Page images
PDF
EPUB

1859, however, he accepted the important mission to Paris, where he had the chief direction of the Commercial Treaty with France. With rare disinterestedness, he declined all public reward for his services, an act of abnegation the more honourable to him, seeing that all this time his pecuniary affairs were in a somewhat embarrassed condition, owing to the depressed state of his American investments. It was proposed to raise a public subscription for him, but this he declined, and happily it became unnecessary in consequence of an improvement in the share market. As Sir Robert Peel did with regard to the Corn Laws, so Mr. Gladstone unstintedly gave the credit of the Commercial Treaty of 1860 to Mr. Cobden.

The character of Mr. Cobden was simple and most exemplary. The Bishop of Oxford, writing upon his death, said: 'I feel his loss deeply. I think it is a great national loss. His gentleness of nature, the tenderness and frankness of his affections, his exceeding modesty, his love of truth, and his ready and kindly sympathy—these invested him with an unusual charm for me.' As a public speaker, Mr. Cobden had not the fire, the energy, and the eloquence of Mr. Bright; but he had remarkably persuasive powers of his own.

His delivery was earnest and impressive, his language unusually clear and well-chosen, his appeals to the reason of his listeners weighty and well-directed, and his power of argument singularly sustained and elastic. He had the power, as one

[merged small][ocr errors]

critic has said, of winning converts, while overwhelming adversaries.

On the day following his death, the great loss which the country had sustained was made known to the House of Commons by Lord Palmerston. Mr. Cobden's name, said his lordship, would be for ever engraved on the most interesting pages of the history of the country; and he was sure there was not one in the House who did not feel the deepest regret that they had lost one of its brightest ornaments, and that the country had been deprived of one of her most useful servants. Mr. Disraeli followed with an equally generous but more striking tribute to the deceased, whose closing words we must quote : There are some members of Parliament,' he said, 'who, though not present in the body, are still members of this House : independent of dissolutions, of the caprice of constituencies, even of the course of time. I think, Sir, Mr. Cobden was one of these men. I believe that when the verdict of posterity shall be recorded on his life and conduct, it will be said of him that he was, without doubt, the greatest political character the pure middle class of this country has yet produced -an ornament to the House of Commons, and an honour to England.'

Mr. Bright then rose, and, speaking under the influence of profound emotion, said: 'Sir, I feel that I cannot address the House on this occasion ; but every expression of sympathy which I have heard has been most grateful to my heart. But the time which has elapsed since, in my presence, the manliest and gentlest spirit that ever tenanted or quitted a human form took its flight, is so short, that I dare not even attempt to give utterance to the feelings by which I am oppressed. I shall leave to some calmer moment, when I may have an opportunity of speaking before some portion of my countrymen, the lesson which I think may be learned from the life and character of my friend. I have only to say that after twenty years of most intimate and almost brotherly friendship with him, I little knew how much I loved him until I found that I had lost him.'

These few sentences were spoken with great difficulty, and at their close Mr. Bright sunk down into his seat, overwhelmed with grief.

That calmer moment, when the speaker hoped to have an opportunity of enforcing the great lesson of Mr. Cobden's career, did not come until twelve years later, when Mr. Bright unveiled the statue raised to the memory of his friend at Bradford. This was on the 25th of July, 1877. On that occasion he briefly sketched Mr. Cobden's life, and described him as one of the best and noblest Englishmen of our time. The grand result which has followed the repeal of the Corn Laws, Mr. Bright thus eloquently touched upon : 'Now, if you cast your eyes over the globe, what is it you see? Look at Canada, look at the United States, whether on the Atlantic seaboard or on the Pacific slope; look at Chili; look at the Australian colonies; look at the great and rich pro

vince of Bengal; look on the shores of the Black Sea and the Baltic: wherever the rain falls, wherever the sun shines, wherever there are markets and granaries and harvest-fields, there are men and women everywhere gathering that which comes to this country for the sustenance of our people; and our fleets traverse every sea, and visit every port, and bring us the food which only about thirty years ago the laws of this civilized and Christian country denied to its people. You find it in Holy Writ, that “the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof.” We have put Holy Writ into an Act of Parliament, and since then of that fulness every man and woman and little child in this country may freely and abundantly partake.'

Mr. Bright then referred to the profound grief with which Mr. Cobden viewed the policy of England in the Crimean war; to the great work he did in connection with the French Treaty; and to the great sorrow which the American civil war occasioned him -though he always believed that the result of the war would be slavery abolished, and the consolidation of the Republic-still one and indivisible-as the advocate of peace and the promoter of civilization. Then came the lesson of the great reformer's whole career :

'I have lately been reading a new poem which has interested me very much-a poem called The Epic of Hades. Many of you may never have heard of it; most of you may not have seen it. It is, as I view it, another gem added to the wealth of the poetry of our language. In that poem the author says

“For knowledge is a steep which few may climb,
While duty is a path which all may tread.”

I think it will be admitted by those who know anything of the life of Mr. Cobden, that he trod what he believed to be the path of duty, and trod it with a firm and unfaltering footstep; and when I look upon this statue which is now before us, so like him, and so spotless, as was his name and character, I will say that I trust his following of the path of duty will have many imitators in this district; and that from this stainless marble, and from those voiceless lips, there may be taught a perpetual lesson to many generations of the intelligent and industrious men of this district of our country.

' But let me add, that this which you have erected to-day, or which is erected in your midst, is by no means the greatest monument that has been built up to him. There is one far grander, and of wider significance. There is not a homestead in the country in which there is not added comfort from his labours,—not a cottage the dwellers in which have not steadier employment, higher wages, and a more solid independence. This is his enduring monument. He worked for these ends, and for these great purposes, and he worked even almost to the very day when the lamp of life went out. He is gone ; but his character, his deeds, his life, his example, remain a possession to us his countrymen. And let this be said of him for generations to come, as long as the great men of England are spoken of in the English language ; let it be said of him that Richard Cobden the labours of a life that he might confer upon his countrymen perfect freedom of industry, and with it, not that blessing only, but its attendant blessings of plenty and of peace.'

There were those who wished Mr. Cobden to be interred with public honours in Westminster Abbey; but, in accordance with his own request, he was laid to rest in the churchyard of West Lavington, near his own residence, and beside the remains of his only son, whose premature death had greatly and seriously affected him. Such a funeral was quite in accord with the utterly unostentatious character of the man. The melancholy ceremony took place on the 7th of April, 1865. Deputations attended from many of the large towns; and in addition to the many private mourners present, the House of Commons and the Crown were alike represented. Before the family

gave

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »