Bust of John Passmore Edwards

The Autobiography of John Passmore Edwards

In London


Soon after I came to London I commenced writing articles for newspapers and periodicals, some of which were inserted and others were not; and some of those which were inserted were paid for, and others were not. But what I did after a time, and with more effect, though it brought no financial grist to the mill, was to join and take an active part in the formation and promotion of certain political and social organisations. At that time political reform societies were more real and more in earnest than, as a rule, they have been since. Parliamentary Reform Acts tranquillised a portion of the public mind, and diminished the necessity for political agitation; and subsequent experience has shown that there was more eagerness shown by many to get the suffrage than to use it with advantage when got. The nation is more indebted to committee work than is generally supposed. It frequently happens that some well known man, in or out of Parliament, becomes the leader or chief mouthpiece of some public question, and gets the lion's, or more than the lion's, share of publicity or applause. But in many cases it is the less-known men who, unseen, in committee, arrange proceedings, discuss ways and means, prepare public meetings, provide suitable literature, and by various methods promote propagandist activity. It fell to my lot to mingle from time to time, mostly in committee action, with several reforming organisations.
Emerson I was a member of the committee of the Early Closing Association; of the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment; of the Political and Financial Reform Association; of the Society for the Abolition of the Taxes on Knowledge; of the Society for the Suppression of the Opium Trade; of the Peace Society; of the Ballot Society; of the Committee for the Abolition of Flogging in the Army and Navy; and of more than one committee for the promotion of National Education. These societies did not exist and act simultaneously, but at different times from 1845 to 1880. Though officered generally by different persons at different times, the societies specified were in spirit and in aim parts of one whole.
They sprang from similar necessities, were nurtured by similar motives, represented so many phases of the National Reform Movement, and assisted to educate the head and heart of the people.
A succinct account of the societies mentioned, with many of the well-known names connected with them, the work they did and the influence they exerted on legislation and national life, would make an interesting historical chapter. That is beyond my purpose or my power to supply. I may, however, mention one or two incidents. In 1848 Emerson visited this country, when he delivered several lectures in Manchester. I was at the time a member of the London Early Closing Association, which was in a state of monetary stagnation. Hearing that Emerson had arrived in London, I suggested that he should be invited to deliver two or three lectures for the benefit of the Association, and Mr John Lilwall, its secretary, and I were appointed to wait on him. We did so, and were received with captivating courtesy. We told him how we were situated, and wanted to be lifted out of debt; and we felt sure that he, by lecturing on our behalf, could do so. He hesitated, and said he was scarceley prepared to give any more lectures in England. I ventured to say that two or three of the lectures he had delivered in Manchester might be repeated to different audiences in London. In reply, he said he could not do so, and one reason was that if he were conscious, when lecturing in London, that one of his audience had heard him give the same lectures in Manchester, he should feel most uncomfortable -a proof of the peculiar sensitiveness of his nature. He, however, promised to think over the matter, and let us know his decision.
Thomas Carlyle Two or three days after Emerson wrote and accepted our proposal, and undertook to give three lectures-the first on Montaigne, the second on Napoleon, and the third on Shakespeare. I need scarcely say the committee were delighted. Exeter Hall, at that time the most notable meeting place in England, was taken, and the necessary preparations were made for the delivery of the lectures. The tickets of admission sold rapidly; we had splendid audiences and gratifying results. After paying all expenses we netted £150, paid our debts, emerged from difficulty, blessed Emerson, and went on our way rejoicing.
On the occasion of the last lecture I first saw Thomas Carlyle, at that time a dark, shaggy man, self-centred and impassive. He sat in the same position, with folded arms and crossed legs, and not moving a muscle during the deliver of the lecture. The audience now and then cheered the lecturer right heartily, while Carlyle sat still as a statue. The chair was occupied by Mr. Monckton Mimes, M.P. and poet, and afterwards, on the nomination of Lord Palmerston, Lord Houghton. Mr. Mimes, in returning thanks for thanks, said the audience at the moment was in the presence of three historic facts-namely, Emerson, Shakespeare, and Exeter Hall. He might have said four such facts by referring to the presence of Thomas Carlyle.
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April 18, 2005
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© Dean Evans 2003