Bust of John Passmore Edwards

The Autobiography of John Passmore Edwards

Also worth remembering


Another reference to Cobden may be interesting. In 1859 Cobden went to the United States to investigate and protect a substantial interest he had in an American railway. During his absence Lord Palmerston was appointed to form a new Ministry, and without the opportunity of consulting Cobden nominated him President of the Board of Trade. This was before the days of submarine telegraphy. In due time Cobden returned to England, when a deputation from the Political and Financial Reform Association was appointed to wait on him and present him with a congratulatory address.
The deputation consisted of James Stansfeld, afterwards M. P. for Halifax, and more than once Cabinet Minister; of Sir Arthur Hayter, afterwards M.P. and Chairman of Ways and Means; of Samuel Morley, afterwards M. P. for Bristol, and who subsequently declined a peerage; of James White, afterwards M.P. for Brighton, and of myself, afterwards M. P. for Salisbury. Cobden was staying for the day with Charles Gilpin, M. P., at 10, Bedford Square, where the deputation had appointed to meet him. When we called he had just returned from an interview with Palmerston. He gave us a most interesting account of the interview, and among other things said that when formally offered office he respectfully declined it; and one reason he gave was that he might not agree with all his lordship's policy, and if he did not he should resign office, and thereby probably cause inconvenience. Cobden also said he ventured to mention the name of the Hon. C. Pelham Villiers, an able man with considerable Parliamentary experience, and that he also spoke of the substantial qualities of Charles Gilpin. The result was that both Villiers and Gilpin were appointed members of the new Government; and so Cobden, though he declined office himself, promoted others to office. I may add that some years before, when offered a baronetcy at the suggestion of Lord John Russell, Cobden declined the honour.
I ought not, even in these scrappy notes, to omit the names of Elihu Burritt and George Thompson, with whom, in the Press, in committee work, and at public meetings, I frequently acted. Elihu Burritt was kuown as "the learned blacksmith," who left the anvil in America and came to this country in answer to an invitation from Mr. Joseph Sturge. I worked heartily with Burritt in producing and circulating his Bond of Brotherhood, and took part in meetings preparatory to holding International Peace Congresses. He, in fact, was the originator of these Congresses, and is, or will be, entitled in the years to come to occupy a niche in the Temple of Peace, when it is built up and established; and it will most assuredly be built up and established, because it is in harmony with the deepest and divinest human interests. I also co-operated with Elihu Burritt in holding and addressing public meetings to establish an International Penny Postage-a movement which has since made substantial progress under the able direction of Henniker Heaton, M.P, and which must, in cousinship with other cosmopolitan ideas, make corresponding progress in the future.
I was also brought into frequent contact, journalistically and in committees, with George Thompson, who earned fame during the early part of the last century as an orator on anti-slavery platforms. When Lloyd Garrison, the distinguished American anti-slavery advocate, came to this country in 1867, I suggested that he should be invited to what may now be called a historical breakfast party in St. James's Hall. The meeting was held and addressed by John Bright, who occupied the chair, by Lord John Russell, the Duke of Arglye, J Stuart Mill, Lord Granville, William V. Harcourt, Lloyd Garrison, and George Thompson. Mr. Bright, in one of the greatest speeches even he ever delivered, when referring to the anti-slavery struggle and the anti-slavery war just concluded in America, spoke of Wendell Phillips as 'the greatest orator that speaks the English tongue." Mr. Bright was probably not aware that Lord Brougham, in a speech delivered in Exeter Hall nearly forty years before, applied almost the same words to George Thompson. It was a singular coincidence that the greatest English orator of the day should have described the greatest American orator in almost the same language as was, with authority, applied to the greatest English orator of a preceding generation, and who was then on the platform in the eightieth year of his age. Had George Thompson been a rich or well-to-do man instead of being a poor man, he might, and no doubt would, have occupied a distinguished place in our Parliamentary history. As it was, he was returned as member of our Parliament many years before for the Tower Hamlets, with the greatest majority then on record. His speech at this meeting was the last he ever delivered, and the speech of Mr. William Harcourt, afterwards Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the Liberal party in the House of Commons, was the first he delivered in London.
As reminiscent of the central years of the last century, I may say I heard Sir Robert Peel deliver his great speech on the third reading of his Bill for the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, and the following year I heard Daniel O'Connell deliver his last speech in the House of Commons; when his voice was so weak that he could only be heard with difficulty in the gallery. During those central years I corresponded with Father Mathew, Robert Owen, Leigh Hunt, Harriet Martineau, Joseph Mazzini, Mrs. Beecher Stowe, and Sir William Molesworth. I saw Macready in the character of Hamlet when he left the stage in 1851. I heard Thackeray deliver his lectures on "The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century," and afterwards his lectures on "The Four Georges," in the Surrey Gardens Hall; and I also heard Dickens give his first series of public readings. I was present when Cobden and the Duke of Wellington shook hands, amid rapturous applause, at the opening of the first International Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851. Walter Savage Landor has somewhere said that he exulted in the thought that he had shaken hands with Kosciusco, and that fifty years after he felt equal satisfaction in shaking hands with Kossuth. I felt equal satisfaction in being present at a meeting in the Hanover Square Rooms and shaking hands with Kossuth and Mazzini, and felt still more honoured by a passing call from Garibaldi when he visited London somewhat meteorically in 1864. I was a member of his Reception Committee.
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April 18, 2005
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© Dean Evans 2003