Bust of John Passmore Edwards

The Autobiography of John Passmore Edwards

Propagandist Pamphlets


I may here refer to three pamphlets I published during the fifties of the last century. One was entitled Intellectual Tollbars, another The Triple Curse, and the other The War: A Blunder and a Crime. Intellectual Tollbars was written to promote the repeal of what were called "the taxes on knowledge." No paper of any kind could be made in those days, either for printing or any other purpose, without paying a heavy tax; no advertisement, great or small, could appear in any newspaper or periodical without paying one shilling and sixpence duty; and no copy of any newspaper, of any size or price, could he produced and circulated without the Government impressed stamp of one penny.
These taxes enfeebled the paper-making, bookmaking, printing, and publishing trades, and acted as a general deterrent to the advancement of education and the spread of knowledge. The repeal of these taxes, after a long and strenuous agitation, liberated and vastly increased the prosperity of the industries employed, and imparted a new impulse to the national mind. In fact, the removal of the taxes mentioned was as advantageous to the producers of paper, books, newspapers, and magazines of all kinds, printing inks and printing machinery, as the repeal of the Corn Laws benefited the general condition of the country. I need scarcely say that the great Anti-Corn Law and Free Trade leaders, who a few years before shed undiminishing lustre on their age and nation, were also the leaders of the movement for the repeal of the taxes on knowledge. As Cobden and Bright had the largest share of public appreciation and applause for the leading part they took in repealing the bread tax, it was arranged by them and others that Milner Gibson, their able coadjutor, should pilot the Bills involving the taxes on knowledge through the Commons. And this was done with marked success. No one, unless liberally endowed with the prophetic spirit, could have predicted that the repeal of the taxes on knowledge would prepare the way for such prodigious results or that where one copy of a book or newspaper or publication was produced then, more than thirty times the number would be produced forty or fifty years after. Neither could he have discerned that so many newspapers would, in the meantime, be owned or adroitly used by monetary magnates for capitalistic or social aggrandisement. Herein may be seen a lurking danger, which will have to be closely watched and counteracted, or the commonwealth will suffer.
  The pamphlet entitled The Triple Curse pointed out the evil effects of the opium trade on India, where opium was produced by British cultivators; on China, into which it was smuggled by British merchants; and on England, the author and promoter of the great wrong. Mr. Montgomery Martin, who was for many years the British Treasurer in China, said before a Select Committee of the House of Commons: "The opium trade is desolating China, corrupting. its government, and bringing the fabric of that extra-ordinary empire to a state of desolation." I proved this by a host of facts and authorities in my pamphlet, which passed through more than one edition. The other pamphlet, The War: A Blunder and a Crime, dealt with the British and French war against Russia in the Crimea.
Every position I then assumed has since been strengthened by established facts. We commenced that war, with France as an ally, to break and roll back the power of Russia, and, in Lord Palmerston's language, "to maintain the integrity and independence of the Turkish Empire." A huge, far-reaching mis-calculation. Russia was not rolled back, and has since been advancing east and west. The integrity and independence of Turkey were less secure after than before the war. France, our ally then, is the ally of Russia now. By that war we antagonised Russia for generations, and have since had to pay the penalty, in one shape or another, to the tune of millions sterling annually. We expended directly on the war more than a hundred millions sterling, and sacrificed forty thousand human lives, or-as John Bright said at the time-as many grown-up men as were living in Birmingham. Mr. Kinglake estimated that, from first to last, more than half a million of men perished through that war; and Lord Salisbury, some years after, when commenting on the war, said, in sporting phraseology, that we made a mistake, and "put our money on the wrong horse."
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April 18, 2005
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© Dean Evans 2003