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From The Modern Review.
of our government has gradually under
gone a remarkable change, and commerce English literature has, during the last is represented in the Cabinet and among few years, been enriched by some excel. the chief officers of her Majesty's governlent biographies; and Mr. John Morley ment in a manner which would have been takes a high place among the best of the deemed impossible thirty-five years ago. contributors to our knowledge of our great It is ceasing to be true that the aristocracy contemporaries, by his “Life of Richard and the landed gentry are the governing Cobden." He was fortunate in his sub-classes of the nation. The increase of ject; but he brings to his task rare quali- wealth, the higher education and the prac. fications, and he has used the mass of tical business habits of the mercantile material which was at his disposal with a community have secured for them an indiscrimination and tact which have been fluence in the country, to which the conalready universally recognized. In telling servative and aristocratic prejudices of the story of Cobden's life, his biographer the nation have given way, and to which has had to deal with many delicate ques. it is not difficult to see that greater contions and to touch matters in which living cessions will still have to be made. In persons are concerned ; and yet there is this silent revolution Cobden's career has not, I believe, a single line in the two vol- been of untold power, and his life must umes, which can cause pain to any reader, therefore be carefully studied by all inor which the writer will regret having terested in the progress of English libwritten. The angry feelings of the con- erty: troversies in which Mr. Cobden was en
Richard Cobden sprang from a good gaged were very rarely able to stir the stock, but had few advantages of educaself-possessed calmness of the great
a boy. The Midhurst dame. leaguer's mind, and they are not permitted school, and a Yorkshire school, of the to mar the record of his life.
Dotheboys Hall type, where he spent five Mr. Morley has acted wisely and well miserable years, were the only places in not recalling petty grievances, but has claiming to give education which he ever contented himself with giving what can. attended; it is only just, therefore, to not fail to be a most valuable addition to count him among those who must be called the sources, on which the future historian self-educated. Under such circumstances, will have to draw for materials, while de. it is not surprising that he should have scribing a period of history more fruitful valued utilitarian branches of knowledge in lasting influence upon English society more than those classical and theoretical than any other of modern times. For studies which give a wider foundation, while the anti-Corn-Law agitation in its and therefore a surer training, for the results upon public peace and prosperity work of life. But no reader of Mr. Cobhas been productive of incalculable bene. den's political writings and collected fit to the community, yet its results have speeches can fail to see the traces of exnot been confined to securing freedom of tensive and thorough reading in history trade and consequent increase of comfort and literature which prove that he must and prosperity. The circumstance that, bave made more than ordinarily good use with strange blindness to their own real of his opportunities, and must have bad welfare, the representatives of the landed a very pure natural taste to make his style interest resisted the repeal of the taxes on
so attractive and convincing, and to enafood to the very last, compelled commer. ble him to draw his arguments not only cial men to enter into political life in a
rary experience, but from manner previously unknown, and to ac- the accumulated stores of history. quire such skill in the use of the weapons
The space at my disposal does not adof party warfare that the whole character mit of my entering into any detailed ac.
count of Richard Cobden's successful • The Life of Richard Cobden. By John Morley. business career. He had to work, not 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall.
for himself alone, but also for the rest of
the family, his father and brother having The general condition of the country both of them failed in their undertakings. had been growing more and more deHis first public work was the establish-pressed, and the poverty and suffering of ment of schools for the children of that the working classes had caused discon. part of north-east Lancashire where his tent to spread widely among them. Evo print-works were situated. In his letters ery article they used was taxed, and as to his partner, Mr. Foster, who shared this'taxation not only rendered everything his interest in educational work, he re- dear, but also diminished production, it veals his natural skill in organization, and lowered wages, while it made the purchashis perception of the best means of en. ing power of what was earned less. No listing the services of others in the work one who knows how poverty affects those he wished to accomplish.
who suffer without education sufficient to It was after a visit to the United States enable them to judge as to the true cause in 1835, from which he returned with an of their suffering, will be surprised at the increased adiniration of the American disturbances which occurred in Lancacharacter and with a high estimate of the shire. There were torchlight meetings, future of the country and its institutions, and midnight gatherings, under the leadthat his real life-work may be said to have ership of earnest men, who thought that fairly begun. His first pamphlet, “ En- only by the reforms embodied in the Peogland, Ireland, and America,” which had ple's Charter could the nation's wrongs been published before his journey to the be redressed. Cobden, with clearer vis. States, may be regarded as his earliest ion, saw how the material evils weighing contribution to the free-trade controversy, on the country could be removed. He as well as his first statement of the prin- did not condemn the people, but saw that ciple of non-intervention. On his return they should be better guided. “I think,” from America he found that the fear of he writes to his brother in October, 1838, Russia, roused to a large extent by Mr. “the scattered elements may yet be gathUrquhart's writings, was endangering the ered round the question of the Corn Laws. prospects of peace, and in the summer of It appears to me that a moral and even a 1836 he published his second pamphlet, i religious spirit may be infused into that “Russia.” Both these pamphlets were topic, and if agitated in the same manner undeniably successful.
