THE ORATORS OF THE ANTI-CORN-LAW LEAGUE.
THE Anti-Corn-Law League instructed the people, its
organisation enabled the people to express their opinion, but it was the
platform orators who inspired the opinion. The struggle of the
League lasted seven years, and cost half a million of money. In the
fourth year of its activity, Mr. Paulton stated that the League employed
upward of 300 persons in making up electoral packets of tracts, and 500
other persons in distributing them among the constituencies. In
England and Scotland alone they distributed to electors 5,000,000 tracts
and stamped publications, while to non-electors of the working class they
distributed 3,600,000 publications. In addition, the League had
stitched up in monthly magazines and other periodicals 426,000 tracts.
The entire number of tracts and stamped publications issued by the League
in the single year 1843, was 9,026,000, weighing upwards of 100 tons.
John Bright, M.P.
Such were the business features of this famous association. But its
success came from its inspiration, and its inspiration, as I have said,
came from its remarkable leaders.
Ebenezer Elliott wrote fiery rhymes for it; Gen. Thompson wrote its
Catechism; George Wilson, the chairman of the League, admittedly the most
efficient chairman in England during his day [organised its popular
action]; James Acland, a vigorous speaker, acquainted with the people, was
a sort of outrider to the League, going into market towns on market days
on a white horse, perhaps as a pacific emblem, but partly as a means of
drawing attention. He took the fighting among the belligerent
farmers, so that when Bright and Cobden came [here Mr. Bright changed the
order of names and put Cobden first] the strength of the enemy was known,
and the local stock of turbulence being expended, the peripatetic orators
obtained a hearing. Cobden mainly addressed himself to the
villagers. He foresaw the great jam industry, and predicted to
mothers cheap sugar and abundant fruit preserves. Oxfordshire
cottagers tell to this day of the happy tidings their mothers brought home
after listening to the League orators in the Market Place. Bright
dealt more with the landlords and farmers, into whose cold understanding
he poured the hot shot of League logic.
The League was the first body of agitators who introduced
method into public meetings. In the hour of argument in the Covent
Garden Theatre, Mr. Villiers' mastery of the question was heard, his high
character lending influence to the cause. Mr. Milner Gibson, another
Parliamentary voice, had a graceful and cogent eloquence which always
commanded attention. Mr. W. J. Fox, a Unitarian minister, and
subsequently M.P. for Oldham, surpassed all the orators of the
League of that day in brilliance of speech. Shorter and more rotund
than Charles James Fox, he, notwithstanding, produced effects of rhetoric
transcending those of his great namesake. The term "brilliant" does
not entirely describe them. You no more thought of his appearance
while he was speaking than you did of Thiers's insignificant stature.
His low, clear, lute-like voice penetrated over the pit and gallery of
Covent Garden Theatre. "You saw in the papers yesterday," he would
begin, "the case of a poacher who was seized, indignantly treated,
summarily tried, and sentenced to a serious term of degrading
imprisonment. If this," he exclaimed, "be the rightful treatment of
the poor man who steals the rich man's bird, what ought to be done to the
rich man who steals the poor man's bread?" In words to this effect
he spoke. Men remember that argument to this day. It
constituted the first words of his speech. He began with it.
No first words of any speech in my time ever produced the same effect upon
Richard Cobden, M.P.
The public and the press were allured by the great names of Cobden and
Bright. Mr. Cobden, "the palefaced manufacturer," whom the
landowners believed, and the farmers were persuaded to believe, was a
Manchester enemy of agriculture, and a paid emissary of the Socialist
insurgents of the Continent, was himself the son of a Sussex farmer, whose
ambition was to die one of that class, and did so die, seeking and
accepting no other distinction than that which his genius cast around his
name. He was the logician of the League. As a master of lucid
statement on the platform or in Parliament, he left no equal at his death.
When he had made a statement, he looked at it and around it, as though he
saw it in the air before him. What was deficient he supplied, what
was redundant he withdrew, by putting the question in another way, in
which he omitted any mischievous word, or qualified any phrase he had used
which might mislead, so that he could not be misunderstood by accident,
nor his meaning perverted by design. This contributed to give the
League great ascendancy, since all its adherents could quote without fear
of contradiction what he said, and his speeches of one day became the
authority of the next.
Mr. Bright's was a grander, more imposing and impassioned
order of eloquence. Cobden presented the facts. Bright put
fire into them. With the finest voice of any European orator, he
displayed a measured vehemence on the platform which gave the impression
of unknown power. He was the Vulcan of the movement; he forged at
red heat, and hurled the burning bolts which finally set Protection on
Finally there came the collection maker of the League, R. R.
R. Moore, with a voice that fell on a meeting like the bursting of a
reservoir. It was not what he said, so much as the sound he made,
that produced the effect. The maddest clamour was not hushed—it was
overwhelmed by the new roar, which was always reserved to the end of the
meeting. His function was to appeal for subscriptions, and he
exactly answered that end, for when his astounding voice fell upon the
meeting no one seemed to have the power of going away. I do but
describe my impressions; but here Mr. Bright remarks: ["His speeches were
often logical and very good. The description of his voice is greatly
exaggerated. He worked hard and was of great service to the
These were the great propagandists of Free Trade Economy, who
made conquest of the Premier, Sir Robert Peel, who won for himself an
imperishable name, by repealing in 1846 the Corn Laws; thus "giving the
people bread no longer leavened," as he proudly said, "by a sense of
injustice." Never was there such a wreck of political reputations as
took place within a few years of the abolition of Protection in Corn.
Nothing happened which had been predicted by the prognosticators of
disaster. Poor lands were more cultivated than before; no stoppage
of imports by war occurred; manufacturers and shopkeepers throve beyond
their forefathers' dreams of prosperity; instead of rents of land falling,
the aristocracy, the chief owners of it, grew rich while they slept—as
they do still; and farmers found "ruin" a very pleasant thing to them.
The working classes became better instead of worse employed, and their
wages in some places excite the jealousy of curates, while the
agricultural labourers are at last able to insist upon improved provision
for themselves. A stimulus, inconceivable before, was given to
trade; fluctuations in the price of corn decreased; apprehensions of
insufficient harvests no longer excited dread, and the British race became
physically one-half larger in bulk and one half heavier in weight than in
the days before Cobden and Bright arose. The victory of the
Anti-Corn-Law League was the greatest ever won by reason in the history of
human agitations. Neither in piety, nor morals, nor trade are men
for trusting one another. Everybody is for protecting his neighbour
from benefiting himself. Nobody is for leaving freedom free.
The principle of progress in commerce and social life is not to limit
liberty, but to limit injury. It was the establishment of this
principle in trade that caused this League to be regarded as one of the
historic forces of British civilisation.
Mr. Cobden told me one night at the House of Commons that,
despite all the expenditure in public instruction, "the League would not
have carried the repeal of the Corn Laws when they did, had it not been
for the Irish famine and the circumstance that we had a Minister who
thought more of the lives of the people than his own continuance in
George Wilson was a great chairman. In a short, strong
speech he explained the position of the question (to be considered) out of
doors, and the case to be submitted to the meeting. But in
conducting the meetings he was despotic. There was no code for their
regulation then in England nor now, and despotism alone brought them to an
During a thousand years the theory of public meetings in
England has not been revised. In Saxon times, we are told, the wise
men of the commune assembled under a tree and took counsel together.
If public meetings were limited to "wise men" in these days they would
seldom be crowded. Saxon public meetings were not so numerous but
that every one could give his opinion who had an opinion to give, and the
theory of the Saxon public meeting was that every one present had a right
to be heard. Upon this theory meetings to-day are held when they
amount to ten thousand persons, or, as at Bingley Hall, Birmingham, when
Mr. Gladstone was there, to thirty thousand. In the days of Thomas
Attwood a Newhall Hill meeting in Birmingham was held, when Daniel
O'Connell spoke, at which two hundred thousand persons were present.
Had each person "stood upon his right to be heard," the meeting would have
lasted a year. Whenever disorder is intended, persons are put
forward to "demand" a hearing. The friends of the impossible "right"
yell for it, and the friends of order yell against it. The chairman
all the while is as helpless as a windmill. When Mr. Jesse Collings, M.P., was Mayor of Birmingham, he was insulted by Tories for two
hours. They stopped the meeting over which he presided. They
had made a large drawing of the head of an ass, and suspended it from the
gallery in front of Mr. Collings, loudly calling his attention to it.
At last he ordered the police to remove the asinine rioters, who indicted
him for assault, which a Tory magistrate (Mr. Kynersley) sustained.
At Brighton, during the Tory Government of Mr. Disraeli, no Liberal
meeting could be held for five years, because the Liberals were unwilling
to physically fight the Tories who were ready with a contingent of
ruffians for that kind of disturbance. In Rochdale, when Mr. T. B.
Potter was first elected, men were sent into the town, armed with sticks,
to break up the meeting. I therefore advised that thick-headed
Liberals should be put in the front, and they proved to be the most
valuable members of the party of order, since they could best resist the
arguments of insurgent sticks. Patriots of cranial tenuity were of
It is singular and absurd that the right of public meeting
should be a boasted English institution, at which no chairman can lawfully
preserve order, and the proceedings can only be regulated by riot, or by
the cloture of clamour, as in the House of Commons. The organisation
of democracy is a long way off, and Liberalism is deliberate enough to
reassure the most alarmed and apprehensive Toryism in the kingdom not to
have established, one hundred years ago, the right of order at public
meetings, and promulgated a code of procedure suitable to the conditions
of modern days. The resolutions to be proposed should be described
by the Chair. They should be few, the speakers few, and the time of
each allotted and time for amendments provided and limited, and the
authority of the Chair as to order should be made legal. 
CAREER OF A BOHEMIAN ARTIST.
ABOUT 1847, two young men came to London from
Oxford, not so much to seek their fortunes as to find occupation more
genial than that they followed. Still they both had the instinct of
distinction in them. One was George Hooper, who afterwards wrote, in
the Reasoner, some articles under the signature of "Eugene." He
brought some knowledge of Latin to town, and continued to read the
classics in his leisure, which was much to his credit. I spoke of
him to Mr. Thornton Hunt, and when the Leader was started he was
assigned a place upon it. He pursued journalism and authorship, and
made himself a name in military literature. His companion, Henry
Merritt, came to reside in my house, where he continued nearly eighteen
years, employing himself in picture restoration, in which he ultimately
acquired skill and repute.
His life had been one of vicissitude. His social
condition as a youth in Oxford was below hope, save by self-help. He
had been in a charity school, an errand boy about the colleges, had filled
various humble and precarious situations. In London he had been a
Bohemian with art-love in his mind, honesty in his heart, and nothing in
his pocket; with no patrons save a watchmaker in a passage off Drury Lane
and a Jew coffeehouse keeper in the Strand, both "good fellows" in their
When about Graves's shop (the printseller's) in Oxford, he
had become acquainted with Mr. Delamotte, who, seeing the youth's taste,
kindly gave him encouragement; and what was more valuable, he gave him
instruction in art, for which Merritt was grateful all his days. He
dedicated his first book, "Dirt and Pictures Separated," thus:—
Who, when I was a boy—a stranger,
Unknown to him even by name,
Carefully and gratuitously instructed me
In the rudiments of art,
I inscribe this little Volume
With long-cherished feelings of respect. 
As he resided with me, I had opportunities of introducing him to my
friends, and at times he shared invitations with me. He occupied two
rooms in my house (one being his studio), and had the use of the
dining-room. He paid seven or eight shillings then. Sometimes
he was in arrears several pounds, as I see from his account-book of that
time. When money came to hand he paid up arrears, for he was as
honest in his dealings as in his work.
When I removed to a lodge near Regent's Park, Merritt went
with me by his own desire. There he worked for two years upon the
oldest picture in England, Richard II, brought there from the Chapter
House of Westminster Abbey, and entrusted to him by Dean Stanley, Mr.
Richmond the elder superintending its restoration. Mr. Dennison, the
Speaker of the House of Commons, and other eminent persons, oft came to
witness the progress of the work. It was a delight to me to see this
picture day by day, and see the king revealed whose face no eye had seen
for 150 years. In the last century the House of Commons appointed
one Captain Broome to brighten up the portrait, who knew no more of
restoration than a house painter. He put upon the panel a new
portrait in which the king was lost, and a staring, treacle-faced young
man appeared in his place, with a sceptre as short and stumpy as a
policeman's staff. Underneath Broome's paint was found the true
presentment of the pensive, timorous king whom Shakespeare drew, holding a
graceful sceptre in his hand. Broome had forgotten that the tails of
the king's ermine pointed down, and had painted them up. The reader
may see the real Richard II, in the Jerusalem Chamber now.
As remarkable in its way is the ponderous panel on which the
life-sized king was painted. It is more than an inch thick, and is
composed of three planks of oak, not only as sound as when they were sawn
five hundred years ago, but as unwarped as a plane of steel. Mr.
Hans Holbein, who believed himself a descendant of his famous namesake,
could not by a microscope discover the suture where the clever carpenter
who made it had joined the panel.
At the Lodge the ground rent exceeded £23, and house charges
were considerable. Merritt occupied four rooms; the two chief having
folding doors, made him a spacious studio. He took up the whole time
of a servant, and the Lodge grounds were yielded to him for recreation.
Here he paid £1 a week. Like most persons born and reared in
indigence, he was alarmed at any new expense, even when he could well bear
it. He was distressed and apprehensive even at this charge, and
never paid more to the end of his tenancy. But I had other interest
than profit in continuing it. It was partly friendship—partly
liking, and partly the love of seeing pictures, curious or choice, about
my rooms—a pleasure otherwise unattainable by me. It was diverting
in another way to see, in the earlier years, the straits of
impecuniousness in artist life. Well I remember when at Woburn
Buildings, Mr. Parrington, a friend of mine, called with a picture for
Merritt to test or restore. It happened he had no solvent of any
kind by him, by which he could clean the surface or remove encrustations
of varnish. Then Mrs. Holyoake secretly sent out for what he wanted,
so that the visitor might not be aware of its scarcity; for a patron with
a valuable picture would be loathe to leave it if he suspected the need of
the artist might lead him to pledge it. Then when the solvents came
it was found that there was no linen with which to apply or absorb them at
the critical moment, when the household collection had to be drawn upon,
and sent into the studio—as from a store-room where he was supposed to
keep his rolls of old soft linen.
Besides the interest of these episodes, Merritt was
ordinarily excellent company to talk to, or contradict. As Hartley
Coleridge said of one of his friends:—
"Fine wit he had—and knew not it was wit
And native thoughts before he dreamed of thinking;
Odd sayings, too, for each occasion fit,
To oldest sights the newest fancies linking."
What I most honoured my friend for was his honesty in art. By
falsifying pictures, making new ones look old, and finding the signature
of the master under the paint where it had never been put, inventing for a
picture a pedigree and a character, he might have made money as others
did, but he preferred poverty to deceit. After many years he had his
reward. He could be trusted. He was known to know his art; his
word could be believed, and his opinion was worth money.
Connoisseurs so eminent as Mr. Gladstone in Merritt's later years
My brother William, Curator of the Art Schools of the Royal
Academy, was useful to Merritt, as he was to others in his way; but
Merritt could not paint, and therefore he could be trusted to restore.
He had colour in his blood. He had the patience of Gerard Dow (whom
Merritt was fond of citing), who was said to spend days in painting a
broom. I have seen Merritt spend days over a few inches of injured
canvas, until, by careful stipling, he matched the colours, and replaced
the lost tints, so that no ordinary eye could tell where the effacing
fingers of neglect or decay had wrought mischief. No one who could
paint could be depended upon to take this trouble, when he could in an
hour paint in the defective parts; whether such a one could do it better
or worse, or as well, he would not represent the genius of the master nor
restore his work.
When we lived at No. 1, Woburn Buildings, a window overlooked
the grounds of Charles Dickens, who resided then at Tavistock Place, made
Merritt's working-room the best room, because it looked on trees. On
Sundays Dickens would have a friend or two in the garden, and a tray of
bottled stout, "churchwardens," and tobacco would be brought from the
house. We were told that this was Dickens's protest against the
doleful way of keeping Sunday then thought becoming. Tavistock House
was the one formerly occupied by "Perry of the Morning Chronicle," as he
used to be described, but in my time it was divided into two houses.
