one." The tradition is dying out, but Mr. Cobden
acquired, even in those days of Free-trade agitation,
a sort of agricultural popularity. He excited a
personal interest, he left what may be called a
A SENSITIVE AGITATOR
sense of himself among his professed enemies. They
were surprised at finding that he was not what
thev thought; they were charmed to find that he
was not what they expected; they were fascinated
to find what he was. The same feeUng has been
evident at his sudden death — a death at least which
was to the mass of occupied men sudden. Over
pohtical Belgravia — the last part of English society
Mr. Cobden ever cultivated — there was a sadness.
Every one felt that England had lost an individuality
which it could never have again, which was of
the highest value, which was in its own kind
What used to strike the agricultural mind, as
different from what they fancied, and most opposite
to a Northern agitator, was a sort of playfulness.
They could hardly believe that the lurking smile,
the perfectly magical humour which they were
so much struck by, could be that of a " Manchester
man." Mr. Cobden used to say, " I have as much
right as any man to call myself the representative
of the tenant farmer, for I am a farmer's son, and
the son of a Sussex farmer." But agriculturists
keenly felt that this was not the explanation of the
man they saw. Perhaps they could not have thor-
oughly explained, but they perfectly knew that
they were hearing a man of singular and most
peculiar genius, fitted as if by " natural selec-
tion for the work he had to do, and not
wasting a word on any other work or anything
else, least of all upon himself.
Mr. Cobden was very anomalous in two respects.
He was a sensitive agitator. Generally, an agitator
is a rough man of the O'Connell type, who says
anything himself, and lets others say anything.
You " peg into me and I will peg into you, and let
us see which will win," is his motto. But Mr.
Cobden's habit and feeling were utterly different.
He never spoke ill of any one. He arraigned
principles, but not persons. We fearlessly say that
after a career of agitation of thirty years, not one
single individual has — we do not say a valid charge,
but a producible charge — a charge which he would
wish to bring forward against Mr. Cobden. You
cannot find the man who says, " Mr. Cobden said
this of me, and it was not true." This may seem
trivial praise, and on paper it looks easy. But to
those who know the great temptations of actual
life it means very much. How would any other
great agitator, O'Connell or Hunt or Cobbett look,
if tried by such a test.? Very rarely, if even ever
in history, has a man achieved so much by his
words — been victor in what was thought at the
time to be a class struggle — and yet spoken so little
evil as Mr. Cobden. There is hardly a word to
be found, perhaps, even now, which the recording
angel would wish to blot out. We may on other
grounds object to an agitator who lacerates no one,
but no watchful man of the world will deny that
such an agitator has vanquished one of life's most
imperious and difficult temptations.
Perhaps some of our readers may remember
A SENSITIVE AGITATOR
as vividly as we do a curious instance of Mr.
Cobden's sensitiveness. He said at Drury Lane
Theatre, in tones of feeling, almost of passion,
curiously contrasting with the ordinary coolness of
his nature, " I could not serve with Sir Robert
Peel." After more than twenty years, the curiously
thrilling tones of that phrase still live in our ears.
Mr. Cobden alluded to the charge which Sir Robert
Peel had made, or half made, that the Anti-Corn
Law League and Mr. Cobden had, by their action
and agitation, conduced to the actual assassination
of Mr. Drummond, his secretary, and the intended
assassination of himself — Sir Robert Peel. No
excuse or palliation could be made for such an
assertion except the most important one, that Peel's
nerves were as susceptible and sensitive as Mr.
Cobden's. But the profound feeling with which
Mr. Cobden spoke of it is certain. He felt it as a
man feels an unjust calumny, an unfounded stain
on his honour.
Mr. Disraeli said on one occasion (and he has
made many extraordinary assertions, but this is
about the queerest), " Mr. Cobden had a profound
reverence for tradition." If there is any single
quality which Mr. Cobden had not, it was tradi-
tional reverence. But probably Mr. Disraeli meant
what was most true, that Mr. Cobden had a delicate
dislike of offending other men's opinions. He dealt
with them tenderly. He did not like to have his
own creed coarsely attacked, and he did — he could
not help doing — ^as he would be done by; he never
attacked any man's creed coarsely or roughly, or
in any way except by what he in his best conscience
thought the fairest and justest argument.
