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Cobden: An Appreciation II

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Source: An Appreciation by Thorold Rogers in Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden, M.P., ed. by John Bright and J.E. Thorold Rogers with a Preface and Appreciation by J.E. Thorold Rogers and an Appreciation by Goldwin Smith (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1908). 2 volumes in 1. Vol. 1 Free Trade and Finance.

AN APPRECIATION BY J. E. THOROLD ROGERS

At the time of Cobden's death, Mr. Thorold Rogers was still a clergyman of the Church of England (like Mr. Leslie Stephen, Mr. Goldwin Smith and others, Mr. Thorold Rogers later availed himself of the Clerical Disabilities Act, and resigned his Orders). On Sunday, April 9, 1865, Mr. Thorold Rogers preached at West Lavington Church, Sussex, in the graveyard of which Cobden was buried, a memorial sermon on Richard Cobden, from which the following interesting extract is taken:—

Two days ago, the greatest and wisest men in England gathered in this church and churchyard in order to render the last offices of loving homage to the most single-hearted and generous statesman who has ever lived in the history of mankind. The burial of other men has been solemnized with greater pomp and more numerous attendance, has been marshalled by authority and accompanied by all the circumstances which art could invent in order to shew honour to departed eminence. But on this occasion, as never before, the great concourse of mourners was gathered out of the deep wish felt to do reverence to a man whose memory will live as long as the world shall endure. To that grave in which lies all that was mortal of one whose rare powers of thought and word and deed were joined to vast and varied knowledge, and graced by most winning and gentle manners, men will do pilgrimage in time to come, For it is right and seemly, while we give all honour and glory to God for the fact that He suffers men to largely serve their fellows, and acknowledge always that there cannot be any true good in man's work acknowledge always that there cannot be any true good in man's work God, that we should gratefully recognize man's work, and hold in high honour God's choicest instruments.

Let us reflect on the reasons which roused, and will rouse, these strong feelings of affection towards the man who has gone from among us. In the first place, his whole public life was an earnest and constant endeavour to do true service to man. There have been those who doubted the convictions which he entertained, and resisted the conclusions which he sought to establish, but no man ever ventured to assert that his perseverance and resolution were founded on any but the loftiest and the purest aims. Out of every contest into which he entered with what he believed to be error and wrong, he came forth with unchallenged motives and untarnished reputation. Modest and unassuming in his whole demeanour, he was, as just and true-hearted men should be, jealous in the highest sense of his personal integrity. Wholly indifferent to the hostility which is sure to be the heritage of the courageous and the patient, he was careful lest any charge of self-seeking should even in the smallest measure binder or enfeeble the work which his instincts and his experience equally taught him could be effected only by persistent disinterestedness. And just as in the spiritual life, those only who are pure in heart are blessed with the sight of God, so in the administration of those public affairs which form the largest and most exalted field on which human interests can be consulted and sustained, they are sure to arrive at the wisest and most certain conclusions, and to secure the most solid and lasting benefits to mankind, who are not to be diverted from their purpose by fear, by flattery, or by self-interest. The advantage of his life, and his public teaching, allowed and admitted to the full even by those who once resisted him and his purposes, has become in the best sense the property of the whole human race, is acknowledged more and more widely among mankind, has called forth the respect and assent of all nations to whom the news of his death has come; but is consecrated by the unswerving integrity of his whole career, by the unfailing purity of his purposes, and by the heroic self-devotion of the last acts of his life. Henceforth he is a true pattern to all who give themselves up to public affairs and the administration of the state, and the great Englishman will be, among all who speak our tongue, and join to make the history of our race, dear to every honest English heart, and helpful to every earnest English will. To love truth for truth's sake, to resist what conviction suggests is false or wrong, to persevere in a righteous cause, even when it is in the highest degree unpopular or unacceptable, and to be willing to serve men, even when the willingness is slighted or thwarted, are the highest acts of the best life, and fulfil most nearly the spirit of God's commands.