One was occupied by Frank Stone the elder, who died there—a very genial
person to know. The other was occupied by Sidney Milnes Hawkes,
afterwards by Mr. James Stansfield. Mazzini was frequently there in
those times. One morning, when Dickens resided there, a person
purporting to be Mazzini called, and solicited aid. Dickens sent
down a servant, who presented a sovereign on a silver tray. The
visitor took the gift with thanks. When this came to be known to
Mazzini's friends they were filled with amazement at Dickens's
thoughtlessness, to say the least. How could he imagine that a
gentleman whom he had met in society, as a man of reputation for honour
and self-respect, would come to his door soliciting alms, like an
adventurer or an impostor? And, if he believed the applicant to be
Mazzini, some inquiry, some commiseration and identification was necessary
to make sure that one so eminent was suddenly in distress so abject.
Mazzini had a hundred friends who would have aided him before he need have
been a suppliant at Dickens's door.
Though he hardly knew it, Merritt had the ambition of
authorship in him, but he cost me infinite trouble to make him believe it.
He began by writing for me in the Reasoner under the signature of
"Christopher." Sometimes I suggested the subjects, and revised what
he wrote. At length I urged him to write about his own profession,
as nothing distinctive or readable existed upon it. At last he wrote
some chapters on the Art of Restoration. At that time Mr. Hans
Holbein, then stationmaster at Euston, was frequently at my house.
His passion was to collect all the engravings of Holbein he could afford
to purchase. He induced Merritt to call his little treatise "Dirt
and Pictures Separated"—a purely technical title which could interest
nobody but connoisseurs. I added the line "in the Works of the Old
Masters" to render the title more human. At that time Merritt was
not apt with his pen, but there was originality and fervour in him which
showed he had literary taste. He had read no books save odd volumes
of the letters of Pope, Defoe, or an old dramatist or two, which he had
picked up on second-hand bookstalls. He had had no education save
the Charity School sort—Church Catechism chiefly, which leaves a youth
helpless and abject in the battle of life. But he had the education
of the streets—an excellent school for those who have sense enough to
learn in it. He knew that an acquaintance of mine who made a name as
a tragedian had learned grammar from a book I had written, which he had
read when he resided in the house of my sister Caroline. I had put
on the title-page of the book the words:—"No department of knowledge is
like grammar. A person may conceal his ignorance of any other art;
but every time he speaks he publishes his ignorance of this. There
can be no greater imputation on the intelligence of any man than that he
should talk from the cradle to the tomb, and never talk well."
These words incited Merritt, who had the instinct of a simple
and manly style in him. Like every person of taste, he was
dissatisfied with his first efforts, not only dissatisfied but dismayed
and despairing, and threw his chapters on Restoration six or seven times
into the fire, where they would have perished had not my wife rescued them
until a more hopeful mood came to him. Again and again they were
enlarged and improved, and again thrown on the fire. To encourage
him, I induced the editor of the Leader newspaper, by my accounts
of their intrinsic excellence, to publish them in the "Portfolio" of that
journal, were the chief chapters first appeared.
To this end I invented reasons to prove their insertion would
be relevant, and wrote the introduction to the chapters in the Leader,
and also a handbill about them, which was sent out to artisan readers in
all the towns where I was in the habit of speaking. What I said was
"The interesting discussion which several times has arisen respecting the
preservation of the pictures in the National Gallery renders it necessary
that every man having regard to the credit of the nation in this respect
should be able to form an intelligent opinion upon pictures.
"Hitherto this has not been practicable to the mass of the
people, because nearly all works on the subject of painting are written
from the professional point of view, and abound in technicalities
unintelligible to the general reader.
"Newspaper criticisms are usually written for the initiated
alone. The editor of the Leader, therefore, has thought it useful to
insert a series of
PAPERS ON THE
PAINTINGS OF THE OLD MASTERS.
which are written
in popular language, and by explaining the artistic processes employed in
creating a great painting, and in restoring it when unhappily damaged by
accident, time, or neglect, shall enable the general reader to understand
pictures and learn to appreciate them, and take part in the discussions
which relate to them.
"A great painter sheds renown on his country, and refinement
on all people who have the good fortune to gaze on his work. Taste
for the fine arts is a proof of the civilisation of a nation.
English artisans would not be behind those of any on the Continent, if
knowledge of the right kind was submitted to them. The names of
poets and philosophers are become household words in our land—why should
not the painters become equal favourites? They would if equally well
known. If political economists and politicians attain popularity,
surely the day of the great artists is come. Raphael sounds as well
as Ricardo, Titian may stand by Torrens, the canvas of Correggio is as
attractive as Cobbett's Paper against Gold."
Had the Leader not possessed that heroic sentimentality in favour
of usefulness which practical men despise, Merritt's papers had never
appeared. He was paid, as I considered, liberally, but such was his
nature that he was dissatisfied, although it was the first money he
received for any writing, save such limited compensation as I was able to
make him for his papers in the Reasoner.
The name of the errand boy of Oxford appearing in the
Portfolio of a famous journal, with those of George Eliot, Herbert
Spencer, Harriet Martineau, and George Henry Lewes, was reputation.
Merritt had not the money to purchase the distinction, and could not have
bought it if he had. Yet it was not until I threatened to abandon
him that he gave up his purpose of writing to the office a letter of
discontent at his payment. He was as difficult to befriend as
Rousseau. Yet his papers in the Leader were the beginning of
his fortune. He became known to connoisseurs who otherwise had never
heard of him. Mr. Boxall (afterwards Sir William) could then afford
to know his Bohemian townsman.
The chapters would have ended with the Leader had I
not induced him to complete them and make a little book of them, which I
printed in the "Cabinet of Reason" series, although the subject was not
suited thereto. The preface was wholly mine, and the table of the
painters named in the work. In concert with its purpose, I added
here and there in the book remarks to enlist the interest of outside
readers in a subject which would strike them as being alien. The
publication brought him picture clients from he provinces. The book
had a new kind of genius, and the genius was all his own. It showed
knowledge, devotion, and enthusiasm, qualities Merritt alone put into the
THE PICTURE RESTORER FURTHER DELINEATED.
HENRY MERRITT had some
delightful qualities, but he was the most timid, the most irritable
and inconsistent of all the children of genius whom I have known. He
now possessed the status the Leader had given him. Next opportunity
occurred of introducing him to the Empire, set up by Mr. Livesey, the
founder of Teetotalism. The editor was John Hamilton, who had the
passion of a prophet in him, and with whom I had public discussion, and
for whom I had great regard. Hamilton became editor of the
Morning Star, and Merritt came to write on art in both papers.
Through the Star, he contributed for a time to the Manchester
Examiner, and he went to Manchester on the occasion of an exhibition
of pictures in that city. Then I was able to give him an
introduction to Mr. Stephen Pettitt of Merchants' Hotel, where he made
friends and had pleasant days. It was a pleasure to me to be useful
An intimate friend of mine on the staff of the Standard, Mr.
Percy Greg, was a constant visitor at my house, and I enlisted his
influence to obtain the appointment of Merritt as its art critic.
When he came home in Gallery days he was sometimes unable to write out his
notes in time for the Standard the same night. Then it fell
to me to write them out for him, which involved many hours of close work.
Sometimes this occurred two or three times in a week. For no week,
even when I spent the day at the Gallery, did I receive more than £1 for
work for which he received £6. Nor should I have taken what I did
had not this work prevented me from doing my own. He would have been
as ready to help me in like case.
When, in a season of illness, he was unable to attend the
Galleries, he would ask me to go and make notes for him. Devoid of
his critical knowledge of pictures, long familiarity with them enabled me
to describe their features and the story the artist had told by his
pencil. Merritt found from the art notices in other newspapers,
which he subsequently perused, that my reports were to be trusted.
He knew the kind of work produced by each artist who habitually exhibited.
His notices sent to the Standard, written upon my report, were confined to
descriptions of the subjects and the general characteristics of the
painters, reserving technical criticisms until he was able to run down to
the Galleries and see for himself. On the occasions when I went for
him some droll experience befell me, such as recalled Boswell in a
forgotten passage, preserved by Hazlett in his "Memoirs of Thomas Holcroft."
The comedian, who knew Boswell, records in his diary that one morning
Boswell, calling on Johnson, found him writing a letter for a Mr. Lowe.
On Lowe leaving, Boswell followed him, and with insinuating professions
began: "How do you do, Mr. Lowe? I hope you are very well, Mr. Lowe.
Pardon my freedom, Mr. Lowe, but I think I saw my dear friend Dr. Johnson writing a letter for you." "Yes, sir." "I hope you
will not think me rude, but if it would not be too great a favour you
would infinitely oblige me if you would just let me have a sight of it.
Everything from that hand is so inestimable." "It is on my own
private affairs." "I would not pry into any person's affairs, my
dear Mr. Lowe, by any means. I am sure you would not accuse me of
such a thing, only if it were no particular secret." "Sir, you are
welcome to read the letter." I thank you, my dear Mr. Lowe; you are
very obliging. I take it exceedingly kind" (having read it).
"It is nothing, I believe, Mr. Lowe, that you would be ashamed of."
"Certainly not!" "Why, then, my dear sir, if you would do me another
favour, you would make the obligation eternal. If you would but step
to Peele's coffee-house with me, and just suffer me to take a copy of it,
I would do anything in my power to oblige you." "I was overcome,"
said Lowe, "by this sudden familiarity and condescension, accompanied with
bows and grimaces. I had no power to refuse; we went to the
coffeehouse, my letter was presently transcribed, and as soon as he had
put his document in his pocket, Mr. Boswell walked away as erect and as
proud as he was half an hour before suppliant, and I ever afterwards was
unnoticed." Lowe added that he was left to pay for the coffee he had
ordered to give Boswell opportunity of copying his letter.
A countryman of Boswell's, one of the habitual critics of the
Galleries, knew me well, and would come to me in the most desultory way,
with cordial greetings and incidental inquiries as to "what paper I wrote
for," "why was I there," and "whom did I represent." I then wrote
for three papers, but not upon art subjects. "Did I write art
notices for them?" he would inquire. "Merritt writes for the
Standard, does he not? Is he here?" Beguiled by cordial
familiarity, I incautiously said "my friend was unwell, and I was looking
round for him." Immediately he mentioned in the paper for which he
wrote—the Reader—that Mr. Merritt's criticisms in the Standard
were done by another hand. This would have given great pain to
Merritt, whom my questioner knew and for whom he always expressed the
greatest regard. Had the treacherous information come under the eyes
of the Standard, it might have cost my friend his appointment.
When the inquisitive critic next put his familiar question to me, I said
"his solicitude was very interesting, but I observed he never prefaced his
inquiries by informing me what he was doing and for what paper he was
writing." His curiosity there and then ceased. I suspected him
of seeking Merritt's place. Of course I kept the incident from
Merritt, and kept the Reader out of his sight.
Mr. Merritt remained art critic of the Standard until
the time of his death. His criticisms were written on a theory we
had often discussed; it was that of subordinating merely technical
criticism, giving mainly an animated description of the character of the
pictures and design of the painter, with his characteristics as an artist.
By limiting technical criticism to such points as were necessary for the
connoisseur and picture buyer, and describing in what respect the pictures
were additions to the scenic glory of art, his notices were always, and
are still, readable, and they sent more persons to the Galleries to see
the pictures for themselves than any other art criticisms of his time.
Art critics mostly wrote not to interest the public in art, but to show
off their skill as critics; just as most books on education are written,
not to explain difficulties to uninformed students, but to show how much
the author is better informed than his rival teachers. Always
distrustful of his own work, Mr. Merritt cast aside his criticisms after
they appeared. I kept copies of them all, and made them up into four
volumes, which he afterwards was glad to refer to and show.
"Robert Dalby and his World of Troubles," Merritt's best
work, I copied out several times for him. The "Oxford Professor,"
which he never finished, I was to re-write for him, just so far as to show
him my idea how it should be treated. In everything I did for him, I
did but polish the diamond: the diamond was his, not mine. Merritt
had no inside life. In description of outside life he had genius.
Separate passages were perfect and inimitable. He attained a
spontaneous grace which change could only mar. This needs no
testimony, since Mr. Ruskin wrote to him:—
"You have given great pleasure to
Carlyle by your report, and you always give much to me whenever you write
to me. I have no other friend who says such pretty things to me, in
a way that reminds me of the little courtesies of old days, when people
were graceful by kind act in a letter as much as in a quadrille, and when
flattery was the naughtiest of one's faults to one's friends—never
In later years, when we were still home companions, Merritt's health
became precarious. For two years his life was a daily uncertainty.
The whole household was absorbed in attending upon him. Often I rose
once or twice in the night, and went to his room to see if he were alive,
or needed aid. After he had left me, he was again in danger, and
when he became delirious I sat up all night with him. When his death
occurred I wrote a solicitous letter to the editor of the Standard
to procure the art criticship for one to whom he had left his fortune, as
I was always willing to serve any one whom a friend of mine befriended.
Merritt never married until within a few weeks of his death.
Though a Bohemian in freedom and precariousness, he was Bohemian in
nothing else; yet all his life his most amusing satire had been upon the
peril and subjection of marriage, and he could not bear to tell me or any
one that he had married. On his death I made it known in the papers,
that she whom he had married might not be exposed to incredulity, for none
of his friends would have otherwise believed in his marriage. The
last time I saw him, scarcely a fortnight before he died, he besought me
to come to him soon, as he had many things to tell me. He said that
in his will he had left small bequests of £50 each to two of my children,
but he should arrange to fulfil another promise he had often made. I
received a telegram from a common friend summoning me from the country, as
he was in great danger. I at once returned, but he was in other
hands, and no opportunity occurred to me of seeing him again. He had
no idea that his days would be so short, and thought he had time to do
everything he meditated. He bequeathed shortly before his death
several thousand pounds which he had honourably earned, and never doubted
that he should earn more for his own use.
After his death, what purported to be a "Memoir" of him
appeared by persons who had not known him long, and were unacquainted with
the circumstances of his life, in which it was said that "the persons
with whom he lived shared the benefits of his increased earnings."
Again, "It was touching to see how often he supplied one family especially
who depended upon him for every comfort with the means of that enjoyment
in the country or by the sea-shore, while he remained at home literally to
work for them." A reference to Merritt's friend and townsman, George
Hooper, was still worse. Mr. Basil Champneys, the editor of the
book, vouches that these things" are done with perfect tact and graphic
fidelity." I attempted to obtain some correction of these statements
from the editor and the publisher, but found I had no resources to obtain
it legally, and expectation of its being done from a sense of justice
there was none. Besides my family, some eminent friends in London
and many friends elsewhere who would see the book, knew of Merritt's long
residence with me, and that these references related to me. After
fourteen years there comes to me this opportunity of correcting them.
Merritt had all the irascibility of the artist, but he was
honourable and truthful at heart, and would have been very wild had he
lived to see these statements made in his name. All the years he
resided with me we seldom went to the country or seaside but we took him
with us, increasing our expenses to which for many years he was unable to
contribute his share. His querulousness with our friends always
embittered our days, and made us glad when the unpleasantness ended.
To do him justice, he regretted this, but could not help it, and he strove
to make amends in his way. I used to say to him he was like Dr.
Johnson's good-natured, angry man—"he spent his time in injury and
reparation." When he came to acquire means of his own he became more
insupportable, and, as his income was good, I besought him to take
apartments elsewhere. He wrote to me saying "I was killing him, as I
had given him nineteen notices to leave my house." Were I "living
upon him," it was very injudicious in me to beseech him "nineteen times"
to do me the favour of going away. To mitigate the tone of my
request, I used to repeat the lines of Martial—
"In all thy humours, whether grave or mellow,
Thou'rt such a touchy, testy, pleasant fellow,
Hast so much wit and mirth and spleen about thee,
That there's no living with thee nor without thee."
But I could "live without him," and I had ceaseless relief when I recovered the control
of my house.
He did leave at length, but my personal regard for him never
changed, nor his for me. Not long before his death he wrote to my
friend Major Bell, saying, "It is nearly thirty years since my friendship
for Holyoake commenced, and it is not likely to terminate till death."