This sensitive nature is one marked peculiarity
in Mr. Cobden's career as an agitator, and another
is, that he was an agitator for men of business.
Generally speaking, occupied men charged with
the responsibilities and laden with the labour of
grave affairs are jealous of agitation. They know
how much may be said against any one who is
responsible for anything. They know how un-
answerable such charges nearly always are, and how
false they easily may be. A capitalist can hardly
help thinking, " Suppose a man was to make a
speech against my mode of conducting my own
business, how much he would have to say! " Now
it is an exact description of Mr, Cobden, that by
the personal magic of a single-minded practicability
he made men of business abandon this objection.
He made them rather like the new form of agitation.
He made them say, " How business-like, how wise,
just what it would have been right to do."
Mr. Cobden of course was not the discoverer
of the Free-trade principle. He did not first find
out that the Corn Laws were bad laws. But he
was the most effectual of those who discovered
how the Corn Laws were to be repealed, how
Free-trade was to change from a doctrine of the
Wealth of Nations into a principle of tariffs and
a fact of real life. If a thing was right, to Mr.
Cobden's mind it ought to be done; and as Adam
A SENSITIVE AGITATOR
Smith's doctrines were admitted on theory, he could
not believe that they ought to lie idle, that they
ought to be " bedridden in the dormitory of the
Lord Houghton once said, " In my time political
economy books used to begin, ' Suppose a man on
an island.' " Mr. Cobden's speeches never began
so. He was altogether a man of business speaking
to men of business. Some of us may remember
the almost arch smile with which he said, " The
House of Commons does not seem quite to under-
stand the difference between a cotton mill and a
print work." It was almost amusing to him to
think that the first assembly of the first mercantile
nation could be, as they were and are, very dim
in their notions of the most material divisions of
their largest industry. It was this evident and first-
hand familiarity with real facts and actual life
which enabled Mr. Cobden to inspire a curiously
diffused confidence in all matter-of-fact men. He
diffused a kind of " economical faith." People
in those days had only to say, " Mr. Cobden said
so," and other people went and " believed it."
Mr. Cobden had nothing in the received sense
classical about his oratory, but it is quite certain
that Aristotle, the greatest teacher of the classical
art of rhetoric, would very keenly have appreciated
his oratory. This sort of economical faith is exactly
what he would most have valued, what he most
prescribed. He said: "A speaker should convince
his audience that he was a likely person to know."
This was exactly what Mr. Cobden did. And the
matter-of-fact philosopher would have much liked
Mr. Cobden's habit of " coming to the point."
It would have been thoroughly agreeable to his
positive mind to see so much of clear, obvious
argument. He would not, indeed, have been able
to conceive a " League Meeting." There has
never, perhaps, been another time in the history
of the world when excited masses of men and
women hung on the words of one talking political
economy. The excitement of these meetings was
keener than any political excitement of the last
twenty years, keener infinitely than any which
there is now. It may be said, and truly, that the
interest of the subject was Mr. Cobden's felicity,
not his mind; but it may be said with equal truth
that the excitement was much greater when he
was speaking than when any one else was speaking.
By a kind of keenness of nerve, he said the exact
word most fitted to touch, not the bare abstract
understanding, but the quick individual perceptions
of his hearers.
We do not wish to make this article a mere
panegyric. Mr. Cobden was far too manly to like
such folly. His mind was very peculiar, and like
all peculiar minds had its sharp limits. He had what
we may call a supplementary understanding, that
is, a bold, original intellect, acting on a special
experience, and striking out views and principles
not known to or neglected by ordinary men. He
did not possess the traditional education of his
A SENSITIVE AGITATOR
country, and did not understand it. The solid
heritage of transmitted knowledge has more value,
we believe, than he would have accorded to it.
There was too a defect in business faculty not
identical, but perhaps not altogether without
analogy. The late Mr. James Wilson used to say,
" Cobden's administrative power I do not think
much of, but he is most valuable in counsel, always
original, always shrewd, and not at all extreme."
