George Streynsham Master.

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rotten-egged everybody that did not wear
green-oak favors (it was the green-oak
3iat furnished a shelter to the younger
Charles) ; these customs still exist in some
little frequented parts. South Lancashirt*

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however, appears to have been more tory
than other tory parts of England. It
used to be the custom for boards to be
stuck up in the taverns, with the words,
" No Jacobins admitted here." So late as
1825, when John Bright was fourteen years
old, one of these boards remained in a
public house in Manchester. In 18 15, that
com law had already been introduced from
which England was to experience such suf-
ferings. This was the year of the batde of
Waterloo, and the evil consequences of the
act were little thought upon amid the exul-
tations which followed victory. But bread
and fuel are much more necessary things to
the individual than the consciousness of be-
longing to a victorious nation. The suffer-
ing consequent upon the enactment of the
com law soon found vent in murmurs which,
in time, swelled into insurrection and riot

Much as we hear said about the English
com laws, it is to be doubted if many peo-
ple know just what they were. England
has nearly always had duties both upon the
importation and exportation of com; in
former times duties were imposed upon its
removal from one part of the country to
another. The duty upon the exportation of
com was finally abolished in 18 14. The
duty upon importation has varied greatly
from time to time. In 181 5 (against the
strong opposition of the commercial classes),
the agricultural interest succeeded in fixing
the high figure of 80 shillings as the limit
at which there should be no duty on impor-
tation. This was the law to which the dis-
tress of England was especially due. During
the course of the next ten years the voice of
the poor had time to make itself heard.
The distress soon became so dire and the
pressure so great, that efforts were made by
government in the direction of modifying the
duties. In 1828, the law was changed, and
a minimum of duty of, one shilhng was
fixed when the price was 73 shillings or
more, with the maximum duty of 23 shillings
8 pence when the price was 64 shillings. In
1842 the government of Sir Robert Peel
enacted what was called the " Sliding Scale,"
fixing a minimum of duty of one shilling
when the price was 73 shillings or more,
and adding one shilling to the duty for
each decrease of one shilling in the price
until the maximum duty of 20 shillings was
reached. At last, in 1846, Sir Robert Peel
carried through his measure, reducing the
duties at once, and fixing them at a nominal
rate after an expiration of a period of three

Vol. XIX.— 41.

This change, however, had only been
effected by a popular movement of great en-
ergy, during which the anti-com-law league
was formed. In 1836 an anti-com-law asso-
ciation had been formed in London, the
activity of which, however, was not very
great or extended. The next year, 1837,
was that of the present Queen's accession.
It was a year marked by great financial
distress. In the elections of that year some
38 pledged Freetraders were retumed to
Parliament. From this time began Cob-
den's strenuous exertions to organize an
anti-com-law agitation. In September,
1838, some advanced Manchester Free-
traders invited Sir John Bowring, who hap-
pened then to be in that town to a dinner.
In the course of his speech that evening
Sir John Bowring said : — " It is impossible
to estimate the amount of human misery
created by the com laws, or the amount of
human pleasure overthrown by them. In
every part of the world I have found them
the plague spot." Thereupon a Mr. Howie
rose, and proposed that " the present com-
pany at once form themselves into an anti-
corn-law association." This association
determined that they would accept no half
measures of relief, but that they would make
it their business to assail any and every
com law. In 1839, the Manchester asso-
ciation was enlarged into a National anti-
corn-law league. From this time until
their final triumph the league pursued a
course of determined agitation. As the
movement went on, new persons fi-om
various classes of society began to join it.
Thomas Carlyle said to the Conservatives,
" If I were the Conservative party of Eng-
land, I would not for a huncfred thousand
pounds an hour allow those com laws to
continue. All Potosi and Golconda put
together would not piu-chase my assent to
them," A movement seized society which
swept along with it high and low. Great
mass meetings were held all over England,
and monster bazars and tea-fighls. The
women took a lively part it it. One old
lady of eighty said, that "in her daily
prayers for bread, she also prayed for a
blessing on the good work of Richard