When a person has arrived at years of discretion (some arrive
very late, I am afraid: I have not reached that period yet), he sees many
things which were always palpable, but which he did not observe until
experience opened his eyes. Then he sees irritating things
dispassionately. Many times I have tried to analyse the complex
character of my artist friend. I often say of the inhabitants of a
famous town which I know well, that God has given to them more humility
and more pride than He has vouchsafed to any other collection of His
creatures. Merritt was not born on the Tyne, but he had these
qualities. He had an insatiable expectancy of the recognition by
others of qualities he disclaimed having. Charles Lamb excelled all
English humourists in the American wit of exaggeration. When, he
said, Coleridge met him on his way to the India House and took him by the
button to discourse to him, he, with his penknife, deftly released
himself, and on returning in the evening found Coleridge still holding the
button, preaching to it. No one misunderstood Lamb, who merely put a
halo round a fact which he left palpable. Merritt, with less than
Lamb's art and genial restraint, had the bright gift of enlargement, and
misled, without meaning it, those who did not know him.
We say of some men that they are nervous, meaning all the
while that they have no nerves. Merritt had none. But, in lieu
of them, he had a set of organised electric filaments, which, the moment
you touched him with a harmless phrase, gave you a shock. He was the
first person in whom I observed supernatural sensitiveness, who, starting
at the slightest reflection upon himself, would say habitually things
which it exceeded mortal self-respect to tolerate. In those moods
you avoided him, and forgave him because it was his nature, to which he
had never taught restraint. When he became eminent he kindly
undertook to teach my eldest son his art. It was a distinction to be
his pupil. But, with frequent kindness, there were outbursts of
imputation which imperilled manliness itself to submit to. I have
seen his best physician refuse further to attend him in consequence of his
porcupine episodes. Yet, being just at heart, he would, like
Carlyle, speak generously of the same persons, and, if others disparaged
them, would defend them with many a bright and graceful phrase.
Merritt thought that no one would remember what he never meant. Had
I not known what heredity and circumstances do for all of us, I should
have had sharp and permanent contempt, where I had only compassion and
forbearance. Pained as an honourable man is that his nature should
so betray him against those whom he regards, Merritt made, when he had
means, what reparation he could by gifts. These he made to persons
in whom I was interested, which was his way of giving me (as he thought)
pleasure. In vain I besought him not to do it. For myself, I
never had any gift from him, nor did I seek one, and he knew it.
Thus in some instances he destroyed my natural authority by attracting
expectation to himself, and left me a legacy of mischief which made me say
on one occasion that Merritt with the best intention brought great misery
on others and requited some one else. His friendship was a pleasure
to me and a misfortune. Merritt had the elements of a noble
character in him, and, counting the disadvantages which he surmounted and
the eminence he attained in art and in literature, owing everything to his
honesty and skill, he deserves a place in the annals of remarkable men.
A wise ancient said, "Know thyself." Merritt did not know himself.
Of all knowledge possible to him he lacked this alone.
THE CHARTIST ADVOCATE.
OWN I have the sympathies of Old Mortality. In
my time I have perpetuated the memory of many unregarded heroes, who gave
their strength, and in some cases their lives, in defence of the people
who had forgotten, or who had never inquired, to whom they owed their
Ernest Charles Jones will, however, be long remembered by
Chartist generations. He was the son of a Major Jones, of high
connections, who had served in the wars of Wellington, and was at
Waterloo. He was subsequently equerry to the Duke of Cumberland,
afterwards Ernest I. of Hanover, and uncle of Queen Victoria.
Major Jones's mother was an Annesley, daughter of a squire of Kent.
His only son, Ernest, was born in Vienna, in January, 1819. His
father having an estate in Holstein, on the border of the Black Forest,
Ernest Jones passed his boyhood there, and in 1830, when eleven years old,
he set out across the Black Forest, with a bundle under his arm, to "help
the Poles." With a similar precarious equipment, he in after years
set out to help the Chartists. He was educated at St.
Michael's College in Luneburg, where only high-caste students were
admitted, and where he won distinction by delivering an oration in German.
In 1838, he became a regular attendant at the English Court, where he was
presented by the Duke of Beaufort. He married into the aristocratic
family of Gibson Atherley, of Barfield, Cumberland, the name being borne
by his son Atherley Jones, now member of Parliament. We of the
Chartist times all knew the gentle lady who lived in Brompton during the
dreary days of her husband's frightful imprisonment.
In 1844, Ernest Jones was called to the Bar of the Inner
Temple. All along he had high tastes and high prospects. Thus
he was reared under circumstances which did not render it necessary that
he should have any sympathy with the people. But the inspiration of
poetry came to him. The influence of Byron may be seen in his verse.
He had no mean capacity of song. With better fortune than befell him
when he had cast his lot with Chartism, and with more leisure, he would
have been a poet of mark: but he threw fortune away. His family did
not like the idea of his being a Chartist rhymer. His uncle, Holton
Annesley, offered to leave him £2,000 a year if he would abandon Chartist
advocacy. If not, he would leave the fortune to another—and he did.
Mr. Jones must have had in him elements of a valorous integrity to refuse
that splendid prospect. He knew well what he was about, and that the
service of the people would not keep him in bread. They whom he
served were not able to do it—they had too many needs of their own.
He had declined his uncle's wealthy offer in terms of noble but disastrous
pride, and the fortune he relinquished was given to his uncle's gardener.
Though he had chosen penury, he retained the patrician taste natural to
him, and made a point of not taking payment for his speeches and
addresses. There was more pride than sense in this. Those who
consumed his days in travelling and his strength in speaking could and
would have made him some remuneration. Without it his home must be
unprovided. Making a speech has as fair a claim to payment as
writing an article. Honest oratory is as much entitled to costs as
honest literature. Mr. Jones often walked from town to town without
means of procuring adequate refreshment by day or accommodation by night.
On some occasions an observant Chartist would buy him a pair of shoes,
seeing his need of them. Ernest Jones published the People's
Paper—the sale of which did not pay expenses. The sense of debt
was a new burden to him. On one occasion when I printed for him, and
he was considerably in arrears, he said, "I must go to my friend
Disraeli." An hour later he returned, and handed my brother Austin
three of several £5 notes. He had others in his hand. That
politic Minister inspired many Chartists with hatred of the Whigs, whom he
himself disliked, because they did not favour his circuitous pretensions;
and when he found Chartists of genius having the same hatred, he would
supply them with money, the better to give effect to it. I never
knew any Chartist in the habit of taking money, who took it for the
abandonment of his principles; nor do I believe Disraeli ever gave it them
for that purpose. Their undiscerning hatred answered Tory ends.
It was July, 1848, when Mr. Jones was sentenced to two years'
solitary imprisonment, and to find two sureties of £100 each and himself
£200 for three years after his release—for saying, "Only organise, and you
will see the green flag floating over Downing Street; let that be
accomplished, and John Mitchell shall be brought back again to his native
country, and Sir G. Grey and Lord John Russell shall be sent out to
exchange places with him." This was simply amusing, and there was no
more danger of this happening than of a flock of pigeons stopping a
railway train. In the same speech for which he was condemned, he
gave the same advice to the meeting that I had given to the delegates to
the Convention in the John Street Hall, on the night before the 10th of
When Jones was imprisoned, it was sought to humiliate him.
The Whigs did it, but the Tories would have done the same—yet the Whigs
were more bound to respect the advocates of the people. Jones was
required to pick oakum. Being a gentleman, he refused to be degraded
as a criminal. Politics was not a crime. In the case of
Colonel Valentine Baker, the Government had just respect for a 'gentlemen;
but not when the gentlemen was the political advocate of the poor, though
Jones was socially superior to Baker.
Mr. Jones was kept in solitary confinement on the silent
system—enforced with the utmost rigour for nineteen months. He
complied with all the prison regulations, excepting oakum picking.
That he steadfastly refused, as he would never bend himself to voluntary
degradation. To break his firmness on this point he was again and
again confined in a dark cell and fed on bread and water.
When suffering from dysentery, he was put into a cell in an
indescribable state from which a prisoner who died from cholera had been
carried. It may be reasonably assumed that it was intended to kill
him. The cholera was then raging in London, and, had Jones died, no
question would have been asked. Still the authorities never
succeeded in making him pick oakum.
In the second year of his imprisonment he was so broken in
health that he could no longer stand upright, and was found lying on the
floor of his cell. Only then was he taken to the hospital. He
was told, if he would petition for his release and abjure politics, the
remainder of his sentence would be remitted. This he refused, and he
was sent back to his cell. Let anyone consider what those two dreary
years of indignity, brutality, peril, and solitude must have been to
a man like Ernest Jones—nervous, sanguine, ambitious, with his fiery
spirit, fine taste, and consciousness of great powers—and restrain if he
can admiration of that splendid courage and steadfastness.
Unregarded, uncared for, he maintained his self-respect. Thomas
Carlyle went to look at the caged Chartist through the bars of his prison,
and increased, by his heartless and contemptuous remarks, public
indifference to the fate of the friendless prisoner. Carlyle wrote:
"The world and its cares quite excluded for some months to come, master of
his own time, and spiritual resources to, as I supposed, a really enviable
extent." This shows that, like meaner men, Carlyle could write
without facts, or even inquiring for them. Ernest Jones, "master of
his own time," had to pick oakum, or spend his days in a dark cell.
Thus his "spiritual resources" were limited. He was refused a Bible
even, and had to write with his blood. His "really enviable"
condition was that of knowing that his wife was ignorant whether he was
dead or alive, and he was denied the knowledge what fate in the cholera
season had befallen her or his children, for whom no provision existed.
In his savage imprisonment he did write poems, but it had to
be done with his own blood—not from sensationalism, but from necessity,
pen and ink being denied him. Undaunted, he returned on his
liberation to his old advocacy of the people. Mr. Benjamin Wilson,
of Salterhebble, Halifax, who knew Jones well, has given many facts not
before known of his career in the "Struggles of Old Chartists."
Ernest Jones and I were associated in Chartist agitation
while it lasted. I was a visitor at his fireside at Brompton.
Mrs. Ernest Jones, a lady of great refinement, shared the
vicissitudes of his Chartist days, which shortened her own. Mr.
Jones left London in 1859, and went to Manchester with a sad heart.
Practice at the Bar had to be won. One night, after attending the
court at Leeds, he was met by Mr. Moses Clayton, who found he had no home
to go to. A home was found him at Dr. Skelton's, and a brief
also next day. He had come to the resolution that night that he
would see no morning. Afterwards better fortune came to him.
He had the chance of being member for Dewsbury. He was nearly
elected member for Manchester, and the reversion of the seat to him was
likely when he suddenly died. His grand energy, fatigue, and
exposure killed him. Had he reached Parliament, he had all the
qualities which promised a great career there. Shortly before his
death he spent some hours with me in my chambers in Cockspur Street,
overlooking Trafalgar Square, discussing a favourite theory of his—the
manner in which an actor on the stage of the world should quit it.*
In every workshop in Great Britain, in mine and mill, and in
other lands where his name was familiar, there was sadness when his death
was known. His friend in many a conflict, George Julian Harney, sent
from America to the Newcastle Daily Chronicle an impassioned
account of the effect of the news on him as he read it in a telegram in
Mr. Jones had a strong musical voice, energy and fire, and a
more classic style of expression than any of his compeers in agitation.
When he spoke at the grave of Benjamin Rushton of Ovenden, he began:—"We
meet to-day at a burial and a birth—the burial of a noble patriot is the
resurrection of a glorious principle. The foundation stones of
liberty are the graves of the just; the lives of the departed are the
landmarks of the living; the memories of the past are the beacons of the
Despite his popular sympathies and generous sacrifices for
the people, the patrician distrust of them, now and then, broke out, as
when he wrote:—
"Ill fare the men who, flushed with sudden power,
Would uproot centuries in a single hour.
Gaze on those crowds—is theirs the force that saves?
What were they yesterday?—a horde of slaves!
What are they now but slaves without their chains?
The badge is cancelled, but the man remains."
There is some truth in these lines. The abatements I take to be
these:—1. You can't "uproot centuries" if you try. 2.
The "crowds" are always better than they look. 3. The "slaves"
are always free in spirit long before they get rid of "their chains." 4.
When the "badge is cancelled," the "man" who "remains" generally turns
out a gladsome, practical creature.
In the nobler vein which so well became him, he vindicated
with a poet's insight his own career:—
"Men counted him a dreamer? Dreams
Are but the light of clearer skies—
Too dazzling for our naked eyes.
And when we catch their flashing beams
We turn aside and call them dreams.
Oh! trust me every thought that yet
In greatness rose and sorrow set,
That time to ripening glory nurst,
Was called an 'idle dream' at first."
Mr. Morrison Davidson has published the most comprehensive sketch of the
career of Ernest Jones which has appeared, and a noble volume might be
made of his poems, speeches and political writings. Because he
opposed middle-class projects and broke up their meetings, little
attention was paid to his views by those who would have been most
impressed by them. Before their day he was as well informed as Karl
Marx or Henry George on questions of capital and land, and held eventually
wider views of co-operation than were advocated in his time. It
would have been economy to mankind to have pensioned Ernest Jones, that he
might have devoted his genius to oratory, literature, and liberty.
Those of this generation who have not in their memory any
instance of Ernest Jones's eloquence, may see it in the following passage
from his Lecture on the Middle Ages and the Papacy.
“You have been
told that the Church in the Dark Ages was the preserver of learning, the
patron of science, and the friend of freedom. The preserver of
learning in the Dark Ages! It was the Church that made these ages dark.
The preserver of learning! Yes, as the worm-eaten oak chest preserves a
manuscript. No more thanks to them than to the rats for not
devouring its pages. It was the Republics of Italy and the Saracens
of Spain that preserved learning—and it was the Church that trod out the
light of those Italian Republics. The patron of science! What? When
they burned Savonarola and Bruno, imprisoned Galileo, persecuted Columbus,
and mutilated Abelard? The friend of freedom! What? When they crushed the
Republics of the South, pressed the Netherlands like the vintage in a
wine-kelter, girdled Switzerland with a belt of fire and steel, banded the
crowned tyrants of Europe against the Reformers of Germany, and launched
Claverhouse against the Covenanters of Scotland? The friend of freedom!
When they hedged kings with a divinity! Their superstitions alone upheld
the rotten fabric of oppression. Their superstitions alone turned
the indignant freeman into a willing slave and made men bow to the Hell
they created here by a hope of the Heaven they could not insure hereafter.
There is nothing so corrupt that the Papacy has not befriended, and but
one gleam of sunshine flashes across the black picture, in the
architecture of its churches, the painting of its aisles, and the music of
Note: After his death an "Ernest Jones Fund " was
proposed. Lord Armstrong, then Sir William, sent two guineas to the
Punch office, which was sent to me for the Fund.
PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATURE IN LEICESTER.
THE Liberals of Leicester had sent deputations to
London in support of Mr. Bradlaugh, who was excluded from his seat in
Parliament on the ground of atheistical opinions, which were held to
disqualify him from taking the oath. The appearance at the bar of
another member equally disqualified to make oath would have strengthened
the argument for affirmation. A vacancy occurring at that time in
the representation of the borough, I offered myself as a candidate.
My primary qualification consisted in my being the only public man in
England—not a Quaker—who on no occasion and for no private or public
advantage had ever taken an oath. I made it clear that, if chosen as
member for Leicester, I should take no oath either by speech or pantomime,
nor profane the oath in the opinion of men of Christian conviction, by
solemnly repeating words which indicated no corresponding belief in my
mind. But if any tribunal, exacting the oath and knowing my
opinions, treated the oath as a mere secular undertaking of good faith,
there would be neither profanity nor deceit in taking it, though there
would be repugnance in using a form of words otherwise disingenuous,
ambiguous, and misleading.
Apart from this question, the chances were against me, as I
had been long known as one having decided views on public questions;
whereas the most presentable candidates are men who have spoken no word of
principle—written no books—made no effort—taken no side—professed no
principle—helped in no contest—shared in no sacrifice—served in no forlorn
hope. Men who have done nothing, who are uncommitted to anything,
and upon whom no one has any reason to depend, are the candidates mostly
chosen. The cowards who kept on the outskirts of the field while the
fight was going on—all the supine and superfine, who sat before the cosy
fire with their feet upon the fender, while the combatants were out in the
tempest—find laid at their feet the spoils of progress which others have
As to my professions, I said I was no Tory Radical,
professing to be more "advanced" than anybody else, and helping the enemy
on every occasion. I was no Social Democrat, offering the people
comfort as a charity instead of putting in their hands the right and means
of commanding it by honest effort. I was no reformer by
confiscation. I was not a Liberal who would trust, without
conditions, the wise with the fortunes of the many, nor the many with the
fortunes of the wise, nor set one against the other—but would charge both
equally with responsibility for the honour and welfare of the State.
