. These stately and graceful aqueducts are nearly the only ruins which excite feelings of regret, being perhaps the sole buildings which did not merit destruction by the crimes, the folly, and the injustice which attended their construction, or the purposes to which they were devoted.
“We are now in the territory of the King of the Two Sicilies, who can certainly boast of ruling over more beggars than any other sovereign. Mendicancy seems to be the profession of all the labouring people whenever they have an opportunity of practising it. No sooner is a traveller’s carriage seen than young and old pounce upon it; the peasant woman throws down her load that she may keep up with the vehicle, bawling out incessantly for charity; the boy who is watching the sheep, a field or two off, hurries 1847.
“March 4th.—Went with M. D’Azala to the Museum, first to see the room containing jewellery and ornaments, but did not think them generally in such good taste or so well executed as those I had seen in Campana’s collection of Etruscan works of a similar kind in Rome. Next to the rooms containing the articles in bronze, brought principally from Pompeii. Here I found specimens of all the common household utensils—lamps, jugs, pans, moulds for pastry, some of them in the form of shells, others of animals; scales and steelyards, mirrors, bells, articles for the toilet, including rouge; bread in loaves, with the name of the maker stamped on them, surgical instruments, cupping cups in bronze, locks, keys, hinges, tickets for the theatre; in fact, I was introduced to the mode of domestic every-day life amongst the ancients..... After seeing this portion of the Museum I came away without proceeding farther, preferring to mix up no other objects with my enjoyment to-day of certainly the most novel and interesting collection of curiosities I ever beheld.”
“Naples, March 6th.—At eleven o’clock went with Mr. Close to the palace to see the King by appointment; conversed for a short time with him upon Free Trade, about which he did not appear to be altogether ignorant or without some favourable sympathies. He questioned me about the future solution of the Irish difficulty, a question which seems to be uppermost in the minds of all statesmen and public men on the continent. The King is a stout and tall man, heavy looking, and of restricted capacity. I am told he is1847.
“March 16th.—I went to the Museum to see the collection of bronzes again whilst the houses from which they were taken in Pompeii were fresh in my memory. I was introduced to the members of the Academy of Science, who were holding an ordinary meeting in their room in the same building. A complimentary address to me was delivered by Sig. Mancini, and responded to by other members, and I thanked them briefly in French.”
“Turin, May 26th, 1847.—Had an interview with his Majesty Charles Albert, a very tall and dignified figure, with a sombre, but not unamiable expression of countenance; received me frankly; talked of railroads, machinery, agriculture, and similar practical questions. Said he hoped I was contented with what his Government had done in the application of my principles, and informed me that his ministry had resolved upon a further reduction of duties on iron, cotton, etc. He is said to have good intentions, but to want firmness of character.
“In the evening, Count Revel, minister of finance, came in, with whom I had a long discussion upon Free Trade, a sensible man. Speaking to Signor Cibrario upon the subject of the commerce of the middle ages in Italy, he said that the principle of protection or Colbertism was unknown; that, however, there were innumerable impediments to industry and internal commerce, owing to the corporations of trades and the custom-houses which surrounded every little state and almost every little city.”
“May 28th, 1847.—Went at eight o’clock in the morning to hear a lecture by Signor Scialoja, Professor of Political Economy at the University, a Neapolitan of considerable 1847.
“Milan, June 3rd.—Attended a meeting of La Societa d’Incoraggiamento of Milan. About 200 persons were present, consisting of members and their friends. A paper was read by Signor G. Sacchi upon the doctrine of Romagnosi (a Milanese writer) on free trade, in which he alluded in complimentary terms to my presence. Then Signor A. Mauri (the secretary) read an eulogistic address to me. After which Chevalier Maffei read a paper upon Milton, with a long translation from the first book of ‘Paradise Lost.’ In conclusion I delivered a short address in French, thanking the Society and recommending the study of political economy to the young men present. The meeting terminated with enthusiastic expressions of satisfaction. In the evening was entertained at a public dinner (the first ever held in Milan) by about eighty persons, including most of the leading literary men of the place, Signor G. Basevi, advocate, in the chair. This gentleman, who I was told is of the Jewish persuasion, had the moral courage to act as counsel in defence of Hofer the Tyrolese leader, when he was tried by a military commission at Mantua and sentenced to be shot. Not having before taken part in a similar demonstration, he was unacquainted with the mode of conducting a meeting. He began the toasts in the midst of the dinner, by proposing my health in an eloquent speech. Then followed three or four others who all proposed my health. Before the dinner was concluded, other orators, who had1847.
“Lake Como, June 7th.—Lounged away the morning over Madame D’Arblay’s Memoirs, and Lady C. Bury’s George IV. Heard also some gossip about the residents on the shores of the lake, not the most favourable to their morality. After dinner made an excursion to the town of Como, and saw the Cathedral.”
“Desenzano, June 9th.—Found Signor Salevi an intelligent and amiable man, his head and countenance striking; is writing a book upon prison reform, and a great promoter of infant schools, of which he says there are three well conducted in Brescia, and supported by voluntary contributions. Speaking about the proprietorship of land, which is in this neighbourhood very much divided, he expressed his surprise that England, so greatly in advance of Europe in other respects, should still preserve so much of the feudal system in respect to the law of real property. He thinks the law of succession, as established in the Code Napoleon, highly favourable to the mass of the people; that nothing gives dignity to a man, and developes his self-respect so effectually, as the ownership of property, however small. In Lombardy, as in Piedmont, one half the property is at the disposal of a father on his decease; the remainder is by law given equally amongst his children. I find everywhere on the continent, amongst all classes, the same unfavourable opinion of our law of primogeniture in England.”
“Venice, June 21st.—In the evening dined at a public entertainment 1847.
“Trieste, June 26th.—Left Venice this morning at six o’clock in the Austrian Lloyd’s steam-boat, a handsome, large, and clean vessel. It was low water, and as we came out of the port, through the tortuous channel which winds amongst the islands, it afforded a good view of the advantages which the Queen of the Adriatic possessed behind these intricate barriers. The view of the city at a few miles’ distance, with its palaces, towers, and domes, rising from the level of the water, and its low country at the back shut in by high mountains, is very magnificent. Reached Trieste at two o’clock. The coast hilly, and the town stands upon1847.
“Trieste, July 1st.—Dined at a public dinner given to me by about ninety of the principal merchants in the saloon of the theatre. M. Schläpfer, president of the Exchange Committee, in the chair. The speeches were delivered in the midst of the dinner. M. De Bruck, the projector and chief director of Austrian Lloyd’s spoke well. Signor Dell’ Ongaro, who is an Italian and a poet, read a speech, in which he made allusion to Italian nationality, which drew forth some hasty remarks from M. De Bruck, and led to a scene of some excitement. After dinner I persuaded them to shake hands. In speaking to the chairman during the dinner, he described the iron-masters in Styria as not having in a series of years realized much money, notwithstanding their being protected by heavy duties. Many of the nobility are interested in these furnaces; their businesses badly managed. He gives a still worse description of the cotton-spinners and manufacturers, who cling to the ways of their fathers, and do not improve their machinery, being very inferior to the Swiss; does not know of an instance of one of them retiring from business with a fortune, and few of them are rich in floating capital. A good band of an Austrian regiment performed during the dinner.”