Great as were this man's services to his country and the world, he was at all times ready to welcome those who laboured in other ways to advance the good of their fellows. Every plan which seemed likely to further what was good and true found in him a warm advocate and a judicious critic. Those who had experience of the willing kindness of his heart—and many here must have had such knowledge of him—may not have been aware of how his busy mind and loving nature were always teeming with plans for furthering the highest interests of his fellow-men; of how he mourned over ignorance and sin, and how he longed to help in the great work of supporting and extending the growth of a true godliness. It was, as I have heard him say over and over again, hopeless to expect any good from any man who did not cherish a strong and vital sense of religion, and did not make the revelation of the Gospel and the teaching of Christ the starting-point of all human duty. Too wise and too modest to arrogate, as shallow men do, entire completeness to the office which he was able to fulfil, he welcomed gladly every act of true charity and every honest purpose as a contribution to those great forces which fight with misery, and wrong, and vice. Many men who little imagine that he watched their labours, gained his warmest respect for their genuine service and untiring devotedness. He was full of the humility of true greatness, abounding in the sympathy which always goes with sincere devotedness.

Careful and cautious in the best sense, he had achieved, or possessed naturally, a complete mastery over himself. No one ever heard a hasty word or an angry expression from his lips. The strongest utterance of indignation to which he ever gave vent was called forth by what he felt to be a malicious misconstruction of the character and language of his friends. But free as he was from passion, he had an absolute loathing for deliberate untruth, and he would not hesitate for a moment to sacrifice an intimacy or a familiarity with any one whom he distinctly discovered to be acting treasonably to that which he held in such continual reverence. And on such occasions—there were, as might be expected, some, in so vast and varied an experience of men as his was—he never scrupled to avow the cause of his coldness or aversion, and to display the same openness in disclaiming an unwelcome because insincere friend, as in expressing and according the largest good-will to those whom he saw to be fellow-labourers after truth.

This translucent life of his was before the world, and witnessed to by all men. He had hushed into nothingness or into merely occasional bursts of spite the mean envy which disparaged the width of his great mind, or which affected to sneer at the efforts he made to further the general welfare of mankind. He had outlived the rancour of party spirit, and had put to silence the imputation of party interests. Never perhaps and had put to silence the imputation of party interests. Never perhaps did any man so conciliate the respect of those whose policy or whose instincts urged them to conclusions different from his. No earnest and busy worker in the battle of life was ever more blameless and more pure; no man so self-possessed was ever more unaffected.

You who have seen much of the daily doings of his later years can bear testimony to the kindliness of his manner, the courtesy of his conduct, the placid gentleness of his address, the unbroken evenness of his temper. No one ever, who came within the sphere of his influence, failed to see how orderly were his doings, and how generous was his estimate of those about him. Full of knowledge and wisdom, tried in the great struggles of his public life, he came in his maturer years to his native place, to exhibit the unvarying graces of a good and honest man, and to practise those rare virtues of simplicity and tranquillity which adorned him even more than his vast knowledge and unparalleled sagacity. Those who merely saw him could hardly credit the large powers which lay hid in so easy and serene a presence.

To us who were honoured with his closer intimacy there is a blank created by his loss which no subsequent friendship can occupy. We cannot imagine any man with such varied gifts, with such signal opportunities, with so wide an experience, with so wise a mind, with so pure and simple a character. Precious as are the memories of our association with him, as lasting as will be the recollection of his profound and sagacious judgments, we who constantly consulted with him on matters of difficult import, feel that the loss of his wise interpretations can be replaced from no living experience. The charms of his graceful simplicity, of his lucid language, his copious knowledge, are no longer available for our instruction. No man's loss could create such a waste, because no man ever occupied so large a space in the habitual thoughts and affectionate intercourse of his more intimate friends. To have lived familiarly within the influences and convictions of a great and true mind, is to live happily indeed, but to live within the range of a great sorrow.

There are not indeed wanting consolations to those who loved and honoured him, He was taken away in the maturity of his judgment, in the fulness of his powers, in the height of his reputation. But his renown is wide as the civilization which he furthered, and the Christianity which he acknowledged and revered. And those who can profit by them will surely take heart by his example and his teaching, by the speech of his lips, and the pattern of his life, and will not fail at all times to look to his character and recall his person, with continual honour to him, and with deep thankfulness to God, who permitted his words and ordered his ways, as He does order all that is good, and true, and honest, and loving.

Last modified April 10, 2014