He was not altogether equal to meaner men in
some beaten tracks and pathways of life, though
he was far their superior in all matters requiring
an original stress of speculation, an innate energy
It may be said, and truly said, that he has been
cut off before his time. A youth and manhood so
spent as his well deserved a green old age. But so
it was not to be. He has left us, quite independently
of his positive works, of the repeal of the Corn
Laws, of the French treaty, a rare gift — the gift
of a unique character. There has been nothing
before Richard Cobden like him in English history,
and perhaps there will not be anything like him.
And his character is of the simple, emphatic, pic-
turesque sort which most easily, when opportunities
are given as they were to him, goes down to posterity.
May posterity learn from him! Only last week
we hoped to have learned something ourselves.
But what is before us we know not.
And we know not what shall succeed.
"A CHARM OF BIRDS" ^
By Charles Kingsley
Is it merely a fancy that we English, the educated
people among us at least, are losing that love for
spring which among our old forefathers rose almost
to worship ? That the perpetual miracle of the bud-
ding leaves and the returning song-birds awakes no
longer in us the astonishment which it awoke yearly
among the dwellers in the old world, when the sun
was a god who was sick to death each winter, and
returned in spring to life and health, and glory;
when the death of Adonis, at the autumnal equinox,
was wept over by the Syrian women, and the death
of Baldur, in the colder north, by all living things,
even to the dripping trees, and the rocks furrowed
by the autumn rains; when Freya, the goddess of
youth and love, went forth over the earth each
spring, while the flowers broke forth under her
tread over the brown moors, and the birds welcomed
her with song; when, according to Olaus Magnus,
the Goths and South Swedes had, on the return of
spring, a mock battle between summer and winter,
and welcomed the returning splendour of the sun
with dancing and mutual feasting, rejoicing that a
1 Fraser's Magazine, June 1867.
"A CHARM OF BIRDS"
better season for fishing and hunting was approach-
ing ? To those simpler children of a simpler age, in
more direct contact with the daily and yearly facts
of Nature, and more dependent on them for their
bodily food and life, winter and spring were the
two great facts of existence; the symbols, the one
of death, the other of life; and the battle between
the two — the battle of the sun with darkness, of
winter with spring, of death with life, of bereave-
ment with love — lay at the root of all their myths
and all their creeds. Surely a change has come over
our fancies. The seasons are little to us now. We
are nearly as comfortable in winter as in summer,
or in spring. Nay, we have begun, of late, to
grumble at the two latter as much as at the former,
and talk (and not without excuse at times) of " the
treacherous month of May," and of " summer
having set in with its usual severity." We work
for the most part in cities and towns, and the
seasons pass by us unheeded. May and June are
spent by most educated people anywhere rather
than among birds and flowers. They do not escape
into the country till the elm hedges are growing
black, and the song-birds silent, and the hay cut,
and all the virgin bloom of the country has passed
into a sober and matronly ripeness — if not into the
sere and yellow leaf Our very landscape painters,
till Creswick arose and recalled to their minds the
fact that trees were sometimes green, were wont
to paint few but brown autumnal scenes. As for
the song of birds, of which in the middle age no
poet could say enough, our modern poets seem to
loe forgetting that birds ever sing.
It was not so of old. The climate, perhaps, was
more severe than now; the transition from winter
to spring more sudden, like that of Scandinavia
now. Clearage of forests and drainage of land have
equalised our seasons, or rather made them more
uncertain. More broken winters are followed by
more broken springs; and May-day is no longer a
marked point to be kept as a festival by all child-
like hearts. The merry month of May is merry
only in stage songs. The May garlands and dances
are all but gone: the borrowed plate, and the
milkmaids who borrowed it, gone utterly. No
more does Mrs. Pepys go to lie at Woolwich,
" in order to a little ayre and to gather Maydew "
for her complexion, by Mrs. Turner's advice. The
Maypole is gone likewise; and never more shall
the puritan soul of a Stubbs be aroused in indigna-
tion at seeing " against Maie, every parish, towne,
and village assemble themselves together, both men,
women, and children, olde and young, all indif-
ferently, and goe into the woodes and groves,
hilles and mountaines, where they spend the night
in pastyme, and in the morning they returne,
bringing with them birch bowes and braunches of
trees to deck their assembly withal. . . . They
have twentie or fourtie yoke of oxen, every oxe
having a sweete nosegay of flowers tyed on the
tippe of his homes, and these draw home this May-
pole (this stincking idol rather) which is covered all
"A CHARM OF BIRDS"
over with flowers and hearbes, with two or three
hundred men, women, and children following it
with great devotion. . . . And then they fall to
banquet and feast, daunce and leap about it, as the
heathen people did at the dedication of their idolles,
whereof this is a perfect pattern, or the thing itself"
This, and much more, says poor Stubbs, in his
Anatomie of Abuses^ and had, no doubt, good reason
enough for his virtuous indignation at May-day
scandals. But people may be made dull without
being made goodj and the direct and only effect
ot putting down May games and such like was
to cut off the dwellers in towns from all healthy
communion with Nature, and leave them to mere
sottishness and brutality.