“Vienna, July 7th.—Looked in to see the famous monumental tomb by Canova, an original and successful design. I think, however, this sculptor lived to enjoy the best of his fame, and that posterity will hardly preserve the warmth of enthusiasm for his genius that was felt by the generation in which he lived.”
“After leaving Prince Metternich, I called upon Baron Kübeck, minister of finance, a man of a totally different character from his chief. He is a simple, sincere, and straightforward man; expressed himself favourably to a relaxation of the protective system, but spoke of the difficulties which powerful interests put in his way; said that Dr. List had succeeded in misleading the public mind on the question of protection. A visit from Prince Esterhazy, who was upwards of twenty years ambassador in England; he remarked that diplomacy upon the old system was now mere humbug, for that the world was much too well informed upon all that was going on in every country to allow ambassadors to mystify matters.”
“Dresden, July 21st.—Called on M. Zeschau, the Saxon finance minister, an able, hard-working man, who also fills the office of minister for foreign affairs; tells me the land is much divided in Saxony, that the owner of an estate worth 60,000l. is deemed a large proprietor; the majority of the farmers 1847.
“Dresden, July 22nd.—Went with M. Krug to see the collection of jewels, and articles of carving, sculpture, etc. in the green vaults. Then to the royal library, and made the acquaintance of M. Falkenstein, the chief librarian, a learned and interesting man, who showed us a manuscript work by Luther, and some other curiosities. M. Falkenstein is acquainted with Hebrew, Greek, and Latin critically, is also learned in the Arabic, Persian, and Sclavonic languages, speaks French, German, English, Italian, etc.; his salary, as head librarian, having no one over him, is 150l., and he has a wife and six children! Speaking of Luther’s coarseness, he said that there are some of his letters in the library so grossly violent and abusive that they are unfit to be read in the presence of women. M. Falkenstein is the author of a life of Kosciusko, the Polish patriot, whom he knew when he was a boy at Soleure, in Switzerland, where the old warrior died. He described him as very amiable and charitable; he was accustomed to ride an old horse who was so used to the habit of his master of giving alms to beggars, that he would stop instinctively when he came near to a man in rags.... Saw in a shop-window to-day a silk handkerchief for sale, with my portrait engraved and my name attached.”
“Berlin, July 28th.—Went to Babelsberg, near Potsdam, at five in the afternoon, to visit the Prince of Prussia,1847.
“Met Baron Von Humboldt, a still sturdy little man, with a clear grey eye, born in 1769, and in his seventy-eighth year; tells me he allows himself only four to five hours’ sleep. He has a fine massive forehead, his manners are courtier-like, he lives in the palace of Sans Souci, near the King. He spoke highly of Jefferson, whom he knew intimately; remarked of Lord Brougham that, like Raphael, he had three manners, and that he had known him in his earliest and best manner. At dusk we entered the chateau, sat down at a large round table, and were served with a 1847.
“Berlin, July 29th.—Went with Mr. Howard to call upon Dr. Eichhorn, at present Minister of Public Instruction, but formerly in the department of trade, and who took an active part in the formation of the Zollverein, an able and enthusiastic man; he stated that the originators of the customs-union did not contemplate the establishment of a protective system; on the contrary, it was distinctly laid down that the duties on foreign goods should not as a rule exceed ten per cent. To the opera in the evening, and was introduced to M. Nothomb, the Belgian minister, a clever, ready man. M. Nothomb thinks the Corn Laws of Belgium will soon be abolished, and says, after the late calamities, arising from the scarcity of food, all Europe ought to unite in abolishing for ever every restriction on the corn trade; he thinks the next ministry in Belgium, although its head will probably be an ardent Free Trader, will be obliged to advance still further in the path of restriction; that the majority of the chambers is monopolist. ‘An absolute government may represent an idea, but elective legislatures represent interests.’ The enlightened ministers of Prussia are overruled by the clamours of the chambers of Wurtemberg, Bavaria, and Baden, the majorities of which are protectionist. He remarked that France stood in the way of European progress, for, so long as she maintained her prohibitive system, the other nations of the continent would be slow to adopt the principles of Free Trade.”
“Berlin, July 30th.—Went with Mr. Howard to call on M. Kuhne, one of the originators of the Zollverein. When Saxony joined it, she objected to the high duties which were payable upon foreign goods. Now the manufacturers of that country are wanting still higher protection; he is not of opinion that Hamburg will join the Zollverein; is not sanguine about effecting any reduction of the protec1847.
“Berlin, July 31st.—Several persons called in the morning. Went by railway to Potsdam to dine with the King at three o’clock at Sans Souci. About twenty-five to thirty persons sat down, nearly all in court costume, and most of them in military dresses. The King good-humoured and affable, very little ceremony, the dinner over at half past four, when the company walked in the garden. On coming away the King shook hands. In the evening attended a public dinner given to me by about 180 Free-traders of Berlin, the mayor of the city in the chair; he commenced the speaking at the second course, and it was kept up throughout the dinner, which was prolonged for nearly three hours. Two-thirds of the meeting appeared to understand my English speech, which was afterwards translated into 1847.
“Berlin, August 1st.—Baron Von Humboldt called, expressed in strong and courteous terms his disapproval of Lord Palmerston’s foreign policy in Portugal and Greece, especially of his demanding from the latter a peremptory payment of a paltry sum of money. I expressed my doubts if the Greeks were at present fitted for constitutional self-government, upon which he remarked that it was much easier for a nation to preserve its independence than its freedom.... Wrote a note to Dr. Asher declining his invitation to address a party of Free Traders, and expressing my determination not to interfere in the domestic concerns of Prussia.”
“Berlin, August 5th.—The Prussian law of 1818, and the tariff which followed it, form the foundation of the German Zollverein. The former system of Frederick the Great, and which had lasted for upwards of half a century, was one of the most prohibitive in respect to the importation of foreign goods ever enforced. The prohibition of the entrance of foreign manufactures, even of those of Saxony, was the rule. Yet the manufactures of Eastern Prussia1847.
“Stettin, August 7th.—Took leave of Kate this morning at the Hamburgh railway, and then started for Stettin at seven, in company with Mr. Swaine. The railway passes through a poor sandy country thinly peopled, and with light crops of grain. The exportation of corn was prohibited this year from Prussia, also of potatoes in May; one of the ministers stated in the Diet publicly that the latter measure could be of no use, inasmuch as at that time, no potatoes could be sent out of the country with advantage, but advocating the law on the plea that it was necessary to tranquillize the people; the use of potatoes was also interdicted in distilleries for three months, by which the food for cattle (the residue of the potatoes) was curtailed, and caused great embarrassment to the proprietors.... In the evening dined with about eighty or ninety persons, who assembled at a day’s notice to meet me; the company sat at dinner for nearly four hours; speeches between each course; the orators launched freely into politics.”