I followed the path of the great Minister who brought in our new Franchise
Bill. All other Ministers bringing in Reform Bills have studied how
many they could exclude from it. Mr. Gladstone has been the first
Minister who has studied how many he could include in it. I am for
trusting the Minister who trusts the people, and for supporting with my
vote that foreign policy which is just without sentimentality—brave
without swagger—which keeps faith with treaties adversaries have
made—fights with English courage for English honour, and does not
knowingly murder for prestige.
Mr. Herbert Spencer's opinions on Parliament were published
at the Leicester election. He, being a thinker and an opinion maker,
was well fitted for Parliamentary service. He, however, declined, as
he was for individuality and for independence of the views of
constituencies. On Mr. Spencer's principle every man would have his
will and nobody have his way. He thought "the influence possessed by
members of Parliament" was rated too high—the representative being too
"subject to his constituents." Mr. Spencer held that "laws were
practically made out of doors and simply registered by Parliament."
He, like Lord Sherbrooke, regarded the duties of the delegate as merely
mechanical. Yet could there be a nobler function discharged or
nobler office filled than that of explaining the opinions of those who had
no other way of being heard save by the mouth of their member? Is a
member a machine because he is a delegate? Where is there such a
delegate as a judge upon the bench? His instructions are not merely given
by word of mouth, or at a poll, but discussed in Parliament, fixed with
strictness and printed in books; so that the instructions of a judge are
so defined that, when perfect, he can neither misunderstand nor
misinterpret them. And yet is there not scope on the Bench for the
greatest forensic genius? If a delegate to Parliament was confined
as a judge is, he would have ample scope for his independence and
individuality. But there is a much wider margin in Parliament.
Many who were prominent in smaller circles, as in the Vestry or Town
Council, found themselves powerless in Parliament, because there was
required more art and persuasiveness—there a man has to see farther, to
hear more, to understand better, to master all the points pertaining to a
question, to accord regard to the convictions of others, and present a
question in a light so clear, and with arguments so conclusive, that he
can create conviction on the side of public justice. There is no
assembly in the world where there is greater room for the display of the
highest powers in representing a constituency, interpreting its views,
maintaining them when assailed, and, when need demands, storming the
fortresses of the enemy.
There were in Parliament several members disqualified like
myself by conviction from taking the oath, and Leicester was the one town
most likely to be desirous of opening a door through which an honest man
might enter the House of Commons without humiliation. It proved not
to be so, and thus my candidature ended.
THREE REMARKABLE EXILES.
ENGLAND has often been enriched by the inventive
genius of industrial exiles who have sought our shores for religious
liberty. Not less has it been indebted to political exiles, who,
seeking freedom here, extended it by their teaching and exalted it by
Louis Kossuth, Hungarian patriot
Kossuth was the chief of the few foreigners who took at once
a high place as a public speaker in a new tongue. No sooner had he
landed than he appeared as an English orator, displaying not only mastery
but imposing force. Neither Bright nor Gladstone had then attained
like ascendency on the platform, and Joseph Rayner Stephens, who might be
compared with Kossuth for his mastery of tongues, was silent. Since
Kossuth's day only one orator has with the same suddenness engaged public
imagination—Joseph Cowen. But Kossuth's distinction was the greater
because he spoke in a tongue foreign to him. And what was not less
striking, his reputation was as much owing to what he said as to his
manner of saying it. In his speech on Poland he said: "In the public
life of nations, never is anything accidental. There everything is
cause and effect. An act of political morality can never be
neglected with impunity. Every such neglect is fraught with the
necessity of atoning it with sacrifices, increasing step by step, which,
however, never will remedy the evil, unless the wrong occasioned by that
neglect be redressed. In politics a fault is equivalent to a crime,
and no false political step can ever escape punishment."
In speaking in the House of Legislation, Ohio, Kossuth said:
"The spirit of our age is democratic. All for the people and all by
the people. Nothing about the people without the people. That
is Democracy." The conception of the popular aspiration and the
idiomatic expression of it are alike remarkable. He instructed as
well as declaimed. In Kossuth's speeches you found definition as in
Paine or John Stuart Mill, which is rare in popular orators and writers.
I published Kossuth's oration on the "Independence of
Poland," delivered in Sheffield, June, 1854; but his speeches on the "War
in the East" and "The Alliance with Austria," delivered in Sheffield and
Nottingham the same year, were "published by himself." They were
printed by Tucker, Perry Place, Oxford Street, and sold by him. As
Kossuth had no place of business, he could not "publish by himself."
Probably, by saying so, he merely meant to indicate that they appeared by
his authority. Louis Blanc was long resident in this country.
He Spent twenty years of exile among us, and understood men and things in
England, our politics and prejudices, and more faithfully interpreted them
to the French people than any other exile who ever dwelt in England save
Mazzini. Mr. G. W. Smalley, an American, not an exile, has excelled
in the same art. Kossuth, on the other hand, sometimes entertained
suspicions which fuller information would have made impossible. An
attempt to serve him would seem to him, as it did to Weitling, something
very different. Foreigners as a rule are liable to suspicion, but
Kossuth was so distinguished for cosmopolitan attainments that anything
ordinary became noticeable in him.
In another respect, not of contrast, but of similarity,
Kossuth may be compared with Louis Blanc. Kossuth was regarded as a
man of flexible principles, yet, like Blanc, he proved to have
inflexibility to a degree unforeseen. Kossuth lacked the penetration
of Mazzini, and put such trust in Louis Napoleon as to enter into
negotiation with him when he was Emperor; yet he preferred to live an
exile rather than acknowledge an order of things in his own country he
Louis Blanc was distrusted because the policy of French
Republicanism which he espoused was deemed materialistic. I
published the manifesto of Kossuth, Ledru Rollin, and Mazzini, and also
Louis Blanc's "Reply" thereto. Yet Louis Blanc possessed an
inflexibility on questions of principle as austere as Mazzini himself.
He was many times besought to return to Paris, and offers of a
Parliamentary seat were made, to which he answered—
"Duty could only call me to Paris to take part in Parliamentary struggles,
if the electors should assign me a post. But this post no power on
earth can make me occupy, so long as I must needs, in order to do so, take
an oath which is not in my heart.
"Do the people really wish to be the sovereign? Let
them elect those who refuse to take the oath; let them elect them, not in
spite of, but because of their refusal."
These sentiments are all the more remarkable since few public men in
England have expressed them or acted upon them.
This resolution was as noble as the warning was wise, and
Louis Blanc remained an exile until Sedan swept the false Emperor away.
His exile lasted twenty years. I knew him from the beginning to the
end, during his residence in London and Brighton. It was said of
him, and of his distinguished but more demonstrative brother Charles, that
Charles was a reed painted like iron, while Louis was iron painted like a
reed. This was true. Beneath Louis Blanc's passionless
cordiality lay impassable determination, which neither profit, nor
applause, nor obscurity, nor neglect could divert from honest principle.
Though a small man, smaller than the First Napoleon, he had none of the
self-assertion by which little people often seek to conceal their
diminutiveness. Louis Blanc was a self-possessed man, and, alike
when he conversed or spoke on the platform, you never thought of his
stature under the boldness of his tones and his commanding gesture.
He ranked among the great political historians of France.
Like M. Thiers, he made history a stepping-stone to power. The
"History of the Consulate and the Empire" led to Thiers becoming a
statesman; and the "History of Ten Years" mainly inspired the Revolution
of 1848, and made Louis Blanc a member of the Provisional Government.
Unlike Ledru Rollin, whom he resembled in a noble irreconcilability, Louis
Blanc had literary genius and capacity for statesmanship, which consists
in understanding what measures are best conducive to the greatest
happiness of the greatest number, and acting with large toleration.
Blanc continued to maintain his influence as a commanding force in French
politics until his death. It seemed as though all Paris followed him
to the tomb. Since the burial of Thiers so great a concourse had not
marched to a tomb until Hugo died. I was proud to be one of his
English friends invited by Louis Blanc's family to follow him to his
Ledru Rollin was another exile of note who had a singular
career. When he did return to France, another generation had grown
up, to whom he was unknown. Exile is a fatal power in the hands of
tyranny: since it not only kills influence, it kills reputation.
Louis Blanc having literary powers, his pen kept his name before his
countrymen. Rollin's power was in the courts, on the platform, and
in the Senate. Exile destroyed it. Mazzini said of him that he
was the only Frenchman who gave up a public position and sacrificed
himself for the welfare of a country not France, and for a cause not
French. He incurred exile by his generous championship of the cause
of Italy. He was what he appeared in Madame Venturi's painting of
him—of manly bearing, of conscious power, yet withal unobtrusive in
manner. That Barthelemy—a duellist whom some regarded as a murderer,
and who was eventually hanged at Newgate for an undoubted murder—was
hostile to the famous tribune is proof that he was less extreme than he
was taken to be. Some politicians speak better than they act: Rollin
acted more wisely than he spoke. The Royalist press of England
decried him because of the title of a book he published some time after
his arrival in England—"The Decadence of England." That work
contained nothing but what we knew—nothing but what we had said ourselves.
Had the great Republican lawyer entitled his volume, "Extracts from the
Morning Chronicle," or "England drawn by Horace Mayhew," or the "Fall of
the English Foretold by Themselves," any one of these titles would have
expressed the character of the work. But because the author employed
another title, the public were incited to take offence at the book.
Six out of every seven titles of books have no relation to their contents.
Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin
The sagacious French jurist, no doubt, saw signs of decadence
in England, in aristocratic incumbrance. With the millstone of noble
incompetence hanging round the neck of the nation, he might well think
Britain was going to sink "ten thousand fathoms deep." What Ledru
Rollin could not see was that England has the power of renewing its youth.
The Sindbad of Britain will not carry the Old Man of Privilege on its back
for ever. Soaring, it will drop the aristocratic tortoise on some
well-chosen rock, and smash it. Rollin thought he saw the old
English lion stuffed with cotton. The noble brute who, in the days
of Cromwell, could roar until he made the isles resound and Europe
reverberate, seemed turned into a puff-bellied, flaxen-hearted old beast,
whose lungs were a pair of steam-boilers, his breath condensed vapour, his
molars spinning jennies, and his royal old tail a horizontal factory
chimney. With these signs before him, Ledru Rollin might conclude
the English nation was declining.
When the recruiting sergeant went to Manchester and Preston,
did he not find the men too stunted to reach the standard and too weak to
wield a sword? The race had been spun up in Jacquard looms. Many who
condemned Ledru Rollin's book hastened to abolish these signs of the
decline of manhood in our manufacturing towns. We needed a foreigner
to tell us this fact which our own statesmen did not see, or did not own,
and did not alter, and have not done it wholly yet.
REMARKABLE WORKING-CLASS POLITICIANS.
BEFORE mentioning those who are the chief subjects
of this chapter, I cite two who will have no other biographer. One
is Allan Davenport, known at the beginning of this century as an
enthusiastic advocate of the Spencerian system—not the new one of Herbert
Spencer, but his of agrarian repute. Davenport wrote verse.
His last publication he dedicated to me. I remember it, because it
was the first time that distinction came to me. The poet was thin,
and pale, and poor. He lived about the East End, was known at every
workman's political meeting, and any surplus over his personal needs
arising from his daily labour, was spent in publications giving
information to men of his order, whom he sought to serve.
The other was John Weston—the thinnest, wiriest, gentlest,
yet most ardent, prompt, and demonstrative of working-class politicians.
There was nothing of him save his voice and his ceaseless energy. He
was a workman who owed everything to himself. He was a cow-boy and a
page-boy in his youth, and at last hand-rail maker—a trade he learned
himself. And no man knew it better, or so well, for he wrote a book
upon it,, which is an authority in the trade. He lived to be
seventy-two, working ten to twelve hours a day at the bench, and making
speeches when evening came. With the independence which only a good
workman can afford to show, he carried his principles into every house,
high or low, where he went, and gave his opinions upon public questions to
the noblest employer who fell into conversation with him. He stood
none of the Imperialistic Communism and State Socialism of Carl Marx, but
confronted that master of agitation, and carried resolutions against him.
Whatever good movement was on foot anywhere in the metropolis, Weston was
soon in it, if, indeed, he were not there first; and yet there were more
home difficulties in his way, of the Zantippe type, than any man save
Socrates had to encounter. But no discomfort deterred him. Of
all men of gentle spirit I have known he was the fiercest worker: a jelly
fish in speech, he was dynamite in action. He had the genuine passion
of progress which brings good to others, but only gratitude and poverty to
those who have it.
Those who look back fifty years usually remember a few
persons among working-class politicians of whom they find no parallel at
the present day. In diplomacy, in oratory, indeed in every
department of human professions or trades, some observe the same thing.
Fifty years hence, people will look back upon these days and distinguish a
few men in every class who surpassed all others in conspicuousness of
service, manifesting qualities unlike any of their compeers. The
reason is that there is excellence in every generation, but not of the
same kind. The Quintin Matzys and Benvenuto Cellinis have been
superseded by machinery; but the genius which conceives the wonderful
machines that now do the work of the world is but another form of genius,
and surpasses in its way anything which preceded it. Henry
Hetherington, Richard Moore, and James Watson, three working-class
politicians, had remarkable qualities not common now, though no doubt
there are men of this day as remarkable in relation to their time and the,
new work now requiring to be done.
Henry Hetherington was a Londoner, being born in Compton
Street, Soho, 1792. He was apprenticed to the father of Luke Hansard,
the Parliamentary printer. For some time he worked in Belgium.
In London he was the most energetic working man who assisted Dr. Birkbeck
in establishing Mechanics' Institutions. Though then a Radical
politician, he was desirous that working men should have knowledge—the
better to use the increase of freedom they were then seeking. In
1830 he was chosen by his Radical colleagues to draw up the "Circular for
the Formation of Trades Unions," out of which arose the National Union of
the Working Classes; and out of that union arose Chartism.
In 1831, Hetherington commenced to print and publish his
famous unstamped paper, the Poor Man's Guardian, at one penny, when
newspapers were sixpence and ninepence each. This was the first
messenger of popular and political intelligence which reached the working
classes. Three convictions were soon obtained against him. He
was imprisoned for six months and again imprisoned for six months.
The names of "Hetherington, Watson, and Cleave" were in the mouths of
every newsvendor and mechanic in the three kingdoms, Hetherington's name
being always mentioned first. On the title-page of the Poor Man's
Guardian appeared the candid but perilous words, "Published in defiance of
the law, to try the power of right against might." This was not a
profitable business. He had to leave his shop disguised, and return
to it disguised—sometimes as a Quaker, a waggoner, or a costermonger.
After one of his flights he returned to London to see his dying mother,
when a Bow Street runner seized him as he was knocking at the door.
To distribute his paper, dummy parcels were sent off by persons instructed
to make all resistance they could to constables who seized them, and in
the meantime real parcels were sent by another road. His shopmen
were imprisoned, his premises entered, his property taken, and men were
brought into the house by constables who broke up, with blacksmith's
hammers, his press and his type; as the reader has seen recounted in the
chapter, "The Trouble with Queen Anne."