Yet perhaps the May games died out partly
because the feelings which had given rise to them
died out before improved personal comforts. Oi
old, men and women fared hardly, and slept cold;
and were thankful to Almighty God for every
beam of sunshine which roused them out of their
long hybernation; thankful for every flower and
every bird which reminded them that joy was
stronger than sorrow, and life than death. With
the spring came not only labour, but enjoyment:
In the spring, the young man's fancy lightly turned to
thoughts of love,
as lads and lasses, who had been pining for each
other by their winter firesides, met again, like
Daphnis and Chloe, by shaugh and lea; and learnt
I 65 F
to sing from the songs of birds, and to be faithful
from their faithfulness.
Then went out troops of fair damsels to seek
spring garlands in the forest, as Scheffel has lately-
sung once more in his " Frau Aventiure"; and,
while the dead leaves rattled beneath their feet,
hymned " La Regine Avrillouse " to the music of
some Minnesinger, whose song was as the song of
birds; to whom the birds were friends, fellow-
lovers, teachers, mirrors of all which he felt within
himself of joyful and tender, true and pure; friends
to be fed hereafter (as Walther von der Vogelweide
had them fed) with crumbs upon his grave.
True melody, it must be remembered, is un-
known, at least at present, in the tropics, and
peculiar to the races of those temperate climes
into which the song-birds come in spring. It is
hard to say why. Exquisite songsters, and those,
strangely, of a European type, may be heard any-
where in tropical American forests; but native
races whose hearts their song can touch are either
extinct or yet to come. Some of the old German
Minnelieder, on the other hand, seem actually
copied from the songs of birds. " Tanderadei "
does not merely ask the nightingale to tell no tales;
it repeats, in its cadences, the nightingale's song,
as the old Minnesinger heard it when he nestled
beneath the lime-tree with his love. They are often
almost as inarticulate, these old singers, as the birds
from whom they copied their notes; the thinnest
chain of thought links together some bird-like
"A CHARM OF BIRDS"
refrain: but they make up for their want of logic
and reflection by the depth of their passion, the
perfectness of their harmony with Nature. The
inspired Swabian, Vv'andering in the pine-forest,
listens to the blackbird's voice till it becomes his
own voice; and he breaks out, with the very carol
of the blackbird:
Vogele im Tannenwald pfeifet so hell.
Pfeifet de Wald aus und ein, wo \vird niein Schatze sein?
Vogele im Tannenwald pfeifet so hell.
And he has nothing more to say. That is his
whole soul for the time being; and, like a bird,
he sings it over and over again, and never tires.
Another, a Nieder-Rheinischer, watches the
moon rise over the Lowenburg, and thinks upon
his love within the castle hall, till he breaks out
in a strange, sad, tender melodv — not without state-
liness and manly confidence in himself and in his
beloved — in the true strain of the nightingale:
Verstohlen geht der Mond auf,
Blau, blau, Bltimelein,
Durch Silbenvolkchen fiihrt sein Lauf.
Rosen im Thai, IMadel im Saal, O schonste Rosa!
Und siehst du mich,
Und siehst du sie,
Blau, blau, Bliimelein,
Zwei treu're Herzen sah'st du nie;
Rosen im Thalu, . . .
There is little sense in the words, doubtless, accord-
ing to our m.odern notions of poetry; but they are
like enough to the long, plaintive notes of the
nightingale to say all that the poet has to say,
again and again through all his stanzas.
Thus the birds were, to the mediaeval singers,
their orchestra, or rather their chorus; from the
birds they caught their melodies; the sounds w^hich
the birds gave them they rendered into words.
