Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 62

Lancashire was not so wonderful a place forty years ago as it is at present, but, compared then with the rest of England, it was infinitely more striking. For a youth like Endymion, born and bred in our southern counties, the Berkshire downs varied by the bustle of Pall–Mall and the Strand — Lancashire, with its teeming and toiling cities, its colossal manufactories and its gigantic chimneys, its roaring engines and its flaming furnaces, its tramroads and its railroads, its coal and its cotton, offered a far greater contrast to the scenes in which he had hitherto lived, than could be furnished by almost any country of the European continent.

Endymion felt it was rather a crisis in his life, and that his future might much depend on the fulfilment of the confidential office which had been entrusted to him by his chief. He summoned all his energies, concentrated his intelligence on the one subject, and devoted to its study and comprehension every moment of his thought and time. After a while, he had made Manchester his head-quarters. It was even then the centre of a network of railways, and gave him an easy command of the contiguous districts.

Endymion had more than once inquired after the Anti–Corn-Law League, but had not as yet been so fortunate as to attend any of their meetings. They were rarer than they afterwards soon became, and the great manufacturers did not encourage them. “I do not like extreme views,” said one of the most eminent one day to Endymion. “In my opinion, we should always avoid extremes;” and he paused and looked around, as if he had enunciated a heaven-born truth, and for the first time. “I am a Liberal; so we all are here. I supported Lord Grey, and I support Lord Melbourne, and I am, in everything, for a liberal policy. I don’t like extremes. A wise minister should take off the duty on cotton wool. That is what the country really wants, and then everybody would be satisfied. No; I know nothing about this League you ask about, and I do not know any one — that is to say, any one respectable — who does. They came to me to lend my name. ‘No,’ I said, ‘gentlemen; I feel much honoured, but I do not like extremes;’ and they went away. They are making a little more noise now, because they have got a man who has the gift of the gab, and the people like to go and hear him speak. But as I said to a friend of mine, who seemed half inclined to join them, ‘Well; if I did anything of that sort, I would be led by a Lancashire lad. They have got a foreigner to lead them, a fellow out of Berkshire; an agitator — and only a print-work after all. No; that will never do.’”

Notwithstanding these views, which Endymion found very generally entertained by the new world in which he mixed, he resolved to take the earliest opportunity of attending the meeting of the League, and it soon arrived.

It was an evening meeting, so that workmen — or the operatives, as they were styled in this part of the kingdom — should be able to attend. The assembly took place in a large but temporary building; very well adapted to the human voice, and able to contain even thousands. It was fairly full to-night; and the platform, on which those who took a part in the proceedings, or who, by their comparatively influential presence, it was supposed, might assist the cause, was almost crowded.

“He is going to speak to-night,” said an operative to Endymion. “That is why there is such an attendance.”

Remembering Mr. Wilton’s hint about not asking unnecessary questions which often arrest information, Endymion did not inquire who “he” was; and to promote communication merely observed, “A fine speaker, then, I conclude?”

“Well, he is in a way,” said the operative. “He has not got Hollaballoo’s voice, but he knows what he is talking about. I doubt their getting what they are after; they have not the working classes with them. If they went against truck, it would be something.”

The chairman opened the proceedings; but was coldly received, though he spoke sensibly and at some length. He then introduced a gentleman, who was absolutely an alderman, to move a resolution condemnatory of the corn laws. The august position of the speaker atoned for his halting rhetoric, and a city which had only just for the first time been invested with municipal privileges was hushed before a man who might in time even become a mayor.

Then the seconder advanced, and there was a general burst of applause.

“There he is,” said the operative to Endymion; “you see they like him. Oh, Job knows how to do it!”

Endymion listened with interest, soon with delight, soon with a feeling of exciting and not unpleasing perplexity, to the orator; for he was an orator, though then unrecognised, and known only in his district. He was a pale and slender man, with a fine brow and an eye that occasionally flashed with the fire of a creative mind. His voice certainly was not like Hollaballoo’s. It was rather thin, but singularly clear. There was nothing clearer except his meaning. Endymion never heard a case stated with such pellucid art; facts marshalled with such vivid simplicity, and inferences so natural and spontaneous and irresistible, that they seemed, as it were, borrowed from his audience, though none of that audience had arrived at them before. The meeting was hushed, was rapt in intellectual delight, for they did not give the speaker the enthusiasm of their sympathy. That was not shared, perhaps, by the moiety of those who listened to him. When his case was fairly before them, the speaker dealt with his opponents — some in the press, some in parliament — with much power of sarcasm, but this power was evidently rather repressed than allowed to run riot. What impressed Endymion as the chief quality of this remarkable speaker was his persuasiveness, and he had the air of being too prudent to offend even an opponent unnecessarily. His language, though natural and easy, was choice and refined. He was evidently a man who had read, and not a little; and there was no taint of vulgarity, scarcely a provincialism, in his pronunciation.

He spoke for rather more than an hour; and frequently during this time, Endymion, notwithstanding his keen interest in what was taking place, was troubled, it might be disturbed, by pictures and memories of the past that he endeavoured in vain to drive away. When the orator concluded, amid cheering much louder than that which had first greeted him, Endymion, in a rather agitated voice, whispered to his neighbour, “Tell me — is his name Thornberry?”

“That is your time of day,” said the operative. “Job Thornberry is his name, and I am on his works.”

“And yet you do not agree with him?”

“Well; I go as far as he goes, but he does not go so far as I go; that’s it.”

“I do not see how a man can go much farther,” said Endymion. “Where are his works? I knew your master when he was in the south of England, and I should like to call on him.”

“My employer,” said the operative. “They call themselves masters, but we do not. I will tell you. His works are a mile out of town; but it seems only a step, for there are houses all the way. Job Thornberry & Co.‘s Print-works, Pendleton Road — any one can guide you — and when you get there, you can ask for me, if you like. I am his overlooker, and my name is ENOCH CRAGGS.”


Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19