In 1840 he was sentenced to four months' imprisonment for
publishing "Haslam's Letters to the Clergy"—a performance which would not
disquiet General Booth, and which Mr. Spurgeon would dismiss with the
feeble censure of being a "down grade" book. Hetherington defended
himself, Lord Denman saying he had "listened to him with sentiments of
respect." Acting on the militant advice of Francis Place,
Hetherington indicted Moxon for publishing Shelley's works, when Serjeant
Talfourd discovered that the power of indicting gentlemen for publishing
the works of gentlemen "was a fearful engine of oppression," which led
eventually to restriction being put upon that "right of action" dear to
the clerical mind. He died in London, 1849, of cholera, through
trusting to his habitual temperance and distrust of medical aid. At
his burial at Kensal Green, 2,000 persons assembled, and I made the first
funeral oration it fell to me to deliver. I spoke from the tomb of "Publicola"
of the Weekly Dispatch, who had oft defended Hetherington in the dark days
of conflict. Hetherington had a strong, honest voice and genial
manners. He was the first trade unionist who told his colleagues
that the co-operative workshop was the bulwark of the strike, and that
they were not to rob any class, but take care no class robbed them—or, as
Carlyle put it later, "Thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not be stolen
James Watson was a Malton man (Yorkshire), distinguished as a
Radical and Liberal publisher by integrity, courage, and a Puritan
inflexibility of character. He came up to London to act as shopman
to Richard Carlile, and underwent successive imprisonments when judges
were insulting and their sentences merciless. A magistrate being
ostentatiously Christian was no guarantee of justice or civility in his
time. Becoming familiar with Mr. Owen's views, Hetherington
undertook in 1828 the agency of the Co-Operative Store at 36, Red Lion
Square, and in 1829 he went through Northern towns promoting the formation
of co-operative, political, and free inquiry societies. When he came
to London, in 1823, it was to defend Carlile, whom he had never seen, and
who was then in Dorchester Gaol. Mrs. Carlile had just been
liberated after two years' imprisonment. Carlile's house was then
201, Strand. For selling a copy of Palmer's "Principles of Nature,"
which nobody cared for then and nobody understands now, Watson was
sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment. This was in 1823.
Three of his fellow-shopmen were sentenced in 1824 to three years'
imprisonment. For ten years the Government did business chiefly in
sentences. In 1825, Watson was attacked by cholera, followed by
typhus and brain fever. Julian Hibbert took him to his house at
Kentish Town and nursed him eight weeks. Watson had learned
printing, and Hibbert employed him to set up a Greek work he was writing
at that time. Afterwards Hibbert gave Watson press and types, and
left him 450 guineas in his will, which Watson spent in bringing out
editions of forbidden books. In 1832, when gentlemen went abroad to
escape the cholera, and left a Fast Day at home for the poor, Watson was
arrested for organising a public procession of protest against a Fast,
when the people needed less labour and more food. Watson and his
friends Lovell and Benbow completed their "fast" in the lockup at Bow
Street, which was the way to give them cholera. In 1833 he received
six months' imprisonment for selling the Poor Man's Guardian.
In 1834, within a month of his marriage, he was again subjected to six
months' imprisonment. But nothing moved him from his purpose.
To disparage these sacrifices, it was said in the hostile press that those
who incurred imprisonment were tools and were unable to defend themselves.
Then they did defend themselves; when the judges made it worse for them.
Watson, Hetherington, Carlile, all who defended the right of the free
publicity of Radical or unorthodox opinion, were straightforward and
defiant. Whether they fought against the Crown or the Church, they
denied nothing they had done, they explained nothing away, they evaded
nothing, and they never asked for mercy. Watson published Bronterre
O'Brien's "Life of Robespierre," and Babœuf's "Conspiracy," and
Thomas Cooper's "Purgatory of Suicides." I was his successor in
Hetherington and Watson were friends. Neither would
accept any business which one thought the other ought to have, or would
like to have. Of the same pursuits, they engaged in the same
contests, were inspired with the same ideas, worked for the same public
objects. Both suffered in the same way, for the same cause.
Both regarded the cause they represented as sacred; both had pride; both
exalted their principles by their character.
Another who did this was Richard Moore (born in London, 1810),
a wood-carver in Hart Street, Bloomsbury. He took an active part in
Westminster and Finsbury politics. He was one of the Radicals who
acted under the inspiration of Francis Place. He and James Watson
married two sisters, who shared their interest in public affairs.
The People's Charter was signed by six members of Parliament and six
working men. Moore was, one of the six, and was one of the Council
of the National Political Union of 1830, and of the Chartist Convention of
1839. For twelve years he was chairman of the Association for
Repealing the Taxes on Knowledge. Though interested mainly in
politics, he was, like Watson and Lovett, active in the Socialist movement
of Robert Owen, in which he acquired, as others did, placability of
character. He rendered Mr. Owen aid at Gray's Inn Rooms, when Mr.
Owen gave the use of his large apartment on Sundays for his friend Edward
Irving to preach in, when he had been expelled from the Scotch Church,
Regent's Square, for heresy. Moore, as member of the council of the
National Union, took part in opening a political newsroom on Sunday, the
first time working men had the independence to do it. Mr. C. D.
Collett, in his life of Moore, relates that W. J. Fox approved of it,
saying working men had as much right as gentlemen had to enter their
newsroom on a Sunday. All his life Moore worked at his trade, never
seeking anything for himself. He was unnoticed, because he had no
speciality save disinterestedness, energy, and good sense. He had no
arrogance, or egotism, or bluster, which destroy political associations
among the middle as well as among the working class, where enthusiasm in
adherents has often been dissipated by personal ambition in leaders.
Moore was the reverse of all this. Never swerving from
well-considered principle, abating no demand which was ascertained to be
just, never imperilling a claim by putting it forward in an offensive way,
he persisted in it to the end. On the way to the end, concession of
some portion of the demand became oft imperative. These he would
accept, and in due time proceed with the advocacy of the remainder.
When the Lodger Franchise Association of Finsbury closed,
Moore himself discharged the balance of its expenses remaining unpaid
(£20). As he left little at his death, a presentation was made to
Mrs. Moore. Mr. Milner Gibson sent £25, Mr. Stansfeld, M.P., Mr.
Cowen, Mr. Novello, and others joined. In these days, when
newspapers fill columns with notices of the known who have done nothing,
it is but justice to devote a little to the unknown who have done much.
The Rev. Mr. White, the Speaker's chaplain, as was befitting
the end of the old Parliamentary Reformer, read the service at his grave
in Highgate Cemetery, at which Mr. Joseph Cowen was present, which would
have given gratification to Moore could he have known it.
William Lovett, with Watson, Moore, and Hetherington, made a
quadrilateral of remarkable working-men politicians. Lovett was a
Cornish man. In 1828 he was the first manager of the Greville Street
Co-operative Store, where men afterwards famous, as J. A. Roebuck, J. S.
Mill, and others, oft attended meetings for promoting social progress.
It was Lovett's hand which drew the People's Charter, which Roebuck
revised. Lovett was the first person who drew up and sent to
Parliament a petition for opening museums and art galleries on Sunday.
In 1839 he was imprisoned two years with John Collins in Warwick Gaol for
having issued a protest against the violence of the Government in putting
down public meetings in the Bull Ring, Birmingham, by London policemen.
Lovett published a scheme, devised in Warwick Gaol, of political education
for the people, for he was always for intelligent liberty. Lovett
was an excellent political secretary. He observed everything, made
notes of everything, and kept everything relating to important conference.
His fault was that he had too much suspicion of the motives of others not
taking his view of things. Later in life he was teacher and
superintendent of the only secular schools we had in London, established
and supported by William Ellis, an early colleague of Mr. Mill.
Lovett died in 1877, and I spoke at his grave at Highgate, quoting as
relating to him the words of W. R. Greg:—"t is not by the monk in his
cell, or the saint in his closet, but by the valiant worker in humble
sphere and in dangerous days, that the landmarks of liberty are pushed
forward"—a sentiment which applies to all of whom I have here written.
QUITE A NEW VIEW OF JOHN BRIGHT.
BRIGHT resembled a Company Limited. Compared
with average men he was a company in himself, but, not being registered
under the Companies Act, few noticed that his trading capital of
convictions (if his noble qualities may be so spoken of) was limited.
No other simile I can think of so well describes what was not understood
In politics there is more eagerness than observation.
Public men are not adequately regarded for what they do, and are often
praised for what they do not intend to do. Champions of a popular
question are taken to be champions of all that the people desire.
Those who have long observed public men know where and on what questions
they will fail the people. Hardly ten leaders in a hundred are
thorough and can be trusted all round—not so much because they are base,
as because they are limited in knowledge or sympathy, and are for a
question without knowing or caring for the principle of it. The safe
rule is to accord leaders full credit for the service they do render, and
not count on more, unless they give reason for such expectation.
The Tory hatred of Mr. Bright which long prevailed was
without foundation, and the eulogies passed upon him since his death for
merits but lately discerned, have given the public no consistent or
complete idea what manner of man he was politically. Not being under
youthful illusions as to public men is an advantage. I may do them
more justice for the service they do render, and not defame them, nor feel
disappointment at their not doing what is not and never was, in their
nature to do.
Mr. Bright was not a political tribune of the people, though
his fame was political. He was a social tribune—though he was
against Socialism. Working men distrusted Mr. Bright when he first
became known to them, because he was against the Factory Acts, which he
regarded as opposed to free trade between employer and workman, and did
not see that where humanity comes in, humanity is to be respected, and is
not to be subjected to laws of barter. Mr. Bright was for Free Trade
before everything, and the Chartists were of the same mind, being for
political freedom before everything. We have lived to see men of
higher position than Chartists persist in their own views to the peril of
every other interest. Mr. Bright professed no sympathy with Chartist
aims, and they knew he was not with them; but when Free Trade brought them
better wages and fuller employment they respected Mr. Bright for his
defence of it, and when he advocated the suffrage they thought he was with
them in their political theories, not seeing that Mr. Bright was still
Conservative, and moving in a plane apart from them. He never
expressed sympathy for struggling nationalities. The patriots of
Poland—of Hungary, of Italy, of France—never had help from his voice.
He was silent on Neapolitan and Austrian oppression which moved the heart
of Mr. Gladstone. He was incapable of approving the perjury and
usurpation of Louis Napoleon, but no protest came from him. He was
for the extension of the suffrage, because it was a necessity—not because
it was a right. With him the franchise was a means to an end, and
that end was the creation of a popular force for the maintenance of Free
Trade, international peace, and public economy. Politically, he
regarded the voter not as a man, but as an elector—nor did he think it
necessary that all men should be electors. He was content if the
majority of the people had a determining power, and whatever franchise
gave this was sufficient in his eyes. He had no sympathy with
manhood suffrage, and less for womanhood suffrage. He believed in
the aristocracy of sex, and thought the political equality of women
unnecessary, a perplexing and disturbing element in electoral
calculations. That manhood suffrage gave dignity to the individual,
by investing him with power and responsibility, was not much in his mind.
Womanhood suffrage, enabling half the human race to bring their quicker,
gentler, and juster influence to bear on public affairs in which their
welfare and that of their children are concerned, was outside Mr. Bright's
There are two sorts of Tories—those who seek power for ends
of personal supremacy; and the better sort, who seek to retain power in
order to do good, but the good is to be good they give the people—the Tory
belief being that the people cannot be trusted to determine what is good
for themselves. Mr. Bright was better than the better sort of
Tories. He believed a majority of the people were to be trusted.
So far he was for Liberalism—but he was for Liberalism Limited. The
Whigs of 1832 put down borough-mongering and entrusted the franchise to a
"worshipful company of ten-pound householders." Mr. Bright was for
enlarging that company by the admission of six-pound householders.
When the Duke of Wellington heard new prayers read which were not to be
found in the old, crude prayer book of the Established Church, he refused
to join in them, as being "fancy prayers." Following in the Duke's
steps Mr. Bright contemptuously called any new scheme of enfranchisement,
which increased the number of electors indefinitely, "fancy franchises." 
The Duke was for addressing Heaven by regulation prayers, and in the same
spirit Mr. Bright was for "standing on the old lines." He was
against working-class representation just as the Tories were against
middle-class representation. Those in possession always think they
sufficiently represent those excluded. Mr. Bright was of this way of
thinking. He had this defence: he meant to be just to all outsiders,
and did not deem it necessary that they should be able to enforce their
own claim in person. Later he applied this doctrine to the whole
He was against the ascendancy of the Church as allied to the
State, not because its ascendancy was an offence against equality, but
because it was contrary to the simplicity of Christ's teaching as he read
it, and because a State Church gave religious sanction to State war.
As a man Mr. Bright put Christianity in the first place as a personal
influence—as a politician he regarded it chiefly as a public force to be
appealed to on behalf of social welfare. What he hated was
injustice; what he abhorred was cruelty, whether of war or slavery; what
he cared for was the comfort and prosperity of common people.
Whatever stood in the way of these things he would withstand, whether the
opposing forces were spiritual principalities, or peers, or thrones.
If they fell, it would be their own fault—the forces of humanity must
triumph. He would not set up privilege, nor would he put it
down—provided it behaved itself. He was no leveller, he envied no
rank, he coveted no distinction; but he was for the honest, industrious
people, whether manufacturers or workmen, having control over their own
interests—come what would.
It was to this end that he opposed the Corn Laws and
advocated Free Trade and the repeal of the taxes on knowledge. He
desired that the people might learn what their social interests were.
He was for the extension of the suffrage, that those who came to
understand their commercial and industrial interests should be able to
insist upon attention, and not have to supplicate for it. If the
governing classes had given heed to social interests, Mr. Bright would
never have invoked the power of the people. Like Canning, he was for
calling in a "new world" [of power] to redress the persistent injustice of
"the old." He would no more have sought the suffrage than Robert
Owen would the support of the people, if his aims could have been realised
without them. Owen went from court to court; he waited in the
ante-chamber of Sidmouth and Liverpool in vain; and when courts and
Ministers gave no heed he appealed to the people. Because he did so,
Liberals and Radicals thought he was with them, but all the while he was a
Tory. Bright, like Owen, cared for the people more than for
theories; and the people, whose principles were opposed to thrones,
thought the great social tribune was with them all through. This was
the mistake which they, and wiser men than they, have made. Bright
aided the extinction of slavery because it shocked his sense of justice
and humanity; but had the slave been well treated, and not bought and sold
and flogged, he might, like Owen, have seen no such harm in it as to
warrant the disturbance of States to put it down. But when its
immorality and cruelty became authentically known to Bright, his noble
sense of humanity was outraged, and his splendid eloquence, like
O'Connell's, was exerted on behalf of the slave.
He was friendly to co-operators—he spoke for their
protection, but never in favour of their principle. Like Bastiat, he
believed in the divinity of competition. He was at once the advocate
of Peace and Competition—the principle of sleepless and pitiless
resistance to the interests of others. With him adulteration was but
a form of competition. This is true. But if adulteration be
its concomitant, that is the condemnation of both. Mr. Bright
thought this reasoning Utopian.
Mr. Bright, like Mr. Disraeli, had little respect for
philosophers. He did not dread them like Lord Beaconsfield, but he
mistrusted them in politics. The region of the philosopher is the
region of the possible. Bright's mind ran always in the region of
the practical. His tendency was to regard new rights as "fads."
The philosophers laid down new lines — he was content with the old.
He, as I have said, ridiculed a franchise founded upon intelligence, as a
"fancy franchise." Yet he sat in the House, himself under a " fancy
franchise." The concession which enabled the Quaker to affirm was a
"fancy franchise;" the Jews were brought into the House by a "fanciful"
alteration of the oath to meet their tribal but honourable fastidiousness.
It was not well that he should have contempt for new paths discovered by
thought; but he was not without merit in his preference for established
roads, since many men give all their time to searching for new precepts
who would be the better for practising the good ones they already have.
If, however, the great Tribune had the characteristics herein
described, the reader will ask, "How is it that he was so widely mistaken
for an aggressive and uncompromising Liberal?" Most men think that
because a man goes down the same street with them he is going to the same
place. Bright accepted the aid of the men of right, without sympathy
with the passion for right, beyond the helpfulness of its advocates in the
attainment of the public ends he cared for. Cobden did the same, but
he owned it, and sought such aid. Bright did neither, but did not
decline alien aid when it came. He was the terror of the Tories, and
they never discerned that he was their friend. He opposed them for
what they did, not for what they were.
When riotous Radicals of 1832 had became fat and contented
middle-class manufacturers, and were shrieking as dismally as
Conservatives against a transfer of power to workmen, Mr. Bright, deserted
by his compeers in Parliament, appeared alone on provincial platforms,
pleading for larger enfranchisement. Members of Parliament,
themselves Liberals, thought the question of the suffrage hopeless for
years to come, and said to me, "Why does Bright go about flogging a dead
horse?" Tories expressed contemptuous scorn for his enthusiasm.