The opinions, to that the question of slavery has been, it which Cobden devoted himself with so will be irresistible” (vol. i., p. 126). much power in after days are all contained The Corn Laws had from the beginning in these his earliest writings, and are sup- been unpopular with the work.people in ported by the arguments which by varied Lancashire. At Peterloo the mottoes on illustration and repeated enforcement at the banners demanded their repeal as last won the nation's agreement and adop- strongly as they asked for Parliamentary tion.
reform. But now the middle classes were His health, never robust, seems to have beginning to see how important to their given way under the pressure of work he welfare would be the adoption of free had to perform on his return from Amer. trade. An Anti-Corn-Law Association ica, and as his business was in good or had been founded in London in 1836, by der, he spent the winter of 1836-7 in Grote, Molesworth, Joseph Hume, and visiting the East. Of this journey Mr. Roebuck; but they were not the men to Morley gives a very interesting descrip- organize a popular agitation, nor was Lon. tion by well-selected extracts from Mr. don the place from which the work could Cobden's letters and journal. But we be carried on which was needful to overmust hurry on towards the time when he come the prejudices and mistaken theo. put the vast mass of information which ries of the landholders and their tenants. be gathered on this, as on his other jour- London is a vast aggregation of individu. neys, to practical use in dealing with the als, it is not a unity which can be stirred; social questions which with increasing too many objects distract the attention of force pressed for solution.
its inhabitants, and its size makes it im
possible to produce results which can be engaged in the agitation than we gain attained in smaller towns. On the 24th from the more detailed chronicle of the of September, 1838, seven men met in League's work contained in Mr. Prenthe York Hotel, Manchester, and deter- tice's “ History of the Anti-Corn League.” mined to form a new association on a pop- As we read we seem to hear again ular basis. Their pumbers soon increased the rising power of popular indignation The name of Cobden does not appear on against the selfish greed which banded the first list of the provisional committee, the defenders of the Corn Laws together though that of John Bright does; it is only during the seven years' struggle; we see published in the second list - exactly a how wisely and judiciously that power week after he had written the memorable was directed. Again, we wonder at the words just quoted from his letter to his marvellous skill with which the leaders brother. Several meetings of the new invented new methods of applying the association were held, and the pressure popular enthusiasm which they had thus exercised caused the Chamber of roused. Again and again we admire the Commerce of Manchester to take action. varied means by which the stronghold of Its leading members were cautious, and monopoly was assailed, and witness how, desirous of avoiding all extremes. They with never-failing novelty of argument proposed a petition in favor of modifica- and fresh store of evidence, Cobden and tions of the Corn Laws, but did not men. his colleagues overwhelmed their antagotion repeal. A warm debate ensued, and nists, until the fatal season of 1846, with “Cobden struck into the debate with that its famine and consequent pestilence, finely tempered weapon of argumentative overcame the last obstacles, and Lord speech which was his most singular endow- John Russell's letter to the citizens of ment. . . . He brought out a lucid proof London, giving up his long-cherished prothat the Corn Law was the only obstacle to posal for a fixed duty, made Sir Robert a vast increase of their trade, and that Peel's Parliamentary position untenable, every shi
of protection on corn which and brought the great work to a triumthus obstructed their prosperity, passed phant issue. The whole force of the into the pockets of the landowners, with. land-holding interest, the power of the out conferring an atom of advantage on aristocracy was overthrown, and that either the farmer or the laborer” (vol. i., chiefly, as the leaders of all sections of p. 145). The debate was adjourned, and politicians united in acknowledging, by at the subsequent meeting a petition pre- the “unadorned eloquence of Richard pared by Cobden was almost unanimously Cobden.” adopted. The association, cheered by its While reading this portion of Mr. first triumph, began the agitation in ear. Morley's work, we cannot help wishing nest. In January, 1837, “Cobden threw that the advocates of what is called fair out one of those expressions which catch trade would but carefully study it. Every men's minds in moments when they are argument they adduce, as if it were an ripe for action. “Let us,' he said, “invest original discovery of the present day, part of our property in order to save the would be seen to be a fallacy exploded rest from confiscation.' Within a month years ago. Their conception of forcing six thousand pounds had been raised, the foreign nations to reduce their high dufirst instalment of many scores of thou- ties upon our manufactured goods by sands still to come ” (vol. i., p. 146.) imposing taxes on what we import from
It is not possible to tell the tale of the them has been exposed by the old advoagitation here. It occupies more than cates of the Anti-Corn-Law League time two hundred pages of Mr. Morley's after time, and it is curious to find busi. book, and yet that only records Cobden's ness men fancying that the distress share in the great task, with many omis- caused by a succession of bad harvests sions. But the literary skill displayed in and by the constant waste of wealth this part of the work is so great that a far caused by the national expenditure on clearer idea is given of the labors of those strong drink, would be relieved and not
intensified by burdening trade by the Commons or on the platform of anti-Cornrestoration of protection.