And the same bird key-note surely is to be traced
in the early English and Scotch songs and ballads,
with their often meaningless refrains, sung for the
mere pleasure of singing:
Binnorie, O Binnorie.
With a hey hllelu and a how lo Ian,
And the birk and the broom blooms bonnie.
She sat down below a thorn.
Fine flowers in the valley,
And there has she her sweet babe bom.
And the green leaves they grow rarely.
Or even those " fal-la-las," and other nonsense
refrains, which, if they were not meant to imitate
bird-notes, for what were they meant ?
In the old ballads, too, one may hear the bird key-
note. He who wrote (and a great rhymer he was)
As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies making a mane,
had surely the " mane " of the " corbies " in his
ears before it shaped itself into words in his mind:
"A CHARM OF BIRDS"
and he had listened to many a " woodwele " who
first thrummed on harp, or fiddled on crowd, how —
In summer, when the shawes be shene.
And leaves be large and long.
It is full merry in fair forest
To hear the fowles' song.
The wood-wele sang, and wolde not cease.
Sitting upon the spray;
So loud, it wakened Robin Hood
In the greenwood where he lay.
And Shakespeare — are not his scraps of song
saturated with these same bird-notes ? " Where
the bee sucks," " When daisies pied," " Under the
greenwood tree," " It was a lover and his lass,"
*' When daffodils begin to peer," " Ye spotted
snakes," have all a ring in them which was caught
not in the roar of London, or the babble of the
Globe Theatre, but in the woods of Charlecote,
and along the banks of Avon, from
The ouzel-cock so black of hue.
With orange-tawny bill;
The throstle with his note so true;
The wren with little quill;
The finch, the sparrow, and the lark.
The plain-song cuckoo gray —
and all the rest of the birds of the air.
Why is it, again, that so few of our modern
songs are truly songful, and fit to be set to music?
Is it not that the writers of them — persons often
of much taste and poetic imagination — have gone
for their inspiration to the intellect, rather than to
the ear ? That (as Shelley does by the skylark, and
Wordsworth by the cuckoo), instead of trying to
sing like the birds, they only think and talk about
the birds, and therefore, however beautiful and
true the thoughts and words may be, they are not
song ? Surely they have not, like the mediaeval
songsters, studied the speech of the birds, the
primaeval teachers of melody; nor even melodies
already extant, round which, as round a frame-
work of pure music, their thoughts and images
might crystallise themselves, certain thereby of be-
coming musical likewise. The best modern song
writers. Burns and Moore, were inspired by their
old national airs; and followed them, Moore at
least, with a reverent fidelity, which has had its
full reward. They wrote words to music; and not,
as modern poets are wont, wrote the words first,
and left others to set music to the words. They
were right; and we are wrong. As long as song
is to be the expression of pure emotion, so long it
must take its key from music, — which is already
pure emotion, untranslated into the grosser medium
of thought and speech — often (as in the case of
Mendelssohn's Songs without Words) not to be
translated into it at all.
And so it may be that, in some simpler age,
poets may go back, like the old Minnesingers, to
the birds of the forest, and learn of them to sing.
And little do most of them know how much
there is to learn; what variety of character, as well
as variety of emotion, may be distinguished by the
"A CHARM OF BIRDS"
practised ear in a " charm of birds " (to use the old
southern phrase), from the wild cry of the missel-
thrush, ringing from afar in the first bright days of
March, a passage of one or two bars repeated three
or four times, and then another and another, clear
and sweet, and yet defiant — for the great " storm-
cock " loves to sing when rain and wind is coming
on, and faces the elements as boldly as he faces
hawk and crow — down to the delicate warble of
the wren, who slips out of his hole in the brown
bank, where he has huddled through the frost with
wife and children, all folded in each other's arms
like human beings, for the sake of warmth, —
which, alas! does not always suffice; for many a
lump of wrens may be found, frozen and shrivelled,
after a severe winter. Yet even he, sitting at his
house-door in the low sunlight, says grace for all
mercies (as a little child once worded it) in a song
so rapid, so shrill, so loud, and yet so delicately
modulated, that you wonder at the amount of soul
within that tiny body; and then stops suddenly, as
a child who has said its lesson, or got to the end
of the sermon, gives a self-satisfied flirt of his tail,