“Stettin, August 8th.—The Baltic ports are in no way benefited by the manufacturing interests of the south and the Rhenish provinces, and they are directly sacrificed by the protective system. The few furnaces for making iron in Silesia, and those on the Rhine, have imposed a tax upon the whole community, by laying a duty of 20s. a ton upon 1847.
“Dantzic, August 10th, 1847.—.... Dined with about fifty of the merchants. Nearly all appeared to understand English, several speakers, all in English, excepting one. There are about five or six British merchants only here—mostly Scotch. Dantzic is thoroughly English in its sympathies.”
“Tauroggen, Russia, August 13th.—Left Königsberg at seven o’clock this morning in an extra post courier in company with one of Mr. Adelson’s clerks, whom he kindly sent with me across the Russian frontier.
“My companion, who is a Pole and a Russian subject, and, as he terms himself, an Israelite, gives me a poor picture of the character of the Polish nobility. Making a comparison between them and the Russians, he remarked that the latter are barbarians, but the former are civilized scamps; there is some respect for truth in the Russian, but none in the Pole. Crossed the Niemen at Tilsit; were detained upon the bridge of boats for half an hour whilst several long rafts of timber passed; the men who were upon them, and who live for months upon the voyage down1847.
Riga, Aug. 16th.—“The distance from Tauroggen to Riga is about 220 versts, or about 160 miles, which are accomplished in eighteen hours exactly, at an expense of 42s. The country generally a plain as far as the eye can reach, with here and there only some slight undulations, mostly a light soil and sandy, but everywhere capable of cultivation. Large tracts covered with forests of fir, interspersed with oak, birch, etc., with patches here and there of cultivated land. The country very thinly peopled; the villages consist of a few wooden houses thatched; scarcely saw a stone or brick house. The villages through which we passed on the high road on the beginning of our journey were generally peopled with Jews, a dirty, idle-looking people, the men wearing long robes with a girdle, and the women often with turbans, the men also wearing the long beard. These wretched beings creep about their wretched villages, or glance suspiciously out of their doors, as if they had a suspicion of some danger at every step. They never work with their hands in the fields or on the roads excepting to avert actual starvation.”
“St. Petersburgh, Aug. 20th.—Called on Count Nesselrode, the Foreign Minister, a polite little man of sixty-five, with a profusion of smiles. Like Metternich, he strikes me more as 1847.
“St. Petersburgh, Aug. 21st.—Went at six o’clock, in company with Colonel Townsend, Captain Little, and another, to see the grand parade, about twenty-five versts from St. Petersburgh. The emperor, the finest man in the field; the empress, a very emaciated, care-worn person, resembling in her melancholy expression the Queen of the French. It is remarkable that two of the most unhappy and suffering countenances, and the most attenuated frames I have seen on the continent, are those of these two royal personages, the wives of the greatest sovereigns of the continent, who have accidentally ascended thrones to which they were not claimants by the right of succession; yet these victims of anxiety are envied as the favourites of fortune.”
“Moscow, Aug. 25th.—Started from St. Petersburgh on Sunday morning, at seven, and reached this place at six this morning. During the first day, passed through several villages built entirely of wood, generally of logs laid horizontally upon each other; some of these are not without efforts at refinement, being ornamented with rude carved work, and the fronts sometimes gaudily painted. Many of the houses appeared quite new, and others were in the course of erection; it being Sunday, the inhabitants were in their best clothes; work seemed everywhere suspended. There appears a great traffic between the old and new metropolis, both in merchandise and passengers; mail coaches, diligences, and private carriages, very numerous. The face of the country flat and monotonous; a strip of cultivated land, growing rye, oats, etc., runs generally along the roadside, and beyond, the eye rests upon the eternal pine forests. The inns at the1847.
“Moscow, August 25th.—After a couple of hours’ sleep in a clean and comfortable bed at Howard’s English lodging-house, I sallied out alone for a stroll of an hour or two. This city surprises me; I was not prepared for so interesting and unique a spectacle. One might fancy himself in Bagdad or Grenada a thousand years ago. The people are more Asiatic in their appearance and dress than at St. Petersburgh, and also more superstitious, I should say, judging from the ceremonials of bowing and crossing which I see going on at every church door, and opposite to every little picture of the Virgin. Everywhere struck with astonishment at the novel and beautiful features of this picturesque city of the Czars.”
“Nishni Novogorod, August 27th.—Left Moscow at half-past seven on Wednesday evening in the same carriage by which I had come from St. Petersburgh. It was dusk when I passed beyond the suburbs of the widely extended city of upwards of 300,000 souls. The next morning’s light revealed the same scenery as that through which I had passed previously; the country so flat and the view so constantly bounded with straight lines of fir forests, that I was frequently under the illusion that the ocean was visible in the distant horizon..... Reached Nishni Novogorod at six o’clock this evening, and passed through a long 1847.
“Nishni Novogorod, August 28th.—The Bokhara caravan arrived yesterday, bringing about a thousand hundredweight of cotton from Asia, of a short staple like our Surats, with skins, common prints, dressing-gowns of silk and other articles. I visited three merchants, some of them handsome swarthy men; their goods were brought upon camels as far as Orenberg; the journey from Bokhara to Nishni occupies about three months. This caravan had been stopped by a tribe of the Kirghese. One of these men, a knowing, talkative fellow, had been in London and picked up a few words of English. In the evening dined and took tea with Baron A. de Meyendorff, and met Baronoff, the great printer and manufacturer, an energetic and sensible man.... He has taken some land on lease in the territory of the Khan of Khiva for growing madder for his print works; he says that the madder he gets from Asia is cheaper than that which he formerly got from France and Holland, in the proportion of two and a half to one.”
“Moscow, Aug. 31st.—Found my companion a man of1847.
“.... The Emperor and the higher functionaries of the government are anxious for good administration, and they are all enlightened and able men, but the subordinates or bureaucracy are generally a corrupt or ignorant body. There are three or four grave difficulties for the future—the emancipation of the serfs—the religious tone, which is one of mere unmeaning formalities, and which, if not adapted to the progress of ideas, will become a cause of infidelity on the one hand, and blind bigotry on the other—the tiers-état, comprising the freed serfs, the manufacturers, and the bureaucracy: all these are elements tending to dangerous collisions of opinion for the future, unless gradually provided against by the Government.
“.... At Bogorodsk we paid a visit to the halting-station of prisoners who are on their way from Moscow to Siberia; upwards of twenty were lying upon wooden benches, their heads resting upon bundles of clothes. Baron Meyendorff questioned them as to the cause of their banishment; three confessed that theirs was murder, and another coining: several were for smaller offences; the latter were not ironed like the greater criminals. One man said he was exiled because he had no passport, which meant that he was a vagabond. One man was recognized by the Baron as having been a servant in a nobleman’s family which he was acquainted with, and he stated, in answer to the inquiry, that he was sent to Siberia because he was ill-tempered to his owner and master; this man, like all the rest, seemed to be in a state of mental resignation quite oriental. ‘If God has allowed me to be banished, I suppose I deserve 1847.