Mr. Bright was, next to Cobden, the
most famous leader of the League. The
first meeting of these two men had taken
place when Bright, then a very young man,
one day walked into the warehouse of Mr.
Alderman Cobden in Manchester, and
asked him to address an educational meet-

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ing at Rochdale. Cobden came. Bright
himself made a short speech at the same
meeting, and Cobden was so struck with
him, that he asked him to speak as
often as he could in favor of the repeal of
corn laws. This was, however, before the
formation of the league. Bright's name
did not become known till some years after
this. He married young, and his attention
to business and the delights of family life,
prevented him fi*om taking a leading part.
It was not until after the death of his wife,
which took place in 1841, that he devoted
himself to the work of securing the abolition
of the com laws. In an address which Mr.
Bright delivered a few years ago, at Brad-
ford, on the occasion of the erection of a
statue of Cobden by Mr. Booth, an Amer-
ican citizen, he alluded as follows to the
circumstances under which he first devoted
himself to the task.

"At that time I was at Leamington, and I was,
on the day when Mr. Cobden called upon me — for '
he happened to be there at the time on a visit to
some relatives— I was in the depth of grief, I might
almost say of despair, for the light and sunshine of
my house had been extinguished. All that was
left on earth of my young wife, except the memory
of a sainted life, and of a too brief happiness, was
lying still and cold in the chamber above us. Mr.
Cobden called upon me as his friend, and addressed
me, as you might suppose, with words of condo-
lence. After a time he looked up and said, * There
are thousands of houses in England at this moment,
where wives, mothers, and children are dying of
hunger. Now,* he said, * when the first paroxysm
of your grief is past, I would advise you to come
witn me, and we will never rest till tne com law
is repealed.*"

From this time on Mr. Bright was, after
Cobden, the foremost leader of the move-
ment, and by the time the repeal was ac-
complished, was generally admitted to be
one of the first orators of the country. The
speech he made in Parliament when Sir
Robert Peel brought forward his free-trade
measure was a great forensic success. Peel
proposed that protection should cease
wholly in three years, this respite being
given to farmers to allow them time to
accommodate themselves to the change.
Bright strongly objected to the delay, but
nevertheless accepted the measure as it was
and spoke in behalf of it. A writer of the
day says that on this occasion he appeared
to be animated to an unusual pitch of ora-
torical excellence ; that his periods, as adroit
and elegant as ever, alternately glittered
with satire and thrilled with the tones of
pathos. With reference to Sir Robert Peel,

who had been bitterly attacked by the Conser-
vative as a traitor and a renegade, he said :

•* You say the Premier is a traitor. It would fli
become me to attempt his defense after the speedi
he delivered last night — a speech, I will venture to
say, more powerful and more to be admired than
any speech which has been delivered within the
memory of any man in this house. I watched him
as he went home last night, and, for the first time,,
I envied him his feelings. That speech has circa-
lated by scores of thousands throughout the kingdom
and throughout the world ; and wherever a man is
to be found who loves justice, and wherever there
is a laborer whom you have trampled underfoot, that
speech will bring joy to the heart of the one, and
hope to the breast of the other."

When these warm and feeling words were
uttered, it is said that Peel could not restrain
his emotion and that the tears sprang from.
his eyes.

It is the opinion of many that, even at
this time, Mr. Bright had not attained that
grace and attractiveness of speech which he
had later. He drove rather than led the
House of Commons ; he compelled rather
than persuaded. He seemed to have little
respect for its time-honored conventions, and
no tenderness for its vanity. The English
House of Commons is said by those who
know it best, to be an extremely conceited
body ; it resembles the man who took off his
hat whenever he mentioned his own name.
Mr. Disraeli's great parliamentary success
has been ascribed to the skill with which
he has played upon and profited by this
weakness of the British Legislature. He
probably has had his own opinions of the
mental powers of the individuals composing
that body ; but it is said that he never rose
in the House without seeming to be over-
whelmed with the sense of his own temerity
in daring to raise his voice in such a place.
Later in his parliamentary career, Mr.
Bright's speeches became agreeable to the
House of Commons, but this was due to
the natural gentleness of his spirit and to
the charm and attractiveness of speech
which he gained by practice. He appears
to be no exception to the rule that the ora-
tor is made. A gentleman who heard him
speak at a village meedng in the beginning
of his career, thus describes him :