Had he been silent or supine, working men would be without substantial
enfranchisement now. What Ebenezer Elliott wrote of Cobbett they
may, with a change of name, say of Bright:—
"Our friend when other friend we'd none,
Our champion when we had but one;
Cursed by all knaves, beneath this sod
Brave John Bright lies—a man by God."
Yet he had limits in his mind beyond which he would not, and did not, go.
In 1870, he deprecated the admission of working men in Parliament as
likely to increase the evils of class legislation, yet all the while the
House of Commons is, and always has been, full of class interests.
Mr. Bright and his friend Cobden were the great representatives of the
middle class, yet he did not propose that middle-class representation
should cease so that the evils of class representation might cease or
diminish. If any class at all ought to be represented in the House
of Commons, surely it is the working class, who exceed all other classes
in numbers and usefulness in the State. But the idea of democracy
was not in his mind, and women, as part of the human race, having
political interests was simply abhorrent to him. He was always for
the Crown, the Bible, and the Constitution as much as any Conservative.
He was against the Tories—when they put passion in the place of principle
and their interests in the place of duty—but not otherwise.
It is quite a vulgar error to suppose that the democracy are
more undiscerning than patricians. They made as many mistakes about
Mr. Bright as the people did. An illustrious poet could write of him
"This broad-brimmed brawler of holy things,
Whose ear is cramm'd with his cotton, and sings
Even in dreams, to the chink of his pence."
True, this was said long ago. But no one who personally knew Bright,
at his advent in public affairs, could think this. Bright was no
"brawler of holy things." Sincerity and reverence were always deep
in his heart. There was no "cotton in his ears." He knew Free
Trade and peace would benefit the manufacturer, but would benefit the
people more. No politician of his day was less influenced by the
"chink of his pence" than John Bright. Carlyle, with all his
clamorous philosophy, made the same mistake as the poet, in his
contemptuous remark upon the" cock-nosed Rochdale Radical," who had as
fair a nose as the scornful "Sage of Chelsea."
All the while Mr. Bright's eloquence was directed to the
maintenance of an honest garrison in the fortress of authority. He
was the one platform warder of the constitution, but it must minister to
freedom and justice. He spoke no word against the throne from his
first speech until his last. Quakers ask protection from power; they
never seek to subvert power. Their doctrine of non-resistance makes
them the natural allies of monarchs. Penn had the ear of Charles II.
Edmundson had ready audience of King James. Shillitoe prayed with
the Emperor of Russia, who knelt by Shillitoe's side. Quakers were
not spies against freedom, but honest reporters of wrong done, whose
honest impartial word kings could trust. Mr. Bright was always of
the Quaker mind. He regarded authority as of God, but he held that
authority was responsible for righteous rule. He was a courtier with
an honest conscience. He was for the perpetuity of the Crown, and
also, and more so, for the welfare of the people. In one of his
great speeches he avowed:—
"There is a yet auguster thing,
Veiled though it be, than Parliament or King."
Mr. Bright was
always for freedom of conscience, and equally for freedom of action, at
the dictate of conscience. "Are mankind to stand still?" he asked in
one of his earlier speeches. He was for order, but with order there
must be progress. It was this conviction which made him insurgent
against the policy of doing nothing. Now he is gone, there is no
great popular Conservative force left, save Mr. Gladstone.
PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS OF Mr. BRIGHT.
OF Mr. Bright's political appreciation of orthodoxy,
an instance occurred in connection with the Repeal of the Taxes on
Knowledge. It was proposed that I should move, and Mr. C. D. Collet
second, an amendment at the London Tavern, at a public meeting convened by
Mr. Peter Borthwick, M.P., for the purpose of founding a separate
association for repealing the Advertisement duty, leaving out the repeal
of the Paper duty, which he did not desire—the Tories being opposed to it,
and being also against the abolition of the newspaper stamp, which
prevented the people having newspapers in their interests. Mr. C. D.
Collet, the secretary, defended my being appointed to make the anti-Borthwick
speech, on the ground that I was the most likely person to perform a
disagreeable duty in the least disagreeable manner. Mr. Bright, when
told of the appointment, objected on the score of policy—it not being
advisable that the society should be represented on so conspicuous an
occasion by a person of my known opinions on other subjects. "We
might be described by the enemy as a society of atheists." Mr.
Cobden, who was always for carrying a point by whatever force was at hand,
said, when the arrangement was mentioned to him, that "for his part he saw
no objection to my moving the amendment in question, as he would accept
the assistance of the devil in a justifiable enterprise, provided he
observed such regard to personal appearances as might preclude his
identity at an untimely moment." As I was considered a person who
would fulfil these conditions, I was appointed. There was no doubt
in any mind as to my identity with the sable agitator who had been named.
I and Mr. Collet made our speeches, and our resolution was carried.
Mr. Milner Gibson, who had remained in an ante-room until the success of
the motion was clear, came forward and took part in the meeting, it being
thought best that he should not appear at all, unless Mr. Borthwick's
proposal was doomed to defeat. Thus it came to pass that the
resolution against Mr. Borthwick's separatist project was carried
(December 30, 1850), and the Advertisement Duty, the Newspaper Stamp, and
the Paper Tax were kept unitedly before Parliament until they were all
repealed. Mr. Bright's objection to me was on grounds of policy
alone. Personally he was always friendly to me.
As I have said, he possessed a strong sense of personal
religion; there was no narrowness in his judgments. He cared more
for the conduct of men than for their professions. A Cabinet
colleague of Mr. Bright has related that one day objection was made by
some one as to the opinions he supposed me to hold, when Mr. Bright, who
was present, stopped him by saying, "Holyoake is a very good Christian,
and does not know it."
At the burial of Samuel Lucas, the editor of the Morning
Star, I accompanied Mr. Bright to the grave of his sister, who died
soon after her marriage. She was considered beautiful, as most of
the Bright family are. Afterwards, speaking of many things, I asked
him if he remembered a Moslem said to have been in his father's employ who
was considered a famous, manipulator of colours. 
The man was unable, even for reward, to communicate his secret. His
sense of the quality of colour was an instinct, and he decided the
proportions by feeling (by feelth as the Saxons would say more
expressively) on passing the colour through his fingers. On my early
visits to Rochdale I often heard him spoken of by workmen, he being a
foreigner and a Mohammedan. He attended church and passed as a
Christian during his lifetime. When, however, his end came, it was
found that he had the Koran under his pillow, and that he turned his face
to Mecca to die. Christianity did very well for him to live by, but
he could not trust it to die by. In the most unoriental of
towns—Rochdale—he preserved his trust in his Oriental faith. Mr.
Bright was much interested in the story of the man. He might, had he
been in Mr. Bright's employ, have lived openly as a Moslem, and no
disadvantage would have accrued to him on the part of his employer.
Mr. Bright had in his works men of all political, religious, speculative,
and socialistic convictions, who never had reason to conceal their
opinions from him.
The last time I saw Mr. Bright was at One Ash, his residence
in Rochdale, a few months before his death. He showed me the
political presents in his rooms, especially those from America, and
pointed out portraits of members of his family known to me. We
conversed on many things. He was the same to me as ever, although he
knew that with his later opinions I could never be brought to agree—even
by the aid of machinery.
He was the friend of his workpeople; respecting their views,
he asked no questions, but they might ask him any, and he was often
stopped in the mill yard when his advice was wished in some personal
trouble. A visitor might at times see Mr. Bright, while walking
home, overtake one of his waggoners, and converse with him as they went
along, side by side.
At Lord Palmerston's desire, conveyed to me by Mr. Thornton
Hunt, I undertook to ascertain whether Mr. Bright would take office, being
of opinion myself that it was not advantageous for a great leader to
remain outside the Cabinet, to criticise it for not doing more, and not to
go in when it was open to him and attempt to do what he could, where his
presence would at least be a deterrent influence against evil measures to
some extent. Mr. Bright thought differently, and he was more
competent than myself to form an opinion upon that proposal, which
concerned himself alone. Years later, when, in obedience to what he
was assured was the public interest, and under the influence of Mr.
Gladstone's friendship, Mr. Bright took office, he had to present himself
to the Queen as one of her Ministers. The Queen, with that personal
consideration by which she was often distinguished, remembering that Mr.
Bright was a Quaker and might have scruples at kneeling to a monarch, who
refused to uncover his head in the presence of God—therefore caused it to
be made known to Mr. Bright that he might, if he pleased, omit the
ceremony of kneeling on kissing hands. A friend of Mr. Bright's,
thinking this act of fine consideration for the feelings of others ought
to be made public, asked me to state it. When I had ascertained that
there was no objection to the fact being mentioned in print, I
communicated it to the Newcastle Chronicle; but either from
misreading or from the printer having no letter "n" in his case, it was
printed "or" instead of "on"; and it went forth that Mr. Bright was at
liberty to dispense with kneeling or kissing hands on his presentation to
the Queen, which was quite a superfluous concession, as a Quaker is never
wanting in ceremonial courtesy to a lady, and Mr. Bright—himself a
Monarchist by conviction—would never demur to kissing the Queen's hands.
The paragraph was copied into The Times with the same error in it;
it went through the press in the same way. Mr. Camden Hotten, in his
edition of the "Speeches of John Bright," repeated it. I wrote to
the New York Tribune correcting the error in America.
Nevertheless, owing to the error of a single letter, it has passed into
English history that Mr. Bright neither knelt nor kissed hands when he
became Minister of the Crown,
Mr. Paulton, who knew as much as most men of the early
history of the Anti-Corn Law League, told me that both "Mr. Bright and Mr.
Cobden were taught and confirmed" in the principles of commercial freedom
they espoused by Mr. Thomas Thomasson. Mr. Thomasson was a
manufacturer of Bolton, who understood the political economy of trade
better than any other manufacturer of his day. Mr. Thomasson being a
Quaker, it was natural that Mr. Bright should be impressed by him.
The first time Mr. Bright went out to deliver a lecture, he was doubtful
of his success. He had well considered what he would say, but on his
way to the hall he called upon Mr. Thomasson to take his advice as to the
quality of his arguments. Mr. Paulton said Mr. Cobden had often
consulted Mr. Thomasson in a similar way.
MR. BRIGHT'S ORATORICAL METHOD AND MANNER OF MIND.
THOUGH engaged in business, with little time to
spare for study, Mr. Bright became a great orator—on the principle
explained by the Irishman, who said "a short sleep did for him, because
when he slept he paid attention to it." Force of expression was
natural to Mr. Bright. His fine voice and public applause made him
conscious that excellence in public speaking was possible to him.
But force and finish of expression came slowly. The great speeches
of Sheridan and Fox do not—from such accounts as we have of them—justify
their great reputation. That is owing probably to their not being
adequately reported. When a speaker is master of his subject and
sure of his terms, an exact report will give him fame. But if his
speech be summarised, his reputation may suffer—unless he who makes the
summary is capable of making the speech. Dr. Johnson was a man
of this capacity, and his summaries made the fame of the orators of whose
speeches he condescended to give an account. Porson said: "Pitt
carefully considered his sentences before he uttered them, but Fox threw
himself into the middle of his, and left it to God Almighty to get him out
again." Fox got himself out before his auditors, by his
overmastering energy, but his reader needed aid. Pitt's later
speeches, fully reported (as I judge from reading some of them), had
captivating fluency. When Bright's speeches are read, they justify
the reputation assigned to them. He moved the hearers as Danton and
Mirabeau did the audiences they addressed. Mr. Beresford Hope's
description of Mr. Bright—when he was advanced in years—as "the white lion
of Birmingham "could best be understood by those who heard him. One
night, at Birmingham, when he had delivered a long, forcible, but not
brilliant speech, on Ireland, a vote of thanks was accorded to him late in
the evening. In acknowledging the vote, there came a storm of
oratory from him awakening a fury of enthusiasm in the some what languid
meeting. "If you, my countrymen," he exclaimed, "are unanimous that
justice should be done to Ireland, it shall be done." He spoke the
words as though he were the tribune of the kingdom, and his resolute and
commanding tone gave the impression that he was able to cause it to come
In the earlier elections in which Mr. Bright was concerned in
Birmingham, he spoke at various ward meetings, when his language was often
disjointed, and sometimes incomplete. It might be owing to the work
of inferior or wearied reporters to some extent, but the language was that
of an ordinary and excited speaker. Mr. Bright himself might be
exhausted, but the defects of style were such as exhaustion would not
occasion. It was the original manner, which cultivation had not then
At a Covent Garden meeting, October, 1843, Mr. Bright, in the
course of his speech in defence of Free Trade, exclaimed:—
"Oh! then, innocently brave,
We will wrestle with the wave
Where commerce spreads her daring sail,
And yokes her naval chariots to the gale."
The loud and long-continued cheering evoked was owing to the orator's
manner rather than his matter. Twenty-five years later Mr. Bright
showed far greater taste in selecting quotations from the poets.
Speaking in Birmingham on January 13, 1868, he said—
"Religion, freedom, vengeance, what you will,
A word's enough to rouse mankind to kill,
Some cunning phrase by faction caught and spread
That guilt may reign, and wolves and worms be fed."
instruction as well as honest rage in these lines.
At the Anti-Corn Law meeting of 1843, as may be read in the
League newspaper reports and elsewhere at that period, Mr. Bright told us,
in various terms, that the cost of the army and navy was maintained in the
interest of the upper class. Twenty-five years later I heard him
recur to this idea at a banquet in the Birmingham Town Hall, but no longer
in the crude form of earlier days. The flint-headed hatchet was
exchanged for a flashing scimitar. He said that "the army and navy
were but a gigantic system of out-door relief for the aristocracy."
The effect upon the audience was notable. The satire of the
expression was caught at first only by the quicker part of the audience,
who cheered—when immediately a larger number saw the point and the
cheering was doubled—then everybody saw it, and the hall resounded with
cheering and laughter and striking the plates with knife and fork.
The next day Lord Lyttelton wrote a letter denying that the words were
cheered: but the banquet committee had to pay a considerable sum for
breakages which occurred at that particular time.
Some years later Mr. Bright was speaking at St Martin's.
Hall. Mr. Ayrton came in. It was on the day of, or the day
after, the great Reform procession which had passed through the Mall.
Complaints had been made by the Tories that the procession should have
been allowed so near Buckingham Palace. Mr. Ayrton uttered
reproaches of the Queen that she had not condescended to witness it.
Then Mr. Bright arose and made his famous defence of the Queen. He
could not foresee that Mr. Ayrton would come in, nor foreknow what he
would say—yet his language was as perfect as though premeditated. I
sat by him as he spoke, and concluded from that night that a style of
dignity and grace had become habitual to him. In earlier years he
had spoken of the Queen at Covent Garden meetings with studied
respectfulness, but never with the felicity of phrase which he had now
acquired. He had the voice of an organ, at once strong and
harmonious, which swelled but never screeched. A resolute face and a
resolute tone gave him a commanding manner, which, united to a stately way
of thinking, gave him ascendency in oratory. Disregarding details,
he put the relevance of a question so strongly that it is difficult to
express in other words the same idea with equal force. This is the
mark of the style we call Shakespearean, Miltonic, or Tennysonian—noble
thought put in unchangeable terms. A single passage in one of his
orations makes clear his method of speech. "I believe," he said,
"there is no permanent greatness to a nation, except it be based on
morality. I do not care for military greatness or military renown; I
care for the condition of the people among whom I live. There is no
man in England less likely to speak irreverently of the Crown and Monarchy
of England than I am; but crown, coronets, mitres, military displays, pomp
of war, wide colonies, and a huge empire are, in my view, all trifles
light as air, and not worth considering, unless with them you can have a
fair share of comfort, contentment, and happiness among the great body of
the people. Palaces, baronial castles, great halls, and stately
mansions do not make a nation. The nation in every country dwells in
the cottage." Here is the Homeric, realistic tread of simplicity and
power—not among metaphysical abstractions which flit before the mind like
shadows, but among men and things palpable to every mind and touching
The Quaker gets from his self-chosen faith self-sufficiency,
concentration, and force, and to this Bright owed his simplicity,
directness and massiveness of speech.
In his earlier speeches he made furious personal imputations
upon the landlords of the aristocracy who stood in the way of the Repeal
of the Corn Laws. They thought he hated them. That was their
mistake. On the contrary, he said that, if they would take the part
of the people, he should welcome them in council and would "defer to their
Mr. Bright's invective was owing to his Quaker belief, and he
was never free from invective. An everyday man will think his
adversary has some common sense, and that if facts could be put before him
his opinion would change. But a Quaker says, "I have an inner light
which tells me what the truth is, and what is more, you have the same
inner light which tells you the truth, and you are sinning against it."