“.... On leaving the mill, a few steps brought me into the midst of the agricultural operations in the neighbourhood and what a contrast did the implements of husbandry present to the masterpieces of machinery which I had just been inspecting! The ploughs were constructed upon the model of those in use a thousand years ago; the scythes and reaping-hooks might have been the implements of the ancient Scythians; the spades in the hands of the peasants were either entirely of wood or merely tipped with iron; the fields were yielding scarcely a third of the crop of grain which an English farmer would derive from similar land; there was no science traceable in the manuring or cropping of the land, no intelligence in the improving of the breed of the cattle, and I could not help asking myself by what perversity of judgment an agricultural people could be led to borrow from England its newest discoveries in machinery for spinning cotton, and to reject the lessons which it offered for the improvement of that industry upon which the wealth and strength of the Russian empire so pre-eminently depend.
“.... Baron Meyendorff tells me that an association of merchants proposes to export a cargo of Russian manu1847.
“St. Petersburgh, Sept. 7th.—Some time ago a Yankee adventurer asked permission to establish a hunting-station on the North American territory belonging to Russia, but it was refused. A year or two after this occurred, Baron Meyendorff happened to be calling upon his friend the home minister, who, putting a letter into his hand, remarked, ‘Here is something to amuse you; it has occasioned me half an hour’s incessant laughter.’ It was a despatch from the governor of Irkutsk, describing in pompous language 1847.
“St. Petersburgh, Sept. 11th.—.... Dined at the English club, and met a party of Russians; they rise from table as soon as they have swallowed their dinner, and proceed to the card-table, billiards, or skittles. There is no intellectual society, no topic of general interest is discussed—an un-idea’d party. My table companions, the English merchants, were of opinion that extensive smuggling is carried on, particularly in sugar; they spoke freely of the corruption of the employés, and the general propensity to live beyond their means. One of them mentioned an anecdote of the corruption of the government employés. He had a contract with one of the departments for a quantity of lignum vita at eight roubles a pood; upon its being delivered it was pronounced inferior, and rejected after1847.
“St. Petersburgh, Sept. 12th.—Went in the morning to the Kasan Cathedral, where I found a full congregation, two-thirds at least being men. Went with Mr. Edwards by railway to see the horse-races at Tsarskoe Selo; a large proportion of the persons who went by the train were English. The emperor and his family and a good muster of fashionables were present on the course, but the amusements wanted life and animation, which nothing but a mass of people capable of feeling and expressing an interest in the sports of the day can present. Afterwards went to the Vauxhall of Petersburgh to dine. An Englishman accosted me in a broad Devonshire 1847.
“St. Petersburgh, Sept. 13th.—Mr. Edwards, attaché to the English ministry, mentioned an anecdote illustrative of the inordinate self-complacency of my countrymen. They complained to him that at the Commercial Association, a kind of club consisting of natives and English, the air of ‘Rule Britannia’ had been hissed by the Russians; they were discomposed at the idea of foreigners being averse to the naval domination of England!”
“St. Petersburgh, Sept. 15th.—Paid a visit to the Minister of Finance; he invited me to speak to him frankly as to my opinions on the manufactures of Russia, and I profited by the opportunity of making a Free Trade speech to him of half an hour’s length. He was reported to me as an incompetent, ignorant man, but he has at least the merit of being willing to learn; he listened like a man of good common sense, and his observations were very much to the point. M. de Boutowsky called, who has written a work upon political economy and in favour of Free Trade, in the Russian language. In the course of the conversation he remarked that Peter the Great commenced the system of regulating and interfering with trade and manufactures in Russia. Another instance added to those of Cromwell, Frederick the Great, Louis XIV., Napoleon, and Mehemet Ali, showing that warriors and despots are generally bad economists, and that they instinctively carry their ideas of force and violence into1847.
Dined with Count Nesselrode, and sat beside Count Kisseleff, one of the ablest of the ministers, having the direction of the public domains. After dinner, other persons of rank joined us in the drawing-room, and we had a lively discussion upon Free Trade. Count Kisseleff talked freely and without much knowledge of the question, whilst Nesselrode sat quietly with the rest of the company listening to the controversy. My opponents were moderate in their pretensions, and made a stand only for the protection of industries in their infancy. All parties threw overboard cotton-spinning as an exotic which ought not to be encouraged in Russia. A Free Trade debate in Nesselrode’s drawing-room must at least have been a novelty.”
“St. Petersburgh, Sept. 23rd.—Called by invitation upon Prince Oldenburgh, cousin of the Emperor, a man of amiable and intelligent mind, a patron of schools and charities. He spoke with affection and admiration of England, of its people, their religous and moral character, their public spirit and domestic virtues. Speaking of Russia, he said that its two greatest evils were corruption and drunkenness. Was entertained at a public dinner by about two hundred merchants and others at the establishment of mineral waters in one of the islands; a fine hall, prettily decorated, and with a band of music in an adjoining room. After I had spoken, an Englishman named Hodgson, manager of Loader’s spinning-mill, who was formerly a Radical orator 1847.
“Lubeck, Sept. 29th.—Left Cronstadt at two o’clock on Sunday morning, 26th, by the ‘Nicolai’ steamer, and after a favourable passage without adventures of any kind reached Travenmunde at eight o’clock this morning. My head was too much disturbed by the sea voyage to be fit for numerous introductions, so after breakfasting and resting a few hours, I proceeded in company with our Consul, who had been so good as to come down to meet me, to Lubeck, a pleasant drive of nine miles.”
“Lubeck, Sept. 30th.—Captain Stanley Carr called; he has a large estate about four miles distant, which he has occupied for twenty years, and cultivates with great success upon the English system. He has a thousand acres under the plough, a small steam-engine for thrashing, and all the best implements. He says he employs three times as many people as were at work upon the land before he bought it; he raises four times as much produce; has drained and subsoiled the farm; sells his better and cattle at twenty-five per cent. higher prices than his neighbours. Speaking of his visit to Bohemia, where he spent three months of last year, he said the agriculture was in a very wretched state. The peasants were without capital, and the corvée system prevailed, by which the landlord’s land was cultivated so badly by the peasantry that he would not accept an estate1847.
“Hamburgh, Oct. 5th, 1847.—In the evening dined with about seven hundred persons at a Free Trade banquet; Mr. Ruperti in the chair. Sat down at half-past five, and the dinner and speeches lasted till ten. The speakers were free in the range of their topics, advocated the freedom of the press, quizzed the regulations of the city of Hamburgh, and turned into ridicule the Congress of Vienna and the Germanic diet.”
election for the west riding.—purchase of dunford.—correspondence.
During Cobden’s absence in the autumn of 1847, a general1847.
Another important step had been taken while Cobden was abroad. His business was brought to an end, and the affairs relating to it wound up by one or two of his friends. A considerable portion of the sum which had been subscribed for the national testimonial to him, had been absorbed in settling outstanding claims. With a part of what remained Cobden, immediately after his return from his travels, purchased the small property at Dunford on which he was born. He gave up his house in Manchester, and when in London lived for some years to come at Westbourne Terrace. Afterwards he lived in lodgings during the session, or more frequently accepted quarters at the house of one of his more intimate friends, Mr. Hargreaves, Mr. Schwabe, or Mr. Paulton. His home was henceforth at Dunford. His brother Frederick, who had shared the failure of their fortunes at Manchester, took up his abode with him and remained until his death in 1858. Five or six years after the acquisition of his little estate, Cobden pulled down the ancestral farm-house, and built a modest residence upon the site. In this for the rest of his life he passed all the time that he could spare from public labours. Once in these days, Cobden was addressing a meeting at Aylesbury. He talked of the relations of landlord and tenant, and referred by way of illustration to his own small property. Great is the baseness of men. Somebody in the crowd called out to ask him how he had got his property. “I am indebted for it,” said Cobden with honest readiness, “to the bounty of my countrymen. It was the scene of my birth and my infancy; it was the property of my ancestors; and it is by the munificence of my countrymen that this small estate, which had been alienated from my father by1847.
The following is Cobden’s own account, at the time, of the country in which he had once more struck a little root. He is writing to Mr. Ashworth:—
“Midhurst, Oct. 7, 1850.—I have been for some weeks in one of the most secluded corners of England. Although my letter is dated from the quiet little close borough of Midhurst, the house in which I am living is about one and a half miles distant, in the neighbouring rural parish of Heyshott. The roof which now shelters me is that under which I was born, and the room where I now sleep is the one in which I first drew breath. It is an old farm-house, which had for many years been turned into labourers’ cottages. With the aid of the whitewasher and carpenter, we have made a comfortable weather-proof retreat for summer; and we are surrounded with pleasant woods, and within a couple of miles of the summit of the South Down hills, where we have the finest air and some of the prettiest views in England. At some future day I shall be delighted to initiate you into rural life. A Sussex hill-side village will be an interesting field for an exploring excursion for you. We have a population under three hundred in our parish. The acreage is about 2000, of which one proprietor, 1847.
“Here is a picture which will lead you to expect when you visit us a very ignorant and very poor population. There is no post-office in the village. Every morning an old man, aged about seventy, goes into Midhurst for the letters. He charges a penny for every despatch the carries, including such miscellaneous articles as horse collars, legs of mutton, empty sacks, and wheelbarrows. His letter-bag for the whole village contains on an average from two to three letters daily, including newspapers. The only newspapers which enter the parish are two copies of Bell’s Weekly Messenger, a sound old Tory Protectionist much patronized by drowsy farmers. The wages paid by the farmers are very low, not exceeding eight shillings a week. I am employing an old1847.
I can hardly pretend that in this world’s-end spot we can 1847.
Before he had been many weeks in England, Cobden was drawn into the eager discussion of other parts of his policy, which were fully as important as Free Trade itself. The substitution of Lord Palmerston for Lord Aberdeen at the Foreign Office was instantly followed by the active intervention of the British Government in the affairs of other countries. There was an immediate demand for increased expenditure on armaments. Augmented expenditure meant augmented taxation. Each of the three items of the programme was the direct contradictory of the system which Cobden believed to be not only expedient but even indispensable. His political history from this time down to the year when they both died, is one long antagonism to the ideas which were concentrated in Lord Palmerston. Yet Cobden was too reasonable to believe that there could be a material reduction in armaments, until a great change had taken place in the public opinion of the country with respect to its foreign policy. He always said that no Minister could reduce armaments or expenditure, until the English people abandoned the notion that they were to regulate the affairs of the world. “In all my travels,” he1847.
While he was away that famous intrigue known as the Spanish Marriages took place. The King of the French, guided by the austere and devout Guizot, so contrived the marriages of the Queen of Spain and her sister, that in the calculated default of issue from the Queen, the crown of Spain would go to the issue of her sister and the Duke of Montpensier, Louis Philippe’s son. Cobden, as well shall see, did not believe that the King was looking so far as this. It was in any case a disgraceful and odious transaction, but events very speedily proved how little reason there was why it should throw the English Foreign Office into a paroxysm. Cobden was moved to write to Mr. Bright upon it:—
“My object in writing again is to speak upon the Marriage question. I have seen with humiliation that the daily newspaper press of England has been lashing the public mind into an excitement (or at least trying to do so) upon the alliance of the Duke of Montpensier with the Infanta. I saw this boy and girl married, and as I looked at them, I could not help exclaiming to myself, ‘What a couple to excite the 1847.
“I began my political life by writing against this system of foreign interference, and every year’s experience confirms me in my early impression that it lies at the bottom of much of our misgovernment at home. My visit to Spain has strengthened, if possible, a hundredfold my conviction that all attempts of England to control or influence the destinies, political and social, of that country are worse than useless. They are mischievous alike to Spaniards and Englishmen. They are a peculiar people not understood by us. They have one characteristic, however, which their whole history might have revealed to us, i.e. their inveterate repugnance to all foreign influences and alliances, and their unconquerable resistance to foreign control. No country in Europe besides is so isolated in its prejudices of race and caste. It has ever been so, whether in the times of the Romans, of the Saracens, of Louis XIV., or of Napoleon. No people are more willing to call in the aid of foreign arms or diplomacy to fight their battles, but they despise and suspect the motives of all who come to help them, and they turn against them the moment their temporary purpose is gained. As for any other nation permanently swaying the destinies of Spain, or finding in it an ally to be depended on against other Powers,1847.
“I have always had an instinctive monomania against this system of foreign interference, protocolling, diplomatising, etc., and I should be glad if you and our other Free Trade friends, who have beaten the daily broad-sheets into common sense upon another question, would oppose yourselves to the Palmerston system, and try to prevent the Foreign Office from undoing the good which the Board of Trade has done to the people. But you must not disguise from yourself that the evil has its roots in the pugnacious, energetic, self-sufficient, foreigner-despising and pitying character of that noble insular creature, John Bull. Read Washington Irving’s description of him fumbling for his cudgel always the moment he hears of any row taking place anywhere on the face of the earth, and bristling up with anger at the very idea of any other people daring to have a quarrel without first asking his consent or inviting him to take a part in it.
“.... And the worst fact is, that however often we increase1847.
Lord Palmerston’s intervention in the affairs of Portugal was more active, and even more wantonly preposterous. All that Cobden said on this subject was literally true. The British fleet was kept in the Tagus for many months in order to protect the Queen of Portugal against her own subjects. What had England to gain? Portugal was one of the smallest, poorest, most decayed and abject of European countries. As for her commerce, said Cobden, if that is what you seek, you are sure of that, for the simple reason that you take four-fifths of all her port wine, and if you did not, no one else would drink it. Our statesmen, he went on, actually undertook to say who should govern Portugal, and they stipulated that the Cortes should be governed on constitutional principles. The Cortes was elected, and what happened? The people returned almost every man favourable to the very statesman who, as Lord Palmerston insisted, was to have no influence in Portugal.5
What Cobden heard from Bastiat made him all the more anxious to bring England round to a more sedate policy. The chief obstacles to the propagandism of Free Trade in France, said Bastiat, come from your side of the Channel. He was confronted by the fact that at the very time when1848.
“I must speak to you in all frankness,” Bastiat proceeded, in his urgent way. “In adopting Free Trade England has not adopted the policy that flows logically from Free Trade. Will she do so? I cannot doubt it, but when? The position taken by you and your friends in Parliament will have an immense influence on the course of our undertaking. If you energetically disarm your diplomacy, if you succeed in reducing your naval forces, we shall be strong. If not, what kind of figure shall we cut before our public? When we predict that Free Trade will draw English policy into the way of justice, peace, economy, colonial emancipation, France is not bound to take our word for it. There exists an inveterate mistrust of England, I will even say a sentiment of hostility, as old as the two names of French and English. Well, there are excuses for this sentiment. What is wrong is that it envelopes all your parties, and all your fellow-citizens in the same reprobation. But ought not nations to judge one another by external acts? They often say that we ought not to confound nations with their governments. There is some truth and some falsehood in this 1848.
Cobden in reply seems to have treated this apprehension of English naval force, and the hostile use to which it might be put, as a device of the French Protectionists to draw attention from the true issue. No, answered Bastiat manfully; “I know my country; it sees that England is capable of crushing all the navies in the world; it knows that it is led by an oligarchy which has no scruples. That is what disturbs its sight, and hinders it from understanding Free Trade. I say more, that even if it did understand Free trade, it would not care for it on account of its purely economic advantages. What you have to show it above all else is that freedom of exchange will cause the disappearance of those military perils which France apprehends. England ought seriously to disarm; spontaneously to drop her underground opposition to the unlucky Algerian conquest; and spontaneously to put an end to the dangers that grow out of the Right of Search.”8 When the revolution of 1848 came, Bastiat was more pressing than ever. France could not be the first to disarm; and if she did disarm, she would be drawn into war. England by her favoured position, was alone able to set the example. If she could only understand all this and act upon it, “she would save the future of Europe.” Bastiat, however, was not long in awakening to the fact that not Protection but Socialism was now the foe that menaced France. He turned round with admirable versatility, and brought to bear on the new monster the same keen and patient scrutiny, the same skilful dexterity in reasoning and illustration, which had done such good service against the more venerable heresy. The pamphlets which he wrote between 1848 and 1850 contain by much the most penetrating and effective1848.
This memorable year was an unfavourable moment for Cobden’s projects, but the happy circumstance that Great Britain alone passed through the political cyclone without any thing more formidable than Mr. Smith O’Brien’s insurrection in Ireland, and the harmless explosion of Chartism on Kennington Common, was too remarkable for men not to seek to explain it. The explanation that commended itself to most observers was that Free Trade had both mitigated the pressure of those economic evils which had provoked violent risings in other countries, and that, besides this, it had removed from the minds of the English workmen the sense that the government was oppressive, unjust, or indifferent to their wellbeing. “My beliefis,” said Sir Robert Peel, in a powerful speech which he made the following year, vindicating his commercial policy, “that you have gained the confidence and good will of a powerful class in this country by parting with that which was thought to be directly for the benefit of the landed interest. I think it was that confidence in the generosity and justice of Parliament, which in no small degree enabled you to pass triumphantly through the storm that convulsed other countries during the year 1848.”9
The Protectionist party had not yet accepted defeat, nor did they finally accept it until they came into power in 1852. All through the year that intervened they turned nearly every debate into a Protectionist debate. After Lord George Bentinck’s death in the autumn of 1848, they were led in the House of Commons by Mr. Disraeli, whose persistent and audacious patience was inspired by the seeming 1848.
The Irish famine and the Irish insurrection forced the minds of politicians of every colour to the tormenting problem to which Cobden had paid such profound attention on his first entry into public life. National Education, another of the sincerest interests of his earlier days, once more engaged him, and he found himself, as he had already done by his vote on the Maynooth grant, in antagonism to a large section of nonconformist politicians for whom in every other matter he had the warmest admiration. The following extracts from his correspondence show how he viewed these and other less important topics, as they came before him.
“London, Feb. 22, 1848. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—There seems to be a terrible storm brewing against the Whig budget. Unfortunately the outcry is rather against the mode of raising the money than the mode of expending it, and I do not sympathize with those who advocate armaments and then grumble at the cost. For my part I would make the influential classes pay the money, and then they will be more careful in the expenditure. I get a good many letters of support from all parts of the country, and some poetry, as you will see.”
“Feb. 24.—Nothing is being talked about to-day but the émeutes in Paris. From the last accounts it seems that Louis Philippe has been obliged to give way and change1848.
“London, Feb. 29. (To George Combe.)—These are stirring events in France. I am most anxious about our neutrality in the squabbles which will ensue on the Continent. I dread the revival of the Treaty of Vienna by our red-tapists, should France reach to the Rhine or come in collision with Austria or Russia. Besides, there is a great horror at the present changes in the minds of our Court and aristocracy. There will be a natural repugnance on the part of our Government, composed as it is entirely of the aristocracy, to go on cordially with a Republic, and it will be easy to find points of disagreement, when the will is ready for a quarrel. I know that the tone of the clubs and coteries of London is decidedly hostile, and there is an expectation in the same quarters that we shall have a war. It is striking to observe how little the views and feelings of the dominant class are in unison with those of the people at large. I agree with you that the republican form of government will put France to a too severe test. Yet it is difficult to see what other form will suit it. The people are too clever and active to submit to a despotism. All the props of a Monarchy, such as an aristocracy and State Church, are gone. After all a Republic is more in harmony than any other form with the manners of the people, for there is a strong passion for social equality in France. However, the duty of every man in England is to raise the cry for neutrality.”2
“March 10. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—We were very late in the House again last night. Disraeli was very amusing for two hours, talking about everything but the question.3 He made poor McGregor a most ridiculous figure. The Whigs are getting hold of our friends.
“London, March 14. (To Mrs.Cobden.)—On getting back yesterday I found such a mass of letters that, what with them and the committee I had to attend, and callers, and my speech last evening, I thought you would excuse my writing to you. I am more harassed than ever. The committees are very important (I mean upon army, navy, and ordnance expenditure,4 and upon the Bank of England), and occupy my time more than the House. I gave them some home truths last evening, but we were in a poor minority.5 The Ministers frightened our friends about a resignation. Nobody did more to canvass for help for them than—. He is far more to be blamed than Gibson, who is thoroughly1848.
“March 18. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—We have had incessant rain here for several days, and I have been thinking with some apprehension of its effects upon the grain in the ground, and upon the operations of the farmers in getting in their seed. To-day, however, it is a fine clear day, and I am going with Porter6 at four o’clock down to Wimbledon to stay till Monday. This week’s work has nearly knocked me up. They talk of a ten hours bill in Paris. I wish we had a twelve hours bill, for I am at it from nine in the morning till midnight. We had a debate last evening upon the question of applying the income tax to Ireland, but I was shut out of the division, the door being closed in my face just as I was entering, otherwise I should have voted for the measure.7 The news from Paris is more and more exciting. There seems to be a sort of reaction of the moderate party against the violent men. The Bank of France has suspended specie payments, which will lead to much mischief and confusion. I fear we have not seen the worst.”
“London, March 21. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—I have sent you a Times containing a report of my speech last night. Be good 1848.