Law meetings, we are struck by the clear The change which has come over the foresight and startling accuracy, with trade of the country in consequence of which he foretold the results which the free trade has been of such incalculable policy he advocates would secure. His value, that it seenis incredible that the speeches had not perhaps the power of advocates of fair trade can have exam. kindling such enthusiasm as the impasined the figures which the statistical ab- sioned eloquence of John Bright could stract places at their disposal. Take the arouse, nor did they reach the rhetorical article of food alone. In 1840 the impor- grandeur of some of W. J. Fox's studied tation of live cattle was absolutely pro- orations, or move their hearers to tears, hibited, in 1880 we imported live animals | as did some of the touching speeches of to the value of £10,239,295; of bacon Mr. R. R. Moore, but their unanswerable and bam we imported in 1840, 6,189 cwt., array of facts, their clear enunciation of in 1880, 5,743.900 cwt.; of corn and Hour undeniable principle, and their irresistible of all kinds we imported in 1840, 16,600, logic, made use of the feelings which his 774.cwt., in 1880, 134,173,520 cit.; taking coadjutors evoked, and at last compelled all kinds of provisions, the value of our the unwilling assent of Parliament. imports in 1840 amounted to £ 27.597,431, Cobden's public work on the platform while in 1880 it exceeded £ 181.000,000. and in the House, and in the practical Who can ever imagine the increase of organization of the League, was done at comfort and of health which these figures the expense of his private interests. His imply? Again look at the results of free own business was neglected in order to trade, as far as it is carried out by us, serve his country, and had it not been for upon the foreign commerce of the nation. the generous help afforded him by perIn 1840 our imports amounted to £62,- sonal friends, he would have been com004,000, our exports to £110,128,718, our pelled to withdraw from the struggle total foreign trade amounted therefore to before his reward came, in the final tri£172,132,718. In 1879 our imports were umph of the principles he advocated. 2362,991,875, and our exports £248,784,- There is scarcely anything more touching 364. The figures are too vast to be com- than the brief extracts Mr. Morley gives prehended; but does not this immense from the correspondence with Frederick increase tell of the improved condition of Cobden, revealing the pressing personal the nation in a manner which should si- difficulties which assailed the great leader lence the foolish cry of those who are during the years 1844 and 1845. In Sepseeking, by their attempted revival of pro- tember of the latter year Cobden, " at the tectionist fallacies, to distract the atien-cost of anguish which we may imagine, tion of the nation from the serious re- came to the terrible resolution to give up forms which still are needed to place its public affairs.” He cominunicated his welfare on a sure foundation ?