The true Quaker regards the "inner light" as the very voice of God, and is
more wroth in terms than other men, and has more difficulty in forgiving
dissent from his views.
Though a peace-lover from humanity as well as from faith, I
once heard Mr. Bright express interest in battle. It was the third
year of the American war, and the House of Commons derided his predictions
of the success of the Union, because it had obtained no signal advantages
in the field. An eminent American came down to the House and spoke
with Mr. Bright on their prospects. Mr. Bright said to me, "If they
would give us a victory, we should soon put things right here"—meaning in
the House of Commons.
There hung, some years ago, in the National Portrait Gallery,
a portrait of George Fox in leathern garments, with a face of great
sensual beauty. No wonder the women of fifty towns were in love with
him. The portrait inspired me with respect for a man of his nature,
who gave up the worship of women for his life in gaols. Seeing Mr.
Bright in one of the rooms, I said, "Go and see George Fox's portrait,"
which he had not noticed; "you will understand why he came to wear a
leather dress and attain his strange ascendency." He went to see it,
and took Mrs. Bright with him, who was then in town.
Mr. Bright never distinguished that sentimentality is the
sense of what ought to be, and practicality is the sense of what can be.
He had both senses, though he denied it. One night, in the Smoke
Room of the House of Commons, I asked him to present a petition for me
upon a question he thought unattainable. Seeing a Minister near, he
said, "Take it to him. He parts his hair down the middle. He
is a man of sentiment—just the man for you." He forgot that he came
from the Puritan stock who all parted their hair. He was himself a
shareholder in the Morning Star. All London was amazed when
the hard-headed Manchester school elected to be represented by the
sentimental title of old Utopian journals.
Mr. Bright had moral imagination beyond any political orator
of my time. The ethical passion glowed in his speeches. It was
that which won for him popular trust. One night he had quoted in
Parliament George Fox—whom he did not name—a fine passage to the
effect—When death shall divest the soul of its human garments of passions
and prejudices, and we come to know ourselves as we are, we shall wonder
to find how much our intentions have been the same. Speaking to Mr.
Bright as he came out of the House, I said: "That peroration was a sermon
which only you would have the courage to preach there, and from you only
would they listen to it." He answered, "This is a House where
sermons are more needed than any place I know."
It may be said of Mr. Bright as Ben Jonson said of Lord
Bacon, "There happened in my time one noble speaker, who was full of
gravity in his speaking. His language, where he could spare, or pass
by a jest, was nobly censorious. No man ever spoke more neatly, more
pressingly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness in
what he uttered. He commanded where he spoke. The fear of
every man who heard him was lest he should make an end."
One morning, at a breakfast at Mr. Gladstone's, he said, "I
want to speak to you about your book," meaning the "History of
Co-operation in England," which he had permitted me to dedicate to him.
"There is only one thing in which I think you wrong. You speak of
capital as injurious in itself." I said that was not in my mind.
He answered quickly, putting his hand on my shoulder, "But it is in your
book." This was true. I had not distinguished that it was
certain acts of capitalists which I deprecated.
In 1882, I took to America the fine, almost life-size
photograph of Mr. Bright, by Mayall, which I presented to my friend James
Charlton, of Chicago. That represents Bright as he appeared when he
took the floor in Parliament, with fire and defiance in his face.
The Century gave an engraving of it. Mr. G. W. Smalley, of the
Tribune, was to write a paper on Bright. Not being able to do it
at the time, it was given to Mr. Escott, a coadjutor of Captain Hamber on
the Hour. I was indignant at seeing Mr. Bright depicted before the
American nation by dashes of Tory disparagement, and resented it wherever
One orator whom Mr. Bright would never admit that he
equalled, was Wendell Phillips, whom he regarded, he said, "as the
greatest orator who spoke the English tongue." In 1879, as Mr.
Phillips was showing me the memorable buildings in State Street, Boston,
Mr. Bright's son came up. He was visiting America at the time, and I
introduced Mr. Phillips to him. Mr. Phillips took off his hat and
stood uncovered all the time of the interview, after the Indian manner of
doing honour to the father by treating his son with distinction. I
wrote Mr. Bright of this fine act of courtesy on the part of Mr. Wendell
Phillips. On my return to England he passed me on the platform of
the Birmingham Town Hall as he was about to address his constituents.
Not expecting to meet me so soon he turned back and said, "Why, Holyoake,
you are always somewhere."
During several years I heard all the principal debates in the
House of Commons. For two sessions he was continually assailed for
his Franchise speeches. So constantly was this done, that every
measure he was supposed to favour was condemned, until it seemed that his
sympathy with a Liberal bill was dangerous to it. All the while the
Tory party had come to see that he was right and had made up their minds
to further enfranchisement, and this was the way in which they disguised
the concession which had become inevitable. It was exactly the case
described by the American poet at the collapse of the Slaveholder's
"Not all at once did the skunk curl up;
We saw it bounce and heard it lie—
But all the while it was looking about
For a hole in which to die."
Mr. Bright became the most popular man in the House and the country, and
his approval valuable to politicians in difficulties.
The views of Mr. Bright's character I have described are such
as impressed me who knew him in movements he liked and in those he
disliked. Despite his avowed contempt for sentiment, he was the most
sentimental member of the House of Commons. He had the same aversion
to philosophers as Lord Beaconsfield, but for different reasons. He
had great humility, as Mr. Gladstone has; but in Mr. Bright it was the
humility of genius falling below its own ideal—in Mr. Gladstone it is the
humility of duty falling short of the obligation of service due to the
Giver of his great powers. Mr. Bright was no friend of democracy; he
had no sympathy for it. With political principles, as thinkers
define them, he little troubled. His great passions were for
justice, public prosperity, the comfort and contentment of the people.
To these ends he devoted his great powers. Of these he was the
foremost champion of our time. All else was to him as though it were
not. As far as he was concerned, thrones might stand. To him
intellectual rights were impracticable ideals. But within the limits
in which his mind ranged he commanded the admiration and gratitude of the
This is why the people had honour for Mr. Bright, and put
trust in him. He was a Liberal who strove for progress, vindicated
it, pleaded for it, urged it forward, attacked all who withstood it.
A Tory studies how he can stop it—defames it, obstructs it, and denounces
all who are friendly to it: and when, despite of him, it comes to pass, he
claims to have originated it.
When Mr. Bright's last illness came, bulletins went out which
led the press to make remarks that his end was near. Mr. Bright
might not see the papers, but they could not but affect his attendants,
and he was too quick an observer not to divine foreboding in their faces;
so it came to pass by a friendly suggestion to the bulletin maker that
they were less frequent and more placid. Mr. Bright was always
cheered by friendly remembrances by his townsmen, and, having to address a
great meeting of co-operators in Rochdale, representing twelve thousand of
his neighbours, I moved that we sent a message (not a condolence) to him,
assembly, celebrating the forty-fourth anniversary of the Rochdale
Equitable Pioneers' Society, desires to send to Mr. Bright a message of
regard for acts of neighbourly friendship and counsel to the early
Pioneers, and for his aid in Parliament in procuring legal protection for
societies of self-help in their unfriended days. The Rochdale
members send him their grateful wishes. They know he is sustained by
a simple and noble faith, and by a conscience rich in a thousand memories
of services to those who dwell in cottages or labour in our towns.
The days of one who gave his strength for the benefit of the people ought
to be "long in the land," and they who send him this message are glad to
believe that his days will be yet long extended."
It gave Mr. Bright pleasure. It was the only resolution of sympathy
made public having no dash of the undertaker in it.
He was the friend of industrious working people everywhere;
what is more, he had personal friendliness towards them, and sympathy with
them, and helped them in difficulty, in old age, and need, as his own
work-people knew. His choice was to dwell among his own people.
He lived among them, he died among them; he elected to be buried among
them, and he left the lustre of his name to their town.
What Lord Tennyson said of the Duke of Wellington may be
written on the tomb of Mr. Bright:—
"His voice is silent in your council hall
For ever; ...yet remember all
He spoke among you, and the man who spoke
Who never sold the truth to serve the hour."
A new fact concerning Mr. Bright, which illustrates his noble passion for
justice beyond all instances I have known, has just been published in the
Rochdale Congress Handbook. There is in that town, works known as
the Mitchell Hey Mill, started by workmen on co-operative principles,
giving the right of profit to all concerned in making it. As soon as
the shareholders were numerous enough, they took the workmen's shares of
profit from them. "Mr. Bright expressed disapproval of the
decision," and meeting one of the co-operative leaders (Mr. A. Greenwood)
"inquired if it could not be reversed. A large number of Members of
Parliament had taken great interest in the experiment, and he also knew,"
he said, "manufacturers who would have been quite willing to allow workmen
to share in a certain amount of the profits." Mr. Bright accepted
the principle that a share in profit was included in equity to labour; and
had Mitchell Hey Mill been permitted to prove that equity could succeed in
manufacture, he would have put his own mills on the same plan.
ORIGIN OF SECULARISM.
As my name has been associated with Secularism for forty years, and as I
have no intention of disconnecting myself from it, nor evading any
responsibility for having originated it, I give some account of it before
ending the present autobiographical series.
Not seeing in my youth what better I could do in a world
where no one seemed infallible than to think for myself, led to my
acquiring opinions different from other people. For a time it
distressed me very much to find that I differed from the world, until it
occurred to me that the world differed from me; then I had no more
anxiety. Those who believe because others believe the same, are
without claim to authority; while those who hold opinions because they
have thought them out for themselves, have used the same liberty I had
taken, and I was guilty neither of presumption nor singularity. If
the world differed from me, it was doubtless in self-defence, and if I
differed from the world, it was in self-protection. And, as the
world did not make any arrangement to answer for my opinions, it was but
common sense that I should myself select the principles for which I was to
At Carlile's lecture, to which he invited me, 
he took the line he adopted in his Christian Warrior, in which he
taught that a scientific and mythologic explanation could be given of the
main facts of the Bible. When I spoke, I explained the ideas from
which I never departed—namely, that mythologic and astronomic modes of
accounting for scriptural doctrine could never be made intelligible and
convincing except to students of very considerable research. Such
theories, I contended, must rest, more or less, on conjectural
interpretation, which could never command the popular mind nor enable a
working man to dare the understanding of others in argument.
Scientific interpretation, I maintained, lay entirely outside Christian
acquirements, and seemed to them as disingenuous evasions of what they
take to be obvious truths. My contention was—"The people have no
historic or critical knowledge enabling them to judge of the authenticity
or genuineness of the Scriptures—their astronomic or mythologic origin.
That controversy must always be confined to scholars. On the
platform he who has most knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, or Latin will always
be able to silence any dissentient who has not equal information and
reputation for learning and research. If by accident a
controversialist happened to have this knowledge, it goes for nothing as
authority, unless he has credit for classical competency. In matters
of controversy it is not enough for a man to know; he must be known to
know, before his conclusions can have acceptance. To myself it was
not of moment whether the Scriptures were authentic or inspired. My
sole inquiry was—Do they contain clear moral guidance which would increase
our certainty of aid from God? If they do I accept that guidance
with implicitness and gratitude. If I find maxims obviously useful
and true, judged by human experience, I adopt them, whether given by
inspiration or not. If precepts did not answer to this test, they
were not acceptable, though all the apostles in committee had signed them.
To miracles I did not object, nor did I see any sense in endeavouring to
explain them way. We all have reason to regret that no one performs
them now. It was our misfortune that the power delegated with so
much pomp of promise to the saints had not descended to these days.
If any preacher or deacon could, in this day, feed five thousand men on a
few loaves and a few small fishes, and leave as many baskets of fragments
as would run a workhouse for a week, the Poor Law Commissioners would make
a king of that saint. But if a precept enjoined me to believe what
was not true, it would be a base precept, and all the miracles in the
Scriptures could not alter its character: while, if a precept be honest
and just, no miracle is wanted to attest it—indeed, a miracle, to allure
credence in it, would only cast suspicion on its genuineness. The
moral test of the Scriptures was sufficient, and the only one that had
popular education in it, and needed neither ridicule, nor scorn, nor
bitterness to enforce it, since it had the commanding advantage of
appealing to the common sense and best sense of all sorts and conditions
of men, of Christian or of Pagan persuasion. Ethical criticism has
this further, merit, that on the platform of discussion the miner, the
weaver, or farm labourer, are on the same level as the priest. A man
goes to Heaven upon his own judgment: whereas, if his belief is based on
the learning of others, he goes to Heaven second hand."
My mind being given to open thought, I came to consider
whether a simple theory of ethical duty was possible, which would save
from indifference the increasing class of thinkers who regarded the
theology then in vogue as vague, uncertain, irrelevant, or untrue.
It seemed to me that doing good was being good—that it was good to do
good, and that if a God of Goodness existed he would count goodness as
merit; and if no such God did exist, goodness was the best thing men could
do in this world. It was best for ourselves for its satisfaction and
its example, and it was best for others as they would profit by it.
It was not less plain that there was no mode of doing good open to us so
certain as by material means. What were called spiritual means
could not be depended on; the preacher who put his trust in aid from above
still found it necessary to take up a collection. Looking to
Providence for protection against epidemics or famine, still left a good
deal for physicians and Poor Law Guardians to do. Those who, like
Mr. Spurgeon, could fill their meal barrels by prayer, had no unfailing
formula they could patent, of which the public could purchase the royalty.
Clearly science is the only Providence which can be depended upon.
Therefore, the morality of duty and material effort were the practical
precepts of Life, yielding preservation in this world, and furnishing the
best credentials to present in any other.
These principles being few, practical, and demonstrable to
any capable of observation and reflection, they constituted an independent
code of conduct which, owing nothing to ancient revelations, adherents of
such views were under no obligation to waste time in reconciling the truth
of to-day with error of the past. Distinct from received opinion,
the form here described is at least equal to it, for, in the words of the
Oriental motto before cited, "There is no religion higher than Truth."
Secularism, it was hoped, would aid the "coming of the kingdom of man," to
which Professor Clifford looked forward.
In my youth I had borne the burden of theologic hopes and
fears until my mind ached, and if I could lead others into a simpler,
surer, and brighter way, I was wishful to do so. The "Principles of
Secularism," which I published, were submitted to the better judgment of
others. Not being a fanatic, insisting on opinions without reason or
relevance; nor a prophet claiming authority for his word; nor having a
"mission" for which there was no necessity; but being one of the few
persons extant who had no impression of his own infallibility, I sought
confirmation from better instructed minds. One was Mr. John Stuart
Mill, who approved my proposal as a useful departure from the theologic
thought of the day, ever obstructive of secular improvement. The
reader may see the nature of these principles in "Chambers's Encyclopædia"
in an article which I wrote at the request of the editor, who "wished an
account of Secularism by one responsible for it, and not one by a
dissentient, which might be a caricature." Professor Francis William
Newman, to whom I was indebted for the better expression of some points
than was possible to me, regarded all who believed that duty to man is
prior in time and importance to duty to God, as Secularists—and in this
sense he might be so classed himself, though he maintains Theism with a
noble earnestness like that of Theodore Parker.
That this secular form of opinion implies Atheism is an error
into which many fall. Secularism, like mathematics, is independent
of theistical or other doctrine. Euclid did not ignore the gods of
his day; he did not recognise them in geometry. They were not
included in it. But if pagan theology undertook to contradict
mathematical principle, Euclid might have joined issue thereupon.
But his province was geometry. At one time the only two men of note
in England who maintained that the Secular was Atheistic, were Dr. Magee,
the late Archbishop of York, and Mr. Bradlaugh. Twice I discussed
this point with Mr. Bradlaugh—first about 1856, and again in 1870.
The reader may see the report of the last debate in "A Little Book About
Great Britain," by Azimat Batuk, an agent of the Napoleonic dynasty, who
wrote under a Turkish name. My argument was that a man could judge a
house as to its suitability of situation, structure, surroundings, and
general desirableness, without ever knowing who was the architect or
landlord; and if as occupant he received no application for rent, he ought
in gratitude to keep the place in good repair. So it is with this
world. It is our dwelling place. We know the laws of
sanitation, economy, and equity, upon which health, wealth, and security
depend. All these things are quite' independent of any knowledge of
the origin of the universe or the owner of it. And as no
demands are made upon us in consideration of our tenancy, the least we can
do is to improve the estate as our acknowledgment of the advantage we
enjoy. This is Secularism.