“March 27. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—You need not be alarmed about my turning up right in the end, but at the present time I am not very fashionable in aristocratic circles. However, I have caught Admiral Dundas in a trap. You may remember that he contradicted me about my fact of a large ship lying at anchor so long at Malta. Well, a person has called upon me, and given me the minute particulars and dates of the times which all the admirals have been lying in Malta harbour during the last twelve years, extracted by him from the ship logs which are lying at Somerset House. Having got the particulars, I have given notice to Admiral Dundas that I shall move in the House for the official return of them to be extracted from the ships’ logs. He says I shan’t have the returns, but he can’t deny that I have got them. I shall make a stir in the House, and turn the tables upon him. Whilst I was talking to the Admiral about it to-day in the committee room, Molesworth entered into the altercation with so much warmth that I thought there would have been an affair between them. The best of it all is, that I find the present Admiral in the Mediterranean (Sir William Parker), who sent such an insolent message to me about my speech at Manchester, which was read by Dundas in the House, has been lying himself for seven months and two days in Malta harbour with nearly 1000 hands, without ever stirring1848.
“London, April 10. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—We have been all in excitement here with the Chartist meeting at Kennington Common, which after all has gone off very quietly, and does not appear to have been so numerously attended as was expected. In my opinion the Government and the newspapers have made far too much fuss about it. From all that I can learn there were not so many as 40,000 persons present, and they dispersed quietly. I do not think I shall be able to go north with you before next Monday week.”
“April 15. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—You will have seen by the paper what a mess Feargus O’Connor has made of the Chartist petition. The poor dupes who have followed him are quite disheartened and disgusted, and ought to be so. They are now much more disposed to go along with the middle class.”
“May 13. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—You will hear that all the papers are down upon me again. In making a few remarks about the Alien Bill, I said that the ‘best way to repel republicanism was to curtail some of the barbarous splendour of the Monarchy which went to the aggrandizement of the aristocracy.’ My few words drew up Lord John as usual, and he was followed by Bright with a capital speech.”
“Manchester, April 24. (To G. Combe.)—You know how cordially I agree with you upon the subject of Education. But I confess I see no chance of incorporating it in any new movement for an extension of the suffrage. The main strength of any such movement must be in the Liberal ranks of the middle class, and they are almost exclusively filled by Dissenters. To attempt to raise the question of National Education amongst them at the present moment, would be to throw a bombshell into their ranks to disperse them. In my opinion every extension of popular rights will bring us nearer to a plan of National Education, because it will 1848.
“May 15. (To G. Combe.)—There is no active feeling at present in favour of National Education. The Dissenters, at least Baines’s section, who have been the only movement party since the League was dissolved, have rather turned popular opinion against it.9 I need not say how completely I agree with you that education alone can ensure good self-government. Don’t suppose that I am changed, or that I intend to shirk the question. Above all, don’t suspect that sitting for Yorkshire would shut my mouth. I made up my mind, on returning from the Continent, that the best chance I could give to our dissenting friends was to give them time to cool after the excitement of the late Opposition to the government measure, and therefore I have avoided throwing the topic in their faces. But I do not intend to preserve my silence much longer. If I take a part in a new reform movement, I shall do my best to connect the Education question with it, not as a part of the new Reform act, but by proclaiming my own convictions that it is by a national system of education alone that people can acquire or retain knowledge enough for self-government. In our reform movement, sectarianism will not be predominant.”
“London, July 23. (To G. Combe.)—What a wretched session has this been! It ought to be expunged from the minutes of Parliament. Three Coercion Bills for Ireland and the rest1848.
“May 15. (To Mr. W.R. Greg.)—No apology is, I assure you, necessary for your frank and friendly letter. There is not much difference in our views as to what is most wanted for the country. The only great point upon which we do not agree is as to the means. What we want before all things is a bold retrenchment of expenditure. I may take a too one-sided view of the matter, but I consider nine-tenths of all our future dangers to be financial, and when I came home from the continent, it was with a determination to go on with fiscal reform and economy as a sequence to Free Trade. I urged this line upon our friend James Wilson (who, by the way, has committed political suicide), and others, and I did not hesitate to say up to within the last three months that I would take no active part in agitating for 1848.
“July 21. (To H. Ashworth.)—No man can defend or palliate such conduct as that of Smith O’Brien and his confederates. It would be a mercy to shut them up in a lunatic asylum. They are not seeking a repeal of the legislative union, but the establishment of a Republic, or probably the restoration of the Kings of Munster and Connaught! But the sad side of the picture is in the fact that we are doing nothing to satisfy the moderate party in Ireland, nothing which strengthens the hands even of John O’Connell and the priest party, who are opposed to the ‘red republicans’ of the Dublin clubs. There seems to be a strong impression here that this time there is to be a rebellion in Ireland. But I confess I have ceased to fear or hope anything from that country. Its utter helplessness to do anything for itself is our great difficulty. You can’t find three Irishmen who will co-operative together for any rational object.”
“London, August 28. (To George Combe)—I would have answered your first letter from Ireland, but did not know how soon you were going back again to Edinburgh. With respect to the plan for holding sectional meetings of the House of Commons in Dublin, Edinburgh, and London for local purposes, it is too fanciful for my practical taste. I do not think that such a scheme will ever seriously engage the public attention. If local business be ever got rid of by the House of Commons, it should be transferred as much as possible to County courts. There is very little1848.
“Whilst we are constitution-tinkering, let me give you my plan. Each county to have its assembly elected by the people, to do the work which the unpaid magistrates and lords-lieutenant now do, and also much of the local business which now comes before Parliament. The head of this body, or rather the head of each county, to be the executive chief, partaking of the character of prefect, or governor of a state in the United States. By-and-by when you require to change the constitution of the House of Lords, these county legislators may each elect two senators to an upper chamber or senate.
“But the question is about Ireland. Why do your friends amuse one another with such bubble-blowing? The real difficulty in Ireland is the character and condition socially and morally of the people, from the peer to the Connaught peasant. It is not by forms of legislation or the locality of parliaments, but by a change and improvement of the population, that Ireland is to have a start in the 1848.
“Hayling Island, Hants, Oct. 4. (To George Combe)—Many thanks for your valuable letters upon Ireland and Germany. I really feel much indebted for your taking all these pains for my instruction.
“Leaving Germany—upon which I do not presume to offer an opinion beside yours—I do claim for myself the justice of having foreseen the danger in Ireland, or rather seen it—for its condition has little altered since I first began to reason. When about fourteen years ago I first found leisure from my private affairs to think about public business, I summed up my views of English politics in a pamphlet which contained many crude details (which I should not now print), but upon whose three broad propositions I have never changed my opinion. They were—First, that the great curse of our policy has been our love of intervention in foreign politics; secondly, that our greatest home difficulty is Ireland; and thirdly, that the United States is the great economical rival which will rule the destiny of England.
“It may appear strange that a man who had thought1848.
