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THE publication of this work brings to completion a task which I have long been desirous of accomplishing. That task, although laborious, has been congenial, and I trust that the result of my labour will not go altogether unappreciated by the English-speaking race at home and abroad. My object was to compile full and adequate accounts of the public career and speeches of the greatest Liberal statesman and the greatest Liberal orator of the nineteenth century. Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Bright stand as public men in a position so exceptional, that no apology is needed for relating the story of their lives while they are still amongst us, especially as I do not of course presume to pass judgment upon their labours and character. Indeed, in this respect I attempt less of formal criticism than may be discovered in the leading reviews and newspapers. It has been rather my desire to collect for the reader accurate and exhaustive materials upon which he may base his own political, personal, and historical estimates.
The great favour with which the public and the press have received the biography of Mr. Gladstone, encouraged me to proceed with the life of Mr. Bright, which may be regarded as a companion work to its predecessor. In the history of Liberalism during our own generation, Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Bright have been complementary forces. The former has been the great official exponent of Liberal ideas; while Mr. Bright has been the great popular leader, first imbuing the multitude with his own principles, and then expounding them to the Legislature, by which body he has seen them eventually adopted and transformed into law. Probably no other English statesman, looking back upon a political career extending over forty years, was ever able to point to so consistent a course as Mr. Bright has led, or to affirm with equal truth that the cardinal principles of his political creed had been successively accepted and adopted by the various Governments of his time. This much even his opponents may-I may even say must-admit.
In some respects, the reader will, perhaps, find the present work more interesting than the one which preceded it. In the first place, I was naturally obliged to devote much space to the ten Budget speeches of Mr. Gladstone; and it is beyond the power of any one to invest these fine displays of oratorial power and financial skill with anything like the charm or the interest which attended their delivery in the House of Commons, by the greatest financier and the greatest statesman and party orator of the age. But in addition to the fact that all Mr. Bright's speeches possess a strong human interest, there is in the present work considerable material that is now published for the first time, and which has a direct personal bearing. Notes of Mr. Bright's earliest oratorical efforts have likewise been recovered, and are now published.
One word as to the speeches. Mr. Thorold Rogers has published three volumes of Mr. Bright's Parliamentary speeches and public addresses, and the selections are very admirable, so far as they go. But there are many important speeches, both in the earlier and later years of Mr. Bright's career, which Mr. Rogers has been compelled to omit; and he has only included one of the right hon. gentleman's speeches delivered in the course of the Free Trade campaign, and that, as it seemed to
me, not the most eloquent or the most vigorous. The reader will find in the ensuing pages a full account of the great movement which developed and demonstrated Mr. Bright's powers, and copious extracts are given from all his remarkable Free Trade speeches. It is true of the greatest speaker that ever lived, that after the lapse of a certain period there must be lengthy passages in his orations which cease to have that special bearing they had upon his age and his contemporaries; and by summarizing these in Mr. Bright's case, I have been enabled to give in full those other passages which must exercise a profound influence upon the minds of men to the latest generations. Then, too, after a time, the general reader requires a connecting narrative of events and debates sufficiently full to enable him to comprehend the various points in the speeches of the orator : this I have endeavoured always to supply in the following work. Besides having dealt with all the speeches in Mr. Thorold Rogers's volumes-giving, I trust, the substance of every argument employed, and publishing in extenso the perorations and the most striking passages in all the addresses—the ensuing narrative is brought down to the year 1881. The Parliamentary speeches collected by Mr. Rogers closed with the year 1868; and all the speeches of moment which Mr. Bright has delivered in the House of Commons during the past thirteen years have been added in this work. There are also incorporated the many addresses delivered in the country, including some which Mr. Rogers was unable to embrace in his volume of Public Addresses,' and others which have been delivered since his collection was made up. The objects of the two works are thus entirely different. Mr. Rogers, in publishing his volumes, acted in an eclectic spirit, and, as I have said, his collections are excellent, but necessarily only partial; my object has been to furnish a complete survey of Mr. Bright's life, with a full and
comprehensive account of his speeches down to and including the present year. I am able to state further, in conclusion, that an authentic biography of Mr. Bright is now published for the first time.
Apologizing to the reader for troubling him with so long a preface, —which under the circumstances could not well have been avoided,-I now leave the work to his consideration and indulgence.
G. B. S. London, Sept. 24, 1881.