When I first knew the party of independent opinion, it had no
policy. Its sole occupation was the confutation of error, or what it
took to be error, and went no further. Anything more was not then to
be expected. The confutation of theologic error was a forbidden
right, and they who exercised it did it at their peril, and they did much
who maintained that right. But the time came when those who had
succeeded in proving certain received principles to be wrong, were called
upon to show what independent and self-dependent principles, in accordance
with reason and conscience, could take their places and guarantee the
continuance of public and private morality, and not only continue them but
improve their quality. It was to this new theory of secular life,
the sequel and complement of free criticism, that the name of Secularism
was given.  Some societies, simply
anti-theological, have taken the secular name, which leads many
unobservant persons to consider the term Secularism as synonymous with
atheism and general church-fighting; whereas Secularism is a new name
implying a new principle and a new policy. It would be an imposture
term were it merely a new name intended to disguise an old thing.
THE KNIGHT WHO UPLIFTED THE DEAD HAND.
Sir Josiah Mason
"dead hand" has destroyed the grace of many gifts, as when a man endows a
church on the condition that certain doctrines are to be for ever preached
in it. This precludes progress in thought and furnishes a premium to
the gentleman in the pulpit to go on preaching what is no longer true, and
if true no longer useful to the hearers. The doctrine is dead, but
the dead hand cannot be lifted. Though the object of the endower was
no doubt that truth should be preached, yet the spirit of his provision
cannot be acted upon owing to the terms of his gift not providing for
this. In the case of charity schools it is different. The dead
hand gets uplifted by cupidity. Schools founded for the education of
poor scholars or poor children are perverted to the uses of children of
the rich. The intent of the founder, his spirit and letter are alike
I knew one great donor who left no dead hand on his gifts,
though they amounted to half a million. In Birmingham there lived,
until lately, one Josiah Mason, who, when I and others were advocates of
Social views in Lawrence Street Chapel, used to be one of the hearers.
Josiah Mason had an inquiring, an observant, and ambitious mind, but his
ambition was the wholesome ambition of usefulness. He had risen from
the humblest occupation. When a young man he held a situation as
manager of a business in which his master promised him a partnership.
Under the inspiration of this promise he had put into his service the zeal
and sagacity of a partner. At length he found that the promise was
not to be fulfilled; he left, and no inducement, not that of a salary
higher than he had any prospect of obtaining elsewhere, could induce him
to stay. He had self-reliance and self-help in him. No honest
duty was beneath him, and industry and probity did the rest. He knew
that thrift was fortune. He became a manufacturer eventually, and
when the day of prosperity came, he built a great orphanage at Erdington,
open to children of any sect and of any race. Neither opinion nor
colour was a bar to admission. He had acquired Robert Owen's passion
for the formation of character, and concluded that wholesome conditions
and good practical education would go a good way towards it in the young.
One day he explained to me himself his arrangements, which showed that he
was a kindly student of child nature. He had their baths made of
wood, and the spaces around on which they stepped into the bath also of
wood, so that no cold or discomfort should be associated with a healthy
habit, rendering it distasteful and repugnant. He had all the doors
in the buildings made so that they would open in or out by a child pushing
them, that the little ones might not be impeded nor kept in or out by
knobs difficult to turn. He had the beams of the roof left visible,
that a child who could not understand why the ceiling was kept up might
see it was supported and would not fall down. The gas and water
pipes he had left visible, so that they might understand everything that
was liable to instruct them or excite their curiosity. In the chapel
in which they were assembled on Sundays he prescribed that a preacher of
any denomination might conduct the service, providing he was willing to
discourse a wise and kindly morality, omitting the awful tenet of eternal
punishment, which he thought a fearful terror to the young mind and a
barbaric conception of God.
Sir Josiah Mason's orphanage, Erdington
Adopting a wise provision, suggested by a philosophical lawyer he
consulted (Mr. G. J. Johnson), he gave the whole property in trust to
persons half chosen by himself and half by municipal authority; and at his
decease the trust was to be entirely controlled by the town. A
further wise provision was that, at the end of every thirty years, the
trust should be open for two years for suggestions of improvement in its
objects needed to meet new requirements which time and experience might
develop. Thus was substituted the authority of the public interests
for the dead hand of the donor. I do not remember any like instance
of tolerant and sagacious thoughtfulness enabling a great public gift to
be kept in line with public progress.
The trustees chosen by Mr. Josiah Mason for the
administration of the orphanage were nearly all personal friends of mine.
Meeting some of them shortly after the endowment (which amounted to nearly
a quarter of a million of money) was placed in their hands, I asked "Under
what circumstances they received it and by what ceremony it was
accompanied. Did they assemble the citizens in the Town Hall and
receive from his hands the splendid gift with circumstances of public
honour?" It transpired that they had met him at luncheon at the
Orphanage, received the transfer of the building and its opulent
endowments, and wished him good morning. Considering that the giver
of so unusual a gift was entitled to public honour, I inquired why did
they not ask a knighthood for him? Honour was the wine of old age,
and such a recognition would be creditable to the town. The answer
was they did not see how it was to be done, but if I thought it possible I
might take any steps to that end with their concurrence. Then I
mentioned the matter to such members of Parliament as I thought might take
an interest in municipal equity. I wrote upon the subject in the
papers, and asked Mr. Walker, the then editor of the Daily News, who was
always ready to promote any project for local or public good, to mention
the matter in his columns. Public honour conferred upon mere worth
is hard to be obtained until the public take interest in it, and to do
this it is necessary that they have information. It was also
necessary that the knighthood I suggested should be concurred in by the
members of Parliament for the borough in which Mr. Mason dwelt. Mr.
George Dixon readily assented, and supported the proposal; but Mr. Bright
saw objections to it, and asked me, "Whether I thought it a good principle
that a man should be made a knight because he had given £200,000 to a
town?" I answered, "If the question was whether an order of
knighthood or other social distinctions should be created, its usefulness
was open to contention; but, knowing as he did how knights were made, how
men who never rendered any public service received that distinction, and
many because they had become possessed by ways unknown of £100,000—it did
seem to me not an unprofitable principle to establish that any one who had
given £200,000 to the community should be eligible for a knighthood."
Mr. Bright admitted there was some reason in that view, and when he
learned that Mr. Mason had not proposed to leave this money at his death
liable to dispute and doubtfulness of application—but had actually
divested himself of it while living, and placed its administration in the
hands of the municipality—he concurred in the proposal.
In the deed of trust which Mr. Mason executed, he stated that
when he first entered Birmingham as a youth he sold muffins in the
streets. No bell had a purer tinkle than his. No muffins were
warmer or cosier than his in the clean green baize which covered them.
From that humble beginning he had risen by industry and integrity to the
possession of great wealth, which he had devoted to a well-considered
public purpose. I asked a member of the Government, Mr. Stansfeld,
whose friendliness to unrecognised service I knew, to put Mr. Mason's
candid and manly story into the hands of the Queen, who I believe would be
interested in it. She was interested, and considerately ordered that
Mr. Mason's knighthood should be gazetted that he might be saved the
necessity of appearing at Court to receive the distinction, at his age,
which was then 78. Thus the benefactor who made a great gift and
attached no dead hand to it became Sir Josiah Mason. When I received
intimation of the Queen's decision, Mr. George Dixon, M.P., said it was
for me to communicate it to Mr. Mason because I had caused it to occur.
I had pride in it, because it added well-earned dignity to one who was the
providence of little children, and had done a generous thing in an
unexampled way, and who would otherwise have remained unrecognised by any
public distinction. Sir Josiah Mason afterwards gave a quarter of a
million more to found and endow the Mason College in which no creed or
want of one is any disqualification for entering it.
APOLOGY TO THE READER.
MANY books at their close need this: and he who has
perused these chapters has probably thought some apology was due long ago.
The story of many persons and many events remain untold in them; should I
ever tell them, as in those I have related, one characteristic will be
found—that of depicting the manners, prejudices, and progress of my time,
so far as, judging from my own experience, may be of use to others.
In any manifesto of a committee, of which I have been one, I have asked,
in mercy to others, for brevity and clearness. Having myself a full
share both of perversity and dullness, the statement which compelled my
assent might be intelligible to the public; for I never put myself forward
as representing other than the average stupidity of mankind. In this
way I have been of service to men wiser than myself. Only in this
way I may have been of service to the reader, who, being better informed
than the writer, has been saved time in making out his meaning.
Forty of my colleagues of former years, all counted, have
died by my side, and I should be dead also had I been as strong as they.
Being otherwise, I had to keep both work and pleasure within the limits of
my strength, whereas they, being like Dr. Wendell Holmes's "one-horse
shay," equally strong in every part, went down, without suspicion or
In my life one constant source of pleasure has been—that of
laughing at the absurdity of the things I like. Seeing principles as
objects apart from me, I could not but notice the grotesque way in which
unconsciously they were sometimes carried out. A friend of mine who
had progress in his heart and was bent upon the redemption of the world,
which has been the ambition of noble men in all ages, founded a
"Redemption Society"—a big business surely—and we began to acknowledge the
weekly receipts in the Leader, which ran—Leeds, 7d.; London, 10½d.;
Glasgow, 1s. 3d. These small sums for a vast end made it look
absurd. I suggested that the contributions should be allowed to
accumulate before inserting them, which caused me to be counted
unsympathetic. In speech, in conduct, as in judgments, I am for
proportion. In social and political aims credence depends upon
proportion between progression and possibility. Far be it from me to
pretend to be without points of amusement in the judgment of others.
The only apology for absurdity lies in admitting it when you have
committed it. There is no safeguard against ridiculousness, save by
looking outside yourself, and observing the reflection which conduct makes
in the mirror of circumambient eyes.
Many who enter on the path of public service are repelled, as
I have seen, by the prevalence there of aspirants for the position of
pontiffs, chiefs, and lesser popes and potentates. Yet it is a good
sign that this ambition exists. When, however, these persons are
found decrying the thing another is doing, which you therefore conclude to
be wrong and extol them for their wiser perception—you are discouraged on
finding that they did not consider the thing wrong, but sought to prevent
another doing it in order to have the credit of doing it themselves.
Carlyle, proclaiming the doctrine of silence in order that his own voice
might be alone heard, is an instance of the same thing in literature.
Surprise on the first discovery of this artifice is one of the instructive
shocks of experience.
The ambition of distinction is wholesome so long as it
permits equal opportunity to others. In democracy there is no
chieftainship to which others must submit their judgment against their
reason. There is no legitimate leadership, save the leadership of
ideas, no allegiance save that of conviction, no loyalty save loyalty to
principle. The passion of personal ascendancy—the more than
impatience, the dislike such persons have of submitting their conduct to
the judgment of others—their belief that they are superior persons and all
others inferior—the desire to keep others separate and apart—the
reluctance to consult them except when applause or suffrages are necessary
to the success of their aims—lies deep in the hearts of those who seek
personal ascendancy. When the genius of democracy enters the mind
and teaches a leader to aim at the elevation of his cause or his country,
rather than the elevation of himself, then he says with Byron—
"I wish men to he free
As much from mobs as kings-from you as me."
Those who look back on life disappointed because it has not been what they
wished it to be, should be put back again into the kingdom of the
unborn—they do not understand the world into which they have come.
Those who look on their days with regret because they have not been what
they might have been had they availed themselves of the opportunities they
have had, have not adequately observed what has gone on around them.
No one does avail himself of all his opportunities. Every one has to
regret fatal or irreparable omissions. The dice of life are loaded
by unseen agents before we throw them, and we may be glad if we win
anything, not discontented because we do not win all.
My information, all told, does not amount to much; but the
best and surest part of it has been gained in discussion, and in listening
to criticisms. It is wise to believe in the Arabic proverb:—
"He who knows not, and knows not he knows not. He is a fool;
"He who knows not, and knows he knows not. He is simple; teach
"He who knows, and knows not he knows. He is asleep; wake him.
"He who knows, and knows he knows. He is wise; follow him."
Sayings are like glow-worms. It is only in the night of experience
that we discern the light in them. One reads the saying of Pascal:
"What an enigma is man! What a strange, chaotic, and contradictory being.
Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, depository of the Truth, mass of
uncertainty, glory and butt of the universe!" "It was a long time
before it became evident to me that these contradictions which Pascal
discerned of men in the aggregate are true of every man. Each
individual has within himself, latent or operant, all the characteristics
of the race, which opportunity or circumstance (more enduring than
opportunity), brings out. Byron saw that man was "half dust, half
deity." Like Carlyle, a man may be at once brutal, contemptuous, and
tender—unjust, yet loving justice—reverencing right in man, yet exhorting
them to despotism. Seeing that every person possesses all the
qualities of mankind in proportion, what remains but to look with
unexpectant eyes upon all, waiting to see what baser elements have been
repressed or transmuted by wise education and noble conditions of life, or
what lofty principles have been exalted and confirmed. Only on such
considerations can a man protect himself from mistaken judgments and
It is less difficult to inspire persons with the passion for
knowledge than to induce them to extend the advantage of it to others.
Too many despise those in the condition from which they have escaped;
their contemptible philosophy is that of the Coptic song which tells us
"This, and but this, was the gospel alway:
Fools from their folly 'tis hopeless to stay,
Mules will be mules by the law of their mulishness;
Then be advised and leave fools to foolishness
What from an ass can be got but a bray?"
But mankind are
not asses, though he is who thinks them so. Certainly there are men
of mulish minds, and their muline judgments have to be tolerated on
grounds of heredity. But none knew better than Goethe, who wrote the
Coptic song, that the average man could be exalted. To this he
contributed by his splendid genius. He who alleges the
unimprovability of others as an excuse for his doing nothing for them—and
thinks only of himself—forfeits his right to exist. There is no
place or need for him in another life; and were he raised from the dead,
it would bring resurrection itself into contempt.
Once I had opportunity of aid unforeseen by me. A
valued friend (Mr. W. H. Dingnan), whom the Government of the day desired
to requite for public service, generously proposed that I should be
requited in his stead. It being intended, I wrote to Mr. Gladstone
"not to give heed to it as I could not accept anything. I had spent
many years in teaching working men the lesson of self-help, and that it
was the duty of the people to support the State, and not the State the
people. Should blindness come again or age render me incapable of my
accustomed work, I might think differently." Age, with noiseless and
unnoticed steps has arrived, and friends with it, who have mitigated its
disablement. In 1876 Mr. John Stephens Storr, and in 1888 Mr. Thomas
Allsop, were the cause of it. On each occasion a Committee, whose
names will always be in my mind,  enabled all
future work by me to depend on choice and pleasure.
A curious feature was this: Some whom I had served, not
without cost and peril to myself when I might rightly have served myself
instead, were as the Levite and passed by on the other side; while others
I had never known, even by name, whom I had never seen, upon whom I had no
claim, whom I never had opportunity of serving, with others whose thoughts
were alien to mine, showed me a disinterested friendliness. The
world is a field sprinkled with generous seed which springs up in
unexpected and unknown places. Whatever I have done since, I owe to
these diversified friends. They gave me length of days and pleasure
greater than they can know.
Every one who has taste in ideas, and is above adopting
second-hand opinions—because they can be had cheap—incurs trouble in
selecting those of the best quality and testing them himself. He who
does this has trouble, but his pleasure and pride in true thinking is
greater than the slovenly and shabby minded ever know. If a man
could believe in everybody's creed, it would make things pleasanter in
this world, and perhaps safer for the next; since surely some of them must
be the right ones. But he thinks meanly of the arbiters of Heaven if
he supposes its doors are open to applicants of indolence, calculation and
low taste. The "land of the leal" belongs to those who, like
Savonarola, judge not authors according to their fame, nor accept opinions
because they are in vogue, but always keep their eyes fixed on truth and
reason; not to those who, in Diderot's words, think it more prudent to be
mad with the mad than be wise by themselves. This is my apology to
the reader for that wilfulness of opinion which I fear has often perplexed
or perturbed him in these pages.