decision to Mr. Bright, and the letter he Or, again, we may take another set of received in reply has fortunately been figures — those referring to pauperism. preserved to enable us to understand The number of able-bodied persons re- something of the tie which has united the lieved by the guardians in the year 1840 names of Cobden and Bright in far more was, in England and Wales, 201,644; in than political connection (vol. i., pp. 330– 1881, not withstanding the increase of the 336). population by ten millions, this number The means were soon raised to tide had fallen to 111,169. Any one who is in over the emergency, and Cobden was enthe slightest degree acquainted with the abled to return to the cause, then on the condition of the people will be able to eve of victory. But what suffering had appreciate the vast amount of moral as not to be endured by the nation before well as material improvements that is im- that victory was won! The mysterious plied by such a diminution of pauperism potato-blight fell upon the country, and a amongst us, and is not a great part of population, reduced by iniquitous legislathis improvement to be ascribed to the tion to subsist on that least nutritious increase of industrial activity, which has kind of food, stood face to face with starbeen the necessary and inevitable result vation. Those were exciting days. Lord of free trade even in its incomplete appii- John Russell's Edinburgh letter, the cation to our fiscal arrangements ? When resignation of Sir Robert Peel's adminwe read the speeches which Mr. Cobden istration, the excited meetings of the delivered during the seven years of the League, the attempt of Lord John Russell anti-Corn-Law agitation in the House of to sorin a Liberal government, and the
offer of a subordinate place in it to Cob- | ligionists with the educational reformden, which was declined, and the reers, and might have been successful had sumption of office by Sir Robert Peel, all not the great political crash of 1857 oCfollowed one another rapidly. When Par. curred just when he had brought about liament met, the government announced a compromise between Sir John Pakits intention of repealing the Coro Laws; ington and his friends with the council but still all was not over. The ministry of the National Public School Associacould not give the whole of its attention tion. to one subject. The distress in Ireland But even more prominent than in the had produced “its natural fruits in dis- agitation for national education was the order and violence." A Coercion Bill, place which Cobden took in working for the usual device, was proposed, amid the international disarmament and internaunited opposition of the Irish and the tional arbitration. He attended peace Radical members, who were opposed to conferences at home and abroad, moved coercion on principle, and of the Whigs resolutions in the House of Commons in and Protectionists, who, as party men, favor of his scheme, and attacked the were desirous of driving the government practice of lending money to the great from office. It was evident what the military powers of the Continent, which result would be. The bill for repeal was he justly asserted was a system calculated carried in the House of Lords, and on the to perpetuate the horrors of war. He same night the Coercion Bill was rejected pointed out that “those who lend money in the Commons. The ministry went out, for such purposes are destitute of any of and Lord John Russell was called upon those excuses by which men justify resort to form the new Cabinet. Cobden's re- to the sword. They cannot plead patrifusal to take office in November, 1845, otism, self-defence, or even anger, or the prevented his being again invited, but lust of military glory. They sit down Mr. Milner Gibson was appointed to the coolly to calculate the chances to them. office which Cobden had declined. On selves of profit or loss in a game in which the very day on which Lord John notified the lives of human beings are at stake. the fact to Mr. Cobden, the final meeting They have not even the savage and bru. of the League was held. The laborious tal gratification which the old pagans had, and exciting work of eight momentous after they had paid for a seat in the ainyears was finished.
phitheatre, of witnessing the bloody com. Although on one great subject Cobden bats of gladiators in the circus” (vol. ii., had seen the nation come to his own opin. p. 69). ions, on other matters he had yet to ex- It was a noble thing to see Cobden thus perience that he was in advance of his striving to make men feel the moral re. time
nay, even of many of the men who sponsibility of the use of capital; but had supported him in his economical re- events were not as yet to favor popular. forms. In 1847 the Lancashire Public acquiescence in such advanced views. School Association had been established He was in the minority which opposed in Manchester, to obtain for the county a Mr. Roebuck's resolution approving of system of rate-supported secular schools Lord Palmerston's foreign policy in 1850. under local inanagement. To this limited | The popular feeling was that Lord Pal. plan Cobden gave strenuous support, as merston was upholding the glory of Enalso to the scheme which, in 1850, was gland and the cause of freedom in Europe extended to the whole country. Unfortu- by his antagonism to Russia. Looking nately, religious jealousy prevented any back upon the tone of the country at the national educational measure being car. time, it is undeniable that the military ried for nearly a quarter of a century. spirit was rising more and more. Mr. On the one hand, every Liberal proposal Morley aptly quotes from one of Cobden's was opposed by the members of the es. pamphlets (vol. ii., p. 131) the absurd rutablished Church, who denounced every mors which filled the public mind with scheme which did not secure to them the expectations of a French invasion, and control of elementary schools; while, on tells us how Cobden bravely maintained the other hand, the great mass of Dis: his position against the sneers and taunts senters on voluntary principles opposed of less far-seeing statesmen. the interference of the State in the man. phlet entitled “ 1793 and 1853,” he showed agement of schools. Mr. Cobden, him-how unjustifiable our conduct had been self a Churchman, was too enlightened in provoking the great war which involved not to deplore this theological rivalry. this nation in such fearful sacrifice of liie He strove to unite his more liberal co-rel and treasure. He pointed out that we
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