*' He was dressed in black, and his coat was of
that peculiar cut considered by the worthy disdples
of George Fox as a standing protest against the
fashions of the world. The lecturer was youngs
square-built, and muscular, with a broad face and
forehead, with a fresh complexion, with ' mild blue
eyes,' like those of the late Russian Nicholas, but,
nevertheless, with a general expression quite suffi-

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ciendy decided and severe. As an orator, the man did
not shine. His voice was good, though somewhat
harsh ; his manner was awkward, as is the custom
of the country ; and the sentences came out of his
mouth loose, naked, and ill-formed. He was not
master of the situation, yet he wanted not confidence,
nor matter, nor words. Practice, it was dear, was
all that he required. The orator felt this himself.
He told his audience that he was learning to speak
upon the question, and that he would succeed in

Mr. Gilchrist, the author of a little biog-
raphy of Bright, to which we are indebted
for many of our facts, says, that in 1847,
the British public had as yet no just notion
of Mr. Bright's powers. If this means that
the public had a wrong notion of Mr.
Bright, that they did not know how gentle,
moderate, and wise a man he was, the opin-
ion is, no doubt, true. It is probable, how-
ever, that the speeches made by Mr. Bright
before the repeal of the com laws were
his greatest oratorical successes. He had
then just the opportunity which suited his
talents. His indignation, his pity for the
poor, his hatred of injustice were called out
to the full by the anti-com-law movement;
while in the sympathy of a great mass of
people, profoundly interested in the same
object with himself, he had in his favor an-
other condition of eloquence.

In the following year, 1847, we find Mr.
Bright opposing a motion, which became
law in June of that year, for limiting the
hours of labor for children under eighteen
years of age. This action was, in p<art, due
to Mr. Bright's general prepossessions as a
firee trader. When it was urged that the
law was needed in the interests of education
of the young of the working classes, Mr.
Bright said : " For myself, I can say that I
have never been at school since I was
fifteen years of age." He said that in his
own factory there was a large infant school,
a reading-room, and a news-room, and a
school for adults, where the workmen at-
tended after office hours. There was also
a person employed, at a considerable ex-
pense, who devoted his whole time to the
mvestigation of the concerns of the working
men, and who was a kind of missionary
among them. He believed that the mental
wants of operatives were equally well looked
after in many other factories.

A large part of that unpopularity, which
dung to the name of Mr. Bright until
within comparatively recent years, was due
to his opposition to the Crimean WAr. It
is somewhat difficult to gather from Mr.
Bright's utterances, just what his views are

upon the question of war. The Quakers
are understood to be opposed to all wars*
That this is not Mr. Bright's view is evident
from his strenuous defense of the war for
the preservation of the Union. It is cer-
tain that Mr. Bright strongly disbelieves in
the utility of nearly all the wars which have
been carried on by Great Britain. He even
goes so far as to disapprove of that great
war which gave the English name such
luster and prestige in the early part of this
century. But Mr. Bright does not believe
much in luster and prestige. He thinks
these only other names for selfishness and
pride in superiority, and that these qualities
are no more to be admired in nations than
in individuals. He is of the opinion that a
sound national prosperity, implying a widely
distributed comfort and well-being, is more
to be desired than the consciousness of pres-
tige. He wpuld no doubt say, " This na-
tional vainglory is a very acceptable luxury
to people who are well housed and well fed,
but to a man without a coat, or to a starving
family, the reflection that * Britannia rules
the waves ' must be of very little use.*' Mr.
Bright spoke at the Peace Conference, which
met in Edinburgh just previous to the out-
break of the Crimean War. It was at this
Conference that Sir Charles Napier, who had
declared his intention of bearding the Peace
Society in its den, appeared and made a
speech in favor of war. The old tar —
whose person was, as usual, innocent of the
labors of barber or laundress — ^pushed his
way very unceremoniously to the platform,
and took the seat immediately on the left of
the chaurman. His arrival considerably flut-
tered the sheep-fold of the philanthropists.
Such visitors had been rare at the previous
meetings of the Peace Society, and there
was considerable curiosity as to his identity
among the audience, to very few of whom
he was known. He was presently introduced
by Cobden, and made a strong war speech.
Mr. Bright followed. In reply to Admiral
Napier's remark, that the armaments of the
country had been reduced to " nothing," Mr.
Bright said that he would like to know what
was " nothing " in the Admiral's estimation.
He said that ;^i 7,000,000 had been spent
during the preceding year in warlike prepara-
tions, which, added to the interest on the debt
caused by war, ^^28,000,000, made ;^4S,-
000,000. He then remarked that the exports
of England during the same year — ^by far
the largest export which had up to that time
been made — ^amounted to ^80,000,000, and
then made this striking comment: that, if