“The great obstacle to all progress both in Ireland and in England is the landlord spirit, which is dominant in political and social life. It is this spirit which prevents our dealing with the question of the tenure of land. The feudal system, as now maintained in Ireland, is totally unsuited to the state of the country. In fact, the feudal policy is not carried out, for that would imply a responsibility on the part of the proprietor to keep and employ the people, whereas he is possibly living in Paris, whilst his agent is driving the peasantry from his estate and perhaps burning their cabins. What is wanting is a tribunal or legislature before which the case of Ireland may be pleaded, where the landlord spirit (excuse the repetition of the word) is not 1848.
“I think I know what is wanted in Ireland: a redistribution of land, as the only means of multiplying men of property. If I had absolute power I would instantly issue an edict applying the law of succession, as it exists in France to the land of Ireland. There should be no more absentee proprietors drawing large rentals from Ireland, if I could prevent it. I would so divided the property as to render it necessary to live upon the spot to look after it. But you can do nothing effectual in that direction with our Houses, and therefore I am an advocate for letting in the householders as voters, so as to take away the domination of the squires. But I will do all in my power in the meantime to give a chance to Ireland, and I cordially agree with your views upon the policy that ought to be pursued towards it.”
“London, Oct. 28. (To George Combe.)—I have to thank you for the Scotsman containing the whole of your observations upon the state of Ireland, in every syllable of which I agree with you. But excuse me if I say miss in your articles, as in all other dissertations upon Ireland, a specific plan—I mean such a remedial scheme as might be embodied in an Act of Parliament. And it must be so from the very nature of the case, for the ills of Ireland are so complex, and its diseases1848.
“I have but one plan, but I don’t know how to enforce it, Cut up the land into small properties. Let there be no estates so large as to favour absenteeism, even from the parish. How is this to be done, with feudalism still in the ascendant in Parliament and in the Cabinet? Pim is quite right when he draws the distinction between the case of Ireland, where the conquerors have not amalgamated with the conquered, and that of other countries, where the victors and vanquished have been invariably blended. For we are all conquered nations—some of us have been so repeatedly—but all, with the exception of Ireland, have absorbed their conquerors.
“Almost every crime and outrage in Ireland is connected with the occupation or ownership of land; and yet the Irish are not naturally an agricultural people, for they alone, of all the European emigrants who arrive in the United States, linger about the towns, and hesitate to avail themselves of the tempting advantages of the rural districts in the interior. But in Ireland, at least the south and west, there is no property but the soil, and no labour but upon the land, and you cannot reach the population in their material or moral condition but through the proprietorship of the land. Therefore, if I had the power, I would always make the proprietors of the soil resident, by breaking up the large properties. In other words, I would give Ireland to the Irish.
“Dec. 28. (To Mr. Edward Baines.)—I doubt the utility of your recurring to the Education question. My views have undergone no change for twenty years on the subject, excepting that they are infinitely strengthened, and I am convinced that I am as little likely to convert you as you me. Practically no good could come out of the controversy; for we must both admit that the principle of State Education is virtually settled, both here and in all civilized countries. It is not an infallible test I admit, but I don’t think there are two men in the House of Commons who are opposed to the principle of National Education.
“I did not intend to touch upon a matter so delicate; but yet, upon second thoughts, it is best to be candid. My experience in public matters has long ago convinced me that to form a party, or act with a party, it is absolutely necessary to avoid seeking for points of collision, and on the contrary, to endeavour to be silent, as far as one can be so conscientiously, upon the differences one may see between his own opinions and those of his political allies. Applying this to your observations2 upon my budget, I would have laid on heavily in favour of such parts as1848.
“Manchester, Nov.30. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—I find our League friends here very lukewarm about the West Riding election.3 Many of them declare they will not vote. They seem quite out of humour with the religious intolerance of the Eardley party. I am very much inclined to think the Tories will win. Have you seen the news from Paris? Lamoriciere, the French Minister of War, has proposed to the Assembly to reduce the army nearly one half, and to save 170 millions of francs. This, if really carried out, will make our work safe in this country.”
“Manchester, Dec. 8. (To George Combe.)—I went down to Liverpool on Wednesday afternoon, and dined at Mellor’s with a large 1848.
The last extract refers to the subject which Cobden had now taken earnestly in hand. As he was always repeating, extravagant and ill-adjusted finance seemed to him the great mischief of our policy. Apart from its place in his general scheme, retrenchment was Cobden’s device for meeting the cry of the Protectionists. It was an episode in the long battle against the enemies of Free Trade. The landed interest, they cried out, was ruined by rates and taxes. The implication was that they could not exist without Protection. That was Mr. Disraeli’s cue until he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. He made speech after speech and motion after motion to this effect. Cobden with equal persistency retorted that the proper relief for agriculture was not the imposition of a burden upon the consumers of bread, but a reduction of the common burdens of them all. He had begun his campaign in the session of 1848. The Government came forward with a proposal, which was afterwards ignominiously withdrawn, for an increase in the income tax. Cobden broke new ground by insisting on the superior expediency of direct over indirect taxation, provided that a just distinction were recognized between permanent and precarious incomes. His chief point was that the Government must either increase direct taxation, or else reduce expenditure; and he pressed the inference that expenditure must be decreased, and it must be decreased by1848.
Cobden’s contention cannot be said to have prospered; but the debates show how seriously his attack on expenditure was taken by those who opposed him. Mr. Disraeli laughed at him as the successor of the Abbé St. Pierre, Rousseau, and Robespierre in the dreams of perpetual peace, but he recognized the possibility of public opinion being brought round to Cobden’s side. Even Peel thought it necessary formally to express his dissent from Cobden’s views on national defence. Fresh from his victorious onslaught upon the Corn Law, he was dreaded by the House of Commons and old political factions, as speaking the voice of an irresistible, if not an infallible, oracle. The Government had no root. The Opposition was nullified by the internecine quarrel between the Protectionists and the Peelites. The two parties in fact were so distracted, so uncertain in principle, and so unstable in composition, that they were profoundly afraid of the one party which knew its own mind and stood aloof from the conventional game. The Conservatives constantly felt, or pretended to feel, an irrational apprehension that the object of the Manchester school was, in the exaggerated language of one of them, to organize a force that should override the legislature and dictate to the House of Commons. The Financial Reform Association at Liverpool, with which Cobden had entered into relations, was expected to imitate the redoubtable achievements of the League. Similar associations sprang up both in the English and the Scotch capitals, and there was on many sides a stir and movement on the subject which for a time promised substantial results.
In a letter to Mr. Bright, Cobden sketched an outline of what was called a People’s Budget, already referred to in his letter to Mr. Baines:—
“Upwards of 100 smaller articles of the tariff to be abolished. (I would only leave about fifteen articles in the tariff paying customs duties.)
“All these changes could be effected with 11,500,000l.
“There are other duties which I should prefer to remove, instead of one or two of them, but I have been guided materially by a desire to bring all interests to sympathize with the scheme. Thus the tea is to catch the merchants and all the old women in the country—the wood and timber,1848.
The scheme which Cobden here propounds to Mr. Bright, was elaborated in a speech made at Liverpool and afterwards set forth in a letter to the Financial Reform Association of that town, which led to much discussion, but which for reasons that we shall see in the next chapter did not become the starting-point of such an agitation as Cobden promised himself.[Back to Table of Contents]
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 t