Bust of John Passmore Edwards

The Autobiography of John Passmore Edwards

In Manchester


As arranged, I met Mr. Philp in Manchester, and soon learned that the prospects of the Sentinel were not so rosy as I expected. I, however, commenced work with zeal, and a resolve to do my very best for the paper. I attended meetings, and sent short accounts of them to London. I distributed circulars and called on booksellers, newsagents, and others in their homes or offices, in the interests of the paper. I visited many of the towns in Lancashire and Cheshire on a similar errand, and always traveled in railway trucks, or exactly as cattle were taken from place to place. But I had great difficulty in getting pay from London, and had to borrow small sums from my friends in Cornwall; and even then I should have been stranded but for the kindness of Mr. James Hibbert and his sister, who kept a little shop in Bridge Street, and who, knowing my circumstances, allowed me to live with them month after month on credit.
I received only ten pounds from the Sentinel for fifteen months' devoted service. The paper, in fact, was a commercial failure, and I had to pick up a living as I best could in some other direction. Being a teetotaler and a rather fluent talker, I offered my services as lecturer to temperance societies in the Manchester district, at a few shillings a lecture. In this way I managed to keep my head above water until the latter part of 1845, when, after a visit to my parents and friends in Cornwall, I came to London in the twenty-second year of my age, to try my fortunes on a wider sea.
Though I had a rather rough time in Manchester, I enjoyed while there some advantages, and among them was that of being a member of its Mechanics' Institute. I there heard several well-known men lecture, men who were popular at the time, but whose names now, "like streaks of morning cloud, are melting into the infinite azure of the past." Among them were Sheridan Knowles, Sir H. R. Bishop, Robert Haydon, Cowden Clarke, and Dr. Robert Vaughan. Mr. Hibbert, who spontaneously befriended me, lent me the works of Dr. Channing, which I first read with caution, and afterwards with delight. Reading Channing prepared the way for reading Emerson, which I regard as one of the chief privileges of my life. I owe more to Emerson than to any other writer or teacher. He occupies on the roll of fame a unique position as poet, philosopher, humourist, teacher, and brave citizen. His son, in a recent number of the Bookman, relates how, when he and his sisters were in bed, his "father would come up and, sitting by us in the twilight, chant, to our great delight, a good-night song, which he made up as he sang, to the trees, the birds, the flowers, the members of the family, and even the cow and the cat." Emerson lived a beautiful and a useful life, and, whether employed in interpreting Nature or the powers and possibilities of the human soul, and its necessary affinity to all suns or systems; or lecturing to students; or teaching the duties of lofty citizenship or, in his own words, "planting the rose of beauty on the brow of chaos"; or chanting twilight melodies to his children, he is worthy of admiration as one of the luminaries of the human race.
From the time I lived in Manchester, when and where I heard Cobden and Bright address public meetings, I became an adherent of the Manchester School. In after years I had many opportunities to come into active contact with the leaders of the School, and the more I saw them and knew them the more I esteemed and admired them. It has been supposed by many that Cobden and Bright cared much more for the material prosperity than for the moral progress of the people. This is a mistake. I speak from experience, and say, without hesitation, that it mattered not whether the question discussed, or the object to he promoted by them, was domestic or international; it was always considered in the prevailing light of justice between man and man, and nation and nation. I admired these leaders for their great ability, still more for their unceasing and disinterested activity, and more than all for their loyalty to righteousness. I never knew an instance, or the fragment of an instance, where they surrendered principle to expediency, or subordinated conviction to party gain or personal popularity. They rendered immense service to the State by the economic revolution they mainly assisted to produce, and a service to mankind by advocating pacific methods to adjust international differences.
Their service to the State was immediate, palpable, and lasting; their service to mankind, though great, has, in a much greater degree, to be realised; and it will be realised, as the ever-increasing necessities and aspirations for peace will gradually more and more influence the convictions, the conscience, and the conduct of nations.
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April 18, 2005
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© Dean Evans 2003