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some one were placed at the mouth of every
port and harbor in the United Kingdom,
and should take every alternate cargo that
left the coimtry and should carry it oflf as a
tribute, it would amount to no more than
was paid ever}' year for the item of war in
Great Britain.

It was, no doubt, the fact that Mr. Bright
was known to be opposed to wars in general
that made of so little eflfect his courageous
opposition to the Crimean War. He, in-
deed, endeavored to ^rgue the question
upon grounds which would be accepted by
all Englishmen. But this he was not per-
mitted to do by the public. Kinglake

" Mr. Bright*s orations were singularly well qual-
ified for preventing an erroneous acquiescence in the
policy ofthe day ; for, besides that he was honest and
fearless — besides that, with a ringing voice, he had
tdl the clearness and force which resulted from his
great natural gifts, as well as from his one-sided
method of thinking — he had the advantage of gener-
ally being able to speak in a state of sincere anger."

He then adds:

"A man can not carry weight as the opponent of any
particular war, if he is one who is known to be against
almost all wars. * * * In vain he declares that,
for the sake of argument, he will lay aside his own
broad principles and mimic the reasoning of his
hearers. Practical men know that his mind is under
the swav of an antecedent determination, which dis-
penses him from the more narrow but more impor-
tant inquiry in which they are engaged."

It thus happened that the opposition of
Mr. Bright was perfectly helpless, and that
the government could afford to treat him
and Cobden with contempt Of this, an
incident which took place in the House of
Commons at the beginning of the war
will supply an example. Mr. Bright had
alluded, with his usual angry eloquence, to
the " reckless levity " which had been dis-
played by Lord Palmerston at a dinner
which had taken place shortly before. He
said that Lord Palmerston*s jokes and sto-
ries at this dinner were unbecoming such
a time, and were ** discreditable m the
last degree to the great and responsible
statesman of a civilized and Christian na-
tion." Lord Palmerston rose and said :
** Sir, if the honorable and reverend gentle-
man " Here Cobden interrupted him,

and called him to order, saying that the epi-
thet was " flippant and undeserved." Lord
Palmerston answered that he would not
quarrel with Cobden about words, but
proceeded to reply to Mr. Bright in an in-
sulting manner. In this he knew he would

be protected by his own great popularity
at that time in England, and the popularity
of his policy, and by the unpopularity of
Mr. Bright. He knew that he was strong
enough to treat Mr. Bright as insolently as
he liked.

Mr. Bright's opposition to the war cost
him his seat in Parliament. His protests
against it, indeed, continued nearly to its
conclusion, when a severe illness compelled
him to forego all participation in pubbc
affairs. He was, however, elected for Bir-
mingham in August of 1857. Notwith-
standing the unpopularity which clung to
his name for some years, Mr. Bright was
still heard with effect in the House of Com-
mons and in the country. He made a
number of interesting speeches upon India,
which may be read with profit in connection
with the course of recent events in that
country. He has evidently devoted great
attention to this subject. When the liberal
government came into power in 1867, Mr.
Bright was offered the post of Secretary of
State for India, but he felt his health un-
equal to the labors of this position, and
chose instead the Presidency of the Board
of Trade.

The portion of the career of Mr. Bright
which has the greatest interest for Americans
is his eloquent and effectual defense of us
dtuing the trying period of the War of the
Rebellion. It must not be forgotten how
dark our cause often looked even to our-
selves, and it is easy to conceive how much
darker it must have looked to our friends in
Eiurope. But during the whole of that long
period Mr. Bright never faltered in his
words of advocacy and encouragement
We cannot forget that in the very depth
and crisis of our struggle he used such
words as these :

" I cannot believe, for my part, that such a imte
will befall that idea land, stricken though it now
is with the ravages of war. I cannot believe that
civilization, in its joumev with the son, will sink
into endless night in order to gratify the ambition
of the leaders of this revolt, who seek to 'wade
through slaughter to a throne, and shut the gates
of mercy on mankind.' 1 have another and a fiu-
brighter vision before my gaze. It may be but a
vision ; but I will cherish it. I see one people, and
one language, and one law, and one faitn, and over
all that wide continent, the home of freedom, and a
refuge for the oppressed of every race and oif every

One cause, indeed, of the unpopularity
of Mr. Bright and Cobden in England
was their undisguised friendship for and

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faith in this country ; they were continually
taunted with a desire to Americanize Eng-
lish institutions. Jokes at their expense on
this point were very common in the press
and in Parliament. Thus once in the House
of Commons, when Cobden had spoken
of " Rule Britannia " as the creed of the
Conservatives, Mr. Disraeli replied by say-
ing that, while the House might not be
over-partial to the strains of the British
paean, it could hardly be expected to encore
" Yankee Doodle." But Mr. Bright reaped
in the end the reward of that sagacity and
fidelity which he exhibited upon the ques-
tion of our great struggle. The liberal party
of England owed its long lease of power,
after 1868, more to the triumph of the Union
than to any other cause. Such, at least, is the
opinion of many of the leaders of that party.
Mr. Bright is, before all, an orator. What
his capacities are as an administrator, the
world has not had much means of judging,
though there can be little doubt that they
are excellent. But, as an orator, he stands
unquestionably among the two or three first
which England has produced in this genera-
tion. His style combines energy and elegance
to a high degree. In his eloquence dignity

is united to the simplicity and natiiralness
of conversation. His genius is expressed in
his person. He has the nervous and sensitive
features of the bom speaker. The tones of
his voice, even in conversation, attract and
fascinate. A gentleman, himself a distin-
guished literary man, who once lunched
with him, told thfe writer that, on this occa-
sion, Mr. Bright repeated a stanza from
Whittier with such expression that it seemed
to him, as he said, " the finest thing he
had ever heard." The qualities which most
strike one in meeting Mr. Bright are his
simplicity and gentleness. Within the past
few months he has taken a more leading
part in public afi^irs than it has been his
custom to do of late years. For some time
past his health has not permitted him to be
very active, and we imagine that his dispo-
sition does not lead him to prefer, for its own
sake, the excitement of a political career.
He seems to have little ambition, and he is
certainly averse to office. He has reason to
be abundantly satisfied with that position in
the respect and affection of his own country,
and, we may add, of this, which his genius,
his patriotism, his high character, and his
great services have won.


I SEE him now, importunate, eager, bold
To push for truth, as most to push for gold;
Young then, with youth's fine scorn of consequence
He weighed no whither, so he knew his whence —
Asked only, but asked hard, Is it a fact ?
That point well sure, deemed then he nothing lacked.
Truth was from God, she could not lead astray.
Fearlessly glad he walked in Truth's highway;
Who joined him there, had fellow stout to cheer;
Who crossed, met foe behooved his weal to fear;
His quick, keen, urgent, sinewy, certain thrust
Well knew those knights who felt it in the joust

Ideal Christian teacher, master, man,
Severely sweet, a gracious Puritan,
Beyond my praise to-day, beyond their blame,
He spurs me yet with his remembered namel

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By George W. Cable, author of "Old Creole Days."


When the long, wakeful night was over,
and the doctor gone, Frowenfeld seated
himself to record his usual observations of
the weather ; but his mind was elsewhere —
here, there, yonder. There are understand-
ings that expand, not imperceptibly hour
by hour, but as certain flowers do, by little
explosive ruptures, with periods of quies-
cence between. After this night of expe-

Online LibraryGeorge Streynsham MasterThe Century, Volume 19 → online text (page 97 of 160)